Small Boat Scene: Avoid That Tunnel Vision

Dang it! We’ve all been there. You just had to cover that one competitor, no matter which way they went. You just had to follow the local knowledge, high-tailing it to one part of the course. You just had to tack immediately off the start, to set you up for the righthand shift the weather forecast said was coming. You just had to change your spreader length, because you heard the regatta leader talking about it last night at dinner.

Oops. It didn’t work out. 

While the classic version of sailboat racing’s “tunnel vision” is focusing in on one competitor and letting a whole pack sail by, tunnel vision or hyperfocusing on one element can affect several parts of our sailboat racing game.

One of the great parts about sailboat racing is that there are so many variables at play. There are racecourse factors, such as weather and current. There are setup and speed tweaks we can make to our boats. And there are many ways to play the game. 

This complexity can be befuddling. To overcome the complexity, it is easy to oversimplify—just picking an “answer” and going with it. While often keeping it simple is sufficient, to excel, it is important to let yourself think about multiple layers of information and then make decisions. What are some of these information potential pitfalls, and how do you avoid them?

Photo by Ted Morgan

Boat setup. Most one-design boats give sailors the ability to adjust certain elements of the way the boat is set up, to enable a range of sailing weights and styles. How tight are your shrouds? How long are your spreaders? Important questions and they don’t have the same answer for every team. It may well be that the speedy woman you heard talking about her rig settings in that last light-air race had completely the wrong answer for your larger team. Instead of just copying settings, seek out people who will talk with you about why they choose the settings they do, and then figure out (and test) what is right for you. Same thing with sails and boat setup: different teams may want to have the vang led differently or to use a fuller main. Use what’s right for you. 

Sailing conditions. Local knowledge can be a great reference, but it’s not the right answer 100 percent of the time. While the locals may all say, “you’ve got to go left,” it’s important to keep your eyes open. Perhaps something catches your eye, leading you to a big righty shift that your competitors miss out on. Or maybe you sail by a few crab pots and notice that the tide has shifted earlier than anticipated, so actually using the other side of the course downwind is the best way to go. Similarly, weather forecasts are quite good these days but aren’t detailed down to the scale of the minutes on which we make our decisions. Tracking actual observations—informed by weather forecasts and local knowledge—is a better blend of information. 

Tactics/strategy. It is so easy to get sucked in on this one. Maybe you’re having a good race, and you’re actually leading one of the top guys in the fleet out to the left side of the course. Like he seriously needs to wait until you tack before he tacks… you know, ‘cause otherwise you could just tack right on him (not that you would… see “Small Boats” March column, right?). But he’s still going, so you’re still going, and then… a massive rightie with good pressure fills in on the other side of the course. You’re now DFL and second-to-DFL. The times when you want to focus solely on one boat are incredibly few and far between and generally involve being the last race of a regatta when you’re within a few points of only one boat. Otherwise, keep your options open. 

It is difficult to find and keep the right perspective—let yourself focus, but also be open to doing things differently. Keep your eyes and ears open, and welcome new and different information. If you’re more receptive to changing situations than your competitors are, you’re sure to make smarter, faster decisions. 

by Kim Couranz