Asymmetric Downwind Tactics
1/ Approaching the windward mark, or along the top reach on a trapezoid, develop a strong idea on what side of the run you want to go. Which side worked upwind ? Has wind gone left or right or held at the top of the beat ? Have you mainly been on starboard tack on the beat (probably means gybe and hoist !) ? Is the port layline of the beat heavy with traffic (Go right on run of course) ? Do wave patterns favour one side of the run over the other ? Most important of all, where is the most pressure on the run ?
2/ Important ; If in doubt going onto the run, simply hoist and carry on sailing away from the mark. Remember, all other things being equal and assuming a leeward mark not a “gate”, this decision will mean you have one gybe on the run, not three ! It also reduces the chances of boat-handling error. As alluded to in 1/, it will also take you away from traffic on the beat. Make no mistake, the gybe-set to the port side is the higher risk option but it can be employed in high-conviction situations (eg noticeable shift to the right late on the previous beat) or, more rarely, as a drastic move to obtain clear wind.
3/ Approaching gybe-time, ensure you are working your way inside and too leeward of nearby boats. This requires bravery and patience as it will feel like you are sailing in the wind shadow of boats behind (although you aren’t really in an asymmetric !) and seems to risk sailing into the lee of boats ahead. However it is central to success, especially in larger fleets. The alternative, ie being slightly to windward of a boat astern, cannot be entertained as we approach gybe time. They will gybe on your wind, 9 times out of 10 ! The added bonus for working away like this, crabbing down to leeward, is that it also works us closer to the leeward mark/layline. Perhaps in the large RS 400 where sailing angles are hotter, one will lose too much speed but the tactical jockeying for lane and position is exactly the same.
4/ Always approach the leeward mark at a wide, fast angle, even if this requires an extra gybe. The common mistake you see all the time is asymmetric helms steering into a “zone of death”, a kind of “no-man’s land” where sailing angle is broader and slow, especially as boats engage with each other in the last 30-100 metres and/or boats try everything to avoid an extra gybe. To avert this disaster, be very, very clear from up to 300 yards from the leeward mark about which side you are going to approach from.
5/ Never forget that wind shifts are MORE important downwind in our boat-types than upwind shifts. This is because the gains/losses are over ten times greater downwind than upwind in asymmetric racing. The problem here is that shifts are harder to spot downwind as we are facing away from the wind in the boat. Here, your best aid is what the crew is feeling in the gennaker and they must commentate as they feel windshifts, even tiny ones, coming through.
6/ Finally, for the drop in a stiff or even medium breeze, the helm must always remember to leave room and time to bear away from a hot reaching angle. Make it easy for the crew, it aint easy up there !