Your pre-start routine shouldn’t be set in concrete and needs to be fine-tuned according to the conditions, your freshness and any glaring weaknesses that you can work on in the time available.
Ideally, a three or four-hour gap between waking up and starting a race works best to make sure there’s time to get ready, feed, hydrate and switch on.
Vary how early before the race you hit the water. In lighter winds, get out earlier and tune up for longer. Allow 45-60min on the racecourse to give more time to refine your trim.
If the breeze is strong, spend 10-20 minutes less time on the course before the start signal to stay a little fresher.
If some specific aspect of your performance has let you down in prior races, that should be worked on immediately before the next event.
If it was speed, find a buddy to do some straight-lining and make some tweaks to your set-up and technique.
If it was a strategy that let you down, spend more time gathering wind data and begin the race by sailing the fleet rather than immediately tacking away for glory.
No matter the venue or conditions you’ll always want to check your speed is OK on the day, check out the wind and check out the starting line.
Ideally, before you leave the shore organise to hook up with another boat to test your speed and to study the wind.
Once on the racecourse, have a few minutes by yourself to get stuff sorted before joining another boat for some straight-line speed testing.
Once sailing side by side with your tuning buddy, you’ll soon know how much more speed work you need to do or how long a day it might be!
If you’re faster or even speed, you can soon move on to checking the wind.
If you’re slow, review your sail and rig settings, ask your buddy how they are set up, then make a change and test again. Continue the process until you are satisfied you’ve optimised your set up for the day.
Once you are happy with your speed, expand your awareness to tracking your heading on each tack with a compass or via land references.
Sail through a few lifts and knocks on each tack to become aware of the range of wind shifts and working on speed and shifts helps to get your head outside the boat well before the start signal.
If you’re at a new venue it can be worthwhile testing to see if one side of the course is better than the other and this is best done by doing a split tack with another boat of similar speed.
To achieve this, the two boats head off upwind on opposite tacks for 3-6 mins, tack and when you converge, if one boat is ahead more than a few boat lengths then some factor has made that side better.
Discuss the result of your split tack with the other boat – was there anything that may have affected the result or could they have done better by tacking in a different spot?
Determine the most likely reason for the result – tide, geography, shift or pressure and how repeatable that effect might be.