Defending the Game Plan

Sometimes sticking to the pre-race game plan means sticking with the fleet and minimizing the risk.

The mantra rings through my head during the start and first few moments of any race: Stick to your game plan. It's there because I worked long and hard to put it there. It wasn't so long ago that I would start a race with a carefully conceived plan of attack for the first leg and, at the first sign of trouble, quickly abandon it in favor of whatever looked good at that particular moment.

The game plan mantra has a few things going for it: 1. It forces me to seriously think about the upcoming leg before the start; to carefully consider the factors involved and the options. 2. It puts everyone on the same page before the start, and allows people the opportunity to offer their input, at a time when it can be properly evaluated. 3. If something does go wrong, it’s much easier to learn from the experience. Re-hashing, and learning from, seat-of-the-pants tactics is a difficult task.

So in the second race last night, when we came off the middle of the line in a solid lane and with the opportunity to tack, it was an easy decision. We’d decided before the race to play the right, so we picked a nice vein of wind and tacked. For a while we looked good leading a smaller group of boats into was seemed like an area of solid breeze. But getting back to the left was difficult. The wind dropped away and the boats on the left rode a significant left shift over us. We struggled to get in phase and find a good lane, hit the mark, and after our penalty turn were four boats from last.

The geographically influenced left shift along the shore of Goat Island will certainly go into my notebook. But the larger lesson, we decided over our post-race beverages, was to not be too hasty to execute the game plan. In some J/24 Fleet 50 races, you must pick a side and commit to it. But last night wasn’t like that. The beat was more open, the changes from side to side more fluid. We came off the middle of the line in a very solid position, with much of the fleet bunched to leeward of us. We had a good lane on starboard tack and we should’ve been more patient. We were in a good position to protect the right side of the course, which we thought was favored. By sticking with the fleet, we could hedge our bets and take advantage of our solid start. By bailing out to the right and leaving the pack behind, we effectively neutralized our start and went all-in on our pre-race prediction. Trusting yourself, and your game plan, is one thing, but being able to do so smartly, while minimizing the inevitable mistakes, is much better.