Great starts or perfect beats are the stuff that dreams of made of. But when the occasional nightmare start or terrible mark rounding sabatoges your plans, there are ways to salvage a positive outcome. "Tactics" from our May 2011 issue.
Trouble at the Gates
Lastly, one area where I see lots of gains and losses is at leeward gates. Successfully navigating gates starts roughly halfway down the run. The desired position is to be the inside boat on the rounding so you can control your destiny after the mark. Regardless, you need a plan for what side of the course
you want upwind. Keep that “big picture” plan in mind as you escape the gate area.
Coming into the gate, drop the spinnaker early enough to have everyone ready to hike and trim for maximum speed out of the mark. Your focus should be what happens just after the mark rounding. Boats sailing downwind toward the gate are especially painful to try and cross, if they’re on the same tack. Their wind shadow moves with you and gets worse as you get closer. So look for a lane to tack into that puts you crossing against the grain of oncoming traffic. And, much like the start, getting on the opposite tack to the upwind boats is helpful, too. You get better wind and speed than trying to hold a thin lane behind other boats on your tack. This keeps you in the game until you’re on the open course again and able to start playing the shifts normally. Once clear, review your strategy and get on the tack that takes you towards the best gain.
The bottom line is this: When you find yourself in trouble, don’t just eat bad air and watch the leaders sail away. Have an exit plan and use it if you have too. At the start, it’s urgent to get clear air so you can start playing the shifts at full speed. At the windward mark, gains come more often from a conservative approach that keeps your speed high and limits foul trouble. At gate marks, you need to thread your way through the nearby boats in a way that springs you out into clear air as soon as possible.
Hopefully, my young friend will realize he’s not slow, he just had a bad start. If he gets clear right away, he may be behind some boats initially, but not far. Then, if he plays the mark-rounding game well, he may even start to feel fast.