Fleet Race First
Fleet Race First
If you’re about to engage another boat, or need to play back, put down the board and keep your head up so you know what to expect. Especially when it’s windy, be ready to punch up hard by trimming in the jib and jumping to windward to hike, whether you’re the leeward boat trying to hard luff a boat or the windward boat trying to break overlap. Even in lighter air, your body movements are key in heading the boat up, and your jib trim is crucial to maintaining or breaking overlap.
The crew must initiate the gybe, so if you know what’s happening you can start rolling before your skipper has to say anything. If you’re not confident enough to do that, then be completely prepared to roll at any second when other boats are nearby: vang on, slack out of the opposite jib sheet. No team race is complete without a gybing duel, so be prepared to gybe over and over again. This is a tough skill; without time for the sails to load up between gybes, it’s easy for your boat to stall out. By making sure that your rolls are big enough and your flattens quick enough, you can keep up momentum. Someone is going to get tired; don’t let it be you.
The leeward mark is another big moment on the course. If you have a shot at getting the inside as you approach the zone, focus all your efforts on going fast-forward. Inside overlap here can make or break the race. Once at the zone, again be prepared to bring your boat to a stop; a big heel to windward will slow you down, as will your skipper’s repeated tiller movements. As soon as it’s time to accelerate, throw in a large gybe if you’re trying to go quickly; or, if you have room on one of your opponents and you’re trying to slow him down, make sure that your rounding is seamanlike but not rushed.
Don't let your guard down on the last beat. Photo: Bill Records
The last beat is not a time to let your guard down if you round in a winning combo, or to give up hope if you’re losing. Especially at shifty venues, a winning combination can vanish in a matter of a puff if you’re not careful, and by the same token your team can turn a losing race around if your opponents don’t balance carefully. Therefore, be on the lookout for shifts and puffs, and make sure to remind your skipper to be disciplined if you’re ahead and covering.
If you need to free a teammate in a speed passback, you need to know how to position your boat relative to your opponent’s in order to do the most damage as quickly as possible. Your skipper will probably overtrim the main to create a windshadow, so a large part of your responsibility is trimming and ragging the jib to keep your opponent’s bow right at your leeward shroud. If it’s windy, you need to be hiking and luffing—even though it feels strange to hike off of only the straps. If it’s light air, you need to make sure that you keep up your momentum—not to beat a dead horse, but there are few things as frustrating as watching your opponent sail right by you while you’re dead in the water.
If you’re the boat that is being passed back, chances are that you’re going to want to make it take as long as possible. If, and only if, it’s windy enough to warrant it, you can really extend your body as you hike out to windward to force that boat to give you some breathing room. However, don’t focus on the boat to windward; instead, focus on sailing fast and keeping the leeward boat pinned without fouling them. As soon as they tack out, make sure you’re clear and then tack on them, re-pinning them.
Winning a tacking duel can mean winning the race. Photo: Bill Records
Tacking duels are incredibly important in team racing, especially on the last beat. If your tacks are better than your opponent’s, and you have the stamina to out-tack them, then your chances of holding them if you’re winning the pair, or getting free if you’re losing it just skyrocketed. Make each tack perfect—you can catch your breath after the race. If it’s medium to light air, do huge tacks; if it’s breezy, snap the bow across and then have a huge flatten so you’re ready to go again immediately. Don’t wait for your skipper to say ‘tack’; as soon as your boat is ready to go again, you should also be ready to roll again--if the other boat tacks again, assume you’re going to tack on them.
So many team races come down to half a boat length, which is part of what makes them both so thrilling and so painful to lose. Clearly, there are more factors in play than just boathandling and speed, but they’re the foundation that the rest of the race is built on. If a crew doesn’t understand what’s going on in a team race, then he or she won’t intuitively know what to do at any given moment, and the skipper will have to spend valuable brain power directing them. Skippers and crews should debrief with each other after every race, talking through tricky situations until they both understand exactly what happened and what they could have done differently. Whenever possible, crews should try to skipper during team races, even if it’s just piggy-in-the-middle drills or 2 v. 2s.
On the flip side, especially when skippers fully immerse themselves in the team-racing aspect of the competition, crews need to be in tune with the conditions and the boat. If you’re both thinking about the pair in the 5-6, then you might both miss the huge righty that loses you the race. If you’re staring at the boat you’re covering and forget about your own heel angle and jib trim, you might stall out and lose them. Keep your head out of the boat, but never lose touch with it.
Amelia Quinn is a senior at Tufts University, studying a little bit of Arts and Sciences and a lot of sailing. Find more of her blogs here.