A lot of what I need is about feelings and about time invested versus expectations. Emotions need to be conquered more often and the fist stage of that process is to understand race course gut feelings. Time is about boat and conditions preparation and training with crew, as per the expectations return on that investment being right sized to the input.
Feel the Fear
For an experienced racer the main fear is actually that you get the start wrong or that other boats cause you dammage or impede you enough to make your blood boil. Further down the list of fearful things are topics which can be eliminated. Firstly, gear failure. This shouldn’t be an issue for a well prepared boat where the skipper has been through all the gear, and sails and everything works. One fear then in this topic is the fear of ripping or flogging sails, and this is just a factor of reading the true wind and not following the gung-ho over canvassed brigade. It is easier to flake out a reef and take up a bigger foresail if the wind dies than vice versa in rising conditions.
Crew should not be a fear factor for you either. If you are worried about their skills or potential to stretch themselves then reflect on perhaps more training sessions or damping expectations for the race ahead. Usually the real tests of the relationship twixt skipper and crew is at the take down and leeward mark rounding. Manage expectations and start a good number of boat lengths out. As soon as you think ‘ early drop to avoid hassle’ bear away and do it! The next most pressurised situation is the previous two manoevres – the bear away hoist and the first gybe. Here it is the same principle, yes there are more places to lose but that the crew get a positive learning experience in ‘slow motion’ through these two points. The spoils of the day were most liklely not going to be a podium placing, rather another solid block laid in the team building foundations.
That is kind of near to what my own fear is – I am afraid of making a fool of myself in a new type of boat, or not having prepared enough, or being distracted and stressed by factors in the sport and around job and family. Perhaps I will have communication problems with the crew and internalise too much.Maybe my crew have had a bad day?
Sail The Course
A very good bit of advice relates to Uffa Fox’s philosophy of ‘ three mistakes offer you a third place, two a second and only one mistake and you earn a first place’. A race is a test of sailing skills around a prescribed course which the RO and committee have decided is suitable and varied enough to offer such a challenge. Then the other boats are there to get in your bloody way!
There are some pursuit races at most clubs, often just one a year, and these are fun to race and you learn quickly about the stregnths and weaknesses of your boat speed and course navigation with the competition at an arms length. I sailed with a well known ‘also ran’ OD boat some time ago who were in the habit of being late for starts. Now the owner-driver hated starts and was most often down in the last two or three off the line when on time. He was nervous about collisions and wanted an easy life, and therefore never really won many races at all. When we were late though, he would often sail the boat up to a mid fleet placing having started perhaps two minutes after the gun! This seeming amazing ability was based on a few simple things. Good boat speed with only slight bad-wind from the fleet ahead, starting at the right end of the line on a beat, and lastly, being able to read the right way to go by seeing the fleet ahead and not being tempted there by, to take too many tacks in trying to gain position or avoid conflicts.
There in lies the lesson. Sail round the course as if there are no other boats there until you reach a rules based situation or a boat sits on your wind. As Nick Stratton, a stalwart of yacht racing on the clyde, said to a pal of mine on getting a good result ” Get off the start line and tack into space on the first shift” . Getting off the start line means being no later than a few seconds onto it and having a lane with free air to track out of, and no larger boats above you to sit on your wind and hold you back in the first two minutes of full boat speed (when HC racing that is) A really big boat nearing you pre -start in a wide HC field can be a god send because it will escape you quickly and tend to push rivals to windward out the way . It can be worth following her transom out if she is really trucking and taking that pain to then have a nice lane, if there is a bias on the line and they start nice and sweetly near the biased end.
Now back to my old ‘dog boat’ OD and the helm’s terrible start behaviour. The start is by my own words and many others the sprint of the race, after which there is usually only a few boat on boat tactics under way. In fact the sprint mentality is a bit wrong. Booking a lane and being confident of your ‘burn time’ before you power up and go is more important than stressing about luffing other boats and wondering about when to power on. ‘Burn Time’ means booking your lane or finding space, and then understanding the distance to the line and how long it will take to sail to it. You then declare the burn time up, usually about 30 seconds out, but it could be a minute with a long, slow beat to the line with tide against you. Your gun is then effect the end of burn time, not the start signal. If you get this wrong and have the odd OCS so be it, you will hone your timing. It necessitates taking runs at the line from different lanes. If you know then you want to start boat end on a bias, and that the fleet is going to bunch then it is a case of using a long burn time in the 5 minute sequence., and getting a lane early. You then need to decide to control the raft around you, edging it up or forward, or if you have space to lee to bear away into which is crucial to not undertake too early or with boats piling in under you. The focus here is on getting up to maximum boat speed from the point burn time is up and to-line time is ticking down. In a start as above, it may be that burn is only 15 seconds and you will not have boat speed until 30 seconds ie well over the line, but you will be in the same muck as everyone on the top quarter of the line, and gain the same benefit being long to windward of less daring boats further along the line.
So that is where I am at, sailing my own race and picking lanes which are safe with the correct burn time, plus a few seconds perhaps The next thing is keeping cool and ensuring we are sailing the shortest course to the next mark (Locally these are round the nav’ marks and rarely true , unbiased starts.