How and when to take tactical gambles

Published on September 7th, 2020

Andy Rice gets five pro tips from navigator Libby Greenhalgh on how to know if it’s the right time to make a brave call and break away from the fleet.

Often you don’t actually know if your breakaway move will be a lone bid until later in the race. Libby Greenhalgh recalls her baptism into the Volvo Ocean Race, straight after the start of Leg 1 out of Alicante. Libby was the navigator for the all-women crew on Team SCA skippered by Sam Davies.

“As we approached the Strait of Gibraltar there was a forecast of marginally better breeze near the African coast but quite a lot of adverse tide. Sam and I liked the look of the alternative and tacked out soon after the position report. It seemed like a bit of a no-brainer, but we didn’t know for a while if anyone else was coming with us.

“It wasn’t for another four hours or so when the fleet converged again at the Strait before we’d find out if we’d lost or gained. Initially we couldn’t see anyone, and it took us a while to work out what had happened. We’d gained about 20 miles on the others because the wind had just dipped from about 8 to 6 knots which, with the adverse current they were battling, made a massive difference.” Here Libby helps you identify the right time to go for the brave breakaway.

1. Know your boat
Sometimes a reason to break away is because your boat has radically different polars compared with your competitors. For example, in the 2019 Rolex Fastnet Race, Pip Hare got a jump on all the newer foiling IMOCAs when she headed inshore along the south coast of England and found better breeze there.

Generally speaking, the slower your boat, the more it operates in displacement mode, and the more likely you’ll want to opt for the shortest route. The more dynamic your boat – whether it planes or maybe even foils – the more you’re likely to get rewarded with a carefully planned breakaway.

That said, when you’re in close proximity to other boats of similar speed, crews tend to sail and trim the boat with more intensity. So if you do break away the potential gain needs to be big enough to overcome a slight loss in boatspeed. Yachting World, full report.

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