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Thought for the day - What did I learn from watching the Americas Cup and 470 Worlds

First the obvious lesson from the AC. The fastest boat always wins. In every race bar the last the New Zealanders's were beaten on the start by the Italians and a very skilled Jimmy Spithill. Despite being ahead the Italians were rarely able to capitalise on the lead and were always under pressure. Just one mistake by the Italians and the NZ's were off to a 15 - 30 second lead with the blink of an eye. In a boat of the same speed, I think the NZ's would have struggled.

So what does that mean for me and my IOM. With equal quality boat build, sails and sailing skill, will a Britpop or Kantun or similar design be faster than my Alternative. I think the answer will be yes but my goal is to see how far up the tree I can get with a home build and I do have an advantage with sailing skills.

The second lesson from the Americas Cup which gives me hope, is the use of high mode by the Italians. They were the slower boat but by putting themselves in the right position, i.e to windward off the start line, when the boats tacked at the boundary, the Italians would be in front giving gas to the Kiwis for a minute at the very least and that was worth a hundred metres of lead. Off a start line, high mode gets you into clear air and to a position where you have control, hopefully with the ability tack at will or foot off with speed towards towards a heading breeze. High mode and low mode are good things to practice and have in your sailing armoury.

The third lesson was to know the water. When on the stadium course closest to the city, the breeze was quite shifty. It was OK for David Carr to spot the breeze from a helicopter but on the boats travelling upwind at 30 knots, that proved to be much harder. In our level of racing, it is so important to look up the course for wind shifts. IOM's tack and accelerate very quickly so the smallest shift can be used. Observation and as much practice on unfamiliar waters is essential to avoid getting caught out in early races.

The last lesson was the total calm of the drivers. They could have been driving a bus on a motorway for all the emotion they showed. Sailing in a relaxed manner is essential for getting the most out of the IOM. Any touch on the rudder slows you down.

The 470 Worlds was more familiar territory for me as a past campaigner. Getting off the start line was critical. In a big fleet, you could be sat head to wind for up to 4 minutes before the start and then pull the sails in with 2-5 seconds to go as all the boats were bang on the start line. If you were slightly late, your race was over. We only have a maximum of 20 boats in an IOM race but on most of the videos I see, boats are queuing up with sails flapping for a minute before the start. Timing your acceleration before the gun is critical and worth practicing. Ideally you want hang back a bit and start accelerating with 4 seconds to go so you hit the line with tad more speed than those around you, who start within 1 or 2 seconds of the gun. A half boat length advantage off the start line is gold dust. Easier said than done.

The other lesson like the AC, is the ability to hold your lane off the start line. In the videos I watch, anyone who bails out early and has to tack to clear their wind is out of the race. There are 4 to 6 boats in any fleet that within 20 seconds after the start are a nose in front and can control the fleet. They are the once who executed a good start and hold their lane.

Photos courtesy of Nika Davis

The real message is to get out and practice all of these things. You can do it on your own but the more boats around you the better.

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