My last little excursion into where I am at with sailing can be summed up pretty much as understanding your fears, appreciating where you are on the learning curve and then sailing races as if you are only competing against yourself, with other boats just being obstacles if you like.
Where am I personally in reality, actually if I was to sail tommorrow?
Mental preparation is key to over coming my nerves on the start especially, and that means indeed race my own race, use burn time plus a couple of seconds and some caution on boat speed and ‘lane’ management to get out on time or luff and let the first rack go anyway. The race is going to be then a test of my skills with the hardest part being first. It is therefore also a learning experience from 5 minutes out.
Boat and Rig Prep
Reeling back the tape a little here- boat prep is king in fact for the conditions you see in front of you, and this is often something which either I don’t have time to do, or to be honest with myself, nerves and wondering about the burn time calculation, mean that I just forget about getting anywhere near perfect. Crewing Melges I am often on the shrouds with spanners and helping with the adjustable forestay (not fitted to all boats, some have a clip on and play forestay, others have a bottle screw under the deck with a quick release handle which will remove digits if not take off gingerly!) Rig settings are something to get right on the dock or mooring. Some boats, like the Beneteau 25 Platu, can have a kind of mid to soft rig which can then be made up on the running rigging if the wind blows more. Next is to maybe set out with a reef or a smaller headsail than your compatriots are doing. I can judge wind to within a few knots, good Beaufort training plus just years of looking at dials versus signs and feel of the wind. Are we actually at a reef ? Are we light crewed? DO we want to have a very controlled race where we are powered up in the squalls and a little dull in the lulls?
I then have the two big issues to look at in terms of boat handling. Firstly getting up to ‘foil’ speed and then pointing. Secondly, coming out of tacks.
The first is not just learning a new boat, it is also learning the style and protocol for the conditions. So for example in our local classic 12.5m sq, (mini 12 meter trainers at 21 feet long) These boats seem very much to suit a fairly freed off mainsail nowhere near the centre line, in order to keep them powering to windward. Certainly we had much better boat speed and good pointing once up to speed in force 4 last week with adults in the sail school. The kicker usually bends the wooden boom alarmingly so it isnt a boat to blade out, it is more to twist off and back and even flogg when the wind is really up pergaps. Or maybe to just feather with a centred boom in more wind ? You see, there are two or three little experiments to be done off the start line with mainsail setting versus pointing and boat speed.
Tacks are another thing to just learn for the boat. I have practiced and practiced in Lasers, the Tasar, the RS400 and the Impala and they do get better with reptition and trial and error. I do feel that it is a leap of faith once we are head to wind to how we will carry way and come out at the right angle and have not perfected ‘sighting’ as a means to do good tacks yet. I do like to use the top tell tale on the mainsail, which is a very good proxy if you are running a genoa and the crew are a little slow, or if it is light winds and the top of the main is in much more wind than the luff of the jib. I slip the main sail out a little once at head to wind, cleat it and then fall off until the top tell tale breaks round the back, I then choose to either steer up to get a flying tell tale if the boat feels lively, or to let out some sheet and allow the boat to power on that generally quite low angle.
Getting into the ‘groove’ after this point means pointing at max VMG for the conditions. This means that the keel must be flying and on weather helm tuned hulls, the rudder should start lifting. I can then learn to work up on the wind and take a final trim. Grooving necessitates an understanding of the boat in the given conditions of the day. More chop and slop, a lower angle with a deeper sail setting for example.
My other manoevres just need more finesse and coordination with the crew. My weakest has been the leeward rounding in years gone by, but once again this is about preparation and knowing your route, and patience if you are in a rack of boats rounding. Wide in means just that, being careful to call other port rounders and watch the hell out for starboard bargers even if they are right, they are annoying!
This is an area I am pretty good at, and like training a dog it is actually about 50-50 changing your own attittudes and behaviour as much as training up a crew. Firstly manage your own expectations, and perhaps yes, do a late hoist yourself once you round letting the crew steer. Go do foredeck with the new guy there, A good hoist or gybe or take down even if it is terribly slow, is better than an hour glass or going fishing with all the crew on the leeward rail as you harden up at the mark.
I like also the idea of taking crew out on some little tours billed as booze cruises, where we consider maybe passage racing and take the spinnaker up for a laugh. Lull them into a false sense of security! And then also letting each and every crew helm round a triangle on white sails early season, and under kite once the team is gelled more. This will inform them of how the boat feels it wants to be manoerved and what expectations the helm actually may have.
Going at the pace of the slowest but also whipping them a bit and being prepared to step up, or get a teacher on board especially for foredeck, or relegate someone to rail meat. Personally I was very lucky to be second foredeck and mast man to Steve Taylor when we sailed on Defiance II because I had a good teacher, very experienced offshore too, who would talk me through everything at the front of the 37 footer, nicely out of earshot to the board of directors at the stern.
This is the last little thing I need to address as do many sailors indeed, Little horns that grow out of your forehead as someone once said to me when I was trying to sail around a few boats at a sailing school 20 years ago!
Ego runs to emotions in the peri conscious which lead to mistakes. Eagerness, frustration, anger and tripping out on a good tactic. All lead to mistakes. The stiff upper lip is needed more on the race course than in the echelons of city investment firms.
I think this is just a small personal battle which can be cured by just getting round the course as the first goal, and then being able to sit infront of dog boats while clearning my air from those better sailors ahead of me. You see , ego management, know your place.
But also manage other egos and that means calling people, holding your course to near collision as you dare and protesting the chancers and big egos who intimidate their lessers on the course, A couple of non discardable DSQs in a series and they will keep well clear of you, Ideally team up with some similar placing boats to have witnesses and double protest mark infringements especially,