Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Harbor 20 Fleet Championship Regatta Report

Gale & Jon Pinckney 2014 Harbor 20 Champions

October 4 & 5, 2014
By Gale & Jon Pinckney, Earth #15

It is important to understand that every regatta is different, and as such it is important to identify ahead of time, if possible, what the keys to success will be. Sometimes setup and tuning for speed are the priority and other times tactics or starting are more important. You could have a deep fleet in which anyone could win or a shallow fleet in which it is a one or two boat show for the win. Every regatta has a different set of circumstances that will determine strategy and success. Once you have correctly identified and committed yourself to the key points for victory, your process for making decisions throughout the regatta has a starting point, more structure, and hopefully you are rewarded with more consistency and better results.

We felt consistency was going to be a huge factor because of the depth of the fleet along with the possibility that we might not get enough races in for a throw out. Starting well would be key, but being aggressive trying to win an end on a small line would probably be too risky over the long haul. With super light winds from the south, we knew we would be racing through the moorings where speed is difficult to maintain as you have to navigate competitors, moored boats, and unsettled winds that just went through someone’s patio. Finally the tough fleet and conditions were certain to put everyone in situations in which they would be behind and have to try to come back. We felt the team that would ultimately win the regatta would be the one that could dig itself out from behind better than the other top teams.

Mast Tune

Our shroud tension was set the way Bill Menninger recommends, which is fairly loose around 16/17. I think that as long as your shroud tension was within one or two turns on either side of 17 you were fine. In general, in light air, you don’t want to be tight which I think starts around 20. Although some of us fixate on it, I do not think mast setup was a big deal this weekend unless you were tight. As an example, I found on the morning of the regatta that my mast is off-center, side-to-side by one inch, and has a significant bend to port up top. Mast Tune 101 always starts out with a straight mast that is centered side-to-side, but we sailed all weekend with it out of alignment, which drove me crazy. Since, as we still seemed somewhat fast, this tells me there must have been more important factors than mast tune in determining boat speed. That being said, I definitely plan to take my mast down and examine the problem further.


Locating pressure and placing yourself in it was by far the single most important item to pay attention to this weekend. When the wind is 2-4 knots, as we had all weekend, the difference is staggering when you find yourself in 2 knots more pressure than your opponent. With four knots instead of two, you are probably going twice as fast and able to point 20 degrees higher. When we sail in the normal 8-10 knots when the wind is filled in across the course, 2 knots more pressure always helps, but it is nowhere near the game changer that it was this weekend. When you hit a soft spot in 8-10 knots, you can still coast and maintain most of your momentum and get going again with relative ease when the next puff hits. Not so when it is 2-4 knots! If you slow down as the result of less pressure, pinching, poor sail trim, steering or tacking, it will take forever to get up to speed again.

With that in mind, the number one priority on our boat was looking for wind at all times. I am always trying to identify where the next pressure is located and what path will allow me to sail to it as soon and as easily as possible. More importantly, since everyone else is presumably of the same mindset, I must do better by identifying where the next two or three pressure systems rolling down the course will be, after the one that everyone else is looking at is gone. I need to know how fast or slowly they are traveling, how long they will last, how much pressure they contain, and once I am in them, will they connect me to the next cycle of pressure systems coming down. Sometimes a smaller pressure line won't look as good short term as a larger one your opponent is in, but it may connect you to the next one or two better. It is easier said than done, but this system of “connecting the dots” is usually the key to winning in our small, shifty bay. While we were always trying to pass the boat in our immediate area, our biggest gains were always made two or three moves in advance using this process.

Pressure aside, we were always trying to go fast, because when you are fast you have more options. This requires keeping the sails a little looser and the bow down footing whenever possible. When you are fast, you are free to tack or pinch, if need be, for a short while to cross boats, moorings, create lateral separation from an opponent to leeward, or to connect sooner with a puff on your beam. If you are slow going into any of the above maneuvers, you lose too much speed and it will take too long for you to get up to speed again. Every decision we made this weekend was based on speed and pressure. We never went wing on wing all weekend (reaching is faster), and we never tried to pinch over a moored boat unless, by reading the available wind, I was absolutely 100 percent sure we could clear it. If there were any doubt at all, we would reach off and duck. All things being equal, I would rather head down and ease sails to a beam reach and gain a lot of speed to duck - than have to tack in 2 to 4 knots.

We made some huge ducks of 20 feet or more on large moored boats or opponents. Maybe in hindsight a tack would have been better. Perhaps we could have gone wing and wing a couple times, too. However you have to accept the fact that of the hundreds of decisions you make over the course of the weekend, you will be wrong 25 percent of the time. When you prioritize all your decisions based on speed, when you are wrong you are still going fast and you still have all your options. On the flip side, when you are wrong 25 percent of the time and going slowly or almost stopped, you will lose way more boats than someone who made a wrong decision but is still going fast. It adds up over the course of a weekend. There is too much at stake in 2-4 knots to risk being wrong when the penalty is slowing down significantly. This is where you typically lose lots of boats as opposed to one or two. Things are different in 8-10 knots, but 2-4 knots is a completely different animal. One other thing I did for speed was reread Jim Kerrigan’s article on the H20 website “Positive thinking about zero to four knots of wind”. He makes some very good points. We did everything he said…except lie down!

Our final key to the regatta was recognizing the winning team would be the one that could come back from adversity and salvage a decent finish when caught deep. Whenever I race, I always study results and find something interesting. In this particular case, I highlighted those come back races as this was where the regatta was won or lost. I try to identify what factors contributed to the problems in the race and how those problems can be corrected in the future. I then calculate the average finish in these races to see how well we were able to come back when we were behind. From there you can also determine what you did right or wrong in your comeback. In our case, all three highlighted races were the result of bad starts. In the start of race one, we couldn’t lay the pin and had to gybe around and start late. In race three, we were over, and in race six, we had to circle back around after getting shut out at the RC boat for barging and again start quite late. I have concluded that the solution for the poor starts is that we need to compensate for the extreme light air by positioning for our final approach earlier and from a better location. Starting near last in 50 percent of the races is not the formula for success, and I will definitely try to apply the lessons learned in the future. We were a bit lucky because if there had been a stronger steadier wind, we probably wouldn’t have been able to catch up as well as we did. The light, fluky winds allowed plenty of opportunities to catch up using the techniques that I described above. Another perspective in looking at results below is that the most important race of the regatta was race #3 as Pinckney and Campbell started the race in last place after being called over early. Menninger is launched and wins the race gaining 12 points on Campbell but Pinckney makes a comeback and only loses a point to Menninger.

Pinckney 7 1 2 4 1 4 Total: 13/3 = 4.3
Menninger 8 5 1 1 4 10 Total: 23/3 = 7.6
Campbell 1 2 13 2 9 6 Total: 28/3 = 9.3

Key to Regatta

Ability to come back and post a good score in a race where you are deep.

Pinckney total score in races #1, #3 and #6 =13
Menninger total score in races #1, #2 and #6 = 23
Pinckney totaled 10 less points in comeback races.
Total overall margin of victory was 10 points.

This was a very tough regatta and we feel fortunate to have won. Sailing in 2-4 knots really is a different ballgame and we hope that sharing with you our approach and debrief is helpful. Also thanks to the always humble Bill and Diane Menninger for letting us rent their trophy for the year!

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