By Airwaves Writer & Coach, Mike Ingham The Start: Tacking in a Hole
Perhaps nothing is more important to a good start than controlling the boat to windward. To do that, we need to understand the perfect position to be in, and execute a perfect last tack into a hole.
Let’s define the perfect position from which to control the windward boat:
· Just ahead of bow to bow (1 in the illustration)
o That way the windward boat can’t bear off and accelerate over us
· But not so far forward that they can bear off and go behind (2)
o We need to “hook them” so they have no escape
· About a boat width is the perfect distance apart (3)
o Any further and they have room to bear off and get speed to go over, or duck behind us
o Any closer and we risk contact
· And we are both slightly above close hauled (4)
o That way we keep the windward boat slow and thus un-maneuverable
o And we control the pace so we decide when to accelerate for the start
The perfect controlling position
Getting to this position is not so easy because the starboard boat does not want to give up that nice space to leeward. They don’t want to be controlled. So we need to make sure we don’t tip our hand until the very last moment. We make sure we don’t head right at them, look right at them, or give any other indication. We head stealthily as if to go behind.
Might as well call them on the radio and let them know we are coming so they can prepare their defenses.
The stealth approach
Let’s discuss my practical interpretations of the applicable rules:
· Rule 13 WHILE TACKING “After a boat passes head to wind, she shall keep clear of other boats until she is on a close-hauled course.”
o This means we have no rights:
§ On port while we head up
§ While we are passing head to wind
§ While we bear off
o Once we have reached close hauled on starboard tack, we finally have the right of way
§ Note that we don’t have to be trimmed in with the sails full or anything like that, we merely have to be headed as if we were sailing upwind
§ To be completely clean, we tend to go slightly lower than close hauled so the windward boat has no reason to believe we might still be tacking
o I find that many competitors don’t fully know or understand this rule, so we always err on the side of caution while tacking in
· Rule 15 ACQUIRING RIGHT OF WAY “When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear.”
o Further limiting what we do, once we do complete the tack and become the right of way leeward boat, we need to make sure the windward boat can still avoid us
o The word “initially” I find important. If contact is immediate, we are wrong. The l
onger time passes, the more the onus shifts to the windward boat
o It is fine to leave a little gap (see 3 above) to ensure we are not in jeopardy of contact (nothing good comes from contact) and yet still be in our controlling position
· Rule 16 CHANGING COURSE “16.1 When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear.”
o This rule limits what the starboard boat can do. They can bear off at us, but not too quickly or in such a way as to prevent us from keeping clear
o I find that competitors don’t always seem to completely understand this rule
o Once we establish ourselves as the right of way leeward boat, this rule also limits what we can do. We can’t head up so fast that they can’t avoid us. Once again though, we can keep them nicely in control without taking that risk
In short, to be safe, we make sure we stay clear when we don’t have rights, and we make sure the windward boat can avoid us. That’s not to say we don’t aggressively use these rules though, and no matter how stealth we are, let’s face it, we won’t fool them forever. They have a hole, and they know we are looking to tack somewhere and are on the lookout. We have no clue how they will react, so here are some likely scenarios and how we should react to each to best get that controlling position:
· They bear off at us (the most likely scenario)
o We have no choice but to tack sooner because they are quickly closing the gap
o We need to tack early
o Hopefully they will head up as soon as they see us start our tack (this is likely, it is what I would do)
o If so, we stay head to wind and drift up toward them closing the gap
o We need to be super careful though, we have no rights as a tacking boat, so we need to keep clear and if they start to bear off, we need to quickly establish our completed tack as per rule 13.
· If instead of bearing off, they head up, we can do the same thing
o Only we don’t have to rush the process
o Same rule 14 applies though so we need to be careful
There are two likely defenses of their hole; they may bear off to force us to tack early, or head up to create more space. Either way, we carefully watch them and keep close to their leeward side.
· If they are too far from the line
o We tack and accelerate to get in front and get to the line
o We don’t worry too much about them unhooking and going to leeward, we are more concerned with getting to the line on time
If they are dangerously far from the line, we just tack and get going
· If they are too close to the line
o They are likely stopped because they don’t want to be over
o We tack in and stop too. I will often say “push the boom out” to my trimmer so we don’t drift out ahead of them
o The idea is to keep back from their bow offering some covering from exposure to the Race Committee, and to keep some runway to accelerate
o If they choose to be over, we unfortunately have to let them go, but the idea is to not encourage them to be over (by being bow out) or to force them over (by pushing them from leeward).
It’s not a good scenario if the boat to windward is early. So we hang back and hope they are not OCS giving us bad air
Finding a hole is only half the battle. No matter how the windward boat reacts to us stealing their gap, our goal is the same; to control them so we decide when to pull the trigger to the start.