This little reflection is prompted by Tillerman’s list project and by having watched my sailing team lose a fleet race regatta for the second time this year as a result of a protest. In years gone by, I have watched us lose to other teams with sailors who consistently start better and sail faster. It’s almost impossible to beat those guys (a problem I share with Tillerman in good, maybe even mediocre, laser fleets). Now, our team sails just as fast as the other sailors, but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with moves that undermine the 98% of the day spent sailing well.
- Start where they ain’t. Out of the crowd at the favored end emerges one big winner and lots of big losers. The guy who starts in the clear spot probably will not be first, but he will be among the top few. If he jumps on the first shift he might just be first, but even finishing in the top few all day usually wins a regatta. Even we mediocrities are likely to stay near the front of the fleet as the big losers fight for open lanes and freedom to tack on the shifts for the entire first leg of the race.
- Avoid close encounters of any kind. Being near other boats introduces the possibilities of fouls, protests, both warranted and unwarranted, and bad air. At least 90% of fleet racing is about racing the course. The other boats are moving obstacles that make it a little more challenging to get around that course. Unlike team racing, in most situations, other sailors are not adversaries who you should challenge to a duel (until the last part of the race or regatta). In fleet racing, duels frequently have two losers.
- Admit guilt. If you foul, do your penalty. Protests are unpleasant and time consuming; disqualifications are far worse. Debate the rules over a beer (or a coke if under 21) after the race.
- Avoid that guy. Every once in a while, there is a guy who is a screamer and a self-proclaimed rules expert who protests anyone within two boat lengths of him. If you cross him on port he will say he had to avoid. If you lee bow him you tacked too close. Sailing anywhere near him results in an argument or a protest. He is a distraction at best and a protest at worst.
- Avoid that poor guy. Sometimes you find yourself in the back of the pack with a sailor or two who has yet to master some of the boat handling fundamentals. (I am painfully remembering a frostbite incident when I was that poor guy.) Rounding a mark outside him can cost you several places as you are trapped outside while he is losing control of his boat, not turning up to windward, and letting all the boats behind get inside and to windward. When you are leeward of him, his inability to point causes him to sail down and pin you out. He also refuses to tack on headers, taking you the wrong way with him.
None of these things requires you to sail any better, but heeding them will make you look better on the results page.