Presented by Mauri Pro Sailing
Skippers are generally considered to be the bigger factor in executing team racing moves and certainly skippers need to know the plays to win. However, as the competitive level of dinghy team racing has improved in college sailing in the last ten years, crews have taken a far more important role in determining the outcome of many team races. This has become especially true with the “N” course that emphasizes the run leg. Because the skippers of both teams know the plays at high levels, it is the crew’s ability to execute those plays faster than the opponents that often determine outcomes. Here’s how:
Skippers control the back of the boat including tiller, mainsheet and their share of the weight transfers and weight placement. Meanwhile crews control the front end with jib trim and weight. Whenever a dinghy is down speed, the crew has greater control over steering with jib trim and weight placement. The slower the boat is going the more the crew is steering, and in team racing the boat is often going slow in order to hook, or not get hooked by, the other boat. This is most important pre-start, on the run, and in mark roundings.
Just before the start combatants try to hook their opponent and start close aboard to leeward. This is most often done by coming from behind and passing to leeward with more speed than the other boat. The boat ahead tries to prevent this by speeding up just before getting hooked. To do this crews trim jib and shift weight to windward. The weight shift kicks the bow down (action-reaction as the crew is forward of the boat’s pivot point centerboard). If the crew waits to hear the skipper command “Trim and weight up,” it’s too late and the boat is hooked to leeward by the boat that came from behind. If, however, the crew is watching the boat behind and responds timely to the threat of being hooked, the boat ahead can successfully stay ahead and ultimately be the leeward boat close aboard when heading up to start. If the crew is really timely at this, the skipper can bait the boat behind into trying until it is too late for any alternative. This process is called “fishing,” a term coined by former World TR champions Tim Fallon/Karen Renzulli of WHishbone.
Downwind is where the champion dinghy team racing crews are really separated from the passengers. The game is the win the other boat’s left. Here’s the basic scenario: Two boats are running on starboard, one right behind the other. The boat behind jibes to port to get to the left of the other. The boat ahead jibes to defend but, the jibe is a tiny bit late, opening up a slight gap. The first boat jibes back to starboard shouting “Starboard.” The port boat is already in big trouble. Why was the defending jibe a bit late? Because the crew waited for the skipper to say “Ready to jibe” or for the short version “Jibing.” Same scenario except that the crew of the leading boat sees the boat behind jibe to port (to their left side) and initiates their own jibe to port via weight transfer to starboard. Now the boat behind cannot jibe back to starboard as there is clearly not enough room to do so. They are stuck on port as windward boat and just far enough behind still such that the leeward port boat has clear air.
Then there’s mark roundings. Crews initiate turns in conjunction with the skipper’s rudder to minimize rudder braking. Crews also stop the turns with weight. Crews trim the jib slightly behind the main trim at the leeward mark as the swinging bow sees a more lifted apparent wind than the sliding stern. Crews trim harder when there is the need to pinch and release the jib when there is need to shoot a mark. At windward marks, crew bear off with weight to windward and stop bearing of with weight to leeward. And, as mentioned earlier, crews initiate jibes, a most critical maneuver in team racing on the “N.”
The crew has the role of speed merchant and observation master in between maneuvers but those are the subjects of other articles.
By Ken Legler, Tufts Sailing Coach. Check out Ken’s web page: http://kenleglersailing.com/
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