"Two seconds!" That was what came out of the race director's mouth after he stood up on his chair to announce that night's finishes in the Charleston Ocean Racing Association's Wednesday evening summer series. There was the usual din in the crowded yacht club bar with everyone swapping war stories from the race, but "two seconds" continued to ring in my earsthat was the corrected-time margin by which our boat had missed winning the race that night.
Anyone who has even a casual acquaintance with the sport can tell you where you might have lost two seconds on the racecourse. An overstood mark, a flawed rounding, an under-trimmed mainsailall of these common instances can account for that amount of time lost, or usually much more. On this particular night we had sailed a five-mile, four-leg course with two fetch legs and two moderately tight
spinnaker reaches in a slight ebb tide. The bad news is that this kind of course configuration and length don't present many opportunities to make gains except for whatever boat-speed differentials you might have going for you. The good news is that those courses also present few opportunities for mistakes. That said, mistakes on a course like this cost you double when it comes to your finish time.
Maximizing performance for those who race under a PHRF format essentially boils down to saving time on the racecourse wherever possible. We're not talking about minutes here, but seconds, and saving that time starts with minimizing the possibility for mistakes. On this particular night, we started out in a cocky frame of mind. With three bullets and a fifth in the series under our belt, a certain undeserved invincibility had settled into the collective attitude on board. We didn't bother to get a wind-shot before the start, we neglected to go upwind early on and see what the shifts were doing, and we didn't even know the compass course to the second mark. We were essentially on cruise control, gabbing about everyone's day-to-day life and whatever was going on at Survivor Island.
Some people will tell you that this kind of relaxed attitude is what beer-can racing is all about, and I won't dispute thatI like to unwind as much as the next guy. However, if you're serious about improving your performance on the racecourse, it really takes very little time and effort to attend to the details that can help you gain seconds once you start racing. Say your start is at 6:30, like ours always is, and you're off the dock by 5:30. If you spend just 15 minutes in a concerted effort before the starting sequence to make sure the boat is set up for optimum performancejib leads in the right place, spinnaker gear run, courses understood, etc.you'll be ready to save some time once the gun goes off.
I think one sure-fire approach to individual race preparation includes running through a basic, pre-race checklist. I've learned to do this mentally, but doing it on paper is a good way to start. By creating a checklist and following it you can eliminate unforeseen variables that might trip you up during the race and cost you valuable seconds. Everyone's individual approach to a checklist will vary, depending upon the kind of boat and the kind of racing involved, but take a look at the following model and consider adapting it for your boat.
Heavy D's Pre-Race Checklist
We try to run through the following items before every Wednesday night race. Use this as the basis to create your own list.
|1. ||All racing sails and race gear on board; all cruising amenities and extraneous gear on the dock or in the garage. |
|2. ||Rudder strapped into place. (We've got a VARO rudder system on board) |
|3. ||Adjust rig tune for the race conditions. |
|4. ||Read and know the sailing instructions. |
|5. ||Make sure everyone on board understands their respective positions and jobs. |
|6. ||Get individual crew to set up their parts of the boat for racingbow person packs the kite, sets up the pole, lubricates the headfoil; jib trimmers set up jib sheet leads and spin gear; mainsail trimmer checks the traveler, outhaul, vang, and backstay (and running backstays and checks if you have them). |
|7. ||Make sure all working parts are lubricated if needed. |
|8. ||Once sails are selected and hoisted, and the engine is off, check and align the prop. |
|9. ||Head upwind with everyone in race mode to check headings, adjust sail controls, and practice a few tacks. |
|10. ||If time permits, do a practice set, a few jibes, and a douse. |
|11. ||Take note of the tidal conditions and keep them in mind. |
|12. || Make sure you know the course and everyone on board understands where you'll be going. If government marks are being used, get the navigator to identify them on a chart, and plot basic compass courses. |
|13. ||Decide on a starting strategy and make sure it's understood by everyone on board. |
|14. ||Establish a dedicated person to count down the time and have them call it every 20 seconds until you reach 20 seconds, and then every two seconds until the gun. |
|15. ||Take a look around the course for potential problems with commercial traffic, and have a look at who's in your class so you'll know who your competition is. |
Now you should be good to go, so get the best start you can, and begin saving those seconds.