It’s the ultimate bummer. The starting gun sounds. You’re in the front row and looking good. Then there’s another horn, the X flag and, after an excruciating wait, you hear your sail number on the VHF. You’re OCS, and you can kiss a good result goodbye. Don’t give up. An OCS is a hurdle for sure, but you’ve still got the whole race in front of you, not to mention whatever is left of the regatta. Take a deep breath, and keep these tips in mind.
1) Stick to the game plan. So many times the frustration of being OCS causes teams to completely abandon the prestart game plan. Here’s a perfect example: You’re OCS at the leeward end of the line, you clear yourself by jibing around the pin, and then you head off on port tack and go hard right, only to see the left side come in strong, just like you’d predicted. It’s the ultimate double whammy! Don’t abandon all your prestart research.
2) Work to get a clear lane. Sticking with the example above, your best opportunity to get to the left might be to clear yourself around the pin and tack back to starboard. You’ll be second row — or worse — but the separation from the boats that started properly may allow you to execute the plan. However, this approach may also involve a little bit of wishful thinking, especially in a big fleet. So instead of tacking right back to starboard and sailing in bad air, sail on port tack to take advantage of the lifts off the backside of the fleet on starboard, and choose a cleaner lane for your tack toward the left side of the racecourse.
3) Get out of phase (with the fleet). If neither side is favored, look to find clean air by going against the grain: sailing on port when most of the fleet is on starboard, and vice versa. Sailing out of phase with the fleet will create separation and allow you to sail your boat at optimum speed. Groups of boats always tend to slow one another down. I am always amazed by how long people will sail in a pack when tacking away would afford them much cleaner air.
4) Minimize tacks. Hitting a corner is one way to reduce the number of tacks. But it’s a risky call. If you decide to be more conservative, make sure to limit your tacks to the bare minimum. Double-check your lanes and try to anticipate where boats ahead of you will tack.
5) Boatspeed. This may seem obvious; boatspeed is always important. But it’s easy to get discouraged or distracted when looking at so many transoms. Redouble your efforts and focus. Every ounce of energy needs to go into sailing the boat fast.
6) Focus on short-term goals. Turn your OCS into a positive. Establish short-term goals by looking one mark ahead. It can be difficult for everybody to put everything they have into hiking when it may all be for naught. A quick acknowledgment of the mistake is key. Identifying boats that can be picked off or closed on, and then maintaining a constant dialogue about your progress, will keep the team’s frame of mind as positive as possible. For more insight from Terry Hutchinson, check out Terry’s Tips at sailingworld.com.