Racing Strategy Choices
Want a systematic approach to developing your race strategy? Stuart Walker (Positioning: The Logic of Sailboat Racing) says successful race strategy depends on determining which one of three conditions (categories) is present. He gives plenty of examples illustrating the consequences of choosing incorrectly.
Category I – Oscillating Wind
The wind is always shifting, but Walker defines oscillating as shifts of at least 15-20 degrees occurring back and forth at least every 3 to 8 minutes (more than once in a leg). In Category I, your primary strategy is to ignore competitors and just sail the lifted tack upwind and the headed jibe downwind, at least until you are near the laylines.
Category II – One Side Obviously Advantaged
You often hear sailors and coaches advising to “pick a side and work it.” This sometimes pays off, but is risky. Walker discusses how to identify conditions that would lead you to pick a side, including: 1) a single or persistent shift during a leg, 2) current differences, 3) light or dying wind, 4) local conditions such as shore effects. In Category II, your primary strategy is to be bold, ignore your competitors, and sail until you reach the advantage, even if it takes you to the laylines (or beyond, in some cases).
Category III – None of the Above
In Category I or II conditions, the strategies involve sailing your own race without paying much attention to the competitors or being too conservative. Most races are not strictly Category I or II, but involve some combination of wind shifts and advantaged locations. In these Category III conditions, Walker says you must sail conservatively by following eight key tactical principles. These include leading out early to get an advantage, but then consolidating, digging back in late to avoid the edges, not letting boats cross, favoring the middle, and covering when ahead.
Using this Book
If you get this book, be prepared to go through it several times. Your first pass will help immensely as you understand the three categories and the significant strategy differences each requires. In subsequent readings, you can delve into the nuances of each category.