Defending a hole is a logical follow on to our last Sail1Design article: “Start: Tacking in a Hole”.
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Almost as important as controlling the boat to windward is NOT being controlled by the leeward boat. Without a gap to leeward to put your bow down and go fast off the start line. To do that, we need to counter attack our port approach. I will leverage heavily off the wording in the last article, and show the counter to each move from the perspective of the Windward boat. Let’s define the perfect position from which windward boat is controlled –This is what we do NOT want to happen.:
· Leeward boat just ahead of bow to bow (1 in the illustration)
o That way we ( the windward boat) can’t bear off and accelerate
· Leeward boat not so far forward that we can bear off and go behind (2)
o We are “hooked” with no escape
· Anything less than a boat width apart is dangerous (3)
o Any further and we will have room to bear off and get speed to go over, or duck behind and re-establish to leeward
o Any closer and we risk contact and are really controlled
· We don’t want to be above close hauled (4)
o We don’t want to be slow and thus un-maneuverable
o And we can’t control the pace so we won’t be able to decide when to accelerate for the start
The windward boat is doomed; once in this position, red can control every yellow move.
We are constantly on the lookout. If we have a hole, we assume everyone coming want’s it (because they do!). I have an assigned crewmember on it. In our 3 person boat it is the middle, in a 5 person boat it is the tactician. Someone is always 100% in charge of watching for potential hole poachers.
Assuming we are the middle red boat, someone on our boat assumes that green will tack in and take our hole, even if they look like they are sailing behind.
Let’s discuss practical interpretations of the applicable rules from the windward boat’s perspective:
· 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 the boat tacking in has no rights:
§ On port while they approach then head up
§ While they are passing head to wind
§ While they are bearing off
o Once the tacking boat has reached close hauled on starboard tack, they gain right of way
§ They don’t have to be trimmed in with the sails full, they merely have to be headed as if we were sailing upwind
o I find that many competitors don’t fully know or understand this rule, so we always assume they think they have right of way even though they have not truly completed their tack
· 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 Once complete the tack and become the right of way leeward boat, they need to make sure we (the windward and thus give way boat) can still avoid us
o The word “initially” I find important. If contact is immediate, we are probably in the right, but very soon after, we assume the onus to keep clear shifts to us
o In the protest room, immediately after the tack, the ruling could go either way –neither boat should want to let it get this close
· 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 We can bear away (“right-of-way boat changes course”) at the approaching / tacking boat, but we can’t so such that they can’t avoid us.
§ Until the port approaching boat completes the tack, most of the onus rests on that poacher, but this rule is the exception; it limits what we can do to protect that hole
o Once the tacking boat is establishes as the right of way leeward boat, this rule limits what they can do. They can’t head up so fast that we can’t avoid them.
§ But as windward give-way boat, we are well aware that if we allow ourselves to get in this position, we would likely lose this protest
In short, to be safe, we make sure we don’t push the limits of these rules unless we are sure we are not going to foul. Rest assured, we will still aggressively use these rules to keep from getting controlled by a leeward boat. Here are our options of defense:
· We bear off at them (the most likely scenario)
o By heading at them, we force them to either tack earlier than they want to, or pass behind to look for a more friendly hole.
o If they tack, we keep heading at them to force them to complete their tack
o We then use our momentum to go straight upwind and widen the gap creating a hole to leeward
o We need to be super careful though, they will be trying to close the gap, we need to do everything we can to maintain that distance to windward
We need to avoid getting controlled. In this picture, we (red) did not force blue to complete their tack. We are in trouble!
· Sail control is important
o Vang off, main out all the way jib luffing will help the boat to bear off without really moving
§ The goal is to pivot, without covering much distance
o Then when it is time to head up, sheet in fast on the main, but keep the jib luffing and use the little momentum gained to drift to windward again
Best defense is to bear off without going forward too much, forcing the poacher to tack earlier than they wanted. Then head and drift to weather head to wind creating a gap to leeward.
Sometimes if the line is crowded and we are set up a little early, we will preemptively close the gap making it uninviting. That way even though we don’t maintain a large gap, at least we have some gap and any port tacker is likely to move on down the line looking for something better.
Defending a hole is not easy. If we have a big juicy hole, odds are that someone is going to go after it. The goal though is to make the best of a bad situation. We lower our standards and our new goal is not to be in that terrible position where the leeward boat is just below and ahead locking us in. Instead we want to have at least some gap to leeward so we can still accelerate off the line and hopefully hold our lane long enough to be in the front row.