George Cousins is a freelance sailing/race coach and a Sailing Chandlery sponsored sailor. In this series of articles he is covering his Sailing Rules of Thumb walking us through the race course and what you should be trying to do.
In the previous article we discussed the reach. Now we move onto the run, examining tactics, strategy and some boat speed tips.
Top sailors will often sail large angles downwind to boost VMG (velocity made good). Sailing angles rather than pointing straight to the leeward mark affords you more tactical and strategic opportunities compared to sailing a straight line. Prior to bearing away onto the run consider which side will pay. The upwind leg may inform this. e.g. is there more wind / favourable tide on one side of the course?
Keep it simple. After the adrenaline of the upwind leg and the reach it can be tempting to over-sail and over work the boat. Instead, stick to the basics; try to keep clear air, look for more wind and don't sail unnecessary distance.
Know where the mark is. In conditions where the waves are skewed or the source itself is not true to the wind the fleet may sail a downwind angle but not end up near the mark. Therefore gains can be made by sailing less distance straight for the mark. This is especially true if you find yourself at the back. Boats in front may be sailing big angles in a bid to get clear air. Capitalise on being behind by sailing less distance to come back into contention.
Look astern for gusts. If there are gusts approaching from one side then endeavour to gybe or change angle to pick up the gust. Once in the gust bear away further so that you stay with the gust longer. Try to link one gust to the next while keeping clear air.
As you round the gybe mark onto the run get clear air quickly, this is where aggressive angles and boat handling is permissible. Conversely as you get closer to the leeward mark the fleet will converge. It is now inevitable that you will be shadowed by boats behind but to try and break cover would involve sailing too much extra distance which would negate the gain from clear wind. The exact amount will of course change with the conditions and the type of boat, but this is something to be mindful of. The lighter the wind is the more of a priority getting clear air is and the further ahead the wind shadow from boats extends.
Tide: Consider the effect the tide will have during the run. In a wind over tide situation the run is effectively longer, so more angles can be sailed as you will have more time to come back into touch with the fleet. In a cross tide situation avoid getting swept down tide as this will mean sailing across the tide when approaching the leeward mark.
If you find yourself in the lead on the run, try to sail a low risk leg. Avoid sailing off on a large angle away from the fleet unless you can clearly see a big gust. It is almost inevitable that with a big fleet shadowing you from behind you will lose some distance. This is where large angles may be needed from a tactical point of view to stay ahead but try not to stay too far from the fleet and stick to your strategy.
In strong winds get your gybe in early and allow plenty of time to prepare for the leeward mark. However, assuming the leeward mark is a port-hand rounding, coming in on starboard gybe and gybing on the mark shifts the rules in your favour as boats converge on the mark. Approaching from the left (when looking downwind) also means you achieve the inside overlap on boats outside of you. (For Starboard hand marks the opposite is true).
Just before rounding the mark, consider your plan for the next leg and apply what you learnt from the run.
Read the previous article in the series - Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rule #4 The Reach
Read the next article in the series - Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rule #6 Consolidation and Self Coaching
Read the other articles in the series, Sailing Rules of Thumb.
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