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Tactical Technology - Tools in the toolbox
(December 4, 2006) You can say wind is wind, and water is water, but the difference in solving the myriad of tactical details in dinghies and in grand prix boats is vast. With the advent of electronics, these two worlds could not be further apart. When considering this, we thought of Terry Hutchinson, currently the tactician for Emirates Team New Zealand. It wasn’t that long ago when Terry had twice earned himself College Sailor of the Year honors (’89, ’90), dominating the dinghy racing with little more than his wits and his hiking boots. Fast forward now to the America’s Cup, an unmatched part of the sport when it comes to the information available to a tactician. Scuttlebutt asked Terry about the differences between us (with minimal electronics) and the A-Cupper.
Determining the favored end of the start line:
US - Run the line, get the compass bearing, and add 90 degrees. Then go head to wind to get the true wind heading, and compare the two. Without a compass, go head to wind, where the bow will be pointing closer to the favored end.
ACUP - In the Cup boat we use GPS pings on each end of the starting line, which are backed up by the hand-bearing compass, then compared to the true wind heading. The final check is during the start, when we’re sitting head to wind in the dial-up, and we seek out a visual to confirm the favored end…just like when I sailed in college.
Determining the favored side of the course:
US - Stand up in the boat and look for the side of the course with stronger wind, and then factor in any other variables that have been personally observed (land effects, current, etc).
ACUP - Within a Cup program, we have a weather team as well as weather buoys scattered across the racecourse, all giving us wind speed and direction at 6 meters height. On the boat there are computers that gather the information prior to racing, which then is analyzed and deciphered by the on-board weather strategist. This person feeds me/tactician the information to help identify the anticipated first shift, phasing of the shift, and best pressure. It is somewhat complex, and yet we still use a fair amount of looking around. Whenever in doubt, we go with what we see on the boat and from the man up the rig.
Determining the layline to the mark:
US - Determining the tacking angle is based on personal experience. On a dinghy, you’re looking over your shoulder and going with your best guess. On larger boats, you might have tacking lines and a hand-bearing compass for support.
ACUP - The onboard computer gives us time and distance to the layline from the starting line. Once in the open course we use the hand bearing compass and tacking lines on the side deck to make the final call on when to tackthe layline. The unique feature with a Cup boat is that the layline can change 7-10 degrees with a 3-5 knot increase of pressure. So, as much as anything, we have to anticipate the pressure and shifts, and trust our intuition when nailing the layline.
Determining whether we can cross an upwind starboard tack boat when on port:
US - Look across the starboard tack boat’s bow, and if there is a land backdrop, the port tacker can cross when its gaining trees on land. Without a land backdrop, you have to base it on your experience in analyzing the approaching angles and distance of the boats.
ACUP - Same….except there is forty feet of boat behind the wheels. The sequence will first be to size-up the crossing from the tactician’s position just behind the wheels. If that part of the boat is crossing, then I will slowly slide aft until I’m 100% confident in the cross.
Determining the fastest way to get a drink in a bar:
US - A position nearby the cash register is advantageous, as the bartender frequently has to go to it. If the wait is going to be long, find a spot near the most attractive, most interesting, etc. person available.
ACUP - When we wear the ETNZL schwag; there is no problem getting a drink; the bartenders love us. Plus, we have a beer sponsor, so the beverages are readily available. Of course, these are tactical moves only made at the end of the regatta.