Tips for sailboat race spectators


Match racing in sailboats, although a competition between only two vessels at a time, is not like a foot race. Tactics and smooth teamwork among crew members usually determine the outcome.

Here are some hints to understanding the action in the Santa Maria Cup, taking place tomorrow through Sunday in the Inner Harbor.

The Start: Sail races start when a gun or horn is sounded, but race maneuvering begins minutes earlier. As someone aboard counts down toward the start, the boats maneuver for the "favored position," trying to cross the starting line as close to the gun as possible, with good momentum and in a position where the other boat does not block the wind.

The Beat: Most races begin into the wind, meaning the boats must "tack," following a zig-zag course to make progress. In a "tacking duel," the lead boat general waits for the trailing boat to tack before "covering" by tacking, too, thus making it hard for the boat to gain. By contrast, the trailing boat seeks to tack without warning in hopes of finding fresher wind or otherwise gaining a favored position if the other boat is slow to cover.

The Mark: How quickly a boat rounds a turning buoy and readjusts sails and course to a new wind direction are often determining factors in a race. Watch how well-drilled crews can gain time on boats with sloppy or slow crew work.

The Run: When boats sail "downwind," with the wind more or less from behind, an overtaking boat tries to get into a position where its sails block the flow of wind to the lead boat. Watch for the leading boat, to shift course to prevent this.

The Wind: On a course such as those to be sailed in the Inner Harbor, buildings, a vessel's nearness to a dock or shore and a host of other factors conspire to create shifting wind directions and speeds.

The Finish: In match racing, unlike handicap yacht racing, the first boat to cross the finish line wins.

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