Leave Extra Room For the Rounding
Leave Extra Room For the Rounding
When racing in strong current, as Stuart Walked learned the hard way, it pays to be conservative at mark roundings. "From the Experts: Tactics" from our November/December 2006 issue.
Mark Fischer, the local ace, came from behind to win the first race of the championship—a light and fluky one. Then, in strong air, beat us in three of the next five. But the series was close, and after winning the first race the following day, we had high hopes we could beat him in the finale, and take the trophy.
The current was roaring up the Bristol Channel (England), where the tidal rise and fall is the second greatest in the world, and the peak current off Barry is often more than 2 knots. The westerly wind had dropped from its earlier 6 knots to about 4. We would beat parallel to the Channel's north shore against the easterly flood. An immediate tack to port would place us inshore of the fleet, in less adverse current, and provide the benefit of the near-shore divergence, acceleration, and veer in flow that results when the wind flows parallel to shore with water on its left.
To ensure that we could be the first to tack to port, I decided to make a late start at the committee boat in the hole that the current would open as the gun fired. We made our start, but Fischer made a better one, and was able to tack before we did. As we headed right, he was two boatlengths to windward, slightly ahead, and leading the fleet. We headed lower and faster and gradually worked out on his leebow, but did not gain enough to permit us to tack and cross.
The question that now preoccupied us both was when to tack for the offshore mark? After tacking, we would sail for about 5 minutes on the starboard layline (about one-third of a mile at about 4 knots boatspeed) during which the average 1-knot flood would set us to leeward 600 feet. We would need to sail 600 feet beyond the normal layline before tacking. We reached that position, tacked, and once on the layline, we could see we were holding the mark against a range on the far shore. I expected Fischer to tack ahead of me, but he held his starboard tack and (inexplicably to me at the time) continued across and to my right. I thought that if I were in his place, I would have tacked dead ahead and thereafter kept him in my bad air. But I wasn't complaining.
Now it all depended on who had chosen the better layline.Two hundred feet beyond where I had tacked, Fischer tacked. As we were still holding the mark easily, and were thereafter gradually working out ahead and to leeward of him, we decided that we had made the better choice. When a 10-degree lift and an increase in velocity appeared, we congratulated ourselves and presumed we would round with a four- or five-boatlength lead.But then the wind died and we had to head lower. We could see we were barely laying, and then we were no longer laying the mark. I heeled over, opened the leeches, and we charged toward the mark. We were alongside it, shooting head to wind, expecting to be required to tack, when the crew shouted, "You've made it!" We rolled the boat to starboard, I gradually bore away and we squeaked around with an inch to spare.
But now, after a luff and a sharp turn, we were barely moving in the 2-knot wind and had only the 1.5-knot favorable current to propel us. The spinnaker wouldn't fill and the jib wouldn't come down, and when we jibed, which we had to do to get to the stronger air inshore, the spinnaker stuck to the rigging. And there, a boatlength astern with his spinnaker full on the inshore jibe, was Fischer, rolling over us. We never got him back.