Thursday, March 14, 2013

Perfecting the Pin in Team Racing

There are many ways to slow another boat in team racing, but none is as disruptive to an opposing team as pinning.  Pinning is the act of putting your boat in a position that prevents another boat from tacking upwind.  With both boats constantly changing speeds during a pin, it is very difficult to maintain a pin on someone for a significant length of time.  To do so, you must have superior boat speed, boat handling, acceleration, and deceleration abilities over the boat you are attempting to pin.

When is Pinning Most Effective?

Pinning is most effective in any situation where you want to prevent another boat from tacking.  The first level of pinning is performed around lay lines or near the finish line.  In these situations, you can “kill” another boat.  “Killing” another boat refers to preventing a boat from tacking at all costs.  In most situations, the boat you are pinning has run out of room, and only needs to cross through your boat to get to the starting line or windward mark.  This type of pinning is exclusively about keeping the other boat from tacking.  Since they have run out of room to go forward, ragging on them to slow them down adds nothing to what you are trying to do.

The second level of pinning happens in the first 95% of a windward leg of team racing.  During this time period, you want the ability to prevent another boat from tacking, while simultaneously slowing them down.  Thus, you need to put your boat in a position where you can rag your jib on them in addition to preventing them from tacking.  This will allow you to keep another boat in one place and slow them down for the duration of the windward leg.  Furthermore, it will prevent that boat from tacking to get to their help, and a teammate will have to come back to spring them.  This causes considerable disruption to an opposing team during a race.  The ideal position to maintain, when executing this type of pin, is lining up your boat’s stern with the other boat’s windward side stay.  If you are forward of this, you risk letting them slip behind you with a tack in open water or during a back door pass back.  If you are aft of this point, you will have trouble ragging on them, and are more vulnerable to a front door pass back from the other team.  

The third level of pinning is the most advanced in terms of strategy.  It is similar in execution to the second level, but is done for a different reason.  The goal of this type of pinning is to force someone to sail towards an unfavorable wind shift or current line.  With all of the things you have to think about in team racing, this is very difficult to process in the middle of a race.  However, the reward is substantial if the wind shift or current differential is large.  Typically, this is much more likely to happen by pure happenstance, rather than performed with purposeful execution.  In this type of pin, it is additionally ideal to slow the other boat via ragging.  However, if you get in a crunch, it is more important that they sail towards the non-favored side of the course than they just go slow.

Quick Tips

Adjusting your Position in a Pin:

Most of the time, you want your boat in the position where you can both rag on and pin another boat.  The margin for error in maintaining this position is very narrow.  Thus, it is somewhat vulnerable to the other boat slipping away with a tack on its own, or via a back door pass back.  As you get closer to a lay line, it is prudent to move your position back on the other boat, where you have a much wider margin for error.  This way, it will take much more work for the other boat to get free of you and tack.  There is no perfect place to line up for this, but, as you get closer to the lay line, you want to encourage the boat to try to sail in front of you and tack rather than try to go behind you.  It is sometimes ok to let their bow move even with yours once you get to the lay line.  This way you force them to sail forward for a longer period of time, and you can tack away if they start to pinch you off.  Also, if they get really desperate and attempt to jibe away, you will have a better shot at preventing this, if you are further back on their boat.

The Dive:

When you turn your boat down in order to pin another boat, it is important not to dive too quickly.  Many sailors will turn hard and either miscalculate the angle of approach, or lose enough speed when they head up again, that they will prolong the amount of time it takes to get into a ragging position, or they will get pinched off by the other boat.  If possible, take a more subtle approach when diving down to pin another boat.

Slowing Down in a Hurry:

If you start to move too far forward of the boat you are pinning, you risk letting them tack out of the pin and sail free from you.  As you are already ragging, pull harder on the main and move the tiller back and forth to slow the boat down.  If you point too far to windward to slow your boat, you will actually open up the gap for the pinned boat to tack out.

Prolonging a Front Door Pass Back:

Most times when you are pinning a boat, one of that boat’s teammates will come to help.  This is when positioning is most critical.  No matter who you race against, if the other person starts to rag on you while you are pinning one of his or her teammates, you will ALWAYS lose the other boat.  Maintaining control on that boat is no longer the goal for you.  The new goal is to make that pass back take as long as possible.  Thus, ideal position remains where your stern lines up with the other boat’s side stay.  While this remains the ideal position, you want to avoid the back door pass back at all costs, and force the other boat to sail ahead of you and cross.  This will take longer and cause much more disruption to the other team.

Speeding up the Process:

If you are either the pinned boat, or the boat coming to spring the pinned boat, you need to act quickly.  If the back door pass back is immediately there, go for it (DO NOT WASTE TIME IF IT IS NOT THERE IMMEDIATELY!!!).  If it’s not, you both have to work together to get the pass back done quickly.  The rescue boat should go well forward and on top of the pinning boat while ragging hard and cranking on the main.  The boat that is pinned should sail as fast as they can, as if there were no one on top of them.  DO NOTHING TO SLOW YOUR BOAT DOWN!  Do not pinch, feather the other boat, etc.  If you go fast, your teammate will spring you in no time at all.  The opposing boat will tack away once you are sprung, your teammate will cover, and the race continues.

Perfect vs. Perfect:

In good team racing, everyone knows what is going to happen in a given situation.  Succeeding in team racing is about performing your job, in that situation, better than the other boats perform their jobs.

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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