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Elementary Boat Racing Tactics Explained

Oct 12, 2007
You must consider the rules of the road - marine traffic laws - even if you never race a boat. The solons who thought out the maritime regulations set down one law saying that a sailing boat proceeding under sail alone has the right of way over a power-driven vessel. If you think this means you can annoy Sir Henceforth Luckingham. skipper of the Queen Mary, by shuttling your sailing skiff back and forth across his bow, you may be in for a tough time of it.

In other words, use your bean just a bit. The next rule - remember these rules apply whether you are racing or taking the gal out to Dusky Dell Picnic Grove - is that a boat on the port tack shall keep out of the way of a boat on the starboard tack. This is an over-simplification of the matter, but will serve for all normal sailing.

There is also an international rule of the road which says that when two boats are running free - that is, have the wind well abaft of amidships the one to windward shall keep out of the way of the poor guy down to leeward. You will find this rule in every government publication, but if you think it has much application on the race course, you should have your head examined. Let us now slide into the things that may be done on the race course to gain an advantage.

Your opponent is down to leeward and slightly ahead of you. The time comes when you can maneuver so your boat is getting all of the nice fresh breeze and he is getting a few little orphan zephyrs that you generously allow to spill around the edges of your sails. In boating circles, this is known as blanketing. You have simply shut off his supply of moving air. Waiting until he has lost headway, you bear up a bit and slide by him. Being a gentleman and a scholar, you do not shake the end of a line at him and inquire whether he would like to be towed.

Then there is the business known as a luffing match. If you get into one of those, you had better pray that you were born with good judgment. There are 67 ways of winning or losing a luffing match, each dependent upon the exact conditions prevailing. Let us assume that two or more boats are beating to windward.

Somewhere up ahead is the buoy representing the turn where you will bring the wind farther aft. Right now, you are both on the starboard tack, which is leading you well to leeward of the buoy. Somewhere along that course, you both must luff at least once and bear away on the port tack.

Only good judgment will tell you whether you must make one or many zigs and zags before you round the buoy. As you are both sailing on alternate tacks to make the turn, there will be many places where you can tack first to gain a shorter course to the objective. The rule is that the inexperienced man had better tack instantly when his more experienced competitor comes about. This is especially true if both boats - and there may be a couple of dozen craft in the race - are quite close together.

One way this works is that a boat that luffs from a port to a starboard tack automatically gains the right of way over the guy who is still sailing with the wind coming over his port side. If you find yourself in this fortunate situation, cheerily rend the air by screaming, "Right of way!" or, "Starboard!"

He will be forced to keep out of your way. Of course, the slipper may often be on the other dog; then you'll discover unprintable words to mutter, words that have been known to peel varnish off a deck. In some cases, a quick shift from one tack to the other may place you in the position of being able to blanket or back-wind a rival.

There are many tactics such as these which may be employed to help you win a race. Good luck!
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