The First Beat - "The Race Game Changer"
After the Start and once establish and settled into the first beat, do not be afraid to take a momentary loss of place in order to get where you want to go. Too often, the feeling of being pinned down by other boats can force you to tack over into a hopeless position on the wrong side of the course.
It is also easy to make the same wrong move when someone tacks on you, what many sailors think is that you should tack immediately without looking around and understanding where they are on the first beat. Firstly do take a good look around and see what's going on in the race, then decide whether to tack immediately or to continue sailing further on the present tack before tacking. Or simply tack to clear your air and then tack back again, because it is the correct tack to stay on (i.e. to stay out of the tide). If you don't take the time to think over these decisions before you tack, it will be harder to make a new decision while on the new tack, you always have a new viewing angle of the race from the other tack. The distance you may lose by the dirty air of another boat is small compared to the danger of going the wrong way faster!
There is no reason to ever sail away from the mark unless the wind and/or the tide makes it advantageous to do so. Always on the Merricks Race Courses, the marks are almost always visible, so there is no excuse for not knowing where the mark is. If you are unsure of which way to go, look for the mark and then sail for it at the very least, you will always be decreasing your distance to the mark. One easy way to determine whether you are on the tack that brings you closest to the mark is to look forward from the windward side of your boat and see if the mark lies roughly between your bow and your windward shroud or quarter. If the mark is in this area, you are sailing on the closest tack to the mark, keep checking the mark's relation to your boat and tack if you see the mark to weather of your windward shroud or quarter, (between you and the shroud).
The last part of the first beat is a very critical early part of the race, for this is when the fleet starts to converge into the weather mark, which I call the "pinch point". Many sailors start to relax and anticipate the next downwind leg, but this is the time when a few metres can really mean everything and a good positioning at the top mark is essential after the first beat. The successful skipper really puts on the heat at this point and you must keep looking at the mark and your possition, always tacking toward it to keep in the race. Don't fall into the trap by say to yourself, "Well, just a little bit further, I can hang in". Remeber if you do decide to sail all the way to the lay-line, any shift in the breeze could cause you to lose distance on the mark and be further behind.
Often, it is a good idea to make your final approach to the mark on port tack. This way, you can avoid the crowd of boats on the starboard layline and squeeze in, right at the mark, but this is always a courageous move! But if you do decide to do this, always approach the mark on a course at least three boat lengths to leeward of the "port tack" layline, because boats on the "starboard-tack" layline usually overstand a bit to windward of the mark, then bear off as they get closer to the mark. You might decide to tack to leeward of the starboard-tack boats before they bear off, but consider their size and speed, because of our mixed fleets, as you will not have enough room to get around the mark (crunch!). If you have decided to approach on starboard tack and you are on the layline, sail the boat a bit full and fast, this allows you to have some extra speed and gives you the ability to head up and go over a boat that tries to tack underneath you.
Remember at Merricks we always sail in a tidal flow ("the magic carpet"), which can work with or against you! Make sure you consider and add this influence of directional flow of the tide to your tatics during the first beat.
Remember all over the world, tides always run harder in deeper water and less on the edges (against the shore). And remember also sometimes the tide will change direction earlier against the shore, compaired to the deeper water.