SI Vault
Cornelius Shields
June 29, 1964
When the U.S. defender meets the British challenger for the America's Cup off Newport, R.I. this fall, they will battle for the heavyweight yachting championship of the world in a series of contests called match races. This mono a mano form of sailing combat differs from the ordinary fleet racing that takes place each weekend at the nation's yacht clubs as a World War I airborne dogfight differed from an orderly bombing mission. Indeed, to the bewildered landlubber the seemingly endless circling of the two cup yachts as they maneuver for favorable position at the start of a match race may be strongly reminiscent of the gyrations of a Von Richthofen or a Rickenbacker in an old war movie. Even skilled class-boat sailors can find themselves dizzied when plunged into the kind of boat-to-boat racing where time counts for little and all that matters is the position of an implacable opponent trying to shoot you down from the rear.
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June 29, 1964

The Tricks Of Match Racing

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Nothing is lost in this effort by the tailee, as he may at least be permitted to go into a defensive circle. This may give him an opportunity to go for the line when he elects, whereas before this he was denied freedom of maneuver.

If by fortune you find yourself with mast-line position while you are running for the start like boat A in Figure 4, the courses may be such that your opponent (B) cannot get up to the line. In this case, B's only defense is to jibe immediately and save as much time as possible for further maneuvering. He might then be clear on the start and, if sufficient time remains, he might even be in a position to put you (A) over the line prematurely, especially if you tack at the same time that he jibes.

After the start the match race becomes like any other race except for the fact that your major concern will still be to keep your single opponent covered. If he double-tacks, for instance, you must do the same. However, if he triple-tacks in an effort to get clear, I believe it better not to follow, because you will have an opportunity to gain two to three boat lengths as a result of his almost complete loss of way. If you are the leeward boat and covered, you will, of course, reach off a little in your endeavor to get clear. Under the present rule, which forbids a windward yacht from bearing off to keep a leeward yacht from passing, he cannot prevent your doing so. There are no boats to worry about, so tack as often as possible. Try to tire his crew out, or hope for a bad tack on his part.

In a tacking duel watch for false tacks. If your opponent falls back on his tack, do likewise, but make certain that you maintain maximum way on your boat. Your tacks should be slower than normal, but after getting head to wind, fill her away quickly, because after this point you are gaining nothing to windward.

When you are the weather boat, read the compass heading immediately after being filled away on your new course. This will permit you to disclaim any charge of bearing off. Your navigator should constantly take bearings on the other boat when you are in close proximity, to help you decide on the need for sail adjustments and to consider whether you should sail her finer or wider through the seas.

If you are ahead when you get to the lay line for the windward mark, under no circumstances overstand. It only brings your competitor closer, and you have given away the previous distance earned to windward. This may seem elementary, but it is surprising how many experienced skippers continue to cover their opponent after reaching the lay line. Although this one is a poor maneuver, there may be opportunities at the weather mark for other special maneuvers that are more effective. For example, say the boats are overlapped (as in Figure 5) and the mark must be left to port. The leeward boat (B) is maintaining his position because of having his wind clear. The weather boat A, although he is nearer the mark, is not in the lead because of his requirement to give room as they tack and reach the mark. He therefore decides that if he goes by the lay line (i.e., sails past the point at which he should head for the next mark) as in Figure 6, he will be in a better position to break the overlap as he reaches back to the mark (Figure 7). The leeward boat must be adroit in tacking simultaneously to maintain a relative position. In fact, when endeavoring to obtain this advantage he should gradually luff to bring the boats as close together as possible before both tack for the mark.

Figure 8 shows another situation in which two boats are overlapped on the starboard tack and comfortably laying a weather mark to be left to starboard. Even though he is to leeward of B and has luffing rights over him, boat A as the outside boat must give B room to round the mark on his side. However, the rules allow A to luff B to windward of the mark, provided he (A) passes to windward of the mark himself. Seeing a chance to increase his advantage, A does exactly that (Figure 9), continuing a sufficient distance to give himself room to jibe and hopefully coming to the mark with a comfortable lead. His greatest gain in this maneuver is that he has done the unexpected, causing great turmoil on the weather boat. In his surprise and confusion, the skipper of this boat may become "frozen to the handlebars" and continue on course until he has lost his only opportunity to maintain his former advantageous position. In this circumstance he should, as soon as he sees he will be taken to windward of the mark, tack without letting the jib sheet go, and then jibe. This will bring him around quicker, and the jib will be filled and ready for easing on his short reach to the mark (Figure 10).

Such maneuvers, though complex, are not farfetched and should be expected to occur regularly in match racing. If advantages are not fought for, the helmsman is being too casual in his efforts to win. Remember, in match racing there are no other boats to be concerned with, and a fierce competitor will go to any lengths within the rules to win. Seizing the opportunity to do the unexpected in situations like this is the major secret of winning match races.

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