The Safety Net

If you have a good routine, you can always be prepared for the worst-case scenario at regattas. Well, almost always.
Sailing World

College Sailing Nationals

Prepare for the worst to sail your best. Bill Records

Call me paranoid if you like, but there are some mistakes that will take you down—they’ll cost you a race, or your pride—or inconvenience you for an entire regatta. For the most part, you have to experience these slip-ups to understand their gravity, but for your sake I hope that this article will be enough to protect you from yourself. You might think that these safeguards are overkill, but after you’ve been publicly shamed by Bern Noack you will realize that they are not.

First, there’s the forgotten gear. Running through a mental checklist each time you pack should be enough, but some things always tend to go missing. One common culprit is the pinnie. Small, compressible, essential—and yet all too often left behind. So, shove an extra pinnie into your gear bag as a permanent fixture; it can be an old, ratty one if that’s all you have. All that really matters is that it has your mascot and your school colors on it, and it’s in one piece. An extra pair of slightly sub-par gloves and warm socks are also easy to shove in your bag, so just put them in there to marinate and forget about them until either you or a teammate is suddenly in desperate need. If your car is often taken to regattas, throw an extra lifejacket in the trunk in case someone totally spaces out on their flotation needs.

Once you’re fully outfitted, it’s time to focus on making your boat error-proof. Aside from the classic taping of ring-dings, you should also e-tape the shackle at the top of the jib if it’s at all loose and check to make sure the knot in the top of the main is secure. One safeguard that I strongly recommend is a knot in the outhaul, right at where you’d want the maximum ease to be (on a run). This takes off the stress of having to finagle with the outhaul after the windward offset—you just uncleat and go—and also provides a worst-case trim for the upwind. No, you don’t _want _to be sailing upwind with your outhaul eased that much, but if the cleat slips, you’re much better off sailing with it eased a bit than fully out to where most crews tie the knot—a good 8 inches or so down.


As the breeze picks up, there are so many more safeguards that come into play. If it’s really blowing, bring out two bailers—one tied in and one free for easy access. (As an in-between step, Boston College uses some really neat Velcro which I have yet to experiment with—perhaps it’s also sponsored by Under Armour but I bet Michael’s has a similar equivalent.) Speaking of tying things in, put a croakie on your sunglasses for all conditions, and if you like your flat brim, tie it to your lifejacket with a little bit of spectra. Additionally, check to make sure that your hiking straps are not only secure, but tied and bungeed tightly enough that you can flatten directly into them. Downwind in a CJ, crank that vang on and continually look backwards, calling out puffs and both mentally and physically preparing for them. As soon as your boat starts to rock, plant yourself solidly to leeward and don’t move until you’re stable!

Perhaps the most essential safeguard of all is an extra body. At qualifiers and championships, you’ll likely bring an extra crew per division, but what about an extra skipper? The most useful back-up teammate to have is someone who can both crew and skipper in a pinch. Skippers can be taken down by booms, the flu, or a bad case of food poisoning, and having that extra body at important regattas can make all the difference. No one is invincible, so if it’s an intersectional then you need to keep your options open.

All of these safeguards are just extra tips to go above and beyond the standard packing and set-up that you should be doing; those subjects deserve their own full-on attention. If you have a good routine, you can always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Well, almost always. If your boat starts to flip, then either hit the centerboard, or let go before you turtle it. There are worse things than a little swim in the Charles—like a mainsail shamefully smothered in that toxic mud.


Amelia Quinn is a senior at Tufts University, studying a little bit of Arts and Sciences and a lot of sailing. Find more of her blogs here, and pick up our March 2013 issue for our annual Guide to College Sailing.