The last two sailing seasons have looked drastically different than those before the pandemic. As things start to settle into a new normal this year, we reflect on some of the positive things we’ve learned and how we’re adapting the way we enjoy the sport. Quantum’s Todd Basch is here to share thoughts on how racers can put a fresh spin on sailing. Instead of tips on how to race a cruiser, he’s sharing thoughts on how to cruise a racer and encouraging you take a shot at starting on a cruising path.
"Slack up, brother, what's your hurry that so recklessly you scurry?" My great, great grandfather, Samuel Ullman, wrote those words on his 80th birthday in 1920. He was encouraging his compatriots "to spare a nod of greeting/Pass the time of day in meeting/Swap a joke or smile a little/When a neighbor comes along." Had he been a sailor, my gramps would have surely been a cruiser and plied waters more neighborly than those found among racers.
We’ve all been slowed a bit over the last two seasons, but this does not have to stall sailing so much as it can support cruising, a far less crowded activity. It’s true that the crucible of racing is a great training ground to up your sailing game, but it’s not the only way. The relaxed pace of cruising provides a calm atmosphere for learning and getting the most out of your boat and for increasing confidence and fun. If you’re open to exploring the cruising life, the good news is that transforming a race boat into a cruising boat is easy and requires only a few simple steps.
- CHILL OUT: Relax your schedule a bit and avoid strict report times. For example, instead of a specific dock time of 8:00 am in order to leave the dock at 8:30 am, practice for an hour, and be prepared for a 10:00 am start, have a dock time of “about 9:00 am or around there."
- IT'S ALL ABOUT THAT BASE: Instead of tuning your rig to weather conditions between every race, assume baseline for the day. No tools necessary!
- KEEP IT SIMPLE: Choose your headsail according to which one is on top of the pile and easiest to access. If that sail is too light for the conditions, sit in your cockpit, drink coffee, and lie to one another. If it gets late, drink something else.
- NO NEED TO DRESS UP: Don’t wear out your nice race sails if you don’t have to. Fly your practice sails or delivery sails and stick to the more durable Dacron sails rather than racing laminates. Or invest in a cruising sail – more on that later.
- GET COMFY: You know those cushions you store off the boat because of their extra weight? Bring them aboard now. You and your guests will thank you for a more comfortable experience.
ON THE WATER
- DON'T SPILL THE WINE: Racers can get a boat pretty heeled over trying to get to the weather mark first in breezy conditions. Save the hiking for the racecourse and avoid heel angles of more than 10 degrees.
- AGAIN, KEEP IT SIMPLE: Adhere to proper course, which in the cruising world is the direction the driver is going.
- SET IT & FORGET IT: Trim the sails to your course, and avoid constant adjustment. Fewer adjustments mean less noise and commotion as well.
- MIND YOUR MANNERS: When you do adjust the sails, be sure to say please and thank you. Things can happen at a little slower pace when cruising, so there’s no need to get heated because you missed your lane.
SAILS AND SAIL HANDLING
- GET THE SAIL YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED: There is a range of racing-developed sails for the cruiser who is not just sailing up-and-downwind legs on a racecourse. The wide middle lane between close and broad reaching is where cruisers sail most of the time. Code zeros and targeted Apparent Wind Angle (AWA) sails, custom designed for the needs of your boat, fill that big lane. These versatile sails have the benefit of a broad span of angles and velocities and are designed to work when your genoa starts to sag and before you are deep enough to run. Code zeros and AWAs can be deployed and doused with furlers and socks for ease of handling and are perfect for short-handed or novice crew and family sailing.
- SPINNAKERS AREN’T JUST FOR CROSSING THE FINISH LINE, THEY’RE FOR CROSSING THE BAY, TOO: Spinnakers typically separate racers and cruisers. When cruising, you may think you want to keep things as simple as possible, but why sacrifice deep reaching and downwind performance? Take that confidence and knowledge you’ve gained from racing and apply it to your cruising. Speed is fun, and kites aren’t just for racing.
- FURLING AND DOUSING SYSTEMS: If you’re wary of handling a big kite or code sail while cruising, there are plenty of furling and dousing systems to choose instead. Spinnaker socks, traditional furlers, and top-down furlers are all options. These make cruising a breeze whether you’re sailing short-handed or with friends and family who may be less experienced with downwind sail handling.
- RECUTS: A cruising suit of main, genoa, Code/AWA and runner will get you anywhere you want to go. If your well-worked main and genoa are a little too full, a precision re-cut will improve shape and efficiency and give it more life.
LEAVE YOUR RACER PERSONA AT THE DOCK
The biggest obstacle to turning a racer into a cruiser is the human racer. Racers are a mentally unstable lot, overloaded with adrenaline and technical knowledge that is sometimes useful but sometimes not. They are cranked up on figuring out the favored end of the line and if it matches the favored side of the course. They are committed to inflicting permanent scars on their midriffs when leaning to weather against steel lifelines. They eat soggy sandwiches, yell at each other, argue, and say mean things about people on other boats and even about each other.
SLOW DOWN & YOU MIGHT LEARN SOMETHING
Generally, racers are hopelessly lost creatures, but consider the possibility that cruising could be a platform to satisfy the racing urge and improve upon it. When was the last time you actually had the chance to practice driving without any distractions? Short-handed sailing, likely the norm when cruising, encourages efficiency and proper timing in maneuvers. Cruising takes the pressure off and allows for refinement and precision. How good are you at getting in phase with oscillations and shifts? So good that you don't need to practice? Compete with your pals on the boat. Who makes the best calls? Place bets on which side of a "course" is favored.
In many respects, the boundary between racing and cruising is a false one. The slower pace of cruising has much to offer the racer, just as racing has much to offer the cruiser. I have spoken with too many cruisers who discount their sailing as if always wearing their racer hat. But exploring the performance of your boat, no matter what it is, increases skill and broadens experience. It also makes for safer sailors. You may not care about that extra knot or sailing as close to the breeze as possible, but these are good skills to develop for when you need them.
MAKE NEW SAILORS
Take the opportunity to finally get your non-sailing friends and family out on the water. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones who have told you for years they'd love to go sailing; the ones you’ve always told you’d take them out. There's no time like the present. Not only is teaching a great way to help you grow confidence, you're also likely to pass a good kind of bug along − the sailing one, that is. Our beloved sport is definitely in need of growth.
LEARN TO BE SPONTANEOUS
Most cruising boats are set up to go on a minute’s notice, or at least with minimal preparation. Headsails live on furlers with UV covers, snacks and drinks are stocked, safety gear is stowed, and extra gear is already onboard if it gets cold. You get the picture. If you're not able to race, think about how you might be able to set up your boat to limit prep time so you can score some extra points on date night with a last-minute sunset sail or take advantage of a hot afternoon at the sand bar without hijacking the whole day. But if you're going to leave sails on your boat, make sure they're properly folded, dry, and, above all, protected from the sun. Ping your sailmaker for help, and we can show you the UV covers standard on most cruising boats.
DON'T FORGET YOUR RESPONSIBILITY
A word of caution to the racers who go cruising: The keyed-up intensity of racing has the great benefit of encouraging focus and concentration. Well-raced boats have attentive crew. Easing up that attentiveness does not reduce the weight of the boom or the load on a sheet. Don’t let the relaxed atmosphere of cruising risk losing the attentiveness required of good sailors. Paying attention is something all sailors do.
"Slack up, brother, what's your hurry,
that so recklessly you scurry?
You may lead a slow procession
E'er another year is past."
Be safe, and have fun.