By Airwaves Writer Mike Ingham
I think just about the hardest role on entire boat is the bow. I don’t mean the mechanics, yes that is not easy, but a good athlete will figure that out. I mean calling distance to the line. It is a science and an art –and it is tough, and can for sure make or break a regatta. In the absence of instruments, it is impossible to know for sure where the line is, but here are some helpful things we do to know where the line is.
- By far the best way to know where the line is it to use line sights.
- It’s best to sight from the far side of the line (instead of inside one of the ends) so you can line up the ends.
- A lot of times the shore is not clear, or is generic. All you can do is the best you can.
- We start with the end of the line has something you can sight down and see on shore on the other side.
- Once my bow person confirms they are happy with their sight, from that end, I like to sail down the line, right on the line so the bow person gets used to seeing the line sight.
- Then, if there is a line sight available from the other end, we get that in the same way.
- On our boat I like when the bow and the tactician discuss the line sight, I think that helps give the bow confidence. And that way second person on the boat has the sight, so they can add sanity to the final approach if necessary.
Line sight off the line:
Probably as important as the line sight, is a sight some distance from the line.
- This is anywhere from say 6 to 1 boatlength off, wherever there is some obvious sight.
- It gives a great reference along the way to the actual line sight.
- I really like it because since the bow gets to choose where the sight is, it can be something conspicuous and maybe not even on shore, like a channel marker.
- Geometry dictates that the distance changes as we go down the line. For example, if our “off the line” line sight is a big building 4 boatlengths off at the pin, at half way down that means we are two boatlenghts away, ¾ of the way down the line it is one boatlength.
Look back and forth:
Sometimes there is not sight because it is hazy, or whatever, then it is harder. Here are some ideas:
- Looking both ways. Simply looking at the boat, then pin a few times works ok.
- But I find that if I then turn around and do it facing backwards and looking back and forth at the boat then pin recalibrates my eye.
- For example, suppose I look back and forth and think we are 3 boatlengths off, but then turn and look back and forth again and it looks like we are 5 boatlengths off. Well, the truth is probably right in between at 4.
- Before the start sometimes I try this while running the line where we are pretty sure we are on the line. By looking back and forth then turning around and doing so again, then back, I train my eye.
The RC eyes:
The human eye is pretty good at looking at another human eye and knows where it is looking.
- If you are talking to someone and they look from your eye to your ear, you know it
- I do the same with the line. For the most part, the RC is looking straight down the line and you can see which way they are looking at with surprising clarity.
- The further we are from the line, the less you can see of the eye, but even the direction the head faces works well.
Some other object near the line:
Rarely, but sometimes, there is something anchored near the line.
- Like a mid-line mark or a crab pot
- Most likely this marker is over or under by a good amount. But even so, knowing that some crab pot is say 4 boat lengths below or above the line is a great reference.
I am not always the best at this, but I am learning the importance of watching the fleet. Even though I trust my bow person, I modify what they are telling me by looking at the fleet a few boats to windward and leeward.
- If the fleet is pushing the line, I go with them but hang back just a little.
- For example, if there is 15 seconds to go, my bow is saying we are on the line, yet everyone around me is accelerating, I accelerate too, but lag behind just a bit.
- If there is a sag in the line, I will halve the distance between the fleet and where my bow person is saying the line is.
- For example, if my bow is telling me there is 4 boatlengths left yet we are nose out from everyone around me, I might time it so I start with a boatlength to spare so I don’t take undue risk.
- One way of accomplishing this is I empower my bow person to wave me forward and hold me back with hand signals. I might get a wave forward even
though we are close to the line because the fleet is all ahead of us, or a hold back even though we are not near the line if they think we are exposed.
- The tactician is keeping track of the fleet too and if the fleet is surging ahead, calls for an aggressive start, if they think it is lagging; they will call for me to pull the trigger a little late.
- I like the bow to always call distance with one finger per boatlength close hauled on starboard –not perpendicular to the line.
- That way if the line is skewed one way or the other, the distance / time still makes sense.
- I like someone besides the bow person to call time loud and clear so the bow does not have to look at their watch. We like to keep the bow focused on the line.
- I don’t like a lot of chatter from anyone, there is a lot going on and it can quickly become information overload, but the tactician needs to use the same techniques that the bow is to keep track of the line too. Then jump in if and when they see something the bow person does not.
More recently, if there is time, I have been doing 2 practice starts before each race. I have found this a great warm up drill.
- We do 2 minute starts, no time to waste!
- Ideally it is using the real line, around the area we want to start.
- But if that is not practical, we start at a crab pot or anything we can find.
I’ll say again that I believe the single hardest position on the boat is the bow calling the line. There are so many variables; all while bouncing around –it is tough. And to top it off, the personality of the RC and/ or fleet can affect how the line is called. So there is no guarantee, but the above is the closest we have come to a formula for success. But you need to stay alert, things change and you need to be ready to take advantage of that.