January 17, 2013
Sailboat racing can be fun but frustrating when a good plan backfires. We want to know all the answers, like which side of the course is favored? While it is human nature to want a solution, unforeseen variables can and will change. Decisions on where to start and what side of the course is favored are best made with good clues.
Starting: Prepare for a good start with these tips:
Use all the possible clues to get comfortable with your plan before the start. By sailing early you will get a feel for which side of the course looks better. If not, think about a plan that would allow you to start near the favored end, yet in a third section. If the boat is favored, consider starting in the upper third or if the pin is favored, lower third.
Use information about current and wind pressure in the last two minutes to help with your last tack to the start. If you use a starting tool like the Pro Start, use the distance from the line to determine where to set up. Twenty meters above is only three boat lengths in a Melges 20, so determine in light, medium, and heavy air, a distance that will allow you to be up to speed at the gun. Twenty meters might be good for light air while 30 could be better for medium pressure as 50 would be for big breeze.
Your clues on where to start can be enhanced by the setup of different boats. When making a port approach toward the starting boat, look for the better boats. When in doubt, set up to leeward of the fast boats and to windward of the slower boats. Use the boats to windward as a clue when to start trimming in for the start. If the boats above you are going, there is a good chance you will be protected from being over early. Usually you will have a good first leg if you start and can sail straight for five minutes. If you have to tack because of a poor set up, often the result will be bad.
The First Leg
Keep in mind:
Use the first leg as the set-up for the rest of the race. Your goal should always be to stay in touch with the top group. Shortly after the start, observe if you are sailing straight with the best boats or have they tacked away. If you had a poor start and you had to tack away, look for the clear lane to get you back in touch with the better boats. Use your clues prior to the start for direction, yet try to stay around the best group. Once the fleet spreads out and your position is near the top third of the fleet, use all your information to get closer to the leader and eventually become the leader.
Questions as you get closer to the top mark:
Pick up more clues as you sail up the first leg to help improve your position on the next windward leg and the first leeward leg of the race.
First Leeward Leg
Questions as you approach the leeward gates:
The clues at the bottom of the second leg should help you decide on what side could be good upwind.
This is the leg to either protect your good position or to attack from behind. Based on your position you can sail at different risk percentages. If leading or near the top, the risk factor should be low while you are either covering the boats behind or staying close to the leaders.
Second Windward Leg
Use this leg to protect or improve your position. Use the clues from the first upwind and leeward leg to help develop a plan before you round the gate.
Last Leg Downwind
Like the second upwind leg, this is the leg to protect or attack. After three legs of information, use all the clues to help you decide prior to the top mark what gybe to be on after rounding. If near the lead, protect your position; if you’re back further than expected, become more aggressive on your decisions.
Clues for the last leg:
All your clues will make this leg less stressful by either sailing with the good boats or attacking the wind shifts.
We seek answers, yet sailing has many mysteries that cannot be explained. Use all the clues you have picked-up from past events as well as your present situation to make your race more enjoyable and successful.
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