Focus on Success
Focus on Success
No two races are won the same way, but sticking to this six-point plan will help you win regattas. "From the Experts: Tactics" from our October 2011 issue.
Good coaches in any sport usually advise their charges to focus on just a handful of ideas when they compete. This advice is especially potent in sailing because there are so many variables. Try to focus on them all, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Putting your emphasis on what’s important will keep you at the front of the fleet. Here are six general rules I keep in mind whenever I compete.
1. Stay in line at the start
Generally, the worst starts are a result of getting to the line too early. All of the other boats are just behind you, and when you slow down to avoid being over early, the trailing boats overlap you and steal your speed and maneuverability. At the gun, you’re in the front row, but going nowhere, and everyone else leaves you in the dust. Conversely, if you get behind the line of boats that set up 50 to 20 seconds before the start, you may never get through—especially in light air—and find yourself sucking bad air off the line.
Try this: When everyone starts to line up, get in there and keep your bow even with the other boats. Focus half of your energy on staying in line with the other boats and the other half on determining whether the line of boats is early or late. If you can’t determine where the line of boats stands relative to the starting line, when the guy next to you sheets on, do the same. Nine times out of 10, if you’re in the line of boats and sheet on at the right time, you’ll be in better shape than if you try something else.
2. Develop an anti-pack mentality
Packs of boats go slow. This is especially true in light air. On the starting line, stay to the edges of the packs: maybe it’s just to leeward of a group of boats fighting for position at the committee boat, just to windward of a pack trying to win the pin, or on either side of a pack in the middle of the line. Staying on the edge keeps your options open and, more importantly, keeps you from being controlled by other boats. Plus, it usually keeps you in clean air at a very crucial time.
The same principle applies on upwind and downwind legs. When you see a pack forming, get to one side or the other. Tactical issues, such as trying to hold the inside position at an upcoming mark rounding, may determine the side you choose. Regardless, avoid running with the herd.
3. Stay lifted
This is Racing 101, and I’m sure you’ve read or heard this nugget of advice a million times, but it’s always worth repeating. Stay on the lifted tack as much as possible. It’s very difficult to predict the wind. The key is to take a little bit of a gain whenever you can and minimize the risk. Sailing on the lifted tack—the one where your bow points more toward the mark—always makes your VMG to the mark, at that moment, at least as good as any other boat out there.
If you’re on the headed tack, you should have a good reason to be going that direction, such as better pressure or a known geographical shift. While you’re on the headed tack, however, anyone on the lifted tack is making better progress toward the mark. There are a lot of reasons to sail a 5-degree header, but there are few good reasons to sail a 20-degree header.