Avoiding the Danger Zones

by Jon Emmett

It is easy to think that people win races and indeed regattas simply because they are faster than everyone else, and whilst this is often part of the truth, it is not the whole truth. It is about avoiding mistakes. This is rather like everyone is going upwind on an escalator but every mistake, whether it be speed (hitting a wave badly), boat handling (a poor tack or having to duck another boat), or tactics/strategy (being on the wrong shift, in the wrong current, etc.), forces you to take one step back on the escalator—getting to the top (windward mark) slower than someone who made fewer mistakes.

There are minor errors like those above and sitting in some dirty air, and there are major errors.  That is, mistakes which can cost you many, many places if you are not careful. In this article we will examine a few of them (the most common).

Also remember, from a rules perspective it doesn’t matter if you are in the right or wrong. If you get caught in a tangle (unable to round a mark, stuck to other boats, etc.), you will be losing a huge amount to those who avoid the mess, and you are highly unlikely to get any redress unless your boat was damaged in the incident and you are unable to finish the race… and you definitely don’t want that!

Starting is perhaps one area of the race where you have the most potential to win or lose places. In order to be in the race, you have to start!

Getting shut out at the committee boat
You want to get to the right for the first beat. Well, waiting for a space at the committee boat could mean that you are waiting for a long time, especially if those who got there early are determined to hold their spot. If the current is moving up the line (left to right) it is especially easy to get shut out.

A top tip is to line up by the committee boat before the start and see how quickly you drift down the line or if the committee boat is busy, you can practise your lineup by one of the buoys on the downwind gate (of the inner loop course)… Just remember that the committee boat produces a much larger wind shadow than a buoy.

Don’t get “shut out” from the start line.

Unable to cross the pin end
Remember a small difference in wind speed (if it drops), current (if it is pushing you back), wind direction (a header), or just a bad wave (making it hard to accelerate) can suddenly mean that it’s hard to cross the line. The pin is especially dangerous when the current is moving down the line (from right to left).

Of course, winning the pin end can be a race-winning move.

Overstanding the windward mark
In shifty conditions you need to centralise (come back to the centre of the course) whenever you get the chance, so that you don’t risk reaching into the windward mark. The extra distance sailed means you will probably lose out to your rivals.

Be careful not to overstand the windward mark.

Port layline
Of course, if there is plenty of room and you are at the front of the fleet then the port layline is perfectly safe. However, the further you go back, the more boats coming in on starboard can be bow to stern. This means you may not find a space and could be ducking one boat or perhaps twenty to find a space and risk infringing someone.

Coming in on the port layline can be dangerous, and even more so if you have overstood the windward mark.

Messy leeward gate
As with any mark rounding, a lot of boats are being brought together at the same place and therefore there is the potential for a lot of place-changing, especially at the gate where the correct choice is vital. This is not as simple as a leeward mark rounding where you know which mark to go to (there is only one). You need to make a choice, avoid the crowd, and go up the correct side of the beat. The top tip here is to get your head out of the boat and make your decision regarding positioning early.

A good choice at the gate sets you up for the next beat.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy Jon’s two YouTube channels:

Jonemmettsailing which has lots of video specifically about Lasers, and

Training to Win which has, yes you guessed it, lots of general training tips and exercises!