February 15, 2023
It’s the little things. And the big things. Dave offers a series of tips to make you smarter and faster for racing in 2023. Now is the time to get set up for the season ahead.
- Keep a notebook. Keep a written record of things you learn. This will reinforce your learning and make the info available for easy future reference. Use a waterproof book (or tablet) on the boat and transfer your ideas later to a master file with these topics: Boat improvements, boat- speed ideas, tactical notes that worked (or didn’t), wind and weather trends, crew roles for boathandling, etc.
- Learn something from every race. You can’t win every race, but you can always learn something while you’re racing. Keep trying to win, but develop a learning attitude for yourself and your fellow crewmembers. Spend time practicing, keep a daily journal, talk with the top sailors, learn from your mistakes, and most importantly, recognize things you do well. Try to see at least something you’re doing a little better each day you go racing. If you focus on the process of sailing better, your results will inevitably improve, and you’ll enjoy the journey too.
- Remember the big picture. A large percentage of errors made by racing boats occur because sailors are too focused on what’s happening in or near their own boat. A good example is failing to notice that you could fetch the next mark on one tack. Or not seeing a converging starboard tacker until the very last second. Remind yourself (and your teammates) to keep your head(s) out of the boat.
- Have ‘No Excuse to Lose.’ The title of Dennis Conner’s popular book offers great advice for your mental and physical preparation. The basic idea is this: Before the start of every regatta or race you should eliminate any reason why you might not win that race. Paul Elvström, the Great Dane, offered similar advice when he said, “The good sailors all know how to race very well, but the champions have won the regatta before the racing begins.” In other words, he, and Conner agree that preparation (of boat, crew, mind, etc.) is absolutely key to racing success.
- Be a detective. To be successful, sailors have to be like detectives. In other words, they must be skilled at finding clues to solve a mystery (of what will happen next on the race course). We never know for sure how the wind will shift or where the best pressure will be, but many clues around the race course can help us with these predictions. And, of course, the sailors who are best at predicting changes in the wind are usually at the front of the fleet. So, keep looking for clues!
- Resolve to avoid contact. Whether you have the right of way or not, hitting (or touching) another boat is almost never in your interest because it brings a number of risks: 1) that you will be penalized under rule 14 (Avoiding Contact); 2) that you will be disqualified for an incident in which you wouldn’t have been wrong if there was no contact; and 3) that you will cause damage or, worse yet, injury. My suggestion is that before a race or series you make a conscious decision as a team to avoid all contact (if possible).
- Play the odds. Sailboat racing is all about probability. We never know exactly what’s going to happen with the wind and other variables. That makes the sport fun and challenging, but it also means we must play the odds by choosing strategies and tactics with the best chances of success. Whether you
are maneuvering on the starting line, picking a side to play on the first beat, or deciding whether to cut inside a few boats at the leeward mark, your goal should be to consistently choose actions with a high probability of success. You don’t need perfection – you just want to avoid most actions that fall into the high-risk category.
- Have fun! If you want to improve your race results, be patient and willing to learn. Improvement takes time and hard work, and this won’t be easy unless you’re having fun. As Dr. Stuart Walker once said, “Winning may be the object of the game, but it is not the object of playing the game.” The reason we play the game is for challenge and fun. So, while you’re competing, remember what you enjoy about our sport.
Next issue: More Pre-Season Tips
Dave Dellenbaugh is the publisher, editor and author of Speed & Smarts, the racing newsletter. He was the tactician and starting helmsman on America3 during her successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992 and sailed in three other America’s Cup campaigns from 1986 to 2007. David is also two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, a Lightning world champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle national champion, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. match racing champion and past winner of the U.S. Team Racing Championship for the Hinman Trophy. He is currently a member of the US Sailing Racing Rules Committee (and was its chairman from 2005-2008).
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