I have copied below a couple of awesome tips written by my good mate Dave Dellenbaugh, sailing legend, coach and author of the Speed and Smarts Newsletter.
I know you will find these tips very useful even if they are just to remind you of things that you already know but have forgotten.
Don’t take unnecessary chances! If you want to finish consistently near the top of the fleet, you must follow a conservative gameplan.
That is, you should minimize risk, or exposure, by sticking to tactics and strategies that have a high probability of success. Of course, there are situations when it’s all right (or even smart) to take a chance, but your general approach should be to avoid risky decisions, manuevers, tactics and strategies.
Here are 13 ideas on how you can minimize risk around the race course. If you implement as many of these as possible, your finishes should be more consistently near the top of the fleet.
- Learn the racing rules. Knowing the rules is the best way to avoid breaking any rule. So spend some time looking at the rulebook on a regular basis. Besides reducing your risk, it will put you in a much stronger position tactically and help you stay in control of your race. (Don’t forget your class rules, too.)
- Study the notice of race and sailing instructions. If you really want to minimize risk-taking, don’t ever sail a race without reading all the regatta rules first. This is an easy, foolproof way to avoid the kind of embarassing mistakes that can cost you a regatta.
- Work hard on boatspeed. Improving your boatspeed may be hard work, but it can give you a huge return with no risk at all. In addition, good boatspeed will help you recover from mistakes. It lets you take slightly bigger risks (in search of slightly bigger rewards) while reducing your downside.
- Practice boathandling maneuvers, especially in heavy air. When you’re racing, there is always at least a small risk whenever you perform a maneuver (e.g. heavy-air jibes). To minimize this risk, practice as much as possible, especially in stronger winds, and try to avoid high-risk maneuvers while racing.
- Check over your boat and gear. Another easy way to lose a race or regatta is by having something break. Therefore, if you want to reduce your risk, be sure to check your boat carefully before every race. Pay special attention to areas of high wear like the boom vang, hiking stick, hiking straps, halyards and so on.
- Aim to finish in the top three or five, not first. If you try to win every race, you will probably take too many risks in order to beat all the other boats. A better idea is to aim for the top 5 or so instead. Just as you don’t need the best start to win a race, you don’t need first places to win a series.
- Keep your head out of the boat. To avoid bumps in the road, keep your eyes on where you’re going. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. Keep the big picture firmly in mind so you won’t sail into a position where you are left with only high-risk options.
- Avoid close encounters with other boats. If you foul another boat it can be very costly, especially if it’s early in a race. Therefore, in order to reduce risk, keep clear of other boats.
- Be willing to take a penalty. No one likes to admit they broke a rule or do circles in the middle of a race, especially when they’re not sure they were actually wrong. However, when you go to a protest hearing you typically have a 50% chance of losing. So, if you really want to minimize risk, your best move is to take a penalty (720° or yellow flag) at the time of the incident.
- Don’t take fliers. The greater your separation from other boats, the more you are at risk. Therefore, stay away from the corners and laylines of the course, and avoid sailing off by yourself.
- Make a strategic plan and follow it. Much risk-taking results from decisions that are made on the spur of the moment. To avoid this, get out to the course area early, develop a race strategy and use this as your guide for decisions during the race. Of course, you should modify this as necessary during the race.
- Sail the longer tack first. In other words, stay on the tack where your bow is pointed closer to the next mark. This gives you the best chance of success because it will keep you closer to the middle of the course in a position where you can best play the windshifts and handle other boats.
- Cover the boats behind you. When you want to stay ahead of the boats behind you, cover them by positioning your boat between them and the next mark. This will minimize your risk of losing them.
POST RACE CHECKLIST:
It ain’t over when you finish! Crossing the finish line may be the end of the race, but it definitely doesn’t end your responsibilities under the rules, and it should mark the beginning of your preparations for the next race. Here is a checklist of things to think about just after you finish the race.
- If you are protesting, inform the RC. This is not required by the rulebook, but many times the sailing instructions modify protest procedure and require you to tell the race committee (RC) at the finish if you intend to protest. Often you must hail the number of the boat you’re protesting (or tell them that you did a 720° turns penalty during the race). Make sure they acknowledge your hail before you leave.
- Look for witnesses. If you might be involved in a protest, try to find any potential witnesses as soon as possible after you finish. This way you can talk to people before they scatter ashore and before they forget what happened in the race.
- Hold a crew meeting to review the race. If you want to improve the overall performance of your boat and crew, it’s essential to spend time learning together. Right after you finish, when the race is still fresh in everyone’s minds, is the best time to pull everyone together in the cockpit to talk about speed, boathandling, communication, tactics and more. All crew are captive on the way in, so use this time wisely.
- Make a list of boat things you need to fix. Ask one person to start a list of all the boat breakdowns and things that need to be fixed or improved. At your crew meeting, ask everyone to do a brainstorm for this list. For each item on your list, write down the name of one person who will be responsible for fixing that item. The list-maker has overall responsibility to make sure everything gets done.
- Get ready for your next race. If you have to start another race soon after this one, I recommend preparing for the second race right after the finish. For example, overhaul your spinnaker gear and re-pack the chute. Sail upwind from the starting line to check your sail set-up and the wind. Then, if you still have time, you can take a break.
- Keep clear of other boats still racing. Once you have finished and cleared the finishing line and marks, the rules require that you avoid any kind of interference with boats that are still racing. Don’t just cross the line and become oblivious to the world – you must keep your head out of the boat and stay clear.
- Record your finish time and sail numbers of nearby boats. Recording all the finishers in proper order is one of the hardest jobs for any race committee. To be safe, assume the RC may miss your sail number at the finish, and make sure you can re-create your finish time or position if necessary.
- Write in your racing notebook. You can learn a lot by keeping a daily notebook of good moves, mistakes (i.e. things to improve), weather conditions, tactics and so on. When you’re done with your post-race crew debrief, find time to write in this log while everything is still fresh in your mind.
- Say “thank you” to the race committee. Usually the race committee does a great job, but they don’t get enough appreciation from sailors. So after you cross the line, go by the RC boat, give them a friendly wave and shout, “Nice job.” Even if you feel they made mistakes, you can still appreciate all the time and effort they have volunteered for the job.
- Compliment your competitors. Another thing that’s not done often enough after the finish is saying “Good race” to your fellow sailors. In particular, compliment any of the top finishers who aren’t usually up there. Or compliment someone who didn’t finish near the top but made a nice comeback or other good move.
If you have found this information useful, have a look at Daves website – https://www.speedandsmarts.com there is a wealth of vital learnings there for competitors of all experience levels.
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