Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are You A Pincher?

I'm confused. My head hurts. What is a poor weekend racing sailor to do when two world-class sailing coaches disagree on their advice?

My confusion relates to how to sail in those critical first hundred yards of sailing after the start of a race. Andrew Campbell at is responsible for messing up my head with a post he wrote a few days ago titled After the Start.

Andrew first of all quotes Dave Dellenbaugh's advice...

After the start point high for two reasons:
1. So you will keep clear air to leeward,
2. So you will squeeze off the windward boats, gaining the option to tack.
After several minutes, a few boats will squeeze ahead of the pack like watermelon seeds. Your object is to be one of those boats.

Andrew then goes on to say that sometimes this is sound advice (after all you can't just blatantly tell Dellenbaugh he is wrong) but then goes on to argue why pinching may not be such a great idea. In summary his reasoning seems to be...
  • If you want to go left then by pinching you are allowing the boats to leeward to gain lateral distance to the left side of the course and this may be all they need to gain enough to be able to beat you.

  • If you want to go right then sure you can pinch off the boat to windward to make him tack, but that doesn't help you with all the boats to windward of him who may still be blocking you from getting across to the right.
Andrew's basic advice seems to be not to get yourself in a position in the first place where the leeward boat is bow out on you tempting you to pinch to avoid his bad air. Then you should just use your "superior boat speed" to punch out ahead of the line of boats in the first hundred yards of the race.

In other words, get a great start and sail faster than your competitors. Hmmm. That may be fine if you're one of the two best Laser sailors in the nation like Campbell. But what if you're some average Joe who doesn't always execute perfect starts and is not faster than the other guys in the fleet? If you find yourself too close to the leeward boat after the start, or he is bow out on you, and he is gassing you with dirty air; or you just need to force one boat to windward of you to tack to allow you to sail across to the favored right side of the course... what then? Is it OK for average Joes to pinch?

What do you think? Are you a pincher? (You can answer even if your name isn't Joe.)


Tony said...

One of the many great things about sailing is that there are no absolutes, or at least too many variables to make the absolutes easily definable. Anyone who always foots off the line will regularly come to grief, as will someone who always pinches. In short, it depends!

The best sailors seem to know instinctively which mode to be in at any point, and can swap between the two at will.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading up on the bethwaite school of sailing since my sailing season ended in the fall. I haven't had a chance to test it out, but it SEEMS to make sense.

Bethwaite says to trim your sails for the most power, and blast away from everyone else.

Now, if this works, I do not know. I won't know til about easter sometime.

Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

I think it depends on a variety of factors, for example: What kind of boat are you sailing? What is the wind strength? are you over-powered? What is the sea state? Are you in a favourable tidal current?
All this sort of stuff gives a matrix of possibilities that you can only work out with experiance and a little thinking.
Its one of those things that makes racing boats such fun.

"Raps" said...

I was taught to foot a bit at the start and to ease the out haul a bit to get a more powerful shape. In the fleets I sail in everyone pinches! So footing is a way for me to poke my bow out of the line of boats.... Doesn't always work though.... If I;m late and in dirty air the tactics change a bit.

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