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Top Tekkers: the final third

In the latest in our series of articles deconstructing the British Sailing Team athletes’ skills and techniques, sailing expert Mark Chisnell looks at how James Peters and Fynn Sterritt sailed a great final third.

It’s our second attempt to see some 49er action during the Hempel Sailing World Championships, so it was good to see the 49er medal race get underway on time this afternoon despite some very mixed weather – the kiteboards were later postponed and then abandoned when thunder and lightning cleared the race course.

The medal race gave James Peters and Fynn Sterritt the opportunity to demonstrate how to sail the final third of the first leg. This is where the chickens often come home to roost. If you don’t get it right then any good work done earlier – a great start, nailing the first wind shift – can unravel faster than you can say loser. And this is particularly true when it’s as shifty as the 9-10 knot southerly was today on the Stadium race course.

Getting the top third right starts with good positioning when you enter that zone. In Image 1 we can see that Peters and Sterritt (highlighted in orange in GBR2) were nicely positioned almost dead in the middle of the race course. A couple of boats were punched out in front of the pack, but they were part of a big second row and any of those boats could have joined the leaders at the top mark.

Image 1

If they had any concerns it would be that the majority of the fleet was to their left – but this is the 49er remember, not a spin-on-a-dime Finn or Laser. Any extra tacks were going to cost between 5 and 15m… so it was less about conservative positioning to take advantage of whatever happens next, and more about trying to pick the right side for the final wind shifts into the mark.

Peters and Sterritt committed to the next shift coming from the right – rotating clockwise. In Image 2 we see that they got it dead right. They got the wind shift – the change in their course indicated by the yellow arrow shows them turning right. Unfortunately, they couldn’t tack immediately because there was no clear lane, so they held on for clear air and then tacked.

Image 2

They had got the right side in all senses of the word, and in Image 3 we can see that the wind shift had propelled them to second place. They were also laying the first mark on starboard and everything looked pretty sweet with just a couple of hundred metres to the buoy. This was the Stadium course though and nature wasn’t done with them yet…

Image 3

In Image 4 we can see another massive wind shift hit the race course, this time it’s a left shift (anticlockwise) indicated by the yellow arrow showing the left turn in their track. They were no longer on the layline, and so they could tack…

Image 4

It’s a more technical point, but this is a good moment to say that if you are going to get on a layline with 200m to go to the mark, then it needs to be the layline for the maximum lifted wind shift for that tack – just as the British pair were here. It minimises the chances of overstanding and if the wind does head, then it gives you a chance to tack back and gain from it.

This was exactly what Peters and Sterritt did as we see in Image 5. They took a short hitch onto port tack, tacking back to starboard when they had a safe layline for a final approach to the buoy.

Image 5

In Video 1 we see them go around in a very comfortable third place. Nicely done, gentlemen… launched out of the pack and now on their way to a second-place finish that lifted them to fifth overall.