Mcnay Racing

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Melges 20 Miami Winter Series Event #2

We just wrapped up the second event of the Melges 20 Miami Winter Circuit. I was calling tactics and trimming main on Odin with Camille at the helm and fellow Yale sailor Thomas Barrows was trimming jib and spinnaker. Thomas and I have team raced with each other a lot, but we have never raced on the same boat before. It reminded me how much there is to learn from other talented sailors and the best way to learn from each other is to race together.

One of the things I appreciate about the M20 fleet is everyone’s willingness to share knowledge.  Certainly in the Olympic 470 fleet, you do not find this level of openness. On Saturday after racing, there was a fleet debrief. Andy Burdick moderated a panel of helms and crew from several top teams on the day. While there weren’t many surprises, it was nice to hear from different voices to confirm what we were thinking.

Photo Credit Joy Dunigan at

Photo Credit Joy Dunigan at

Here were some thoughts from the panelists:

-As soon as the mainsheet is eased the primary shrouds need to be slid aft (tensioned) to keep headstay tension, so jib stays flat enough and rig remains stable.

-Plays the lowers based on vang tension. As the wind increases, vang harder and slide the lower shroud cars aft (tension). Also, crank on the diamonds. The overall effect is a flat mainsail up high with some depth down low and twist is controlled by vang. This is a good heavy air shape.

-Downwind in lazy plane or full plane conditions, steer to angle of heel. Heel should always be between 0 and 5 degrees. If at 0 degrees heel, head up, if at 5 degrees heel head down. In lulls, the crew moves forward and inboard over the motor, which will keep a little heel and allow boat to keep speed on lower angle. It prevents helmsman from diving up unnecessarily. In Marginal planning at 8.5 kts hull speed, heading up is good when you can hit 9.5-10kts of speed, but 9kts and high angle will not be VMG.

-When making your final approach to the line and watching your Velocitek, there should always be more meters to the starting line than seconds to the start. No need to worry about a boat with their jib up, they will rip by with a lot of momentum and not be an issue later.

Results are Here.

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Key West Race Week 2013: Downwind Tactics in the Melges 24

Until this year, I was a Key West Race Week virgin, so it was great to be on board with the veteran Melges 24 helm Argyle Campbell and crew Charlie Enright, Charlie Smythe, and Dave Hughes. I enjoyed fitting into the fabric of the team and finding places where I could help. Upwind, my job was mostly as a big picture eye. Then when we turned downwind, I was counting down puffs, calling their duration for mode choice, and looking at the big picture of where the next pressure was coming from, ahead or behind.


Photo credit Leighton O’Connor

Upwind tactics are fairly similar between classes of keelboat, but off the breeze you see can big differences in tactics based on boat performance. The Melges 24 is very exciting because it has ranges of planning and sails wide angles, so it covers a lot of lateral distance and gives big chances for gains or loses.

At the end of the week, I looked back on my notes at the plays we made downwind. While each leg was a little different, there were several ways to sail the leg that resulted in consistent gains or minimal loses.

Heading into the windward mark it is very important to determine what kind of run it will be: pressure, angle, traffic, or no obvious move. Before getting to the windward mark, you need to decide if you want to gybe set, straight set with early gybe, or straight set with long starboard. In the first two cases, you will want to round tight on the offset so no one can block you from gybing. In the last case, you may remain in the high lane for early gains, then soak later in the run when it is closer to gybe time.

1)   The highest percentage play is a straight set. Sail 70% on starboard. Gybe before the pack and, then make the gate choice when upwind of both gates. When making the gate choice look at these factors in roughly this order: 2nd upwind strategy, last pressure downwind, upwind gate, traffic, and minimal maneuvers.

2)   “Jump gybe”: straight set, but you think the right hand pressure will be slightly better, so you want to beat the pack to a gybe to have freedom of mode on port and let the puffs carry you over the other boats. In this play, you are closely watching the boats in front and you will gybe as they do.

3)   Only gybe set if it is obviously a gainer. The gybe set is risky for two reasons. First, you know will lose on the set because this move is slow and you will be under upwind traffic. Second, you will be going the opposite way as most of the pack, so you could lose big if gybe setting was the wrong play.

4)   In big breeze, plan for minimum boat handling, clear lanes, and no sharp turns at the gate. E.g. If you like the left, then you straight set, sail 80%, gybe, then try call a right hand turn layline from a short distance away.

Hope this helps you think about tactics next time you go skiff or Melges class sailing. Full results available here.


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Regatta Win in the 470 at Miami OCR

The Miami Olympic Classes Regatta has been a regular event on my schedule for years. Graham Biehl and I have sailed 470’s in this event eight years in a row and had a great time together. This year, Dave Hughes and I teamed up. We put in some preparation with coach Morgan Reeser. While I feel experienced in the 470 class – sailing in two Olympic games – I am always surprised at how much I don’t know. Sailing with Dave and Morgan helped open me to some areas I had not explored recently.

The event turned out to be mostly medium wind, with one heavy air day and one light wind day. The fleet was smaller than it has been in years, but the men sailed combined with the women and were scored together, so we had close races in all conditions.

The first half of the event, we were neck-on-neck for the lead. After day one, we were two points ahead of the top Austrian team (ISAF World ranking #2). Then after day two we were tied. The tie continued after day 3. On the fourth day, we sailed in light and shifty winds. We missed early shifts on the first beat, but pulled together some decisions over the race and finished with a 1, 2 on the day. We gained 10 points on the Austrians that day. In such a small fleet, points are hard to come by. We held onto our lead through the medal and ended with a regatta win!

ISAF SAILING WORLD CUP, MiamiWe would like to thank our friends and family for their support leading up to and during this event. Sperry Topsider helped make this possible for us in a number of ways, including with their very comfortable, grippy, and supple Sea Sock booty. Also, thanks to the whole US Sailing Team Sperry Topsider.