This year Mike (Monkey’s Fist Sailing skipper) was invited to act as tactician on a chartered classic racing yacht in the J P Morgan “Round the Island Race”. Despite having a very novice crew (who sometimes took over 2-mins to tack the yacht and return to target speed) they were able to take line honours in their highly competitive class. In this article Mike is going to explain the key tactical moments in the race which lead the team to this most unexpected victory.
As expected the pre-start was chaotic with the crew unsure as to what was going on whilst the well documented carnage that broke out around us. As will become a common theme in this article, the main aim of the start was to have clear air and stay clear of any bum fights whilst still trying to remain competitive by going full speed across the line on the gun. By some miracle we manage to achieve this and set ourselves up in a nice wind lane for the beat.
Beat up to Hurst Castle
On the first leg of RTIR crews are usually overly keen and play the tidal advantage game too much at the expense of sacrificing clean air. This year’s RTIR had over 1900 entries, what’s the point for going for a spot with 0.3kts more positive tide if you’re in dirty air and having to duck crossing yachts every 2-mins. Instead, treat this leg like big lake sailing, aim for a good clean wind lane (usually up the middle to mainland side) and focus on your VMG (velocity made good). Especially if your crew are novice you don’t want to be short tacking up the deep channel as each tack will cost you many precious boat lengths.
As the fleet condenses at Hurst Castle keep an eye out for a good gap to tack into, don’t rely on being able to bully your way up the bank calling for water. Don’t forget for many of the yachts on the water the RTIR is their only race of the year and might not understand calls for room; even if they do, they might be somewhat slow to react. Be conservative, rather than ducking, tack into the big gaps for that precious clean air.
Rounding the Needles
The Needles is the first opportunity to make big gains and the ideal time to make one critical calculated risk. This year, yachts were giving the wreck an unprecedented wide berth. As the time went by and the later classes passed through, skippers were following the yacht in front but staying slightly further offshore just to be safe, following each yacht the one behind would do the same and so on. The net result was yachts detoured massively and lost well earned ground. I took my crew inside everyone yet still far enough away from the wreck to know I was 100%; this move gained us a shed load of places.
Needles to St Catherine’s Pt
As things started to settle on this next leg, the general plan was to stay on the shore side of the rhumb line; not only did that give us some tidal advantage but as ever we stayed in clean air. On this leg it’s very easy to match-race with a fellow yacht. Although this is great fun, this is not the aim of the day! If you end up match racing you’ll loose sight of the bigger picture; you’ll find that in a matter of minutes you’ve haemorrhaged places to yachts around you taking advantage of your diverted attention.
A capsized yacht off St. Catherine's
Bembridge Ledge Bouy
The leg leading up to the Bembridge Ledge cardinal rounding is much the same as the previous, keep it clean, play the tide if the air is right and avoid the match races. However, close quarter rule knowledge is important at the only mark rounding on the whole course. The fleet yet again condenses on the approach and in our case we were rounding the same time as about 20(ish) other yachts. From as much as a mile out, have your approach planned and start positioning yourself on the inside to call water on the yachts stuck outside of you. If you can’t position yourself in time don’t be afraid to slow down to let the pack go through then round seconds later but close to the mark. You’ll find that you will have still made gains by controlling your speed and getting a good line. This year setting a good line was especially important; with shifts, the next leg was at some points a fetch.
For some reason down this leg, yachts have the tendency to loose the perspective on where they are and where they’re heading to. As long as it make wind sense, keep your course to the red posts SW and W of No Man’s Land Fort as short as possible. These posts aren’t part of the course; therefore do your calculations to see if you can make it on the inside of them.
The Final Stretch
This was where I made massive gains just by not over analysing the tactical situation and not being a sheep by following the crowd. Crews, albeit tired, yet again become overly keen on the final leg and yet again overdo the tidal tactics. As with leg one, this year clean air was king beating up to Ryde Pier. However, after the pier crews were loosing sight of how the tide could help them even though it was on the nose. The vast majority of yachts were short tacking up the shore trying to stay in slacker waters in their final bid to make gains. When under pressure from my crew to follow the crowd inshore I simply instructed them that we were to pinch and go for direction not speed. By heading up those extra few degrees we managed to leebow the tide which naturally took us inshore saving us at least 6 tacks. This unquestionably won us the race.
Drinking some well deserved champagne after taking line honours!
Nevertheless, “it’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings”. Make sure your final approach to the finish is a good one, not forgetting that there are two lines. If you’re on the North line make sure you set yourself up to finish on the starboard end of the line; if you approach the port end on port, you’re likely to come across scores of yachts on starboard trying to head towards the Southern line. These late disruptions can have a detrimental effect to your overall result and if racing is close, your class result.
The RTIR is a great fun race, but it’s easy to loose sight of the bigger picture:
- Don’t become involved in too much detail with tidal tactics.
- You won’t win the race by going from match race to match race.
- Don’t hold grudges.
- Be bold enough not to follow the crowd.
- Sail in clean air.