Go For It On The Second Beat!
by David Dellenbaugh
|After rounding the leeward mark, you must be ready to attack the second beat. This leg
is usually critical because it’s your best chance to catch up when you’ve fallen behind or to solidify your lead when
you’re ahead. Unfortunately, many sailors do not even think about the second beat as a photocopy of the first beat. But
there are many reasons why you should treat the second beat quite differently from the first one:
1. The fleet is more spread out. This means it will be harder to pass (and harder to lose!) other boats. There also may be some boats up ahead that you can watch for wind shifts and wind pressure.
2. The second beat is usually longer because the leeward mark is often set to leeward of the starting line. This means the fleet will get farther apart on this leg. It will be harder to cover, but also possible to get more “leverage” if you’re trying to catch up.
3. You are closer to the finish of the race, which affects the amount of risk you’re willing to assume in tactics and strategy.
4. The second beat may be affected by boats still sailing on the previous reach to run. This means you must catch for a different variety of bad air, disturbed water and potential obstructions.
5. The wind and water may seem exactly like they were on the first beat, but it’s later on the day and conditions are always changing. So don’t assume everything is still the same.
Because of all this you must view the second beat as a unique animal. To be fast and smart, you need a fresh perspective on boat-speed, tactics and strategy.
Try these strategy ideas after the leeward mark
Strategizing for the second beat is a lot like planning for any other leg. You strategy (the plan you make for getting to the windward mark as quickly as possible) should be in place before you round the leeward mark. It doesn’t have to be too complicated, but it should consider a number of factors like wind velocity, wind shifts, current, waves and the location of the next mark (but not the presence or actions of your competitors).
One of the good things about planning for the second beat is that you can draw from a lot of recent history. Since you have been racing for at least the last half hour, think back on patterns you’ve been seeing in wind velocity and directions. What do you do for the next 15 to 20 minutes?
Often you can use information about what happened on the first beat. If the boats that were leading at the windward mark all came from the right side, for example, the you should probably consider that side of the second beat (especially if their gain was due to a geographic wind effect). You shouldn’t just blindly bang the right corner, though, because the wind conditions are always changing - and maybe the left side will be favoured this time.
You can also use your observations from the run or reach that you just sailed. You have to be careful, though, because it’s usually harder to keep track of wind shifts when you’re going downwind. Also, sometimes the side of the course that’s favoured on a run will be unflavoured on the next beat. This could happen for example, when gains are due to wind direction.
After you collect your thoughts about the second windward leg,
piece together a mental game plan. This could be as simple as
|Because the leeward mark is often set to leeward of the starting line, the second beat is usually longer than the first beat. This means that the “corners” of the course are farther apart the second time around, especially in light air( when tacking angles are wider) and for boats that don’t point especially high to begin with. Strategically, this is challenging because the fleet tends to spread out a lot more, and you have a much wider choice of where to go. It generally makes staying ahead more difficult because it’s harder to stay close to the boats behind. On the other hand, it makes catching up potentially easier because it’s not so hard to get “leverage” (separation) on the boats ahead.|
|Follow basic principles.
There are some strategic rules of thumb that seem to work every leg- of the race. These are especially important for the second beat.
Sail the longer tack first - This is always number one on my list because it usually works so well. By sailing on the tack where your bow is pointed closer to the windward mark, you’ll stay away from more corners of the course. More important, you will increase your odds of benefiting from the next windshift, especially when you’re not sure which way it will go.
|Here’s an interesting way to compare the relative importance of tactics and strategy during the course of a race. OK, this is grossly oversimplified. But the point is that, except for the start and mark roundings, you should usually focus more on strategy early in a race and more on tactics later in the race.|
|Sail toward the next shift - If you can figure out where the wind will shift next, just
sail in that direction and you will end up on a higher ladder rung. This works for both shifty and persistent winds.
Consider risk factors.
It’s hard to think about strategy without also considering the level of risks you’re willing to assume during the leg you are planning. For example, if you decide you like the right side of the second beat, does this mean you will go all the way into the right-hand corner, or just slightly to the right side of the rhumbline? Your answer depends on a number of different factors including your current position in the race and the overall series.
Plan for the windward mark.
A big part of any second beat is making a good approach to the second windward mark. You often sail a run after this leg, so here are some things you should do:
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