14 Racing Takeaways to Help You in the Season Ahead

It was great to be back on the water for Charleston Race Week 2021! We asked some of our team members what they learned at this challenging venue in hopes that their lessons will help you in the season ahead. Check out these tips from a few unique perspectives and get a head start on your spring and summer racing!

Quantum Sails Service and Sales Representative Clarke McKinney raced with family in the ORC fleet aboard its Melges 32 Wild Horses. Aside from getting a bit of respite from the gloomy Mid-Atlantic weather, Charleston Race Week also provided McKinney with a few racing insights.

  • Time in the boat means time to focus. If you’re limited on time and by conditions, value practice days and make the most during your tuning sessions. Work on getting up to speed so you can focus on tactics. We weren’t as prepared as we would have liked, and we were slower in accelerating out of tacks, which forced our head too much into the boat on Friday and not looking out of the boat tactically. We will be better prepared at our next regatta.
  • Whether in the race or in the regatta, acknowledge and celebrate improvements. Our crew work, boat handling, and boat positioning improved through the regatta, and we ended on a high note, finishing the final day with a 1, 2, 1 scorecard.​
  • If you find yourself sailing with fewer boats in a PHRF/ORC class or have a starting line packed with one-design boats, remember to make it competitive, keep it fun, and enjoy the moments. It’s why we love sailing. 

As an on-course commentator at the regatta, Quantum Sails racing expert Cameron Appleton had a comprehensive view of the racecourse. Here are a few of his observations that translate well for any event.

  • Before the race, determine the course favor as it relates to wind oscillations, tides, and currents. Execute a strategy within your starting process that reflects how strong you want to fight for that course favor. Recognize your positioning on the line for your lanes as related to the course parameters.
  • There are big gains and losses to be had when determining your gybe placement down the course. After rounding the top mark, know when to leave the train based on your strategy, when to pick up a few boats, and when not to lose touch with the pressure or the pack.
  • Execute a solid top-third of the first beat. In tight fleets, being hyper aware of over/understanding lay lines in tricky currents or conditions as you approach the weather mark can help you maintain positioning.
  • When starting in large fleets, establish yourself to be in contention with the top half. Work to chip away at boats rather than fighting your way back in. Determine the value of a clean start further up/down the line and your lanes versus a potential third-row start at the favored end. 

Quantum Sails Global Offshore One-Design Director and regular in the Melges 24 fleet, Scott Nixon competed in Charleston Race Week aboard Newport, RI-based Gamecock. Whether preparing for your local weeknight races or planning for an upcoming championship, take notes of Nixon’s tips. 

  • Never underestimate current strength or direction. To maximize distance and effective maneuvers, practice mark roundings before racing. Sail the lay lines to the start, and weather mark to get a sense for the current push or sweep.
  • If you're sailing in shifty breezes with a strong ebb tide, it can help to set up your rig for the lulls and not the puffs. This will power you up and keep you fast in the lighter spots in order to maximize VMG lost upwind in the adverse current. Should you find yourself behind a pack, this rig setting can also help you fight your way to clear air. 
  • When choosing between spinnakers, select the kite that best matches the mode you want to sail in, given the wind strength. Understand the design of a runner versus a reaching spinnaker, and apply that to your overall desired game plan. In the Melges 24, the A2 is a soaking runner with which you can sail deep angles and protect the inside. The A2 works well when the jib is furled in less than 13 knots true wind speed (TWS). The A2.5 is more forgiving for the trimmer and driver, so you can sail aggressively to protect the high lanes without getting overloaded on the helm. The A2.5 is often used in the 0-6 and 14+ knot ranges.
  • My biggest takeaway was that everyone sailing had a great time on the water. Even though it can be hard to see the big smiles behind the masks, the hoots and hollers certainly indicates we’re glad to be back racing. 

Coming off a highly competitive four-regatta tour, including the 2021 Melges 24 Gold Cup, Quantum Marketing team extraordinaire and awesome sailor Katy Zimmerman led the charge with her father and team aboard Bad Idea. Here are some of her pro-level pointers. 

  • Grab a tuning partner. Whether you’re heading out for a weekly beer can race or the first day at a world championship regatta, make sure you’re checking your straight-line speed and angle with a good partner. We thought we were really fast heading into the practice day of Charleston Race Week, but, when we got on the line with the fleet, we realized we just weren’t sailing fast enough. The rest of the fleet was sailing a slightly lower angle and faster to compensate for the adverse current. We set a new target boat speed for ourselves, made sure we tuned up with someone faster than us each morning, and we were able to be competitive the rest of the weekend.
  • Even if it hurts, stay hiked! This is something most people know, but they either forget or don’t do because it’s uncomfortable. In transitional or shifty conditions, it’s really helpful for the driver to keep the crew hiked out. If the weight input on the rail is constant, the driver can more easily and accurately make adjustments with backstay, traveler, and mainsheet to keep a consistent angle of heel and the boat powered up.
  • Set yourself up on the start to sail in a straight line and defend your lane for at least two minutes after the start. You won’t always have to do this and sometimes you won’t want to because the whole fleet will tack onto port, but in order to follow your desired strategy for the rest of the race and have the opportunity to tack in clean lanes and into favorable shifts, you must be prepared to do so. With such a competitive fleet in Charleston, especially on some of the races where we sailed at max ebb, we had to dig into the ebb first. If you couldn’t defend your lane off the start, it was really hard to make it back up.
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