The 2016 edition of the British-American Cup will be held in October at Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, Oyster Bay, New York
The BA Cup represents a pinnacle in international team racing in keelboats. First sailed in International 6 Metres and contested effectively as a fleet racing contest between the United States and Great Britain, it is now raced at the keenest level as a four-on-four team race by the top team racers in the two countries. Several British clubs have from time-to-time been involved in the British end of the contest including the Royal Victoria YC, the Royal Northern (now Royal Northern & Clyde) YC, the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Thames YC while throughout its history the Seawanhaka Corinthian YC of Oyster Bay, NY has been the American custodian of the contest.
It is the two Clubs who have been continuously associated with the contest since it began who take it forward to the Fifth Series, with a new trophy presented by the Royal Thames YC.
We all know that watching yacht racing lies, in terms of pumping adrenalin, somewhere between watching paint dry and watching grass grow - but team racing, four-on-four team racing especially, is different. The scoring is as simple as the sailing and tactics are complex. In the race, each yacht scores points equivalent to its finishing position: 1 for first, 2 for second and so on. The total points scored by the boats of each team are compared and the team with the fewer number of points wins that race. That team scores one Series Point - and the other team gets naught, nothing, zero, zilch.
In the BA Cup, up to 13 such races are scheduled and the winner of the match will be the team that is first to score 7 Series Points.
Now it stands to reason and is easy to see that 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th (10 points) will beat 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th (26 points) - but if the fifth placed boat can get in front of the fourth placed boat and slow it down to let 6th, 7th and 8th through the deficit reduces - although not (yet) by enough to win the match (14 plays 22). In fact, with 36 points available, any combination that scores fewer than 18 points will win, while a draw (1st, 2nd, 7th, 8th versus 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, for example) will see the tie broken in favour of the team that did NOT have a boat in first place. Thus knowing the winning combinations must become instinctive to the successful team racer.
So - how do they turn the theory into practice?
The shape of the course helps: team races such as this are sailed around a square: a beat, a reach, a run, another reach and the final beat. Getting past on a beat or a run is something with which most sail racers are familiar, and of course team racers use all the usual tricks and then some. The Squeeze is a good one.
On the beat boat Blue 1 is to windward of Yellow 1 which in turn is to windward of Blue 2. So Blue 1 slows and comes down on to the weather bow of Yellow 1, headsail slacked and a-flutter to create maximum disturbed air. Meanwhile Blue 2 squeezes as hard as she can under Yellow 1's lee bow to restrict her ability to bear away and maintain speed. Yellow 1 slows and drops back, Blue 2 forges ahead, Yellow 1 - now getting bad air both from windward and leeward - drops back further as Blue 1 keeps up the pressure and before she knows what has hit her Yellow 1 is squirted out the back like a slippery orange pip shot betwixt finger and thumb.
And of course, Yellow 2, 3 and 4 are sailing idly by while all this happens...
But it is at the marks at the end of the reaches that perhaps the most esoteric game is played - the
Yellow 1 is ahead with Blue 1, 2 and 3 following and Yellow 2, 3 and 4 leading Blue 4. That's a losing combination (19 points versus 17 points) for Yellow. So Yellow 1 gets into the 2-length zone (in Team as in Match Racing the Zone is still two lengths, not three as is now the norm for fleet racing) and slows. The Blues close up and must go round the outside of Yellow 1. Yellow 1 sails wide to push them away from the mark (without leaving the Zone herself) to let at least one - but hopefully all three - of her team mates inside. One Yellow boat gaining just one place will tie the two teams - but if two Yellow boats can displace even one Blue boat, the lead switches. It's called Converting.
And we are still only at Mark 3 of the 4-mark, two lap course.
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