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Shifty Strategy

Race Details

  • Wind: E 9knots, oscillating to S 7knots, then back around to N 9 knots, then to NE 7 knots
  • Course: 14S-7-1-14F
  • Temperature: 26°C
  • RaceQs Link: Visit
  • Results Link: Visit
Course Map


  1. Bowman: Squirrel
  2. Mastman: null
  3. Understudy: null
  4. Pit: Afterguy
  5. Foresail Trimmer: Lazy Sheet
  6. Mainsail Trimmer: null
  7. Helm: StarPort

Did you notice the wind direction above?  Yes, it blew from nearly every direction tonight.  And each time it shifted, we sensed it, reacted quickly and took advantage of it.  Even better, we anticipated the first major shift before the start and planned our race accordingly.   The combination got us ahead of Battlewagon and into a duel to the finish with Eclipse.  Great fun!

And for you students of the downwind leg, this is the race to watch.  I captured an extra-long segment of us adjusting and trimming the spinnaker in response to changing conditions.  Not a master class by any stretch, but very instructional and worth reviewing.

Here’s how it went:

Well, before the play by play, we have to discuss the strategy.  Wind was from the east, forecasted to veer significantly, we just didn’t know when it would happen.  So, we recognized that the key thing was to not get caught on the Burlington side of the rhumb line when it hit (otherwise we’d have have to sail a long distance on a headed tack to get back to the layline).  So we knew we wanted to sail to the Hamilton shore, and avoid painting the corners.

OK, so back to the play by play….

With that strategy in mind, we lined up for a port tack start, and timed it reasonably well.  Starboard was a bit lifted, so we slid underneath our fleet, but maintained clear air all the way.  Progress was fine, but when we tacked back toward the middle of the course, our fleet had gotten in front of us.  I have to believe they just found better wind out there.

Staying committed to our strategy we tacked out toward Hamilton again, and then back toward the middle well before the layline.  This is where we missed an opportunity. We were in a lull, and there was a line of better wind ahead, but we didn’t push through  to it.  As soon as we tacked, we started to feel a knock, and that line of better wind was coming toward us.  It wasn’t better wind, it was the shift we had been looking for!

[Note to the reader:  better wind that forms a very straight line indicates a wind shift coming on suddenly!]

So, we responded perfectly, and tacked back onto the lift, and now we were in a perfect position to saw a corner off the course to windward, drive for the mark on a reach, and make up some ground on our fleet.  The raceQs track shows just how painful this was.  If only we had pushed a few boatlengths further before tacking, we would have grabbed that lift much earlier and saved a lot of distance!

Hoist was textbook, right at the mark, but before I say more, we need to come back to the strategy.  We had planned to decide whether to do a jibe set or a bear away set based on whether the wind shift happened before rounding or not.  But it came after the spinnaker bag was set and connected, so we opted to stick with our bear-away set, and then jibe quickly after the hoist.


This turned out to be marvelous for several reasons:

  1. After the jibe we were flying full steam on a course straight to the leeward mark
  2. Boats that sailed further toward Burlington before jibing fell into a giant hole. (Bye bye Battlewagon)
  3. We didn’t know it, but there was another 180 degree shift coming, and the boats that did a jibe-set to Hamilton got caught having to douse early and sail high to the mark.

So, we have to admit that strategy only works well when lady luck is smiling!

And now the spinnaker work with the big symmetric kite really made all the difference in the world.  By continuing to adjust the pole position, we could keep the boat moving as the wind direction shifted around.  Once it became clear that the shift was persistent we jibed and filled again, shooting for the mark.  This is also crystal clear on the RaceQs track.  During a lull while the wind backed to the east once more, we brought the pole back and sailed deep.  When it shifted north, we put the pole forward and kept charging to the line.

This was great fun and is worth watching again and again and again.  Not thrilling, but very educational.  It’s not often you can work so many lessons into twenty minutes of sailing.  (And we overtook Eclipse in the process, so that we rounded the leeward mark ahead of them and Battlewagon).

But now a series of mistakes that cost us against Eclipse.  As we were a big short-handed, and there was traffic converging at the leeward mark, I opted to douse early.  As a result, we lost speed in the approach, arrived simultaneously with the traffic, had to give them mark room and then had to sail around them.  In the meantime, Eclipse made up ground on us, round the mark tightly and were behind and to windward of us in the final leg to the finish line.  I let them get into a controlling position.

Mistake #1:  we should have kept the kite up much longer — the lads were so quick at getting it down, that we could have carried beyond the traffic, and rounded tightly, leaving Eclipse to round after the traffic and chase us in our dirty air

Mistake #2:  there was an opportunity to put in an early pair of quick tacks to get above Eclipse and sail straight to the committee boat.

Mistake #3:  if I could have pinched early enough, I might have gotten onto Eclipse’s lee bow and gained control from there.

But since I made all mistakes, we ended up in a painful finish where we had to tack twice to finish just behind Eclipse.

Lots of lessons tonight!

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