Friday, June 19, 2009

Fishy Strategies

It’s the last race of a light wind Thursday night, where courses are short (10-12 minute races), no one keeps score, and the racing is casual. It’s the leeward mark rounding and I am 2 -3 boat lengths ahead of the only possible competitor. The wind on the lake has been more right than left all night, but it has become typically less shifty as it lulls toward sunset. I have been protecting the right most of the night even though it hasn’t produced a noticeable boat speed advantage. As I harden up around the mark, it appears that wind has gone far enough to the right that I am on the starboard tack lay line for the finish. What should I do? What strategy do I use for this last 3 minutes of the race?

The wisdom of Dave Dellanbaugh and Stuart Walker offer several maxims of good advice.

1.“Sail the longest tack first.”
2.“Sail toward the favorite side.”
3.“Avoid lay lines so you don’t over stand.”

My thinking is “sail the longest tack first,” and I’m sure it’s a lay line I don’t want to over stand, so I tack and head straight for the finish line. My competitor splits tacks in desperation, and as I watch him sail away without getting any closer to the finish, I think I’ve made him go the wrong way, and I’m adding several more boat lengths to my lead. Six boat lengths ahead, on the lay line, with a 3 minute finishing leg – what could go wrong?

A five degree header and the wind getting a bit lighter – still no problem, right? That fateful gurgling noise as the boat behind gets a little puff and picks up speed – is it time to tack? I ‘m going slow, he’s going fast, I would be on port, if I can’t cross, he will be in control– I decide to stay put and wait for his little puff to fade out. Naturally, it doesn’t fade enough, he lays the finish, I tack weakly near the finish and can’t cross, he wins.

What have we learned here? Strategies 2 and 4 are better than 1 and 3? Although it worked out that way, it could just as easily gone the other way. If I had continued into the header, let him round and tack before I tacked, we would be about bow even with him on the lay line and me over standing. The drag race to the finish would likely be determined by how quickly I responded to his tack. If he got his bow out, which is likely when he tacks first, he would have the edge.

I think the lesson is that even the best strategies, like fish, frequently have an extremely short shelf life, especially on a lake, and in light wind. I think I made the right move by tacking at the mark where I made some gain. But the wisdom of strategies 1 and 3 expired and started to smell as soon as the boats were in different wind – about 1 minute later. At that moment, sailing toward the favorite side and covering became imperative. One set of strategies worked for 1 minute and the other set for 2 minutes. Shouldn’t these things come with a warning label – not guaranteed to work for more than 1 minute?

Any loser in this situation would be disappointed that his perfectly good strategy had a shorter shelf life than sushi in the hot sun on a 90 degree day……. and on that Thursday, I was that loser.

1 comment:

  1. Nice picture of Black Magic gloves. Are they any good?