THE KEY FOCUS
Preparation is often the key to winning yacht races - whether you’re trying to get an inside mark rounding, clear wind at the start of a race, gain height sailing upwind or get better main or headsail trim, these tips and tricks will help to ensure that you are off to a great start.
YACHT HAS BEEN ENTERED:
The first job is to make sure that the yacht has been entered in the yacht race and all of the necessary documentation has been completed with the race committee.
CORRECT RACE FLAG:
Always double check that you have the correct race or divisional flag on board and in good working shape.
Ensure that you have copies onboard of the necessary course sheets and relevant sailing instructions for the race. It pays to read the sailing instructions as early in advance as possible to the race starting in case you require any clarification from crew or the race committee.
WEATHER & TIDE:
Make sure you have the latest weather forecast for your area including the tide information. This can play a big part in your overall game plan.
Having the right crew is key. Make sure your crew list is as good as it can be with as many regular sailors as possible to fill all of the key spots.
Ensure that the crew know in advance, what time to be onboard and any other details they might need to know.
Ensure that all surplus weight is off the boat. A few times a season, EVERYTHING should be taken off the boat to recheck that safety gear, spares and tools are appropriate for the racing you are doing.
If you haven’t done it yourself, it is important that once or twice a season one of the rigging shops check your rig set up.
In particular mast is in the middle of the boat and straight as it can be sideways. Your sailmaker can work with you on fore and aft bend.
Cleaning the bottom of the boat is an important part of yacht racing – whether this is hauling out or having a diver clean it for you it will make a big difference to your performance.
START SET UP:
Always ensure that you leave enough time to get out onto the race course, get sails up, and give the crew time to warm up. With a grand prix event, the aim is to be on the race course ONE HOUR before the start. This could be a little excessive for club racing, but good to keep in mind as a reference.
CHECK START BOAT/TOWER:
It is important to always motor/motor sail past the race committee boat or the start tower to check in and also look for the course board. If it is W/L racing you will find the course axis and distance here.
PREP FOR THE START:
Pull a jib up as soon as you can and have a couple of ‘runs at the line’. Start with where you think your favoured spot is and then check in with other options that aren’t so familiar.
This allows you to:
If you have the technology onboard, you can ‘ping the ends’. Which is where you mark the ends into your starting software and give you an accurate time on distance to the line.
YOUR NEXT MOVE:
At all times, crew must be aware of your ‘next move’ even when it is just cruising around before the start.
‘Hey guys, next move I am thinking is a gybe’.
This just tunes everyone in, and must become second nature and it goes a LONG way to making it enjoyable for everyone else.
THREE MINUTE RULE (not really a rule, but let's call it a rule).
Where you are positioned three minutes before the start will make a huge difference to the structure and planning of a nice start. If you're in a bad spot at three minutes then it will take some 'free-styling' to have a nice start from there.
In the final three minutes:
SPEED IS KING:
The highest priority always has to be sailing the boat as well and as fast as you can at every minute.
THE RIGHT DIRECTION:
After speed, then going in the right direction is obviously the next major consideration. This could have a boat on boat element versus a fastest route element.
When reaching, these are important considerations:
TIME TO NEXT MARK:
This is important to keep in mind, and know where you are on the track as this and wind shifts will play the biggest part on boat on boat placement as well as strategy for the leg.
BOAT ON BOAT:
The easiest way to win a yacht race is by going faster than your competitors. 50% of this is done in boat prep, but the rest is done on the race track and how much concentration and effort is put in. As a tactician, your aim is to punch above 50%, you wont get them all right, but you can get tacks, gybes and boat prep right. Control the controllable.
A TIDY ROUNDING:
The highest priority is a tidy rounding with a slick exit.
Even if it is obvious, walk through the manoeuvre and what the priorities are straight after the mark.
IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES AFTER ROUNDING:
BOAT ON BOAT:
This is when you have to make the call about whether you tack on or around someone which will have a big effect on what the outcome will be.
CHAT TO THE CREW:
Even if it is in the most informal setting, chatting to your crew after the race is important. Establishing a work list is well worth it. You can then also delegate any tasks to the crew. They often love being part of it and shows that you want them next time.