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Performance Racing Tactics

by Bill Gladstone

Performance Racing Tactics Chapter 2




2.1 Introduction

Many races are won or lost before they even start. As boats head for the line some are ready to race and others are not. In this chapter we will look at the things you need to do during the hour or so before the start to get ready to race. Longer term preparation of the boat, crew, and equipment is covered in Performance Racing Sail Trim & Boat Speed. Every yacht race is really several events in one. To succeed we must understand the weather, harness the wind, and battle against our opponents. To win we will need to be ready for challenges of every type.

2.2 Get Ready to Race On the way out...

Race Day preparation begins with a routine to insure that everything needed is brought along and anything not needed is left behind. Once on board the time spent getting to the course area should be used to review any changes in technique or organization from previous races. New crew should be briefed on responsibilities by one regular crew member who will work directly with the new crew during the race. The boat should be rigged, and if conditions permit, sailed, to the course area. Preliminary wind checks should be made periodically. Weather conditions and any special strategic situations (season/series standings) should be discussed.

At the starting area...

Plan to arrive at the starting area a full hour before the race. During that hour you will have to plan strategy, make sail selections, and tune up. A routine checklist of pre-race responsibilities can make sure you touch all the bases. You can doubtless add more to this list. Most of the information you need to gather can be compiled in a Race Planner, such as the one show in the next section.

2.3 The Race Planner

(Click on pic to enlarge)

A standardized form can help organize race information, and make sure you don't forget any details. A sample blank and a completed form are shown on the next two page. The front of the form is divided into 4 sections.

Section 1

The left side is for observed conditions. Wind and boat data are recorded here. By recording information sequentially trends can be recognized more readily. Comparing observed and predicted conditions can help determine how much faith to put in the forecast for the remainder of the race. The layout for recording wind info is to approximate an average and then plot port and starboard headings related to a particular wind direction. In our example the boat is tacking through 90, so a starboard heading of 150 and a port heading of 240 would both match a wind direction of 195. By plotting matched port and starboard headings in the same column we can connect a string of readings into a graphic representation of the wind and wind trends. In the example shown we have oscillations around a wind of 200 initially, gradually swinging to 210.

Section 2

On top right, this section is used to record the weather forecast and other meteorological information.

Section 3

Section 3, in the middle right, is used to record race information and the set of the starting line.

Section 4

The lower right section is used to record course information. By completing this section before the start you can anticipate the conditions and sails for each leg.

Section 5 (not shown)

The back of the race planner should be used for post race comments. Immediately after the finish review the race leg by leg. Go over trim, tactics, and crew work; record new ideas. List any equipment problems (and think through any excuses you may need to explain away the race back at the bar). Confirm the schedule for the next practice (you do practice, don't you?) and race. Also print a diagram of your local race area on the back of your race planner. The chart can then be used after each race to record any local knowledge tricks you pick up concerning wind or current.

The ultimate value of this pre-race information will become clear as we refer back to it during the starting, strategy, and trim discussions which follow.

    Pre-Race Checklist:
  1. Collect weather and wind information.
  2. Test sail selection and trim upwind.
  3. Record close hauled course and speed on each tack.
  4. Sail the compass course for each leg of the race in sequence, noting wind speed and angle.
  5. Plan sail selection and organize sails below decks.
  6. Post start, course, and weather information.
  7. Enter marks of course as GPS or Loran Waypoints.
  8. Formulate an overall race strategy.
  9. Discuss the strategy and basis with entire crew; emphasize expected conditions to look for and things which might require a change in plans.
  10. Check the starting line and plan strategy.
  11. Set the prop and pump the bilge.
  12. Go over crew assignments.
  13. Warm up crew; break in new crew.
  14. Locate any marks in sight.
  15. Observe earlier fleets.
  16. Get nervous & get used to it.
  17. Get psyched - go team go!


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