I wasn't going to post anything until the next ranking race but sitting in the house recovering after a minor procedure on the face to remove some sun damage lets the mind wander.
Racing a yacht was once described to me as being similar to standing on a moving walkway at an airport. In this analogy you can only stand on the walkway, strictly no walking. Imagine 20 walkways side by side with a 2 metre gap in between each. There is one competitor on each walkway. The walkway is stationary until the start gun and then moves off violently. The competitors are all level in a line at the start but 60% lose their balance and fall off for a couple of seconds when the walkway begins moving and they climb back on a few steps behind their original place. A few more fall off for one reason or another in the first 50 yards and get back on. Gradually as more competitors take a tumble off the walkway, one person emerges at the front as they fell off the least. The problem with the moving walkway, you are not allowed to walk forward, the people ahead of you have to fall off so you can catch up.
Racing an IOM is similar to the walkway except when you get behind, you are doubly punished, having to sail in dirty air and avoid all the other boats, almost like falling off one walkway onto a slower one.
So how do you manage to stay ahead on the walkway.
It begins before the start. You need to be able to position your boat on the desired part of the start line, hold your boat stationary and ideally create a gap to leeward so you can drive hard off the start line. This will ensure you do not fall of the walkway at the beginning of the race.
Starting at the wrong end of the line is like starting 10 paces back on the walkway. Starting without speed or heading away from the first shift is like falling off the walkway.
When the gun fires, your boat should be accelerating to max speed and sailing a fraction free. I am only talking of a few mm of sheet eased here. Most people will slam their sails in which will lead to the fin and sails stalling for a couple of seconds. As I have learned accelerating smoothly requires a lot of practice to find a lane off the start and sail fast without falling into the boat to leeward. Do this and you will be one of the people at the front of the walkway
This is one area where I am practicing a lot. Holding the boat stationary by a mark and then accelerating away fast and smooth.
So where can you fall off the walkway after the start. I mentioned stalling the boat at the gun, the other speed killer I am guilty of, is to luff the boat so it stops and then bears away again to accelerate. When I recover speed, the fleet is just ahead of me but enough to be engulfed in bad air and a crowd of boats . If I am lucky I can tack away, at worst I am sailing in dirt until I can tack. Each mistake puts me and you further back on the walkway.
The First windward leg
Let’s assume we have completed a successful start and taken the first wind shift and are therefore at the front of the walkway. I will ignore wind shifts for this analogy and focus on speed. Total concentration on the tell tales is required to maintain max speed. A moments pinching moves you back down the walkway. Fast and free ensures you maintain max speed and by that I mean the tell tales are parallel all the time. This takes a lot of focus.
To get the power and speed, I have noticed the top guys have at least 20mm of depth in the foot and have seen up to 30mm used. I used to think flatter sails made you point but in the main this is not the case.
Once the positions of the fleet are established you can only improve your position, in the walkway analogy, if someone ahead of you makes a mistake and you sail perfect. i.e. they sail slow or they miss a wind shift which you catch.
One way to guarantee slipping off the walkway is to miss judge a port and starboard crossing. How many times have you seen this. The collision results in a turn and will push you back several paces on the walkway. Not so back at the end of the race but fatal in the first few minutes
Usually there is not much scope to loose ground here as rounding marks some distance away is hard to judge but I have found with practice that judgement improves and you can get your boat closer to the mark. Up to 10-15 yards of gain can be made over competitors if you get the rounding right on a distant mark and your fellow competitors don’t. However there is nothing wrong with conservatism as the penalty for hitting the mark……
Always sail with a burgee or some form of wind indicator so you can see that your boat is on the right gybe. I have seen significant differences in speed when boats are on the wrong gybe and by the lee. The jib does not pull efficiently and looses power. Also I have found that to goose wing the jib, by gradually turning the boat to sail by the lee, the jib pops over of its own accord and you can gently luff up again to run square. There is no need for violent movement.
Like the start you need to round the chosen gate mark and be able to sail away fast without any twitches on the tiller. Again if you are not a master of this, practice.
Next time you have a race, think of the moving walkway analogy. How many times did you fall off and how soon into the race was the first fall. This will give you an indication of where to improve your racing performance.
Let's end with the good news. With a course of well designed practice, you can eliminate to a large extent the flaws that cause you to fall off the walkway. Get out there over the winter and enjoy your improved results in the spring.