Not Very Smooth Racing Bottom
George Ė The detrimental effect of a bottom that is poorly prepared for racing isn''t overrated. It really is very detrimental. The question is, "How much do you want to win, and can you be satisfied racing without winning?"
You compare the adverse effect of a foul bottom with the adverse effect of missing a windshift or puff, and then you contend that a tactical error is more harmful than a foul bottom. There are flaws in that reasoning.
First, at your present skill level (regardless of whether you are highly skilled or less skilled), there is very little that you can do, in the short term, to stop making those tactical errors. You canít just choose to stop making mistakes. Over the long term, you can acquire more knowledge and skill and reduce those errors, but you canít do it now. A foul bottom, however, can be corrected immediately. If your opponentís boat is capable of achieving its maximum potential speed, and your boat is not, and if you canít stop making mistakes, how do you plan to beat him?
If you are presently much more skilled than your opponents, you are less likely to make tactical errors than your opponents, and you can beat your less-skilled opponents even though your boatís bottom and keel are not race-prepped. Dennis Conner has been credited with being able to use a slower boat to beat a faster boat. That can only be done when there is a considerable differential between the skill levels of the skippers and crews of the two boats, and with a little good luck, as well. It takes a lot of skill to overcome the hard reality that a faster boat will always beat a slower boat, unless the skipper and crew of the faster boat prevent it from doing so through human errors.
If your boat has less raw speed than your opponent, you cannot usually win by sailing in the same conditions as your opponent. If you sail in the same winds and currents as your faster opponent, he will beat you because of his superior speed. That means you are forced to split from your opponent, and go off hunting stronger winds and puffs, or a favorable slant on the wind. If your opponent is smart, heíll cover you wherever you go. If he doesnít cover you, itís still very difficult and very risky to go hunting wind. After all, you are trying to find enough wind to overcome the disadvantage of having less raw speed. If it was easy to do, everyone would be doing it.
As Jeff H. points out, a foul bottom not only reduces your maximum speed potential, it hurts more every time you move your rudder.
I donít have any quantitative data, but I raced my boat in a national regatta in 1983 after meticulously preparing the bottom and fairing the keel, and it was clearly the fastest boat on the water. (After developing a big lead in the first four races, we finished second in that regatta because of an equipment failure two legs from the finish line in the last race.) Superior speed allowed her to get better starts, to draw ahead of the other boats and into clear air on the windward leg, to outpoint them, to round marks faster, to tack more efficiently and to accelerate back up to speed more quickly, and it enabled her to maintain better speed and to coast farther when sailing off the wind or in light air. In short, it helps you all the way around the course every time you move the rudder, and it helps when you donít move the rudder. When you make a tactical error, raw boat speed even helps you recover from the error. I raced her in the national regatta three times since then, and, in each instance, can see a clear relationship between the results and the adequacy of my work in prepping the underwater surfaces.
All that having been said, whether you expend that much effort to prep your bottom is your choice. As I get older, arthritis prevents me from prepping the boat as I used to, but it is still very satisfying to race, in club races, in the middle of the pack, mixing it up with the other sailors, yelling rules at them and occasionally getting a little lucky and out-foxing them, beating them to the finish line. In some ways, itís even better than winning regularly. You donít have to do all that work if you are enjoying racing without winning all the time. Itís no sin, you know.