We’ve already looked at how to get a great start in FW racing, but what about after the start? The first upwind beat to the windward mark is certainly the most important leg of the race, and with the trend for shorter races on the Pro FW Circuit these days, your position at the first mark can often reflect your position at the finish line. This week will mark the first in a series of articles on Advanced Tactics. In particular, introducing some new concepts (unless you’ve read a few books in your time) such as the “hopeless position”, “safe leeward position” and “close hauled” – or as I like to call it, pinching like a b*tch. Now, to fine tune your skills and get to that windward mark quicker, listen very carefully, or you will break the internet …
Dr. Manfred Curry wrote a famous book in 1928 about yacht racing and the aerodynamics of sails. Thankfully, things have come a long way in terms of boat design since then but nearly everything he wrote about racing tactics are as true today, as they were in 1928. Curry talks a lot about the importance of sailing the ‘next’ tack, rather than the tack you are currently on; thinking ahead and positioning yourself for an advantage on the next tack. To take a line from his book:
“…racing; it is a game of chess of the highest order…It is a game, in which you must reckon out every move beforehand and not only anticipate but also be prepared for the numberless attacks that can or may be made, but with the disadvantage, that you do not have as much time as you may like for your next move…”
This article is focusing on the second tack of a windward leg – which generally speaking should be bringing you to the layline close to the windward mark or to the windward mark on starboard (depending on how you have sailed the course). To get started, a few terms need to be explained and also why this tack should be focused on in a race.
It sounds hopeless. Mainly because it is. Generally speaking, this position refers to anytime you are in someone’s “dirty air”, that is, directly behind them, behind and downwind of them, or behind and upwind of them. Take a look at the photo on the left for a fantastic diagram of the hopeless position. To explain the diagram, Boat II is in the hopeless position. The curved lines (a) refer to the wind. See how it curves almost 15 degrees as it displaces off the sail of the Boat I – that’s why you get punished sailing behind someone in their dirty air. If you are in the zone of (b), you are really in a hopeless position and most likely need to tack out of there as you are sheltered from the wind and likely to be sailing slow and at a poor angle. The line (c) is the bad air displacement coming from Boat I upwind. Notice how even upwind of Boat I, Boat II is still getting dirty air. He needs to be almost five boat-lengths upwind of Boat I to reach the safe leeward position and get out of jail (his options are to follow course 1 or 2)…
Safe Leeward Position:
This is where you want to be. The position of dreams (and of race winners). Have a look at a few more diagrams from Manfred Curry in the gallery below, showing you the safe leeward position. His diagrams are a little vague, but give you the general idea. The safe leeward position refers to the boat who is either in front (spilling dirty air on the boats behind him) or upwind and out of the (c) zone and dirty air of the boat in front – as shown in the above image. The safe leeward position is the white boat in [Diagram A,B,C,D] and the black boat in [Diagram E,F,G] to further explain. This position allows you to control the boats behind you and start to dictate the race – instead of just “sailing” it. It’s what top sailors do all the time.
I merely use this term to go along with Manfred Curry’s lingo (in case you have his book and would like to study up). It’s a sailing term and doesn’t really relate to windsurfing in that sense, but just think of it as sheeting in really hard, squeezing with your body and sail trim to pinch as high as you can. You know what I’m talking about…dropping your speed down to 12 knots upwind and really going for a super tight angle. The guys using the uphaul rope technique upwind seem to be able to do this well.
Ok, now we know the terms lets get to work on how you can apply it…
Imagine you come off the startline on starboard with clear air and good speed. Your main competitor is directly behind you, upwind about 2 boatlengths but still in the hopeless position (the black boat in [Diagram C]). You are in the safe leeward position and controlling the race by controlling your main opponent behind you. Two things can happen here: you can close-haul really hard, going slow to out-point him and push him into a very hopeless position (like the black boat in [Diagram B]), forcing him to tack off to get out of your dirty air; or you can go about your race casually and let him force YOU into the hopeless position (white boat in [Diagram E]).
Attacking From The Hopeless Position:
Let’s imagine you are the black boat in [Diagram C]. Currently you are in the hopeless position on starboard coming out of the startline. If you are a comparable speed to the boat in front and you are sailing to the favoured side of the course it’s important not to give up and tack away early but focus on the NEXT tack on port toward the layline. If you can hold your angle (you will likely be going slower) and stay within a few boatlengths of this leading sailor then you can tack at the same time as him, pump aggressively to get upwind a few metres (every metre is important here) and instantly put HIM into the hopeless position. Does this make sense?
A quick tack and initiation of planing at the moment the leading boat tacks is important here. Since you are a few boatlengths behind but upwind of this leading boat it is only natural that if you tack at the same time then you are now in front but downwind of him. With an intense focus on making sure the first few pumps out of the tack are heading you aggressively to windward you can begin to spill dirty air on him and push him into the hopeless position, before he has time to sail over the top of you. If you have sailed all the way to the starboard layline than he will really be in trouble because he can not tack away from your dirty air (he is already on the layline). Now YOU control the race.
That is a quick and simple explanation of how to attack from the hopeless position on the second tack of a race. Lets imagine this another way. It’s the second lap of a windward return course and you are currently rounding the bottom mark in 2nd, only 20m behind the leading boat. If you can close-haul super hard and keep upwind of him (still in the hopeless position, unless you are more than 10% faster/higher than this sailor, in which case you can just sail right over the top of him) you should focus on the SECOND tack of this lap, rather than the awful position you are currently in. When sailing to the layline (to tack on to starboard to run to the mark) you can tack fractionally earlier than him, and squeeze to put him in the same position you were in only a moment ago. He can’t tack away because you are already on the layline and if you are a similar speed he most likely can’t overrun you into the mark if you’ve put him into the hopeless position. Once around the mark ahead of him you are well on your way to winning that race … This idea only works if you are withing 5 boatlengths of the leading boat. Any further back and he will have time to run over the top of you from his higher position after the tack.
Defending From the Safe Leeward Position:
These last two examples I have talked about coming from the hopeless position into the safe leeward position by means of a faster and more efficient tack than the leading boat (focusing on thinking about the next leg, rather than the leg you are on). Thats all good and well but it is certainly easier to defend from the safe leeward position than attack from the hopeless position.
Positioning on the first upwind leg of a race is one of the most important aspects of your racing (once you have got your gear tuned and starts perfected). You should always be aiming to get into the safe leeward position to the boats around you, especially if one of these boats is your main competitor. It allows you to control the race, rather than just sail it. Once in the safe leeward position, you can then wipe off your speed and point super high. The boat behind you won’t be able to sail over you if you are comparable in speed and will be forced to tack away or sail under you at a terrible angle. That being said, never be complacent in the safe leeward position as a good sailor will be always thinking of the NEXT tack and getting ready to put YOU into the hopeless position if you are sloppy in your tack.
The key to defending from the safe leeward position on starboard tack out of the start is remembering these points:
- You must NOT sail over the layline to tack on to port. Doing this will allow the hopeless sailor to tack earlier and put you in the hopeless position on the second leg.
- Depending on the course, it is usually best to tack earlier than the starboard layline if your main competitor is in the hopeless position (even if this means you have to dip below him after the tack, when he is still on starboard). That way you can take advantage of any lifts into the mark on port and also helps you to avoid sailing OVER the layline.
- If you are close to the layline, tack when your competitor tacks. Keep him in the hopeless position and continue to spill dirty air. If he goes too early, let him go, you are in clean air and heading to the favoured side – right?
Hopefully this gets everyone thinking about their tactics more than just thinking “oh, I’m in this guy’s dirty wind, I may as well give up on this race!”
A great way to analyse your tactics is by using a GPS unit to record the tracks of your race. Having the other competitor’s tracks is also a good way to analyse and criticise (improve) your tactics… but that’s a whole other article…