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Terry's Tips: Getting Clear in Big Fleets

Quantum Key West Race Week is notorious for big fleets and tough racing and traffic management. Here tips for managing a large fleet from pro-racer and Quantum VP Terry Hutchinson.

Getting clear - Big fleets, much like those at major regattas, can be hard to mange, but with some smart tactics you can set yourself up for the best positioning.

Keeping it simple in larger fleets is sometimes easier said than done. Having patience always helps, but how many times do you hear “let's be patient” only to go nowhere? A good understanding of the boat’s performance and how gains are made leads to higher percentage chance of a good recovery. Each boat is different and so generalities from boat to boat won’t necessarily always work. For example, at the most recent Audi Melges 20 World Championship being deep in the fleet put a premium on a couple of key concepts.

Getting clear (rounding in the top 15)

When you’re out front, bear away and go straight. There would have to be a really good reason to jibe and sail back through the bad air of the fleet. The first opportunity to jibe was halfway down the run.

Getting clear of traffic (rounding in 15th to 30th)

When you’re in the mid-fleet mix, break away from the groups. Like most boats, the Melges 20 goes faster when not slowed by quarter waves downwind. When we found ourselves in the 12 to 30 placing at the first top mark an early jibe allowed for a 10- to 15-boat gain down the first run. This was a consistent pattern as the fleet was always stuck together sailing high of VMG.

Upwind was also unique. The starboard-tack layline had the usual stack up, but interestingly enough in this boat, if you were able to be bow down and rumbling you did not pay nearly as much for overstanding. Unlike other boats I sail, the ability of the Melges 20 to gain bearing relative to boats that were sailing higher and slower upwind modes was significant. The port-tack layline was not as fruitful because of the agility of the Melges 20 to gain and the associated bad air. It was absolutely heinous!

Getting clear water (beyond 30th)

Digging out from the back of the fleet was all about sailing in clear water. This means sailing your mode and not artificially high, which is just wasted distance. In this part of the fleet the competitors don’t usually understand the concept of working together to gain distance on the leaders. Our philosophy is to do whatever you can to sail in clear water.

"Terry's Tips" is a regularly occuring column in Sailing World Magazine, where this piece was orginally published.

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