By David Dellenbaugh

© Stephen R Cloutier

If you want to be at your optimum performance when the starting signal goes off, you need to warm up beforehand so you are ready, both physically and mentally. Here are some things you can do to prepare for any race:

Stretch your body – Most people underestimate the physical requirements of sailboat racing. Almost any boat can be tiring, whether you are hiking or trimming in heavy air or crouching to leeward in a drifter. So make sure you stretch all your appropriate muscles before you get started. This will prevent injury and help you function more efficiently.

Drink water – The human body needs a lot of fluids, especially when you are exercising in hot, sunny conditions like you find in many races. So drink a lot of water before you start the race (and keep drinking during it).

Practice boathandling – One good idea for your crew is to practice common maneuvers like tacks and jibes. This will not only get you warmed up, but it will help you remember and fine-tune your boathandling technique.

Sail the leeward leg angles – If you know the angle of the downwind legs early enough, try sailing these before the race. Set your spinnaker and get used to the wind and wave angles. Is it easy to hold your chute? Which jibe are you on? Can you surf on the waves? These things are good to know before the race, plus this practice will help your helmsperson and chute trimmers get in sync.

Hold a crew meeting – This mental warm-up is always a good idea because it helps get every crewmember’s mind focused on the race. Do this on the way out to the course and you can review your pre-start plan as well. Don’t forget to go over the sailing instructions so everyone knows what’s going on.

Get ready mentally – When you stretch your muscles, don’t forget to prepare your mind, too. Some people need quiet time; others visualize success and most benefit from some kind of inspiration. Encourage your crewmembers to do whatever they need to be totally ready and psyched up.

Check for possible breakdowns – This is a good exercise that can help avoid disasters and build confidence. You should actually do this before leaving the dock, but it’s a good idea any time before the start.

Sail around the course area – It’s always good to have a goal during practice and, if you have enough time, one of your pre-start goals might be to sail around the entire course area (and round the marks if they are set). This will allow you to experience the wind and current on both sides of the course, which will be a big help in planning your strategy. By sailing a fair distance upwind and downwind, it will also be a good warm-up.

This article originally appeared in David Dellenbaugh’s Speed & Smarts, The newsletter of how-to tips for racing sailors. If you want to sail faster and smarter, log onto

A resident of Easton, CT, Dellenbaugh was tactician and starting helmsman for America3’s successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992. He’s a Lightning World Champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle National Champion, two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. Match Racing Champion, and a winner of the U.S. Team Racing Championships for the Hinman Trophy.