Transitioning from a club or national fleet to a big fleet can be very challenging to many sailors, sometimes it feels like all your previous knowledge and training is just not in line with the tactics and decision making of big fleets.
The truth is somewhere in between, Using your previous training to prepare as best to the race, take the correct side and make gains is still there, but there are some key factors that can only be trained in a big fleet.
Starting is a very confusing part, do I take the line bias or do I ensure sailing to the side i think is favourable? How do I keep a big enough gap to leeward?
The fact is that no matter what you do before the start, it is those last 15-20 seconds that makes the entire difference between a solid start and a bad one, the basics are you want to have some momentum forward in those last seconds to allow you smooth and quick acceleration, keep your bow in line with the boats around you at all time and punch out on time. Many times the fear of an OCS will cause sailors to keep their bow slightly behind and punch out late, doing that will almost definitely ensure a bad start.
Recovering from a bad start is also tricky, do I keep going or find a clear lane? The answer is, it depends on the situation and the conditions, so you must ask yourself in which position am i most likely to lose less, that will be the position you need to take, in big shifts you might have to wait for the big header, in strong gusts it might be the same, so every situation have to be considered based on the conditions as well as your position in the fleet, near the right edge it might be easier to tack and find a clear lane, near the pin probably not.
Sailing with the fleet is another crucial aspect of fleet racing, generally it is about finding your lanes that will allow you to make some gain when the next wind change happens, most of the beat we will be in defensive mode making sure we don’t lose big distance from the leaders.
That leads us to crossing, in small fleets crossing boats to some extent might be good as it allows you to make the gust or take a better position. In fleet racing the risk of crossing boats is huge as it might cause you to miss your lane and end up crossing further or sailing covered. In reality every time boats are crossing then one of them is correct and one of them is wrong, as sailors we must consider every time crossing a boat “am I right or wrong?” If you think you are wrong than you shouldn’t cross (simple as that), The risk is much bigger when crossing a group of boats as I am at risk of losing all of them in case I am wrong.
The wisdom of the mass applies (and the higher the level of sailing the more important it will be) IF MOST of the boats around me are sailing in the opposite tack of me it should rise a serious warning signal in my head, as the likelihood of an entire fleet being wrong is pretty small, many times you will see boats crossing a group to end up losing them in the next crossing.
Downwinds are pretty similar to a small fleet, I need to ensure no boat is blocking my wind, and the bigger the fleet the bigger the chance of it happening, usually around the middle of the fleet there is a bigger chance of being covered than around the edges (especially in single handed dinghies)
During our training and regatta coaching in TopLevel Sailing we practice those concepts and train our sailors to be aware of the differences between big and small fleets, Big fleet tactics take a big part of our daily debriefs and our sailors are focused on those aspect while racing
Join our training and regatta coaching if you wish to improve your fleet racing abilities