How to claw your way back into the race

Perhaps it was a bad start or an early missed windshift, but now you are deep in the fleet. Pushing aside anger and frustration, the good news is the race is young and opportunity is ahead. Mike Considine of UK Sailmakers identifies some of the areas to move up:

Windward Mark Laylines:
Don’t over-stand! Often boats will sail too far to the right, beyond the starboard layline, and end up reaching into the mark. They have sailed further than they need to. You can make big gains on those over-stood boats by not making the same mistake as they did.

Try not to get into the starboard tack parade until you are four to six boat lengths from the mark. Do not try to tack onto starboard so close to the mark that you risk getting protested for tacking in the Zone (Rule 18.3). In big, tightly packed fleets, coming into the windward mark near the port tack layline can be a low probability move, but if you are still to leeward enough to find a gap in the traffic, you can make a big gains.

On the other hand, if you end up approaching the windward mark on port and will have to tack inside the zone, here is how you can avoid getting protested for breaking rule 18.3. Instead of tacking in front of or to leeward of a startboard tacker, sail beyond any starboard boat and then tack to windward of them. Yes, you give up one boat, but you will not risk getting pitched. This video that explains rule 18.3.

The only time to over-stand is when you are approaching the starboard layline and you see there is a pile up ahead with boats pinching to make the mark. Over-stand just enough to have clear air — perhaps a boat length or two — and sail around the slow pileup while you’re still at full speed.

Note, if you are rounding the mark from this position, you will also be sailing slightly higher as you round the mark. This has an added advantage as it will position you to windward of boat(s) that you can blanket on the run.

Rounding windward marks:
If you have clean air as you round the mark/offset, use that pressure to sail lower than the fleet. Typically, the pack ahead of you will sail higher as each trailing boat takes a line just higher than the boat ahead. Use this pressure to sail lower, get separation from the boats ahead, and sail less distance. Sail your best VMC/VMG, which is usually lower than the boats sailing in a pack that are trying to get on each other’s wind.

Rounding leeward marks:
Of course, do not over-stand leeward marks by always sailing your fastest VMG to leeward mark. Make sure to keep jibing to stay on the knocked jibe. Big gains can be made by playing those last shifts while everyone else is just thinking about their rounding…

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