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September 15, 1958
An explanation of signals and sails, plus a diagram of America's Cup racing strategy
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September 15, 1958

The Strategy

An explanation of signals and sails, plus a diagram of America's Cup racing strategy

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Setting the course

All races are scheduled to begin at 11:10 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Before the start, the race committee boat, the 59-foot motor sailer Nor'Easter, will take up its station opposite the America's Cup Buoy, thus establishing the starting line. Then, 20 minutes before the start, the committee will hoist a set of three code flags indicating the direction from the starting line to the first course marker—for example, AQL for northeast (see compass rose at right).

At the same time, they will hoist the code letter Y if the marks are to be passed to starboard, code Z if the marks are to be passed to port. In a triangular race the direction of the second mark is automatically established, since the triangle is equilateral. Time limit for windward-leeward races is six hours, for triangular races five and a half hours, and if neither yacht finishes in time the committee will cancel the race.

Signaling the start
Ten minutes before the start, the committee will fire a gun (or blow the boat's whistle) and hoist the 10-minute warning, a white cylinder (right). Five minutes later there will be another gun and a blue cylinder. At the start, a third gun and a red cylinder. If either boat starts too soon, the recall signal will go up. In case of a rule violation, the innocent boat should immediately hoist the red protest flag.

Understanding the races

Nothing is muddier to the eye of the landsman than the tactics in a sailing race, particularly a two-boat match race like the America's Cup where the competitors seem to be sailing in every direction but the right one. The diagrams below explain, in simplest general terms, a typical match race in which both boats try to follow Rule No. 1 of match racing: stay between the opponent and the next mark, no matter how far you have to go to do it.

At start (1), black may try to maneuver rival onto wrong side (X) of committee boat (C), forcing him to start again. Black may do this only if white is upwind. If white is downwind, or leeward, black tries to cut off white's Y wind, forcing white to sail in area of disturbed air, called wind shadow. But white may slip safely to leeward (Y), thus making start even.

Going to windward (2), white must get away from black's wind shadow or he will be unable to pass. So he changes direction, or tacks, hoping to escape. But black immediately covers white's move (3), thus keeping white trapped by his wind shadow and at same time staying between white and the windward mark.

Tacking duel follows (4), with white hoping to get away by quicker maneuvering. After many tacks, white pulls even, and boats converge on opposite tacks (5). Since white is on starboard tack, i.e., has wind coming over starboard bow, black must give way. He tacks quickly (6) to avoid white's wind shadow.

Approaching the mark (still 6), white tacks to avoid any bad wind currents bouncing off black's sail. Black comes about soon thereafter. When each skipper thinks he can lay the mark, i.e., reach the mark without another tack, he comes about, heads for buoy (7).

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