Saturday, April 11, 2009

Team Race 2, 3, 5 (or 6) Dilemma

Today we encountered a dilemma which I think is common in team racing, especially in high school team racing. When is it better to chase the front, and when is it better to attack the boats behind to make a stable winning combination?

The specific situation which prompts this posting was a rounding of the windward mark in a 1, 3, 6 and then falling back to a 2, 3, 6 on the first reach of a port triangle course. After failing at an attempt to convert to a 1, 2, the 1, 2, and 3 boats were very close to each other on the entire reach with the opponent eking out an inside overlap on the 2 boat and a boat length lead on the 3 boat.

Conventional rules of thumb say to work on the boats behind once the 1 is lost, but what if there is a wide gap between 2, 3, and the next opponent behind? Should we give up on the 1 when the 1, 2, and 3 positions are tightly contested, and our competitive instincts tell us to fight for the 1, obtain a winning combination, and then have a good chance to convert to the most stable 1, 2 ? Most competitors are going to want to fight for the 1, at least for a while, and I think that is the right move, at least for a while.

At the leeward mark, the positions were the same (we had a 2,3, 6) except that the back of the pack had gotten closer to the front three boats. My team still did not give up chasing the 1; in fact, we chased the 1 all the way to the finish line, forcing the leader to finish before we went back to work on the boats behind. By then, predictably, it was too late, and we just missed converting to a last minute 2, 3, 5. So where were tactical mistakes made? When is it time to attack the boats behind and go for the 2, 3, 4? Shouldn’t we be comfortable enough with our team race skills to forgo our fleet race “go fast” instincts?

So long as there is still time to turn back and convert to the 2, 3, 4, I see no problem with chasing the 1 if her lead is very small. Downwind legs offer a good opportunity for two trailing boats to blanket the leader or execute a high low and decide the race up front. Failing to overtake the leader on the downwind leg, I think a compression trap at the leeward mark should be set to advance the 6. Even if a conversion to a 2,3,4 or a 2,3,5 isn’t accomplished, at least the race will be compressed, bringing the teammate in 6 closer. At the bottom of the final windward leg, the 2 and 3 can then cover, slow, and/or pin 4 and 5 to advance their trailing teammate. They have the entire windward leg to accomplish this.

To my mind, the absolute last point at which the 1 should be contested is half way up the final windward leg. (This is bordering on reckless and should be attempted only when the sailors in 2 and 3 are very confident they can out sail the sailor in the lead). If 2 and 3 insist on trying to catch 1 after rounding the leeward mark, they should split tacks and return to the center of the course no later than half way up. The 1 is likely to cover the 2 who should go to the unfavored side of the course. Hopefully, 3, taking the favored side, will be ahead by the crossing, then slow the opponent and convert to a 1, 2. If not, the strategy should immediately shift to play 2, the 2, 3, 4. It may take some time and distance to set up a cover on the opponents in back, so it is important not to wait too long. If the final windward leg is short, this approach may already be too late.

Just my thoughts. What do you other team racers think? Anyone with lots of experience want to help me out? Are the solutions different at higher levels of team racing?


  1. I'd respectfully suggest your priorities are backwards. 2-3-4 should be play one, unless 6 is so far back that he has no chance of getting back in the game (the only instance in which I think chasing 1 makes any sense at all). If 1 doesn't come back right away, the 2-3-4 should be unassailable by the time he does, and if he comes back right away, you've slowed the race down and sill have a good shot at 2-3-4, as well as increasing the chance that the leader will make a mistake and give up the 1.

  2. Consider this (from

    Slightly different circumstances, but not very different.

  3. Don't want to beat a dead horse, but here's the same answer (from from someone who's a very good team racer (some other good traps to avoid, too!):

    Not exactly the same situation, but pretty close.