Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Effective Ragging Technique

One of the important technical skills in team racing is the ability to slow down and control an opponent’s speed via your own sails.  The most effective technique used to do this is known as “Ragging”.  For those who do not know what ragging is, it is not the same as pinning another boat, though ragging can play a role in effective pinning techniques.  More precisely, ragging is the act of blocking an opponent’s wind as you sail upwind, by letting the jib luff fully and keeping the main trimmed in.  While most team racers know what ragging is, there are a few techniques to ragging that separate the most effective team racers from everyone else.

Why is Ragging Effective?

The main and the jib play two separate roles when you are ragging.  The main, as it is the larger sail, does the most in terms of blocking or disrupting an opponent’s sail flow.  This is important to keep in mind, as the main’s importance is often overlooked while ragging.  The jib’s role is twofold.  By luffing the jib, you are able to create much more distortion to the wind going to your opponent’s sails.  This distortion will prevent the wind that reaches the boat you are ragging on from coming in at a steady flow or angle.  Luffing your jib in this manner is also important for slowing your boat down.  This is important because, if you are ragging effectively, the person you are ragging on will slow down as much as you do.  Thus, the slower you are able to go, the slower the other boat will go, and the more effective you are at balancing and controlling any upwind situation in a race.

Now that you have an idea of why ragging is effective as a team racing technique, here are a few things to keep in mind for effective execution:


Position is a very simple adjustment that you can make to go from moderately slowing another boat, to stopping them dead in the water.  Unless you need to pin someone, the biggest mistake you can make while ragging is not getting forward enough on your target.  As a general rule, the further forward you are on an opposing boat, the more effective you are when ragging.  For example, many sailors will start ragging as soon as their bow or jib is fully ahead of the boat they are attempting to rag on.  This will mostly just slow your boat down, and won’t slow the other boat enough to keep them from sailing out from beneath you.  That may help in pinning a boat, but not ragging on them to slow them down.  To correct this, it is important get to the point where both of your sails are in a position to affect your opponent’s sails.  As a general rule of thumb, you should get the boat AT LEAST to where your stern lines up with the other boat’s windward side stay before releasing the jib.  This an effective position if you want to slow them down, and do not want them to tack.  If the goal is just to slow them down or force them to tack, getting to the point where your stern is just forward of their bow is even more effective.

The Main:

As mentioned earlier, the main serves as the largest barrier between the wind and the boat you are ragging on.  Remember, the wind does not get to the other boat until it flows over your leech, where it will start to bend back toward its natural direction.  Thus, your leech shape and tension will have a dramatic impact on the wind that your opponent’s boat sees.  So, if you ease the main out, the wind will flow more quickly and with less disruption over your sail before reaching your opponent’s sails.  As you would like to cause more disruption and slower wind flow to that boat’s sails, pulling in the main harder will close off the leech, shutting off that wind flow and causing significant disruption to your opponent’s sails.  Therefore, while ragging, it is important to pull on the main hard in order to increase your effectiveness in slowing another boat.

The Void Technique:

Sometimes you will see a sailor forgo pulling hard on the mainsheet, and simply pull the boom far to windward.  This is an extremely effective way to get another boat to stop dead in the water.  Pulling the boom to windward in this manner can create a large void where there is little to no wind getting to another boat’s sails.

This technique is not without its shortcomings.  First of all, in heavy air, you will struggle to do this without heeling to leeward.  When you heel to leeward, not only will you slide sideways, but you will spill most of that wind you are attempting to disrupt, and it won’t affect your opponent as much as you could by hiking hard and trimming in on the mainsheet.

Furthermore, when executing this technique, you do risk completely stopping your own boat, and will at least lose the ability to tack or accelerate quickly.  Thus, if you anticipate your opponent tacking away, do not hold the boom to windward for too long at one time.  You may have to do a series of shorter holds instead.

If you are in a pinning position, you have less to worry about in terms of keeping up with a boat that tacks away, but, unless it is very light air, you do have to remain cautious of sliding down into that boat.  Thus, only use this technique in a pinning position when it is light air, and when your opponent cannot legally take you head to wind.

The ideal time to use the void technique is on lay lines, where it does not make sense for the other boat to tack away (If they do you can simply tack and pin them), and where you do not have to sail overlapped and risk fouling.

Heel and Angle:

By heeling the boat to windward, you will create an even larger hole or void for your opponent while ragging.  Heeling to leeward will spill more breeze to your opponent, decreasing the size of the hole they have to sail through.  Thus, in heavy air, it is important to hike very hard while ragging, or you will struggle to effectively slow your opponent down.  Furthermore, it is important to remain at a close hauled angle while ragging.  Pointing your boat further into the wind allows more wind to pass around your sails and reach the boat in your shadow.

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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