A match race is a race between two competitors (boats), going head-to-head. The term may be best known as a race between two sailing boats racing around a course. The ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final starts with a round-robin (or all-race-all) tournament followed by knock out stages which ultimately end in the final to decide first and second and a petit-final to decide third and fourth. There will often be a fifth to eighth place sail off to decide those positions. A normal match race lasts about 20 minutes.
With each match lasting approximately 20 minutes there are a lot of matches to make up an event. The race committee will organize the matches into flights. A flight is where one pair of boats start racing and, a few minutes later another pair will start their match on the same course area. There will often be four matches in one flight.
As soon as they enter the starting area they will engage in a pre-start battle as each one tries to gain an avantage over the other. They will both be trying to cause the other boat to infringe a rule and so receive a penalty or to simply get the most advantageous position on the starting line for themselves so they are in control of the race.
Match racing is officiated by umpires on the water who follow the boats and make instant on-course decisions about whether a penalty is given. The umpire boat will use yellow and blue flags to indicate which boat has been given a penalty or a green flag if no penalty is given.
When a boat is penalized it must complete a full circle penalty turn. This can be done at any time during the race before the finish line. If one boat has a penalty and the other also gets one before the first has taken theirs then they are cancelled out. If a boat receives three penalties then it is disqualified.
The Match Racing course has a very simple setup in comparison to fleet racing. In match racing you will always have four legs and four only, never less and never more. Two of the legs are upwind, or sailing against the wind, and the other two legs are downwind, or sailing with the wind.
In the first leg the boats are tacking against the wind in order to get to the windward mark the fastest without being penalized while also trying to get the other boats penalized. As their boats and crew get to the windward mark they round it leaving it to starboard, or the right side of the boat. As they go around the mark they cannot touch it, and then they go on to the second leg.
On the second leg the boats are going downwind, so they hoist their downwind sails(spinnaker) and go for what is called a gate in sailing, once again trying to get to the gate the fastest by gibing away from the other boat for clear wind or gibing toward another boat to take the opponents wind without getting penalized.
A gate in is when there are two marks (buoys) and it is the crew’s choice as to which one they will go around once they start the rounding by going between the two marks and finish the rounding with only one mark next to them.
When the boats go through the gate they are then on the third leg of the race. The third leg is basically a repeat of the first leg where they beat upwind going towards the windward mark. Once the boats round the windward mark again they are on the fourth and final leg where they race downwind towards the finish in hope of winning.