Dissecting the Final Race
Dissecting the Final Race
The mind of a professional tactician can be a scary place, but from time to time, a view from within can reveal important lessons—namely the importance of keeping one’s cool and focusing on a few specifics. "Winner's Debrief" from our March 2012 issue.
I’d like to share one recent experience from the 2011 Melges 20 Gold Cup in Miami, where I held the middle position, crewing for Alesandro Rombelli, a relative newcomer to sailing, but a quick learner. Our forward crew was the calm and cool Giorgio Tortarolo. We were having a good regatta, much to our surprise (in the previous regatta we had placed 23rd), and after three days of racing, we were in second place, 4 points ahead of third and 8 points behind the series leader, the formidable Luca Lalli, of Italy, and his team on B-Lin. There were two races scheduled, and the forecast was for 12 to 20 knots from the northeast. As we sailed out to the start, we talked about trying to have a solid race in the first one and seeing how the points played out, not worrying about the other boats.
We had a good first race, passing two boats right before the finish to get fourth. The boat just behind us in the series was a few places behind, so we were in pretty good shape on them. Even better, B-Lin, the regatta leader, finished 12th, so we were now tied going into the last race. This vastly exceeded our expectations, and we tried to keep our cool: the final race would be a “who-beats-who” for all the marbles.
Leg 1: Sail Clean
Not being super confident in our speed or our boathandling compared to B-Lin, we decided not to engage them, but rather try to get a good start and see what happened. Before the start, we discussed the importance of focusing on execution and not getting too flustered, no matter what happened. We had already done better than we expected, so in a way the pressure was off. But on the other hand, being tied for the lead with one race to go, the anticipation of winning a Gold Cup was too much to ignore.
In 13 to 20 knots, with 15-degree oscillating shifts, I knew it was important to stay on the lifted tack, hopefully in clear air. We were looking at “stay-in-phase” conditions.
We lined up for the start in our usual manner, focusing on being the right distance off the line during our final approach. But B-Lin snuck in and set up to leeward. “Dang,” I thought. Another fast boat set up to windward, and as we sheeted in for the start, we were a little slow to accelerate. Within 30 seconds, we were under pressure from both boats, and we got flushed out soon after.
“Less than ideal,” I thought.
At this point, our chances of winning the regatta were not looking good. Luckily, we were getting headed and had a gap to windward to tack into. Immediately after the tack, things looked brighter. We had a good lane with clear air, we were on the lifted tack, and B-Lin was pinned by the other boat.
“We’re back in the hunt,” I said.
We sailed for about 90 seconds, got a good header, and tacked back. The leaders from both sides were ahead of us, but as we approached B-Lin, they were unable to cross and tacked to leeward.
“That worked out well (if a bit lucky).”
We sailed on starboard all the way to the port layline and tacked in a good leebow position on B-Lin. The leaders from the right were well ahead, but at this point we were simply executing our game plan: stay in front of B-Lin.
As we approached the weather mark, we had to duck a string of starboard-tack boats on the starboard layline, being extra careful not to foul anyone. Somehow B-Lin slipped through and tacked right in front of us.
“Lucky for them,” I thought, “but there’s lots of racecourse left.”