Take Control of Your Race

Published on October 17th, 2017

David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts newsletter is a bi-monthly newsletter packed with tips to improve our racing performance. In this report shared for the US Sailing Blog, Dave delivers tips to help us execute our race-winning game plans.

“I would have tacked and sailed to the right side, but a boat on my hip forced me to go the wrong way!”

It’s a common refrain in the parking lot after almost every race: A sailor wanted to go to the favored side of the course but couldn’t get there because another boat was ‘in the way.’ As a result, he or she had a bad result and blamed this, at least partially, on the other boat.

In reality, other boats are seldom good excuses for going the wrong way. They are bothersome obstructions, yes, but they should never be allowed to derail your plan for how to sail the race.

The goal on any leg of the course is to develop a strategic game plan for how you can get to the next mark as quickly as possible, in the absence of other boats. It takes into account factors like wind shifts, wind pressure, current and the location of the mark.

Following your strategy is not always easy, however. In a fleet of boats, everybody’s trying to do the same thing, so you often meet boats with the right of way or boats with wind shadows that can slow you down. That’s when you need good tactics.

Tactics are the boat-on-boat moves you make to help follow your strategy in the midst of a fleet. They help you stay in control of where you’re going and avoid being pushed around by other boats.

For example, when you want to tack but there’s a boat to windward pinning you, there are two basic options you have: 1) stay there and let the other boat control where you go; or 2) make a tactical move so you can follow your strategy.

It’s almost always better to take the initiative. Here are some things you might try:

1) Sail high to pinch off the other boat, then tack. This is a great idea, but don’t be overly optimistic about how quickly you can accomplish it. This tactic often takes too long. By the time you are able to tack and cross the other boat (assuming you’re even able to do so), you have likely sailed too far toward the unfavored side of the course.

2) Slow down or bear off so you can tack behind the other boat. It’s always hard, psychologically, to slow down and/or go behind another boat. However, the big advantage of these tactical moves is they quickly get you going in the right direction. By minimizing the time you spend sailing toward the unfavored side, you will usually realize the best gain in the long run.

3) Avoid getting pinned in the first place. Tactics are helpful, but they usually mean you lose distance to every other boat in the fleet. So try to avoid situations where you must make a tactical move to regain control. For example, don’t make a weak lee-bow tack to leeward of a boat on starboard tack – this often puts you right into a pinned position.

It’s hard enough to sail a good, smart race when you have the option to go wherever you want. So don’t make this more difficult by letting other boats dictate where you go. Look ahead and be proactive to stay in control of your race and follow your strategic game plan.

Source: US Sailing Blog

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