Fleet Race First
Fleet Race First
The fall college sailing season has come to a close, and as the spring approaches so does the exciting challenge of team racing. For college crews, there are varying levels of understanding of what exactly is happening during a team race; a freshman crew is a lot less likely to recognize the patterns and plays than a seasoned upperclassman crew. A huge responsibility for every crew, however, is to keep in mind the fleet-racing aspect of team racing.
In the words of Ken Legler: “It’s a fleet race first, and a team race second.” By this, he means that without proper boathandling and boatspeed, your team doesn’t have a chance at winning the race. Since the skipper will likely be almost entirely focused on the other boats on the course, it’s the crew’s responsibility to make sure that the boat is moving at the right speed at the right time, and that the two of you can pull off tight maneuvers without having to talk it through. In team racing, if you’ve already verbalized it, it’s probably too late.
Fleet race first to win a team race: focus on boathandling and boatspeed. Photo: Bill Records
Pre-start, you should remind your skipper about many of the same things as during a fleet race. Make sure you both know where the marks are and what the current is like, and talk about breeze on the course. Know which end of the line is favored, and if it’s light air, prepare yourselves to lead in instead of push. After the two-minute warning, you should be rolling at about 50% to keep up momentum and enable steering, and once you engage with another boat you should be in full racing mode.
Even while you’re engaging with another boat, keep an eye on the line; let your skipper know the time, and if you think you’re getting close to missing the start, tell him or her. While beating your guy on the start is important, ideally you want to not only beat your guy but also have a good start yourself. Don’t ever lose awareness of the breeze, and if there are any huge shifts before GO make sure to verbalize them. Be prepared for anything; if you’re pushed over early, recognize it immediately and clear yourself as quickly as possible. Then get moving.
If you're over early at the start, clear yourself as quickly as possible and get moving again. Photo: Bill Records
I would argue that the first leg of a team race is primarily a fleet race, at least for the first two-thirds or so. Make sure that your boat is tuned correctly, and that while you feed information about your combo and other pairs on the course, you’re not forgetting to keep your boat flat and fast; you can’t make any plays from the back of the fleet.
The windward mark is likely going to be a place where boats meet, so make sure that you have complete control of your boat when you reach it. If you’re on starboard, pinning out another boat, you need to be able to hold them there without ever making contact. In addition, your jib trim largely controls fore and aft movement of the boat relative to the leeward boat, so trim and ease according to their speed. You want to keep their bow roughly at the leeward shroud, while always keeping enough flow to get moving if they start to accelerate. Then, when your teammates have rounded successfully, you need to be able to get back up to speed with a huge roll tack.
Jib trim is a key component of holding a pin at the windward mark. Photo: Bill Records
Anytime your boat is down-speed, you’re going to need to get back up to speed quickly, or you’ll stall out and watch the race go by you. This includes the aforementioned roll tack, which will likely be necessary at the end of just about every pin. Especially in Larks with their enormous sail area, rolling near other boats must always be calculated correctly, though; make sure that your mast doesn’t touch tips while you roll or flatten, especially during a leebow. While rolling is important, avoiding fouling is more important in close quarters.
The windward offset is a tricky and exciting little leg. Especially if it’s windy, there’s always the opportunity for sailing high and reaching over the top of all the action. Be on the lookout for this: Let your skipper know when you think you can do it, and commit to going high and fast—or, if you’re the boat ahead, setting a trap, always keep up enough momentum to be able to accelerate and hook that boat. Setting mark traps is another delicate balance of stop and go; your boat should be all but stopped at the beginning of the two-boat length circle if you’re setting a trap, but if you stall out, you will lose the ability to actually screw over any of your opponents. Be ready to steer the boat drastically with your weight, which also legally allows for a rock to facilitate steering.
Know whether you should commit to going high and fast or slowing on the windward offset leg. Photo: Bill Records
Downwind, your body movements and boatspeed are perhaps even more vital. If you’re in a winning combination when you round the windward offset, the run is likely going to be a nerve-wracking leg where all that you’ve worked for can easily be lost if you’re not careful. On top of being on the lookout for puffs and nailing down the location of the leeward mark, the crew also needs to be able to transition between fast-forward mode and playing back. If you’re going fast, you should be doing everything the same as in a fleet race: board up, controls eased, arms outstretched jib reaching or perfect heel while winging. The skipper will likely be focusing on things besides jib trim, so he or she should be able to just point the boat downwind after the offset ,and you should be able to manage the necessary transitions.