Sailing...A Game of Mistakes...
It was drummed into me a long time ago that
the crew who made the least mistakes inevitably won.
The Lowestoft Nationals (ed. note: 1994 U.K. Wayfarer Nationals) introduced a short chop sea state, especially with the wind in the opposite direction to the tide. For those of us brought up sailing on inland ponds, this can take a while to adjust to. When sailing on inland water, we set up our boats with flatter sails and tight leeches to point higher; but when there is a chop at sea to contend with, it is more important to concentrate on boat speed through the waves than on pointing ability. To this end, I set up my rig slightly more upright and the mast straighter to keep the boat powered up - with the boom on the centreline, no kicker in a light/medium breeze, and the mainsail leech set with a little twist controlled by mainsheet tension. Ease the sheet (inducing twist) when the wind drops or the boat slows, then, when the boat picks up again or the wind strengthens, tighten the leech again to improve pointing ability. The mainsail leech is an important tool for achieving boat speed, and the genoa is likewise played in the same vein.
However, once both the crew are sat fully out, then I start to let the boom off the centreline and progressively use a lot of kicker to keep the mainsail leech from twisting too much. In a Force 5/6 (ed. note: 20-25 knots), the boom is well off the quarter of the transom and being played around this position to keep the boat as flat as possible in any gusts, with the kicking strap (boom vang) on as hard as I can pull it (12:1 system). The genoa car is moved back 2” and the sheet eased 1”.
Let’s start at the beginning. If you start well, you have already accomplished 30-40% of the race tactics - certainly in a big fleet. If you do not get away in the first echelon of boats then you are immediately in dirty wind and going slower.
It is very important to be sailing at full speed on the line when the gun goes, ideally with nobody on top of you or beneath you, squeezing you up. It’s not easy. It was Gary Player who said “the more I practise the luckier I get.” Every now and again you should be over the line, showing how close you are pushing it.
At which end of the line should I start?
2. Tide/wind bends. Do I want to go left or right, depending on what’s going to happen further up the course, and will that modify #1 above?
You need to collect all the information available to you and produce a plan of where to start and which way to go, and more importantly, stick to it.
When it all works...
When it goes wrong...
Consistency wins Championships.
Mistakes will happen. You and I must put them behind us quickly. Having tuned the boat, decided the tactics, then it is down to between the ears to win the race.
Mind over Matter
All sailors get psyched out at times. It is so easy to say “he’s going faster” or “ he’s pointing higher.” In reality, he rarely is. However; if you keep thinking it, he soon will be! It stands to reason, if you are concentrating on the opposition’s boat and not focused on yours, you will begin to slow down. There will be times when he gets a lift or gust of wind you do not - that’s the way it goes. You must continue to focus and be aware of your boat, the boats around you, the orientation of the course, the wind, the waves and what the tide is doing. Easy, isn’t it? All it is practice and learning from mistakes.
Stu describes the final, deciding race
of the Championships
Now to get around the windward mark first and away.. not to be! The boats from the righthand side got there first. We go around 5th and McNamara 7th. My crew reminds me to “settle down and think boat speed”, which he had been invaluable at doing all week. Despite making a mistake up the second beat - allowing Mike to cross us - we quickly picked the best course. We knew the boat was fast, so were able to relax and enjoy the sail, the result being that we were second going round the last leeward mark and Mike McNamara was third. Priority one was to stay ahead of him but also to remain in the top of the fleet. We covered hard initially and then eased off to maintain general position and then, in the last quarter of the final beat covered hard again, once second or third position overall seemed assured.
Hence I achieved a goal set a number of years earlier - to win the Wayfarer Championships - through practice and learning from mistakes. We formed a well-tuned boat and crew who, given their day and a little bit of luck, would take the championships from a field of very good sailors. Yes.
Stu Rix W 9363 Mad Savannah
Stuart Rix UKWA News #63/Autumn 1995