Avoid bad air from other boats

David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts newsletter shares how-to tips for racing sailors, and in this article reprinted by WindCheck Magazine, Dellenbaugh discusses how to avoid bad air from other boats:

When it comes to other boats, your biggest tactical problem is usually the wind shadows they create. While it’s true that you sometimes have to change your course to avoid hitting your competitors or to give them right of way, these problems are generally not as significant as the widespread effects of bad air.

In a big fleet it’s not uncommon to sail in disturbed air for at least part of each upwind leg, especially the first one where boats are usually bunched quite close together. But whenever you’re affected by another boat’s wind shadow, you can be sure you’re going slower than, and losing ground to, many other boats…

The existence of wind shadows on a beat is one obvious reason why the leaders keep getting farther ahead and the tailenders farther behind. So one of your main tactical challenges on any beat is figuring out how to keep your air clear as long as possible.
Dellenbaugh goes on to offer some ideas on how to keep your air clear, which are good ideas except for really fast boats. Here are the Scuttlebutt observations from the 36th America’s Cup:

• Know the location of bad air.
Always coming from the lead boat, regardless of wind angle. Trailing boat is in the wash, upwind and downwind.

• How bad is bad air?
Bad. Really bad, and fast boats leave wind shadows that extend far behind them… because the lead boat is fast. Plus, when an AC75 gets caught in a wind shadow, they can fall off their foils which is extra bad.

• How valuable is clear air?
Valuable. Really valuable, and probably the only aspect of this topic that is the same regardless of boat type.

• Steer clear of your competitors.
Hard to do. Boundaries limit opportunity to escape or get leverage. Did we mention how the trailing boat is always getting gassed?

• Use other boats to help you.
Nobody but you. If you’re behind, suck it buttercup.

However, if your boat is the type that doesn’t have abnormally high G-forces in the turns, Dellenbaugh’s tips will be of help: click here

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