About Team Racing


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Team racing is a popular form of yacht racing. Teams consisting of 2, 3 or 4 boats compete together in a team race, with their results being combined – as opposed to fleet racing where boats are scored on an individual basis. The low points scoring system is used: a boat that finishes 1st earns 1 point, a boat that finishes 2nd earns 2 points, and so on – with the winning team decided by adding together the points of all the boats in each team. The team with the fewest points wins, with additional rules for deciding ties in the 2-boat and 4-boat formats.

Team races are now usually sailed over very short (5 – 10 minute) courses in the form of a starboard (right) hand box course (beat, short reach, run, short reach, beat to start) if only two teams are competing, otherwise in the shape of an ‘S’ on its side (beat –mark to starboard, short reach, run, short reach, beat to finish). This format puts a premium on team racing tactics – rather than the outcome being decided by pure boat speed.

History of Team Racing

The idea of Team Racing was first mooted early in 1947, but due to various difficulties, including the non-arrival from Fairey marine of the necessary number (6 boats) of Fireflys. The first event of this kind did not take place until September 1948, when the winners were the Royal St. George Yacht Club (Dun Laoghaire, Ireland), who defeated West Kirby Sailing Club (England) in the final.

Team racing tactics

Team racing is a very tactical and technical branch of sailboat racing, combining the need for adequate boat speed and handling with good teamwork and communication.

Consider the following situation in a 3-boat team race (the most common format). If one boat is in 1st place and his team-mates are in 4th and 6th then the team’s points are 1 + 4 + 6 = 11 points, whereas the opposition has 2 + 3 + 5 = 10 points and so is ahead. For his team to win the race, the boat in 1st place will have to manoeuvre in such a way as to hinder the two opposition boats behind him or, probably better, the 4th boat will have to slow the 5th boat so that his 6th place team-mate moves up to 5th. He can do this by using theRacing Rules of Sailing (RRS), including Appendix D, to his advantage – positioning himself in such a way that the opposition has to sail extra distance to keep clear or sail in reduced wind and so lose ground. If one boat feels that another has breached the Racing Rules of Sailing in any situation she may hail “protest”. If the protested boat does not exonerate herself with a one-turn penalty the protesting boat may hail “umpire”. An on-the-water umpire will then make a decision, almost instantly, and impose a two-turn penalty on any boat judged to have broken a rule.

There are two main ‘moves’ in team racing; the ‘pass back’ and the ‘mark trap.’ The goal of the pass back is to slow an opposing team’s boat in order for the boat that the opposing team was covering to either tack away from the covering boat, or sail ahead faster than the covering boat. A pass back involves three boats sailing upwind. The most windward boat, and the most leeward boat are on the same team. A pass back is initiated when the windward boat sails into a position where it is covering the middle boat’s wind, allowing the most leeward boat to sail faster, or tack away into clear wind without the middle boat being able to tack simultaneously.

The mark trap is more complicated. It involves stopping at a mark in a position where the stopping boat can use the racing rules of sailing to hinder the opposing boats rounding the mark and so allow team-mates to catch up and then sail ahead. Another tactic is gybing onto starboard (right of way) when close to a downwind mark, forcing boats just behind to do the same and sail considerable extra distance, so allowing team-mates to catch up.

Team racing today

Team racing is growing in popularity among sailors who enjoy the fast-paced action and challenge. Team Racing regattas are often held amongst universities and secondary schools that field teams in the Intercollegiate Sailing Association and the Interscholastic Sailing Association. Additionally many yacht clubs compete against each other in team racing regattas. Team racing is particularly strong in the UK,[1] the birthplace of the sport. There is also an annual British Universities Sailing Association[2] Team Racing Championship, contested by 32 teams after several rounds of regional qualifiers. UK schools are also active with annual championships organised via the British Schools Dinghy Racing Association,[3] which caters especially for private independent schools, and the National Schools Sailing Association.[4]

Because team racing must be conducted in equal boats the most popular boats for team racing are one-design dinghies or keelboats. The Optimist420Vanguard 15Firefly orFlying Junior are the dinghies most frequently used for team racing. Also, for keel-boats, the Sonar is becoming popular and is used in the yearly team race format Kirby Cup regatta. In the UK the Firefly, a 12 foot, two-sailed dinghy, designed by Uffa Fox, is the most commonly used boat. The Firefly is ideal for team racing because it lacks high performance features such as spinnaker and trapeze that can hinder team racing tactics, is highly manoeuvrable, and easily handled by women and juniors.

Winning and losing combinations

A well-seasoned team racer will know whether his team is winning or losing at any point in the race. The most common combinations of results are given below. A good crew will be able to tell the helmsman whether the team is winning or losing and advise which position to attack in order to win.

2-boat team racing

Team with the last boat loses.

3-boat team racing

The rule for winning is 10 points or less, which translates to the following detailed rules

  • 1-2-anything
  • 1-3-anything
  • 2-3-4
  • 2-3-5
  • 1-4-5

4-boat team racing

The rule for definitely winning is 17 points or less. In the case of a tie with each team scoring 18 points (e.g., 1,2,7,8 vs 3,4,5,6), the team with first place loses. This reflects the fact that the first place skipper showed poor play by finishing when his team was not winning.