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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 cruiser, Quantum's Wally Cross offers reasons for why you should try it and how to get started.

Almost every local weeknight series has a cruising division filled with sailors like you looking for an excuse to get out on the water 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, I also understand that not everyone wants to be a racer. However, I 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:

SKILLS: Practice makes perfect. There is no better way to become a stronger sailor than by spending 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, not to mention a great way to pass your love of sailing onto your kids. And competition with friends and family can build team spirit while enjoying the sport of sailing together.

COMMUNITY: We mentioned it earlier, but racing is a good way to become, or to 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 learning to sail. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities related to racing as well. You can get involved on a planning committee or volunteer to help run races.

TAKE A BREAK: It’s easy to get caught up in busy schedules and forget to take time to slow down. Weeknight racing is a great way to set aside time each week to hit the water and leave everything else on land. The highest participation today is in the early evening races.

HOW?

If I’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. I’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. Many cruiser/racers today come with OEM sails. Being a line item that affects the overall cost of the boat, these OEM sails are usually inexpensively constructed of cross-cut Dacron panels. Not much consideration is given to their use. These low-tech sails tend to lose their shape after a few years. Even though they appear to be working, they lose efficiency and keep the boat from performing at its full potential. Quantum’s line of Fusion M sails could be the perfect solution if you’re looking for better performance and sails that can get you across the bay AND the finish line.

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 trim tips.

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. With so many options, selecting the right line for the job can be daunting, but we’ve broken it down and provided tips to make your decision easy.

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 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.

BOAT: When it comes to optimizing your boat, it’s all about making it as light as possible. Remove all extra tools, spares, and items you won’t need for an evening race, such as 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 detailed list of what you need to be a safe sailing vessel.

Here’s another article to reference when 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 racecourse. Even if you and your partner can manage, sailing under pressure is a different animal. You want to make sure you cover the key positions: bow, pit, headsail trimmer, 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 breezy evening). Here are some good places to find crew:

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

YACHT CLUB: Word of mouth is a valuable tool here. Keep an eye out for the gal or guy wandering the docks with a PFD looking for a ride.

LOCAL JUNIOR SAILING PROGRAM: While they may be less experienced on larger keelboats, years of sailing small, responsive boats make junior sailors quick studies in sail trim, weight movement, timing, and tactics. And they’re stronger than they look! Juniors are often looking to gain experience sailing on bigger boats, but don’t always have access. So extend the invitation.

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.

Read here for tips on building a crew.

RULES & EDUCATION

RULES: If you’re completely new to racing, 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 weeknight races, but you can also use resources on US 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. Here’s 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. Explore our library of resources and expertise.

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

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