There is a lot you can figure out about a venue and what side of the course may pay before you even set foot in your boat or sail to the race area.
Common things to research are:
- Forecast - Is there a weather system that will effect the days breeze, increasing/decreasing, backing/veering.
- Rain fall - head right into the cold air from above...?, clouds - head towards them.....thunderstorms etc etc
- Localised topography - hills, headlands, narrow channels causing increased current, dark land matter that will warm up quickly and start a thermal seas breeze, water temperature, you only need 2-3 degrees of difference between water and air temp to start a thermal system going, assuming the gradient breeze is offshore.
- Current - tide times, flow direction and probable location of the race course in relation to this.
All these factors you can research before you even go afloat so you can have a picture of which side of the course you would likely be favouring before any localised wind shifts are thought about, in reality 75% of the time I already know which side of the course I want to go before I hit the race area, whether I am correct or not is another matter!
Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the race area, the big sea champs are often held a lot further offshore than regular events/club racing so don’t be afraid to get out there and start learning about the race area. I have a routine I stick to for all my event races. firstly I get to the committee boat, often if you are close hauled or running to the race area you can get some compass headings pencilled into the brain. Once at the boat I sail upwind for 10-15 mins tacking every couple of mins to get the variance in headings according to the shifts. This also allows you to get the setup dialled in for the first beat, I then bear away and run back to the committee boat, by this time there is usually a start line laid so I get a good transit, if there is no land behind the pin end then try and get a reverse transit
from the pin end to the committee boat, anything to help get your bearings on a long line. I always get a transit and if there is a general recall repeat the process so its just part of the pre race routine.
Once I have the transit I check the line bias, then I can firm up the first beat strategy, if I want to go right but there is pin bias or vice versa how do I deal with it, take the bias and hope I nail the start and can tack early? (high risk) or start at the unfavoured end and tack immediately? or trust my transit and start in the middle, usually ahead of the fleet around you if you nail a transit and there is always a midline sag and then work my way to the side I want? decisions decisions.....!!!
In the final minute before the start it does not matter if its a 100 boat fleet as you are only racing the guy to windward and leeward of you, these are the 2 immediate boats you need to nail to get off the start line, its all about jockeying for position keeping as close under the boat to windward to make their life hard whilst opening a nice gap to leeward to accelerate into, but beware to protect this as if you open a nice gap someone will see it and come and join the party!
Then you just have to be aware of rogue elements, usually early on in a big event there is some idiot reaching down the line with their boom banging off your forestay oblivious to any rules (don’t be that idiot!!!)
“10-15 seconds to go its about accelerating whilst watching your transit”, be confident in it, and as long as you have done it correctly, ignore the calls from around you saying you are over! Their loss, your gain! having said that in 7 nationals i have done I have had an OCS in every one! You could argue you are not trying enough if you don’t get one! Once off the line its about putting your pre race strategy into action, stick to your guns and what you think should work, as there is nothing worse, getting frustrated as the boats heading the way you wanted to cross you miles in front after you got distracted and went the opposite way to your plan!
As a venue it provides fantastic sea conditions, often mixed in with some unpleasant conditions for a day or so but fantastic for the rest of it, it will likely provide big waves and a decent breeze so you need to be on your game with setup and sailing style to make the most of it.
If its breezy it will be wavy so upwind you need to hike hard and be able to steer around the waves, DO NOT PINCH, its fine to do this on an inland flat water venue but you will get munched in the waves. depower, ease the main and foot, FAST, rake the rig back and raise the centreboard to balance the boat. a balanced boat is a fast boat, too much helm and you wont be able to go fast, the only way to remove this helm is flatten the sail and raise the board.
At the top mark the reaches should be fun! Ease the cunningham, inhaul, outhaul and power up the sail, raise the board up 2/3rds and get the boat planing. Downwind is not the time to rest and in the breeze is even harder work than upwind with constant sheet movements, body movements forward and back and steering, prepare to pant! Do what you can (legally!!) to keep the boat planing, heading up in lulls and bearing away on waves and gusts to keep the average speed up, now its time for the gybe mark. easy, if its fresh to frightening a big ease of the kicker as you steer in will mean the main will ‘auto depower' as the main fills on the new side due to the amount of twist in the leech so steer in confidently and get the boom over, you will survive!
Same down the next reach and prepare for the 2nd beat hike off.....once at the top mark its the run and where you can gain boat lengths over your competitors. Its all about steering, pointing dead downwind at the leeward mark is the slowest and rockiest way downwind, as the wind hits the sail and doesn’t know whether to flow to the leech or the luff, this unbalance creates the roll everyone hates, by heading up to a broad reach or bearing away so you are sailing by the lee the airflow is settled in 1 direction across the sail and is therefore very balanced, this is why you see sailors at the front steering through big angles as they go from reach to by the lee to get the optimum route through, round and over the waves.
Cross the finish line, grab some drink as you recover and get ready for the next one! Nationals day 1 done!
See you all there.