Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: New Orleans
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As a kid, we just called this "footing", as opposed to "pointing" or "pinching". I think bearing gain is basically "tactical footing", where you crack off sheets slightly (and open up the leech curve of your sails so the windflow exits more quickly) so as to increase forward speed, even if you're not pointing as high as the boats near you.
When might you want to do this? If you're in an oscillating breeze, say you're on port tack and know there's a heading shift soon ahead, you might want to get to it faster, preferably faster than your competitors, so you'd foot more make speed or "bearing gain" on the boats nearby, so you get to the new shift (and tack onto a new lift) ahead of the other guys. In getting there, you don't care so much if you point well, because the advantage when you hit the next shift will go to the boat that's farthest to the right side of the beat. If you have to bear off and foot fast to be the first boat on the right side, then do it. You won't care about the guys on your wether quarter, and you'll try to foot or "reach" over the guys to leeward of you. You went "low and fast" to get to the windshift first, the guys who went "higher and slower" got it later and were on the wrong side of the new shift, on the outside of the circle as it were.
Of course, if you guessed wrong and the new shift is a port tack lift, you're toast.
And if you're in a continuing or progressive shift, and getting lifted while most of your competition is to leeward, you'd want to point then, as gaining distance to windward will be better, even if a bit slower than footing.
Beating is always a compromise between pinching and footing, and where and what you expect the next shift to be, and where you want your competition to be in relation to you when it happens, often determines which you'll do.
That's assuming you know what's coming. Often we just get lucky, and rationalize later that we were smart.
Hope I understood the question.