Rule #1: The Play is Always Behind You*
This is probably the biggest mistake in team racing. Unlike fleet racing, which is about how fast you can go, team racing is about how good you are at controlling that speed. Team racing is not won by going past other boats, but about slowing down to get control of the boat behind you before the boat in front of you takes control of you. For example, in a 1-3 versus a 2-4, the 2 boat needs to get control of the 3 boat before the 1 boat gains control of the 2 boat. Whoever does that first will have control of the race.
Often times you see sailors get away with sailing right past boats instead of taking control of the boats behind them. This is only possible with a massive disparity in talent, or because someone wasn’t paying attention. This will never work at the top levels of high school or college team racing. Even if you don’t know the play, abiding by this rule will keep you from making a serious mistake almost 100% of the time. When in doubt, the play is behind you!
*Exceptions to the Rule
The only times that you actively chase a boat in team racing are when you are losing to a 1-2, a 1-2-3, you are in the 6, or you and a teammate are both 5-6. Essentially, whenever you are in last, or need to break up a 1-2 or 1-2-3, you are supposed to chase boats. The last quasi-exception is in a 1-4-5, where the 5 boat is gapping the 6. In this situation, the 4 is not looking to make a play behind them, and should push the opposing team forward. However, the goal here is not necessarily to pass boats, but to help push the race forward to the finish line with the help of the 1 boat. Furthermore, if the 5 loses control of the 6, the 4 needs the ability to get to the new 5 as quickly as possible.
The common retort to this rule is that you should actively pass a boat when your teammate is boosting you in a play. While this is correct, the important thing to take away is that you should not actively try to pass that boat until your teammate has control of them, and is executing a pass back. If you are trying to sail by this boat before your teammate has control, this boat will gain control of you first, and prevent your teammate from boosting you forward, making it easier for the other team to gain control of the race.
Rule #2: The Sailor Ahead does the Work*
This rule is often confusing to new team racers, but is important for execution and maintaining control of a race. The basic rule is that the boat that is further ahead in a situation is supposed to take control of the closest trailing opposing boat. For example, in a 1-2-6 versus a 3-4-5, the 1 boat is in charge of controlling the 3 boat, and the 2 boat is in charge of controlling the 4 boat. The reason for this is that a boat further ahead will have an easier time maintaining control and of a trailing boat, it makes it easier for a team to stay balanced, and this will prevent the trailing boats from slowing down or gaining control of the race. This is easiest to understand if you consider four boats going downwind in a 1-2 vs. a 3-4. In this situation, the 3 boat will attempt to slow down the 2 boat and make 2 sail far out of the way to keep its air clear, and the 2 will have expend as much effort protecting itself as it will gaining control of that boat. During this time, the 1 boat is doing nothing, and the 4 will have little to no trouble moving into the 2 spot. Now, the team that was in a 1-2 is susceptible to moving into a 1-4, and losing control of the race.
Now consider the same situation, where the 1 boat takes the 3 boat and the 2 boat takes the 4 boat. In this situation, each boat will have control of a boat, and it is simply a matter of balancing to maintain the 1-2 before the upwind leg. Thus, there is never a time where the two opposing boats are going up against just one of the leading boats. It is important to remember that you do not have to overlap a boat to have control of them. You must simply put yourself in a position where you are able to dictate that boat’s speed or direction. Thus, the trick for the 1 boat is to slow down just enough so that the 2 boat can sail away from the 3 boat without the 3 chasing after the 2. If the 3 decides to continue to cover, the 1 is able to jibe to starboard, and 3 forfeits control and is taken completely out of the downwind leg. Ultimately, boat 1 forces boat 3 to chase after a boat that is further away, or is taken completely out of the race.
*Exceptions to the Rule
In a 1-4-5, the 5 boat’s job is to gap the 6. Initially, depending on how “in control” the 5 boat is of the 6 boat, the 4 boat may have to step in early, take control of the 5 spot, and then gap from this point forward.
The other exception is in a 1-2-3, where the 3 boat is in charge of taking the rest of next trailing boat(s), either slowing them down at marks, or sailing one of them (preferably boat 4) into last place.
While these two rules are not substitutes for knowing the plays, adhering to both will keep you from making the two biggest mistakes made by teams on the water. At the very least, using these rules will buy you some time in a tough situation, until you can determine exactly what your boat’s role is in a given play.
See you on the water,