The One Design Tactician
Everyone knows the names of the best skippers in the fleet by reading the race results at the end
of the regatta. But not everyone knows the name of the tactician that helped keep the winning
crew and skipper on the right path. All the fame and glory in racing one-design sailboats seems to
be associated with the helmsman.
But, every great helmsman understands how important it is to
have a good tactician who can guide a team to the top. The tactician is in the hot seat from the
time they step on the boat until the regatta is over. It’s a high pressure position but one that is
very rewarding when everything comes together for a winning performance. A fast boat always
makes the tactician look like a genius; but when things start to go bad tacticians really earn their
keep. The crew work can be awesome and the boat speed fine, but if the tactician makes some
bad calls the whole team looks to the back of the boat for answers. The key to being a successful
tactician is to always be prepared for any situation and focus on the fundamentals.
Winning tacticians seem to have one thing in common—their skill for race preparation. I’m a firm
believer that regattas are won long before the first race starts. You must have a plan to succeed
in today’s ultra competitive one-design fleets. No longer can we step on a boat, sail out to the
start and expect great finishes. Race preparation begins with homework. Study tide and current
charts before you leave for the event. Research the expected weather by watching the Weather
Channel and utilizing internet sources. Familiarize yourself with the sailing instructions, race
courses and any special race committee procedures. Talk to people who have sailed in the event
before and try and find a local who is willing to give you current information on a locality. Work on
a pre-start checklist to make sure everything is taken care of before the race even starts.
On the water preparations include getting the team to the boat early so you can be first to the
starting area. If possible have the team sail the race course so you can familiarize yourself with
the conditions for the day and make the proper sail selection. Once you arrive to the starting area
don’t relax and pop open the brew. Sail upwind to get the port and starboard headings and try
and figure out whether the first shift will be to the right or left. Look to see which side has more
pressure on it and where the wind might shift at the top of the course. Try and sail next to a crab
pot or channel marker to see the strength and direction of the current. Is there relief from the
current on one side or the other? All this information will be useful when you put your pre race
A great start in the first race will keep everyone working hard and will make your job as a tactician
much easier. Get the whole team involved in finding the favored end and having a great start.
Watch other classes start if you are starting behind another fleet. Make sure your skipper sails to
both ends of the line to see if one side is visibly favored. Remember to double-check your
instincts with the sail comp or handheld compass. Remind the bowman to get a line sight so he
can keep the boat on the line in the heat of the battle. All this pre-start work will pay off huge
when you hit the line at full speed at the favored end and head for the first shift.
Once the boat is in race mode keep updating the team with positive feedback. Talk with a steady,
upbeat voice to the entire crew. Give each crew member specific tasks when something has to be
done and give them plenty of time. The wheels start to fall off the train when people are pushed
and maneuvers are rushed. Stay calm and try not to panic if you get behind in the race after a
mistake. Steadily climb back into the race and don’t try and hit a home run by banging a corner.
Huge losses are hardly ever made up in one swift move. Focus on the big picture at all times. Let
the little things go. Don’t get into unnecessary tacking or jibing duels or sail off the face of the
planet just to cover someone. Keep your team focused on passing boats one at a time and the
small rewards will add up.
After the race, let the crew relax but remember the day is not over. Keeping your game face on
for the entire day is very hard to do, especially during light air postponements and multiple
general recalls. Keep the crew upbeat even if the race was a bad one. Focus on the positive
points of the race and discuss the bad breaks so they won’t happen again. Regardless of how
much you improve, you will always make mistakes as a team. The team that wins the event will
not be the team that has sailed a perfect event, but the team with the fewest mistakes.
Once on shore, the team is free to hit the party; however the good tactician will be checking the
notice board for possible protests, sailing instruction amendments, or any changes that may
affect the next day’s racing. Also get a copy of the scores to see what has to be done the next
day to move up in the standings. Going into the last day of racing, it’s always nice to have a
current copy of the scores; when it starts to get tight you know who your team has to clamp on to
Tacticians have different shoes to fill in many different situations. They are the motivators and
leaders that strive to keep everyone on a straight path. From prying the team out of the bar at a
reasonable hour, to finding that shift on the first beat, it’s a full time job. You have to be ready to
take the heat when the going gets rough, but it is also the best seat in the house to learn more
about racing. You hear the struggles of your crew and witness their achievement in boat handling
and sail trim. You can also see the big picture and how other teams in the fleet handle the same
situations. It’s lonely when you make a bad call and everyone knows your mistake, but there is
nothing like it when it all comes together. The whole boat will perform better and racing will be
much more enjoyable if you stick to a game plan and motivate your team to sail its best.
By Scott Nixon Quantum Atlantic
Quantum Sail Design Group, LLC
Copyright © 2010 Quantum Sail Design Group, LLC All rights reserved.