Friday, June 26, 2009

Fishy Strategy 2 - The Desperation Strategy

Saturday I had a race much like the one I wrote about in Fishy Strategies last week, except that this time roles were reversed. Instead of leading, I was in third. Instead of losing unexpectedly, I won unexpectedly. Instead of being disappointed and confused when perfectly logical strategies failed, I was delighted that my desperation strategy prevailed.

Upon rounding the leeward mark (to starboard) it was clear to all that there was a big left hand shift. The lead boat went about seven boat lengths on starboard before tacking to port on what appeared to be a layline. The second boat and I tacked almost simultaneously, also trying to get onto the lifted tack. As I distractedly fiddled with some tangled line, I managed to steer up into the other boat’s wind shadow. I had no options now except to employ a desperation strategy, tack onto the header, and get clear of the opponents. Sailing the header, I noticed a new wind line approaching. I figured that I should wait until I could get into that wind line, then at least I could sail fast, and hope that I could catch somebody.

As luck would have it, the opponents gradually got lulled and headed, leaving them far short of the port tack layline. On the other hand, I had more wind and held my layline. I crossed both boats easily and marveled at the power of luck and the changeability of lake sailing.

(Desperation strategy sidebar: A common scenario on our lake is that the second boat picks which way he wants to go, the boat ahead goes with him to cover, and the third boat splits tacks in desperation, hoping for better puffs and more favorable shifts. The third boat wins a lot of races.)

But upon further reflection, this seems to be the same situation as in the previous post, with the same result. The lead boats did exactly the right thing by sailing the longest tack first, until things changed. As soon as I was in a better wind line, the situation was different, and they should have tacked to cover. It is so hard to do that when you are lifted 35 degrees, almost laying the finish, and would consolidate a loss of several boat lengths. It is especially difficult when you know the boat behind is employing the desperation strategy more than any other.

The common theme between these two posts seems to be that being in the new puff is the wining strategy. This harkens back to the problem of oscillating shift vs. persistent shift. I think the key here is time. When sailing on a windward leg for a relatively short amount of time, any shift has the potential to be the last shift, and therefore it is a persistent shift in the context of that leg of the course. The correct strategy for a persistent shift is to sail the header first and to remain further toward the shift than your competitors.

Well, I have it all figured out now… least until the wind shifts.

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