Monday, February 05, 2007

Tacticat Starts

Here is the first in a series of Tillerman's Top Ten Tacticat Tactical Tips...

Geeze, how many T's is that? Guess we will have to call this T6 #1.

OK. T6 #1. Get a Great Start.

What? That's the amazing insight we've been waiting for?

Yup. Racing in Tacticat (at least in this respect) is just like real world sailboat racing. The start is a huge part of the race. Get a good start and you will likely end up in the top five. Get a crap start and you will be sucking for air and will be struggling to get back in touch with the leaders.

OK. OK. So how do I get a good start in Tacticat?

Well, it's pretty much like real sailboat racing. A good start means you are...

  • on the line at the gun
  • going at full speed at the gun
  • with nobody close to leeward giving you bad air
  • and nobody to windward on your air
  • near the favored end of the line
  • heading towards the favored side of the course
  • with freedom to tack when you need to.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know all that. But how do you manage to achieve all of the above?

You're new here aren't you? If you'd been reading this blog before you'd know that I am totally useless at starts in real sailboat racing. And I'm crap at starts in Tacticat too. I have no consistency. But the beauty of Tacticat is that it enables you to try lots of different approaches and strategies to an aspect of the game like starting and learn from your mistakes, work out what works and what doesn't work, improve over time. I hope. Maybe...

So what have you learned?

Not a lot. OK. Maybe a few things.

1. Squirrel Starts. This is where you hang out near the right hand end of the line hoping that at the last minute a gap will appear in the pack of boats luffing on the line near the buoy and you will be able to power through that gap just as the gun goes off. This is a great move if you know the right side of the course is favored. (More on that in another post.) As Tacticat courses are pretty short it's also an advantage (other things being equal) to be on the right side of the fleet with starboard tack advantage coming in to the first mark. I would say that some of my best races have been achieved with a squirrel start. Litoralis is a master at this on Tacticat; I will be fighting my way through traffic and then look up the course to see that he has found a gap, blasted through, tacked, and is already several boatlengths ahead of the pack heading towards a puff on the right side of the course. How does he do it?

Just as in real sailboat racing, squirrel starts are a high risk, high gain strategy. There are just too many ways you can screw up a squirrel start. Or at least, that I can.

2. Be a Shark. This is where you cruise down the line looking for a gap, head up into it at the last minute, sheet in, accelerate, time the start perfectly, win the start and win the race. Works sometimes. Unless you're too late. Or too early. Or hit somebody. Or there are no gaps left. Go on. Try it. What do you have to lose?

3. Protect Your Hole. OK. So you decide to go for a conventional start. Line up with all the other guys, luffing a boatlength or so below the line. Try and maintain a gap to leeward so you can bear off and accelerate a few seconds before the gun. Try and be bow out on the boats to windward and to leeward without being OCS. This will work if your timing is good.

But in Tacticat, at present, there is a huge potential problem for boats just hanging out below the line. Another boat can come in to leeward and just tap your leeward quarter and you will get the penalty. In real sailboat racing this doesn't happen because under Rules 15 and 16 the leeward boat has to give you room to keep clear. And you do not need to start taking evasive action until the overlap is established. However, the software in Tacticat doesn't seem to allow any time for the windward boat to respond. There has been some discussion about this on the Tacticat forums and I suspect this issue may get fixed in a future version.

But, for now, be very very wary of boats approaching to leeward before the start. Many of the regular racers are good guys who play by the real rules. But there are some nasty characters out there who will deliberately cause you to take a penalty just before the start by coming in to leeward and tapping you. I don't really know a total solution to protect yourself from this. Clearly setting up to windward of another boat, close but not too close, will discourage many of these pitiful creatures. So, just as in real sailboat racing, protect that hole to leeward at all costs.

Funny. Even the top Laser sailors have problems with idiots jamming into that gap to leeward. Check out Andrew Campbell's story of an incident at the Miami OCR that cost him dearly.

Maybe Tacticat is pretty true to life after all.


Litoralis said...'s all about the timing.

jb said...

squirrel starts in tacticat have a higher payoff than for real life for two reasons.
first there is not much downside, you're effectively in a regatta with unlimited throwouts (count 5 races every 15 days....race as many times as you like), so 1 in 10 of getting a perfect start seems a pretty good option.
the second is most important in cats, where you typically only get to do 2 tacks on each beat... going the right way is essential, a late-fast squirrel (up to around 10seconds) will beat a perfectly timed mid line start if the wind is on the left.

JSW225 said...

Shark starts work better with the cats and the skiffs. Especially since their speed while on a reach translates into speed on a close haul. If you space everything correctly, you can poke out with more speed then those around you and be in great shape, even on the wrong side of the line. The adverse is true of cats and skiffs. They have trouble accelerating, coupled with a high possibility for a penalty with a squirrel start, and you could be moving very slowly at the start.

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