I always spend a fair amount of time thinking through a regatta afterwards. This past weekend we sailed the FBYC Annual Regatta in a fleet of 34 Flying Scots. Results Some top players showed up and I sailed one of the better regattas I’ve had in a while, both on the score card and in terms of enjoyment. The event presented a lot of challenges and it seemed like a good opportunity to write down some of my thoughts on the keys to success. It turns out there were a lot of things going on ( and I’ve skipped a lot) so this may be more than you want to know but if you are interested here you go.
mental/crew - Sailing is a mental sport. The psychology of sport is too broad a topic to really get into but some psychological factors really helped our team in this regatta. The interaction between skipper and crew is a critical component in the mental game. 4 days before the regatta my crew decided she needed to spend the weekend with our kid. As it happens my buddy Len Guenther had the same issue on the same day. We talked and decided just to relax and have some fun for the weekend.
We negotiated a deal where we would sail my boat on saturday and Len's boat on Sunday and we would swap positions each race. We knew we wouldn't have a chance at the overall awards but approached the event with a relaxed attitude and treated each race as its own event. Knowing we had a big fleet my primary goal for the event was to get off the starting line well. Being relaxed and not worrying about how we were doing overall really helped me focus on the immediate, and the lack of pressure seemed to help our racing. Having fun is fast!
waves/chop - the chop was a significant factor both days. On saturday we sailed in left-over chop and light air. Sunday was windier and there was a short steep chop. Both days you had to sail the boat free. In a Flying Scot (and most other boats) in chop pinching is the kiss of death. One top skipper thought he was at least five degrees below his flat-water optimum angle on most upwind legs.
Additionally on Sunday the waves were not square with the wind most of the day. They seemed to be bending into the river and so were setting to the left of the wind. This made starboard tack more into the waves and port tack less into the waves. So on starboard you really had to sail free and on port you could sail closer to the wind. Port felt much better to me and was a lot easier to sail. On starboard I was constantly steering and never cleated the mainsail. The more challenging the sailing conditions the more opportunity there is for gain/loss.
Sail Trim – Mainsail first. One of the biggest mistakes you can make with our Flying Scot sails is to use too much vang. I had very little vang on this weekend. None on Saturday and just enough to keep the boom from really lifting on Sunday. I had so little on that I didn’t need to release it down wind. The other big mistake you can make is not adjusting luff tension. On Saturday I had slight wrinkles in the luff – so pretty loose tension and maybe used the cunningham once or twice in a few puffs later in the day. Sunday I had the luff quite tight and used Cunningham in addition to the halyard. Dave Neff had so much luff tension that he felt he needed to let his Cunningham off when he turned down wind for fear that he would break the halyard. I didn’t have that much on but Dave was faster. Our sails do not like a ton of outhaul. I had the outhaul all the way off on Saturday and about half way on Sunday.
The result of these three controls in medium/heavy air is a mainsail with a fair amount of shape down low and a good bit of twist. So the sail has a lot of drive/power in the bottom third and opens up to spill air up top. The vang is just needed to keep the sail from opening up too much. The Cunningham flattens the sail overall and pulls the draft forward which frees up the back of the sail. I can’t stress enough the importance of cunninham/halyard tension. Moving the center of effort forward in the sail unloads the helm and the boat just takes off.
The jib was a little easier to trim. Most of the weekend I had the clew weather-sheeted up to about the middle of the seat and the primary sheet trimmed so that the leech tell-tale was almost stalled. In lumpy water you always want good flow off the back of the jib. Nothing too tricky.
wind – The wind was different on the two days but offered opportunities. On a day with a constant 8 knot wind there is little room to gain advantage. When the wind is shifting 10+ degrees some serious gains are there for the taking.
There were pretty big wind shifts and pressure differences both days. Trying to stay in the pressure bands and working the wind shifts was a constant both days. Down wind there were opportunities to get into puffs and pass people. Upwind keeping an eye well up the course and looking for pressure and then playing the shifts was big.
We made big gains in races one and two on Saturday by anticipating the sea breeze. The wind started out of the east and we knew that as the sea breeze built it would pull the direction around to the south. So we tended to the right side of the course. We didn’t bang the right corner but worked that side. There were still oscillations but the biggest lifts came from the right. In fact we passed two boats within 100 yards of the finish in race one on a puff and shift on the right side.
Course – The course was pretty square to the wind both days but the starting line was not. The pin was almost always favored by 5+ degrees. One start on Saturday was 20+ degrees pin favored. Being on the correct end of the line meant starting several boat lengths ahead. The best place to start much of the time was about 60% up the line from the committee boat. That gave you much of the leverage but didn’t put you in the thick of the pin battle. If you didn’t say hello to Miles (pin boat skipper) a whole lot more than to Rick (PRO) you were working the wrong end of the line.
Traffic Management – With 35 boats all wanting to be in the same place at the same time it can get pretty congested. The biggest key to success this weekend was probably getting clean air early in the race. If you were able to get off the line cleanly with a good lane and keep it you were instantly in the top third of the fleet. We had mostly good starts this weekend. We had two really bad ones but we were able to tack away and get into a good lane within a minute or two and get the boat rolling in clear air.
Remember that a good start can’t be declared at the starting gun. If you aren’t sailing in clear air and in the correct direction a minute or two after the start you didn’t get a good start. Good starts are critical in a big fleet. And if you get a bad start you need to get into a clear lane asap. Coming around the leeward mark often put us in a pack that was as big as a typical club race day. We had to find a clear lane as quickly as we could on that leg as well.
Down wind clear lanes are more difficult to manage but keeping clear air is very important. Defending a lane from in front is tough but always be looking for clear air.
While some of us are wracking our brains just trying to keep the boat from stopping completely in the chop, for the top Flying Scot sailors steering in chop is second nature and they aren’t even thinking about it. The really great and challenging thing about our sport, at least for me, is the number of variables that are in constant play. The ultimate key to success is being able to manage as many as possible and find all the little advantages when you can get them. The very best sailors are the best because they do it a lot and are able to push a lot of these fundamentals back in their mind and concentrate on the most important variables. The more time we sail in various conditions the easier it gets and the more we can think about the big picture.