START­ING LINE

Sailing World - - Contents - —Mike Buckley

O As a tac­ti­cian along­side Evan Aras and Sam Rogers on board Oivind Lorentzen III’S Nine at the 161-boat Audi J/ 70 World Cham­pi­onship in Sar­dinia, Italy, our pre-re­gatta plan was sim­ple enough: With a four-fleet qual­i­fy­ing se­ries to de­ter­mine gold and sil­ver fleets, the goal was to avoid any “ma­jors” and make it into gold fleet. That meant sail­ing clean, low-den­sity starts, and con­ser­va­tive tac­tics and boathandling. Most im­por­tant, though, it meant no let­ters in our score line, which would be a one-way ticket to the sil­ver fleet. If we could av­er­age fewer than 60 points over three races, we’d be through to gold fleet, with our score­card re­set­ting.

But the mis­tral came whistling in, and for the first two days of sched­uled qual­i­fy­ing races, it pumped through Sar­dinia’s leg­endary Bomb Al­ley. The race com­mit­tee held ev­ery­one on­shore, where our daily

One tac­ti­cian’s thoughts on bat­tling in the big­gest world cham­pi­onship fleet.

crew dis­cus­sion turned from gold-fleet as­pi­ra­tions to sil­ver-fleet avoid­ance be­cause the en­tire re­gatta would now be de­cided over three days. Ev­ery race would count. There would be no clean slate in the cham­pi­onship se­ries, so the strat­egy shifted overnight to a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach know­ing that we needed a few keeper scores to achieve a top-20 over­all fin­ish. Throw in a black flag on ev­ery start, and the mar­gin for er­ror was ra­zor thin.

In the first day’s three qual­i­fy­ing races, we ex­e­cuted our game plan of start­ing near the fa­vored end but not at it, us­ing con­ser­va­tive pings at both ends. Mark round­ings were chaotic, with at least a dozen boats pil­ing into the marks at once un­der the watch­ful eye of the um­pires. One mi­nor slip-up would be costly. With com­pa­ra­ble speed and sail­ing well enough, we ad­vanced, stand­ing in 18th place

Once into the gold fleet, how­ever, the level of rac­ing ratch­eted up even higher, and our strat­egy changed once again: Lane man­age­ment trumped play­ing the wind­shifts. If we were lucky enough to find a lane and keep it, we were most likely go­ing to be in the lead pack. If we were ever forced to tack off the start­ing line, it likely meant an un­wel- come trip to the pelo­ton, where clean air was rare and break­ing free was im­pos­si­ble.

Af­ter two tough fi­nal races, we fell short of our goal of fin­ish­ing in the top 20. Look­ing back, our big­gest ar­eas for im­prove­ment would be our start­ing line com­mu­ni­ca­tion and per­fect­ing our fi­nal ac­cel­er­a­tion. Even in a big fleet, it comes down to beat­ing the boat above and be­low you to sur­vive in a lane off the start­ing line. Our fi­nal day was a tough re­minder even av­er­age boat­speed at a World Cham­pi­onship can make for a long se­ries, even if it is only three days.

The world cham­pi­ons — Peter Dun­can, Willem van Waay, Vic­tor Diaz de Leon and Jud Smith fin­ished with a score line of 3-1-1-2-13, an amaz­ing feat of con­sis­tency.

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