The season may be over, but planning for next year should start now. Even if you had a great season, take the time to evaluate all your equipment so you can make good decisions this winter that will help you sail faster next summer.
Sails are like cars and demand service. The more attention you give to your sails, the longer they will perform like new. I had a customer re-shape his main after the fifth season and win a North American Championship in years six and seven with the same sail, thanks to proper maintenance. Here are some tips for maintaining your sails in the off-season.
– Each year, take a picture at the beginning and at the end of the season to see if your sails have changed shape. Photograph them all from mid-foot, close, hauled up the rig. Email them to you sailmaker to measure. Make sure you get a copy and understand the numbers.
– Inspect your sails for any cracks in the mylar or damaged areas in the luff tape.
– Always release the tension of any battens in either the main or jib during the winter.
– If possible, roll your sails for the off-season to help remove wrinkles.
– Inspect your rope to see if there is any wear in block areas.
A couple other tips: Your boat should have one very low stretch jib, main, and spinnaker halyard. The spinnaker halyard should be stripped for less windage while sailing upwind. Shackles are good for halyards and sheets on all sails.
Measuring your sails at the beginning and end of each year is a good practice in order to evaluate change in shape.
After inspecting your sails, take the time to get your instruments working for next year. For the best results,
– List any problems and talk to your rep for solutions (ask questions about calibration so you become the expert).
– Sail with true values: TWD, TWA, TWS, BS, heading.
– Get your speed sensor on centerline.
Get your speed sensor on centerline with only the wheel below the hull.
Finally, make sure to inspect your boat. Take a good look at the bottom and look for easy ways to reduce drag. Make sure through-hull fittings are flush. Smooth up around the rudder and fit flush to the hull. Fair in shaft to strut with zinc cone. Make the bottom perfect now so you can get right to sailing and practice in the spring.
After you’ve finished with your sails and boat, you can continue your off-season prep work by staying in touch with your crew. For example, debrief now. Gather the crew for a Saturday game and talk at half time about the past summer’s sailing.
– List the races sailed and results.
– Break each race down to legs and performance.
– Talk about what worked and what did not.
– Look at what influenced the results: speed or decisions.
Once you’ve evaluated the past, focus on the future. Now is a good time to lay the groundwork for sailing procedures you’d like to adapt in the coming year, for example:
– Provide wet notebooks to your crew to use during racing. Have meetings after each race to review crew notes.
Sail with good information and good charts.
– Base sail adjustments from speed results; use a hand-bearing compass to measure.
– Sail with good information: use polars when sailing VMC and targets when sailing VMG.
– Have a chart to determine which sail to use based on wind speed and angle.
– Make sure you have the tools you need for routing during a long race.
– Mark everything that moves on the boat and make sure you can measure it.
The off-season is a great time to strategize and plan for next season. My recommendation is to focus on three teams with clearly defined roles and tasks.
*Helm: target speed, heel angle, telltales.
*Main: target speed, wind speed, rig tune.
*Jig/Spin: target speed and angle, wind speed, performance.
*Tactician: relative performance, mode based on position.
*Rail: wind and wave calls.
*Off Trimmer: relatives.
*Rail: other boats.
*Rail: water observation.
*Helm: decide and execute.
*Bow/Mast/Pit: all on same page.
*Tactician: two steps ahead.
*Team: use weight together to alter course.
*Helm: smooth turns.
These three independent teams can work together by talking regularly. Communication can overlap, but If communication is clear, all the teams and the helmsman will know what is happening without looking. Your goal should be to see a complete picture of the race in your head.
Regular meetings during the off-season are not only good for planning, but also team-building. A team that enjoys their time together and believes in each other will outperform a potentially more-talented team every day.