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Spring Tune Up: Racing Skills Checklist

March 21, 2016

Practice makes perfect, and there’s no time to practice like before you head out for the season’s first big regatta. We’ve put together a list of key maneuvers and tasks to improve your crew choreography and to set you up for success.

The summer sailing season is nearly upon us. You’ve tuned up your boat and gotten your crew together… what about tuning up your crew? A lot of the maneuvers we do on the (buoy) racecourse are fundamental, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be reviewed each year at the start of the season, not to mention ahead of every big regatta.

The first step is to come up with a plan: Sit down with your crew before you head out on the water, and take a few minutes to come up with a list of all the areas you excelled in the season before, as well as all of the areas that you struggled. Practice the things you did well a couple of times, just to make sure you’ve still got the dance right. For the areas where you struggled, set aside a little more time for extra practice.

Here is our checklist of maneuvers and tasks sure to improve your crew choreography and set you and your team up for success this season.

Tune the rig

Is your rig back at base? Are you sure? Do you know what “base” is? Hopefully, you’ve got a designated crewmember in charge of rig tune. If you’re a one design sailor, make sure you’ve downloaded the most recent tuning guide for your boat and go through it with that person, or decide on what numbers you want to use. When you head out on the water, he or she should keep notes on boat performance to help you make decisions once the race gun goes off. (Or, just slightly before, depending on your class’s rules!)

Mark the boat

There’s nothing more distracting than having the trimmer call up to the bowman to adjust the jib cars only to result in a three-minute discussion about which hole is “eight.” Putting discrete but clearly visible numbers on the deck along your jib tracks, inhaulers, sheets, halyards not only make communication easier, they also make good maneuvers repeatable.

Review the rules

Two boats on opposite tacks are approaching the windward mark setting up for a port bear away. Within one boat length, the boat on port tacks onto starboard inside and calls for room. Who has rights? Things can get tricky on the racecourse, especially on a tight start line when the breeze is up. Take a little time to review the rules and know your rights.

Get up to speed

In short races, a good or bad start can make the race. Practicing stop-and-gos, getting the boat up to speed, and timed runs at an imaginary start line, or between two fixed marks where you often sail.

Set and douse the kite

There’s no better maneuver to shake the cobwebs off practicing a bunch of mark roundings and how you’re going to get the spinnaker up and down. Upwind, it’s pole out or up, tack out, sneak the kite, bear away, or gybe set. Downwind, make sure you run the gamut of douses: windward, leeward, Mexican. If everything goes sideways, learn to letterbox. Know who does what, when, and in what conditions. In case your race committee decides to get creative, you should be able to do it all to starboard, too.

Know your angles

The best teams live and die by their crossovers. They know their sails, their points of sail, and when to depower or change sails. If you have a crossover chart, go through it with your trimmers. If you don’t have one, go out with your crew and go through your inventory, taking detailed notes about what’s fastest at what wind speed, angle, and trim.

This may sound like a week’s worth of sailing, but with good planning and a willing crew, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to go through all of this during a relaxed weekend of practice. If you’re short on time, you could probably even do it in day, but make sure your crew has time to rest before the race.

Now, you should be ready for your first regatta. The only thing left to do is get the sandwiches!

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