How the Best Teams Prepare

Take a page from these four season champions. Their pre-season prep always ensures their boats, and teams, are race-ready when the series starts. From our June 2011 issue.

Sailing World

Tech Review June 2011

Allen Clark/photoboat.com

Winning your local series or regional championship requires one consistent element: a crew that shows up each week ready to win. But early in the season, success requires showing up on Day 1 with the boat, rig, and sails sorted, ready, and reliable. To learn how the best teams across the country tackle their pre-season prep, and specifically what they’ve done this year, we tracked down four owners and came away with one critical point: if you think you have to fix or upgrade something now, do so, or pay for it later. And yes, neglect your bottom to your own demise.

Siren Song, J/133
Long Island Sound's Top IRC Boat
Owner: Tom Carroll, New York

In boat lives, Tom Carroll’s J/133 Siren Song is still relatively young—six years old and immaculately kept. Despite a few thousand racing miles, offshore and around the cans in Western Long Island Sound, Siren Song doesn’t need a whole lot of speed-shop attention from season to season, just the usual winterizing routine. Small stuff, says Carroll, enough for a fair winter work list to keep on top of. But the top boat from Long Island Sound does have a major project on tap going into the 2011 season, yet another busy one in the Northeast, even without the Bermuda Race.

“We had a good year last year, so no need for radical changes,” says Carroll. With the Annapolis to Newport Race as the team’s season opener, Carroll intends to haul the boat after the race for a bottom job. “It’s time to paint the bottom.”

Carroll is unsure what paint compound or brand he’ll use, but you can bet it’ll be top-of-the-line. How important is it to have a good bottom? Ask him about the 2010 Long Island Sound IRC Championship, which he feels he could’ve won. “I got screwed in a bad way,” he says. Unbeknownst to him, for several weeks, his normal diver was sending a fill-in who never bothered to adequately clean the bottom. “We did horribly in the first few races. Once we realized how bad it was, we went in—it’s just not worth it when it’s that bad,” he says. “I’m a firm believer in a clean bottom. I’ve seen the difference.”

New for the season is a UK-Halsey laminate racing main and Code Zero. The latter is a much better shape and cut than his last. “If you’re in the right conditions, a good Code Zero makes a huge difference,” says Carroll. “We could’ve used a sail like this many times over the past few years.”

Carroll also will focus on updating the boat’s sat-phone system. For the 2010 Bermuda Race, he installed a KVH TracPhone unit, with which he’s been supremely satisfied. “A lot of sat-phone companies are not replacing their aging satellites, so you get big holes and periods where you go a few hours without anything,” says Carroll. “Ocean racing is a really tech-savvy thing nowadays, and we really rely on it for race tracking and everything else, including downloading the free water gribs.

“We don’t like to just have all the latest technical stuff with the boat. The boat is one piece of the puzzle; the crew is another even bigger piece. Boat for boat, the crew is what counts.”

Flying Circus
Pearson 30 Flyer
Chesapeake Yacht Racing Association
PHRF B Season Champ
Owner: David Coleman, Baltimore, Md.

David Coleman’s Flying Circus is one of the best-kept PHRF boats on the Chesapeake Bay, the result of a long love affair with his 30-year-old Pearson Flyer, a boat he’s raced since the 1990s. “It’s the boat to have,” he says. “For 30 feet, it’s roomy and beamy; it’s just a big J/24. It’s fast, fun, responsive, and the sail-area-to-displacement makes it a quick little boat.” According to Coleman, race-ready Flyers can be found for $15,000 to $20,000.

Most of the local racing is casual beer-can style, and the fleet is a mix, with some teams using the weeknight series as practice for weekend “majors,” while most others are out just to have a good time. For more serious PHRF competition, Flying Circus regularly heads south to Annapolis, where “the sharp guys are.” Coleman and crew are regulars at the region’s major regattas.

“My approach is that, when we leave the dock, the boat can win, and then it’s entirely up to us. Our pre-season goes in this order: bottom, rig tune, crew. Each one has an action item each year. This year, we had to refresh the sail inventory with a No. 2. For the bottom, I use Interlux VC Performance Epoxy, sanded to 2000 grit. It’s literally sanded to a polished metal smoothness. I drysail the boat, which means we haul in and out every Tuesday, and then put it in again to do one major regatta per month.”

In terms of running rigging, he has the benefit of having a professional rigger as his foredeck crew, and leaves it up to him to ensure all the lines are as up-to-date and high-tech as can be. “He just puts them on the boat as needs be,” says Coleman. “All I do is give him a check.” Recent upgrades include all the traveler lines, halyards, running gear, and the backstay control line.

In terms of electronics, this spring Coleman will be installing a new multisensor triducer. “I didn’t have a knotmeter on the boat, so we finally put one in. Last year, we put in a TackTick M30 system and went wireless.”

Coleman’s winter work list includes shrink-wrapping Flying Circus and then combing through the boat during the offseason to replace pins, shackles, and anything that’s a potential problem. In the process he re-beds fittings and hardware and services the cockpit winches.

Scout, Sydney 41
Chicago Yachting Association
Boat of the Year
Owner: Dorsey Ruley

Dorsey Ruley’s Scout lineage is well known to the Lake Michigan racing scene, and his newest boat, an Australian-built Sydney 41, is a tough one to beat on any given weekend. Picking up the CYA’s Boat of Year trophy is no fluke says Dorsey: it’s all about the crew work (and who doesn’t say that?). He’s adamant about having a well-prepared boat. It’s made the difference more than once, he says. With less time fixing and more time sailing, his team of regulars makes better use of their time on the water.

In terms of tackling Scout’s work list, Ruley is a believer in crew participation; they’ve meet a few times over Chicago’s long winter, breaking off into subgroups and working on particular areas. “It’s a good time of year to get things done,” he says. “You have to make it a good time for the crew. If you don’t work together on the boat, it will show up later.”

He’s upgrading tired running rigging and will be attacking the bottom with Interlux VC17. “Torrenson’s [Marine] will spray it, and we’ll take it from there,” he says. “When the boat’s in the water, we have a diver come and clean the bottom about every two weeks. We’ll do the teak, too; that’s normal procedure. You have to keep the upkeep going, because the longer you go, the harder it gets.”

With three new sails in 2010, the sail inventory should be all set for this summer’s Race to Mackinac. “We’ve done it so many times, it’s a routine,” says Ruley. “The prep shouldn’t be an all new experience each year.” When they get to the end of the year and see something that needs attention, they replace it right away.

“Preparation is really important,” says Ruley. “It leads the way to success. But we’ve got a good mixture of people. With big boats especially, you have a lot of crew turnover each year. Two or three will go away because of other commitments, so we focus on filling those spots by advertising on craigslist, listing in local sailing rags, and posting signs in area clubs. We might start with 30, interview 10, and maybe get three.”

Rags, C&C 115
2010 Lake Yachting Racing Association Boat of the Year
Owners: Judy and Frank Button, Toronto, Canada

The Lake Ontario scene is a healthy microcosm of handicap racing today, and picking up the area’s Boat of the Year trophy is a feat reserved for those committed to a full calendar of racing. For Judy and Frank Button, co-owners of the C&C 115 Rags, [Judy, says Frank, is the better driver of the two] their selection came on the heels of a long string of successful regattas scattered around the Canadian and American sides of the lake. They covered a lot of water and hit all the key events with their dual-purpose machine, and persistence paid off.

It’s the Buttons’ fifth year with the C&C 115—they came out of the Laser 28 class—and when we spoke in late April, they were headed to the boatyard with an abbreviated to-do list.

“The bottom paint is the first thing to be done. Other than that, there’s not much that needs to be done,” says Frank. One important fix that has their attention, though, is fabricating a guard for one of the spinnaker-pole track end fittings. “Sometimes the sheets snag on it, and that breaks the fitting,” says Frank. “We actually had a guard on it last year, and it broke, too. This year, we’ve come up with a piece of Lexan that’s designed to let the sheets slip off more easily. We hope it works.”

The big hardware alteration they’re making is to the steering pedestal guard. When jibing from reach to reach (in the pre-start, for example), the mainsheet snags on the pedestal. It has broken three times already, so they’re installing a 48-inch diameter guard “that’s almost bigger than the steering wheel itself.”

The pedestal guard protects the new Garmin 740S chartplotter, as well. And that’s important, because the Buttons believe the chartplotter is a piece of race gear upon which they rely heavily. “When doublehanded racing [as they often do], we always have the course in the chartplotter and watch where we are going from on deck.”

For the time being, the bottom is VC17, but the boat (and the Buttons) are retiring and moving to Vancouver, where they plan to really cruise the boat and mix in a few of the Northwest’s best distance races. As he prepares for saltwater, Frank is pondering a switch to Interlux Micron CSC.

Rag’s sail inventory is anything but rags for 2011. They’ve taken possession of a new Doyle D4 jib, a working jib, and a Heavy No. 1. Otherwise, Rags will be undergoing an extensive cleaning and inspection as opening day nears on Lake Ontario. “Shackles and blocks, we check them all,” says Frank. “As we launch, we make sure the cotter pins are tight. Everything is pretty new, so there’s not a whole lot we need to do. The big thing for us is making sure we have the crew together; that’s more important than anything else.”

The Buttons host parties in the fall and spring to keep the crew connected, and they settle on a schedule and get commitments well in advance (about nine crew for each regatta). “It boils down to good people,” says Frank. “We’re not looking for experts, just people who enjoy sailing.”