When you're not sure exactly what the wind is doing, here's a strategy to try. Excerpt from the upcoming McBride Racing Tactical Playbook. Subscribe to our newsletter to get notified of the book launch.
If you’re not sure whether to choose the inside track or the outside track, it probably means that your confidence is low in any specific prediction about the wind, and no pattern is immediately evident in the wind shifts; this is totally fine! When you are unsure about what the breeze is going to do, the best thing you can do is acknowledge that fact, and choose a high percentage upwind strategy, which allows you to postpone any critical decisions until the race has had a chance to develop a little bit. A simple strategy to accomplish this starts with a mid-line start on starboard. Drag race with the fleet until boats begin tacking back from the left corner (probably about half way up the beat), and then ask the question, “Who is winning, and why?” If the left has gained and you have gotten headed, you’ll have an opportunity to lead back the lead pack. If the left has gained and you have not seen a left shift, then continue as close to the left corner as you dare – chances are, it will continue to pay for whatever reason it paid in the first place. If the right has paid, was it associated with a right shift? If so, chances are good that you’ll want to keep going left and wait for your shift to go back on. If not, it’s time to abandon the left and start digging into the outside track on the right.
The biggest risk in this strategy, is the risk of a slow persistent shift tricking you into digging for more, when you should be abandoning a losing proposition. To have the best chance of avoiding this pitfall, keep your eyes peeled for:
- Changing weather that might cause a persistent shift (clouds, a change in temperature, a shift in current direction, etc.)
- Wind shifts outside of the range that you saw in your pre-race research
- Observations that corroborate an earlier forecast, predicting a persistent trend in the wind
This strategy works well because it simplifies the decision making process by minimizing the number of choices that you are making on the beat.