12 May Get ready for racing!
Here in the northeast US, sailing season is (finally!) here. And that means spring sail racing starts too. Are you ready for racing season? Whether you’re a regular Wednesday night series racer or competing in weekend regattas, good preparation is key to your success. As the legendary Paul Elvstrom said, “The top sailors have all but won any regatta before it starts because they’ve prepared themselves and their boats so well.” Here’s our checklist to get you started.
Prep your boat
Give your boat a good once-over before the season starts. Is the bottom cleaned, sanded and painted? Are your sails in good shape? Do you need new sheets or halyards? A dry boat is a fast boat, so investigate any leaks and repair them. Make sure your winches and cleats are in good working order. Check and tune your rig for optimum performance.
Read the NOR and SI
Take the time to read the Notice of Race (NOR) and Sailing Instructions (SI) for the race you’re participating in. These documents contain critical information about the course, schedule, race timing, start sequence, and any special rules for the race. Make sure everyone on your crew has read them too. And speaking of crew…
Set up crew communications
Crew communication – do it early and often! Provide clear guidance on arrival and start times as well as crew responsibilities. If you’re participating in a series, set up a shared team calendar so you know who’s available (or not) every week. Have a list of substitutes you can call on when your regular crew is out. And don’t forget to assign the all important roles of snacktician and post-race libation coordinator – rotate these roles weekly so everyone gets involved.
Gather your gear
For every race, there are a few things we always have in our sailing bag.
- PFD – your most important piece of safety equipment
- Sailing or rigging knife
- Leatherman or other multi-tool
- Spinnaker tape
- Spare winch handle
- Sailing gloves
- Hat or visor – with a hat keeper clip!
- Polarized sunglasses – and a lanyard
- Rain gear or foulies
- Handheld VHF
- Protest flag
Brush up on the rules
The sport of sail racing is constantly evolving, and so are the rules. In fact, the Racing Rules of Sailing are updated every four years. New rules took effect on January 1, 2017. Pay special attention to the rules in Part 2, which governs what happens when boats meet. We attended one of US Sailing’s rules and tactics seminars with Dave Perry – but if you missed that series, you can still read Dave’s excellent Understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing. Our sailing team does occasional “rules nights” in the off season where we use the interactive quizzes to test our rules knowledge. Geeky sailor fun! And once you understand the rules off the water, you can apply them to your advantage on the water.
Know your signals and flags
Know which sounds and flags your Race Committee uses to signal the fleet. For sail racing, some of the most important flags to know are the prep signal, class flag, start signal, recall (individual and general), and the signals for changing or shortening the race course. Flags for any restrictions (for example, no spinnakers) are spelled out in the Sailing Instructions – another good reason to read them. Of course every sailor knows the flag you’re sure to see at some point during the season: the dreaded answering pennant (AP), which indicates race postponement. And remember, flags always rule over sounds!
Practice, and practice some more
Nothing gets your team better prepared than spending time together on the water. Practice starts and mark roundings so everyone knows their role in boat handling and tactics for each maneuver. Decide how you will communicate on the boat, and who will make the calls for sail trim, hoists, douses and weight management. Experiment with different tactics to improve your speed both upwind and downwind.
Now, go racing!
The great – and challenging – thing about sail racing is that it’s different every time. From race to race the course changes, the wind changes and the sea state changes. Conditions can also change during a race – multiple times, even. You can’t control those things, but you can prepare yourself, your boat and your crew to handle them. Now get out there and sail fast!
For racing this season, we’re wearing the new Chesapeake Shorts– they’re stretchy, durable, and have a convenient D-ring to attach a sailing knife or gloves. On top, the Marblehead Pullover is a great spring piece – long sleeved, lightweight and layerable. And we keep the Vineyard Vest on hand if there’s a chill in the air – it’s water and wind-proof but still gives a full range of motion for hoisting halyards and trimming sails.
Check out our series: Get ready for sailing season!
Get ready for sailing season! Part 2: Sailing bag essentials