Top Tekkers: playing a bad hand well

In the latest of our daily race analysis pieces from the Sailing World Championships, renowned sailing expert Mark Chisnell looks at playing the Nacra 17 hand you’re dealt.

The fourth race of Qualifying for the Nacra 17 Yellow fleet saw Chris Rashley and Laura Marimon Giovannetti complete a remarkable comeback. They got… well, stuffed (there’s no other word for it) at the start and ended up not so much second row but back in ZZ. They played a bad hand well to recover to a fifth place at the top mark that they held to the finish.

It was another different day on the waters off Aarhus with a light and unstable south-westerly wind that eventually caused racing to be abandoned. Before that, the yellow fleet got a couple of races in and while the first was the best, there were still huge differences in breeze out on the race course – as we will see.

This race is worth looking at because there are circumstances when risk management and conservative tactics don’t cut it. We saw Ed Wright do a great job with this approach in the third race of the Finn Qualifying series, a race sailed in 9-10 knots in a boat that will tack on a dime with almost no loss; but starting in row ZZ in a foiling catamaran in light, non-foiling conditions calls for a different approach. Let’s see how Rashley and Marimon Giovannetti went about it.

The situation developed from just over a minute out, as we can see in Image 1. Rashley and Marimon Giovannetti are highlighted in light green in GBR 88. They were nicely positioned to leeward of the big bunch fighting for the advantaged start at the committee boat.

Image 1

They had built a text-book gap to leeward – but had done it with too much time left before the start. The gap was too inviting and the opportunistic Norwegians in NOR 348 (highlighted in purple) were reaching back through the line on port looking for just such a gap and tacked right into it.

It left Rashley/Marimon Giovannetti with nowhere to go. They got head to wind and had to back out of the line-up and fall onto starboard tack to build speed. We see this in Image 2 and also in Video 1 – where they are highlighted with the yellow arrow at 24secs – in all sorts of trouble.

Image 2

They could have continued to accelerate under the line of starboard tack boats but they knew the committee boat was the advantaged end, and they wanted to go right (looking upwind) on the first leg. The key thing was that even when faced with this impossibly bad situation, they kept doing the smart thing as we see in Image 3.

Image 3

Their bad hand continued to play out though, as a late port-tack start at the committee boat ought to have been on the cards. Unfortunately, there was a stream of just-as-late starboard tackers in the way.

They had to duck behind all of them before they could finally tack again to start on starboard, and then tack back to port to finally be able to go right. We can see their pretty desperate position off the line in Image 4 – ranked 20th and still with no clear air – but Rashley and Marimon Giovannetti had wanted the right, and now they had it.

Image 4

They had no option but to play their side as hard as they could, and they sailed a low fast mode that took them out from underneath the boats to windward. At this point there was much stronger breeze on the right-hand side of the race course, and they started to make gains with both of them trapezing. Meanwhile the crews on the centre to left of the race course were still sitting on their boats.

Just a few minutes after the start we can see in Image 5 that they were now ranked first – a remarkable recovery, but only if they could bank it. It was never going to be easy as they faced all the typical issues that arise from getting into a corner early on.

Image 5

The highlighted green track of Rashley/Marimon Giovannetti on port tack in Image 5 had a long slow curve in it, showing that they were getting a steady wind shift that was taking them closer to the mark. This was well and good until they had to tack and head back on starboard.

When they did go about they were on the disadvantaged tack and worse – as we can see – a couple of boats were able to tack very close to their leeward side. It’s also worth noticing that the boats on the opposite side of the race course had a completely different breeze, sailing at about a 30 degree different angle while on the same tack. It was funky out there…

In Image 6 we can see that Rashley/Marimon Giovannetti were forced to tack back to port before finally finding an opportunity to get onto starboard and head to the mark. The good news was that they were now leading the right-hand group. The bad news was that they had all sailed too far (overstood) and were now reaching back towards the first mark, with a handful of boats coming out ahead of them from the left and centre.

Image 6

The outcome was that Rashley and Marimon Giovannetti went around the top mark in fifth place as we see in Video 2. It was a great recovery from their position at the start gun. They took some chances but they did it in circumstances that justified it, and extracted everything they could from the lousy hand they were dealt. One to file under ‘never give up’.