dohertpk

Tactics: longest tack or lifted tack?

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Having missed a few weekends on the water for various reasons, I've been reading Mark Rushall's excellent book. I have a question: how do I decide between sailing the longest tack first or sailing on the lifted tack (assuming the longest tack isn't the lifted tack)? Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

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Dr Walker addresses this across 5000 pages of books. I have condensed it down.

"Always go left, except for 51% of the time you probably should have gone right"

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1 hour ago, dohertpk said:

Having missed a few weekends on the water for various reasons, I've been reading Mark Rushall's excellent book. I have a question: how do I decide between sailing the longest tack first or sailing on the lifted tack (assuming the longest tack isn't the lifted tack)? Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

The long tack is the closest tack to the mark and therefore the shortest distance to the mark. It's a good general rule to sail the shortest distance to the mark.  

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In general, I sail the long, tack first, and tack if/when it gets a header. Starting with the long tack you have IMO better chances to make good on the shift. If it lifts, you gain. If it gets worse, tack... you sailed it while it was "good". Keeping the short tack for the end also allows that short tack to be made factoring in windward mark time tactics.

Caveat -- I'm good at sailing, not particularly good at racing 'round the cans'. 

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“Sail the long tack first” is a rule of thumb, meaning it should be used in the absence of other compelling moves, as a way to keep from getting onto the lay line too early. If you’re headed, in an oscillating breeze, you should usually tack (unless near the mark). That’s a specific event that trumps a rule of thumb. 

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5 hours ago, dohertpk said:

Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

yes.

Consider the two extremes.

1/ shifts are very long periods: Sail that lifted tack, but are you going to get to the (new lifted) layline before you knock?

2/ shifts are very short periods: You can take the unfavoured tack first, but you'll get more opportunities to sail that tack in the subsequent shift cycles.

The more the tacks are biased relative to the mark, the more likely you are to sail the long tack first.

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IMHO, it depends a lot on what the wind is doing, if the wind is shifting to one side, and you expect it to keep shifting (typical im the sunny afternoons), you should go to that side (headed)  especially compared to the other boats, so when you tack you'll be lifted (more and more) and when they tack they'll be headed...

If the wind is shifting from one side to the other, just play the lifts.

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1 hour ago, xonk1 said:

Follow the leaders!

Huh?!? Better to start first and extend your lead. :)

If there is no other good information, then the long tack first. True for cruising offshore, also, because as said above it keeps your options open until you do have better information.

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17 hours ago, dohertpk said:

Having missed a few weekends on the water for various reasons, I've been reading Mark Rushall's excellent book. I have a question: how do I decide between sailing the longest tack first or sailing on the lifted tack (assuming the longest tack isn't the lifted tack)? Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

In general...

1) Skew in the course doesn't matter, as long as you need to sail on both tacks to get to the mark. if there is skew, you will sail on one tack longer than the other, but boats that start the beat on opposite tacks will sail the same distance to get to the mark.

2) If there are no wind shifts on the beat, it doesn't matter which tack you start on, even if the wind  is not parallel to the course axis - boats will sail the same distance no matter which tack they start on, nor how many times they tack

3) if the wind is oscillating as you sail up the beat, you will sail the shortest distance by sailing on the lifted tack, and tacking when a shift makes the other tack the lifted tack.

4) if the wind is shifting persistently to one side of the course, and as long as, even with the persistent shift, you will have to sail on both tacks to get to the weather mark, and as long as the persistent shift continues for the entire beat.., a boat that sails first on the tack that is getting headed, and  then  tacks to the tack that is getting lifted, will sail the shortest distance. Ideally, this boat tacks on to the tack that is getting lifted, before that tack lays the mark.., but they have timed it so that by sailing close hauled the entire time, they get lifted enough to just fetch the mark on the tack that is getting lifted.

this analysis considers only the shifting wind - not currents, not tactics, not balancing risk...

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If you are in clear air  / in front long tack first.

If you have a fleet of boats to get past, you choose the tack to get the best air..

If close to shore, with an offshore wind you may need to choose to go on what seems a disadvantagous tack to start with, knowing the bending wind off the land will soon (you hope) give you a much better advantage later..

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21 hours ago, dohertpk said:

Having missed a few weekends on the water for various reasons, I've been reading Mark Rushall's excellent book. I have a question: how do I decide between sailing the longest tack first or sailing on the lifted tack (assuming the longest tack isn't the lifted tack)? Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

Check out which tack I am on and then go the other way.

Seems to work every time.

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On 2/5/2019 at 11:12 AM, dohertpk said:

Having missed a few weekends on the water for various reasons, I've been reading Mark Rushall's excellent book. I have a question: how do I decide between sailing the longest tack first or sailing on the lifted tack (assuming the longest tack isn't the lifted tack)? Is it a case of deciding how badly the course is skewed and how much the wind is shifting, balancing the risks and rewards accordingly?

i've thought a lot about this and I think you should consider getting an RS Aero

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The one problem with a beat that is biased to one tack is that if you consistently play the shifts you will probably always overstand the top mark as at some stage you will have to tack off a lift into a header on your final layline. I try to position myself so I stand to gain the most and lose the least relative to the rest of the fleet no matter what happens, this does however require that you have the same or similar boatspeed to the rest if the sharp end of the fleet.

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8 hours ago, tillerman said:

Check out which tack I am on and then go the other way.

Seems to work every time.


The other rule of thumb that works for me is to look which way all the hotshots are going and then go the opposite way.

Let's face it. If you follow the fast boats you are going to be behind them at the windward mark 100% of the time.

And if you go the opposite way to them, then you will be even further behind them about 98% of the time. But 2% of the time there will be some crazy shift that none of the fast dudes knew was coming and you will round the first mark in the lead. Of course before the end of the race you will capsize or your mast will break and you still won't win the race but you will feel good for a couple of minutes.

I agree with dgmckim. You should get an RS Aero. 

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1 minute ago, dohertpk said:

...I'd miss the 27 square metres of sail area on my Musto...and the trapeze. I do hate hiking...

Oh god. We aren't going to to start comparing the sizes of our thingies, are we? I though this was a serious thread.

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14 hours ago, dohertpk said:

It was until someone suggested hiking! Otherwise, thanks all for the replies - they're very helpful.

That's it in a nutshell..... everything from "what kind of boat you should have" to discussing personal endowments. The original question is pretty much the reason why people race sailboats.

FB- Doug

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There may be a good reason that a windward mark is off to one side. The wind may be bent up there so that the leeward mark is straight down wind from there. 

In that case to take the longer tack first makes that later short tack really headed. 

Go with the shifts 

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don't forget about factoring in current, sea state, bottom contours, rotational speed of the earth relative the geopolitical plane of mars, what you had for breakfast, and, most importantly, what beer you had the night before. what the hell were we talking about? 

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6 hours ago, sailwriter said:

There may be a good reason that a windward mark is off to one side. The wind may be bent up there so that the leeward mark is straight down wind from there. 

In that case to take the longer tack first makes that later short tack really headed. 

Go with the shifts 

I am not sure I get your point.

if at the windward mark the wind is straight, I'll always take the long tack first at the start, then as soon as get to where the wind direction changes, I'll get the header and tack on it.

 

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9 hours ago, sailwriter said:

There may be a good reason that a windward mark is off to one side. The wind may be bent up there so that the leeward mark is straight down wind from there. 

In that case to take the longer tack first makes that later short tack really headed. 

Go with the shifts 

 

2 hours ago, 17mika said:

I am not sure I get your point.

if at the windward mark the wind is straight, I'll always take the long tack first at the start, then as soon as get to where the wind direction changes, I'll get the header and tack on it.

 

Wind Bend - if there is a bend in the wind.., the streamlines (lines everywhere parallel to the wind direction)  will be curved, or bent. you might find  this situation where a point of land sticks out towards the course.

basically, in general, in the absence of other factors.., and where the stream lines are steady (they don't vary w time).., the shortest distance will be sailed by sailing to the convex side of the curved streamlines, rather than towards the the concave side.

this holds upwind and downwind - upwind, you will get headed and tack.., downwind.., you will get lifted and gybe

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I think it was in one of Frank Bethwaite's books, probably the last one where it was a compilation of observations by 'hero' people.

One of the comments was that you sail the tack where you can easily see the mark over your leading shoulder.  If you have to crane your neck then you need to tack.

KO

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@us7070 does a pretty spot on analysis. If nothing changes, then there is no theoretical reason to sail the long tack first. But I would disagree with point 3. I'll try and explain why...

The OP talks about shifts, so I'm going to assume there are no obvious gain features caused by land effects or currents.

Below is a bit number heavy, in practice I don't do these calculation precisely, but estimate them in my head. 

Imagine a windward mark is central in an oscillating breeze. At the start of the beat when the breeze goes left of average you want to be on port and when it went right you'd want to be on starboard, to give you the shortest sailed distance to the mark. In a perfect world these oscillations would correlate with the length of the beat and you'd arrive at the windward mark sailing the last starboard lift.  

But, oscillations very rarely link up to the beat length and if you sailed the last available port lift (from mean) you'd sail way past the starboard layline. We've all been there, you just need that one last header on port so you can tack on to a nice starboard layline and cross the fleet to lead at the windward, but that shift doesn't come and you are forced to tack out of phase and come in to the windward mark behind the pack on a starboard header, despite nailing the shifts for pretty much the whole beat!

To avoid the above you just need to adjust the 'acceptable angle' to be proportional to the time you expect to spend on each tack. Imagine you're on port, you have 1 minute of port sailing to do and 4 minutes of starboard. You should no longer be asking 'is this port angle better than average' but as you are only spending 20% of your time on port, you should ask 'is this in the best 20% of port angles?' The closer you get to a layline, the better the lift has to be for you to keep sailing that way. Until it gets to the point where no matter how good the lift is, you must tack back. 

Anyway, that brings us back to skewed courses. A skewed beat is just like a normal beat where you've sailed out to one side. So, I would say, sail the favoured tack, but adjust what you consider favoured or 'good numbers' to be proportional to the amount of distance you have left to sail on each tack rather than what is a header or lift from mean. This tactic will find you the shortest distance sailed to the mark. 

Example

10 minute beat, 7 minute on starboard, 3 minutes on port. Mean wind direction 300, shifts swinging 10 degrees either side of that mean. I'd be looking for numbers 296 or lower to be on port and numbers higher for starboard. 

But if there really are no shifts then sailing the long tack first makes calling the layline easier at the top and you could make a few boat lengths there! 

 

Edited by Mozzy Sails
spelling and clarity
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2 hours ago, Mozzy Sails said:

But, oscillations very rarely link up to the beat length

I agree - the real life situation is always more complicated than any of the situations i addressed in my two posts above. 

However,  always find it useful to think, at least initially, about most problems in pretty simple terms.., and then consider the complications.

So, the question of which way to go on a beat or a run is not only fairly complicated, but also subject to many factors which aren't known before you start the beat. Even the best pro's get it wrong pretty regularly.., i guess that one of the things that makes them good is that they can still salvage the leg and end up doing well.

 

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It's never simple and that's what makes it fun. 

But, I felt the need to correcting point three, in what was otherwise a spot on post of yours, as it's not actually true that if you sail the lifted tack that you will sail the shortest distance on an offset course. If the beat is offset, or you have already sailed out to one side, then the shortest course is to only sail shortest tack when it is very lifted and often sail the long tack when slightly headed. 

Most decent top half of the fleet sailors can tack on shifts up a beat, and most decent top half of the fleet sailors recognise some of the practical advantages of sailing the long tack first. But, if you want to be a top sailor and be able to salvage some of those bad positions, then what I'm describing above helps one find those extra gains.   

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The rule of thumb applies to cases where you don't have more information, and you're not top-skilled. Gives you an initial strategy, and from there you can gather more info observationally, and decide what to do next. 

Almost every other answer here adds up to: well, if you know X, then you do Y. Agreed, once you know more, you no longer need the rule of thumb.

Overall, I think this validates the rule of thumb :-)

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But, we know the wind is shifting, because the OP asks whether he should sail the long tack or the lifted tack. You can't have a lifted tack without shifts, and you can't know you're lifted unless you know what a header is.  

Granted, some people have tried to add in extra factors which can't be known from the OP and aren't really part of his question. But for the most part people have either answered that you always sail the longest tack, or mostly that you should sail the lifted tack.

I'm offering a third option, which is still based on what the OP asked. That the offset of the mark means you shouldn't always sail the lifted tack and should instead weigh whether the lift is proportional to the offset. 

But, if the OP had asked "I don't know anything about a beat other than the mark is offset, should I sail the longest tack?" then the answer would be to follow the rule of thumb. 

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Its common sense. For arguments sake, the starboard tack is the long tack. If you immediately tack onto port at the starting line you have only a short distance to observe the race course for favored side, etc. You also have less time for the rest of that leg to spend on that tack. Its generally a good idea to watch the first cross. It tells you which side is favored. You also have more opportunities over the distance up to the weather mark to tack from the long to the short based on headers. If you start off and sail half of the short tack then your next tack to the short tack could be the layline. You want to stay away from the laylines as long as possible. Keeping your options open is the key to a good upwind leg.

Quote

 

 

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If you start a race without knowing what the headings should be on each tack and therefore which tack to be on after the start you are already at a disadvantage to those that do. Get dialed in before the start, work out your plan for the beat based on big picture stuff and look to leverage the shifts.

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On 2/8/2019 at 10:32 AM, Mozzy Sails said:

@us7070 does a pretty spot on analysis. If nothing changes, then there is no theoretical reason to sail the long tack first. But I would disagree with point 3. I'll try and explain why...

The OP talks about shifts, so I'm going to assume there are no obvious gain features caused by land effects or currents.

Below is a bit number heavy, in practice I don't do these calculation precisely, but estimate them in my head. 

Imagine a windward mark is central in an oscillating breeze. At the start of the beat when the breeze goes left of average you want to be on port and when it went right you'd want to be on starboard, to give you the shortest sailed distance to the mark. In a perfect world these oscillations would correlate with the length of the beat and you'd arrive at the windward mark sailing the last starboard lift.  

But, oscillations very rarely link up to the beat length and if you sailed the last available port lift (from mean) you'd sail way past the starboard layline. We've all been there, you just need that one last header on port so you can tack on to a nice starboard layline and cross the fleet to lead at the windward, but that shift doesn't come and you are forced to tack out of phase and come in to the windward mark behind the pack on a starboard header, despite nailing the shifts for pretty much the whole beat!

To avoid the above you just need to adjust the 'acceptable angle' to be proportional to the time you expect to spend on each tack. Imagine you're on port, you have 1 minute of port sailing to do and 4 minutes of starboard. You should no longer be asking 'is this port angle better than average' but as you are only spending 20% of your time on port, you should ask 'is this in the best 20% of port angles?' The closer you get to a layline, the better the lift has to be for you to keep sailing that way. Until it gets to the point where no matter how good the lift is, you must tack back. 

Anyway, that brings us back to skewed courses. A skewed beat is just like a normal beat where you've sailed out to one side. So, I would say, sail the favoured tack, but adjust what you consider favoured or 'good numbers' to be proportional to the amount of distance you have left to sail on each tack rather than what is a header or lift from mean. This tactic will find you the shortest distance sailed to the mark. 

Example

10 minute beat, 7 minute on starboard, 3 minutes on port. Mean wind direction 300, shifts swinging 10 degrees either side of that mean. I'd be looking for numbers 296 or lower to be on port and numbers higher for starboard. 

But if there really are no shifts then sailing the long tack first makes calling the layline easier at the top and you could make a few boat lengths there! 

 

This is really helpful - thanks Mozzy. I just picked up a TackTick and hope to fit it to the boat this weekend. Hopefully, this will all start to make more sense with a bit of practice.

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On 2/8/2019 at 9:32 PM, Mozzy Sails said:

To avoid the above you just need to adjust the 'acceptable angle' to be proportional to the time you expect to spend on each tack. Imagine you're on port, you have 1 minute of port sailing to do and 4 minutes of starboard. You should no longer be asking 'is this port angle better than average' but as you are only spending 20% of your time on port, you should ask 'is this in the best 20% of port angles?' The closer you get to a layline, the better the lift has to be for you to keep sailing that way. Until it gets to the point where no matter how good the lift is, you must tack back.

 

This is a good way to describe it - it also make it fairly obvious that 'if you're not sure' then picking the long tack first will be more likely to be correct on lifts, too.

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On 2/5/2019 at 8:50 AM, mikeholt said:

It doesn't matter what is the short or long tack, you want to be on the lifted tack, sailing to the next header.

From someone who knows. 

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12 hours ago, Connor.kainalu said:

The long tack, more often than not, is the lifted tack. So I usually sail until I get a header and tack

That's the point though, this is simply is not true. 

Sailing the long tack is a decent rule of thumb for a few reasons, but what my post was saying is it needs balancing against which is lifted tack. There is zero correlation between lifted tack and long tack on any given beat. 

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52 minutes ago, Mozzy Sails said:

There is zero correlation between lifted tack and long tack on any given beat.

Assume the RC set the course square in the first place...

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1 hour ago, martin.langhoff said:

Assume the RC set the course square in the first place...

...and you are still pretty far down the beat...

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I find a course that is appreciably offset will have one long tack regardless of which phase the shift is; hence no correlation between long tack and lifted tack. Or, as soon as you start sailing up a beat, the long tack will be the one that take you back to the middle... and have no correlation with the lifted tack. 

I couldn't tell a 10 degree shift just by eyeballing which tack is longer on an otherwise square course... that's why I have a compass. 

Sail the long tack is a decent rule of thumb, but not because 'the long tack is more often than not the lifted tack'. It's a good rule of thumb because in the absence of knowing the shifts or course bias it will at least open up your options later in the beat and make calling the lay line easier and more precise.  

For me, if I know what are my compass headings are, then I find I'm best sailing to them. And if when I know that much, I find I do better altering what I consider a favoured 'number' for a each tack to be proportional to the time I expect to spend on it. 

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On February 5, 2019 at 6:56 PM, xonk1 said:

Follow the leaders!

...and learn how to be fast! Until you are tactic-savvy enough to figure things out without consulting others, this is sound advice. Almost always, the top guys are going the same direction. If you stay with them in as clear air as possible, you get to concentrate on boat speed and handling. You can observe how they handle their boats, learn from them and work your ass off to keep up. You can sail a perfect beat tactically, but if you are shitty at boat handling or your speed is sub-par you don't stand a chance. 

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I agree that If you follow the leaders you won't catch them BUT you will beat MANY others.

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Plus, if you work hard, you will eventually be in the mix. And all of a sudden you make one better jibe or one better mark rounding and you are in the hunt! You might get lucky now and then sailing on the other side of the course you but you will learn very slowly. 

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