How Laylines Can Improve Your Day

We've all done it, right?

You know: you think you might be over, and the guy next to you (who wasn't as high as you) has turned to go back to re-start, and you think you heard the individual recall signal, so you turn back.

And then you check the committee boat and there's no individual recall flag.

So you turn to head back up the beat, but you're still unsure if you should go back and you're peering at the committee boat.

And you lose your balance because you're not concentrating. And you fall in to windward, making an ungainly "Wooaaaaaghh" sound.

So you clamber back into the boat and look around, vainly hoping that no-one has seen or heard you.

Everyone has seen and heard you.

You're dead last, and wet, and embarrassed, and you've been racing for exactly two and a half minutes.

We've all done it, haven't we?

Haven't we?


Ok, forget you read that.

The other night I started badly on purpose (with no silly mistakes) so I could practice sailing in the fleet, and picking my way through a crowd.

It is always quite eye-opening sailing in a mass of boats, and it is something I probably should try to practice more (on purpose) because I tend to learn a lot, and it is more helpful for when I go to events as I spend a lot more of my time surrounded by other boats.

Here are some notes on what I think I did right and wrong in the race.

Firstly, the course was the old Olympic triangle-sausage, and we did two laps. The start line was pretty square, with maybe a slight starboard bias, with the top mark was slightly off-set to the right. The first reach was nearly a run, because of the windward mark position, the wing mark position, and the fact that the wind tracked right as the sea-breeze died and the prevailing wind took over. The second reach was nearly a fetch.

So, I collected myself from my watery embarrassment and looked around. I sailed on port to the right of the first beat. My aim was to get clear air, but I had checked the forecast and was expecting the wind to go to the right as mentioned above. If there was going to be a persistent shift then I wanted to be on the inside of it.

Once I was on the right side of the fleet I got a favourable shift and tacked onto starboard, and then played the shifts up the beat gaining a couple of places.

My approach to the windward mark let me down though. I decided to stay with a shift on starboard, even though I knew I should tack onto port. I got too close to the port tack layline, so got bad air from the leaders that had rounded the top mark, and from other port tackers who were on the port tack layline. Had I tacked earlier I might have gained me another couple of boats.

Rounding the top mark I could see all but one of the leaders was going high, as is often the case on the reach. So I sailed below the rhumb line, and then gybed onto port to get the boat by the lee. Here I made some good gains on most of the boats ahead of me, taking two or three positions because I was low enough to have clear air and because I sailed less distance.

I also noticed one of the boats I overtook making a classic middle-of-the-fleet mistake. He'd rounded the mark in close proximity to others, and in the hurry he hadn't eased all his controls. And because he hadn't eased his cunningham, kicker or outhaul properly he was slower than the boats around him. He then kept looking at me and the other boats. He gybed onto port like I had. He raised his board like someone else had. But he never checked his sail controls, and he lost places because of it.

I know how he feels - I've done this myself. It is easy to see boats catching and become distracted by them. And it is easy to forget to adjust controls if you haven't done it at the time you usually do it. But it is costly if you don't notice the mistake quickly, and it is painful because it is something so easily rectified.

The rest of the race was fairly straightforward, with only small-ish gains possible as the beat was short and progressively more skewed, and the only run was the first "reach" of the triangle. By the last run, though, I was up to second Laser, but feeling a little resigned to finishing there as the first Laser still had a few boatlengths on me as we approached the last leeward mark.

And then the importance of laylines kicked in.

We use the start line as our finish line too, and it is placed about a third of the way up the beat. It hadn't been adjusted since the start and, because the wind had steadily tracked right, the pin end was now heavily biased for the finish.

The leading Laser rounded the leeward mark and sailed on. As I rounded I tacked immediately, for separation and leverage, but also to take me towards the pin end. I was lucky, as I could now just about lay the pin end of the line. The lead Laser tacked onto starboard too, but he was now heading for the less favoured starboard end.

I beat him by three seconds.

The other Laser was unlucky because it was the only way he could lose from there, but had he known how to work laylines he would have tacked as soon as he hit the layline for the favoured end of the finish line. I think he wanted to put a loose cover on me, and that would have been a good decision on another day with a more balanced final beat, but it didn't work this time.

Interestingly, Scott Young talks about loose cover on the final beat in this post, but he makes it clear that he ignores the boats behind him if he is happy that he is making the best progress he can to the finish line (thanks to the Butterfly Fleet 20 blog for pointing me in the direction of Scott's blog). From this article, I don't think Scott would have waited for the second placed boat to tack.

Anyway, it all goes to show that even an idiot who falls out of his boat shouldn't give up - you never know what will happen to help you gain a few places.


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