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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Learning to Sail
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Old 07-20-2013
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How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

The sailing club I belong to has started a casual open race on Tuesday nights. You can race whatever you like..cat..420..sunfish..it doesn't matter. I've heard over and over that racing teaches you a lot. My question is how? If you are racing single handled against other people how does racing help? I could understand if you are being coached, but going solo with no instruction? Could someone shed some light on this for me. I plan on checking it out. I'll take out a hobie wave and mess around.

Dom

Last edited by domromer; 07-20-2013 at 10:07 PM.
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

You'll take risks you wouldn't necessarily do usually, you'll get shouted at, and you'll get a bunch of people talking afterwards in the bar about it all.
Besides, it's fun, why not give it a go? Worst case, you don't learn anything.
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

In one three-hour race you may encounter crossing situations, heavy weather sailing, light wind sailing, rights of way decisions, downwind sailing, tacking, jibing, different points of sail.

It may take the weekend sailor the entire season to encounter all of those.
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

It challenges you to make quick decisions, to learn from your mistakes, to learn from others, I remember the first time I tried singlehanded racing, I'd day sailed for years and years before I ever tried it, I thought I'd learned everything, my first time out singlehanded racing lets just say I was greatly humbled,

Singlehanded sailing is a great way to learn because you are the only one in charge of trim, the skills you learn will translate to bigger boats,

Even the top guys will tell you that they're still learning, there is always something new to learn in sailing
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

On a large boat you may get one job, and only one job. If you ever vary your attention from looking for kelp you will get yelled at. While you may become a highly competitive kelp lookout, even world class at the expense of other sailing skills. If you stay on the boat long enough though you may get moved around the boat and you can add, bow, mast, main and jib trim to your skills.

You will also may be exposed to some very good sailors, that have been sailing and racing since they were extremely young. You can learn a lot from these experienced sailors. In the process you will see how precisely a sailboat can be handled and how to get the most from the sails. These racing skills can then be applied to get the most out of your sails when cruising also.
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

In addition to what the others have said, it also teaches you that a small tweaking of sails and/or heading can result in a significant increase in your SOG. It also teaches you that there are almost always little things that you can do--we're not talking about putting in a lot of effort here--that can get you moving along better.

A lot of cruisers sail really slowly, or turn on the motor, when a little bit of proper sail trim would get them moving along just fine. And I'm not talking about obsessive and constant trimming of the sails, or getting excessive with the effort that you put into sailing. I'm talking about just learning a few simple, easy things you can do that get you going better, get you to your destination earlier, or delay the time when you have to turn on the motor.

I've met people who actually seem to be proud of the fact that they don't sail very well, somehow trying to convince me of the utterly silly notion that they're having more fun, because they aren't concerned about how well the sails are drawing. For the life of me, I can't figure out why they don't just buy a trawler and be done with it.
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

...and alot of racers sail really fast when cruising! it's just more fun
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Old 07-20-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

I've sailed my whole life. I raced a couple races with my dad as a kid on his cruiser (US 27)... but never raced my own boat a bit until last year.

What I've learned about sail trim in a year has completely turned my thought processes of the last 40 on it's head.

Perfect example? On my boat before I'd change down headsail size from solo sailing 155 to 130 at about 10-12mph winds... Due to excessive heel... Well this was fine... except that on our gusty lake, we don't get 10-12 winds... we get 5-12 winds. So you have to figure out how to sail that 155 to get maximum speed for the 5mph winds, and how to depower it when the 12 hits.

You get to learn stuff like how much twist, and draft location, proper angle for jib cars, what rake does, and WHY... prebed, bend, how it affects sail shape, and how all these TINY little NUANCE type tweaks can lead to dramatic differences in performance, or depowering. Which I am NOW finding that racing is as much about knowing when and how to depower, as it is figuring how to power up.

One last thing about racing. Especially in Windward/Leeward courses, the windward legs will force you to maximize your point. Obviously if you know what your MAX point is, you'll make better progress to windward. If you read my paragraph two ago, you'll note that getting your rig tuned is essential to getting that point.. with poor tune, you'll be off as much as 10 degrees each way (port and starboard). If you don't think that's a big deal, consider a long cruise where you have to head to windward... that 10 degrees over a course of days could shave HOURS off your trip!

Oh and the old mantras, reef early, reef often, go out the window... in racing it's HOLD the sail up until you can't depower anymore, then reef.

To quote a brilliant J/World teacher that came to visit our little sail club... "Every good sailor should know how to shift gears. Knowing how to use brakes is also as essential as knowing how to press the gas!"

If you think PHRF type racing is cool.. try One design (or at least boats of nearly the same speed rating)... you'll be able to gauge your sailing skills REAL TIME with other sailors, and know INSTANTLY if you truly know your trim.
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Old 07-21-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

Perhaps many of these have been covered in the previous posts, but for me it teaches you to.....

read the puffs
always check the ebb and flood times
sail in close quarters
understand the ROW rules
think and act quickly
control the adrenaline (then feed off that adrenaline)
develop better sail trim
understand how the vang, back stay and cars work for high winds and low winds
learn how to lose
cherish the wins
embrace the wind
appreciate competent crew (whether you're single-handing or not)
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Old 07-21-2013
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Re: How does racing help you learn to be a better sailor?

OH! And if you don't have someone to coach you, just watch how the others are doing it. Copy their trim and course....and then ask them afterwards, "why did you do X....?"
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