I'm confused - I never know whether to go high or low on a reach - whatever I do I seem to go backwards in the fleet. I've read all the books I can find on tactics but nothing seems to work.
Hi Lilli Hi Lo
Dear Hi Lilli Hi Lo,
I know exactly what your problem is. The books are wrong. They say things like "go high if there are boats immediately behind you attacking your wind" and "go low if the wind is dying so you can sail a hotter angle approaching the next mark". The problem is that the books are written by fat boys who sail boats like Stars and who think that a large fleet is twenty boats and that rounding a buoy with two other boats is a crowded mark rounding.
But you are a Laser sailor. You are sailing short courses in large fleets of fifty, eighty or a hundred boats. Even worse, you are a middle of the fleet Laser sailor. Different rules apply to you.
You arrive at the windward mark in every race at the same instant as twenty or more other Lasers. Out of these twenty boats, two or three will have tacked shy of the starboard tack layline and will try and pinch to round the mark and will be hung up on the buoy by the time you arrive; a couple will be fiddling with their sail controls or daggerboard as they round the mark and will capsize right in front of you if you are lucky or right on top of you if you are unlucky; half a dozen will have decided to approach the mark on or close to the port tack layline and, on finding an impenetrable line of starboard tackers will do crash tacks in front of said starboard tackers causing collisions, more capsizes and more boats hung up on the buoy; three or four boats who made a good starboard tack approach to the mark will see the mayhem in front of them and make emergency tacks at the last minute to avoid it causing yet more collisions with the boats to windward and behind them; one idiot will always ride up on the transom of the boat ahead of him thereby preventing both of them from bearing away; two guys will get their mainsheets tangled around their feet and will also be unable to bear away ... and so on, and so on.
You get the picture? Total confusion and chaos.
The only safe strategy in a fleet like this is to get out to the right side of the course early in the beat, hit the starboard tack layline about ten to fifteen boatlengths before the mark and keep going. Yes, keep going until you are at least two or three boat lengths above the layline, then tack. Now you can sail calmly above all the fools luffing and pinching and tacking and colliding and capsizing and cursing at each other in the vicinity of the buoy, overtake all twenty of them with a big smile on your face, and set off on the reach.
Now the question of whether to sail high or low on the reach is moot. There is already a bunch of losers below you and there is no way you can sail through them. Just stay above them and get ready for more anarchy and pandemonium at the next mark.