Yahoo! It's sailing season and everyone is ready to race. The skis are stored for the summer and so are the socks. Now it's time to get out on the racecourse, starting the year off with a clean slate. The first step you should take is to define your goals for the season and set up a schedule. If you've read many articles I've written before, you won't be surprised to hear I'm a believer in the theory of "a little planning goes a long way toward making the season satisfying." Here in Annapolis the racing season starts off with the Lands' End NOOD Regatta at the end of April. An impressive 274-boat fleet arrived ready to go this year. At the same time, the Mid-Atlantic collegians were holding their championship, two high school regattas were underway, and 182 Opti sailors were in town for their team trials. With all this energy on the waterfront, including my own plans for Etchells racing, I decided to ask what the top finishers at the NOOD had done to get in gear for the season. Overall winner at Annapolis was Dr. Neil Sullivan in the competitive Melges 24 class. This event was also the class's national championship and his victory was no fluke. "Our present Melges team sailed Key West Race Week and Miami Race Week," said Sullivan. "We practiced a couple of days before each event and finished third at Key West Race Week and second at Miami Race Week. For the NOOD, we spent two days practicing. Dave Ullman flew in from California, and we tested new sail shapes. Dave steered one boat with Charlie Ogletree, and Morgan Reeser steered my boat with Max Skelley from Ullman here on the Chesapeake. Max called tactics. This experience really helped us." Pete McChesney is a consistent top placer in the J/22 class. He first took care of the basics: "I got a good crew-my wife and Allen Terhune. We made sure the boat was ready to go. I took a day off to fix things." McChesney also purchased a new jib, mainsail, and spinnaker. When I asked about pre-regatta practice, Pete took a deep breath and reported, "With three boys-ages 5, 2, and 1-extra time is tough. But we did go out sailing 2 hours early on the first day." Jim Urban, a long-time Catalina 27 racer, said, "The NOOD is very challenging because it's so early. You can always depend on heavy-air days, and we weren't disappointed. The heavy air favors the more experienced crews, and any cobwebs in the system come out with a vengeance. We did some of the frostbite races and went out twice before the race to tune up. And on Friday we left the dock early. More work would have helped, but that was all the time we had. The boat was in great shape from an overhaul last year. One interesting point was that our instruments went out on the first day so we simply kept our heads out of the boat to make it go fast." Former Storm Trysail Club Commodore John Storck used the NOOD to recover from an unfortunate accident. "This is no joke," said Storck. "I left my J/80 in Annapolis following an accident while returning from Key West. The boat rolled over on Rt. 95 in an ice storm. Basically it was totaled. I needed a new mast, trailer, and the port side was crushed with the deck split into the cockpit floor. Bob Muller did a terrific repair job. We did the NOOD regatta as a way to test the boat. My nephew and I put the new mast in on Thursday and went sailing. We had two new crew who had never been on the boat before. We always try to arrive a day early and practice the day before the event-I learned this from my children." Hugh Bethell, like many Chesapeake J/105 owners, swapped a shoal-draft keel for a deep-draft version over the winter. "Most of what we did was standard spring commissioning stuff: We finished fairing the keel, painted the bottom, fixed what was broken, etc. We were able to get in one evening of practice and one evening race before the NOOD. However, we did Key West this year, and that made a big difference in keeping us focused and tuned up. My feeling is that the only way to get ready for big fleet races is to sail in big fleet races." Last fall I sailed a one-day Etchells regatta with Jud Smith and Rob Erda ("Racing with a Master," April '05). Picking up where we left off, I felt ready for a three-day regatta, my first in a couple years and an important step for me after my cancer battle. A Wednesday night race two days before the NOOD helped me get reoriented to the boat. In Race One, like Jim Urban, we didn't use the compass. The variable wind strength made it hard to read the shifts. Sailing by "feel" and not chasing compass numbers was a big help. We had a 2-1-2 opening day, but my party time was limited because I was exhausted from concentrating so hard. On Day 2 we had a great start and watched our lead deteriorate throughout the race; all three of us tensed up. The setback reminded me how hard it is to recover from mistakes. We ended that race sixth after leading early. The next race we sailed all the way to the east side of the course, but the wind shifted hard right. Oops! At the first mark we rounded 20th out of 23 boats. In a strange way this further setback became comical. Jud, Rob, and I relaxed and went to work. Downwind we passed six boats. On the next windward leg we learned what the wind was doing by watching longtime Chesapeake sailor John Sherwood pass 10 boats by heading east (even though this direction was unfavorable earlier). The gambit was worth a try. We gained substantial distance on the leaders downwind by sailing on Sherwood's side of the course. At the final mark (in sixth) we headed east again, found new wind, and won. What a great sport! The real lesson was calming down and watching what was working. Mike Datch and Mike Hobson, who won the J/24 Class, had similar issues, as Hobson said: "During the first few races we found the biggest problem was our communication being rusty. We made tactical mistakes because we weren't sure of who had the best view of the fleet. As our communication got better, so did our results." A good result sets a nice pace for the summer. "It was nice to do well," Storck said, but we also learned what we need to work on. We ordered two new sails." McChesney hopes his victory gives him some momentum: "Winning the NOOD was definitely a big boost for the upcoming [J/22] North Americans." Jim Urban summed the regatta up: "I think the most important factor for us was crew. I had a great team that came together for this event and that is never to be underestimated. No ringers, just a solid group of experienced weekend racers. We joked a lot, had fun, enjoyed our successes and laughed off the mistakes of which there were many. We had many comebacks from bad positions and never resigned ourselves to just 'finish the race.'"