Picture - Just after a start at the Croatia world Championships. The fleet is already well spread.
As I sit staring out at the winter rain, I started to think about key tactics for IOM racing based on the opens and ranking events I sailed in this year. I kept returning to the idea that position and control of the fleet is everything. Let me explain what I mean.
On most starts, the line is either square or with a degree of port end bias. It is usually long enough to get all the boats to start together and generally all are going quick and are bang on the line at the gun. If you start at the starboard end you have freedom to tack and escape in clear wind. If you start at the port end, it is very easy to get trapped and forced over to the left hand side of the course. The further down the line you are from the starboard end, the more you have to wait for boats to tack. The clear message is the starboard end of the line gives you control of the fleet especially when the first tack is relatively short as they tend to be in radio sailing.
The next thing to consider of course is what is going to happen up the course. Are you heading for a bank and a heading wind which will favour the port end boats or is the wind going to lift gradually favouring the starboard end boats. Watching some of the starts at the recent worlds in Croatia, the line bias favoured the port end boats, but very quickly after the start, the wind eased for those boats and they were rolled by boats to windward who sailed in better pressure and as a result were slightly lifted negating any benefit from the port end line bias. There was only one start I could see where Peter Stollery spotted a major wind shift and executed a perfect port end start, tacked onto port and crossed the fleet easily who were stacked at the starboard end of the line. On the second day at the Coalhouse Fort ranking event, the start line was heavily port end bias and the pin end was only a few yards from the bank, so my tactic was to start at the port end at full speed and as soon as the gun went shout room to tack and tack onto port. Job done.
Positioning through the race course
As I think back through the races this year at a variety of locations, the early leaders off the start line seem to come more from the starboard end of the line rather than the port end. If you start on starboard and are able to prevent the leeward boats from tacking, you have control of the fleet. Of course there are times when the line is so bias you have to be at or near the port end.
Sailing up the middle of the beat is about taking shifts and avoiding starboard tack boats. Never tack for a starboard boat if you are trying to get to the right side of the course, always go behind at speed. If you do tack, you are trapped to leeward and can do nothing until the windward boat tacks away.
As you approach the weather mark, if you are in the lead you can do what you like but if you are in the pack you will be forced into the starboard tack layline for the mark. The port approach is too risky but beware those entering on port as if they do not get out of the way they can ruin your race with a collision even if you are in the right.
Once round the spreader mark, make sure you are in position to get to the desired side of the course and as you get to the end of the run you will position your boat to get to the left or right gate mark whichever is better and takes you to the correct side of the beat. Often one side of the gate is favoured as it is closer and you sail less distance. Consider the fleet down the run if you are one of the leaders. You want to sail clear of the fleet, not through the disturb air and chop.
By the time you have done the first lap the fleet will be spread out and it will just be a case of picking off one or two boats up the next beat if you are able or if you are at the back take a flier one way or the other.
In summary I think there are five critical points where I think your boats position against other boats is critical. The start, getting to the correct side on the first beat, approaching the windward mark, choosing a side on the run and picking the right leeward gate mark.
Now all I have to do is practice what I preach.
There are some great drone videos from the 2022 worlds where you can judge for yourself the importance of position. Here is the link to one of the videos.