#TeamTips - Coming back in a race

#TeamTips - Coming back in a race

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 - Kingston, ON
by Robert Davis

Everyone has been there: a bad start, a penalty, or some issue that has left you behind the pack from the start of the race. How do you get back in the race and avoid a big score?
Coming back in a race, and turning a potentially bad race into a keeper is often what makes the difference in a series. Sailors and teams that win regattas manage to avoid “the big miss”.

The key is to regain focus on the task at hand and not dwell on whatever just happened at the start. First, focus on finding clear air and sailing the lifted tack in order to limit further losses. Reassess what the wind is doing and what your priorities are for getting to the windward mark as fast as possible. Use the boats ahead to help you determine what the wind is doing.

There is a tendency to try to gain everything back in one move after a poor start. It is important to get back to the game plan, and to make the correct decisions. Sending it out to a corner alone may work once in a while, but it is not a high percentage play. In an oscillating breeze, you will sail through several shifts and sail extra distance. In a persistent breeze with the majority of the fleet heading in one direction, the odds that they are all wrong is quite low. The top boats in each fleet come back by sailing through the fleet, not around it.

Light and stable winds are the toughest conditions to come back in, because you need either the boats ahead to make mistakes or superior boatspeed. Medium unstable winds create many passing lanes and options, and are the easiest conditions to make gains in. Big breeze gives some options for a come back, but you are relying on passing boats through boatspeed and boathandling.

Avoid reaching the laylines too early. Once you hit the layline, your options are gone and often boats will stack up ahead of you, forcing you to tack out and sail extra distance. If possible, find the path of least resistance and approach the windward mark from the side with fewer boats in order to sail in clear wind and water.
On the downwind legs it is important to find space and clear air. When boats on the race course clump together they slow down because they cannot sail ideal angles and because the wind bends around the clump. By sailing on the edges of the packs, you will often find better pressure. Being on an edge also sets you up to have the inside at the leeward mark.

Exiting the leeward mark cleanly is just as important as the approach to the windward mark. You need to be on the lifted tack in clear air as soon as possible in order to have a chance to make gains on the boats ahead.

Next time you find yourself in a tough spot after the start, get back on track as quickly as possible and focus on doing things correctly. Even the top teams have bad starts once in a while, but they are able to chip away and turn a tough position into a good score. Each boat passed is one less point, and these “saved points” are crucial in the overall score at the end of the regatta.

Questions, comments, or suggestions for future #TeamTips? Contact Robert:
www.robertdavissailing.com | robertdavissailing@outlook.com