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.
All of this had transpired because he had gone another 200 feet beyond our line and had come into the mark with a full head of steam, he won the championship and we were second. As we sailed home later, I thought how different the outcome would've been had that final lull not appeared as we closed the weather mark, but I also thought how much smarter Fischer had been to prepare for it.
Sailboat racing is characterized by its intermittency-hours and hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror! Once out on a leg where speeds are similar and speed differences are the only determinants of progress, positions rarely change and then only at a snail's pace. Most changes occur at starts and mark roundings, and these are the situations to be exploited. Here, many boats gather; only one or two are in clear air; only one or two can freely advance in the direction desired.
These situations provide the opportunities and the wise sailor prepares to utilize them. Starts and mark roundings always warrant concern, but when conditions are adverse, when speed is difficult to achieve, they become crucial. One must plan the start and the mark rounding so as to assure both the most advantageous position and the best preservation of speed, or even for an increase in speed at the crucial moment, coming down from above the layline as you round the weather mark or coming up from below as you approach the leeward. So as to be able to bear away (or head up) to gain speed when it matters, sail high when approaching the weather mark (and sail low when approaching the leeward mark). In moderate to heavy air, you gain little speed by altering course, but in light air, upwind and down, major differences are possible and you should preserve the maximum possible for the end of the leg. A speed difference may have little effect along the way, but as the fleet converges to round the mark ahead, an increase of one-tenth of a knot can result in gaining an overlap instead of being buried in blanket and dirty air, or driving over to windward and emerging in clear air. This applies especially well in big waves that intermittently slow the boat's progress. One must be able to bear away to get up speed after being hit by a wave, and in a chop, one must approach a weather-mark rounding high so as to be able to bear away and carry speed into and out of the turn. Momentum is valuable in adverse current, in any condition that slows the boat, that makes it less able to accelerate, less able to maneuver, less able to escape from a crowd, or in any condition that requires the preservation of speed for a crucial moment to come.
This is, of course, the advice that Fischer had heeded. His local knowledge probably provided insight into the likelihood that the westerly gradient wind would die as the sea breeze came up the Channel and into the major increase in the strength of the current at that outer mark. He must have recognized that I might lay the mark from my early tack, but presumed that his restraint would give him the advantage of making it, if I didn't, or of bearing off and driving over me, if I did. He could not have hoped for the ideal solution that transpired, finding me stopped, head-to-wind, at the mark, waiting for him, but he had certainly prepared for it.