Around the middle of last year I lost my watch.
Actually, to be honest, I dropped my watch over the side of my boat. This raises several questions (not least of which is what the bloody hell was I doing?), but the first question that occurred to me was - why don't sailing watches float?
But these questions are for another day. What is important for now is that I decided to delay getting a new one. The reason was not expense, as you can get a pretty good new watch relatively cheaply. The reason was tactical (kind of).
I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where so I could post a link) that it is worth learning to start without a watch, and instead start on the behaviour of the sailors around you.
The idea is that you focus on positioning yourself well compared to the boats around you, and start accelerating when they do. If you are over, then they are too. If they are on time then you are too. And, if you get it right, then you get a better start than those around you, meaning you get a good lane and therefore a good start.
It will surprise you, because it is so out of character for me, that this idea was spectacularly badly thought through.
The problem was that I was doing this for club racing, in a mixed fleet, with very mixed abilities. So, barring a handful of sailors, you don't tend to be lining up as you would at a championship. This means that there isn't the trigger-pull moment that you can work with a few seconds before the gun goes.
That is my excuse for my bad start. And I'm sticking with it. And I bought a new watch.
So after a bad start I managed to round the top mark in fifth. I picked up a spot on the run and was approaching the leeward mark right on third-place's heels. It was going to be tight, but I didn't think I would be able to definitively establish an overlap by the three-boat-length circle, so I moved to the outside transom corner as we made our approach. I tried to hold the boat ahead reasonably tight for their entry, before bearing away to give myself a nice wide entry, and a tight exit. And I managed to execute a really good rounding, while the boat ahead exited wide, off my lee bow. When he tacked I was forced to tack on his lee bow (he was too close to duck), but I was still in a strong position. I pinched and sailed as flat and quick as possible, and soon was clear ahead and up a place.
But what should the boat that I overtook have done?
If it was me, and the boat behind was keeping me quite tight in the approach to the mark, I would have slowed down a tiny bit. A slower boat will turn much tighter than a quick moving boat, enabling a tighter, if slower, exit. But it would also have forced the boat behind to go around the outside and be in a weak position, probably in my bad air. You must still make a "seamanlike" rounding, but a smooth, tight (albeit slow-ish) rounding is still seamanlike. It is a fine line, but it is also proof that practising leeward mark roundings is essential, as it can gain or save you places. Starting a beat in a controlling position will generally result in a good beat.
Funnily enough, a similar situation happened at the next leeward mark. The boat in second made a poor leeward mark rounding, and as I followed round I made a good turn and again gained a place. This time I hadn't been close enough to really influence the boat ahead's rounding, but the result was the same. Two places in one race from leeward mark roundings.
So my obsession with leeward mark roundings pays off every now and then.