CATS IN A DOGFIGHT

Sailing World - - Contents - AN­DREW CAMPBELL

An­drew Campbell’s tac­tics primer.

BER­MUDA’S GREAT SOUND is per­haps the best foil­ing race­track in the world — sur­rounded by a low rim of hills and reefs, the sur­face is flat and fast. But lim­ited fetch means lim­ited space. The nat­u­ral bound­aries of the Sound are fur­ther re­duced by Amer­ica’s Cup Race Man­age­ment to ac­com­mo­date the spec­ta­tor fleet. With a cou­ple of fast foil­ing cata­ma­rans, we now have a claus­tro­pho­bic race­track.

In the months lead­ing up to the Cup, my team­mates at Or­a­cle Team USA had a few in­terteam scrim­mages, en­abling us to un­der­stand the likely sce­nar­ios we’ll see come May and June. Any time we line up near an­other boat is a risk, but tak­ing the foot off the gas is un­likely to be our first op­tion. All of the sce­nar­ios that fol­low have hap­pened in real time on the wa­ter al­ready in Ber­muda. Fig­ur­ing them out for the first time at 85 to 90 per­cent of max­i­mum heart rate is not al­ways a recipe for suc­cess, but un­der­stand­ing the lead-up and see­ing the pat­terns of be­hav­ior of our op­po­nents helped us an­tic­i­pate and de­velop our playbook as we get ready for the Amer­ica’s Cup Match. Each team has its strengths and weak­nesses when it comes to con­fig­u­ra­tions and sys­tems, and through de­brief, film study and ob­ser­va­tion, we’ll de­velop likely play­books for each team we could see in the first en­try, but here are the es­sen­tials from our pre­sea­son work­outs.

With foil­ing cata­ma­rans, match- race tac­tics still ap­ply, but with course bound­aries, rapid clos­ing speeds, and the need for split- sec­ond de­ci­sions and maneuvers, the match is ac­cel­er­ated to a whole new level.

CON­TROL IN THE PRE-START

The goal in most Amer­ica’s Cup match- race starts is to avoid a dial- up. Af­ter both boats cross the en­try line, there’s a sprint to the deep right edge of the start­ing box. To best de­fend its po­si­tion, the port- en­try boat will gen­er­ally pick a time to lead its op­po­nent back to the start­ing line. The boat en­ter­ing on star­board will jibe and trail the port-en­try boat into the box, and then wait for it to turn back.

While re­cov­er­ing from its jibe and sail­ing at max speed, star­board must de­cide if its op­po­nent is early or late. If they’re late, the coun­ter­move is sim­ple: Lead them back to the start­ing line. If they’re early, the coun­ter­move will likely be to sail past the op­po­nent and then turn back and get ready to push.

When our op­po­nent is early, they will have to kill time by ei­ther sail­ing ex­tra dis­tance or slow­ing down. Sail­ing ex­tra dis­tance up­wind puts them at risk of be­ing hooked by a lee­ward at­tacker. Sail­ing ex­tra dis­tance down­wind risks los­ing a high- speed build an­gle to the start. When early, sail­ing slower is gen­er­ally the best op­tion, but po­si­tion­ing to main­tain con­trol as the lee­ward boat can be dif­fi­cult.

What makes the pre-start espe­cially chal­leng­ing is that Amer­ica’s Cup Class cata­ma­rans gen­er­ate a lot of power dur­ing the bear-away. Bear­ing away in dis­place­ment mode (hulls in), the lee­ward bow will load mas­sively, and the boat will surge for­ward un­til the boat passes through the power zone and the wing stalls. Once past this point, the boat is safely bow down and has min­i­mized dis­tance away from the start­ing line.

If the boat is foil­ing, how­ever, ac­cel­er­a­tion through the power zone can spike boat­speeds from 15 to 30 knots in a mat­ter of sec­onds. This is ex­tremely pow­er­ful if the pusher is foil­ing and the leader is not. In this case, the pusher can foil into a hook­ing po­si­tion, forc­ing the leader to try to bear away to re­tain its lee­ward po­si­tion. When do­ing so, the leader will likely bury its bow and have lit­tle chance to de­fend.

EX­IT­ING MARK 1

The com­mon sce­nario from the start­ing line to Mark 1 is to have one boat lead­ing its op­po­nent bow to stern. Af­ter the round­ing, the course bound­ary will quickly come into play — if the lay­line to the lee­ward gate doesn’t come fi rst. Here, the trail­ing boat has an op­por­tu­nity to at­tack by dic­tat­ing the first jibe. If the trail­ing boat waits un­til the lay­line to the fi rst down­wind gate, the leader will likely al­ready have jibed, main­tain­ing its lead­ing po­si­tion. If the trail­ing boat jibes be­fore the lay­line, how­ever, the leader has a few in­ter­est­ing op­tions, each with un­cer­tain out­comes. If the trail­ing boat jibes shy of the port lay­line, it can force the leader into an un­com­fort­able de­ci­sion: Risk an­other jibe to cover, or take the easy ma­neu­ver but give up the split.

The leader has two op­tions when the trail­ing boat jibes: It can si­mul­ta­ne­ously jibe with the trail­ing boat, but if it’s late in do­ing so, it puts it­self at risk of be­ing rolled.

If it suc­cess­fully matches the trail­ing boat and keeps its air for­ward, it must then de­cide whether to sail straight into the left gate, thereby avoid­ing the risk of an­other ma­neu­ver. Its other choice is to set up for an­other jibe to guar­an­tee its op­po­nent has to ei­ther fol­low or do a third jibe to split.

These de­ci­sions must be made af­ter judg­ing the op­po­nent’s and one’s own ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Does the leader have the abil­ity to com­plete a short jibe be­fore turn­ing up­wind at the bot­tom mark? If the trail­ing boat must fol­low the leader around the mark, does the leader have the ca­pa­bil­ity to si­mul­ta­ne­ously tack and cover? This is where the sub­tle tech­ni­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties of each boat (and the col­lec­tive power out­put of the grinders) can espe­cially dic­tate the tac­ti­cal el­e­ment of a match.

UP­WIND BOUND­ARY PLAY

The bound­aries of the mod­ern Amer­ica’s Cup race­course are de­signed to keep the rac­ing close, but they also give teams a few race-chang­ing moves. The tac­ti­cal play here, of course, is to leave the bound­ary in con­trol. In our di­a­gram,

Boat A is closer to the left bound­ary, ap­proach­ing on star­board tack. They’re bow out but on the same lad­der rung as Boat B, which is locked on their wind­ward hip.

In Amer­ica’s Cup rac­ing, Rule 20 dic­tates the ins and outs of the four-length bound­ary zone. Ap­ply­ing some sim­ple math, we can un­der­stand where the best po­si­tion will be for Boat B to set up on the wind­ward hip and at­tack. An Amer­ica’s Cup cata­ma­ran, for ex­am­ple, will travel at ap­prox­i­mately 25 knots close­hauled and 55 de­grees from the wind in mod­er­ate breeze in Ber­muda in June. If the four-length bound­ary is 200 feet wide, it will take a boat about seven sec­onds to sail the ap­prox­i­mately 250 feet to the bound­ary. Let’s as­sume it’s 15 sec­onds to sail to the bound­ary wall, tack, and com­pletely exit the bound­ary zone. When split­ting with a boat that’s al­ready on star­board, there­fore, whether they’ve crossed or ducked to get to the right, the cor­rect play is to al­ways tack at least 15 sec­onds af­ter the cross to make sure the next time you meet, when you have the star­board- tack ad­van­tage, you’ll be able to take full ad­van­tage.

In the sit­u­a­tion where star­board is close on the hip, the port boat gains to­tal rights and room to tack onto port and sail its proper course, re­gard­less of any pres­ence of a star­board tacker, un­til they sail com­pletely out of the zone and her bound­ary lights turn off. The star­board tacker goes from be­ing in con­trol to be­ing the keep-clear boat, while the boat in the zone is pro­tected by Rule 20.

The wind­ward boat has a cou­ple of op­tions here: It can care­fully lee bow to en­sure it can af­fect its op­po­nent while on port tack ex­it­ing the bound­ary. It risks in­cur­ring a penalty, how­ever, if it causes its op­po­nent to sail any­thing other than its proper course. The wind­ward boat could tack early and try to gain on the way across the course in a header or by sail­ing in a high mode. The low-per­cent­age play is to duck the port-tack boat re­turn­ing from the bound­ary, hip­ping up, and try­ing to at­tack at the next bound­ary.

UP­WIND DIAL-DOWN

A fea­ture of any match race is the threat of a star­board- tack boat hunt­ing or “di­al­ing down” a port-tack boat to pre­vent it from hav­ing a suc­cess­ful duck. This be­comes an espe­cially crit­i­cal call in and around the port lay­line to the wind­ward gate.

If the dial- down is done prop­erly, the port- tack boat can be forced be­low its lay­line and forced to make a po­ten­tially costly and un­planned late tack be­fore the gate. Keep in mind that the star­board tacker is lim­ited by Rule 16.2 to bear­ing away only 90 de­grees from the wind in order to hunt its op­po­nent.

The most suc­cess­ful dial-downs hap­pen when the star­board tacker is only slightly be­hind. In this sce­nario, the port tacker must sail more dis­tance down­wind in order to duck its op­po­nent. It then has a dif­fi­cult ma­neu­ver get­ting from down­wind, back to up­wind, and set up for a tack be­fore be­ing able to at­tack its op­po­nent again. The port tacker’s best de­fense is to set up a bit above the port-tack lay­line so it can both achieve the duck and still lay the mark.

The top- mark gate opens up ev­ery­body’s op­por­tu­ni­ties, but be­cause the foil­ing cata­ma­ran gains so much speed in the duck, the star­board tacker is by no means off the hook if she doesn’t get a penalty in the dial- down. Both boats will burn off speed as they turn up and then tack on their re­spec­tive lay­lines, set­ting up for a close top-mark meet.

TOP-MARK MEET

A top-mark meet oc­curs when a port-tack boat sets up just shy of the lay­line to the left gate mark, and the star­board- tack boat rec­og­nizes it can at­tack its op­po­nent. Un­der Amer­ica’s Cup rules, a boat in­side at the zone gains all rights to sail its proper course, so even if star­board puts the bow down to meet port, there is

sig­nif­i­cant risk be­cause, if it meets its op­po­nent af­ter en­ter­ing the three-boatlength zone at the left gate, Rule 10 turns off and Rule 18 turns on. When port gains rights, it is al­lowed to sail its proper course, in­clud­ing a nor­mal tack, to round the left mark.

The sce­nario gets in­ter­est­ing if star­board tacks to lee­ward once its port op­po­nent has gained zone rights. Now star­board must give the port boat room to round the left gate, but has the right- turn gate to play, with two op­tions in hand. Star­board can press and start to round the new mark on its bow and turn right, but the port boat could fol­low and try to roll over the top.

Keep in mind, port is likely at full speed while star­board is in a speed- build mode af­ter its tack. Star­board can also luff, forc­ing its port- tack op­po­nent to make a proper- course tack to round the left mark. Star­board must be care­ful, how­ever, to al­low the port-tack op­po­nent room to make a full-speed tack. Star­board must also then re­build speed to get down to the right turn and hope that the split will form a star­board­port sit­u­a­tion later down the run. Fol­low­ing left is not a good op­tion.

We’re not done yet. Con­sider when star­board is bow-even and bear­ing down full speed at port as she gains rights to make a left turn. Foil­ing cata­ma­rans lose a sig­nifi cant amount of speed in the tack, but quite of­ten, the first boat to bear away is go­ing to lead on the exit.

If the port boat can get onto the new tack and suc­cess­fully bear away on the foils, she will likely lead star­board, even if she has been full speed up­wind. If star­board over­stands at all, port will have no trou­ble mak­ing a small duck go­ing into the gate, round the right- hand mark, and then be well set up ap­proach­ing the next cross on star­board down­wind. Q

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