Pre Race Preparation
By Andrew Kerr May 2005
It’s important for a team to develop a routine before each race to develop consistency and be prepared.
Each team’s routine is different but the major point is that one is needed – here is a suggested one that can help, whether it is a Wednesday night race or a championship, the development of a good repertoire will help the team with consistency in a series of races.
Much of this is the essential basics, but these mistakenly very often get left out of the equation in favor of more sophisticated elements. Let’s have a look at a sample of the preparation that goes into the time before the race starts.
1) Rig the boat as a team, put the main on last to keep the cockpit clear and put the little jib on the bunk until everyone is out of the cabin and when they are finally done store it – flaked, with an extra set of jib sheets reeved on it and the tack facing forward.
2) Practice setting the pole a few times to get warmed up. If you have a new team member this is a great chance to give them a boat orientation and to go over their body placement and responsibilities as well as answer any questions.
3) Make sure all the weight is out of the ends of the boat – clear shelves out and keep taking things off the boat every week that are not necessary or are not required for class rules or required boat weight – keep the boat on an on going diet. Also, have the shrouds at base setting with the tuning guide accessible.
4) Get out to the start line before all of the other teams – this is a victory in itself – you need at least an hour of prep time before the gun. Use every minute of this time.
5) If it is a long sail out to the start line then that can be a good opportunity to talk about the day and also to review the sailing instructions and agree on them as a team.
6) When out to the starting area – immediately go upwind on starboard tack and get dialed in with speed and the compass. Take an opportunity to tune upwind with another team. Split tacks with them for 3 to 5 minutes and see which side is favored when you converge. If they are faster - why? Is it set up? This is also a great time to start the communication going – speed and height – whether it is a net gain or loss versus the other boat your are sailing against and to start talking about the breeze – particularly calling the lulls as well as the puffs.
7) Pay particular attention to: genoa halyard tension- is the draft in the right place? Note the halyard setting, backstay tension – if puffy – play the backstay for max power, critique your mainsail leech tension – the top baton telltale flying 60% and stalling 40 percent. If the water is flat and the boat is going well we will go the opposite – 40% flying and 60% stalling – how the boat feels and the water state (flat v rough) will help with this.
8) Really focus on straight-line speed and consistent minimum heel angle, check out the current and monitor and the compass headings and write them down.
9) Is the rig tension right? Send someone up to look at the forestay sag and the side sag of the mast. Is the breeze going to build or fade? If the rig is too loose the main will flog and the forestay will sag a lot to leeward causing the mainsail to backwind. You will also notice the leeward shrouds dangling a lot as well.
10) If the rig is too tight the boat will feel dead, the main and genoa will look very flat and the forestay will look very rigid despite no backstay, the leeward shrouds will look tight too. Jump on this and ease the rig – set the boat up for the lulls – not the puffs.
11) Practice tacking – being smooth – easing the boat into the tack and dropping the genoa inside the lifelines. You can never get too good at this.
12) If the boat is struggling out of the tack keep the genoa eased 6 inches (or more) and ease the mainsheet to open the leech of the sails and to help speed build – the lighter and choppier it is the more important it is. If it is windier then pick flatter water to tack in and have the crew come off the rail when the boat flattens it going in to the wind. Ease the mainsheet slightly out of the tack to help keep the boat upright. You can critique your tack by the amount of heel angle out of the tack and the time the cockpit crew is having. If you are coming out of the tack with a lot of heel and the genoa is hard to sheet in then the boat has been over steered. Watch the genoa very carefully – your goal is to have the sail flow across the boot smoothly to minimize grinding and skirting. Typically this means less helm. The better teams tack better – on a consistent basis.
13) Sail to the other side of the course and check current and watch the compass for shifts/ tendencies- write the #‘s down in an accessible place for the tactician. What’s going on here, what part is geography playing, any thoughts on cloud formations?
14) If possible – round a windward mark and practice a spinnaker set. Make sure no one is allowed on the cabin top and the weight is distributed low and to the sides to dampen rolling & pitching. The bow person is looking back for wind.
15) Critique the vang tension – is the top baton parallel to the boom? Adjust it and be conscious of it in velocity changes. The mast person typically does this.
16) How is pole height – keep the center seam vertical and the sail breaking in the middle of the luff. Mark the topping lift when you find generally good settings.
17) Practice jibing – min. helm, if its light air move your weight to windward (opposite the mainsail) to help roll the boat. Jibe the mainsail and spin pole simultaneously so they are both flying. Make sure to keep the spinnaker perpendicular to the wind – rotating the spinnaker on the jibe – guy back, ease sheet to keep the spinnaker flying. The skipper should use min. helm and keep the bow of the boat under the center seam of the spinnaker if it is windy. If it light it is critical that the trimmer is talking pressure on the spinnaker sheet all the time – particularly out of jibes so that the team can discover the correct angle to sail as soon as is possible. Practice these jibes as much as possible within the time frame that you have.
18) Practice a takedown and leeward rounding if possible. Pre-set mainsail controls (backstay, cunningham if necessary), genoa up – set halyard tension and set the sheet up on the correct winch, pole down, free fly the spinnaker, spinnaker down – overhaul the guy if it is a leeward takedown, overhaul the sheet if it is a windward takedown.
19) Critique the rounding – did we go wide enough to come out tight to the mark, close hauled and with speed? The genoa trimmer must trim the genoa perfectly to every point of sail for max speed and the skipper can do a “check luff” – pinch up 5 degrees to get the inside telltale to dance on the genoa to make sure we are right on the wind.
20) Go straight to the start line- check in with the race committee; check the course, flags, etc.
21) Run the line on starboard tack with the genoa down and note the compass heading – add 90 degrees and write this # down.
22) Go Head to wind – get the boat stopped and in clear air – note the heading. If the heading is less the pin end is favored – if the heading is more than then the RC is favored.
23) Stay near the line – tack if possible and do head to wind readings in clear air. If in a current pushing you over the line – jibe to stay away from it. Don’t forget to back down and clear the rudder and keel.
24) Watch prior starts (if there are any) like a hawk from the pin end of the line – if they are bow down on starboard tack the pin end is fav. If they are bow up or bow even then the RC is favored or the line is fairly square. Watch there lay lines to the start – who is barging – where is the barging lay line and what is a safe lay line, check out the pin end lay line and watch to see if they struggle to make that end.
25) At approx. 20 minutes to go Is the rig tension right – final decision? You have till the 4 min flag (prep) but decide no later than now! If the RC is heavily favored – it’s very easy to be early to the line, if the pin end is favored it is very easy to be late. It can be good to verbalize this.
26) At 7 to 8 mins to go – genoa up and set the halyard tension. Verbalize your strategy – “third of the way from the RC” or “toward the pin and go to the left side of the course” etc. This gets the team on the same page about what we are trying to accomplish.
27) Watch the fleet very carefully – where are they setting up? Go for a low density area start – clear air a big gap to leeward – this is supremely important so you can go fast and not get pinched off by a leeward boat, try to avoid log jams and tight spaces.
28) Really work on carving a big gap to leeward (luffing up with the mainsail in and the genoa out) – you can then use some of this gap to close reach a little with so that when you head to close hauled you have max speed. If it is windy – consider easing the vang to help slowly down and hold position while creating a hole to leeward.
29) At the start – be smooth – middle monitor the speed and height of the competition, bow call puffs and waves – “big puff – 3, 2, 1, now!” Also call lulls and flatter water – in the flatter water you can point more.
30) Focus on speed and getting away from the fleet.
31) We are off – let’s keep the boat going fast and win our area of the course.
32) At the end of the race- stay near the line, rehoist the mainsail halyard which has slipped and do your line R&D as soon as you can after a break and get the genoa up early so as not to be caught unprepared. How is the rig tension?
33) At the end of the day – shrouds back to the base setting, bail out the boat and have a debrief on the boat or at the yacht club and make notes on the course and performance and enter them into a waterproof wet notes book – it makes a great reference tool over the course of time.