A Good Race That Should’ve Been Better

In a shifty, unpredictable breeze, staying at the front of pack can be harder than getting there in the first place. One key is to minimize leverage, aka risk, when you can.

In looking at my results from Sunday’s frostbiting on Newport Harbort, it’s easy to pick out the 12th and 15th in the fourth and fifth races, respectively, as the biggest mistakes of the day. Top 10 scores in those two races would’ve vaulted me from ninth (of 26) to sixth. However, as I review the day, I actually think the main culprit was one of my better finishes, an eighth in Race 3. On paper it looks like a solid result. But in reality, it should’ve been a lot better.

Some days of frostbiting on Newport Harbor are grinds. The northwesterly breezes blow somewhat unobstructed down the bay and it’s generally a boatspeed race, especially when the breeze is over 10 knots. Hike hard, keep the bow down and punching through the waves. Southerly breezes are often more of a thinking man’s game, or lottery, depending on your point of view. This was the case on Sunday. The southerly was puffy and shifty and never got above 12 knots. There were passing lanes all over the course, and getting passed on both sides (or passing people on both sides) wasn’t unusual. Everyone had a race outside the top five. All but one sailor had at least one race outside the top 10.

In Race 3, I somehow snuck around the first mark in third. I say somehow not necessarily because I was surprised, but because I can’t really remember how I did it. Upwind was often read-and-react type sailing. If you thought about whether to tack on a shift, it was often too late.


I held position on the run and went through the gate dead even with the second-place boat. He took the left-hand (looking downwind) gate; I took the right. The left had paid on the first beat, so I felt comfortable splitting from him and straight lining for the left corner. When I got there, however, the left shift with pressure that had helped on the first beat didn’t materialize. As I struggled to piece together some smaller shifts and puffs—and avoid some serious holes—the boat with which I’d been tied at the leeward mark—screamed in from the right corner on a huge right shift and a half-dozen boats who’d played the middle of the course passed me thanks to better pressure. I rounded the top mark in 10th or so.

What disappoints me isn’t my inability to read the wind. Rather it’s my poor risk management on a day when the wind was anything but predictable. While on my long starboard tack away from the leeward mark, I had countless opportunities to hedge my bet: to take a small shift or puff, tack toward the middle, and get in line with some of the trailing boats, all without giving up control of the side I thought to be favored. When the breeze is unstable, even if you think you’ve got a handle on it, it’s always worth a few extra tacks to reduce your risk, especially if you’re hoping to maintain position.

Later, at the bar, I spoke to the sailor who had played the right corner, and won the race. “You’d be surprised how many times I tacked on that leg,” he said. “Every time I had an opportunity to work back to the middle, I took it.”


Rock-solid advice for a day when the wind was anything but.


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