Team Racing 101: Part 1 - By George Yeoman, 2017 Wilson Trophy Champion
The Wilson Trophy is the pinnacle of the UK team racing scene. It is the one event that people want to win, maybe even more so than the Nationals, which has led the “British Open Championship” to be a draw to the top UK and International teams alike. This year 30 teams descended on the West Kirby Marine Lake to take part in this truly epic event. With 3 days of racing and 2 great nights hosted by the club it is a tough event to win and one, which after 7 attempts, we have finally managed to get our hands on! But what is it all about? This 3 part series of blogs will run through the event and the key areas of a team race. Remember, the great thing about team racing is that it lends itself to so many skills, so please share your thoughts of how you or your team manage a race.
West Kirby has run the Wilson Trophy since it's inception in 1949, it is the premier team racing event in the world. The WKSC members run the event like clockwork with 5 flights of 6 boats rotating throughout the 3 day event. The teams are drawn against each other in a "Swiss League" format, which is a computer based program that matches teams with similar wins against each other to make the racing more competitive throughout the weekend. At midday on Sunday the league stops and the top 8 teams are selected for the quarter finals. This does mean that if you lose a few races through silly mistakes you can end up racing some easier teams than you should, allowing you the possibility of some easier wins. This has coined the phrase "timing the bounce". This relates to the point that if you "time" some losses you could have some easier races just before the cut to boost your wins and earn a place to the quarters. Generally the points are so close for the places 6th-8th that this does actually make a difference. Outside of the sailing, the club puts on 2 great evenings; a casual Friday night dinner and drink at the club, and a dressed up Saturday night in the decked out "boat shed" with a 3 course meal, an after dinner speaker (often a seasoned Wilson-er) and live music - it's definitely one of the highlights.
But what about the sailing? With each team getting at least 22 races this year, it is one of the best run events I have ever attended, if not the best! I fully recommend it to anyone, you do need to be selected and with more that the 30 spaces being applied for it is a greatly sought after event.
When you get there, what can you expect?
Team racing is scored in the same way as fleet racing with the team with lowest points winning the race. In 3 boat team racing (like at the Wilson Trophy) this is easy to calculate as there are an odd number of points on offer (21 between the two teams of 3 boats), in 2 or 4 boat team racing if the teams end up with equal points then generally last boat loses.
Of these the most common is 3 boat team racing. It is what the Universities compete at, and it has been the recognised World Sailing (ISAF) discipline over the years. In this format the 2 teams are supplied with six identical boats in which they generally compete around a starboard 'S' course that usually takes 10 minutes. To keep it simple the team that scores 10 points or less wins! Or in a bit more detail:Winning combos: 1-2-anything 1-3-anything 1-4-5 2-3-4 2-3-5
The combinations can be seen as "strong" or "weak" combos and these are based on the number of opposition between the team mates. I.e, 1-2-3 is a very strong winning combination, whereas 2-3-5 would be seen as weaker as the opposition 4th place could convert their team mate from 6th through by using the rules to block (or "take out") the 5th place boat back into 6th, giving the opposition a 1-4-5 winning combination. Confused yet? It's just simple maths.....whilst trying to sail your boat, coordinate with team mates and having other boats trying to impact you! All in all, it is the ultimate test of teamwork, boat handling, speed and tactics. It's no surprise we have seen a recent trend of top Olympic sailors trying their hand at it. This is what makes it so exciting, and yet so difficult to master!
Tactics, passbacks and mark traps
Now these may sounds like gibberish so let's work our way round the course.The start
So we will all have seen the recent trend in World Cup and Olympic sailing or rivals tailing each other to neutralise them before the start in the medal race, the start of a team race is very similar. Teams will jostle for position in the 3 minute start sequence using the rules and their team mates to disrupt the other team. Unlike a fleet race you want to keep your boat moving and not sitting with your sails flapping. This will stop the opposition gaining control of you.
The aim of the start for our team is to get off the line at least equal to the other team, this will ensure you are still in the race. It is very easy to "over team race" the start, trying too hard to beat the opposition and end up being out of position and watching the opposition sail off in a strong combo. We aim to spread ourselves along the line to ensure we have all possible shifts covered up the first beat. This means a starboard starter (Tim & Holly), a mid line starter (Sam & Toby) and a pin end boat (myself & Soph). IF it is a biased line or beat we may stack one end more than the other with the middle boat moving up and down the line accordingly.
Each boat has a different role before the start, the starboard and middle boats work together to dominate the starboard lay and therefore start on starboard to the right of the pack allowing them to dictate when the fleet can tack. The pin end boat is a bit more autonomous, and may check in with his team mates, but their aim is to get to the windward mark first. As you can see from the combos most of them start with the team having 1st and not last! This is one of the key points to take away, if you have 1st your team mates only need to beat one boat to win the race!
During the 3 minutes the team will try to ensure they get their time on distance right so they get to the line at full speed on the lay line they have selected and ideally in a position where they can dictate where they go after. When the gun goes and the teams go off the line, you can then assess what likely combination you are aiming to get to.
Coming up in part 2; First beat tactics, rules, blocking moves and the top reach.