Before you can smoothly control a boat in the water it has to be balanced. This means the boat is sailing with little to no helm. This means the sails are in harmony with the wind and each other. This means the rig is sitting on the mast step in a position balanced to the Center of Effort. And, the boat is trimmed and sailing on her lines in the water. Not floating...sailing in the water.
Very often I hear, "She is sailing on her own." Well, that is good and moving in the right direction but will she point? Will she take a header and seek a new tack and lay line? Will she accelerate out of a tack sheeted out? It may not matter when a skipper is enjoying an easy sail and the beer is cold.
I like to see 94 slowly arcing toward the eye of the wind. I am not aboard viewing instruments I have only seen pictures of so, I need the boat to tell me how she feels and where the apparent wind is. You will hear various comments as to how many boat lengths she should sail by herself till luffing. The reason it varies is that each skipper and their set up is different. The boat is different, if you will. Find your own. Play with it.
Despite not being on the boat, there is a feel that can be sensed through the transmitter. It will come to you first by tension in the rudder stick. Then it will begin to relate through the winch stick. You will feel the boat change as you move the sheets slightly. You will feel when the boat is restricted, not free. You will feel the wind pressure change. You will feel the slowing impact of a passing wake. I am not kidding! In time you will feel it because what your eyes see and the pressure on your thumb will translate to a mental perception. Handicap people will tell you it is true. If that is not enough for you, think about the stirring of your hormones when seeing a beautiful woman and you haven't even been kissed.
In time it will come. When it arrives it will be like struggling along with the feeling of not moving forward and suddenly you are at lightspeed. It is like the day when you discover you can look around at the fleet and ponder your tactics and come back to the boat and find it is still doing its thing. You don't have to stare at it. Looking at it from time to time is to re-enforce your perception of feel. This is not deep stuff, guys. Don't micro-manage it! Let it happen.
This is when a boat is in balance. This is where the CE is just 3/8" behind the wind on the mast step and the rig is in sync. If you can understand the concept and balance in all wind, sailing will be fun and not a frustrating event in survival. You will not be fighting the boat. You will be more at ease.
Did you hear rudder a lot? Well, stay off it. If you have to be on the rudder a lot then you need to change something. Keep fiddling with the basics of tuning till she is balanced.
Have you ever slammed your barndoor back and forth quickly. Well, it will slow you down and a good technique to learn when you are early to the line or maybe the sheets are out and you are still over running the raft up at the mark. How much rudder do you use in the tacking maneuver? Do you come in close and sharply round a mark? Have you ever had a boat swing wide around a mark, passing you on the outside, use a bear away tack and be five boat lengths ahead before you are up to speed? Then as you come into the wind, higher on the course, he tacks and covers. Ouch! You get the idea I'm sure.
Do this several times. It is a good thing to do in re-enforcing the brain with what it sees and feels. It also shows you what not to do. It also points out some things that will unload the boat, if you will, and make the boat easier to turn. When you are balanced and sailing fast you want use the natural sailing properties to move the boat wherever you can, whenever you can and with the least effort.
This procedure requires practice and developing a drill. The more you work on this the more results you will see and the more often you will use it. Actually, it is more to how fewer times you forget to use it. It keeps a boat moving in light air which is critical. In moderate air there will be less flogging of the sails and you will notice the boat getting to speed faster. This means you will be further ahead of those that do not.
These are my main considerations in handling. These practiced, or even thought about, will guide your thoughts in other maneuvers. "I never have a chance to do this," you say. "There are always other boats to consider." Yes, that is true and will be the fact much of the time. But if you practice these things and then use them when you can, you will put a bit of distance on the competitor that does not. And then, when you are in the lead, or ahead of a group behind the leaders, you will have the confidence to hold your lead and possibly close on those ahead. If the boat cannot hold them off, then you will know that, in handling, you did the best you could do. There is satisfaction in that and it is important to your psyche. With that comfort, you can now look elsewhere why there may be a lack of speed.
Remember one of the themes in this series of reflections; how fast your boat is going is relative to those boats in the race. A boat is fast because the other boats are slower, at that moment, in those conditions and on that day. On another day, with other boats, you may be slower only because this group is faster. What sounds simple is often forgotten and it is important to your well being. The boat does not beat you. The skipper does. If you have done a good job at the helm, handling the boat properly, then that will be one less thing to consider the next day.
Solo sailing can be fun with a cockpit full of friends. But in RC we are usually looking for something. Maybe it is curiosity, just to watch and think about what you see. Maybe it is something you thought of and would like to try. Maybe you would like to go through a few training drills, get some stick time and experience with this boat. Unless you live on a pond and can walk out the door to the water's edge you are usually looking for something. You are alone and the wheels are tuning.
I am sure that all of us consider our Self and ponder feelings and reactions; the course of our lives and changes we would like to see. That leads to considerations of change, understanding and control. Sometimes it is just thinking and dreaming but it can also lead to a plan. It is not to say that your boat and the pursuit of this hobby is the higher and more important things in life. Your boat, building, crafting, racing and visiting with those that do is part of your life. Whatever the part, you consider it occasionally.
So, in that small part of your life, you will think of pursuits. You can not tell me that in the course of planning and travel to a racing event that you are not thinking boating and reviewing the last time you were on the water. In this review there has to be something you want to change or correct. There has to be something you want to go over again. That is part of a plan. These reflections may consider what you would like to do on the water over what you did the last time. These are the seeds of a race plan.
Do you play golf? Did you ever come home after shooting a good round and said, "Boy, if I had just not gone for the green from under those trees on 16 I could have scored two strokes better." Whatever your review you have thought of improvement. The next time you play there will be a better resolve at course management. Don't tell me you have not been through this in boat racing. Course management is the same in golf as in boat racing. It is huge. Because you have thought about it and because it is so big in scope, maybe you think about just a part of it. That is the beginning of a race plan.
Take that one thing that you did the last time you were in a race that you know you can change and think it out. When you have a plan toward making that one change write it down in the little 3x5 spiral pad you have in your box of stuff. You do have a note pad don't you?
Relax. Go out and have fun, but in doing so, concentrate on this one thing. Keep plugging away at it. Don't pass the buck! You are the master of your own fate. Think you are in control and pursue this one thing. Your mind will be giving you feedback. By the time lunch comes around you will have some feedback to consider. Give yourself five minutes. Just five minutes alone. That is all you need; a quiet five minutes. "Do I have any conclusions? Are there any modifications I want to make on this thing?" Don't get grand here, okay? If you can't concentrate at the moment or do not find a small change to make, drop the effort. Continue to do what you planned to do. If you have good reason to abandon the plan, do so. But whatever you do in this five minutes be sure you are sure. If you are confused, don't change, go out there and try again. Five minutes is part of the plan. Don't give this up. It could be huge for you.
Sometime before the end of the conscious day write down the result in your pad. Keep it simple. This is not a career change, okay? It is just boat racing. No big deal! Sometime in the next few days read your pad and then, on occasion, think about it and the next race.
Boat racing is just a small part of your life. It may, in fact, not be all that important. So, keep the plan simple and within the scope of the time you have to spend with this boat thing. But if you do the five minutes and a read through the pad later in the week, it could make a huge difference in that small part of your life.
detailed formulation of a program of action.
science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under
advantageous conditions. The art of devising or employing plans or stratagems
toward a goal.
device for accomplishing an end or, a method of employing forces in combat.
Well, that is what the book says. If my performance
on MSN’s gaming zone is any indication about my “stratagems,” then I think
I will concentrate on tactics. I think the “art of military command” is a
bit lofty for me, whereas, “employing forces” seems more within my
I have treated tactics like that of the plan, one
step at a time. Think about what goes on in portions of the course at certain
times when you are sailing with other boats that are close by. Some are listed
below as subjects and if it suits you, these can be broken down into smaller
portions. Consider one thing. Plan your tactic and then go out there and
You are going to need a balanced boat to do this.
Where have you heard this before? You need to be able to look around and
consider the view of what lies ahead of you. You need to have a boat that will
mind its self for those few seconds. You only need a second or two to take a
snapshot. Here is an example that we all have done:
you are driving you glance at the speedometer then back to the road. If you
think about that process you come to realize that you do not know your speed
till you are back looking at the road. It is then that your brain registers what
it saw. You took a snapshot and there is visualization in the brain while you
are looking at the road. You do the same when checking the fuel gauge or oil
pressure or temperature or even the clock.
learn instrument flying in the same process except there is nothing outside to
look at so, they look at the next instrument instead. Here, they are always
visualizing the last instrument when looking at another. There is a training
mantra, “Look, Think, Act.”
I am sure all of you have done this and
realize the process. Unlike the old days, we now have smaller instruments and
grouped more tightly together. This now allows us to include more instruments in
our glance and hence, have more to reflect upon. You can actually train yourself
to take a snapshot of the entire car instrument panel (a sweeping glance) and
then go through the individual instruments, one by one, while looking at the
road. It can be interesting if you have not tried this. After a while you will
get the bigger picture through osmosis.
This was long but it is easy. With just a
nudge the brain will do all the work without you being involved. Really! So,
back to the boat and the racecourse, you will glance up and out ahead then go
back minding the boat. You will then think about what you saw and begin a
plan/tactic. You will do it again and continue the plan/tactic. You will
continue till you have a tactic then you will act. Makes sense, huh?
Okay, now comes the fire hose, the
subjects. All you want to do is get wet not knocked down. Okay?
If the course is square to the wind,
everyone will want to be on the starboard pin for a starboard tacking start.
Just look and see who is over there and where they usually fall in the
standings. Why be in this crowd, you say?
If you are windward to a boat on the same
tack and head to head with her, you are ahead. Fact. Every boat that is to your
left on a starboard tack is downwind of you and could be in your dirty air.
Fact. If you are the most windward boat in the fleet, you are ahead and in clean
air. Fact. A boat on a starboard tack has the right of way. Fact. So, if you are
on the line at the gun and on a starboard tack, right on the starboard pin, you
are ahead of the fleet and sailing in clean air. Fact. Enough said.
(In these ramblings I use the term
“pin” in referring to a starting and finishing buoy to distinguish them from
rounding “marks” on the course. The correct term is “starting mark” or
“finishing mark” as referenced to in the Rules.)
So, this is where you want to be but there are some major problems.
The biggest one is that being windward you have to give way to the leeward boat
that is overlapped with you. You cannot touch the pin and your leeward
competitor is NOT required to give you room. As a matter of fact he will try to
run you into the pin or force you outside of it altogether. Tactic.
You need to have a plan of retreat. Have some thought as to what
you will do if it appears likely that you will be squeezed out when approaching
the start line at the pin. It is better to do a 360 while you have clear space
and control than it is to foul in a crowd with nowhere to go. Tactic. It is
better to back down and be late than to foul and be last. Tactic.
You think in both these cases the heat is
over? Well, at Stowe I was on the start line at what I thought to be the
favorite pin three seconds early. When I heard the starting judge say,
“94…,” I was in a hard starboard turn before he finished the oral foul
notice. I rounded outside the pin and restarted and still beat the fleet to the
windward mark. I was a happy camper, not because I was ahead, but because I had
a tactical plan and it worked.
Still thinking about the retreat plan at the favorite pin, you want
to be late to the line rather than early. If you are phenomenally lucky you will
have clear sailing and can be at the line on the gun. Fat chance! You’re not
the only one thinking out there. If you are early you will have to slide down
the line on your starboard tack and this will cause problems with other boats.
You could get into a raft up, however, the thing you do not want is to be more
than three boats to the left of the pin toward the middle. This could happen
because others will fill in behind you and take those pin positions by being
later than you to the line. You could be in deep trouble if you end up toward
the middle. It is here that you are likely to see some very bad air,
particularly in light air conditions. You may be on the line at the gun but you
are likely to be one of the last at the windward mark. Be late rather than early
and you might get a better opening vacated by someone else. You could seize the
You glance at the field and say, “This is crazy, you can’t put
a sardine between the boats down here.” Make this observation early and then
bail out for the port pin. Get there as fast as you can and make a decision as
to what tack you are going to start on. Don’t panic and don’t get too
rushed. You have just aborted the right side and it is time to regroup. It is
hard to tell you what to do here because a lot of observation is needed. But the
idea is this: The wind is best at the edges of the course in a large fleet.
Tactic. You are going to be better off on the port side than in the middle. You
are dead in the middle. So, you take what you can get on the port side and do
your racing in open water.
If you have room on the port pin and towards the middle, a port
tack at speed on the gun would take you into the racecourse, head to wind, then
prepare to tack ahead of the first approaching boat on a starboard tack and be
up to speed when she arrives. This will put you higher up the ladder and still
on the edge of the course in respect to the fleet. Tactic. You may not win the
heat but you will finish well if you don’t “Screw the Pooch.”
Windward, First Leg
There is a lot of territorial positioning
going on during this first leg. Everyone wants to establish some open water and
verify the wind and course lines. Here is where some serious luffing could occur
and you need to be careful. Take 30 seconds of several glances to assess the
field and think about a plan to attack the windward mark. If you have a boat
overlapped to your lee that is moving up on you, give him room but not too much.
You can fight him off if you are tuned and balanced. If you are
balanced you will be able to point. This is one of those times you need to
concentrate and not do anything radical. You need to be very light on the rudder
and very observant to his windward gunwale and your jib. These are the key
items. As she comes closer you move up into the wind and at the first nibble of
the jib move the trim in a bit to keep it full. Pick a zone distance between you
and do not let it close. That is YOUR buffer; YOUR cushion so you can make other
decisions if needed.
While this is going on glance to windward to see if you have room
to tack if needed. If there is another boat overlapped to windward, start
talking to him, “57, I am being luffed and have to come up.” Don’t give
up. Just cover you options.
Hold the thoughts now. First of all you do not want to be in the
middle. You could have bad air, little sea room and even less options. If you
see you are moving into a situation like this consider and nice smooth tack away
with the thought of finding a better windward position. Because most starts are
on a starboard tack, it is possible that by tacking away, you could position
yourself to tack back to starboard shortly and thereby meet these boats again
while they are on a port tack. They might have to dip your stern. Tactic. Think
Continue moving up and this luffing boat moves up. You have the
advantage if you can point. Playing with that cushion you can move up slower and
more carefully and therefore hold more speed. If she starts to slide off a bit,
slide with her. Let the jib out toward your nominal setting. Take this
opportunity to pick up speed. If you can detect that the other boat is falling
back slightly, you have won. When this happens the other skipper has given up.
Now, start to move down on him and get into your nominal trim. This will put you
at speed, in control of the leeward boat and with the time to look around in
your race plan. Tactic.
Get out early if you see you are going to lose the luffing battle.
If you stay in the fight too long, you will end up having to tack when you have
no speed and it is likely you will lose more than the one position. It was
called “energy conservation” in the days of Dogfights. You can’t fight if
you are low and slow and worse, you can’t defend. Your dead. Think about it.
How about you luffing? I don’t very much. I like speed and
control. You can loose both in a luffing battle. I will wait till the other boat
tacks and if it is a reasonable place on the course I will go with her. However,
I will try to carve the turn to hold my speed. In most cases I will climb one
ladder to windward and away from a luffing threat and control the other boat’s
next tack position. This is match race covering and works good in mini-battles
in a fleet race. Tactic.
Caution. Don’t loose the big picture
when you get into these battles. This isn’t a match race and there are other
competitors to think about. A lesson learned early was that if I got rapped up
in a macho thing with one boat I could look up and find that we were both now
behind the fleet. Think about it. Look around.
The ideal situation on the first beat
after the start is to be able to view the whole course. In most cases you will
be rounding the windward mark to port so a starboard tack approach is generally
favored. See what is going on in front and behind. See how the boats are
running. Observe the port and starboard tacking boats and their angles to the
mark. How does all this fit into your plan?
If the wind is on the port side of the
course, plan your port tack soon enough to have established a starboard tack
approach to the mark in time to have speed and control before the fleet becomes
compressed. Tactic. Unless you are in front and have control, plan an escape. If
something goes wrong in front of you it is essential to be in position to abort
to the outside. Tactic. Forced to an inside abort or into a raft up is to be
Approach this mark with extreme wariness. This mark is a continuation of the start and requires intense concentration and fore thought. There is a lot going on here and this rounding will be the busiest of the entire race. What you do here will set the tone and psyche for the race. Manage, think and communicate. This is not the finish line. There is plenty of racing left. Calm down. Look around and plan. If it is 100 yards to the windward mark from the start and you do not have a tacking and approach plan 30 yards for the rounding, you are likely to be surprised and then be along for the ride.
If you have positioned yourself for an
inside overlap, that is good, and if everything works you will be in a great
position for the downwind leg. However, once you take this position you are
committed. This position is also the most dangerous and requires the
cooperation of all approaching the mark. Remember, that overlaps can and does
create a chain to your right. You,
and those behind you, will approach the mark faster than those already there.
They are slowing in their turn to port and may be blocking your approach. If you
see the light at the end of your tunnel closing, start communicating. The chain
of overlaps to your right will have to start moving outward to give room on the
inside. It is a real pleasure to sail with others that understand this and do
the right thing. Communicate and graduate. Racing begins again on the other
Example: I was in my first large fleet regatta last summer and found myself with the inside position at the windward mark. There were five boats overlapped to the right and funneling toward the mark. I knew I had position but was petrified. Then the savvy skipper in 2260 on my right said, “Okay guys, lets start moving over, I need to give 94 room.” I concentration was on the mark and after the rounding I noted every boats was spaced like sensible ducks in a banking turn. My heart was calmed and later, when I had time to think about it, I was impressed with the vision to take charge of the situation. It was a great lesson learned for later when the roles were reversed.
Remember, everyone wants to be on the favored mark, on a starboard tack and up to speed at the line when the bell goes off. The inside overlap of the fleet at the first windward mark is the same thing. If your plan does not look comfortable or, if this mass funneling in toward the mark intimidates you, go around. Abort and do so while you have time. If you keep your speed up and stay in control, your position on the other side will be no worse and in many cases better. Your final position in the race will be better than if you end up involved in a foul or raft up at the mark.
Mid Course Downwind
The Olympic course allows you a breather
after surviving the first windward mark. I
start looking around at the rest of the fleet that is beating up the course.
They are going to be all over the place. Carefully watch and start communicating
with those on the port tack lay line. They could be very close to your reaching
starboard tack. The reaching mark spreads the field out a bit and allows you to
concentrate more on the group you are with. You all will be up to speed and
moving easily. Breathe a bit and think about your position and the coming
leeward mark but don’t loose your concentration.
Be wary of others if this is mid course on the last downwind run. The boats that are going to finish at the bottom of the heat are going to be beating in your face. When you are up front you do not want to hit a last place boat. Yes, it happens. I have done it. Twice at the Nationals I was in the lead and hit a boat after the last windward rounding. Dumb! Stupid! Race over!
Why? First, lack of experience and therefore lack of caution. Secondly, when in this position, there is a tendency to relax and let your guard down. You cannot do this. The odds are that those in the back of the fleet, those you are about to pass through, are the least experienced. Not always but most of the time. Be wary!
If you are in the same front group you
started with, consider the view ahead. Yes, you are racing with them but think
about the oncoming boats and where you need to go be safe and enhance your
position. Safety is the first priority. Plan. This is not a good time to flex
your knowledge of the rules.
The Second windward leg
This beat has a whole different set of
problems. You have course knowledge from the first beat and need to position
yourself accordingly. There will be mini battles for position with at least one
boat and you have boats coming toward you on a downwind run. Concentrate and
You want to move toward a point on the
course, you have seen before, that will position your port tack to set up the
last rounding of the windward mark. This port tack will take you across some of
the oncoming fleet and set up your last starboard beating tack. Find that point
in your mind. Here is a planning thought:
The more variable the wind direction or the more variable the wind
speed, plan a shorter starboard tack accordingly. The longer the tack the more
chance for unfavorable change. When you are on a lay line to the mark, you do
not want change that will alter that lay line.
If you are on a port tack, moving toward the starboard lay line,
and your opponent in already on that starboard lay line, you could get a wind
shift that would move that starboard lay line closer to you. You might then be
able to tack inside the other boat for the inside position at the mark. Tactic.
If it does not happen then you will slide in behind her on the lay line and be
no worse off than your position before.
The Last Run
In most cases there will only be a few of
you at this last windward mark. If you can manage an inside position you will
have some control on the last downwind leg. If you are in front of another boat
at this point in the race, you should be able to stay in front. I am a believer
that the faster the boats are going, the slower change will occur. It is hard
for another boat to completely pass you downwind unless you have done something
terribly wrong. That is, a boat will pass from clear astern to clear ahead. Even
if she blocks your wind it would take a long time to make such a pass.
However, she can take pull into an
overlap on the inside of you. If she can do this, she has won the position and
at the next rounding you will be looking at her stern. Tactic.
Be aware of any boats that might be able
to do this on the last run. Protect your position by moving closer to an inside
line. Maneuver, while you are clear ahead to prevent an inside overlap. Tactic.
I don’t want to get into the rules here
but there is one big caution on some downwind legs where you are dead downwind.
It is possible that you and another boat close to you are on opposite tacks. You
both are going straight downwind but the booms will be on different sides of the
boat. The boat with the boom over the port gunwale is on a starboard tack. And,
if you are not, you will give way to him and break your heart. If this is a
possibility and you can gybe to also be on a starboard tack, this would be
The Last Mark
You want to protect the inside position
when you have rights to be there. Tactic. So, lets discuss the various things
that can happen down here and their properties. This will help in tactics.
The Inside and Beat to Finish
Protecting the inside gives you two choices. Stay on the inside for
a starboard tack or bear away into a port tack. Consider the wind direction. You
should have done this already and know what tack you are going to take.
The starboard tack will slow the boat the most. This tack will put
you across downwind traffic although you will have rights. If you cross them
once, you will have to cross again. Something to think about in advance. To me,
there has to be a compelling wind reason to do this.
Bear away from the leeward mark into a port tack. This will lead
you to a starboard lay line to the finish. It will give you some control.
Tactic. If a boat close astern takes a higher angle on the mark and bears away
toward you on a port tack with speed, you have a chance to foot off a bit, for
speed, and then tack to starboard in front of him. He will be forced to dip your
stern. Tactic. Then when at speed, cover. Tactic. If this boat tacks to starboard astern of you, cover. Tactic. If
a boat close astern stays inside for a starboard tack, you can cover. Tactic.
If you think you are going to lose a luffing battle, wear her down
in speed, and then tack away. You will be up to speed faster and back in
control. Tactic. When you are up to speed, make a carved tack to cover again.
You will be higher on the ladder. Tactic. If this places you to the finish line
behind the other boat, you would have lost the position anyway. It was worth a
If a boat that is close astern comes up the inside into a bear away
port tack and is pointing higher than you, there could be a wind shift there. Do
not hesitate! Tack to starboard and cover now. If you wait for your lay line,
she could climb the ladder and cross your bow while still on that port tack. All
over! Done! You just lost a position.
My feeling about this last short leg is protecting my position in
the finish. If there is no threat from behind I will attack a boat ahead of me.
But experience has shown over the summer that my chances of gaining a position
on this leg is slim, whereas, losing a position to one from behind is great.
When you pass the last mark ahead of another boat, you are in control and it
would be a shame to lose that position because your mind was elsewhere. Look,