Work on Speed Near the Mark
Good boat speed is perhaps the single most important ingredient for
success in sailboat racing, no matter where you are on the race course. When
you're going fast you can sail around other boats, avoid bad air, point
high, make up for mistakes and generally do a lot of things that make you
|• Avoid bad air. Dirty air from other boats may
offer the biggest obstacle to good boat speed as you approach the windward
mark. To avoid this, look ahead for lanes of clear air before you get too
close to the mark. A port-tack approach may be risky, but will often give
you the best chance of clear air.
• Prepare for choppy water. The water near a windward mark is usually pretty bumpy, thanks to converging sailboats and spectator craft, so get ready for this. Make your sails fuller, keep crew weight low and don't pinch!
• Be careful about pinching. When you're tight on the layline, it may be faster to pinch around the mark than to make two tacks. But don't get carried away. Don't even think about pinching until you are within three or four lengths of the mark. And if you're in bad air, pinching will probably not work at all.
• Execute good maneuvers. Tacks are always important, but they're especially crucial near the windward mark. That's because a good tack can mean the difference between rounding ahead of or behind a pack of boats. So make every maneuver as efficient as possible. Don't let up or get sloppy just because you're almost at the mark.
• Just sail fast to the mark! It seems like there's a lot you must do before the mark. But your main goal is simply to get around the mark quickly, so don't worry about the little things. For example, it's better to round the mark without your spinnaker pole in place than it is to set your pole before the mark but lose five boats because this made you slower. Go fast first!
David Dellenbaugh was a coach and tactician for Mighty Mary during her 1995 America's Cup campaign. He was also the starting helmsman and tactician on America3 during her successful defense of the 1992 America's Cup. Dave publishes the newsletter Speed & Smarts.
For a subscription call: 800-356-2200.