The Season Begins

By Peter J. Coleman

Prepare to WinNow the season has begun, and it’s time to put the seven tips we discussed last month into practice. Let’s look at a few important ways to implement those in mid-season competition.

Keeping everything simple and straightforward on the racecourse  – and avoiding mistakes! – is fundamental to achieving good results.  © Allen Clark/

The goal is to improve all summer long and if you do, the fun factor will be very high! But, be warned, missteps and thus lack of reward and the lack of the ability to improve can be caused by not following some simple steps.

Let short term goals lead to long term success.

As we discussed last month, clearly defined, written weekly/monthly goals are key. What you set, is what you get. Hopefully you have set those by now but if not, one fun way is to have a team breakfast at a local diner. Team beers are OK too, but do it at a place that is reasonably quiet and everyone can sit at the table…diners typically serve beer too!

Go over the season schedule again, and plan who will be doing what and suggestions other team members have. Regular meetings (weekly, monthly?) allow the team to contribute and fully understand what to expect throughout the season and entering different regattas. As you have probably read or heard how preparing for an America’s Cup campaign or an Olympic campaign, time is not your friend. When FUN is your ultimate goal, it’s just as more important to use time wisely. So, whatever time you have carved out for practice or racing, try to make time your friend, set realistic goals and use time wisely. When you do practice, go full-on, from the moment you leave the dock to cleaning up at the end of the day.

Sailing on Race Day

OK, you have gotten the team involved, you have had a few good practices, and you are well prepared (checklists complete!) for an event. You really want to do well to validate the effort and get off on the path towards improvement. But often, too much focus on “Let’s go win!” will not deliver the results you want. Rather, you really do not want to let dumb mistakes hinder the measurement of where you are and where you need to get to. Thus, you will always be in the ballpark if you follow these three elements. Again, the goal is to eliminate the bad race experience caused by something easily avoidable.

  • Try to be the first boat off the dock. It is shocking how beneficial (and fun, despite the moaning from your perennial latecomers) this is. And don’t forget that tip about warming up with another team
  • On the racecourse itself, keep everything straightforward and simple (KISS). The basics, like keeping clean air, staying in contact with the fleet (no flyers!), and having the boat handling maneuvers well thought out in advance – and not beyond your team’s capabilities – are all critical. For example, calling for a jibe set four boatlengths before the weather mark in 15 knots (a maneuver you may have practiced only once or twice, if at all) would qualify as NOT KISS!!!
  • Keep the three-foot rule: It’s early in the season for everyone! Do not let any boat get within three feet of your boat while racing. Sure, this may not make sense in a Vanguard 15, where you can use a one-foot rule, but three feet definitely makes sense in a J/105! This conservative approach reduces chances of contact or protest, which are simply a distraction to the bigger goal. You want to spend your de-brief time talking about positives, not about the bonehead who ruined that race.

So, you may be thinking that not one of these three rules actually taught you anything about racing technique. We did not discuss how to start in light air vs. heavy air…we didn’t talk about how to play a persistent shift versus an oscillating one, and we did not cover heel angle or steering with crew weight at all! That’s because the goal here is to set you and your team up for learning and getting better, and thus better performance and more fun. Follow these steps, and the ability to get the answers you seek will be there first. You’ll set yourself and your team up for a lifetime of improvement in racing sailboats.