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Simple Racing Tactics
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Sailing instructions & Tactics for Racing
Before competing in a race you should devote a little time to preparing your vessel for the event. No boat can be expected to show her best form if she is foul, and, mind you, there are degrees of foulness. Because the yacht's bottom seems to be free from nuns, don't jump to the conclusion that she does not need scrubbing. If you lay her ashore you will probably find that the bottom is coated with a thin skim of slime and there may be quite a thick deposit of tiny nuns on the garboards of which you had no suspicion. If the boat is to do her best, the bottom must be absolutely clean and smooth, and it will pay you to scrub her the day before the race. If you desire a superfine surface, rub the bottom down with steel shavings and then apply a coat of blacklead which, when dry, can be polished with a stove brush.
Attention should also be given to the rigging and sails. Don't set up the shroud lanyards, or rigging screws, so taut that the shrouds are like bars of iron, for nothing takes the life out of a boat like rigging that is too taut. The shrouds should be slack enough to allow the mast to bend slightly ere any great strain is thrown on the rigging. Overhaul the halyards and sheets to see that they are perfectly sound and replace anything of which you have the slightest suspicion. See that your mainsail is thoroughly stretched out on the spars and tighten up the lacings if necessary. If your mainsail is a gunter, pay particular attention to the wire span on the yard. One end of this should be secured to the yard by means of a lacing, so that any slack can be taken up. If the span be too slack you may not be able to peak the sail sufficiently to set it properly.
Get your sailing instructions as soon as you can and study them carefully so that you have the course and all the marks impressed on your mind. Take particular note of the time of the start and also of the flag which is to indicate your particular match, for if there are several events on the programme more than one flag may be exhibited at the same time.
On the morning of the race get your vessel under way in good time, say a full half hour before you are due to start. Don't, however, hang about on the starting line so as to imj)ede the manoeuvring of yachts engaged in other races. If you are under way in good time you will be able to get your sails nicely set, and should you find that you have set too much or too little canvas you will be able to rectify the error. About a quarter of an hour before your race is timed to start, get down near the Clubhouse, or Committee vessel, and look out for your pre- paratory signal, which will be the hoisting of the flag indicating your race. This signal will be made exactly ten minutes before the starting gun, and you should have your stop watch ready so that you can set it by the signal. You will not be under the starter's orders and amenable to Y.R.A. rules until the first gun is fired, that is to say, five minutes before the second or starting gun ; but as soon as the first gun has been fired any breach of the rules may lead to disqualification. Watch carefully for the first gun, the firing of which is accompanied simultaneously with the hoisting of the Blue Peter. Now, don't wait for the report of the gun because sound takes an appreciable time to travel. Watch for the smoke, or if you are in such a position that you may not be able to see the smoke of the gun, look for the breaking out of the flag. In the event of the gun misfiring, the hoisting or lowering of the Blue Peter, as the case may be, is the signal. When you see the puf! of smoke start your stop watch. If there are several persons on board it is customary for one of the crew to act as timekeeper, but personally I prefer to keep the time myself. If you decide to act as your own timekeeper, you should carry your stop watch in a wristlet. The stop watch should be a reliable one, recording the minutes as they elapse in addition to the seconds. You have five minutes before the second or starting gun in which to manoeuvre for position, and those five minutes are often the most exciting of the whole race. The objective of all engaged is a double one. In the first place each competitor wants to cross the starting line as soon as possible after the second gun and also in the best position, which is usually to windward of all his opponents. Each helmsman, therefore, commences a series of evolutions which he hopes will land his craft in the desired position at exactly the right moment. But everyone is amenable to the rules, and having to give way to another craft may completely upset calculations. Should this happen, you have immediately to evolve another scheme and put it into practice. You will readily understand therefore that the five minutes between the guns make considerable demands upon one's judgment.
To be over the starting line too soon is fatal, as by the rules you have to return and re-cross the line properly. As you have to give way to every other vessel that has made a proper start you may be carried quite a long way before you can get room to turn and come back. The fear of being over the line before the second gun often makes a novice nervous and he is apt to keep a long way above the line to prevent any risk of his craft being carried over by the tide. That, however, is a mis- taken policy, for should the wind drop it might not be possible to get to the line until some time after gunfire. It is far better for the novice to take his courage in both hands and keep close to the line so that he is in a position to cross it without loss of time. It is probable that he will occasionally be. over too soon, but it is the only way to learn how to make good starts.
To be first over the line in the weather berth is a fine thing, but it will avail you little if you have not good way on your boat. If you are doing little more than drift as you cross, the others will come roaring through your lee and be out on your weather in the twinkling of an eye. What you should strive for is to cross almost with the flash of the gun and with a full head of speed. If you accomplish that feat you will have a commanding position which, with reasonable luck and skill, you should retain at any rate to the first mark. If you find you are approaching the line too fast, you can luff or bear away a little so as to check your way a trifle. If you are running for the line you can check the boat's speed by hauling in your mainsheet. If you make a good startand I hope vou will make many keep an eye on the Clubhouse, or Committee vessel, after you have crossed the line to see if your recall number is hoisted. When it Is a matter of a second or so, you can never be quite sure whether your bowsprit-end showed on the line at gunfire or not, and you should therefore keep a good lookout for your recall number so that you may re-cross with out waste of time in case of need.
In a one-design class, or for that matter any class in which the boats are well matched in point of speed, the advantage of being across the starting line first and in the weather berth cannot be over-estimated. For another yacht to pass you is very difficult, as, if she attempts to get through your lee, your sails will blanket her and if she tries to pass you to windward you arc permitted by the rules to luff her. Moreover, when you are on her weather bow she will be retarded by your quarter wash. If you are beating to windward and have a dangerous rival nicely tucked away under your lee, do your best to keep her there. When she tacks, do likewise, for if you allow her to break tacks with you and go off on her own, she may pick up a better wind or find a more favourable tide. Should that happen you may find when you meet again that the positions are reversed and that she has secured the coveted weather berth. By keeping close company with her and always going about when she does, you eliminate the possibility of her getting a lucky slant that does not reach your vessel.
Now, suppose that you are beating up a river and you, on the starboard tack, meet a rival on the port tack and there is a risk of collision. Your opponent has of course to give way to vou and therefore goes about. If the boats are of much the same speed you will find that it will usually pay you in such circumstances to go about also. As soon as she puts her helm down, do likewise and leave her. If, after putting her about, you held your course, you would both be sailing on the same tack, aud although you would be to windward of her, she would be leading. When she neared the shore she would be in a position to call for water and you would have to go about, which would place her to windward of you. When a boat calls for water on nearing an obstruction the other vessel has to give her room, but the craft that calls for water must put her helm down immediately she hails. By breaking tacks with your rival it is possible that when you next meet you may pass clear ahead of her. Should you be able to do so, go about on her weather and give her your wash. With regard to luffing, although you are permitted by the rules to luff as you please to prevent another yacht passing you to windward, it does not always pay you to embark upon a long luffing match with the overtaking boat. By so doing you may let another rival get clean away. It is a matter that calls for nice judgment and you must be governed by circumstances as to whether you engage in a luffing match or not. If the overtaking vessel is the only one in the race you really fear, you will probably luff her, but if there are others in the race equally dangerous it might be wiser to let her through. An overtaking yacht is entitled to a clear passage to leeward and you must not bear down on her to prevent her passing.
I told you just now that when cross tacking and you put a rival about, you should go about yourself at once, but if you do so, don't forget Clause (i) of Rule 30, by which you are prohibited from tacking in such a manner as to involve risk of collision with the other yacht before she has filled on her new tack. You must not go about right under her bows so that she cannot keep out of your way. Having secured the weather berth see that you are not bluffed out of it. The yacht you have put about may subsequently try to bluff you with a false tack. The helmsman will shout "lee ho" and put his helm down. Then he will fill on her again on the same tack in the hojie that you will be deceived by his tactics and go about. It is, however, only a very inexperienced helmsman who would be bluffed in that manner. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having a rival on your weather bow, the best thing you can do is to make very short tacks. Should your boat happen to be a bit quicker in stays than the other you may thus in time extricate yourself from your undesirable position. It is possible, too, that the helmsman of the other boat may get tired of going about so frequently and break tacks with you. As I write, I have before me a very nice silver cup which I won in that manner There were only two of us in it at the leeward mark, as we had run right away from the others. My rival, having an overlap at the mark, I had to give him room, with the result that he secured the weather berth for the beat home over a foul tide So I started to make very short boards of only a few yards long He stuck to me for perhaps thirty boards, and then getting fed up with it, broke tacks and went off on a comparatively long board. In the meantime I continued my policy, and being in slacker water managed to gain on him just enough to put him about when we next met. Having got him under my lee I kept him there all the way home, eventually crossing the line five seconds ahead. I look back on that race as one of the best I ever sailed, but all the same I should not have won My opponent held a winning position at the leeward mark and threw the race away by his impatience.
If you are running in a race and there is another yacht ahead of you, you should run dead in her wake, as by so doing you will take her wind. Should you be very close astern of her you will also derive some benefit from the moving water she has displaced. Although you may be able to hang on to the leader in this manner it is often very difficult to pass her. If the wind is dead aftas a matter of fact it very seldom is-you mav be able to run past her to leeward, that is to say, on the side she is carrying her boom ; but if the breeze is on the quarter she will blanket you before you are through her lee. Should the weather shore not be very far of! your best chance of passing her will be by threatening her weather with the idea of inducing a luffing match. In the excitement of the moment her helmsman may forget all about the weather shore and continue to luff until you reach shoal water. Then, if you have established an overlap. as you probably will have done, you will be able to call for water and he will be obliged to give you room. As vour vessel is the faster (remember, she is the overtaking boat) you will then get by. Before attempting this ruse, however, you should note the position of other vessels in the race, for if they are close astern you may, in attempting to pass one rival, be passed yourself by several others. When steering a yacht in a race you should ever be on the qui vive to snatch any legitimate advantage that may present itself. Keep your eyes open and note the position of vessels at anchor and other obstructions to sea-room, as they may prove very valuable to you. By carefully regulating the length of your boards you may be able to place your craft between your rival and a vessel at anchor, so that you can call for water and put him about. By such means you may be able to capture the weather berth. Many opportunities of this nature occur in yacht racing, and it is the helmsman who sails with his head who in the long run is the most successful.
by F.B Cook | Seamanship for Yachtsmen