Playbook: The Next Level

The upcoming McBride Racing Tactical Playbook will lay out the fundamentals of sailboat tactics and strategy, but once you've mastered the basics, taking your game to the next level requires you to go an extra step.  This play, LM 2.15 is part of an Olympian's playbook; rather than presenting an if, then situation, we're beginning to make some predictions about how the boats around us will respond to our moves.  To be a chess master in sailing, you need to think beyond the next move, and understand the fleet that you're racing against.  Here's the breakdown of LM 2.15:

The Play: Expanding on LM 2.1, let’s assume that Blue has the same idea as you; they recognize that the left gate looking downwind is favored, and execute LM 1.1 to defend the gate.  If they are executing a good play, they’ll get as close to Red (and thus, to lay line) as possible, before gybing, so by this time you’ve reached Position 2, and you’re ripping on a high angle towards Blue.  As soon as Blue goes for LM 1.1, the likelihood of you making it around in first drops dramatically, however, you still have a powerful advantage: speed.  To make the most of the situation, it is critical to convert the extra speed that you’ve built on the high angle, into depth, and separation from your competitor.  Your advantage at the mark rounding will come if you can soak below lay line to the gate mark, or get into a spot where you can maintain speed in the mark rounding better than Blue.  The more gage you create, the more you will be able to ramp your angle up in the final moments before rounding the mark, build the flow over your blades, and ultimately come out of the rounding in a slightly higher lane than Blue. 

Most Common Mistakes:  The big mistake here, is to try to heat up your angle even more after Blue has gybed.  In this scenario, it is relatively easy for Blue to avoid getting rolled, or giving away room at the mark, so heating it up, will likely only get you into the bad air of the boat ahead, sooner, while giving away all of your gage.

Pro Tip: In fast boats like the 49er FX, speed is a weapon, and gage is like a reserve of speed that can be used when needed.  Create gage when sailing VMG mode isn’t an option (for example, when VMG mode will take you into bad air), so that you can convert it to speed at the right time.

Best Communication: “If they hit us, we go soak mode,” “Create gage now so we can heat it at the mark”

Playbook: First Beat Strategy

Upwind plays are intended to allow teams to execute their strategy upwind.  Generally, strategies can be grouped into two categories:
1.    Outside track
2.    Inside track

Although not always true, these two categories can be closely correlated with the two subcategories of game plan that we discussed before: (1) predicting wind versus (2) fleet managing.  Choosing the outside track implies that we are willing to assume slightly more exposure because of our confidence in a wind prediction.  In contrast, the inside track implies more of a focus on fleet management and playing the angles either because of a shift pattern, confidence in your position when you get  70% of the way to lay line, or because of lack of confidence in wind prediction data.

How do you simplify your upwind strategy?

Playbook: Starting 1.1*

Note: Red positions 1 & 2, and Yellow positions 1-4 are supposed to be leeway from being downspeed - the pivoting that the boats do in the animation is an artifact of the animation software.

The Play: As soon as Red sets up to windward of Yellow, crew and skipper roles need to allow the team to cover the full sphere of vision to windward and too leeward so that they know when a threat is approaching.  In this case, when Blue is identified as a threat in position 2, Red responds by putting the bow down and closing her hole to leeward down to a single boat length.  After Blue has passed, Red uses the flow that she has created in closing the hole, to shoot back through head-to-wind, and re-open the hole to leeward.

Most Common Mistakes: The most common mistake that happens in this situation, is that Red either puts the bow down by sculling and never attaches flow to the foils, or just never puts the bow down at all, often opting to try to intimidate the competition by yelling.  The key to making this play work is building enough flow between position 2 and 3, that Red can carry speed through head to wind after Blue has passed to open the hole back up to leeward (position 4).  It is important to remember that if Red executes this play correctly, she will need to bring the bow back down to a close hauled angle to re-establish Starboard tack right-of-way after crossing head to wind between position 3 and 4.

Best Communication: "Defending," "Accelerate," "Closing the hole"

*Note: This play is part of the new edition of the playbook that is not yet available for download, so the numbering will not correspond to the playbook available for download below.

Playbook: Downwind 5.1

The discussion on Red as she gets closer to the next lay-line needs to take into account several factors including: 

  • D = Distance between Red and Blue 
  • L = Lateral distance (gage) between Red and Blue 
  • F = Favored side
  • X = Distance to finish/lay-line

There are several possible solutions depending on the values of the variables above, and we encourage you to comment below with some other plays.  The one that we'll focus on here is the "jump," which we discuss often in debriefs.  In this case:

  • D < 8 boat lengths
  • D/X < 1 boat length/50m
  • L>0

In scenario DW 5, Red is set up to jump Blue on the next gybe.  The discussion on board Red should focus on creating gauge to leeward of Blue so that when both boats gybe, Red can position herself forward of Blue's bow, in the kill zone (position 2 here).  In position 1, the crew on Red should identify that, "When she gybes, we gybe," so that everyone is prepared for a simultaneous maneuver.  As long as the variables don't get outside of the values listed above, this is the high percentage move, as Red maintains contact with Blue, and remains in control of her destiny by setting up to gas Blue on the next gybe, but the farther ahead Blue is, and the closer to the finish the pair get, the more difficult it gets for Red to affect Blue’s air.

At a certain ratio of distance from the finish line to separation, Red should gybe away, and look for opportunities on the other side of the course to come back with starboard advantage. If Blue rounds the top mark with a lead >8 boat lengths, leverage should be created immediately by gybe setting, but if Red is in touch, she should pursue Blue as long as the lead does not grow to more than 8 boat lengths, or the distance to separation ratio doesn’t shrink below 1 boat length per 50m to the finish line.

Playbook: Upwind 2.1

As Red approaches Blue, the discussion is whether or not Yellow can affect Red if she tacks, and how important it is to get left.  If Red is slightly bow out, she might be safe to tack and force Yellow to tack, but if the two boats are bow even (as pictured), Yellow will have the opportunity to tuck in tight to leeward of Red, and prevent Red from sailing her groove.  In this case, Red might need to take two more tacks, which would put her behind Blue, and introduce several opportunities for mistakes.  As such, assuming Red wants to go left, the playbook solution to the scenario is as follows:

Red should duck Blue and use Blue as a blocker to go to the left, that way there is no way for Yellow to lee-bow Red (which she would/should probably do if Red tacks before Blue). In this situation Yellow will likely lee-bow Blue and force them to tack out, or at least make it very hard for her to sail full speed.

If there is a line of boats above Blue that Red would have to deal with if she ducked Blue, Red should go early and make Yellow make a decision to tack or duck. If Yellow lee-bows, then Red might have a chance to double tack.

Comment below if you have another solution!