Join Date: Jan 2000
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Preseason Preparation for Race Boats
As you begin mapping out your racing schedule for the upcoming season, it's a good time to consider what improvements you can make that will impact your results on the racecourse. New sails? Sure! Good, consistent crew? Certainly! A smooth, clean bottom? Absolutely!
But what else can you do? How about a more diligent and thorough boat maintenance programone where you routinely check your equipment and find problems before they actually cause you to retire from a race or hinder your performance. Because there are so many aspects of sailboat racing that you cannot control, it becomes very important to control the things you can. Equipment preparation and maintenance is absolutely within your control.
During our Soling Campaign from 1995 through 2000, my teammates and I spent a significant amount of time working on our equipment. At times, the ratio of work hours to sailing hours was about one to one. Occasionally, the ratio was even higher than that. And it paid off. In six years of Olympic level racing, we never once had to withdraw from a race because of broken equipment. What follows here are excerpts from my notes on equipment maintenance, from setup and preparation to routine maintenance, as well as a list of tools we kept in our toolbox. Some of the comments only apply to boats that are kept on trailers, and the suggestions are made on a regatta-by-regatta basis. In general though, this list can apply to any boat. Even if you only go through this process once in the spring before you launch your boat, it can help a great deal. I recommend that you go through the process once or twice more during your racing season.
I like to think about boat preparation in three steps for each part of the boat: cleaning, inspecting, and preparing.
Mast maintenance Clean the mast Hose down your rig to remove any road grime or grit. With a clean rag, wipe down the mast with acetone or another solvent. Wipe down the shrouds. Buff and polish the mast, but if you think there's a chance you'll need to ascend it, don't do it.
Inspect the mast Check all halyards for wear, specifically the part that bears on the sheave the most. Check the sheaves for sharp edges, loose rivets, or fasteners, and lubricate them. If you have wire shrouds, wipe them down with a tissue to see if there are any stray strands that might shred your spinnaker. If you find any, snip them off or file them down. Check your spreader tips for wear or sharp edges. Check the fasteners that hold your shrouds to the mast.
Prep the mast Retape the spreader tips and any cotter pins or rings keeping clevis pins in place. Make sure you take care of places where a topping lift or a spinnaker can get caught. Specifically, we always ran a small piece of shock chord between the lowers near the top of the shrouds so that nothing could get wedged in between the lower and the mast. I would also consider putting some rigging tape across the front of the mast between the spreaders, to cover up the gaps between the spreaders and the mast. Make sure your spreaders are in the mast firmly, and that they're even in height. You don't want them working loose or swinging even the least bit Make sure your masthead wind indicator is fixed securely. This is an expensive piece of gear to be replacing often.
|"Proper hull preparation is one of the fastest ways to gain places in the standings. "|
Clean the hull Before you do anything else, make sure you clean the boat and remove any grit or road grime. I would hose the boat down first before you put any sort of a brush to it. If there is some grit on the hull, and you start running a brush over it, you will scratch your boat. Once you have hosed it down, wash the hull with a good brush and some basic liquid soap. You should have a brush that is only used for washing the bottom of your boat. And be careful where you rest the brush down, you want to avoid getting dirt, sand, or grit in the bristles. Depending upon the size of your boat, you should also think about taking the rudder out from time to time, checking the bearings for wear, cleaning the shaft, and removing grime from up inside the hull. You will also want to clean and lubricate all the fittings between the rudder post and tiller. If you ignore this area for long periods of time, the fittings could seize up and make it difficult to get them apart.
Inspect the hull. Check over the whole boat for chips (from the drive), scratches, and cracks in the gelcoat, etc. Usually a little wetsanding will take care of most of these problems. If you're not sure how to handle a particular problem, get some help first. There's a wealth of information available here at SailNet.
Prepare the hull If you have bottom paint on your boat, think about a little wetsanding. (If you don't have bottom paint on your boat, go directly to the next step). You can always make your bottom smoother! I would recommend using a block for the paper, rather than simply holding the paper in your hand. Your sanding will be more even that way. The grit of paper you use is somewhat dependent on what you have used already during the season. In general, you can't go wrong sanding the boat with 400, 600, and 1200 grit paper, but there is no hard-and-fast rule here. Next, I recommend buffing and polishing the entire hull. On the Soling, I would buff the entire hull, before every regatta, with a Makita buffer and 3M Rubbing Compound, and then 3M Polishing Compound. Then, I would polish the entire boat one final time with Starbrite Teflon Polish. Finally, if you have Elvstrom bailers, open them up while in the parking lot, clean them out, and put some Vaseline on the edges. And work them in and out a few times to get them working smoothly.
Clean the deck As soon as you arrive for a regatta, wash the deck down to remove dirt etc. (You should also be in the habit of hosing the boat down frequently during the season, and every time it comes out of the water. Make sure to focus on areas that get wet while sailing and that can accumulate salt. And spend some time hosing down all the moving parts underneath the deck.) If you have systems contained in the fore and/or aft tanks of your boat, you should take the hatch covers off once in a while and spray some fresh water on everything. Make sure the boat drains and your bilges and tanks are dry. If you find water in the fore or aft tanks more frequently than you think you should, check areas where water might be leaking. You might have some deck fittings that need to be taken off, cleaned, and remounted.
Inspect the deck You should spend time, frequently, going over every moving part on your boat. Check the blocks, the cleats, the line, etc. for wear and to make sure everything is running smoothly. We had a rule on our boat that if any of us thought a piece of gear needed to be replaced, it got replaced, even if the others disagreed. Now this may not be necessary for your summer series, but the point is that eventually your deck hardware ages and needs to be replaced so keep an eye on it. Spend time climbing around underneath the deck with a flashlight, looking for cracks, pins and rings that need to be replaced, and fasteners with missing nuts, etc.
Prepare the deck Make sure your tracks (main traveler, jib traveler, and even shroud tracks if you have them) have been well cleaned and are salt-free. Then lubricate them well. I always used McLube on all of our tracks. Retape any rings, pins, or bolts that are likely to catch something like a spinnaker. If you have spinnaker bags or bins on your boat, specifically look for things around that area that might snag and tear your kite.
OK, so boat maintenance and preparation aren't always the most enjoyable part of sailboat racing, but I am sure you will agree that one of the least enjoyable parts is having to sail back to the dock after retiring from a race due to broken equipment. Just think of these tasks as ways in which you can ensure that you'll have more fun on the water. So divide up the jobs, hand out some beer, and get to work. The quicker you get it done, the sooner you can go sailing. Good luck and sail fast!
The Racer's Onboard Toolkit
Everyone has their own take on what is mandatory for an onboard tool kit, so by all means customize your own. However, for a day-racing boat around 30 feet LOA, here are the basics to give you a start:
Sail-repair tape (often called sticky back')
Duct Tape (you don't need a fresh big roll, it's too heavy)
Adjustable screwdriver with flat head and Phillips head
Visegrips Rigging knife
Rigging tape Spray lubricant
Small bag of spare fasteners, pins, shackles, and rings
Hull Preparation for Racing by Dan Dickison
Refitting for Performance by Pete Colby
Buying Guide: Traveler Systems