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.


  1. I still remember the first time I was ever at the front of the fleet - in a pursuit race where I started first due to my usual back of the fleet standing. It was sort of exhilirating until I suddenly thought - I'm not following anyone - now where do I go?

    1. Me too, especially upwind when there are so many options. Staying close to a really good sailor without interfering buys time until the best option is clear.


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