Control the Cross
Control the Cross
Whether you’re on port or starboard tack, the desired outcome of any crossing situation is the same: emerge in control of your destiny. "Tactics" from our April 2012 issue.
At a recent regatta, a port-tack boat was making a close cross and its team yelled, “Tack or cross?” But, I’d already decided what I wanted them to do.
“Duck!” I yelled back.
I’m sure it wasn’t the response they were hoping for. Perhaps it sounded flippant. But why should I let the give-way boat control my destiny by asking me to pick between two options? There is, after all, a third.
The port-starboard cross, especially when the port boat is anywhere from a half length ahead to barely crossing, can be critically important to both boats. The desired outcome for either competitor is the ability to execute their respective game plan no matter how the other boat reacts. The key, whether you’re on port or starboard, is to avoid leaving the final result to the whim of your competitor.
The question “Tack or cross?” is usually a last resort when a cross is too close for comfort. Allowing a race strategy to hinge on the answer can be a death sentence. When you ask “Tack or cross?” you put the outcome in the hands of the right-of-way boat.
By breaking down this simple situation into fundamental strategies and potential outcomes, you can improve the likelihood of coming out of a cross with the upper hand.
In a basic port-starboard run-in, the intent of the port-tack boat is usually to continue to the right side of the racecourse, while the starboard-tack boat wants to continue to the left. Or, the starboard boat may be looking to harass port and maintain control of the right. Rule 10 says that port must keep clear of starboard. It may be in both boats’ interests to avoid an incident altogether. But, in most port-starboard crossing situations, someone will end up with the short straw. Here’s how to make sure that someone isn’t you.
The port-tack perspective
Strategy A: The port-tack boat wants to keep going to the right side
This strategy has three options, each with its own risks and likelihood of success.
Option 1: Crossing ahead is the ideal outcome for port. That’s why so many people ask, “Tack or cross?” They are optimistic, but they’re up against an obstacle to their strategy. Asking “Tack or cross?” can solve the problem, unless starboard responds, “Tack!” Then the strategy cannot be executed and the most likely result is a rushed, possibly poor, tack. If a lee-bow tack isn’t properly placed, the port-tack boat’s get-right strategy gets nixed. Starboard will be in control, and push port to the left side.
Option 2: Ducking behind starboard is a less-than-ideal outcome for the port-tack boat, but it does have a high rate of success for executing the go-right strategy. There’s always a chance the duck doesn’t go as planned. The sailor who hasn’t nicked a starboard tacker’s transom might be the luckiest sailor alive. Also, failing to unload the vang or ease the main to allow the helmsman to bear away can cause a major collision.
A clean duck will sacrifice distance, but the associated risk of fouling the starboard-tack boat is vastly lower than with a marginal cross. It’s painful to pass behind another boat, but a minor loss to guarantee the success of a broader strategy can be a major gain. Port also gains total control of its port-tack lane because Rule 16.2 freezes starboard’s course once port starts to keep clear by passing astern. A close duck to the favored side also means that the next time the boats meet up the course, the right-of-way will be reversed.
Option 3: Leebow starboard. A well-placed tack on the starboard boat’s leebow should force it into a clearing tack. There are risks with this option. Two tacks will be required to continue right. If the leebow attempt fails, the starboard boat will be able to continue left, and take port along for the ride.
Strategy B: The port-tack boat wants to control the left
Having discussed the plan to leebow and prepped the team for the maneuver, the port-tack team should get a good look at the starboard boat to ensure a good tack under starboard’s bow, and then get up to speed quickly after the tack to preserve the new lane and slow starboard as much as possible. Stick with your decision regardless of starboard’s actions. If your plan is to leebow, and the starboard crew yells for you to cross; execute the leebow and race on. A late change in plans is just as risky as putting the decision off until too late.