The Importance of Positioning
During a racing beat there are some fundamental differences between different phases of the leg, this mean our decisions and priorities as racers should be different between different parts of the course
In this blog we will discuss the main differences between the bottom half of a beat and the top half of a beat and how to handle those difference for the best outcome.
We can think of the course in two primary zones on each plane: the bottom (after leaving the start and until the lay-line), and the top (between half way up the course and the top mark). For further tactical plays we can also refer to the left and right part of the course. This begins to build a map of the course, and sectioning the course this way means that we can already rationalize and explain tactical moves in a better and clearer manner.
The bottom half of the beat is a diverging zone, which means the race track is opening up, boats are growing a distance between them. Usually, the fleet will split into both sides of the race course.
In the diverging zone, the bottom half of the course, the distance between boats grows. This means that even a small shift will benefit boats more as they split further apart. Equally, if the shift goes against the side that you are in, you can lose more boats. Obviously, the corners of the course represent areas of most potential loss and gain – we all know the corner bangers who will score a couple of wins per regatta, and the rest rubbish. The big risk takers never understand the percentages in order to minimize their risk, so rarely do well in regattas.
On a rational basis, a five degree shift when you are halfway up the course will give you the same advantage (or loss if it goes against you) as a 15 degree shift when you are in the top or bottom quarter.
At around the middle of the beat many of you sailors out there probably found yourselves beating many good sailors who later on, near the top mark, were already well ahead of you. We will explain the basics of why this happens.
The top half of the beat is converging which means the boats are getting closer together since they all try and get to the top mark. This means that the risk factor is decreasing but we can still reduce it more. Since you will be looking into getting to the top mark as quickly as you can you would want to maintain your best possible VMG. Depending on your position relative to the middle of the course (right or left), you may find yourself sailing a lift that yields a worse VMG then taking the header. In this case, what tack would you prefer? The tack pointing closer to the mark or the lift? In many situations the top sailors will choose the tack pointing closer to the mark as it ensures advancing towards the mark as fast as possible.
This will vary depending on the conditions and depending on the class since the pressure might prove a big factor. In cases where the pressure is dominant, you can take the pressure either towards the mark or towards the next pressure. Again, depending on your positioning towards the lay line, it may be more beneficial to sail towards the mark rather then towards the next gust as you will be getting faster towards your top mark.
Another important aspect is remembering you are racing against the boats near you and not the boats on the other side of the race course as the wind they are sailing at might be very different to the one you have. It is very common to see sailors tacking to consolidate when they look strong towards the boats on the other side, missing a shift or a pressure and end up losing the boats in close proximity, so remind yourself to keep an eye on the other side of the course but to race against the fleet near you.
At Toplevel sailing we build the platform with the sailors to understand those differences and train on the best ways of dealing with them. We constantly discuss the influence on positioning at different phases of the leg.