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Why You Should Race Your Cruiser & How to do it

Are you looking for a new challenge this year? If you don’t already race your cruising boat, here’s a quick guide from Quantum's Bill Wiggins on why you should try it and how to get started.

Almost every local beer can series has a cruising division filled with sailors like you looking for an excuse to get out on the water on a week night and away from life’s demands. The idea of racing might seem daunting, but with a few tweaks to your boat, a bit of reading up on the rules, and enlisting family and friends for crew, you’ll be rounding marks in no time.

Why?

While we will make some convincing arguments for racing your cruiser, we also understand that not everyone wants to be a racer. However, we believe that one of the secrets to saving our sport is through participation. Racing is a great way to be active in your local sailing community as well as an ambassador for the sport. Here are a few reasons to consider racing your cruiser this year:

SKILLS: Practice makes perfect. There is no better way to become a stronger sailor than to spend time on the water challenging yourself. Even simple windward-leeward courses can throw all kinds of scenarios at you as water, wind, and weather conditions change and test your seamanship. Racing is also a great way to sharpen your skills for a longer voyage.

FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Enlisting your family and friends as crew is a great way to spend time together (read some tips for that here), not to mention a great way to pass your love of sailing onto your kids. 

COMMUNITY: We mentioned it earlier, but racing is a good way to become or stay involved with the sailing community and make friends with people who share a common interest. If you’re comfortable with it, you can also help grow the sailing community by offering to teach people interested in sailing.

TAKE A BREAK: It’s easy to get caught up in busy schedules and forget to take time to slow down. Beer can racing is a great way to set aside time each week to hit the water and leave the rest on land.

How?

If we’ve convinced you to give racing a try, you’ll need to do a few things to get ready. Depending on your level of dedication and budget, preparation can be as big or as small as you like. We’ll start with the boat.

THE BOAT

SAILS: Don’t worry; you don’t have to run out and buy new sails. It is important, however, to have had your sails inspected and serviced recently. This is not only important for performance, but it’s also important for safety. If you’ve noticed some issues with sail shape and performance, your sailmaker can likely recut them to help make you competitive.

If it’s time to replace your sails, talk to your sailmaker about other options, including dual-purpose membrane sails designed with a cruising focus that will also make you competitive on the racecourse. If you want to learn more about dual-purpose sails, click here.

RIGGING : Many cruisers have a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to rig tune. This philosophy works for the occasional sunset sail, but when performance is at stake, you’ll want to make sure your rig is spot on. Call your sail loft and ask someone to come and take a look. They’ll make sure key components are set up correctly and will be able to give you some tips for trim. Click here to read about tuning the rig.

After your rig tune is set, look at your lines. Check for wear and UV damage. If you need to replace any of them, consider high-performance options, such as low-weight and low-stretch lines. We’ve got an article about that, too, if you need help finding the right line.

ELECTRONICS: If you choose to sail with electronics, it’s important that they are calibrated accurately and that you know how to get the most out of them. Most basic packages have the essentials: wind speed/direction and boat speed. If used correctly, this data can improve your performance significantly.

Whether or not you invest in race electronics, make sure you have a good stopwatch on board for the start sequence and a reliable VHF radio to tune into the race committee.

BOAT: When it comes to optimizing your boat, it’s all about making it as light as possible. Remove all extra tools, spares, and any items you won’t need for an evening race-like your grill and water toys (a dock box is a great place to store these things). When removing excess weight, be careful not to violate any rules about removing standard equipment like locker doors and cushions. When it’s time to race, stow all gear as close to the middle of the boat and as far down as possible. 

Next inventory your safety gear. Everything should be up to US Coast Guard specifications. Here is a more detail list of what you need to be a safe sailing vessel.

Click here to read an in-depth piece about optimizing your cruiser for racing.

THE CREW

The size of your boat will dictate how many crew members you’ll need to effectively move around the race course. Even if you and your spouse can manage, sailing under pressure is a different animal. You want to make sure you cover the key positions: bow, pit, headsail trimer, main trimmer and, of course, skipper. If your boat is large enough, you might consider adding someone for tactics or ballast (especially if it’s a big breeze evening).  Here are some good places to find crew:

FELLOW BOAT OWNERS: Especially if they haven’t made the jump to racing their cruisers! They are often the most all-purpose sailors and great to have aboard. Not to mention, like you, they’re often itching for a good excuse to get out on the water.

YACHT CLUB: Start spreading the word that you’re looking for crew. Word of mouth is a valuable tool here. And keep an eye out for the gal or guy wandering the docks with a PFD looking for a ride.

LOCAL JUNIOR SAILING PROGRAM: Those skinny 16-year-olds may not know which way to put a line around a winch, but years of sailing small, responsive boats make them quick studies in sail trim, weight movement, timing, and tactics. And they’re stronger than they look!

BUILD A TRAINING PROGRAM: If you’re not as worried about results and you’re the patient type, consider creating a training program.  There are a number of significant others left at the yacht club during races, not to mention people in the community who would love to learn to sail. Just make sure you’ve got a few other salty dogs onboard so you’re not the only one who knows how to sail.

LOCAL SAIL LOFT: Call your local loft and see if they have crew suggestions. Some lofts even have lists or crew programs and can help short-handed boats and boat-less crew find each other. 

Click here for more in-depth tips on building a crew.

RULES & EDUCATION

RULES: If you’re completely new to racing sailboats, you’ll need to brush up on the rules and learn how races work. The person in charge of the local races can explain how they work for the local Wednesday night races, but you can also use the resources on U.S. Sailing’s website to get the current Racing Rules of Sailing. It can be helpful to sail a few races with a friend before skippering your own boat across the starting line.

COACHING: If you want to become competitive quickly, look into getting a coach, pro, or even your local sailmaker on board for a few races. These folks are valuable resources who can quickly help you identify what you need to work on. Click here for an article on how to get the most out of a coach.

CONTINUING EDUCATION: Once you get a handle on where your team is at and what you need to work on, you can use Quantum Sails’ full library of resources to improve various aspects of sailing and help you get the most out of your adventure. Click here to explore the resource.

Regardless of how you approach this new challenge, your Quantum loft is standing by and ready to help you across the finish line. Sail fast!

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