An important ingredient to winning a yacht race is to make fewer mistakes than your fellow competitors.
Because of sailing’s complexities, even the best sailors will make mistakes but it is the avoidance of the major ones that are the most telling, minor mistakes will make a difference but should not be sweated over.
I have listed below things which will ensure that you avoid major mistakes. You need good planning, execution on the course and staying alert whilst racing to guarantee you avoid a disastrous result.
- Read and absorb the sailing instructions before heading out and where possible carry a copy to refer to if time and circumstances allow. If you are on a crewed boat have at least one other team member do the same. Write the most important or unique instructions on your boat with a Chinagraph pencil.
- Constantly check the wind direction both before the race and during the event, this will help you to identify persistent or oscillating shifts and assist you to modify your strategy if necessary. Head out of the boat.
- Constantly look around the course for differences in wind direction and strength. To head to the wrong side of the course in changing conditions because you were not constantly observing changes can be extremely costly.
- Choose your lanes carefully to avoid sailing in dirty or disturbed air and tack or gybe away to stay clear.
- Check current direction and strength and read tide tables to see if there is a likely change of direction and strength as the race wears on. What was correct on the first time round may, in fact, be very different the next time around.
- Have a race plan before the start but be prepared to modify it if conditions or your position in the fleet changes, a constant re-evaluation may be necessary.
- Sometimes even if you have rights in a mark rounding or crossing situation you may be better off not to force the issue. Avoid collisions, these could finish your day and by taking your right of way you could be pushed to the wrong side of the course. It is important to plan in each situation, this will avoid snap decisions which could end in disaster.
- Don’t arrive at the course with minutes to spare, get out there early to settle the team and get their heads in the race. This also allows you to set the boat up for the prevailing conditions ensuring that you get off the line in as good a shape as possible. Having the setup wrong and the subsequent messing around to get it right will mean that you will probably not recover.
- Don’t head out with an item of equipment that you haven’t used before. Try all new gear during training or two boat testing to evaluate its suitability or whether it is better than what you already have.
- When rounding a mark, locate the next one as soon as you can. It makes little sense tactically, to blindly follow the fleet if you are behind and if you are in the lead, locating the next mark is fundamental in planning your strategy for the leg.