Match Racing: It’s all about control

Published on April 27th, 2021

In the latest edition of The Dial Up, Henry Menin (US Virgin Islands) – former Chairman of the World Sailing Match Racing Committee and America’s Cup Umpire and Judge – provides his silver bullet on how to excel in match racing:


I’ve watched a lot of match races in my day, from the best seat in the house (the umpire boat), and my observation is that it’s all about control.

To me, there are three types of control.

1) Control of the boat:
The ability to slow down, stop, sail backwards, accelerate, hold head to wind and fall off on either tack, and spinnaker handling (tack-set, tack-gybe-set, no pole gybe, leeward drop, windward drop, etc.)

2) Control of yourself (and crew self-control):
The ability to stay calm, not dwell on the past and always be looking forward to the next moves. Same for the crew … no recriminations, blaming, etc. Positive attitude all the time. Don’t dwell on mistakes you make or perceived mistakes of crew or umpires (and there will be plenty of both). Stay focused.

3) Control of your opponent (most important!):
Don’t go that extra step to get a penalty, especially when it will cost you control over your opponent. Keep control over your own fate. NEVER have contact! Every time a Y flag goes up, your fate goes into the hands of the umpires who may be seeing things totally different than you. Sail clean. Have controlled aggression.

Every time you make a move, think:

• What are my rights (can I luff, am I really entitled to room, etc.)
• What are my obligations (must I give room, must I keep clear, etc.)
• What are the risks if I make this move
• Do the rewards outweigh the risks (dial down on the beat, barging, steel balls and its escapes, taking room at the mark when the overlap may be marginal, etc.)

Where you are most vulnerable:

• Dial down on a beat (almost never pays)
• Slam dunk (never do it)
• Getting late inside overlap at leeward mark
• Tight circling in pre-start (getting main filled quickly after the gybe!)
• Getting hooked on the run (opponent gets leeward overlap from astern)

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