The boats engaged in a pre- start battle that begins four minutes’ prior to the start signal, the objective is to obtain the best starting position. On the stern of one of the boats there is a blue flag, this boat approaches the starting line from the port side (left side). The other boat carries a yellow flag and comes in from the starboard side (right side). When these two opponents meet it is the boat with the yellow flag that has the advantage over it’s opponent the reason being that the yield right rule (car traffic rule) also applies to sailing. All together there are four ground rules that you as a spectator should know to be able to follow the race. Below you will find a simplified explanation of these rules, which are:
- The boat with the wind from the starboard side has the right of way.
- When the two boats have the wind from the same side it is the leeward boat that has the right of way.
- The boat with the right of way is not allowed to prevent the other boat from giving the right of way.
- When it’s time to round a mark, the inside boat has the right to pass with out interference from it’s opponent.
Well let’s get back to the pre-start. During the four intensive minutes prior to the start the two opponents put all of their effort into tactics and effective sailing with the purpose to be the first boat to cross over the start line. It doesn’t matter if the crossing occurs exactly at the same time as the start signal or slightly afterwards, the main objective is to be the first boat to cross the starting line and to get in the lead, enabling them to control the fist round of the race and is therefore extremely important.
Behind the match race boats the umpires follow, this enables the judges to make judging decisions directly from the umpire boats. If the umpires hold up a blue flag it means that the competing boat with the same flag gets a penalty turn, the same course of action applies for the yellow flag and the yellow boat. If the sailors react on anything during the race, they shout loudly and hold up a red and yellow striped flag to get the umpires attention.
If a green and white checked flag is produced from the umpires boat a decision has been made that none of the boats will get a penalty, a red flag on the other hand mean that the penalty has to be taken directly. However the most common scenario when a penalty is received that the penalized boat may choose when during the race they prefer to carry out their penalty. This penalty timing makes it possible for the crew to manoeuvre their boat with skilful tactics in hope that their opponent also gets a penalty and even out the race. All penalty must be carried out before the finish line, in a form of a time demanding 270-degree turn.
A tactical ground rule in match racing is to always try to get in between the opponent and the next mark. To cover the opponent in this manner is the easiest way to gain control, as well as getting the possibilities to influence the race in ones favour. The outcome of many previous races has been the result of one of the competitors failing to cover their opponent closely, and therefore enabling the competitors to find a gust of wind or wind shift, enabling them to take lead.
In a normal race the boats sail two laps around the course,they start with a beat (against the wind) and finish the race with a run (with the wind). It does not matter how fast the boats sail the course, only that the winning boat is the first to cross the finish line. This is what match racing is all about!