Capt’n Dan Shares How He Saw a Race

For those of us who grind a way in the middle of the pack, the performance of the better sailors in the club is an ongoing mystery. Is it some trick boat part? One secret move? Dan Newland, the man with the parrot on his head, was kind enough to break down one Friday night race and you come to see it was a series of small, correct choices that took him to the front, again.

Analysis of Cats Paw race #2

danJon Kaplan has hounded me relentlessly to write something up for the website and at long last, I buckled under the constant strain.

Okay, he actually asked a couple of times very nicely so after a mellow 2 days yacht racing (last night’s Cat’s Paw and today’s T 37 RC sailboat racing in Port Ludlow), I relented.

A run down of last nights race might seem as much fun as a visit to your proctologist with glue on fingernail extensions but it was typical in that it was atypical. The course was excellent and kudos to the race committee for selecting a perfect upwind/downwind leg in the best breeze. The 60 degree windshift that was a broad reach on the ferry dock side of the line persistently was shifting to the nose pretty much on the line. We ran the line and hardened up a few times from the pin end and noted that we would be able to just about make the mark on port from the right side of the line. Since this gave us right of way on the boats to windward, we elected to try for the pin. We noted that there seemed to be only a little ebb there with the delay, however earlier, there was some definite flush happening.

PEGASUS XIV brings it home in an earlier race. Camera and possibly photo by Satch Yarbrough.

PEGASUS XIV brings it home in an earlier race. Camera and possibly photo by Satch Yarbrough.

We got a good clean start with Sparkle on our weather hip. It was fortunate that we were ahead because she was SMOKING right off the line and had great speed and pointing! As it turned out, we were able to lay the mark on the one tack. With Sparkle annoyingly close to us, we elected to do a bear away set since the wind was fresher out in the channel plus we were a bit light on crew so this simplified things. We set up early and had the kite up within a couple or three boat lengths of the mark heading downwind on port, however it was apparent that the layline to the tower was coming up and I DO NOT like to “bang the corners” from a long way out [1]. We also saw that Sparkle had gybed to starboard so we wanted to consolidate. We gybed to starboard after maybe 5 minutes on port since we were pretty close to the layline and were sailing hot angles to keep the spinnaker pulling. Our pole was maybe 3’ off the headstay in the 10 knots of true wind we were seeing. This put the apparent wind almost on the beam making for a powerful spinnaker. This is normal, in Pegasus, we NEVER go downwind, we always reach but that should be true for almost all boats except in strong wind. I can’t say that I have a formula but I feel a boat and how she is handling downwind and always try and keep it moving with pressure. If you loose pressure, head up until the boat starts to feel lively again.

As we headed into the Bay, the last 1/3 of the leg showed the wind to be dropping and the current to be pushing us to the right at .7 knots. This drop in wind meant we had to heat the boat up a bit so our gybe angles increased to about 90-100 degrees. We played some shifts but in general tried to favor port a bit since it looked like the right side had lighter wind. We planned our approach to be at the tower on port in order to simplify the drop. We felt we had a good chance at hoisting the spinnaker once we were back around the Hudson Pt Buoy so we elected to do a floater drop with a weather drop on the spinnaker[2] . With the spinnaker dropped to the weather (port) side, if we hoisted at Pt Hudson Buoy on a starboard pole, the spinnaker was to leeward and ready to hoist.

As we went around the tower on port, we were headed straight out toward Admiralty Inlet and more breeze but we were bucking some flood. The opposite tack looked deadly and would head us toward the paper mill seemingly, however we had also noted that there was a current line not too far away and were betting that it would be relief so we chugged on. When we crossed the current line, it went neutral and then slowly started to show .3 kts of push behind us[3]. The wind stayed steady and as we closed in on the weather mark, we waited for a nice header and tacked on it. One more tack got us to the weather mark but earlier, I was thinking that it would be too close a reach for the spinnaker so instead, I elected to go with the Code 2, a reaching spinnaker tacked at the bow. As it turned out, we could have carried the ¾ oz spinnaker but might have been pushing it with the ½ oz as we had planned but as we went around Pt. Hudson and hardened up, she carried pretty well.

There are several key points that worked for us in the race.

1.     We selected the best end of the starting line and nailed it at the gun.

2.     The crew was awesome and was ready to hoist and drop at the mark.

3.     At every mark, we went to the next leg at full speed. The sails were up and pulling as we bore away and trimmed in as we hardened up. 100% race trim, 100% of the time.

4.     We kept our heads out of the cockpit. Ed Edwards will tell you I am BIG into this. The ONLY way to do this is to work with the crew, train them and TRUST them to do their job. So DELGATE, DELEGATE, DELEGATE. If you have to tell a crew something like, “No, the genoa car goes in the second hole. No, not that one, the other one. Yeah that’s it. Now do the other side just like it…” you have taken TWO people out of the game! And have your “Regulars” teach the newcomers when they step aboard. This reinforces what the old guard knows and lets them become better crew and communicators.

5.     We kept the boat sailing with pressure on the spinnaker the whole downwind leg even though we sailed a longer course.

6.     We had a lot of input from the crew as to where the wind was, currents, etc.

I want to reiterate about how important the crew is and their teamwork. We have a great core crew that knows pretty much everything on the boat. I rely on them and (try) to let them do their jobs and also let them work with the newbies as to what they should be doing. Sometimes we discuss things and often I ask for input (Are we headed? How are the other boats doing? Is there more wind outside?), that sort of thing but LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS! Yelling is the worst but if you have to tell them everything, they won’t ever do anything without you directing every little move. I know of no successful companies that micromanage, use everyone to their highest potential and have everyone enjoy it. Even screw-up’s should be left to the crew to clean up since you aren’t going to speed things up by getting into the middle of sorting out a mess.

After each race, we do a “debrief” where we discuss anything we need to work on or fix on the boat. I personally hate repeating screw-ups but if that is your preference, then don’t discuss them later (and maybe practice it). You will have the opportunity to do it again!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you have to work with your crew and get them to work like a team, to make decisions on their own with your input or decision them let them go do their thing. If you were on our boat, you know I didn’t win the race, WE won the race. Your crew are the ones that make you look like a hero. All of this takes a bit of practice so you should go out every now and again and do some work on maneuvers BUT, you should plan your practices for the greatest effect.



[1] Going all the way to a layline or “Banging the corner” from a long way out is a risky move and only works when the wind is steady. Upwind, if the wind lifts, you are overstood and if you get headed, you are on the wrong side of the shift and boats farther away are benefitted. Remember, you want to be on the RIGHT SIDE of the course for a right shift and the LEFT SIDE for left hand shift.

[2] A floater drop is a VERY handy maneuver. As you get ready to drop the kite, head downwind and as you do, remove the pole off the mast and stow it. With the pole already off the mast, the spinnaker can be carried longer toward the mark.

[3] We have our GPS cockpit mounted and can therefore measure the difference between boat speed and SOG (Speed Over the Ground). It is also hooked into our instruments so that we can measure current angles although we seldom do this. This is GREAT INFORMATION but only if your instruments are PRECISELY calibrated!

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