Racing Basics – Common Language

Over the coming weeks I will be writing about racing strategy and tactics in preparation for our December 1, 2012 Strategy and Tactics Seminar that I’ll be giving here in Annapolis.  Our day long seminars explore the basics and advanced concepts that help racers better understand racing and improve.  There are still a few seats available for this informative, interactive and fun seminar that I guarantee is well worth the cost and the day.  Call the office to join us!

I am fond of telling my racing students that the least experienced racer should be the “tactician” onboard the boat.  If there is a clearly defined, strategy driven decision making matrix; then anyone can make the right tactical call.  In order for this untraditional thinking to work on the boat, we have to first have a common language that we are all using, agree upon a strategy, monitor the strategic elements that create the material of success and then stick to the game plan that is developed.

Let’s begin by looking at the race course and develop a language to understand the “anatomy” of the sailing race course.  While there are dozens of course configurations for most racing, we sail on a “drop buoy” windward/leeward course.  All this means is that a group of volunteers drop floating buoys, called marks, in the water.  The buoys are arranged so that they are almost perfectly aligned with the direction of the wind.  The result is that we have an upwind or “windward” mark and a downwind or “leeward” mark.  While other marks may be included, for the sake of this post we will keep it simple and only discuss windward and leeward  courses.

Races have beginnings and endings, therefore we need a start and finish line.  To make it easy on the race committee (and to keep it simple for competitors) the start and finish line is often the same.    One end of the line is often indicated by an orange flag on an anchored committee boat, and the other end is typically a floating buoy that is a different color or shape than the windward and leewards marks.  There are many nicknames for the ends of the starting line, but I prefer to call the starboard end of the line (look upwind) the committee boat end or just “boat end” and the other end of the line the “pin end.”  Other names for the committee boat end of the line include windward, starboard or right and are derived from the fact that most sailors think of the race course in “plan view” looking down on it from above with the wind coming from the top of the page.  Therefore the “pin end” of the line is sometimes called the leeward, port or left end.

Click in the image to see a more detailed diagram of the race course.

The course itself has many parts, each with distinct names that help clarify our discussions.  Thinking in the “plan view” discussed above we can divide the space between the windward and leeward marks both laterally and longitudinally.  For instance if we divide the course into thirds there are left, middle and right sections – or sides – of the race course.  Moving from the leeward mark or start line to the windward mark we have the bottom, middle and upper thirds of the course.  These sections of the courses are important to know and understand because each dictates certain strategic and tactical considerations.  Simply put you need to know where you are and were you are going in order to make a smart choice about how to do it.  Moreover, each section of the course has some pitfalls and opportunities.

To new sailors, this might leave them a little dumbfounded at the multitude of  options a boat could take to get to the windward mark.  But if we think about how boats sail, some invisible boundaries begin to form on our course that make it a little easier to see what is in play and what isn’t.  First, and easiest to understand is the RHUMBLINE.  A rhumbline is simply a straight line between two points.  For instance the line between the windward and leeward marks is a rhumbline.  While no sailboat can sail directly into the wind, most boats including dinghies, keelboats, catamarans, cruisers and racers sail upwind, close-hauled at about 35-45 degrees “off the wind.”  This means that at some point, we can tack and sail our close hauled angle and “fetch” or arrive at a certain point – such as the windward mark.  If we take these courses we would sail to fetch the marks we create another component of the race course – the layline.  These imaginary lines create the “out of bounds” lines for our race course, because any boat that is sailing to a windward mark that sails beyond the lay line is sailing unnecessary extra distance.  Each boat has its own unique tacking angle – or angle between laylines – that will shift the laylines for individual boats.  For instance, an Etchells has a different tacking angle than a Beetle Cat and therefore they have slightly different race courses.  It is important to mention that tacking angles for every boat change with wind velocity and sea state too!

If we turn the course on its head – or round the windward mark and head for the leeward mark – then another set of laylines are formed by the angle between our two optimal gybes.  Because different boats have different optimal gybing angles and because the optimal gybing angle changes radically depending on windspeed the downwind laylines are very fluid.

Now that you have some understanding of the different parts of the race course and the language we use to define it we can begin to discuss how we build a strategic plan that leads to success.  More on the difference between strategy and tactics in my next post.


Frostbite Racing Recap – Week Two

Sail Fast!

Sailing engenders amazing “community”.  There is outstanding information share that takes place because most competitors truly want to race against the best they can and everyone is mutually invested in getting better.  This is one of my favorite things about our sport.  Interestingly, I am not sure that everyone always recognizes how willing our fellow competitors are to share their information, settings, tips and tricks.  Asking good questions is one of the best ways to get better fast.  Walking around the docks and inquiring as to rig settings, controls and techniques arms you with the information you need to “copy the fast people” and move up the ranks quickly.

Below is a copy of a recent email sent out by one of the J/80 Frostbite competitors to the fleet.  Enjoy!

Good morning everyone in the J/80 fleet,
I wanted to pass along something that we used to do in the Laser fleet in Newport that seemed like a fun, easy learning expereince. Before a days racing, a competitor was selected to give a “days recap” of what they saw worked ( What didn’t) and provide a summary. We did it on Thursday nights as well in the J/22 fleet locally and seemed v helpful to try and paint the picture.
Here goes for this week ( Feed free to delete immediately!) 😉
Frostbiting #2 – AYC
What a fantastic day with temps in the 60s, light to medium wind and 17 (!) J-80s on the line. No doubt this was a great look on the line with more than a few shorts being sported in the Spring like temps. With a southerly wind coming into the harbor, AYC set a D4 course with a set mark to windward, round to port, round 13 to port and back to the finish.
TIP:   Trying to read the SIs, Eric Menzel who joined us today let us know that his way of remembering which is Hartford and which is Triton light,
Hartford (H) is closer to the Harbor. Best advice we got all day.
Race #1 – Course D4
With a strong current coming into the river, it was critical to get right as fast as possible. With righties coming off the right hand shore, this was even more critical. Vayu, Stacked Deck, and Crush got it right and continued to own the right all the way up the beat. Finding a avenue to get over to the right was difificult with a few going early and reaping the rewards.
After the first mark, it got a little dicey as the puffs off the shore (Now on the left ) seemed tempting, but with a strong inflowing current on the right, there needed to be a time to make the step over. Emotional Rescue made the biggest gains in this leg by stepping however lost most of that by going back for more towards the Navy shore. Ken Magano on the other hand did a great job of playing the pressure and was easilly the biggest mover in the leg. Broad reaching seemed fastest with Stacked Deck (With the help of the Church Key contingent) doing a REALLY good job of sailing low in the light air.
Once the fleet reached 13 and the reach for home, it became more of a parade.
Note: Hat Tip to Rich Harrison – After realizing he rounded one of the marks in the improper way, informed the R/C he would be retiring after finish. Good on ya Rich. More than some respect!
Race #2 – Course C4
This looked like a carbon copy of the first race until The Puffinator made the left work on the first beat.(!) The wind did seem more stable yet the fleet still proceeded to option the right side by the shoal pole. Upon approaching the weather mark, it was the Puffinator who contined left and eventually rounded in the top two. I am guessing their were two things at play here. 1) The breeze filled in more so the puffs from the left were not as critical to a boats sucess and B) The current may have slowed down enought to let the left come into play. Either way, it made them look fanastic. Good on ya!
After the first mark (Rounding to starboard) it was a reach back to the harbor and into the finish. Note. With the tightness of the fleet, no one could make the low road work on this reach with the high folks able to drive down in the puffs.

Rules Scenario Question

With the “new” racing rules of sailing about to go into effect, now seems like a fine time to begin discussing the fundamental rules and those that will not change in 2013.  If you are new to racing or feel a little foggy on the rules (we all do at some point) then this will be a fun series of posts to build your knowledge with.

In fact, most of the rules and the spirit of the rules we’ve been sailing with will not be changed in 2013 and having a rock solid understanding of the basic rules will make understanding the more nuanced rules easier.  If you are new to the rules — this will be a great place to start your understanding of the racing rules of sailing.  They aren’t that complicated and it knowing these fundamental rules that govern when boats meet on the race course will help you have more fun and be a more confident racer.

Here is how this will work.  Regularly I will post a racing rules scenario and ask you – the readers – to post your answers and questions in the comment section of this post.  Over the coming weeks and months we will work our way through the rule book in an effort to get a better understanding of the rules.  If you really want to drill down deep, call the office to register for one of our winter racing rules seminars!

Note that while having a rule book is helpful it is not neccesary.  You can download the 2009-2012 rules as well as the 2013-2016 rules here!

Ok… here goes:

A classic port vs starboard scenario. Take a shot at answering the questions by leaving a comment.

Join Us For Strategy and Tactics Discussion December 1st!

While frostbite racing isn’t for everyone, the winter is no time to stop thinking about sailing.  For racers, the cold months are a great time to join J World for one of our winter lectures include Strategy and Tactics.  J World Annapolis will be presenting our unique and engaging Strategy and Tactics Seminar December 1, 2012 from 0900 to 1600.

New and old sailors, high school racers, casual beer can PHRF warriors and one design champions can all benefit from a day of discussing the difference between strategy and tactics, ladder rung theory, five elements of a perfect start, the zen of winning downwind and much more.   In this seminar we’ll discuss how wind velocity and angle along with waves and current make up the strategic “toolbox” that separate the winners from the trailing pack. Space is limited for the December 1st class.  Contact the office today to register.

Consider these three questions:

    1. The wind is blowing 5kts across the left side of the course and slightly stronger on the right – maybe 8kts.  On the left, we’ve discovered a slight 5 degree shift about half way up the course.  Which way should we sail upwind (left/right/middle) in order to get to the windward mark first?
    2. You are sailing on port tack, about 5 boat lengths from the starboard tack lay line, with about 70 boat lengths to go to the windward mark.  A boat tacks directly upwind of you, giving you dirty air.  According to your observations, the wind is shifting into a left phase and a 10 degree left hand shift is eminent – what should you do?
    3. In your pre-start data collection you’ve identified that the 200 meter long starting line has a 5 degree port end bias.  You win the pin, while your closest rival has won the boat end.  How far ahead are you at the start?
Leave your comments and answers in the comment section of this blog post.


Basic Keelboat Third Weekend – Final Class of the Season

J World Annapolis offers several formats for receiving your US Sailing Basic Keelboat Certification.  The “BK” is the cornerstone of the US sailing system and a great course for honing existing skills – even if you are an experienced sailor.  J World offers the course in both a five consecutive day and three weekend format.  For those sailors with busy work lives the three weekend format affords the flexibility to complete the “BK” without needing to take precious vacation time (that you should ultimately spend SAILING!)

Due in part to the fact that the three weekends do not need to be consecutive, but planning to come as often as possible is always a good idea.  Because there are a handful of 2012 sailors that have not completed all three weekends of their BK course, we are offering a final two days of sailing – and we’ve thrown in the added benefit of burning off some turkey and stuffing too.  J World Annapolis is offering a Weekend Three Course November 23 and 24 (Friday/Saturday) for those sailors that have yet to complete their three weekend course.

For BK sailors who have already finished their five day or three weekend course, but would like to get a “refresher” we are offering spaces in this last on-the-water course of the season for just $149!  Join us for some end of season fun!  To learn more or register – contact the office today!

2013 Annapolis NOOD Regatta – Superweek!

It is never too early to start preparing for success.  If you like to win but don’t sail 12 months of the year, it is important to remember the lessons learned last season.  That is not all that easy.  Instead of spending those first few regattas getting back up to speed, you can start your season off with a bang by preparing for a successful season after training and racing with J World Annapolis during the first big event of the season – the 2013 Annapolis NOOD Regatta.

The 2013 Annapolis NOOD regatta is ostensibly the kick off event of racing on the Chesapeake Bay, and for New England or Midwestern racers comes at a time that enables you to get a jump on your competition.  With this in mind, we have designed a proven four day on-the-water racing training and seminar program preceding three days of actual one design racing in the highly competitive and greatly attended J/80 class.  Seven days of racing training – with three days of real racing!  Imagine going to driving school and then racing in the Indy 500!  Our program of thoughtful seminars and on-the-water training will get you back in the fast lane, accelerate your learning curve and provide a truly memorable racing experience.

World Class Coaches and Seminar Leaders

Our world class coaching staff will be supplemented with some of the best sailing professionals in the business who will talk about winning strategies, sail trim and rig tune.  Champion sailors and world class sailing professionals will augment our highly qualified and experienced staff.

Unique Learning Experience

Keelboat racing requires a remarkable amount of crew communication and choreography.  Because of this, we believe strongly that “cross-training” positions is the key to understanding how interdependent each role is and how crucial coordinated efforts are to success in any boat.  Unless you are coming as part of a pre-set crew that will not be rotating positions, each client can plan on helming, trimming and working the bow.  If you are ready to improve your skills and develop new experiences – then this is the program for you.

Huge High Performance One Design Fleet

We use J/80’s as our race training platform because they are the best learning platform around.  Fast, fun and with a great following there is no other class that can provide the teaching and learning opportunities along with the great racing that the J/80 class does.  With J/80 North Americans and World’s coming to Annapolis in 2014 you can bet that there will be teams preparing for the venue by participating in the 2013 Annapolis NOOD Regatta.  With more than 25 boats sailed locally – the NOODs are guaranteed to be a well attended event that will prepare you for big starts and tough fleets anywhere.

Call the office at 410-280-2040 to learn more about this seven day racing program.


Frostbite Racing

J World Annapolis annually participates with students in the Annapolis Yacht Club Frostbite Series.  Thee student racers helm, trim and help call tactics as we race around Annapolis harbor.  Frostbite racing is a fun way to spend time on the water through the winter.  Frostbite Racing is a special discipline that requires a racers to think differently than they normally do in windward/leeward races.  Due in part to the use of fixed government marks and static start lines, downwind and reaching starts are common and overwhelmingly favored sides of the race course are De rigueur.  This makes for fun and interesting racing that is a somewhat different challenge than we face the rest of the racing season.

Annapolis Yacht Club is the host of the annual Frostbite Racing. The official Notice of Race (NOR) has been posted on their racing website, along with the Sailing InstructionsAttachment Aand Amendment 1.
Note that while the updated racing rules of sailing have been released, the AYC Frostbite racing series will be governed by the current rules.  If you are curious, you can download the “new” rules here.

“Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every sunbeam, so too have we discovered a simple way to get more from our sun.”

Some would say Daylight Saving Time gives us the opportunity to enjoy sunny summer evenings by moving our clocks an hour forward in the spring.  But now that summer has passed it is time to set our clocks back this Sunday. Please factor the time change into your planning for this weekend’s first Frostbite Racing event.

This is a great time to update the batteries in your smoke alarms too!

In the U.S., 2:00 a.m. was originally chosen as the changeover time because it was practical and minimized disruption. Most people were at home and this was the time when the fewest trains were running. It is late enough to minimally affect bars and restaurants, and it prevents the day from switching to yesterday, which would be confusing. It is early enough that the entire continental U.S. switches by daybreak, and the changeover occurs before most early shift workers and early churchgoers are affected.

Yet, the implementation of Daylight Saving Time has been fraught with controversy since Benjamin Franklin conceived of the idea. Even today, regions and countries routinely change their approaches to Daylight Saving Time.

We will see you this Sunday!

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