Just because you don't campaign across the country doesn't mean you can't be competitive and performance oriented in your local weeknight series. Quantum's Carter White talks about his experience with weeknight series racing and how to get the most out of local sailing.
I have been weeknight “beer can racing” since before I could drink beer. I was lucky enough to grow up with a dad who loved racing and owned a J/24. I started racing with him on weekends at various regattas, then graduated to taking my buddies and sometimes just me out for our Thursday night racing at the Portland Yacht Club. Back then there was no local one-design weeknight racing, but now we have Etchells on Tuesdays, J/24s on Wednesdays, and PHRF on Thursdays. Originally, Thursday night racing wasn’t scored; you raced just for the pure joy of it.
Even though weeknight racing is more casual, I sometimes find it to be more stressful than the large regattas I travel to. The cause of that stress is usually from lack of preparation, a bad habit I’ve gotten into but one I am trying to break with the goal to not take weeknight racing too seriously but just serious enough that the activity has some structure.
I also have learned a lot about preparation from my wife Molly. For years, she has been managing a successful race program on a Frers 41 and Farr 30 with some of the crew sailing on both boats for the last 15+ years. She also has a list of over 25 sailors who can jump into any position on short notice. Here are some of her secrets to having both fun and success that I’ve started to use in my own weeknight racing.
Create a Schedule & Build a List
Putting together a season-long schedule takes time and effort, but summers fill up fast, and it’s stressful for crew and owner alike not to know what’s going on. Even if some events later in the season are still in the planning stages, get them on the calendar, gauge interest, and set expectations.
Two popular and free online scheduling tools are Doodle, a program that makes it easy for team members to show their availability and comment to the group, and Google Sheets, a service that behaves a lot like an Excel spreadsheet but allows group editing in the cloud. Make sure to build your crew list by writing down every potential crew member you might know. It’s great to get a visual of who’s who and a good exercise to do with your current crew. You never can have enough resources and sailors.
Usually, we send out a notice to crew and potential crew as soon as the local season schedule is posted, but that can happen in March, and we don’t start sailing until May, so we also send out a weekly check-in for the weeknight racing and a monthly check-in about the weekend racing. This is all done via email and usually at a similar time each week so the crew can remember to check their schedules.
Prep the Boat
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when prepping the boat. Getting the team together to work on the boat not only expedites the process, but it also is a great way to build a sense of ownership in the program. If it’s a new team or there are members who don’t know each other well, parlay prep time into a team dinner or barbeque. It’s a good idea to use these times to discuss the season’s shore crew responsibilities, too.
Team Building & Participation
Creating a sense of camaraderie among the crew will go a long way towards a successful and enjoyable season. Team gear emblazoned with the boat/team name is a great way to build a strong bond. Having a steady crew participating each week is important, but don’t forget that weeknight racing is also a great way to introduce new people to sailing, such as coworkers, friends, and family. If you’re struggling to find crew, talk to other boat owners, your local yacht club, or junior race team to find people eager to participate.
Participation isn’t limited only to the boat − don’t forget to invite your spouse, kids, and whomever else wants to join the after-race socializing at the yacht club or other favorite spot. Since the season is short here in Maine, we organize monthly crew gatherings once a month through the winter, usually on the same weeknight as the race series. Staying in contact helps the crew learn more about each other and have fun while keeping the energy going until the season starts again.
Have Fun & Learn Something
Most weeknight racers show up to the dock after a long day at the office. It’s important to find a way to decompress and leave any stress from the day on the dock or, even better, in the parking lot. Make sure to breathe, turn up the music, and relax. It helps the whole team to head out with a clear mind and positive vibes. These races are about having fun, socializing, and introducing people to new experiences. Yelling and temper outbursts should be kept to a minimum, if not completely banned from these races. Take time to assign team members to different positions on board so everyone gets a better understanding of each other’s jobs − except for the owner, who, in my experience, should never be allowed in front of the mast or bad things happen.
While weeknight races may not be as competitive as a championship regatta, they can still be rewarding for both the owner and team. Take time to think about the strengths and weaknesses of the entire team and set team goals that are realistic and meaningful. Feel free to have some fun with these goals, too, and mix in a few goals that are based on participation and humor.
Bring Enough Beer
This one is simple enough: Bring. Enough. Beer. (Of course, use good judgment and be responsible, but if it’s your thing, bring enough beer.)