Beginner's Guide to Coastal Worlds, Tip #3

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Tip #3: Buoy Turns

“USA is in qualifying position for A finals.” Moments later: “Ohhh, looks like USA took that turn too wide--that will cost him a few positions!”

The above is what my wife heard over the loudspeaker’s live commentary at 2017 Coastal Worlds. Needless to say, I haven’t mastered the turns! So I won’t give much advice on buoy turns beyond the following warning:

BUOY TURNS ARE VERY TRICKY!

In the US, we don’t have a big FISA coastal racing scene yet, so I did not have experience in doing competitive buoy turn races prior to my first coastal worlds. I figured if I’m going to race internationally, I had better practice some turns. So I went out for a training row, found some buoys, and practiced by setting up courses around them. I nailed it. I could whip my boat around the turns, accelerate out of them, and be on my way. Easy. Buoy turns?...all set!

Here’s the catch: buoy turns in races are nothing like turning around an empty course! You are maneuvering within a crowd of boats, all aggressively working around the same small area. Boats in front of you have the right of way; overtaking boats must yield. Perhaps a boat in front of you goes for a real sharp, tight turn and slows dramatically while they pivot around the buoy. You need to avoid that boat. Do you follow the same "fast" line but slow down to avoid a collision?  Or do you go around them and maintain boat speed through a wider, "slower" line? Maybe, but don’t go too wide because you will lose ground there too. 

There’s a lot going on through the turns, demanding sharp reflexes and immediate reactions. Boats are converging on the buoy from a diversity of angles, with a collection of varied strategies. You need to be very, very good at taking in a lot of information in one quick glance, process a decision instantaneously, and carry through with it. With respect to buoy turns, coastal racing is a lot like dramatic sailboat racing, with all of its nuances of boat positioning and turn strategies and tactics, but all done while facing backwards! 

This summer I’m going back to the buoys, but this time I’m coaxing a bunch of friends to get their coastal boats, kayaks, canoes, floaties, or whatever and have them litter up the space around the turn and get in my way as much as possible. If you are a North American looking to prep for these race turns, I suggest you do the same. Then you can boast about becoming a backwards-facing, dogfight-mastering race boat pilot! 

In summary, my main buoy turning tip is to not just practice buoy turns, but to practice turns with plenty of other boats in the way--whatever boats you can find!