Keep your speed up
by David Dellenbaugh

When you’ve fallen behind, good boatspeed is absolutely key for making a comeback. But it’s not easy to go fast in the middle of the fleet. It can be tough just keeping up with the leaders, not to mention catching them. Therefore, you must work extra hard at steering, sail trim and boathandling.

One good thing about being near a lot of other boats is that you get many chances to check your
							speed. Are you as fast or faster than the boats around you? If not, use the line-ups that occur while racing to try some trim or tuning changes and see what happens.

When you’re in the middle of the pack, you often have to sail in bad air and bumpy water, and you must usually tack more frequently than the boats ahead. Therefore, set up your sails so they are good for acceleration and power. Some ways to do this include:

• Make your sails a little fuller and more powerful; • Move their draft forward slightly(by using less backstay and mainsheet) to improve acceleration; • Ease your sheets slightly to add twist and make a wider groove; and • Don’t try to point too high.

When you are sailing in bad air, you will probably have to find a “groove” where you go more for forward speed than height. This means you must also adjust your strategy and tactics for this type of performance. For example, make sure you can lead other boats toward the next shift, and avoid getting into positions where you have to hold a thin lane with other boats close to leeward.

Of course, the best way to go fast when you're back in the pack is to find clear air. So look carefully for a good “lane” and do everything you can to protect it for yourself. If you do find clean air and water for a while, be sure to “change gears” by adjusting your sail shapes.

Use other boats to help

One reason why it’s important to focus on boatspeed during a comeback is because speed might have been the reason (or one reason) why you fell behind in the first place. Perhaps you had trouble holding your lane right after the start and fell into bad air. Or the other boats just seemed to be going a little better through the water.

In that case, you need to get your boat going faster as soon as possible or you will fall further and further behind. Fortunately, one of the good things about being in the middle of the pack is that there are almost always other boats nearby. Use these “obstacles” to measure, and improve your speed.

Sometimes the presence of other boats will
							actually help you go faster when you are running
							or reaching. If you position yourself to
							leeward of a competitor with your apparent
							wind just clear ahead of their spinnaker, you
							will sail a little faster and lower than if the
							other boat wasn’t there. That’s because the
							wind bends around the front of the windward
							boat’s sailplan, and this means you will be
							sailing in a slight header with a little extra
							velocity. (Just be careful that you don’t let the
							other boat take your wind!)

Whenever you are in a good lineup with another boat (as in the photo), use this chance to a) gauge how well you are sailing; and b) if you’re not going as fast or high, try changing some things to see if you can get going faster.

Good speed require constant communication between sail trimmers and the helmsperson, plus a focus on changing conditions. This can be challenging when you’re in the middle of making a comeback because there is a lot happening. It requires extra effort to eliminate or tune out all extraneous “noise.”

Dave publishes the newsletter Speed & Smarts.For a subscription call: 800-356-2200 or go to: