Solo news 21 Nov
Another good turnout in a nice breeze. Not too much but enough to get on the plane a few times on the reaches and enough to cause an upset if you lost concentration. Nice to see six solos in the Back to Back as well – practice really does pay off!
Results on the day:
3. Ben (in Alec’s boat)
6. Dave L
8. Peter R
9. Mike L (late starter due to halyard issues)
OOD points for Alec
Another shifty northerly. The bias on the line kept shifting and we didn’t have a huge amount of room below the line so my plan was to keep checking and see if I could predict what the wind would be when we actually started. I was originally planning to start near the starboard end but not right on the pin as it looked as if it would be very congested, but with about a minute to go the wind shifted to make it distinctly port biased so I changed plan and reached down the line tacking with about 15 second to go to approach with room to accelerate and hit the line at full speed on port at the port end. The shift had come back a bit but it still looked like port end. I was able to just clear Chris who was the leading boat mid line, and slightly more comfortably clear Paul who was to leading the starboard end group. As the wind has shifted to be port biased it also meant that port tack was the lifted tack so on the next shift I was headed and could cover the fleet. In a shifty wind you really need to know which shift you are on at the start so you can get in phase with the shifts from the off.
Continuing on the rules clinic I saw some penalties being taken (well done to those who took them – don’t be afraid to go for a gap or to cut it fairly close, but if you get it wrong take the turns and get going again). I also saw some of the same manoeuvres really well executed.
The situation is approaching a mark where you want to tack immediately you round. There is no guarantee of room to tack at a mark (there is for gybing). The key is that you want to tack just after the mark but you have a boat right on your tail. Where I saw it go wrong (on Sunday and a few weeks ago) was at a leeward mark. The leading boat rounds up but doesn’t make a perfect rounding losing a little ground to leeward. Doesn’t start wide end close or just doesn’t get fully close hauled straight away, for whatever reason ends up beating but slightly to leeward. The following boat makes a better rounding and ends close hauled really close to the mark. The leader then tries to tack but doesn’t have the space to clear the boat behind. (Sometimes this happens immediately, sometimes a few lengths after the mark). This really illustrates just how important good mark rounding is – you can easily gain a boat length on every mark just my making a perfect rounding rather than a mediocre one, and several lengths compared to a poor rounding.
As an aside for the more mathematical readers – let’s suppose that you make every mark rounding one boat length away from the mark on a simple square course (actually any course with all the marks on the same side). Compared to someone who rounds literally on the mark (idealised turn assuming a zero radius turn) you effectively sail an additional circle one boat length radius. That equates to 6 boat lengths per lap. Say 3 laps for a morning race – that’s 18 lengths. (OK I know pie isn’t exactly three but the perfect rounding isn’t zero radius either). How many races have you lost by less than 18 lengths? This is similar to tacks and gybes. If you make 10 tacks on each windward leg and lose ½ length on each compared to someone who does a really good tack each time that’s another 15 lengths. Now compare a good start to a mediocre start – that’s worth at least another 5 lengths, probably more. Add those together and you have 38 lengths (over 150 yards). That’s why in coaching sessions we place a lot of emphasis on manoeuvres!
So back to the subject in hand – how should the leader have made sure he could tack. Firstly it is essential that you end the rounding really close to the mark and fully close hauled. Ideally approach the mark slightly wide if not already close hauled so you can make a smooth turn without having to turn too sharply – but of course if the boat behind is overlapped outside he won’t want to give you more room than necessary – but you must end close to the mark and fully close hauled. However even if you round really close you still can’t tack right in front of someone. What you have to do is to luff up to head to wind as you round close to the mark and then either continue into a tack when you have made some room or at worst pull out of the tack just before head to wind. This has to be a smooth luff – not too sharp a turn so you don’t lose much speed. Watch someone good rounding the leeward mark and you will see another small tip. Heel the boat as you round up – that makes the sail help the turn so you slow down less than doing it with rudder. Also as you complete the turn and bring the boat upright again you get a small boost both from the sail getting extra flow and from the centreboard gripping so the boat is pulled slightly to windward and helped to accelerate out of the turn. (Of course the following boat should do the same).
I watched Ben and Paul in the back to back races approach the windward mark on port tack in close line astern. Ben was just ahead, looked as if they had both marginally overstood so no problem starting the rounding close to the mark. Clearly they needed to tack at the mark, but Ben mustn’t tack in Paul’s water. In this case you can’t start wide because you are already beating. I watched Ben perform the classic tactical move. Approach close hauled close to the mark (at a leeward mark you start slightly wider so you end up close hauled right by the mark). He then slowly luffed to all but head to wind as he passed the mark which forced Paul to start to go behind (outside) and then Ben went on into the tack properly. One smooth movement – really a slow tack with a slight pause on the initial luff. Effectively he slowed down going almost head to wind as he rounded close to the mark so Paul couldn’t cut inside or do anything other than go behind and slightly outside. It takes practice but when done smoothly you lose very little ground on the boats in front and you force the boat on your tail to go wide and stay behind you. Very important to be able to make a slow smooth round. Any attempt to make an over-quick tack is likely to cause problems.
I’m on duty Sunday so I’ll be watching – show me some great tacks and mark rounding – I might even have a camera with me. Wrap up warm!