By Clemmie Everett
An important part of success on the racecourse is to be properly prepared with the right gear. Once you have the right gear, of course, you need to know how to properly care for equipment and to be disciplined in doing such.
Keeping your boat and gear in top condition will pay dividends on the racecourse. ©Spectrum Photo/Fran Grenon
Sun and salt are the worst things for most sailing equipment, which, frustratingly, are also elements constantly present on most racecourses. At the end of each sailing day, try to hose off your boat with fresh water, paying close attention to lines and metal fittings. If you’re sailing a Laser, Sunfish or other boat with a small cockpit, you can partially fill that cockpit with fresh water to give each line a good dousing. Store lines in a bag or inside when not using them, since UV rays will degrade lines over time. When storing for a long time, be sure the lines are dry to prevent mold and mildew.
When storing rudders and daggerboards, try to store them vertically to prevent warping. Also, inspect your boat every so often for small dings and nicks. Scuffs that do not go deeply can be sanded with wet sandpaper – sand parallel to the waterline. If a scratch is very deep or goes through the gelcoat, your repair will be more involved and will require a trip to the marine hardware store. Nonetheless, don’t ignore these repairs, since water can creep into the fiberglass and add weight to the hull.
Sails are probably your most important equipment, and also the most delicate. Spray them off at the end of the day to get rid of salt. But don’t put them away wet, especially for long periods of time, to avoid mildew and mold. That said, sun and excessive flogging of sails are also enemies, so don’t leave them out drying for days, and don’t try to dry them by hoisting them back up the mast or letting them flutter in the breeze. Creases and folds are the enemy of smooth sail shape, so try to store sails by carefully rolling them. Be cognizant of small wrinkles – pull those out!
Sometimes, however, the only way to store your sails is to fold or flake them. In those cases, aim for horizontal creases across the sail, since vertical folds will interfere with airflow, and avoid refolding on existing creases. Spinnakers are the most delicate of sails. As you hose them off and dry them, be alert for small tears – it’s much better to put a small piece of sail tape on (use scissors to cut into a circle or oval as needed so you avoid corners that will start to pull off) than to find yourself with a growing hole in the middle of your next race! Once your spinnaker is dry, carefully flake it (usually a job for at least two people) and gently roll it up. And finally, avoid putting items on top of your neatly rolled sails!
If you keep your boat on a dolly or trailer, don’t neglect that important piece of equipment! Trailers should be carefully hosed off after immersion in salt water, with particular attention paid to lights and wiring. Keeping the tires properly inflated and other parts in working order will prevent a disaster when it’s least convenient. Before traveling, carefully inspect your trailer, and if you’re putting a dolly on top of a car, remove the wheels so they don’t fly off on the highway!
Caring for your equipment also includes the gear that you wear! At the beginning of the season, be sure to write your name clearly on your items with a Sharpie. Adding your club and/or email address can also be helpful if you misplace gear at an away regatta. As with boat parts, foul weather gear should be washed carefully with fresh water and allowed to dry before storing. If you’re storing it for a long period of time, it’s best to hang in a cool, dry, dark place. When you’re putting your drysuit away for the summer months, take the opportunity to inspect the seals, and consider wiping them with a seal saver to moisturize the rubber and prolong the life of the seals. I’ve had the experience of tearing the seals the first time I pulled it out of storage for the frostbite season. It’s not fun – trust me, you don’t need to try it!
Routine inspection of your equipment and regular maintenance will keep it in good shape for a long time. When you put equipment away for the season, take some extra time to thoroughly inspect everything and make a list of repairs and upgrades that you need to attend to before next season.
Clemmie Everett is the Head Varsity Sailing Coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY. She and teammates Alix Hahn, Carolyn Russell and Erin Sprague won the 2016 International Women’s Keelboat Championship, which was hosted by American Yacht Club in Rye.