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Fernhurst Books' Sail to Win series: Tactics Made Simple

by Jeremy Atkins 17 May 16:24 BST

While we can't race at the moment, that's no reason not to try to improve. In this 10-week feature we will be providing an extract from each book in Fernhurst Books' Sail to Win series.

In this seventh instalment we return to multiple world champion and gold medal winning coach Jon Emmett, and this time it's his highly illustrated book Tactics Made Simple. Each chapter covers a different part of the race and provides advice for Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced. In this extract he talks about the first beat.

FIRST BEAT BASICS (BEGINNER)
Your position at the first mark is crucial. After this point it can be hard to make significant place changes. So, in a major championship, simply being in the top ten round the windward mark can make a real difference to your overall regatta performance. For one thing, the front of the fleet tend to fight less amongst themselves and just sail fast, pulling away from everyone else.

With most regattas having many races and few discards, being consistent is very important in order not to get too many high scores.

If you go all the way to one side of the course, then you risk not being able to take advantage of a shift later on because you may have to sail on a header to get to the mark, meaning that you sail more distance than your rivals.

To help you stay towards the centre of the course, or towards the centre of the favoured side of the course relative to other boats, you can alter your mode of sailing. If you are on the left of other boats and you are expecting the wind to go right, you want to foot like Finlay to consolidate your gain.

The class of boat makes a big difference to the way you sail. In a slow boat which turns without losing ground to windward, you would tack on even the smallest windshift (perhaps when sailing on a small inland lake surrounded by trees) as there is potential gain to be had for very little loss. However, with a faster boat which loses more speed when tacking (a twin trapeze catamaran for example), you would only tack when you are sure it is time to.

MEETING OTHER BOATS (INTERMEDIATE)
One of the things about the first beat is that the boats are much closer together and so there tends to be much more boat-to-boat interaction, which means that the opportunity for place changing is much higher. So, you need to make your decision rather than having it forced upon you. Try to think ahead, not only how you are going to get clean wind but also how you are going to keep it! The options are as follows:

1. Ducking Boats
Maybe you are on port for a reason (you want to get to the right-hand side of the course for more pressure or you think a bigger starboard lift is coming). To do a good duck make sure you pass as close to the rudder of the other boat as possible and then head up onto a close-hauled course, like Daisy Duck. You may even want to ease the sails and kicker slightly.

2. Tacking Underneath
Tacking underneath keeps your options open and enables you to carry on sailing in clean wind (to the left) as, after all, Sophie may be coming across for a reason (starboard may be starting to lift). It also gives Summer the option to tack back if she wants.

3. Leebowing
Leebowing is a good option if you want to defend the left-hand side of the race track.

Leo tacks very close to Sophie (who does not need to take avoiding action until Leo is on a close-hauled course).

4. Crossing
Crossing is obviously the best option, but make sure you are well clear of the other boat which is going to let you pass.

Here Daisy is on starboard but, rather than risking Charlotte tacking and leebowing her, she waves her across.

Layla is on port and has a good lane (clean wind in the way she is going). She does not want to tack under Sophie Starboard (because she wants to go to the right) and she does not want to duck, or she will be in Charlotte Cross's dirty wind.

So, to avoid this, Layla slows down (and loses around half a boat length) before accelerating up to full speed to cross close behind Sophie. She can now continue (with minimum loss) the way she wants to go, still in her lane (also with clear wind).

PLAYING IT SAFE (ADVANCED)
As there are many potential place changes up the first beat (before the start everyone is in equal first place), it pays to have a prudent approach. Keep your head out of the boat and see which side of the race track is winning. If you are not on that side, why not? And can you do something about it?

There is a much higher chance of incidents up the first beat, so it pays to stay out of trouble. Remember, when telling someone they can cross, "Go", and "No", can sound very similar! Just shouting back, "Starboard!" or "Keep going", can be much clearer.

However, unfortunately incidents do sometimes happen (mainly to Daniel): Daniel Danger is an expert in doing penalty turns. The quickest way to do them in most classes of boat is to bear away and gybe first, as it is much easier to keep your speed up (bear away, gybe and head up) than it is to tack, bear away, gybe and head up. Make sure that you have plenty of room to do your turns. You don't want to hit another boat whilst doing them and have to do another set!

However, if you cause damage in an incident, you have to retire even if you were the right of way boat. So, don't hit another boat just to prove a point.

One of the key ideas is to keep your options open. This means that, if the wind becomes shifty or becomes stronger, you can take advantage of it; or, if there is an unexpected change (the wind becomes lighter), you are not vulnerable.

To get more of Jon Emmett's top tips, Tactics Made Simple can be bought here with a 25% discount for those who sign up to the mailing list.

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