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Published by BBYRA, 2015-11-17 23:13:22


S&S Issue 135

Keywords: 135

SPEED&smartsDavid Dellenbaugh’s ™

The newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors July/Aug 2015

Lessons from a world championship ISSUE #135
Championship analysis
T his issue of Speed & Smarts is all about the 2015 Lightning
International Masters Championship, which was hosted by the THEME 2015 Lightning Masters...........1
Buffalo Canoe Club on Lake Erie. The ‘Masters’ is held every other STRATEGY Regatta overview ..............2
year just before the Lightning Worlds; all the helmspersons have RACE 1 Starting, windshifts.................4
to be 55 or older with a total crew age of at least 130 years. This year RACE 2 Starting, top mark hoists.........6
the event attracted 63 teams from seven countries including several RACE 3 Tactical positioning.................8
former Lightning world champions. RACE 4 Tactics, covering....................10
RACE 5 Approaching marks ...............12
I grew up sailing Lightnings and I’m over 55, so RACE 6 Starting strategy, marks ........14
when I was offered a chance to sail in the Lightning WRAP-UP Customize your plan .........16
Masters plus the world championship, I jumped at it. One
thing I like about Lightnings is the strong one-design When you sail in a wavy place like Lake Erie
character of the class. All the boats go pretty much the (below), you need to understand exactly
same speed, so the racing is mostly about strategy and what your class allows for kinetics. Accord-
tactics, which makes sailing the boat a lot of fun. ing to the rulebook, class rules may change
any aspect of the Propulsion rule (rule 42),
If you aren’t familiar with the Lightning, it’s a and many classes do so. The Lightning
19-foot hard-chined boat that was designed by Olin Class, for example, prohibits pumping the
Stephens in 1938. It has a centerboard, a crew of three spinnaker guy and you can pump the main-
and a symmetrical spinnaker. sail only by pulling on the part of the sheet
But this issue is not about the particular boat I was racing. It’s that leads from the boom. This is just one
about everything my crew and I learned and re-learned during the reason why I always re-read the class rules
course of six long races in a large, competitive fleet. Inside you will before any regatta like this.
find a race-by-race analysis of key moves and strategies that cover
starting, wind shifts, how to approach and exit marks, strategizing,
upwind tactics and more. The photos show Lightnings, but almost
all the lessons apply to any boat, whether you race a singlehanded
dinghy or a bigger sportboat with an asymmetrical kite.

Speed & Smarts #135 Photo by


2015 Lightning International Masters

A strategic overview

Before sailing this regatta, I did Second, I was pretty confident widen the difference between slow
a lot of thinking about how to that we would have good starts and fast boats). To build my confi-
maximize our chances of success. and, in theory at least, I expected dence, we arranged to sail with a
With my limited experience sailing our speed to be very competitive. top boat every morning before the
Lightnings I needed a super crew, Third, the fleet was large which first race, and this helped a lot.
which I had. And since we were meant that consistency would
likely to get some breeze on Lake likely be well-rewarded in the end. The course – Every race used
Erie, I went with a crew weight a windward/leeward course with
slightly above average. Basically, there was no strong
reason to be anything other than
I was able to use the boat that conservative at the beginning. If we
had won the previous Worlds, and could do well without taking much
I got brand new North sails which risk, then we would keep on with
have been dominating the class. that plan; if not, we would consider
We did some practice on Lake Erie taking more risk.
and spent time working on the boat
and the bottom before the regatta. Local knowledge – As a
So when we sailed out for the first team we didn’t have much experi-
race I felt like I had no excuse to ence in this racing venue. We tried
lose, which is how it should be. to grill the local sailors for some
inside information, but they hardly
Here are some other factors ever sail that far out in the lake so
that I thought about before and this wasn’t very helpful. Without
during the Masters Championship. much local knowledge, we decided
to play it conservative by staying
Overall gameplan – We a little closer to the middle of the
decided to begin the series with a course, at least until we figured out
plan to sail conservatively, for the wind on any particular day.
several reasons. First, it’s usually a
good idea to be conservative at the Speed testing – I have sailed
beginning of a race or series. That only a handful of Lightning events
way you don’t risk a bad score early during the past few years, so I was
on, and you can wait to see if you a little worried about our speed,
need to take more risk later. especially in waves (which tend to

CANADA The 2015 Lightning International Masters
Championship was sailed on the eastern
Buffalo Canoe Club end of Lake Erie out of the Buffalo Canoe
Club in Ontario. Most of the races were
Point Abino sailed in wind from the west or southwest,
which meant that a big speed factor both
270° DAY 2 Raarceinag Lake Erie upwind and downwind was the presence
250° DAY 3 NEW YORK of fairly large waves (created by a 200-mile
fetch to windward!). The westerlies also
DAY 1 ensured that, at the starting line, we would
not be able to get a line sight through the
180° pin end on the distant New York shore. So
WIND our only chance of a line sight would be
looking toward the Ontario shore beyond
1 mile the race committee boat.

Google maps My team for the regatta included
Lightning veterans Jeff Eiber in the middle
and Jay Lurie as forward. I had sailed sev-
eral regattas with Jay, but this was the first
time I was racing with Jeff, so I knew we
would have to spend some time working
on communication. There were six races
scheduled in the series, and we would get
a throwout race only if we sailed all six.

2 Championship Analysis

One thing I re-learned during this regatta was that sometimes you just have
to go along with the crowd. I generally don’t like being part of the herd
mentality, so I often try a different tack (or jibe) just for the sake of being
different. But often the crowd is doing the right thing, so your best move
is simply to be patient. Be willing to play ‘follow the leader’ until or unless
you have a legitimate reason to separate on your own. Sometimes the best
you can do is simply maintain your position in the fleet; if you get greedy or
impatient you’ll end up losing and make a comeback that much tougher.

an offset mark at the top end and I guess this was also a good way to
a leeward gate at the bottom. The practice because we finished 5th
windward offset mark meant that out of 65 boats at the Worlds.
jibe sets would be more possible at
the beginning of each run. And the The bottom line – I have a
combination of a windward offset philosophy that I call the “No-lose
with a finish line on the starboard approach.” It goes like this: ‘You
side of the committee boat meant can’t win every race or regatta, but
there was a strong likelihood that you can always learn something in
port jibe would be longer on the the process. And that will give you
second run to the finish. a better chance of winning the
next time around.’
A practice regatta – At first I
planned to sail the Masters mainly We tried our best to win the
to practice for the Lightning World Lightning Masters, but at the
Championship which started two same time we realized that the
days later. But once the Masters most important thing was having
began, we became 100% focused fun and learning as much as we
on doing our best at that event. could. That made the experience
worthwhile no matter the results.

Starting strategy: A conservative approach

PIN Starting line MIDDLE BOAT

Pin B RC
boat P boat

Before the event began we had a team discussion about regatta strategy, including how to approach the starts.
We decided to start generally in the middle of the starting line, for several reasons:
1) Less strategic risk. Since none of us had raced much in eastern Lake Erie, we wanted to keep our options
open. By starting in the middle, we had the ability to watch what was happening and get to either side. Of course,
we would be behind boats that went straight and far to the favored side, but we’d be happy if we could be near
the top group at the first mark without taking as much risk as the leaders.
2) More open space. The ends of the line tend to attract a lot of boats, so tactical risk tends to go up as you get
closer to either end. We decided to avoid the ends even though it meant we would give up line bias to some boats.
In our experience it’s easier to find space and clear air in the middle of the line, and this was valuable to us.
3) Take advantage of the mid-line sag. We are pretty good at knowing where we are on the line; to take advan-
tage of this, we planned to start near the middle where the fleet tends to sag farther away from the line.
We didn’t start exactly in the middle of the line; rather we used the middle 60% of the line as our starting area
and moved side-to-side in this space based on line bias and our strategic plan for the first leg. When the pin was
favored and we liked the left, for
example, we might start as close
as 20% of the way from the pin
to the RC boat (at position P).
When the RC boat was favored
and we liked the right, we might Pin RC

start 20% of the line length from It doesn’t really matter where you start in relation to the ends of the line – what’s
that end (B). In both cases we important is your position relative to the other boats in the fleet. In this start, for
tried to keep roughly 20% of the example, the red boat is roughly half way between the pin and RC boat, but this is
fleet (10-12 boats) between us
and the nearby end as a way to not a middle-of-the-line start for her. She is actually getting a pin-end start because
make sure we didn’t get too far she has no boats to leeward. Our strategy was to start near the middle of the line,
to an extreme side of the fleet. but this really meant positioning ourselves near the middle of the fleet.

Speed & Smarts #135 3

2015 Lightning Masters Friday: Wind from the south 8 to 15 knots, shifty. Lots of chop and lump. No current
(which was always the case). We started near the middle of the line, as we did in all
RACE 1 races, and tacked into a good lane on port. Half way up the beat we were ahead of all
boats on the left and should have crossed. Second beat not very good. Finished 20th.

T he last thing we wanted was to Start: When you can’t get a line sight through the pin
use up our throwout in the first I rely a lot on line sights at the start to judge how close we are to the line.
race of the series, but that’s exactly But even though I had sailed only a few days previously at the Buffalo Canoe
what happened. Actually, it could Club, I knew it would be challenging to get good line sights during this
have been a lot worse because we event. The prevailing wind in the eastern part of Lake Erie is from the west
almost didn’t get enough races to or southwest, which means a line sight through the pin end would be 5 or 6
even have a throwout, in which miles away on a hazy New York shore full of trees. It was clear that our best
case we would have had to keep chance to get good line sights would be looking from the
our 20th. But more on that later. pin end through the committee boat toward the closer
Ontario shore where there were quite a few distinguish-
Our plan in the first race (like able features. This was our plan for every start.
every other) was to get a solid score Being able to use the RC boat for a line sight is a key
without taking a lot of risk. Since skill when you have no visible shore beyond the pin end. Not to
we intended to start away from the Here are some tips for doing this: scale
ends of the line, we needed a good
line sight so we could be ahead of – Get your line sight in the normal way – by sailing out-
the mid-line sag and avoid being side the left end of the line and looking through the pin
OCS. But that wasn’t very easy house toward the RC boat and a point on the shore beyond.
since it was basically impossible – Get a ‘safety sight’ (farther to windward on shore) that
to get a line sight looking through Starting lineyou can see as you approach the start from below the line.
the pin end of the line. – Set up earlyish in the front row of boats so you can see Line sight
your line sights; if you hang back you’ll never see them.
This first race was also critical – If possible, use the orange flag on the RC boat as your
because we weren’t very familiar sighting point. Often this flag is too far aft or lost in the
with eastern Lake Erie. Without boat’s superstructure so you have to find another point; I
much local knowledge, we had to typically use the vertical forward edge of the boat’s cabin.
work hard at figuring out the wind, – If you use a point on the RC boat forward of the orange ‘Safety’ sight
and minimizing strategic risk. We flag, be careful – you may be OCS when this point lines up
weren’t too successful at that (we on shore (see right). This sight is most accurate when starting
played the wind as persistent when toward the pin end; the closer you are to the RC boat, the
it was oscillating), but we did learn more inaccurate (and risky) it becomes.
enough from Race 1 to win the sec- – It’s often difficult to see a line sight through the RC boat all
ond race that day (see pages 6-7). the way until the start. If you lose track, keep your bow hidden
between boats on either side and then beat them off the line!

Starting line Looking for line/safety sight bRoCat


Stay in the front row
as you approach the
line so you have a chance
to see your line sight.

Possible line Committee
sights on boat

tree Championship Analysis


Pre-Start: The value of having a good tuning partner WIND
Good boatspeed is a prerequisite for success in racing. When you’re going fast, strategy and
tactics become a lot easier, and you look and feel smart. For these reasons I spend a lot of time
before each race making sure we are up to speed in the existing conditions. I think the best,
and most efficient, way to do this is to sail upwind in a speed test with one other boat.

A couple weeks before the Lightning Masters, I talked with another fast team about working
together on speed. We arranged to tune up together before the first start every day – this kind
of plan is much more effective than going out to the course and wasting time
trying to find someone to tune with. Sailing with a buddy helped a lot
with getting ‘in the groove’ before the first race. I don’t think it was
a coincidence that we both finished very near the top of the fleet.

We sailed out to the race course each day with our tuning partner Tuning
and were usually among the first few boats that reached the start- buddy
ing area. We checked in at the committee boat and then started
sailing upwind in the standard testing position – about 2 or 3 lengths Dave

aparts with the leeward boat slightly bow ahead. This is much better
than sailing around by yourself wondering if you are fast in the conditions.

Upwind: Oscillating or Persistent? What is the
windshift pattern?
We did not play the shifts very well during
this race, which was probably the result of WIND
strategic indecision. I have always felt that
it’s important to decide whether you are beIfhpinedrsoisttheenrt,b‘odaigtsina’nbdyccornotsinsiunigng
going to play the windshifts as oscillating farther toward the favored side.
(phasing back and forth) or persistent (shift-
ing steadily in one direction). After all, the Icfroosssciylloatuin. gTa,cdkotno’tleleetwtharedoatnhderabhoeaatds
windshift pattern is almost always one of so you can lead them to the next shift
these two, and your choice of how to play
the wind makes a huge difference in your 5
strategic decisions.

But unfortunately we didn’t have a clear
picture of the windshift pattern before the
start, and therefore we didn’t have a good
plan for what to do if the wind shifted
which, of course, it did.

Half way up the second beat, for exam-
ple, we lost a lot of distance to boats on
our left side. The competitors that were
farthest left had more pressure than we
did, and they were sailing in a port-tack
lift – so we decided to head that way. We
finally got into the better pressure, tacked
onto port and had a bit of a lift. But soon
we began to get headed. The wind was
now shifting right, and boats that had
passed behind us when we were on
starboard tack were now ahead of us.

We had played the wind perfectly the
wrong way. Instead of sailing toward the
next shift, we had been sailing away from
it; zigging when we should have been zag-
ging. We could have looked around more
for clues on where the wind was going to
shift next, and then been more decisive
about following a strategy to match those
observations. That’s what we did in the
next race (see pages 6-7).
Speed & Smarts #135

2015 Lightning Masters Friday: The wind was still south at roughly 8 to 11 knots. It remained shifty, so we
applied our lesson learned from Race 1 and played the shifts as oscillating. Though
RACE 2 we had a poor start, we were 2nd at the top mark. We realized that we could basically
fetch the gate mark on port tack so we jibe set, passed the leader and finished 1st.

We managed to win this Starting: Don’t get trapped in the port-tack parade
race, but we didn’t have
a good start. You know you’re In many fleets these days, the port-tack approach is a very popular starting tech-
in bad shape when you begin nique. With two or three minutes to go, boats sail on a port-tack reach from the
looking for a place to bail out pin end toward the committee boat, several boatlengths below the line, looking
on port tack before the gun for a place where they can tack onto starboard and make their final approach to
even goes off. That was the the line. The bigger the fleet, the more crowded this port-tack ‘parade’ becomes.
case in this race. Luckily we
were able to tack right away A port-tack approach works best when you are able to tack onto starboard at
and find a lane on the lifted just the right time and place. This ‘perfect spot’ depends on key variables such
tack. Here are some lessons as the spacing between boats that are already on starboard tack, the identity of
we learned about starting in boats on starboard (e.g. you don’t want to set up just to windward of a ‘pointer’),
a big fleet, plus some notes your location along the line, the time remaining before the start and so on.
about rounding offset marks.
Often you have only one or two chances to tack into a very good spot on starboard
tack – so make sure you have the ability to tack when you want. If you get trapped and
pinned on port tack (like we did in this race), it will be tough to get a good start.

Starting line

WIND ‘Blocker’


‘Blockers’ – When you’re approaching the
starting line on port tack and looking for a Solutions ‘Blocker’
Slow and weave – When
place to make your final tack pinned by a blocker, be proac-
onto starboard, the last thing tive to escape and regain the
you want is a boat that is option to tack. Slow down and/
overlapped close to wind- or sail a different course (e.g. by YOU
ward of you and prevent-
ing you from tacking bearing off hard) so you become
YOU whenever you want. un-overlapped as soon as possible.

Avoid getting pinned in the first place.

‘Tailgaters’ – When you’re about to make Use a ‘pick’ – When there was a tailgater (T) behind us on port tack,
your final tack onto starboard, you don’t one trick we used a couple times was to ‘cut them off’ by
want to have another boat right behind you.
Though this boat probably won’t prevent you heading up around the stern of an oncoming starboard-
tack obstruction (S). This made it very difficult S
from tacking, there’s a good chance they will
tack at the same time as you and end up for T to tack right underneath us on ‘Tailgater’
starboard tack (which is the biggest
overlapped worry when a boat is following
close to lee- T YOU
ward, which you closely on port tack).

is not good. Get on starboard tack earlier – After our poor starts in the first two
races of the series, we made a conscious decision to set up earlier on
Stuck in the port-tack line-up – The big risks starboard tack. Instead of tacking at 1:00 or 1:15, we tried to be on
of making a port-tack approach are losing starboard at 1:45 or even 2:00. This helped us stay in control of our
control of where and when you tack, and approach and avoid the problems of being on port tack later in the
being vulnerable right after your tack. Other sequence. This made it
problems include: a) a higher risk of fouling much easier to defend
while you’re on port tack weaving around our space to leeward YOU
other boats; and b) the inability to see your
line sight and know where you are on the line. and also easier to see
where we were on the line.

6 Championship Analysis

Windward mark: Jibe-set or bearaway set?

In Race 2, we rounded the first Windward Windward
mark in second place. We had mark mark

spent a lot of time on starboard Offset
tack during the first beat, and I mark
knew port tack would be quite a

bit longer on the run. So even Tougher to do a jibe set Better speed coming Easier to do a good jibe set
though the wind was fairly light, in to turn
and jibing around the offset mark
meant sailing through bad air, Less-sharp turn
More clear of boats

still coming upwind

we did a jibe set. An offset mark makes jibe-setting a much better option
This turned out to be a great
When your course includes a windward offset mark (rather than a single windward
move because we fetched the lee- mark), it’s easier to do a jibe set for several reasons: 1) you have time during the
ward mark on one long port tack. offset leg to prepare for a smooth, efficient hoist; 2) you will have more speed
The boat that rounded the wind- when you hoist; 3) doing a jibe set does not require as sharp a turn; 4) when you
ward mark ahead of us delayed jibe you are farther away from the bad air of the boats behind you; 5) you are less
their jibe for only 30 seconds; but likely to get interference from boats still coming upwind; and 6) you can easily do
that was long enough for us to get a jibe set even if you come in to the windward mark on port tack.
our wind shadow ahead of them

on the long jibe, and then it was

easy to beat them to the gate. Tight offset leg WIND Broad offset leg Windward
It’s not often that a jibe set mark
pays off so well. In most cases, Offset mark
your default move at a windward mark

mark should be a bearaway (or

straight) set where you sail on Offset Jibe setting may be
starboard tack (assuming a port mark a good idea after a
mark rounding) for at least a broad offset leg, for
short time. This is a safer move Jibe setting is not the reasons below
in terms of maintaining speed, so great when the and because your
avoiding congested areas where offset leg is tight. turn at the offset
mark isn’t so sharp.

it’s easy to break a rule, and doing Consider the angle of the offset leg (See page 14 for more on
smooth boathandling maneuvers approaching the top mark.)
(especially if you have a chute). The presence or absence of an offset mark can
have a big influence on the advisability of trying a
There is, however, one time jibe set. But not all offset legs are created equal. Just because you have an offset
when you should almost always doesn’t mean a jibe set will work. One key factor is the position of that mark. If the
do a jibe set – when you can fetch offset mark is farther upwind than the windward mark (and the offset leg is tight),
the leeward mark or finish line on jibing at that mark will bring you close to the boats behind you (above left), which
port tack. In this case the cost and is not great. But if the offset mark is farther to leeward (and the offset leg is broad),
risk of jibing at the mark is almost you will be farther from other boats if you jibe (above right), which is good.
always worthwhile. But otherwise As a rule of thumb, the broader the offset leg, the more likely it is that a jibe set
make sure you consider a number will work for the reasons above, and because a broad offset leg also means: a) you
of factors (see descriptions on this may be sailing in a right shift, which could favor jibing; and b) you may be able to
page) before you jibe at the mark. hoist the chute before the offset mark, which would make jibing easier and faster.

Effect of wind velocity on jibe sets Another factor that can have a big impact on the effectiveness of doing
a jibe set is the wind velocity. A rule of thumb is that the lighter the wind,
Offset Windward the more difficult it will be to make a jibe set work. There are several
mark mark reasons for this: First, a jibe set is a relatively difficult maneuver, so it’s
something to avoid in light air when you should minimize maneuvers to
Light air WIND maintain speed. Second, wind shadows hurt you more in light air, so if
Heavy air possible you should avoid the area to leeward of all the boats that are
approaching and exiting the windward mark. And third, in light air you
sail higher angles downwind – if you do a jibe set you will be aiming back
close underneath all the boats behind you (see diagram). This is not as
much of a problem when you have more wind because your angles are
low enough to diverge (and get away) from boats behind. In summary,
you need a stronger reason to jibe set in light air than in more breeze.

Speed & Smarts #135 7

2015 Lightning Masters Saturday: Fog! And wind from the west at about 8 to 12 knots. Racing postponed until
fog mostly cleared and wind shifted a little right. We started on the pin side of middle
RACE 3 and continued toward the left side where we got a small left shift and a little more
pressure. We were fortunate to round the top mark first and held on from there.

We got a very good mid-line start
in this race (thanks in part to the
lessons we learned from bad starts the When you approach a leeward gate, sometimes one side is so favored
previous day) and we continued on you have to fight for it at almost any cost. In this race the left side of
starboard toward the left side. Before the first beat paid off nicely, and it looked like the second beat would
the race we had a hard time planning be similar. So we (#21) decided to fight for the inside at the right-hand
our strategy for the first beat; we ulti- gate mark (looking downwind). There was one other boat (#35) near
mately chose to go left because there us as we approached the gate, so the two of us had a match race. It’s
was still some fog on that side. not usually a good idea to mess with one competitor in a 63-boat fleet,
but in this case we were willing to ‘spend’ some of our lead on the rest
In the morning when there was a of the fleet to make sure we would be first at the favored gate mark.
lot of fog, the wind direction was about
250°. At the time of the start the wind
(and the course axis) was 270° – this
was the farthest right we had seen all
day. We felt there was a good chance
the wind direction in the fog would be
farther left, which it was.

Once we got ahead, the key was
figuring out how best to stay there.
The wind was variable enough (in
both direction and velocity) that we
couldn’t just blindly cover the boats
behind us (plus those boats often split
far apart). Instead we used a ‘50-50’
plan. That is, about 50% of our strategy
was to cover the closest boats behind;
the other 50% was to sail our own race,
doing what we thought was best in the
existing wind conditions. We adjusted
these percentages according to our
position on the course, the confidence
we had in what the wind was doing
and the actions of boats behind us.

Second run Downwind: Staying in the best pressure

PUFF We were leading Race 3 on the final run with the second- and third-place boats
We sailed deep to catch a about 6 to 8 boatlengths behind. It was a fairly comfortable lead except that the
puff coming from behind – puffs were coming from behind and bringing those boats a little closer. Sailing
otherwise it would have in better pressure is extremely important downwind, especially in lighter air,
passed to leeward of us. because it a) makes you go faster; b) allows you to sail deeper; and c) stays with
We also had the option to you much longer than on beats. Therefore, we tried to be very proactive about
jibe to get the puff, but we lining up our boat for the next puffs we saw coming.
were on the longer jibe to
the finish so we wanted to There are two things about sailing downwind that make 12
keep our position leading it easier to stay in better pressure on runs:
the other boats on this jibe. Good options for
1) Jibing is not too costly – In most boats and in most catching puffs on
conditions you don’t lose much distance when jibing your leeward side
(almost always less than tacking). This means jibing is
usually an option for catching the next puff.

2) Boats can sail higher or lower – The groove of optimal
performance is usually much wider on runs than beats,
which means you can often head up or bear off to catch
the next puff without losing much VMG. That’s what we
did on the second run of Race 3 (see diagram left).

8 Championship Analysis

Upwind: Tactical positioning to maintain lanes of clear air. WIND

There were 63 boats racing in
the Lightning Masters, which
meant that starts, mark roundings

and other popular parts of the race

course got pretty crowded. In a big

fleet like this, one of the critical x
keys for success is finding, and
maintaining, lanes of clear air. If Converging boats Pack of boats
you sail in bad air for very long, or coming from
if you have to make extra tacks to Popular place for
clear your wind, you can wave converging boats to tack this side

goodbye to the front-row boats. A popular spot – On many windward legs, one of the most popular tactical
During this event our team positions is at the leading edge of a pack that’s sailing back toward the mark

learned a few things about how from either side (red zone above). Boats tack into this position for two main
to position ourselves tactically on reasons: 1) it’s usually pretty strong to set up to leeward and ahead of a group
the beats in order to increase our on the longer tack to the windward mark; and 2) this is often the last chance to
chances of sailing in clear air. The get a lane of clear air toward the windward mark without going all the way past
basic lesson was this: When at least the most windward boat in the group (X), which is often near or over the layline.

a few other boats are ahead of you

(i.e. when they could possibly end Can anyone tack on you? – It often works well to position yourself to leeward
up tacking on you), avoid the most and ahead of a pack of boats sailing toward the windward mark – but only if you
can keep your wind clear in this lane. In Race 1 we tacked into the position shown
popular or favored areas of the here, but there were three or four boats ahead of us on the left. Pretty soon they
course. This includes laylines, for converged with our group and each one tacked in almost exactly the same posi-
example, and the area at the lead- tion where we had tacked – to leeward and ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, we
ing edge of a group of boats coming ended up in bad air and were forced to go searching for clear breeze – twice!
back from a side (see diagrams).
If we had been leading the race, tacking into this spot would have been
If you position yourself in one a conservative no-brainer! But even if there had been only one boat
of these areas, it’s likely that one ahead of us on the left, we were taking a risk because that boat
or more of the boats in front of you would likely want to tack into the same position. Fortunately
will also choose to do the same we figured this out and didn’t make the same mistake
thing, and you will have a problem in Race 2 or Race 3 (see below for what we did).
with bad air. Instead, be willing to

make compromises. By tacking in

a less-desirable spot, you are more Dave
likely to keep your air clear longer.

Often the less-desirable spots are Even when there was only Pack
not really much worse – it’s just one boat ahead of us, it
less likely other boats will tack on was a risk to tack into the
you there, which is what you want.
most popular spot

Better options – Boat A is in a weak position (unless no boats are Another option is to go beyond the pack and tack
ahead of her on the left) because any other port-tacker that con- where Boat C did. The advantage of this position is
verges with her pack is likely to tack in front of A (to leeward and that the pack acts as a ‘blocker’ for incoming port
ahead of the pack). This is not good for A’s chances of keeping tackers. The converging boats are either forced to
clear air on the long tack. It would probably be better for A to tack tack by the pack, or they choose to tack in a position
where Boat B tacked. Port tackers that cross in front of B are likely relative to the pack rather than one boat to wind-
to continue at least until they get to the pack, leaving B free to sail ward. The risk is that C has to go all the way to the
in clear air. In addition, unlike A, B always has the option to tack layline before she gets a lane of clear air, which is
and pass behind the pack if she wants. generally not a good idea tactically nor strategically.



Speed & Smarts #135 9

2015 Lightning Masters Sunday: This race started in 12 to 15 knots of wind from about 250° with good-sized
waves. We had a great start in the middle. Only one boat was ahead of us, but he was
RACE 4 the regatta leader and tacked on us three times to slow us down. We rounded the top
mark 6th, were 2nd at the gate and passed another boat on the final run for the win!

We were hoping to have three Overall plan: Strategy first, then tactics
races on the third and final
day of the regatta so we could throw This race offered a very clear affirmation of our overall regatta plan, which
out our first-race 20th. But even was to avoid tactical (boat-on-boat) maneuvers as much as possible. In a
if that happened, we still needed 63-boat fleet you can’t afford to play around with one other boat, at least
some good results to have a shot not near the beginning of a race when all the boats are very close. That’s
at finishing on the podium. why I was worried when the lead boat tacked on us three times during
the first beat. I knew each extra tack we made would cost us one or two
The day began with a good boatlengths to every other boat in the fleet. We had pretty good speed,
breeze (see photo) for Race 4. We but not good enough to be giving away boatlengths!
had a great start (in the middle, of
course) and after a few minutes we Our basic plan was to put ourselves in positions where we could follow
were in the top 2 or 3 boats in the our strategy, use our speed and sail our own race as much as possible.
fleet. Then something happened I There are only two reasons why we would ever consider interacting with
didn’t expect, but I should have. other boats. First, tactics are sometimes necessary in order to clear a path to
follow your strategy (especially early in a race when strategy is key). Second,
We were on port tack crossing tactics can be useful for beating specific boats, usually later in a race.
all the fleet except for one boat, the
regatta leader. He tacked on our Less Tactics More Tactical moves to help follow your strategy
wind, which was not a surprise, and
we tacked to clear our air. Then he Tactical moves to beat one or a few boats
tacked on us again right away, and
I realized we had fallen into his trap Start Stage of the race Finish
of trying to take us back in the fleet.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid tactics (i.e. maneuvering with other boats) as
Fortunately we were able to much as possible. Early in a race, use tactics only to help pursue your strategy.
escape and go on to win this race, Later in a race, it’s OK to use tactics to pass or stay ahead of nearby boats.
but it was a great tactical lesson
about how costly it can be to mess
with one other boat early in a race.


52 4 61 2 Layline

Offset mark

Here are the top boats in the order they rounded the first windward mark in Race 4. We were in sixth place at this
point, which was lucky because the first boat (#14673) had tried to slow us down during this beat. What’s note-
worthy here is that we’re approaching the mark on starboard tack, but just below the layline. For a while I thought
we would be able to fetch the mark, but a bit before this photo was taken it became clear that we wouldn’t.

The big risk in our position is that we might lose the ability to tack twice to get around the mark. All it takes
is one starboard tacker close on our windward hip to block us from tacking. That’s why, as soon as I realized we
weren’t going to fetch the mark, I kept looking over my shoulder and under the boom (for port tackers that might
duck us and then tack to windward). As long as we had the option to tack, it was OK to keep going on starboard
tack toward the mark – but if it looked like we might lose that option, I had to tack right away.

10 Championship Analysis

Downwind: Waves affect laylines Tactics: Attack or defend?
It’s a question that we ask ourselves
We rounded the first windward mark in sixth almost all the time during any race:
place with some work to do to catch the boats Should we attack the boat(s) ahead
ahead of us. Luckily, several things were in our to improve our position, or defend
favor: 1) We were pretty close to the pack ahead against the boats behind to maintain
and we had a gap behind us; 2) it was windy our position? The answer depends
and wavy, so there was a lot to gain with good on a number of variables including
surfing technique; and 3) we realized early that our position in the race, the close-
we were close to fetching the gate on port jibe. ness of boats ahead and/or behind,
confidence in our strategic plan, and
So we jibed as soon as possible, had clear air our series standing.
from behind, worked the boat hard on the In Race 4 we rounded the left
Layline in heavy air and surfable waves waves and made the left gate on one long gate mark in 2nd place about 2 or 3
port jibe, in second place! lengths behind the leader. Should
we attack or defend? We were very
The key was getting on to the long jibe happy with 2nd place, so we didn’t
early. This allowed us to sail any course we want to risk losing boats behind. At
Layline needed to play the waves, and we had clear the same time, we thought there was
air. The boats ahead (who jibed to port after a chance we could catch the leader.
we did) were limited in what course they Since the best place to pass a boat
in could sail. They couldn’t head up too far or
they would be in our wind shadow, and they
heavy air couldn’t head off too far because they were is usually downwind, we decided to
Layline just stay as close as possible on this
close to overstanding the gate. That meant beat. So we followed the leader to
they couldn’t play the waves as well. the top mark, staying right behind
them. Then we used our
in When we rounded the windward mark, wind shadow to pass
it wasn’t so obvious that we would be able
light to fetch the leeward mark on port tack. them on the run when
The wind was a little right of the course
air axis, which helped, and it was windy, which no other boats could
meant any boat with a symmetrical chute
(e.g. a Lightning) could sail almost dead catch us. Race
downwind. But I think the biggest factor leader
Watch out for very Dave
deep laylines when was the waves. The ability to get on a
you have breeze wave and surf it to leeward altered the Just after the gate mark
and surfable waves. laylines a lot, turning a slight skew into starting the second beat

a fetch that helped us pass four boats.

Upwind: Cover or sail your own race? Strategic plan Cover boats behind WIND

When you’re doing well in a race and you want to protect When your strategic plan 11
your position, the standard rule of thumb is to ‘cover’ the lines up with the direction
boats behind by staying between them and the next mark. you should go to cover
boats behind, life is easy.
But covering is not always the best tactic. If you’re trying to But when the two take you
cover boats that are in different wind, for example, you may be in opposite directions (as
doing the wrong thing strategically while they are doing the right on the first beat of Race 4),
thing. That’s not a good way to keep them behind. then you have a tough choice.

Sometimes the best way to stay ahead is by simply doing the right
thing yourself. That is, be proactive and worry less about the other boats.
This concept applies in many sports where the best defense is often a
good offense. Here are some thoughts on when you should cover, or
ignore, boats behind:

Sail your own race when:
The fleet is split behind you (and you can’t cover all competitors).
You have high confidence in your strategic plan.
It’s early in the race and lots of boats are still within striking distance.
The wind is shifty and it’s critical to do the right thing strategically.

Cover the boats behind when:
All or most boats behind are going the same way.
There is only one boat that has a realistic chance of catching you.
You’re not sure what the wind will do next (so don’t split from other boats).
It’s late in the race and the boats behind have fewer options to pass you.

Of course, covering doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. ‘Hybrid’ plans
(e.g where you cover 50% and sail your own race 50%) often work well.

Speed & Smarts #135

2015 Lightning Masters Friday: The median wind for this race was still a steady 250°, but the velocity built to 14
to 17 and the waves were getting bigger too. The first leg was almost a replay of Race
RACE 5 4; the only boat ahead of us after 5 minutes was the regatta leader – he lee-bowed us
and forced us to tack away, but we rounded the top mark 3rd and finished that way.

A fter four races our scoreline After the gate: Watch for bad air, waves and boats
read 20-1-1-1, so we had our When you exit from a gate mark, a good
fingers crossed for two more races rule of thumb is to avoid tacking early and
(which would give us a throwout). sailing through the area just to windward of Zone of bad air, bumpy
The wind actually built slightly be- the gate. That area is full of disturbed water, water and obstructions
fore Race 5, so things were looking
good, but we knew we needed two dirty air and other boats that may have right-
more top finishes. of-way or just may get in your way.
Of course, there are always exceptions to
We had a very good start in the rule. If tacking right after the gate mark takes NO
this race and jumped quickly into
the top group of boats. With fewer you toward the heavily favored side, it’s probably
boats around us at the top of the worth the cost. This move also works OK when
beat, we were able to approach the there are not many boats right behind you. When
windward mark on port tack (see we rounded the gate in Race 5 we were in third
photo) and avoid the pileup on the place and were able to make two quick clearing
starboard layline. tacks without getting caught up in the fleet behind. Gate

We rounded the leeward gate more bad air this wayLight Air – When there’s not much wind, thebad air
in third just behind the two lead- biggest problem with sailing through the Gate
ers. It wasn’t exactly clear how to area to windward of the gate is bad air.
make our best rounding. Should we Wind shadows are especially bad
have followed the leaders around in light air because they are
the favored left gate and done two bigger and slow you down
quick tacks to clear our air, or gone more. In these conditions,
to the unfavored gate and tacked try not to tack after the
once to cross to the favored side? gate mark until you are
See more thoughts on these pages. able to clear the majority
of boats that are still
In waves: Straight rudder sailing downwind.

We sailed almost the entire regatta In addition, take a look
(including Race 5) in some decent at how the boats going
waves rolling down Lake Erie. One downwind are approaching
important speed variable was not the gate. Often they affect the
over-steering upwind. While some exit from one side of the gate
small, lightweight dinghies (e.g. more than the other. In the situa-
Lasers) can steer aggressively over tion here, boats that sail on port tack
and around waves, most bigger and out of the gate have better wind.
heavier boats (e.g. Lightnings) don’t
turn so sharply and just slow down Heavy Air – When it’s windy, bad bad waves Beware!
if you move the rudder very much. air doesn’t hurt so much. Wind Gate
shadows are smaller and the
In our races, therefore, a key to wind in those shadows is
good speed was keeping the rudder relatively strong compared
very still (‘locked’ in the middle) while to light air. Therefore, the
going through waves. These waves existence of bad air is not
are already slowing the boat, so this as compelling a reason to
is not the time when you want to avoid the area to windward
create more drag with the rudder. of the gate.

You do, however, need to use the However, in strong wind
rudder to make subtle adjustments. boats go faster and leave a
When you’re sailing toward a series much bigger wake than they
of bad waves, for example, bear off do in light air. This is definitely a
slightly before you hit the first wave, reason to be cautious about tacking
so you keep the boat powered up. too soon after the gate. In light air
Then lock the rudder in the middle it’s pretty safe to tack as soon as you
until you’ve sailed through the waves can fetch the last boat in the pack.
and are ready to head up again. But if you do this when it’s windy you
may run into a lot of bumpy water.

12 Championship Analysis

Windward mark: The problems Layline
with a starboard-tack approach ‘Bulge’

A starboard-tack approach is not all bad. In fact, when boats Bad air
round a windward mark to port, they have to approach it on
starboard tack sooner or later – the key question is ‘how far away
from the mark should they get on starboard?’ As a rule of thumb, the
longer you sail on starboard during your final approach to the mark, the
greater your risk of losing to boats that make shorter approaches.
There are two main problems with spending very much time on starboard:
1) there’s a high risk that other boats will tack on you and you’ll have to sail in bad layline
air; and 2) to avoid bad air you will likely have to overstand the mark. That’s why you
typically see a ‘bulge’ along the layline as you get farther from the mark. Boats search-
ing for clear air have to go farther past the layline and sail extra distance, which is slow.

Windward mark: Consider a port-tack approach WIND
You can avoid the problems of a long starboard-tack approach by coming in
to the mark on port. Of course, this tactic has its own major problem, which oveSrtsatroboodarodntalacykleinres
is that you must keep clear of all boats on starboard (and if you tack inside
the zone you must comply with rule 18.3). But if you do this right you can zone layline
reduce risk and often gain a lot of boats. Here are 3 approaches: A
A. Port-tack layline – This is the riskiest approach because you don’t
have any flexibility about where to tack, and when you meet the line of
starboard-tack boats there is no space between them and the layline.
Don’t try this when you’re in a crowd, especially in breeze!
B. Tacking inside the zone – This approach is somewhat better than A B

because the exact point at which you tack is less critical, and you often have
room to tack below the line of overstood starboard tackers but above the layline.
C. Tacking outside the zone – This approach is less risky than A or B because unlike
those two approaches: 1) your tack is outside the zone so you don’t have to worry about rule
18.3; 2) you are farther from the mark so you have more flexibility about where to tack; and
3) there’s often more space between the starboard boats and the layline. However, the downside
of this approach is that you will have to sail longer in bad air once you get onto starboard. This
means you will be slow, especially in light air, and may even have trouble fetching the mark.

NO It’s sufficiently challenging and risky to approach a windward mark on port NO
tack by yourself – but if there’s another port tacker overlapped either to
leeward (left) or to windward (right), the risks are much greater! When I
make a port-tack approach, I try hard to avoid this. It’s almost always
better to get away from the other boat (by slowing down or bearing off)
than trying to fit two boats into a tight spot in the starboard-tack lineup.

Layline Here we are approaching
Bulge! the windward mark on
port tack again! I didn’t
Speed & Smarts #135 mean to do this very often
because it usually involves
a lot of risk. But we kept
seeing opportunities to
gain on boats that were
stacking up on the star-
board layline, so we often
found ourselves coming in
to the mark from the top
left. This can be a great
idea when there are some
spaces between the boats
around you, or a bad idea
when there is a solid wall
of boats coming in on the
starboard-tack layline.


2015 Lightning Masters Friday: Last championship race. Six races meant we would have a throwout. The wind
velocity was up again slightly to 14 to 18. The pin was favored at the start but we were
RACE 6 not close enough to it, so we rounded the top mark about 6th where we finished.
Ecuador did a good job and finished 2nd, but we won the regatta on a tiebreaker.

WIND Right side
b7ia° s favored
1st at top mark
2nd at top mark


boat Dave

Starting strategy: Go for the favored end, or the favored side of the course?

When the boat end of the line is ‘favored’ (i.e. it’s farther the entire fleet. One of these continued all the way to
upwind) and you like the right side of the first beat, your the right corner of the beat and was first at the top mark.
starting strategy is relatively simple – start near the RC This turned out to be a better strategy than starting near
boat, tack and go right. The same is true when the pin the boat end and tacking right away (because the bias
end is favored and you like the left side – start near the of the line was worth more than the advantage boats
pin and continue left. gained by getting to the right side sooner).

But things become more challenging when the end As for us, we had a good, but typically conservative,
of the line that’s favored is opposite to the side of the start about a quarter of the way up from the pin. We did
course that you like. That was the situation in Race 6. shift a bit left because of the pin bias, but unlike the two
boats at the pin that could tack and cross, we did not
In races 4 and 5, the right side of the course had have enough leverage on the boats to windward of us
been at least a little stronger on every beat, and we saw to be able to tack right away. We were eventually able
no reason why that would be any different in Race 6. But to tack, but we had to sail 2 or 3 minutes to the left,
unlike the previous two races, where the starting line was which took us out of the top five at the windward mark.
almost square to the wind, the pin end in Race 6 was
about 6° or 7° farther upwind. On a line that’s long Our take-away from this start? When you really like
enough for 63 boats, that amount of bias is significant. the right side, you have to start near the committee boat
end. Or, if the pin is favored by enough, you need to be
In fact, the pin was favored enough that two boats close to the pin so you can tack early and cross.
who started right at that end were able to tack and cross Leeward mark rounding: Prepare early!

One of the easiest ways to lose a race is by having a bad round-
ing at the leeward mark. Boats seldom gain much at this turning
point, but it’s not uncommon to lose a lot. And most often the
reason is that their rounding maneuver is late.

There are several situations when boats are typically less
prepared to make good leeward mark roundings. Most of them
involve getting to the mark more quickly than expected due to
strong wind, current or waves to surf on. The other common
problem at leeward marks is the spinnaker takedown.

In Race 6 we had a bad rounding at the gate because it was
windy, we were surfing quickly toward the mark and we had to
jibe in the middle of dousing the chute. My crew made a great
recovery to minimize our losses, but we were close to disaster.

In hindsight we should have known better than to leave the
spinnaker up that long. A boat like a Lightning goes almost as
fast without a spinnaker as with a spinnaker, so it’s almost always
wise and safe to err on the side of an early takedown when you
have any of the conditions above.

When it’s as windy as it was in this race, the spinnaker is easy
to fly without a pole and it won’t be affected at all by the jib.
So we should have hoisted the jib and taken the pole off way
before we got close to the mark. This would have left us fewer
steps and an easier maneuver when it was actually time to drop
the spinnaker and start our turn.

14 Championship Analysis

W hen Race 6 started we knew that the fleet would After the top mark: Apparent wind No
be able to discard their worst score. That was, Executing a bearaway set Yes
of course, good news for us since we had a 20th in the
first race. Counting a throwout, we entered the last In Race 6 we rounded the first wind-
race with a lead of 4 points over the next boat, so we ward mark in sixth and did a bearaway
wanted to keep doing what had been working for us set. But I was indecisive. I bore off to
and have another solid finish. (See page 16 for a our normal downwind angle, but a
more in-depth look at scoring scenarios.) couple boats behind us headed up
and a couple other boats jibed. So
This race was a little tougher for us than the previ- we were stuck in the middle trying
ous four races. We were able to finish sixth, which was to find a lane of clear air.
good enough to win the regatta, but we definitely had
opportunities to do better than that. In hindsight, The middle of the run is often a
what cost us was a too-conservative start, indecision weak place to be, especially soon
on the first run and a late takedown that aimed us in after the windward mark, since it
the wrong direction on the second beat. usually has bad air and disturbed
water. If you are planning to continue
WIND on starboard tack for a ways down the
run, stay high enough to keep your
EXIT Offset mark Windward wind clear ahead of the boats behind.
mark The more committed you are to staying
on starboard jibe, the more you should
x take the ‘high road’ where you are
completely free of other boats’ wind
Bearaway Jibe set X is in good position to shadows and wake (especially when
set do a jibe set (but not so you need to play the waves to surf).
great for a bearaway set)
A potential mistake (top diagram) is
At the top mark: Plan your exit to sail as low as you can with your wind
just in front of the boat(s) behind. But
When we rounded the windward offset mark (in this race this may encourage that boat to sail
and every other race), we had two basic choices: 1) bear higher to take your wind. A better
off, hoist the spinnaker and continue on starboard tack; deterrent is to proactively position
or 2) jibe, hoist the spinnaker and continue on port tack. yourself in a higher lane (bottom) to
This decision often had a big impact on our position, so discourage other boats from going
whenever we approached the windward mark we tried to high. This works only when you
give it a good bit of thought. For example, what was the plan to stay on starboard for a long
course axis, and what did we think the wind direction time; if you’re looking for an early
and pressure would do during the run? jibe stay low so the boat(s) behind
can’t pin you on starboard tack.
My rule of thumb is to make the bearaway/jibe set
choice before making a final tack onto the starboard SPEED&smarts™ #135
layline. That’s because a successful exit from the top
mark depends a lot on how you approach it. Speed & Smarts (ISSN 1075-5772) is published by
Four Winds Inc. PO Box 435, Easton, CT 06612 USA
When you plan to do a jibe set, for example, round Phone: 203-445-0734 Fax: 203-445-0735
the windward mark close enough to touch it (above). The
last place you want to be is overstood on the starboard Subscriptions/Renewals: 800-356-2200
layline with boats inside and to leeward that prevent you
from jibing – to avoid this you need to think about it E-mail: [email protected]
before picking your position on the starboard layline.
Web site:
When you plan to do a bearaway set (below), it’s OK
(even good) to be slightly overstood on the starboard FB:
layline. This will give you the ‘high lane’ coming out of
the offset mark with the ability to keep your wind clear Publisher: David Dellenbaugh Office manager: Joanne DeLuca
of boats behind on a long starboard jibe. Artwork: Brad Dellenbaugh

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set to do a bearaway set CornerTips14

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Speed & Smarts #135 15


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The big picture: Adjust your tactics for each particular situation

T he six-race Lightning Masters Championship was
a good reminder about the need to fine-tune strat-
egy and tactics for each unique race situation. Though My winning team: Jeff Eiber (center) and Jay Lurie. I
our overall regatta gameplan was to be conservative was lucky to have two very talented teammates, each
and minimize the risk of having a bad race, this was of whom had way more experience in Lightnings than
not necessarily the best plan at each moment. I did. Here we are after the regatta on the porch at the
Buffalo Canoe Club – an awesome place to sail if you
A good example was the start of Race 6 (see page ever have a chance to go there.
14). We went with our normal plan of starting near
the middle of the line, and we moved a bit toward the 2015 Lightning Masters – Results (63 boats)
pin because it was slightly ‘favored.’ But this didn’t
work out well. Two boats that started all the way at Skipper Race 1 2 3 4 5 6 Total
the pin were able to tack just after the start, cross the 1. D. Dellenbaugh (20) 1 1 1 3 6 12
fleet and get to the favored right side. Meanwhile, we 2. J. Santos 1 4 3 (5) 2 2 12
were pinned on starboard tack by the boats above us 3. M. Fisher (37) 13 2 3 1 1 20
and had to keep going for a few minutes toward the 4. C. Proctor 6 2 (12) 2 10 7 27
left. In hindsight, we should have been more aggres- 5. L. MacDonald 8 (17) 8 7 8 9 40
sive in modifying our plan. 6. M. Sertl 4 (24) 6 4 9 19 42
7. G. Fisher 2 9 (DF) 11 5 17 44
One thing we did very well in Race 6 was keep 8. D. Peck 5 8 14 9 11 (18) 47
very close track of the overall regatta scoring. That 9. M. Beckmann 7 3 5 (25) 19 14 48
morning I brought out a sheet with scores from the 10. B. Mauk 3 15 9 16 7 (RT) 50
previous three races for all the top boats. After Races
4 and 5, I wrote down the scores of each boat. So be-
fore we started Race 6 I knew we were 4 points ahead
of the boat in second place, 13 points ahead of third
and 14 points ahead of fourth. I also knew we would

win any tiebreaker (because we had three
first-place finishes). So we would win the
regatta if we finished fifth or better, or if
we were no more than four places behind
Juan Santos. This knowledge turned out to
be very important because going up the last
beat of Race 6 Santos was in second. We
were in 6th place at the time, so our tactic
was clearly to make sure we stayed ahead of
the boat in 7th place, which we did.

16 Championship Analysis

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