Another challenge for navigators, Caracci said, involves working closely with the boat’s senior crew members to make the best decisions. “The tactician always pushes, so the navigator needs to manage their aggressive approach,” he said, adding that racing over dense and sometimes unmarked hazards requires accepting risks that could give a boat an advantage.
While the regatta’s shorter races require rapid and highly choreographed maneuvers, the coastal races — for which the regatta’s organizers have more than 50 courses to choose from, depending on the wind’s strength and direction — are the most complex.
“This is definitely one of the events where local knowledge is tremendously important,” said Peter Holmberg, an Olympic silver medalist and the helmsman of Topaz at this regatta. “Although conditions change every day, there are definitely characteristics that are consistent and reward previous experience.
“Since you’re rounding islands and rocks, and not an anchored buoy in open water, one’s local knowledge and level of risk-taking determines how close they can round that mark and shave valuable distance with an inside track,” he said.
The complexities can be further compounded by the winds. In early September, racers can usually expect either 10- to 15-knot winds, or the stiffer northwesterly breezes — called the mistral winds — which typically hit 18 to 25 knots.
Winning, of course, requires actually finishing the regatta without a race-ending mistake.
“In mistral conditions, getting around the track isn’t trivial,” McKee said, pointing to the necessity of proper seamanship and tightly choreographed crew work, especially in Bomb Alley. “You can go for hours and, at the finish, only have 10 seconds separating the first and second boat. It comes down to the precision of the navigator’s routing.”