Preparing for an Offshore Race: 2022 Mac Race Case Study

Quantum Detroit’s Wally Cross uses the Chicago Mac Races as a case study for perfecting your pre-race preparation. Take a deeper dive into what it takes to build a regatta winning team, and learn some new tricks on how to take your preparation to the next level.

A 100% prepared sailing program does not exist, but believing your boat and team is better prepared than your competitors allows you to enter the course with a high level of confidence. The main ingredient for preparation perfection is not money, but a good system for organization. To compete at the top of your class, every component of your boat needs to fit together. Sails are not more important than the bottom being clean, or the mast smooth, or instruments working well. They all must be well looked over and maintained to be the best possible piece to your preparation puzzle. Learn more about creating a system for your boat with System Sailing Section 1.1.

Your crew needs to buy into the system for sailing your boat. Each boat is managed differently, yet the best teams work well together on the water and off. Teams that want to do well should be meeting before and after racing. In your meetings, there should be three main areas of focus within your team. These might be a mini team within your team if the boat you’re racing is large enough, or in a smaller boat one individual may be responsible for each item. The first area of focus is speed. Rig tune, sail trim, steering, and weight (heel-trim) are all a part of this. Next is information like the race instructions, weather, wind, competition, and instruments. The final category is mechanics like tacking, gybing, hoists, and douses. The easiest way to keep track of this information is to create a system you understand to record, remember, evaluate, and improve. For more in depth information about this for your crew or team, read System Sailing 1.2 the Crew.

Preparation Case Studies

The 2022 Mackinac races were a tale of two extremes. The Bayview race was about 12 hours longer than normal while the Chicago race was almost 12 hours faster. I had the pleasure of racing on Mike Fozo and Robin Kendrick’s J/120 Proof for both races.

The process for race winning preparation started the winter of 2021. These are some standard things every sailor should be doing at the end of the season. Your “checklist” for the end of the season should have things like making sure the bottom of the boat is in good condition, the boat is light in weight, and checking over all the sails and making any needed repairs or upgrades. If you want to go more in depth and spend some extra time and money you can get 30-liter dry bags for crew gear, dry bags for all safety equipment, jet boil burner for hot liquid and freeze dry food. 

Mike Fozo was great at assembling all the pieces necessary to have the J/120 prepared for the 2022 sailing season. We would meet at the boat to see how we could concentrate weight more in the mid-section and less in the ends. Also, time was spent getting the rig set for changing conditions. We spent one day looking at all the possible sail options and starting a crossover chart.

The crossover chart describes where your sails fit in terms of wind angle and wind speed. It takes time to make this chart accurate. We can make a generic one for any boat, yet each time you go sailing, you can perfect the chart. An accurate crossover chart minimizes guesswork when determining whether or not to change sails.

Bayview Mac

The boat was now getting close to being prepared for the first of two long races. The BYC race started on Saturday, July 16. Our preparation started on July 12. From the 12th until the day of the race, we checked the weather and conditions daily and started deciding what sails to bring. Final sail selection for the boat delivery to Port Huron was July 15. By then, we knew it’d be light and planned accordingly. This timeline of pre-race preparation allows the team, and especially me, to feel prepared. Starting the race with all the boxes checked allowed us to handle the challenging light conditions.

Knowing that this race was going to be slow, we put an emphasis on making sure the bottom of the boat was clean and smooth, having sails for light winds and minimal spare equipment, focusing on weight placement and rig settings for lighter winds, and keeping an eye on weather information. The result was winning the class by almost an hour.

Chicago Mac

The Chicago Mackinac was one week after the Bayview race. One of the bigger challenges for this race was getting the boats from Mackinac Island to Chicago. The mid-summer southerlies were in rare form, making traveling south a slow journey for all teams. It was clear by the Wednesday prior to the race’s start that this was going to be a much different race. The prediction for the 2022 Chicago Mackinac race was full of storms.

The Chicago Mackinac Race started on Saturday, July 23. Our timeline for preparation started July 20th. We changed from light air to heavy air sails and checked weather information (more accurate when velocity is higher). On the 21st the boat arrived in Chicago after a tough delivery. Boat call information was communicated and the need for heavy air gear due to the big forecast. The next two days were full of checking weather information and discussion on how to prepare for the squalls, which sails are best, our goals, and how to execute them. We rested early the night before the start of the race in preparation to sail all night in the big breeze.

Unlike the Bayview race, the Chicago Mac started out fast and as predicted, the storm squall did arrive late evening and continued throughout the night. Two hundred forty boats raced in the Chicago-to-Mackinac and 29 had to drop out because of boat failures. Fortunately, the Proof team was prepared and pushed hard all evening to win the class and the overall prize by almost two hours over the next boat.

I enjoy being a part of a well-prepared program and watching teams that illustrate how preparation can bring success. After the finish of the Chicago Mackinac race, I went to Harbor Springs to watch the weekend racing in one of the most beautiful areas in the world.

Harbor Springs did not disappoint in weather or wind, and both were perfect for racing all different sizes and styles of boats. The one boat that stood out to me was Doug DeVos’ Windquest. They do set the standard for an extremely well-prepared boat and team.

I had the pleasure of racing on Windquest last summer at Bay Harbor. The level of preparation was the highest I have ever seen. Meetings in the morning and after sailing allowed the team to plan and then review on productive days. A well-prepared sailing team and boat will produce better results. A team that feels prepared expects to have a good finish versus simply hoping to do well.

What is your level of preparation? And what can you do to improve your preparation for this season, and therefore improve your results? Get in touch with a Quantum Sails representative to talk about optimizing your boat, sails, and team for whatever you have planned this year. We’re here to do whatever it takes to get you on the water and keep you sailing.

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