Knock-Off the Winter Rust From Your Racing Skills: 5 Tips From the Goose Island Colors Regatta

The Goose Island Colors Regatta marks the start of another sailing season here in Chicago. It’s been a long (and cold) winter. It turns out that an iced over lake is not ideal for keeping our skills sharp. Most of the boats learned (or relearned) that it takes a few races to knock off the rust. Here are my tips from the regatta to get back up to speed the fastest.

Knocking-off the rust in front of the gorgeous Chicago skyline at the 2015 Goose Island Colors Regatta. Photo by Zachary James Johnston.

1. Get your timing back
The fleet headed out to the course early to throw in the usual upwind/down practice, did a set gybe and take down. All great stuff for knocking the rust off, but I suggest going one step further and working on your timing. I would start with mark roundings. Either find a race mark or even a government mark (in Chicago, the Nun buoy off Belmont is a great tool!) and sail upwind 10 boat lengths. Come down to the mark and practice your wide and tight roundings without the spinnaker. As you feel more comfortable, go further upwind and start using the spinnaker. After 5-10 repetitions of each, your roundings will start to look like they did at the end the previous season.

2. Practice your time on distance
Starting is all about being on time to the line. Too early and you have to burn all of your speed, too late and you’re left in the dust. This was the single biggest struggle at this regatta. While still at your mark of choice, sail away on port and start a two minute clock. Make sure you are on a broad reach opposite of your upwind angle on starboard. When you think you are perfectly on time back to the line, tack (or gybe) and try to nail the line perfectly at full speed at zero. The first one will be way off, which is normal. Keep going until you get it right. Do a run or two as you are sailing in the start area to see how your timing has changed.

3. Find time to set up
The day before the regatta, a team was set to go out to practice and realized their rig was two inches off center. The process of re-centering the mast took two hours of changing caps and diagonals. While they were at it, they checked all of the running rigging and noticed a number of minor issues. Finally the boat was ready to race after three to four hours. Moral of the story, spend a few hours the week before the event making sure the boat is tuned and ready to rock. No one wants to be fixing rigging during the race or try to retune the boat while casting off.

4. Be Conservative
The corners were killer this weekend. Navigating into and out of mark roundings and maneuvers was a make or break for most teams. I saw (and participated) in a number of takedowns that were not at mid-season form. While some less than stellar boat handling is going to happen while working out the kinks, it is important to remember not to let it end your race. The boats that did conservative maneuvers, especially at the leeward mark, did not feel the ill effects of a poor takedown like those who had to decide between going upwind with half a kite and missing the mark. One boat length late on a takedown is going to lose less than one length too early.

5. Be Aggressive (on the line)
I know I just told you to be conservative, but hear me out. Starts set the tone for your whole race and can make a break an initial first leg. One of the hardest skills to regain after a long winter is to find the line and get close to it. Most of the boats were at least a boat length off the line this weekend. Be aggressive and find your line, even if it means being over in a race. Finding the line will pay dividends for your racing all season.

All and all, when it comes down to it, focused practice is key to knocking off the rust and getting back to your peak performance the fastest, and to more winning of course!

Full results from the 2015 Goose Island Colors Regatta.

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