Rhodes 19 Frostbiting Guest Blog by Alex Wisch

Hi Fellow Frost-biters,


    Saturday, November 16, offered a challenging array of weather conditions, current, and course setup.  I would like to share with you my experience and insight contributing to my team’s success.  On the 16th, I, Alex Wisch, was co-skippering with Niko Kotsatos.  Both of us are well-accomplished sailors with over 20 years of racing experience and this weekend was our first time sailing together.  During the first weekend we each had personal endeavors and the second weekend I sailed with Amanda Farnham.  I was personally a little nervous about the dynamics in the boat this weekend since both of us were strong-headed skippers.  We had decided that I would start the first race, since I had won the previous weekend.

    Prior to leaving the dock I talked with Niko about the previous weekend regarding what helped and hindered my sailing, along with distinct variations in the racecourse.  The main concepts I shared were the importance of constant communication among team members, staying between the mark and the fleet, noticing which side of the course was favored downwind and upwind regarding wind and current, and recapping what went right and wrong after each race.  

    Once we left the dock our priority was to practice our boat handling and boat speed.  On the pyramid to sailing success, boat handling is first, boat speed is second and tactics / strategy is 3rd.  After fine-tuning our tacks and jibes, we sailed the course and took notice of the wind direction and gusts, along with the current.  The left side of the course appeared favored due to being in less head current.  With less current, you will be able to cover more ground in less time due to a current lift.   In addition, the pin was greatly favored.

    When the warning gun went off we went into pre-racing mode.  First, we timed how long it would take us to sail the entire distance of the line.  This would allow us to position our boat accordingly before the gun.  Next we took a line bearing, and third I had Niko stand on the bow of the boat to assess the breeze upwind.   We did notice some breeze coming down the left side of the course.  Our game plan was to start 1/3 or less towards the pin with a clear lane below us to foot off just before go and then head up and get bow out at the start.   Having a clear lane below you at the start is crucial in a Rhodes 19 because these boats do not like pinching.  Also, we had to account for line sage due to the current.  

    When the gun went off our main focus was on our boat speed.  I played the main, along with Niko hiking as hard as he could with both feet under the cabin hatch to accelerate.  As I focused on speed, Niko was constantly updating me on what other boats were doing, along with changes in conditions among the racecourse.   We worked our way left to less current and tacked to cover the fleet.  We did not go completely left because we wanted to sail the first race conservatively.   As we progressed upwind, we sailed a little into each header to make sure it would hold once we tacked.  We kept our boat between the fleet and the mark to reduce any margin for loss.  Our goal was to be top 4 at the windward mark.  

   Prior to rounded the windward mark our game plan was to sail to the right side of the racecourse and take advantage of the current.  As we sailed downwind, Niko constantly updated me on wind puffs from behind, allowing our boat to stay in the breeze.  We rounded the port mark and played the left side of the course, while covering the fleet to secure our first place finish.  

    As the day went on we noticed some general trends in the racecourse.   There is about a 20-foot margin that divides the main channel from shallower waters.  Once you pass this margin, you would be in significantly less current.  In addition, after the start, it was worth sailing on starboard tack into the header for a short period of time, to take advantage of the consistent wind shift.  We would come out on port tack significantly lifted with less current.  Also, staying close enough to the pin, while keeping a lane to foot would secure a successful start.  Keep in mind that with a very pin favored start, you needed to be aware of port tacking boats off the.  Port tack starts are very risky maneuvers and take note that the winning boats were the most consistent. It not about winning every start, which would be nice, but it is about consistently being one of the top 4 boats to the windward mark and taking out your competitors one by one.  

     It was crucial to always be reassessing the racecourse. For the last race of the day the current had greatly subsided and boat became favored.  We capitalized off this change, won the boat, and finished the last race in second place.  

  I hope that you found our experience and tips helpful towards your frostbite season.  As the season move forward, keep these two tips in mind to progress as a sailor:  make notes of what works and doesn’t work, and keep re-evaluating yourself before, after and during each leg of the race course.

Best of Luck,
Alex Wisch