Friday, April 07, 2006

Fast = Smart

Number 1 in Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips: Fast = Smart.

Say what?

So this is the #1 tip from the big shot America's Cup rock star? "Go fast"?


To any non-sailors reading, this advice this must seem even more like stating the obvious than it does to sailors. After all, in most racing sports -- running, horse racing, car racing, swimming -- the fastest competitor will win the race.

But sailors know better. A sailboat race is different from all those other races because all the sailors in the race don't sail the same course. Yes, we have to sail around the same buoys in the same order. But in between those fixed points of the course we can sail widely different routes and distances. Some will sail over near the shore to get out of an adverse current, some will go out to sea to find more wind, some will zig and zag on every little change in the wind direction. So in a sailing race it's a well known axiom that sailing fast will not win you the race if you make the wrong strategic choices and sail in the wrong direction.

Dellenbaugh's point, as I understood it, was that the converse is not true. Generally, you will not win the race by superior strategy and tactics if your boat is slow. As he put it, you will only be able to take advantage of that windshift on one side of the course if you recognize that it will be there and you sail fast and get to it before your competition.

And the practical advice that flows from that observation: your first priority if you have some time before the race is to tune up for boat speed not to split tacks with a buddy to check out the favored side of the course. Of course, if you have time it's good to be able to do both. But if time is limited, Dave advised sailing upwind side by side with another boat and checking out which settings of the sail controls are fastest.

But of course there are obvious exceptions. The wind speed was so variable on Sunday that if I had tuned up for boatspeed in 10 knots 5 minutes before the start my boat would have been set up all wrong for the 18 knot gust that hit us 15 seconds before the start.

However, I can see that tip #1 makes a lot of sense when the wind speed is relatively constant. Already I have learned something.

One down. Nine to go.


Litoralis said...

In general, I think this tip makes sense; your boat speed needs to be comparable to the best boats in the fleet for you to consistently have a chance at a top finish. I don't agree with your practical advice though. I don't think that "your first priority if you have some time before the race is to tune up for boat speed not to split tacks with a buddy to check out the favored side of the course." I think that tip makes sense on boats that have a large number of tuning options such as shroud tension, mast rake, sail choice, etc. (and that probably have a tactician to make the big decisions).
However, on simpler boats like a Laser I don't think the speed difference for small incremental tuning adjustments is as significant as not realizing that the wind is stronger on one side of the course, or missing a persistent shift. I think that the tuning for speed can be accomplished by two boat training outside regattas and that the general knowledge of the set up can be used in a regatta.
Tillerman, I suspect that you can get your Laser set up well enough to have about the same boat speed as the best in the fleet, but you won't be first at the windward mark if you don't hit the shifts and make the right tactical decisions. The opposite can easily be true in a boat like a Star...if the upper and lower shroud tension is wrong then our boat speed and pointing ability will be so bad that even if we win the start and play the shifts better than the fleet we will be far behind at the end of a long beat.

Fred said...

first thanks for writing in such good style and bringing up these themes as a refresher at the beginning of the season. I must say that I follow "litoralis" with his asumptions. Speed is King, for sure, but in boats which are very close in speed and do not have much to alter, one should be able to change gears more automatically and try hard to go at course tactics. Dr. Stewart Walker sums ithe tactic alternatives up nicely in older articles/books. smooth sailing, Jim.

Anonymous said...


believe to a (usually) slow-sailors!


DavidB said...

Slow puts a lot of pressure on tactics. Fast makes tactics *much* easier.

Speed first. Speed kills.

George said...

My crew on my Flying Scot has a saying he got from Buddy Melges. "Get out in front and stay there." That requires being fast. Know what? It works. It is much easier to round marks and sail your race when you are in front and there is no traffic, wind shadows, etc.

George Gecik

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