With over 1,750 boats contesting the 48th edition of the Barcolana Race in the Gulf of Trieste, mass mark roundings were inevitable. Hannah Mills, 470 Olympic Gold medallist, offers tips and advice on how to round safely.
The Barcolana Race, which features a mass of different yachts all racing on the same course, looks amazing, but there seems to be a certain amount of carnage round this particular mark.
Obviously lots of yachts have arrived at the same time and, in the light winds, the boats from behind are catching up. There are all sorts of incidents happening or about to happen, including boats being pushed out at the mark, and one about to get T-boned.
It is difficult to tell how the yacht at right angles to all the others (caption 3 – see image below) got into such a dangerous position.
He may be trying to get the inside slot at the mark by aggressively luffing the other boats, or he has completely lost control for some reason. It is also possible that the boat behind has collided with his stern preventing him from taking avoiding action.
He does appear to have the right of way over the boat he is about to hit, however, if they are within three boat lengths of the mark, the ‘T-boner’ is required to leave mark room for his opponent.
It’s tight, but I think they are probably both in the mark-rounding zone, so unless he can pull off some kind of magical manoeuvre the T-boning boat looks destined for penalty turns.
Those on the outside of the bundle at the mark are being forced to sail further than those nearer the mark, which is obviously going to slow them down.
There are a couple going really wide round the outside, trying to keep their wind and stay out of trouble.
But to me it looks like that manoeuvre might cost them simply because there will be less wind out there due to the wind shadows from everyone upwind of them.
How to get out of that
The boat on the wrong side of the mark (1) is going to have to tack and round again when he has a gap.
It looks as though he just wasn’t given room and got pushed out. In that case, he would have grounds to protest, but his best course of action is to avoid hitting the mark, then sail round it legally and protest afterwards.
On the plus side, if he can tack, and bear away without hitting anybody, then he is actually in quite good shape. He is within three boat lengths of the mark so everyone else coming in will have to give him room to round.
Then after rounding, he will be positioned inside the fleet, which should help to offset some of the losses incurred from the extra manoeuvring he’s doing now.
Going the long route round (2) is an option only if there is enough wind. If it is really light, then it is a risky manoeuvre, especially in an adverse tide.
I think some of the boats in this picture have gone too far outside. For me and Saskia [Clark] in a 470 it would have to be blowing at least ten knots before we’d consider that an advantageous option.
In the T-bone situation (3), the skipper on the receiving end needs to do all he can to protect his boat and crew. Winning is important but in situations like this, safety measures are top priority, so make sure all the crew have their legs inside the boat and off the rails.
How to avoid the situation in the first place
Timing your arrival at the mark and picking a gap is crucial for getting round a busy course quickly, so it is important to remain focused at all times on what might occur three or four steps ahead.
Going full speed into the mark means you are probably going to hit someone ahead of you and cause them damage.
If you want to be on the inside, sometimes you might have to slow down a bit to let the bunch ahead of you get round. This may get you enough space to round cleanly on the inside without getting mixed up with any other boats.
So timing and picking your gap is really, really crucial. On a busy course, If you find a gap, you could get inside another 10-15 boats without breaking any rules, so slowing down is definitely a good option in this sort of situation.
It is also important to communicate clearly with your crew to let them know what you’re doing, and what you are thinking of doing, so they can prepare themselves and the boat.
Just remember that although everyone is there to race and to win, crew safety is the most important thing. Sometimes taking the longer route is the better option.
Assuming he was avoiding a collision, the boat that is the wrong side of the mark (1) did the safest thing by missing the mark, then rounding again when he had a gap.
Hannah Mills (28) won an Olympic Gold medal in Rio last summer in the 470 class with teammate Saskia Clark. The talented duo also won a Silver medal at London 2012, became the first British women ever to win the 470 world championship title and scooped the Rolex World Sailors of the Year in 2016. Mills is the only British sailor to have finished first girl at the Optimist world championship (in 2003), after becoming the first girl to win the British national title a year earlier.