Offshore distance racing is one of my favorite aspects of yacht racing, it really allows (and requires) a sailor to use all of their skill set to make it to the finish in good position, and safely. This year’s Pineapple Cup is a race I haven't done in 10 years, but am extremely excited to get out there and compete. It's a beautiful course with generally very warm weather and water, and a mixed bag of conditions; a Gulf Stream crossing, some upwind, reaching, and hopefully a sleigh ride downwind the final portion of the race.
Check Your Offshore Inventory
Unless the program or boat you are on does exclusively offshore sailing, generally the offshore sail inventory gets neglected or is not seen for long stretches in between races. It's very important to think about the sails needed for legs other than windward/leeward VMG sailing- the reaching sails, furling sails, staysails, reefable mains- the storm sails!
Make sure to always try to take pictures of all your sails when they are new out of the bag, and any time you use them for racing. Take the pictures from the same spot on the deck or from a chase boat if possible, and offer them to your sailmaker (if s/he isn't already there taking the shots). This allows everyone to see how they are aging, and how they are set up. It can be easy to forget how the lead for the GS was set- it's just not used that often. Same with the furling sails- which way does the furling line get pulled anyway? How are the locks for the sails working, the luff line tension in the kites? The reef lines for the main?
If the sails aren't new- it all starts with how you put the boat away after the last offshore race. So many times the crew hits the dock after many days wet and tired, and the furled Code 0 stays in the bilge and is forgotten about, only to do the delivery back and then get thrown in the trailer. It's such a shame and will shorten the life of the sail for sure. Grab a few crew, make sure to take out the furled sails, unfurl, flake and fold them. If they have removable furling cables- mouse them out and coil them up. Rinse and dry as many of the sails as you can, any sail containing carbon that stays salty in the bag may end up corroding the clew or tack rings for instance, stainless or not. Check over all areas for chafe, especially sail corners, loosen foot/leech lines, (but mark where they were!), and either have your loft store them or put them nicely in the trailer. If you store sails flat - please loosen the battens! So many times have I seen them left boned up and cringe. The other neglected thing is always sail bag zippers! For some reason, no matter how expensive the sail- the bag zipper always gets corroded if it’s not rinsed, and usually this isn't seen until you are headed out to the start line!
Lastly- some races such as Newport-Bermuda require crew training and practice reefing/setting storm sails- and I can't stress this enough. If you are new to a program, don't feel hesitant to ask the skipper or a more experienced crew how the trysail or storm jib sets up. In fact, get it out of the bag and try it. Same with the reefs in the main; the last thing you want is to truly have to use those and it's midnight, stormy and no one knows how to get it done. Have the halyards marked for reefing, don't coil and bury the main halyard under a pile of gear for example, have the marked amount needed for reefing out of the coil and ready to go.
Once you're out there on the course- relax and look around! Have fun- there aren't too many places left in the world you can shut off the phone, see the stars, and race against friends as a team. Enjoy Jamaica and sail safe and fast!
Originally published on www.pineapplecup.com.