A new race-day approach

Doing what you know you should

Is this the definition of a club sailor: someone who knows what they ought to do, but does not actually do it? Chances are, you have read lots of books and know what ought to be happening with your boat but that wisdom is not actually being applied.

Which means the problem is actually in your head. It is all about attitude and approach. If we are going to get you further up the fleet, these have to be changed. Frankly, you are in a rut, whether you realise it or not. We need to break some habits and build a new routine.

Try visualising your next race day with these actions slotted in;

  1. Sit down and eat a sensible breakfast before you leave. I’m not proposing a special Redgrave and Pinsent carb-fest. Just fry an egg or heat some baked beans and whack them on a slice or two of toast. A bar of anything that comes in a wrapper does not qualify here.
  2. And have an extra drink – doesn’t matter what, just take in more fluid than usual.
  3. Take a water bottle with you – keep the levels topped up.
  4. Before you leave home, log on to the Internet and check the weather. The BBC /Met Office are useless in my opinion – I find windfinder.com and XCweather.co.uk the least worst, while Metcheck tries to give probabilities and some people like Windguru. Many clubs have a real-time weather station and/or webcams relayed on their website. If that facility is available, use it.
  5. If applicable, also check the tide times. If you will not remember the high/low water times, write them on the back of your hand or arm.
  6. On the way to the sailing club, turn the car stereo off for a couple of minutes and think about how the forecast wind (strength and direction) and tide are likely to shape your race(s).
  7. If your route (or a quick detour) allows you to view the sailing water, do it. Park up if you can safely. Look and appraise how conditions compare against the forecast, in wind strength, direction and sea state. If these conflict with the forecast, have a ponder why that might be and what might happen next, and when.
  8. If you can’t stop on the way, appraise on arrival.
  9. Now start thinking about your strategy for the race. Areas of wind shadow, wind bends, tidal eddies and strongest flow. Visualise the snakes and ladders of the race course, how you can use the ladders and, particularly, avoid the snakes.
  10. Only when you have done these, get rigged and changed etc. Need it or not, have a pee now whilst it is not too inconvenient.
  11. Do not forego the pre-race banter; that’s all part of the fun after all, but have a sense of purpose and a spring in your step. You are going sailing, wahoo, not grinding away in the office, vacuuming or cutting the grass.
  12. Jog down to the boat, have a stretch of the muscles that will be working hard later. Smile at the likely sarcastic comments – after all, you know something today that they do not!
  13. Try and launch a couple of minutes earlier than usual. As soon as you are off, go straight into race mode. On arrival at the start/course area, stand up, have a look about and consider your strategic thoughts from earlier – do they still apply or do they need adapting? Invert your thinking about the snakes though; instead, positively visualise the places you will go. It is a strange truism that if you focus on a hole in the road, you will hit it as if magnetically drawn, so shift your focus to where you positively want to be.
  14. Whilst standing, have another stretch and a shadow-box to get the adrenaline going. In my 470 days, we used to have a muck-about mock wrestle that was hilarious. Someone will no doubt take the mickey again. Plan your response to the hecklers in advance – a smug smile or Paddington Bear stare is cool if you can carry it off.
  15. Do not just reach back and forth awaiting the start. Keep lining up starts at each end and assessing the wind angle and bias. This should give you a real feel for the size and frequency of the windshifts and gusts.
  16. Also hoist the kite and check it is rigged properly. Gybe it and recheck. Better to find out now than be embarrassed later. Murphy’s Law says that the day you get to the windward mark first without checking it will be the day you discover it is rigged sideways. I suggest this is not the sort of award you should be shooting for.
  17. Have another drink. Check foils for weed. If your control lines migrate from one side to another during a race, shift them the other way in anticipation.
  18. Start plan. Lots of textbooks focus on starting at the favoured end. More important is to be sailing on the correct tack asap. Starting at the port end can leave you pinned on the headed tack for ages. Generally that is not a good thing; being out-of-phase is often far more costly than the gain from a bit of line bias.
  19. Work out where you want the control lines set for the first leg. This may involve lots of kicker and cunningham but, if they are maxed on during pre-start jockeying, you will struggle to manoeuvre or stop when you need to. Instead, squeeze them on as you are ‘pulling the trigger’ in the final few seconds. A great job for a crew to take on.
  20. Even if you do not normally, today you are going to get in there and mix it up a bit at the start. Pole position is not the ultimate objective for now. Visualise building speed up pre-start so you are in the front rank 20 seconds after the gun. Of course, many club-race starts are from a fixed line and sometimes the first leg is downwind. We will cover such eventualities later but for now the key, the absolute priority, is to avoid the fleet sucking you into the snake-zone.

OK. In a moment I want you to stop reading, close your eyes and imagine your next sailing day with as many you remember of these 20 points slotted into it. Go on. Close your eyes and visualise…

Welcome back. Feel like the outcome of that race might be better than usual? Even though I bet you could only remember a few of the points in the list.

To make it all come true, keep re-reading and visualising until all 20 come to mind effortlessly. To help you, I have put the action-clues in bold italics for each point. The objective is to get to the state where this is your unthinking routine. A checklist is not the right way here. You do not need a checklist for getting up and out of the house on a workday.

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