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.
Here, in words and diagrams adapted and abbreviated from a chapter of his forthcoming book, the dean of American racing yachtsmen describes for landlubbers and skilled sailormen alike some of the tricks and techniques that have been applied to match racing by himself and his sailing son, Cornelius Jr. The boat in the pictures is a precisely scaled model of an International One-Design, one of the racing class that both Cornys made famous with their own swift and slippery Aileen.
One thing that is absolutely essential to all successful sailboat racing is a complete and thorough knowledge of the racing rules. A proper skipper must know and react to them with the reflexive instinct of a pigeon heading homeward in a storm or a well-trained automobile driver pulling to the right to avert collision.
Of the 78 rules adopted by the International Yacht Racing Union in 1961 to govern the conduct of races, the three most important are those that spell out the right-of-way when two or more yachts (in the rules, the term "yacht" is the official designation for a racing sailboat of any size) are about to collide. The first of these "fundamental" rules states that, virtually without exception, a yacht sailing on the port tack (i.e., with her main boom carried over the right, or starboard, side) must keep out of the way of a yacht on the starboard tack (i.e., with her boom over the port side). The second fundamental rule states that when both boats are on the same tack and overlapping (i.e., when any part of the hull or equipment of one is directly abeam of any part of the other) the yacht to windward (i.e., on the side from which the wind is blowing) must keep clear of the yacht to leeward. The third rule states that when both yachts are on the same tack and not overlapping, the yacht astern must keep clear of the yacht ahead.
There is a further rule that is every bit as important to the winning of races: the rule pertaining to "luffing rights." In general, once the race has started, no yacht, even one with right-of-way, is allowed to alter course for the specific purpose of threatening the other with collision, but under special circumstances a leeward yacht may alter course toward the wind for the specific purpose of forcing an opponent overlapping him on the windward side to do the same and hence lose headway. This is called luffing. It is permitted only if the man at the helm of the windward yacht is safely behind an imaginary line extending straight out from the base of his opponent's mainmast. If at any time while the two boats are overlapped the helmsman on the windward yacht is on or ahead of that line, the leeward boat's luffing rights cease to exist, although he still maintains his right-of-way over the other.
In the diagram at left all three yachts are close-hauled on the starboard tack (i.e., carrying their booms on the left side). Boat A is clear ahead of the others and hence has right-of-way over both. Boat B is to leeward of boat C and thus has right-of-way over her, but since the helmsman of windward boat C can sight the mainmast of boat B directly abeam of his position at the helm of C, he has achieved "mast-line position," and boat B has lost her right to luff.
In match racing the start is all important. In fleet racing it is desirable to be on the line when the starting gun sounds, but in match racing you can start as late as you like provided you have the other boat covered. You must get on your opponent's stern as soon as possible and keep him constantly upset, surprised and even unnerved as you attack.
Technique and tactics in this tailing operation must of necessity be precision-perfect. A false touch on the wheel or an improperly trimmed sail can cost precious position. You must constantly anticipate the movements and positions of the other boat. Your decisions must be instantaneous and, of course, correct.
In endeavoring to get on the stern of a competitor, meet him on an opposite course, widely separated so as to permit starting your turn early, well before you are abeam of him. This would be when he is approximately 45� on your bow. The distance between your course and his should be three to four boat lengths, permitting you to maintain speed on a gradual slow jibe or tack. Should you be fortunate and have timed your turn well, you will achieve a position approximately a boat length astern. A course slightly to leeward of your opponent's will permit you to control him. If he luffs, you should do likewise and prevent him from tacking. If he bears off, you must bear off with him to establish an overlap to leeward and hence get in a position to prevent him from jibing. You should maintain this controlling position until you are certain you can jibe or tack for the line, with your competitor in an unfavorable position. Remember, the moment at which you start is of no consequence as long as you are in a controlling position. Don't start until you are satisfied you are in such a position.
If you are unable to gain the controlling position and more than a boat length separates the boats, your competitor will, of course, attempt to escape your efforts to control. He will luff and tack, or bear off and jibe, as the white-hulled boat is doing in the diagram opposite, continuing this circular course in an endeavor to prevent you from getting an overlap. Like the blue-hulled boat in the diagram, you must follow, trying for this key to control. To do this properly you must have previously determined the time required for a full circle—in both light and fresh breezes. At the start of a circling maneuver make certain you or your navigator knows the exact time and check off each full circle. As each circle ends you must decide whether there is sufficient time for another circle before the start, or whether you can leave your competitor and get to the line ahead of him, but not too soon for the gun.