Skip to main content

Top Tekkers: pressure is everything

In the latest in our series of articles deconstructing the British Sailing Team athletes’ skills and techniques, sailing expert Mark Chisnell looks at pressure in the RS:X.

It was a damp and difficult end to the Hempel Sailing World Championships. Overcast and raining, we started with plenty of wind but saw it get lighter and lighter through the medal races for the RS:X Men and Women. This eventually resulted in an extended postponement and then abandonment for the Nacra 17 fleet, whose results from the penultimate day had to stand with no Medal Race.

So we’re going to look at Kieran Holmes Martin’s Medal Race win in the RS:X Men which pulled him up to fourth overall. It was notable for his dominance downwind. We’ve already looked at some great off-the-wind technique from Nick Thompson in the Laser Standard earlier in the series, but Holmes Martin didn’t spend enough time in camera to make this the focus of our story.

Instead, it’s worth looking at how he positioned his board downwind – it was all about staying in the breeze. We’ll use the first run because his tracker stopped working at the end of the second leg and we have no data after that… It’s been one of those days.

In Video 1 we can see that Holmes Martin (red highlighted boat GBR 926) started how he meant to carry on at the top mark. The two leaders both gybed at the mark to go right (looking upwind), having seen most of the gains on that side on the first leg.

Holmes Martin went around the top mark in third and carried on straight. In Image 1 we can see that he had immediately made gains, passing the second placed boat just from the speed and acceleration he took away from the mark.

Image 1

In Image 2 we see that Holmes Martin had gybed a couple of times, playing the pressure and the wind shifts to pull level with leader Daniele Benedetti, ITA 60 (highlighted in blue) who’s on the opposite side of the race course.

Image 2

In Image 3, Holmes Martin had got into the gust that he was positioned for – look at the angle of his track in red, compared to ITA60 in blue. Holmes Martin was sailing a lot lower and going almost three knots faster.

Image 3

If you sail displacement or relatively slow boats then extra windspeed doesn’t make much difference to your boat speed. In which case the tactical emphasis is always on the wind direction, fleet management and race course position.

In contrast, in high performance, planning or foiling boats like these RS:X’s then wind speed makes a huge difference to performance. The emphasis is on finding the strongest breeze as getting into and staying in it is what wins races. It’s not just about finding one gust, it’s about going the right way with it to get into the next one.

In Image 4 we see that Holmes Martin has taken his gust all the way back to the middle of the race course, still doing over 13 knots. Benedetti has found some breeze on his side and gybed to starboard with it. The two boards were closing at speed from opposite sides of the track and Benedetti had a slight advantage… but not for long.

Image 4

The wind died for the Italian sailor and he ground to a halt – doing just five knots in Image 5. Holmes Martin must have been able to see the Italian hit the light spot almost ahead of him. No surprise that he gybed away to stay in the good breeze or pressure and was still doing 12 knots in this picture.

Image 5

At that speed differential it wasn’t going to take long to make the pass. And in Image 6 we can see that Holmes Martin managed to stay in the breeze all the way down, taking one final gybe into the gate at almost 18 knots.

Image 6

Benedetti had found some wind, but it was too little too late, as he was also passed by countryman Mattia Camboni in ITA 88. We see this play out in Video 2, as Holmes Martin screamed into the gate in the lead.

And just to prove it was no fluke, after losing the lead upwind, Holmes Martin repeated the trick on the next downwind leg. He caught and then passed Camboni at the final mark to take the race win.

There was no tracker of this and only the final moment was caught on the tv coverage – but what better way to close this series of articles than Video 3, as Kieran Holmes Martin sailed around the outside of Mattia Camboni to close out a win in what turned out to be the final race of these sailing world championships. Top Tekkers, British Sailing Team!