2013 08 16 Downwind Gates, or How To Finish The Run, by Mike Ingham
Even in this Americas Cup I watch as these highly trained teams make mistakes choosing a downwind gate, and they only have two boats. Add the complexity of a large fleet and it is not so easy. Today we are going to explore some of the options and tradeoffs of how to tactically choose a gate. This finishes up the downwind tactics portion of what started as a dockside discussion before the 100+ boat Thistle Nationals on how to manage a large fleet downwind. We have covered: 1. Setting up for the run (that first move), 2. Tactics downwind, 3. Apparent wind and lanes, and now 4. Gates (finishing up the run)
1. To start with, your tactician has to as ask the following questions:
a. Which gate is further upwind?
i. The upwind gate is important because the distance is essentially double since you have to go there then back again
1. For example, if you decide the left gate is further upwind by 2 boatlengths, since you have to sail down to it then back upwind, you are actually giving up 4 boatlenghts to someone that has rounded the other gate
ii. Here is how you can tell
1. If the gates are in before the start, try to sail to the gate and do a head to wind. This is not perfect because the wind can shift or the RC can adjust it (no signal required)
2. Mostly, just look and try to judge relative to boat angles
$1a. It’s not easy to tell, so get the whole team involved
3. Go dead downwind while on the run and take a look to re-orient yourself
4. The larger one may be further upwind, but be careful, one may be slightly deflated
$1a. The closer mark is not always the further upwind one
b. Which way do you want to go?
i. If you want to go left, then round the left gate (looking upwind)
ii. One of my favorite moves is if I am in a crowd, round the opposite gate then tack
1. For example, If I want to go left, then I will round the right gate, then wait for a lane, then tack, avoiding the pileup and inevitable double tack to go the way I want in clear air
2. On our boat, we call this “rounding the wrong gate”
c. Which is more crowded?
i. Assess which will have the least number of boats going around it
ii. You may be ahead of a small group at one gate, but just behind at the other which can be quite slow
d. Which can you effectively get to?
i. If you are playing one side of the run and the fleet is really crowded, you may not be able to get to the other side, you may be locked into your side
ii. This could well be different from which gate is less crowded, it’s just that there is traffic in the way so you can’t get there
e. Who are you rounding with?
i. If last year’s World Champ is rounding the left gate in front of you, he is likely to round wide then tight, so perhaps it is better to round the right gate behind someone else so you at least have a hope of holding your lane
f. And lastly, how much downwind traffic will you need to go through after you round?
i. If the course was skewed and all the boats will be blanketing one of the exit lanes after the left mark, then the right may be better.
2. That’s a lot to think about, so simplify the decision, here is how:
a. Narrow it down to 2 criteria (3 at most)
i. Of the 6 criteria, usually there are only a couple that really come into play, narrow it down to those two
b. Then put a boatlength gain or loss weight to each criteria
i. For example, if you decide that the 2 criteria that seem most applicable are: the right gate is upwind but crowded, then a logical way to look at it is:
1. The right gate is 2 boatlenghts further upwind, therefore you will gain 4 boatlenghts going around it (there and back)
2. But it is really crowded, you will have to slow down and expect to lose 2 boatlengths doing so
3. Well then the right gate is the way to go because I will gain 4 but lose 2 for a net of 2 boatlength gain
ii. Another example is the gates are even, you decide that the 2 most important criteria are: you want to go right, but you are on the course left (left side looking upwind, right side looking down) but there is a lot of traffic to get there
1. If you round the left gate then tack, you figure you will lose 2 boatlenghts to the guys that round the right gate and get further right then you
2. To cross the center, to will have to make 2 big ducks and there will be some wind shadow costing you 3 boatlengths
3. Then the call by 1 boatlength is to stick to your side and round the left gate then tack
3. Start thinking of how to set up for the leeward mark early
a. The sooner you start planning for that gate, the more chance of success
b. If in doubt, try to find a way to keep options open for either gate
4. Keep an open mind, often things change and you need to be flexible to take advantage of it
a. For example, you may choose the left gate assuming the boats in front of you will round the right, but at the last moment they round the left gate leaving the right open –you and your team need to be prepared to take advantage of that change
5. Finally, don’t panic
a. Boats behind have the advantage of getting puffs first and bringing them down as well as disturbing the air for those ahead
b. Things will compress both from you to the leaders and from those behind
i. Expect and plan for it
Sadly, the tradeoffs include factoring in losses. The rich get richer because their moves are less dictated by the fleet. One of the hardest things to do is admitting that the decision is based on minimizing losses. Logical decisions will turn into a relative gain on the boats that make risky choices. Whatever you chose, do so with confidence and make the best of it.