Match Racing Moves For Fleet Racers
Match Racing Moves For Fleet Racers
When it comes down to a one-on-one situation, the competitor with the most match-racing savvy will likely come out ahead. "Tactics" from our March 2011 issue.
As much as everyone likes to pass boats in bunches, sometimes the road to a better finish involves stepping over one boat at a time. Maybe the battle is for position during the start sequence or when nearing a mark, or maybe the goal is to force another boat to have a bad race near the end of a series. Regardless of the situation, when two boats become locked in battle, the sailor or team with match racing experience usually dominates. With that in mind, here are some match-racing moves you can use in fleet racing to ensure you have the upper hand, or at least a clue on how to defend if you find yourself under attack.
Protect the Starboard Card
When two boats engage, the boat on starboard—the one with the Starboard Card—has tremendous power over the boat on port. Whenever possible, be on starboard tack when you converge with an opponent. In general, this means you want to stay to the right of your targeted opponent on the upwind legs, and to the left (looking downwind) on the downwind legs.
If you are on port tack approaching a starboard-tack opponent, it’s usually stronger to cross behind and then tack or jibe to its right (when sailing upwind) or left (downwind). I often say that when a port-tack boat passes just astern of a starboard-tack boat, it is ahead in the race. This is true upwind and downwind.
On the other hand, if you are on starboard, use the Starboard Card. If you allow your opponent to pass astern, you give up the Card without a fight. If the next crossing is close, your opponent is likely to have the advantage. Upwind, if you want to defend the right, and you are unable to force your opponent to tack back to starboard, a leebow tack is the best option. This is more difficult to do when you are on starboard tack, as the port-tack boat will be bearing away to duck. You’ll need to start your turn
a little sooner than you would when executing a leebow tack from port to starboard. Downwind, if you can’t force your opponent to jibe, you must jibe before he or she gets near you so you can save your Starboard Card for later use.
Hunting and controlling during the pre-start
During the time between the preparatory signal and the starting signal, a boat on starboard tack can change course freely near a port-tack boat as long as the port-tack boat always has a seamanlike way of reacting to the course change and keeping clear (Rule 16.1). This makes the pre-start an excellent opportunity to go on the offensive. You’ll need to be to your opponent’s right—looking upwind—to have the greatest control. The Starboard Card is particularly powerful if you are to the left of the right-hand (committee boat) end of the line. Make note that after the starting signal, Rule 16.2 prohibits a starboard-tack boat from changing course near a port-tack boat when it is trying to pass astern.
In a port-starboard confrontation before the start, you (S) can make P jibe to keep clear, and then force P farther down the line than it might like to go. Once you are astern of P, especially with both boats on starboard tack, it’s easy to prevent P from tacking or jibing by cutting off the escape route each time P turns up or down.
For P, who finds it’s impossible to tack or jibe without the risk of fouling S, the safest move is to stop, using a sharp turn up to head to wind, followed by pushing the main out hard for a few seconds to kill speed. The safest location to perform such a stop is two lengths to the right of the right-hand end of the starting line.
Upwind: the reverse tack
You (P) are slightly ahead of your opponent (S)—on the opposite tack—and want to tack onto his air and get in phase with him. You know, however, that S will likely tack away when you do so. Turn a little more slowly as you start your tack and keep a close eye on S. If S begins his turn before you are well past head to wind, smoothly reverse your turn (be sure to warn your crew you may do this). S will either complete its tack, in which case you will be in phase with S and in a controlling position, or S will freeze head to wind, in which case you remain head to wind directly upwind of S, waiting to match its next move. This works best in medium to heavy wind and relatively flat water.
S should wait for P to get all the way to close-hauled on the new tack before beginning its tack. And, if P decides to reverse its turn, then S should complete the initial tack—never stopping head to wind—and then immediately tack back to get out of phase.