CURRENT-CORRECTED  LAYLINES AND "BEST TACK" ANALYSIS

EFFECTS OF DIFFERENTIAL CURRENTS ON LAYLINES AND BOAT MOTION

When currents vary point to point, there are significant effects on laylines and courses. Current not only pushes the boat offline, it also changes the "true wind" felt by the boat. This is distinct from the "apparent" wind, which differs from "true" wind as a result of the boat's motion relative to the water. Current causes the boat to move through the surrounding air, adding a component to the true wind, even at zero boatspeed. This changes the "true wind angle," or TWA, experienced by the boat, and TWA is what determines boatspeed. This is reflected in the boat's polars, which predict boatspeed as a function of TWA.

In tacking (or jibing), there is an optimal TWA which maximizes velocity-made-good (VMG) towards the mark. If TWA is affected point to point by current while tacking, the boat has to change direction to the extent necessary to maintain the optimal TWA. In zero current, the layline is a straight line along which the boat can sail to reach the mark. With varying current, laylines are curved to reflect the actual path the boat sails at optimal TWA.

In the graphic below, the boat is tacking upwind towards mark 46. The straight blue lines ending at 46 show the laylines as they would be in zero current. The magenta dots show the laylines as they really are, corrected for differential current. Current is shown at various points in the blue boxes, in knots, with a streamer to show direction. To the left (west) of 46, current flows at about 2.5 knots in a NE direction. Along the upper layline, the current flow is more northerly. Wind is assumed at 12 knots, and with current running to 2.6, there is a significant shift in TWA. Combined with the direct effect of current on the boat, there is a dramatic shift in the laylines.

 
Likewise, the boat while sailing to the layline follows a curved path, partly to compensate for current and partly to keep TWA optimal. The dashed-dot lines emanating from the boat show the track the boat will follow on (optimal) port and starboard tacks. The dashed line from the boat shows where the boat will intercept the layline if it maintains its present heading; our Advantage software computes the intercept and the time to reach it (the boat will not sail the straight dashed course, but will arrive at the intercept at the time computed).

"BEST TACK" COMPUTATIONS IN THE PRESENCE OF DIFFERENTIAL CURRENTS

Other tactical programs include"what-if" computations, that calculate time to the port and starboard laylines with assumed constant current. In this case, laylines and boat motion are straight lines, and any combination of tacks takes the same total time to reach the mark. The computations merely tell you how long it will take to reach a layline; there is no tactical advantage of one tack over another.

With differential (changing) currents, there can be a big difference for different routes. The simplest comparison is a two-tack solution, with either a port or starboard tack to the layline, and from there along the layline to the mark. When there is no current, or constant current, these calculations are just a matter of geometry. For this reason,  ALL other programs use an average, constant current to simplify their computations. In doing so, they completely miss the effect of differential currents. In contrast, Advantage cuts no corners, and accurately computes the time and intercept in the general case, when both layline and boat motion are curved, and current varies continuously over the course.

In the example below, with the boat approximately 1 nm from the laylines, there is more than a 2 minute difference between the favored starboard tack (to the lower layline) and the port tack (to upper layline). This is a huge difference in racing (this example used 1D35 polars, a fast boat). The red line connects boat position to the computed intercept point while on the port tack (the dashed-dot line shows the actual path). Likewise the green line connects to the intercept while on the starboard tack. The solution box gives the comparison times, the optimal TWA and the heading to achieve this TWA at present boat location (heading will need to change to preserve TWA until the boat reaches the layline).

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These computations are difficult, but are necessary to obtain dependable results. ONLY Advantage has made the effort to do them correctly, and ONLY Advantage provides the graphic representation of actual laylines and boat motion shown above. These calculations are updated every few seconds and adjusted for windshifts as they occur. The "time-to-layline" computation gives you the precise moment when you should tack.

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