May 14, 2015

Getting Ready for Kingston - Starting

By Doug
In a previous post, we looked at how Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Goodison starts in a really good fleet. Here's another creative example.

The starting line for the Grand Masters at the 2007 Worlds in Spain was really long. The pin was a yacht with a tall mast and there was a hill in the distance, so line sights were not the problem. What was the problem was the number of boats and the length of the line... it seemed impossible to get the "big picture" with the other boats, where there were holes in the line, etc.

To make things more challenging, the rules stated that if you were over the line in the last 90 seconds, you had to go around the ends, which simply could not be done from most of the line. So competitors had to commit early, line up, be conservative, hope that those around would behave, and then hope for the best.

Mark Bethwaite (AUS) came up with a much better solution. Mark has won a dozen world championships in everything from J24's and Solings to Lasers. With 3 minutes to go, he started 30 meters to windward of the committee boat and sailed parallel to the line on port. From there, he was able to see the big picture, where the holes were, and who he wanted to start with.

From there, he would simply sail through the line and grab the position that he liked.

And in spite of intense competition, Mark won another world championship. Here are additional comments from Mark:

The Laser Masters Worlds in Roses Spain in 2007 is a dim memory but my main recollection is that after meticulous training and gear preparation, my sailing bag never made it through Heathrow to Barcelona so I had to scramble for a sail, battens, tiller, control lines, other equipment and even sailing clothes just to get on the water!  I am forever grateful to you, Geoff Lucas, Bruce Martinson and others for assistance.  Winning that regatta after such a disastrous start was a "sweet victory" as politicians are fond of saying!

You are right in your recollection of my starting - I have developed an approach to sailing which I would describe as scripted/unscripted.  An important element of the scripted part is pre regatta training to establish fitness and fast settings with good calibration to be able to replicate them to achieve reliable speed. That then lets you get the head out of the boat to focus on the unscripted bit.  

Applied to the starting situation, the scripted part means getting out early, establishing port and starboard tack mean compass readings and tidal current if any.  Optimising set up by "cranking up" with a less hostile competitor, plus the usual  establishing transits and the favoured end of the line are essential parts of the script.

I like then to relax, stretch in the boat and observe wind, waves and competitors preparations and of course any starts prior to mine.  I start racing mentally at the 5 minute signal - starting the countdown, sailing flat out on port from the Committee Boat, confirming 4 minutes, sailing flat out on starboard to bring me upwind of mid line at 3 minutes.  

My last minute port and starboard readings will confirm or otherwise the favoured end so I then run back across the line (or outside the pin if that end favoured), gybe and approach the fleet on port to keep options open for as long as possible.

The unscripted part starts with looking for lower boat density an acceptable distance from the favoured end, tacking to starboard between 60 and 90 seconds, working through to the front stalls, defending that position against all and sundry and aiming to have room to accelerate just before the gun.  Back to scripted by sailing flat out to hold the lane while remaining aware of the spatial distribution of boats on the race course.

Back to unscripted again - there is no more important tack in the race than the first after the start, whether to consolidate a good start, recover from a bad one or to head towards the next heading shift.  How to determine that next heading shift is a key question I have endeavoured to answer in Chapter 29.4 "Cutting the Corners" that my father Frank asked me to write for Higher Performance Sailing. Of one thing I am sure - my sailing now is less scripted than ever before as we are always dealing with dynamics - ever changing wind and spatial distribution of competitors. A script has no chance of success in this environment and even if the knowns of tide or geography favour one side or the other, how you get there and back to the next mark will always be improved by unscripted responses to real time observations of wind and competitors.

This takes me back to the statement above about how time in the boat establishes the virtuous circle of reliable speed, more time to get the head out of the boat, earlier and better analysis of the wind and competitor environment, better real time decision making and better boat positioning on the course.

Mark is fast in all conditions and I have had the pleasure of sailing Lasers with him for 40 years now. We'll be training together the week before the Kingston Master Worlds.

For those travelling by air, a word of advice: like Mark, I too have arrived at a Worlds with no sailing gear. Plan ahead and put your sailing essentials in your carry-on luggage.

Paul Goodison has won Olympic Gold and Mark has won worlds in multiple classes. The next starting expert we'll look at has done both.

April 24, 2015

When to Slow Down

By Doug
We had a local Laser event last weekend and something interesting happened in one of the races. I was on a run chasing a really fast, talented 17-year old sailor who was just in front. Each time I tried to go left he defended by going further. With the rest of the fleet catching us, I decided to go to his right and we pulled even. Then, about 20 boat lengths from the mark, I slowly pulled in my main sheet to slow down.

The plan was to have him edge ahead and then dig in quickly five boat lengths from the mark, get inside, and get buoy room. But the plan did not work because he saw me pulling my main sheet and said "that's something I've never seen before" and pulled in his main sheet to also slow down.

Hence, this blog post. With all of the emphasis in our sport with going faster, why would anyone want to actually slow down?

The idea was first described to me in 1971 by Frank Bethwaite who was a big fan of Manfred Curry. Frank thought that Manfred's work was the biggest contribution to sailing in the previous 50 years - something that can be said about Frank's work today. One of Manfred's few inventions that did not catch on was actually a brake for slowing down:

Not very subtle, but there are definitely times you want to slow down. In fact, in the last race I made a bonehead mistake that was very costly.

I'm one point behind this 17-year old who is leading the event, and I'm leading the race at the first weather mark. It's tight and there are two boats on my hip:

Sure enough, we're headed and I cannot make the mark. So, what do I do? I jibe around, get enough speed to tack inside the next boat on the layline, fouled him, and then had to do my circles. Pretty stupid, but I was still ahead of the quick teenager. But in doing my circles, I tipped, had trouble getting up again, and found myself in last place.

What should I have done?

I should have slowed and stopped by pushing out my boom. After the two passed, I could have put in two quick tacks and rounded in third place. But to do this, I had to realize earlier that making the mark was a low percentage move. Sailing more conservatively is much better than hoping that things would somehow work out. I got greedy, which rarely works with mark roundings, and it cost me the event.

Here's another example. Green and red are even and red looks like it can get inside green at the mark. If red is skilled and it's windy, it's almost impossible for green to defend against this:

Unless green slows down so that red does not have the chance to get inside:

Green cannot do this within three boat lengths because it has to make a seaworthy rounding. But anticipating red's move further away gives green a safe rounding, and then the option of tacking if it wants or just continuing to cover red.

Slowing down is counterintuitive and definitely works  when you need it. In the first and third above examples, it works best when you disguise what you're doing - something that Manfred Curry clearly did not do!

April 14, 2015

Holly Crap! I'm In Front... Now What?

By Doug
Apologies for the delay - had the flu.
I wrote a post about how really good sailors can take the lead at the end of a windward leg by playing a persistent shift. And sometimes a middle or back-of-the-fleet sailor will just happen to get it right, and take the accidental lead.

Several readers asked an interesting question - how does this person hold on when they're not used to leading the fleet - when they're being chased by really good sailors.

Here's what happened to me once: I found myself on the top reach just in front of a fellow who later won the North American's. He screamed and yelled at me, I got rattled, and he passed me.

That's the bad news. The good news is that in all of my years of sailing, this has only happened to me the one time. The people at the front of the fleet are smart, friendly, helpful, and understanding that you might be way out of your league.

Experienced sailors in the front row know that it's better to cooperate to get away from the pack than to start messing with each other. It's not in any rule book, but you'll find it on most race courses.

So, you'll hear things like "nice going" and "let's get ahead of the pack."

As an inexperienced sailor, you actually have two advantages:
  • Many middle-of-the-fleet sailors have good speed but get bad starts. They end up sailing the first leg in bad air and they never recover. But put this person in the lead on a reach with clear air and they are often really quick. It's not unusual to see them continue to do well and even win some races.
  • You get to watch and copy the best sailors. You cannot read their minds or tactics, but you can see where they're sitting, how their controls are set up, how they play the pressure, etc. I learned how not to do this in race 3 at the Capetown Worlds and how to do this properly next year at the Chilean Worlds.
So when you're in the lead, watch, learn, and enjoy. As Pam likes to say, weather conditions are always better at the front of the fleet.

March 07, 2015

What Game Are You Learning To Play?

by Pam

I have always rejected the 'time on the water' teaching, believing that spending time perfecting a bad habit would just make me really good at being bad. I wanted to learn perfect technique first and then spend time practicing that. Was it really necessary to re-invent the wheel and go through the time and frustration of learning what does and doesn’t work? I'm now questioning my rejection of the 'time on the water' teaching.

At the Laser Masters Worlds this past September in France, I got to be a fly on the wall and watch the interaction of the sailors and listen to the chatter. There was so much talent there and everyone had an opinion. All this free advice was being given and yet many of the top sailors didn't appear to be paying attention or listening to each other.

I listened with interest to the advice of Steve Cockerill of Rooster Sailing as he described the choice between the full rig or Radial. Steve chose correctly for the conditions and went with the Radial and won his division. Al Clark, like Doug, chose a full rig and joked with Doug about how they chose the wrong rig but at least Al hadn't done it two years in a row. Brett Beyer won his division with all firsts and I listened as he talked about going head to head with Al Clark, knowing he couldn't beat Al on boat speed in the light conditions and had strategically split from him when Al didn't have to time react and follow. We spent time talking with multiple sailors who won their divisions. And many more who were former world champions. With 500 sailors there, it was a Who's Who type of event.

I can't recall specific examples or conversations but over and over again, I was struck with the impression of being surrounded by what felt like a humble arrogance. Confidence might be a better word. At that level, the guys don't learn much from each other. They talk at each other and share their experience about what is working but they aren't seeking advice from others or listening to it. They've learned there is more than one way to do the same thing. They've perfected their own techniques and they sail their own race. They know their competition's strengths and weaknesses and they sail tactically against them but they make no attempt to copy the techniques of others. I had never really been around so much confidence after racing. It was a real treat.

The Final Beat is an entertaining blog and an excellent resource for pointing a sailor to the best information and expert advice for a sailor to get better, quicker. I've often pointed out something on the blog to Doug and asked if he'd tried that. The answer is usually no. When various high level sailors have talked about technique, I've asked Doug if he has tried that. The answer is usually no.

What I didn't understand is that Doug's answer isn't arrogance. The response to most of my "have you ever tried …" questions is something along the lines of 'he's a better sailor than me in those conditions and he gets to practice in those conditions all the time and I'll never be able to beat him by trying to copy him.' Similarly, Brett Beyer would never attempt to copy Al Clark's techniques either. Training with them at the venue before the event is a different matter.

The learning process (or should I say training process) is more tactical. It's a matter of learning the strengths and weaknesses of their competition and then matching it against their own and finding a way to use it against them. That's a totally different game than I've been playing. Doug calls it sailing the course vs the competition. He decided long ago that he would rarely be the fastest around the course and there was a higher percentage of success in sailing strategically against his competition.

Long before Doug arrives at an event, he knows who will be competing, who is good in light, medium, or heavy conditions, who chokes, who pulls rabbits out of hats, who has been on the water the most, who is winning, and he usually has a pretty good guess of who will win the event. He is always gathering information about his competition, even during fun weekend sailing. His mind is always geared toward observing and finding the strengths and weaknesses.

Definitely a different game than I play. I just show up and hope for the best. 

February 23, 2015

Kingston, Here We Come!

By Doug
I was asked about my preparation for the next Master Worlds in Kingston, so here are the four things I'll be doing.

Lasers are sailed in three different conditions: light winds (up to 5 knots), medium winds (for me, 5 to 15 knots), and strong winds (for me, over 15). I do not know of a single Laser sailor who has world-class speed in all three, so we have to specialize.

We don't have to worry about light conditions because a race at a Laser Worlds will not start with winds under 5 knots, so this leaves medium and strong. As discussed here, your weight dictates your best conditions and what you need to work on:
  • If you're light, then you need to be fast in medium conditions and you need to work on being in great shape.
  • If you're heavy, you need to work on your medium conditions and you had better be in shape to do well in a breeze.
So, here's my own plan:
  • I'm light and my medium speed is good, but I'll brush up by (1) practicing at night. I have found that this is the best way to get a "feel" of what is fast in a Laser.
  • Kingston will probably not have many windy days, but some bad finishes like I had at the last Worlds at Hy√®res will kill any chances of doing well. So, I'm focusing on my (2) cardio on an elliptical machine and (3) strength on a hiking bench.
This plan is verified by the conditions at Kingston's airport:
"The wind is over 6 knots at 10 AM no less than 65% of the days, and from
noon to 1600 hours it holds above 6 knots over 85% of the days."
Translation: we can expect medium conditions.

This will be my final event as a Grand Master, so I'll be sailing a full rig. For the final preparations, I'll be (4) training on Italy's Lake Como with Roberto Bini (ITA), then competing with him at the Euro Masters, and then training with Mark Bethwaite (AUS) and others in Kingston before the Worlds start.

 It should be an awesome event!

February 11, 2015

Dave Perry on RRS 43.1(a) and 43.1(b)

by Pam
Dave Perry
Dave Perry is recognized worldwide as an authority and expert the Racing Rules of Sailing.  When I reached out to Dave for his assistance, I was pleasantly surprised by his willingness to go above and beyond in his reply as well as his willingness to continue the dialogue with answers to numerous follow up questions. Many thanks to Dave for taking the time to provide us with his interpretation of RRS 43.1(a) and 43.1(b) as well as sharing some insights into the history and purpose of these rules. 

For more on the rules, get Dave Perry’s two books Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing through 2016 (which includes the complete rule book) and Dave Perry’s 100 Best Racing Rules Quizzes available at US Sailing, 800 US SAIL-1, or

Posted with permission of Dave Perry:

I am happy to give you my personal opinions on the hypothetical questions you sent me. These are solely my personal opinions.

Rules 43.1(a) and 43.1(b) are independent rules which address two separate issues dealing with the wearing of clothing and equipment when racing.

Rules 43.1(a) is a stand-alone requirement. It clearly states that competitors are not allowed to wear or carry any clothing or equipment with the purpose or intent of increasing their weight. In other words, if part of the reason the person wore something was to increase their weight, that breaks rule 43.1(a)...period. This has nothing to do with the overall weight limit described in 43.1(b).

Rule 43.1(b) begins "Furthermore...", which means "in addition to the requirement in rule 43.1(a)..." Nothing in rule 43.1(b) is an exception to the clear requirement in rule 43.1(a).

Rule 43.1(b) puts a maximum weight on all clothing and equipment. The clothing and equipment referred to in rule 43.1(b) is clothing and equipment worn for purposes other than increasing the weight of the sailor (which is banned completely by rule 43.1(a)).

The history of 43.1(a) is that for a long time (up through 1972) sailors, such as Finn sailors, increased their body weight by wearing extra weight in the form of sweat shirts and other water absorbing garments that, when wet, would weigh up to 100 pounds. In 1973, the IYRU (former ISAF) decided that was unhealthy due to back and knee injuries, and instituted rule 22.3(a) (a ban on wearing clothing and equipment for the purpose of increasing weight) which was word for word the same as current rule 43.1(a). But then they added rule 22.3(b) which said “A class which desires to make an exception to rule 22.3(a) may do so, but the total weight of the clothing and equipment cannot exceed 20 kilos. The racing rules continued this way (prohibiting the wearing of clothing and equipment for the purpose of increasing weight, but allowing it *if* the class rules allowed it) but shifted the maximum weight down to 15kg, unless the class stated a lesser or greater weight, in which case the max weight was set at 20 kilos.

I was part of the first Laser generation (first hull was #931) that wore water bottles in the 70’s when we raced. I think the Laser class max was set at 10 kilos (which was basically two water bottles, a t-shirt, a PFD, pair of shorts, watch, socks and Aigle boots). My back is now permanently injured with two degenerated discs.

In 1997, ISAF completely banned the wearing of clothing and equipment for the purpose of increasing the sailor's weight, again for health reasons. That ban is currently rule 43.1(a). The way they completely banned it was to remove from the rule the exception clause that had been in the book from 1973-1996 which allowed the classes to permit the wearing of clothing and equipment for the purpose of increasing weight. Note that rule 43 cannot be changed by class rules or the sailing instructions (see rule 86.1).

The answers to your four Cases therefore are (and this is without studying the current Laser class rules other than what you quote in your blog, which I read in its entirety):

Hypothetical Facts
Case 1:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that has been specifically designed to allow for the insertion of lead weights and weights are inserted, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 7.5 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which was strategically calculated to be just below the 8 kg limit imposed by RRS 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 2:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that is heavy when wet solely for the purpose of adding weight, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 7 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which is well below the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 3:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that is heavy when wet for the primary purpose of warmth with the added benefit that it also adds additional weight, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 4 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which is well below the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 4:
Sailor A, due to financial limitations, wears technical sailing gear that is old and outdated and made of heavier materials, therefore the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 8.5 kg as measured according to Appendix H, which is in violation of the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 1 - yes, because the purpose of wearing the clothing and equipment is to increase the sailor's weight.

Case 2 - yes, for same reason as Case 1.

Case 4 - clearly the sailor breaks 43.1(b) unless the class rules permit a higher weight or the sailor is on a boat required to be equipped with lifelines (see rule 43.1(c)). Whether they also break 43.1(a) depends on the reason they wore that gear.

Case 3 - this is the tricky one, because it becomes a gray area between wearing a garment for warmth or protection, and wearing it for the purpose of adding weight. Setting aside the issue that some people will try to take advantage of this gray area by "saying" the gear was for warmth or protection but "knowing truthfully" that they are wearing it to increase their weight, the answer to whether Sailor A is breaking rule 43.1(a) is in the truthful answer to this question: why did the sailor choose to wear that garment?

Case 89 is the only ISAF Case on this, and stemmed from a situation in, I believe, the 1996 Olympics where a top finishing 470 crew, I believe, was wearing a camelback garment with a water bottle inserted, with a drinking tube attached. The crew was protested for breaking rule 61.1(a) (equivalent to rule 43.1(a) in the current book). The crew claimed the purpose of wearing the garment was to provide hydration during the race which otherwise was very difficult as the crew was on the wire most the race. The protestor claimed the purpose of wearing the garment was to increase the sailor's weight. The Jury could not bring itself to DSQ the boat, but soon after the Games, Case 89 was published, with the intent to ban the wearing of clothing or equipment that had the effect of increasing the sailor's weight when it was not otherwise necessary to wear that garment. ISAF's opinion was that crews could find a way to put a water bottle in the boat and get drinks from it during the race without wearing it. ISAF also realized that windsurfers could not realistically drink water while racing unless wearing it, so they are allowed to, by exception to the rule in their Appendix B.

Case 89

Question: Does rule 43.1(a) permit a competitor to wear or otherwise attach to his person a beverage container while racing?

Answer: No. Except on a windsurfer or a kiteboard, there is no necessity for such a practice, and therefore its primary purpose must be considered to be to increase the competitor’s weight. (Note that rules B4 and F4 modify rule 43.1(a) for windsurfing competition and kiteboard racing.)

So back to your Case 3, if the sailor truthfully wore the extra layer so their weight would be increased, then they broke 43.1(a). But if it was necessary for them to wear the extra layer to stay warm, and the additional weight of the extra garment increased their weight, that to me doesn't break rule 43.1(a). But, if they intentionally wear that extra layer on the outside of their other gear, and they let it get soaked such that it increases their weight when they could have worn it inside a waterproof spray top, etc., then I'd be more inclined to say the sailor wore that extra layer for the purpose of increasing their weight, and broke rule 43.1(a). Otherwise they would have made the effort to keep that layer dry in order to stay warmer.


The Case 3 grey area causes me concern. It seems that two sailors could be wearing the exact same clothing but for different reasons and one would be legal and the other illegal. So ... following a suggestion by Dave, I joined the Scuttlebutt Sailing Club (an organization that is a member of US Sailing) and have asked them to submit a revised set of hypotheticals to US Sailing for an official interpretation. Not only is anyone seeking membership with Scuttlebutt automatically accepted, but membership is free. My kind of sailing club. And when I asked them if they'd be willing to submit the hypotheticals to the US Sailing Appeals Committee on my behalf, they immediately agreed to help. To be continued ...

February 05, 2015

Persistent Shifts for Dummies

By Doug

Roberto in Italy sent us this interesting chart. It shows four boats going upwind - the first 2 sail in a steady breeze while the other 2 sailing in a breeze that slowly shifts to the right:
  • Black-left bangs the left and takes 16m 58s.
  • Black-right bangs the right and takes the same, 16m 58s.
  • Like most of us, red likes the lift but has to come into the mark on a big header, taking 17m 52s. This is 54 seconds more than the blacks because red is on the outside of a persistent shift.
  • Green does something unusual - it sails on a header and then comes into the mark on a big lift, taking just 16m 9s. This is 49 seconds less than the blacks because green is on the inside of a persistent shift.

This is simple geometry - playing the shifts correctly means sailing a shorter distance which takes less time. But guessing when a shift is persistent is tricky - most people will stay on a lift like red and go the wrong way. It takes a lot of courage to recognize the shift is going to be persistent and take an early header like green to go the correct way.

The first time I learned about this was from Frank Bethwaite who was the Australian meteorologists at the 72 Olympics. Frank told me how amazing it was to watch Rodney Pattisson (GBR) who was the only sailor who recognized the long, persistent shifts at Kiel. Pattisson was the defending gold medalist and would start a leg going the wrong way on a header. This got him inside a persistent shift which only paid off at the top of the windward leg. Pattisson again won gold.

So Roberto's diagram is great because it quantifies the amount you can win or lose by not reading a persistent shift correctly. It's also great that most sailors don't sail at places like Kiel that have persistent shifts to worry about.

Actually, that's not true - we have persistent shifts all the time [Dummy alert - the following is simplified to make it a little easier to understand.]

The definition of a persistent shift is when the wind shifts one way and does not come back. In Roberto's diagram, the wind starts in a neutral position and goes right. If a shift cycle has 4 parts (go right, come back, go left, come back) and a leg takes less time to sail than a 1/4 of a shift cycle as shown in the diagram, then whatever the wind is doing is persistent. So it would make sense that the shorter the windward leg, the more likely the the shift will be a persistent shift. So the shorter the leg, the more you want to take an early header to get inside the shift.

So, how often does this happen? (Drumroll). Every windward leg! As we get closer to the windward mark, the remainder of the leg gets shorter and shorter. So, you guessed it, the top part of every leg has a persistent shift.

Some fun with numbers: Roberto's diagram has red losing 54 seconds and green gaining 49 seconds.
  • If the wind completes one complete shift cycle (go right, go back, go left, go back) on a windward leg, then the top 1/4 of the leg has a persistent shift. This means that starting that part of the leg on a lift (red) means losing  54/4 or 13 seconds and sailing on the header (green) that gains 49/4 or 12 seconds - a total of 25 seconds!!
  • If there are two complete shift cycles on the leg, green gains half of that, or 12 seconds on red.
How many times have we had good upwind speed only to round in traffic 12-25 seconds behind the leader who is in clean air?

Perhaps now we know why.

January 26, 2015

Reaching Tricks

By Doug

Green has just rounded the windward mark in first place and red is just behind, and there are lots of others following. Red heads up, sails faster, and tries to pass green. One of two things will most likely happen:
  • Green says, "hey, let's head straight for the mark and get ahead of these others." Meaning, let's make sure we come first and second, and we'll decide who wins later (another example of how the game is played at the front of the fleet). Consider yourself lucky if you hear this on the race course.
  • Green defends against red by also heading up. 
The first example is a rare treat because it means that green is experienced and is good at percentage sailing. This post is about the more common second example.

Would you rather be green or red?

I prefer being in red's position because green almost always defends by also heading up, so at the end of the reach it has to bear off to head for the mark. The more green defends by heading up, the better red will be at the end of the leg. This is how I won a national championship last year in another class.

In this case, green was being sailed by a very experienced, very fast, multiple national championWe were tied in the standings and a pass would give me a 2-point gain on him (which turned out to be the winning margin for the championship).

Even though greed was well ahead, it defended by also going so high that we were almost on a run as we approached the mark. This gave me the advantage, the pass, and the win.

So if red has the advantage, how does green defend?

If there are waves, the one best one at catching them will most likely win. But what if it's flat water or the boats have the same speed? This is when it gets really tactical. Green winning depends on two things:
  • keeping track of the apparent wind, and
  • playing the different changes in the wind pressure that can be seen on the water.
Let's go back to the moment when green has make the decision.

If green bears off, it immediately slows down while red is picking up speed.

Looking at the wind shadows, green is already in trouble because of its lost speed plus less wind.

Trying to escape by bearing off more just slows green down more.

Advantage red, which gets and easy pass. But green bearing off is actually a winning move if done properly:
  • Green can use the technique described in this post to determine exactly where the apparent wind is coming from. It's not coming straight down the course but has shifted forward.
  • But this is still dangerous. For this to work, green still needs a little more speed.
  • To get this, green waits for a little more pressure that can be seen ahead on the water.
  • With the pressure, green and red both speed up and the apparent wind shifts further forward.
  • If green bears off slightly now, it has a little more room to work with before it's affected by red's shadow.
  • Bearing off in pressure has another advantage. Because green is going more with the wind, the pressure will last slightly longer, so green gets more time in the pressure. Some call this "stretching" the puff.
  • If the red starts to roll green, green heads up to even the speed, shift the apparent wind a little forward, and hold its position.
  • Each time green has a little extra pressure, it bears off slightly again.
  • While this is happening, red might have its hands full from boats right behind it, and red may have to head up just to defend against them. Advantage green.
  • It's tricky, but if done properly green can get low enough so that red's wind shadow is minimal and green can sail its own race.
If green is able to sail lower it gets more separation, clearer air, and more speed.

At the end of the reach, green is in a great position because:
  • it's on a closer reach and going faster,
  • it has clear air because its apparent wind is way forward, and
  • it has all of the rights against the red boats because its the leeward boat at the mark.
The key to this working is knowing and feeling where the apparent wind is coming from and using the slight differences in the wind pressure. It's tricky and something that we all get wrong occasionally, even at the national championship level.

January 14, 2015

Sailing the the Middle of the Fleet - Dirty Air

By Doug
Another question from Pam: how can I tell if I'm in dirty air? It's a simple question with a simple answer - the wind creates waves, so look at the direction of the waves to see where the wind is coming from.

The waves are coming straight towards us, so we must be looking directly into the wind. So white is creating dirty air for green, right?

Actually, the answer is no. In fact, green is in clear air and can easily hold this position. The reason is because both boats are moving, so what we call the apparent wind actually shifts forward. The faster the boats go, the more the wind shifts.

Here's the position of a boat sailing in dirty air.

And looking at the wind shadow, you want to be in green and not red.

So, what we see can be very misleading.

Here's a trick to accurately know where the apparent wind is and if you're in dirty air:
  • Look at the breeze and feel it on your face.
  • Now, close your eyes and move your head back and forth slowly. The sensation of pressure on your face will move slightly from side to side.
  • If the wind is light and you don't feel any difference, splash some water on both of your cheeks and move your head back and forth again to feel a slight change in the temperature.
  • When the pressure or temperature you feel on both sides of your face is the same, open your eyes. You're now looking directly upwind.
  • If you're looking directly at a boat, then you're in its dirty air. The closer it is, the more it will affect you. To get into clean air, tack or bear off.
When you get good at this, you'll also be able to feel when you're in dirty air because your boat will feel different, sort of like when a car is misfiring and not running smoothly. Sailing is similar because you'll feel the turbulence of the dirty air from the boat to windward of you.

So there you have it - rely on what you feel and not not what you see.
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