Team Racing 101: Part 3, By George Yeoman
The downwind is often the leg that decides the race. The chasing team are able to blanket the leading boats and slow them to the point one of their team mates can go around the outside of them. The key thing to remember is that the bottom mark is going to be a port round mark on the 'S' course, this means that you want to protect the left for 2 reasons; you will have the inside track at the mark, but you will also be coming in on starboard!
Here are a couple of moves that can help you attack downwind:
1) Double cover; this is where you have 2 boats behind one enemy. You work together to blanket the boat in front until one of you is able to get an overlap on them, at this point either they will decide to luff that boat, allowing the other to sail past or they may gybe on to starboard early, meaning you will have mark room at the bottom. If they gybe early and you haven't got an overlap with them, just gybe with them and set up on the other gybe, but remember you want one of your team on that left hand side coming into the bottom.
2) Gybing creates a new overlap; this means that if you come from behind, or someone breaks the overlap on you and you lose luffing rights you can gybe and gybe back into the overlap and then you have re-established your luffing rights and control.
3) 2 boat length adjacent; if you are 2BL away from another boat but overlapped you can gain an overlap by going outside 2 then coming back in with an overlap. This is difficult to do and can be a bit judgemental so be careful.
If you are defending, remember the following:
1) Make them sail the long way round; by this I mean if you don't sail straight to the mark, they will have to sail further to cover you, if they don't you can then just bear away in clear air and sail to the mark. You want to make the run as one gybe as possible, if you make it so you have to broad reach into the finish then they will have to sail all the way around you to get on your breeze which they will find very difficult.
2) Use your teammates!; This is not an individual event, if you think you will be in trouble ask your teammates to come back and help. They can then set up on the left hand side of the opposition and "sweep" them. By this they can use either starboard or leeward boat rights to push the opposition away from your breeze. If they then get in trouble you will have got clear and be able to return the favour.
3) Take someone with you; if you get rolled down the run by 2 opposition, pick one of them and turn defence into attack, take one of them out the race by luffing them or taking them out on starboard this way at least you will be winning your pair and then all you need is one teammate to be winning theirs and you are in the race.
This is often the firework moment, all the boats converge on the leeward mark often with a boat waiting to help their teammates by sweeping someone off their tails before allowing their teammate round in front of them then calling no room on the boat behind.
The trick still stands the same. Make sure you are on the left and this will allow you be on the inside and on starboard. Room can be very subjective. Umpires have a slightly different perspective and might see things differently so the best thing to do if you aren't sure is to give someone room and protest afterwards. As soon as there is a collision then it could go either way. Equally if you are behind and need something to happen then take it on, the different speeds of boats coming in and people waiting at the mark can lead to errors in judgement allow space at the mark, which you can take as long as you don't infringe the opposition.
Key things to remember: a train of overlapped boats will all need room, and no matter how far the opposition are from the mark if they are inside your transom line (i.e, you are coming in at an angle where is goes back upwind) they are entitled to room. Also a starboard boat with no room at a leeward mark does not have rights over a boat going round the mark on port. However a boat on starboard with room does not have to go round the mark unless it has no luffing rights as Rule 18.4 is deleted for team racing.
We'll call this one the "kitchen sink" moment. Often by this point the winning team are in a strong combo and it is a chance for the losing team to do everything they can to disrupt the race. This often results in what we call a "gybe-back" or a "gybe-down". This is where the lead boat sails way above the final mark on port and gybes back towards the oncoming race on starboard. This often results in one of 2 things: either they will cause mayhem with boats having to gybe to keep clear or lose control of their pair to get out the way resulting in the race coming back in to the balance; or you can do what I did in race 2 of the final and the lead opposition boats split you perfectly meaning you have to turn around hard and lose your position. As I mentioned this is normally last ditch.
This is the time to balance out the race. Pick your pairs again and make sure you keep your team mates crossing ahead. This can be by sitting on top of them and flapping your jib to slow them down, or by blocking them to one side of the course whilst your team mate sails round.
If you are behind, this is where you work hardest! Wriggle hard to try to keep yourself out of sync with the opposition, get in to tacking duels and use your superior boat handling to draw the mistake from them, sail out on your own looking for the shift that can bring you back in to it, as at the end of the race the only score that counts is the win or loss as a team.
The key thing to remember is that this is sailing and there are only so many things you can control, the rest is down to the wind gods.
The top tips outside of these are the following:
1) Get a team you trust. What I love about sailing with Sam & Toby and Tim & Holly is that I trust them implicitly, I know that if I have a bad race (which everyone will every now and again) they will be able to dig me out and visa versa. I know they will keep fighting till the end of the race. You learn to be on the same page the more you sail together meaning that pass backs and manoeuvres happen as you would expect leading to a much smoother operating team.
2) No substitute for speed. It can get you out of nearly every situation, and whilst team racing lends itself to all sailors due to the varying skill sets needed, I have found having speed as a fall back option always helps.
3) Believe in your boat handling. When you find yourself in a situation not having to think about whether your crew work will cause an issue is immensely satisfying and even if it isn't as good as you think, the confidence that it will give you is a bonus.
4) Stay calm. This is much easier said than done and one of the things I definitely need to work on. One of the things I envy from Sam & Toby is the calmness under pressure, they just make the right decision time and time again.
5) Leave it on the water. Team racing is intense! It's short, sharp and often very tight. It is easy to get frustrated at a loss or overly aggressive during a race. But at the end of the day you are outside on a sunny day racing your mates. Enjoy it!
For more info on the rules specific to team racing, World Sailing have a great "call book" that is used to help umpires with reaction calls to situations.
This year it all came together for us. We remained towards the top of the Swiss league throughout the event, qualifying for the finals in 1st place. We managed to beat the "Northern Clydes”, made up of British Olympic team members, 2-0 in the quarters, and then knock out "Wessex Exempt" (2-0 again) in the semis, relying on good starts and speed to get some clear air.
In the final we took on "Royal Thames Blue”, who were the only team to beat us in a final in the last 2 years. We recovered well in the first race by sailing fast to take what was in the end a comfortable win. In race 2 we sailed round in a 1-4-5 and uncharacteristically were not able to hold it, with Thames working hard down the run to turn it into a 2-3-4 and then eventually a 1-2. This rattled us and in the next race whilst rushing a conversion at the leeward mark we all managed to get caught by a starboard Thames boat who had lined us up from the left of the leeward mark and took all 3 of us out the race, another win to the Thames. But we bounced back with a solid 1-2 in the next race from start to finish which set up a "winner takes all" final race, and we were fired up. Sophie & I were a little too fired up and were OCS at the start but took an opposition with us and at the top mark we held a 1-4-5. Sam & Toby set to work building the 5-6 gap whilst Tim & Holly had to settle for watching nervously from 1st whilst Soph & I took on the two Thames boats doing everything we could to keep the race moving forwards, gybing, breaking overlaps, spinning out, needing that all important gap back to 5-6. Going up the final beat we still held 1-4-5 with Soph & I wriggling for all we were worth and we managed to nearly get through only for the Thames teammates to gang up and force us back. We made it all the way to just below the port lay to the finish meaning we needed to tack but the Thames boats had a block on us, at this point one of the Thames boats peeled off to help get their other team mate through meaning we had one job, get to the finish line. We sailed past the lay line with the Thames boat tight to us and, when he did not have room to follow, we gybed all the way round and managed to lay the line. At this point Sam & Toby had managed to dominate their pair and Tim & Holly had consolidated 1st giving us a 1-4-5 over the line and taking the final race.
Overall, it was a great weekend. Even without the win, for every team to get so much sailing is nearly unheard of! Congratulations to the Royal Thames Blue team, they made it a great final and we can't wait to go the whole 5 rounds with them again!
Thanks to Steve and the team for their on going support, the summer is coming and it's looking like it's going to be a good one!