Be a Corner Banger, On Occasion

Published on July 2nd, 2014

Bill Draheim is somewhat of a hero in the great state of Texas, accumulating national titles in a number of classes that include the J/22 and Thistle. Also a 2-time winner of the US Sailing Championship of Champions, here Bill provides some sage advice for the weather leg…

Over the last few years I have watched an inordinate number of junior regattas. Helping our own children develop a love and aptitude for sailboat racing is a great way to insure the sports future. I get amused listening to the kids engage in post race chatter where they learn the art of verbal dominance at an early age. One of the most cutting phrases is to be declared a “corner banger” after a good finish.

Coaches drill it into the heads of their kids that the best way upwind is through the middle of the course. Tactical books, articles and seminars lead by our sports champions also emphasize the importance of sailing up the middle of the course. It’s true that for the majority of races, the middle is the safe if not smart move. Most races enjoy oscillating wind directions and varied velocities which prevent one side of the course from maintaining an advantage. Many times it’s difficult to predict what will happen in the near future, again, making the center of the course the safer place.

Many of the experts who preach the middle of the course do so from their personal perspective, a perspective of being faster than most of the people they are racing. A faster sailor finishes well from sailing up the middle even if one side is favored. At the highest level of our sport, the Olympic level, all the sailors are both fast and tactically smart, which makes finishing well when one side of the course is favored impossible unless sailing to the favored side!

All sailors should learn to recognize when one of the sides is favored and be brave enough to act on it. Huge gains can be made by slower boats in a race when sailed well tactically. Much more can be gained by sailing smart in a race than sailing fast. Three examples of a favored side are as follows:

1. The Shore Effect: One of the ways our sport is changing is by bringing the race courses in closer proximity to the shore. A change for the better as more spectating is possible and quick travel time for the sailors gets you to the bar sooner! If the weather mark is within a couple of hundred yards of the shore the wind bends from its normal direction as it leaves the shore. Out in the middle of the course the wind may be more parallel to the shoreline but up close to the shore the wind exits the shore more perpendicular to the shoreline. The wind tries to get away from the friction of the shore by turning out and away from the shore. Having the shore in play on the race course makes the shore side of the race course favored because the tack that more parallels the shore will get lifted as you approach the shore.

2. Current or Tides: Anyone who watched the Americans Cup in San Francisco understands the importance current plays on some courses. In San Francisco and many other venues current is the overriding tactical consideration making one side of the course favored in many cases. If the tide or current speed is not uniform across the course, one side will be favored.

3. Sea Breeze Bend: On coastal venues, most races are sailed when the sea breeze comes in. The land heats up bringing the breeze in from the ocean. In the Northern Hemisphere, many times the sea breeze first fills on the left side of the course. Once the sea breeze fills it slowly turns right through the afternoon making the right side of the course favored.

Taking advantage of the races where one side of the course is favored can bring you huge gains, so the next time someone calls you a “corner banger” after you have finished well – smile and thank them for acknowledging your tactical savvy!

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