Thursday, April 9, 2009

Get Your Mind Right: North U. Tactics

I decided to write something because James has been complaining non-stop about being the only one to post anything this week... while I'm normally able to ignore his 14-year-old girlish whining (he even stomps his foot and holds his breath every now and then), it's getting pretty tiresome. Plus, he's sort of right -- a rare enough feat that I've decided to reward it with actually doing something.

After being pleasantly surprised by North U. Trim, I started into North U. Tactics with my expectations having been set just a bit higher. I was cautious because cramming a comprehensive review of sailing tactics into about 200 pages wasn't possible, right?

Well, no... not really. Then again, 95% of us don't really need a comprehensive review of sailing tactics. That book would end up being 1,600-pages and anyone who actually took the time to read it would die of old age or boredom.

With that boredom in mind, I was once again impressed with North U.'s approach and layout. Concepts are logically broken down, clearly illustrated and made as simple to understand as possible.

It starts off right at the beginning -- race prep. From there, it rolls into starting strategy and tactics, both of which are nice sections. From everything to the set of the line to the pitfalls of certain maneuvers during a start, a full understanding of what is reviewed here will serve you VERY well at the start. And since the race isn't necessarily won at the start, but it's most certainly lost there, it's certainly worth the read. There is even a section on "Offbeat Starts", for those Wednesday night races where you start with the kite up.

The largest section of the book is the next one, upwind strategy and tactics. The strategy section is a good read; it's a common sense review in some parts with some good info in certain places. There is some nice review of race prep, strategy for all types of wind conditions and even a little trigonometry lesson. While I didn't take a lot of notes in this section, I'm interested to see if I'm more organized next time I step on a boat to call the shots.

The upwind tactics section does some things I really liked. First, it puts numbers to how big missing a shift is -- we all know that missing a shift is pretty awful, but putting actual numbers to it really brings it home. From there it goes into breaking down the three stages of an upwind beat and how to play those three segments. Then you get into the fun part: tactical weapons. Not laser guided missiles, per se, but all of the maneuvers you can toss at an opponent to put them in a worse position or keep them behind you. There's an upwind rules section that's basic and gets into rules 18 & 19 and need to be updated for the new rules.

Chapter 9 is a reaching strategy chapter... but since everyone has done away with the reach leg, I'm skipping over it too. Sorry to all of the high school racers who still use a triangle/trapezoid.

Only one part of the race left: the downwind leg. I've had a lot of very smart people tell me that this is where huge gains can be made because it's deceivingly hard to sail a really good downwind leg. Again, we get into strategy before getting into tactics... and again, the use of illustrations really helps to send the concepts home.

The book does get into downwind rules, mark roundings and tactics -- these get a little dicey with some of the rule changes, but used in tandem with these changes, you'll be fine.

The last couple of chapters are fast reads -- a review of basic rules, a quick weather review, tips for different fleets (mixed fleet and big fleet), distance racing and the Wally technique. The Wally, which I'd never heard of before, basically is a way of achieving the best VMG along the average wind direction instead of the true. I can't even come close to doing the concept justice, so read up on it if you're really interested.

Overall, North U. Tactics is a solid, easy to read resource. I'm not going to get behind their claim of being "The world's most comprehensive resource on modern sailboat racing tactics", but it's good. I don't think there is anyone reading this (I'm just assuming that T-Hutch, RC, etc. aren't reading this...) won't learn something and it's always good to have a refresher. North U's layout and images make it easy to crank through a chapter or two a night, which is the main reason I think it's useful. It's worth a read...

The CD by the same name is a good companion and useful on its own; it goes over almost all of the same material. It's a little older in terms picture quality, but for those of you that learn by hearing and seeing in action instead of reading, it's a nice alternative. Both, in tandem, would be good, but I think you can get away with just one or the other.

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