A Coastal Race Primer
A Coastal Race Primer
Shorter point-to-point races require a different level of preparation and a more assertive approach to tackling the course. "Strategy" from our May 2012 issue.
A coastal overnight or distance race is a lot of fun, but can be extremely challenging because of its proximity to shore and its (generally) shorter length. Depending on the racecourse’s twists and turns, the navigator will not get much sleep, and the same is often true for the sailing team. The shorter race length puts a priority on keeping the crew’s weight on the rail rather than down below in the bunks. In other words, your off-watch crew may be in for a bit of weather-rail snoozing.
Rule No 1: Know before you go
As with any race, preparation is key. Along with the customary study of the weather, current, and general local knowledge that’s part of any race preparation, the navigator should do homework on the availability of wind observations on or near the racecourse. Racing close to shore means that there’s a better likelihood of a reliable Internet connection through cell phone networks, so a list of “bookmarked” URLs should be put together so these observations (airport, weather buoy, etc.) can be easily tracked during the race. If there’s current information (charts or models) available that too should be part of your briefing.
Another pre-race task is loading the race’s waypoints into the boat’s navigation program. The benefit is two-fold. Firstly, you can start to do route optimization and distribute the results to the crew so they can begin their preparation. From these studies, the crew will be better able to decide what goes into their duffel bag, plan the provisioning, and organize the quiver of appropriate race sails. It also helps get everybody’s head into the game. Before leaving the dock, you want everyone on the boat familiar with the racecourse, and the tactical possibilities.
In the pre-race meeting the team should review the course on a chart or large format printout. If there are a lot of twists and turns to the course, make a laminate or two of a simple racecourse picture that can be kept up forward, so that it’s not just the afterguard thinking about where the boat is on the course, the next leg, and sail-change considerations. The goal in a multiple-leg course is for everybody to be thinking at least one leg ahead, which helps prevent last-minute surprises.
Rule No. 2: Stack sails in order of deployment
At the pre-race meeting the team should agree on the loading of stores into the boat interior, e.g., sails loaded 60-to-40 to starboard, or in the middle of the fore-and-aft range. Because moving sails and equipment for ballasting purposes is prohibited, it pays to be organized as to where things are stowed, and also have a stowage plan as each sail goes up and down.
Keep this sort of racecourse communication going throughout the race so the crew can have the next maneuver (and sail options) in mind. The more maneuvers and sail changes there are on a course, the bigger the premium on really nailing this aspect of the race. One good practice is to display layline time (or mark time) on the instruments where everybody can see it. With this information the crew knows, for example, when the next mark (say, a 90-degree left turn) is 20 minutes out, and it’s time to really be thinking about that next sail call and getting all the sheets rigged correctly.
Rule No. 3: If it’s short, go long
Be realistic about your sail changes and their “cost/benefit.” That in-line jib change, which is relatively easy in smooth water and daylight, can be a lot more time consuming at night in big waves. In such conditions, with another course and sail change coming up quickly, it’s often better to hang in with the wrong sail than to pay the penalty associated with a change to the right sail. In shifty conditions, keep to the “five-minute rule” (if the shift is substantial, wait 5 minutes to make sure it’s permanent and real) as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary sail changes.
If the coastal race is long enough to require a watch system, it will likely be different in structure than for a longer ocean race. Rather than having 50 percent of the crew on watch and 50 percent off watch, you will want to employ a power-rotation type system where a higher percentage of crew is on watch. This means less sleep time for the off-watch, but that’s a given in this type of course. But rest is important, even in these shorter, sprint-style races, so be thinking about which of the legs are long enough to get the crew a good catnap in a bunk, and have the skipper or watch captains get creative in sending people below if necessary. Sometimes, only the drivers and trimmers may get some real bed rest.