TAC­TICS

If it comes time to de­fend your po­si­tion or put boats be­tween you and your op­po­nent, there are ways to en­sure you have the up­per hand.

Sailing World - - Contents -

Stu­art Mcnay ex­plains how to ap­ply match-race tac­tics to your fleet-race tool­box.

Q We’ve all been there: It’s the last race of a series, and points are close. You do the math to fig­ure out what you need to do to win the cham­pi­onship or pass the boats right in front of you in the stand­ings. Thus was the case for us when we were rac­ing for the ti­tle at the 2017 Etchells Coral Reef Cup in Mi­ami. To win the cham­pi­onships, we had to fin­ish sixth or bet­ter in the last race and have one boat be­tween our op­po­nent and us. Our op­po­nent needed to keep us out of the top six; if we were in the top six, he had to be in front of us or im­me­di­ately be­hind us. Ba­si­cally, we were in a match race within a fleet race.

When­ever you find your­self in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, you’ll dis­cover that each has its own nu­ances; some are far more com­plex than oth­ers. But, there are com­mon­al­i­ties be­tween all sce­nar­ios, and rec­og­niz­ing them can guide you in the heat of the race. The key is to iden­tify each sce­nario and de­cide be­fore the race how you will change your de­ci­sions dur­ing the race as the scor­ing sce­nario changes.

Pure Match Race

This is the sim­plest sce­nario, and you must re­mem­ber not to for­get all the other boats on the course. They make your con­trol of the other boat much more pre­car­i­ous, and you of­ten need to re­vert to fleet rac­ing when other boats be­come picks that pre­vent the cor­rect match-rac­ing move.

Dis­card Sce­nario

You win if you and your op­po­nent fin­ish worse than the scores you are both dis­card­ing. Here, you try to gain con­trol of your op­po­nent and drive them back in the fleet. The key is to choose your mo­ments to go on the of­fen­sive. Re­mem­ber, if you make a mis­take, your op­po­nent might pass you. Then, they will be free to race ahead on the course and the race is out of your con­trol. They might pass the boats they need to pass and beat you in the re­gatta. In this sce­nario, you should al­ways strive to drive them back as far as pos­si­ble. Show no mercy, but never risk los­ing them.

The Hy­brid

This sce­nario in­volves some com­bi­na­tion of the pure match race and the dis­card, as well as other fac­tors. Of­ten, you might need ex­tra boats be­tween you and them, or you might have a buf­fer. It might be good enough to fin­ish within sev­eral places of them. You might also need to fin­ish bet­ter than a cer­tain po­si­tion, or bet­ter yet, have a lock-out fin­ish, whereby if you fin­ish above a cer­tain place in that race you’re guar­an­teed to win. The more specifics that need to hap­pen, the harder your job is and the more aware you need to be for the fi­nal race.

Re­gard­less of the specifics of the race, it’s still all about prepa­ra­tion. Think through each type of sit­u­a­tion and de­cide how you will re­spond. The base line is al­ways ask­ing: What would I do if this were a nor­mal fleet race? Then, you know what to de­fault to when you de­cide that the sit­u­a­tion has re­verted back to “race for­ward as fast as you can.”

Be­fore the race, put your­self in your op­po­nent’s shoes. What do they need to do to beat you? Fig­ure out what their best ac­tion is so you are pre­pared to re­spond. But also make a guess at what they will ac­tu­ally do based on what you know about them. Al­ways as­sume your op­po­nent will be fully aware and know the right thing to do. That way you won’t be caught off guard. Some­times, you will be pleas­antly sur­prised when they make a mis­take, but never plan on it.

The stronger and deeper the fleet, the harder it is to fo­cus on a sin­gle boat be­cause the fleet will be tight and there will be many ob­struc­tions. Of­ten, the most ef­fec­tive match race is your best fleet race. Stay in touch with the skill set that led you to this point in the re­gatta. Do not de­vi­ate from all the good habits that have al­lowed you to be fight­ing for the ti­tle. The more com­pli­cated the sce­nario, or the stronger the fleet, the more likely you should be think­ing, re­gatta. That means no cor­ner­bang­ing, no reck­less start­ing, no un­cal­i­brated en­gage­ment with the other boats.

Also, don’t get lost in the match race; re­mem­ber the fleet race. When match rac­ing, fight for inches. When fleet rac­ing

Sail like I al­ways do. That will give me the best chance to win the race and Be­fore the race, put your­self in your op­po­nent’s shoes. What do they need to do to beat you? Fig­ure out what their best ac­tion is so you are pre­pared to re­spond. Al­ways as­sume your op­po­nent will be fully aware and know the right thing to do.

be­fore the start, or maybe you don’t. Ei­ther way, be pre­pared for it. If they en­gage you, then en­gage back ag­gres­sively. How­ever, if you are get­ting chased away from the start­ing line, slow down and stop your boat. They will also have to stop. At some point, the boats will drift, and you can wig­gle free. How­ever, if you are re­ally stuck, it’s not ter­ri­ble to try a loose es­cape. If you foul them, they are re­quired to give you space to do your penalty turns.

Cov­er­ing on the Beat

It would be great if you could go tack for tack with your op­po­nent, block­ing their wind each time, but this rarely works as planned. Choose one tack to have a loose cover and the other tack to have a tight cover. In the loose cover, you will not be on their wind, but you will be slightly bow for­ward. Pre­vent them from get­ting bow for­ward on you be­cause they might pinch up to you or get a shift that will move bow out on you. Know­ing the mark lo­ca­tion will help you iden­tify the long tack. Gen­er­ally, you want a tight cover on the long tack, and a loose cover on the short tack.

Know the shift phase too. You want a tight cover on the lift and a loose cover on the header. If you try a loose cover on a lift, then when the header comes, they will get bow out and might cross you. Also, be aware of the other boats. These boats will be­come picks that get in the way of your cov­er­ing scheme. If you are be­hind, how­ever, they’re a great way to spring your­self free from a dis­ad­van­taged po­si­tion.

In our Etchells race, our de­ci­sion tree was as fol­lows: We wanted to treat the race as a nor­mal fleet race. We knew we could eas­ily fin­ish in the top six and prob­a­bly beat the other team. But, we knew that could not hap­pen be­cause our op­po­nent would win if we sailed our dis­card race. There­fore, we knew they would matchrace us. Their best move was to en­gage us from the prep sig­nal on­ward be­fore the start. They did just that. Our best re­sponse, then, was to en­gage them. At about 1 minute, we broke away from the cir­cling and headed for the start­ing line at a time when we could still find a hole. They ended up five boats to wind­ward of us on the line, which proved to be a prob­lem later. We had a good start, but the left shift never came. Our op­po­nent got the first cross and gained con­trol of us. We tried to min­i­mize losses.

At the first mark, we were 20th and 25th out of 35 boats. Our mo­ment came on the run. They got tan­gled in pack, and we sailed free. Then, at the bot­tom of the run, we split gates. We passed many boats by play­ing the wind shifts, and fi­nally, the cone of the beat nar­rowed. They had also passed many boats. Again, they crossed just in front of us, and we were un­able to com­plete the come­back. We fin­ished 12th in the race and sec­ond over­all in the re­gatta, re­in­forc­ing the value of know­ing how and when to use match-rac­ing tech­niques in fleet rac­ing. Q

It would be great if you could go tack for tack with your op­po­nent, block­ing their wind each time, but this rarely works as planned. Choose one tack to have a loose cover and the other tack to have a tight cover.

: PHOTO JE­SUS RENEDO / SAIL­ING EN­ERGY

To es­tab­lish con­trol im­me­di­ately off the start­ing line, po­si­tion your­self to dic­tate the first cross.

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