“The true racer can be seen when the wind is light and shifty.” You may have heard this phrase a thousand times if you do regattas with your boat.
It is precisely under these conditions that racing tactics take on a crucial role: understanding what is going on around you will make all the difference. Whether you are participating in a stick race between buoys, a coastal race, or a “long” race, the important thing is to keep your eyes open.
Race tactics, seven signals to interpret
Racing at a slightly higher level than “flatbread, white wine, and mop sails” requires taking care of different aspects, such as tuning e the running of the boat, the perfect execution of maneuvers, the search for the best start, the best tactics based on the weather conditions, which in turn includes noticing the signs of a wind change, interpreting them correctly and then incorporating them “consciously” within the overall racing strategy.
A word of advice: first work on your conducting skills, get to know your boat in detail, build a passionate and regular crew, train on maneuvers. Only then can you race with a clear mind and think of nothing but tactics and the “clues” that reveal where to sail best.
Race tactics, clues that the wind will change
The drawing below, taken from Imhoff-Pranger’s monumental “Sailing and Competition,” illustrates seven clues from which certain conclusions can be drawn. In the table of course, for reasons of economy of space various indications are summarized that cannot occur at the same time.
Imagine you are racing in a boat slightly abaft and to the wind of the yellow boat, with starboard tack: through the drawing here are all the clues that may have influence on your tactical choices to be made.
1. Race tactics – Reading the ripples
Slight ripples on the water indicate that a gust is approaching. The evolution of the signs on the water will also give you the clue to the direction of the burst. If it is a “good” gust, that is, a rightward rotation of the wind in the case of the drawing, it will cause you to heave.
Since you are upwind, you will be better off going ahead and gaining in terms of “VMG” (Velocity Made Good, which is the projection of the speed on the wind axis shown on the instruments on board). If the gust, on the other hand, is a “poor” one (turning the wind to the left, with a requirement to lean in the case under consideration), the best solution might be to get into it a few meters and then tack to take the good on the other walls, with the advantage of also removing you from any waste from the yellow boat.
2. Boats closer to the coast tell you that…
Boats with starboard tack near the coast, on the left in the drawing, tighten the wind more, which means the wind is turning to the right over there. Not bad for you upwind, but you need to consider how long it will take you to reach that area. The wind does not always stay in the same spot….
3. Clouds speak to you
Look at that “lump” in the upper left corner. Surely something will happen. A gust is coming and very soon the wind will increase and change direction. Essential to read the sea ahead and observe other boats.
A great source of information is factory smokestacks or chimney smoke. Look at the drawing. In this case, the direction of the smoke lets you know that there the wind has turned considerably to the left. As you skirt the coast, you may find yourself forced to switch from upwind to downwind! A good tactician records the situation, and instructs the crew to start fitting gennaker or spinnaker if the intention is to continue ashore…
5. Understanding the wind from afar
Turn your gaze even further away. Judging from the boats on the slack, the wind has turned to the right for the boats further back. Those in the lead do not have the spinnaker hoisted (meaning the wind angle does not allow it), while the chasing boats all have the spi or gennaker on shore.
Observe the buoy flag. It is indicating to you that a “good” gust is coming soon, which will raise your bow. Great news for you who are sailing, upwind, upwind of the fleet.
7. Race tactics – Watch out for false signals
The smoke coming out of the ferry’s funnel (blue arrow) seems to indicate that the wind will turn considerably to the right shortly, but this is not accurate. The ferry is moving forward at a rather fast speed, so the smoke only indicates the direction of the ferry’s apparent wind; the direction of the smoke is not related to that of the actual wind…