The Fall 2012 season was characterized by light, shifty breezes and as always in the Warren River, there was a strong current. As would be expected with light conditions, nobody dominated every week, with Scott winning 3 of the weeks, and Bill and I each taking 2. In the end, it was “not having a bad race” that was the key. Scott and I ended virtually tied, with the math going in my favor. Here are some of what I think were keys to success.
*The start. The start is very important, especially in the short courses that we sail in Frostbite, much like what college sailors spend 6 days a week perfecting over 4 years. Though it has been a long time since those days for me, there are still some key rules that I follow that some really great coaches and sailors taught me.
1. Never gybe before the start. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that it is the move that has the most risk of a capsize or crash, or snagging your mainsheet on something, especially if it is windy. It also moves you away from the line quickly, which with the short starting sequence is usually not good. I have to admit that I occasionally break this rule if it is light wind, and the tide is against the wind.
2. Stay within the triangle. When sailing back and forth along the line before the start, never go outside the laylines to the boat and the pin. I actually rarely go outside a box perpendicular to the ends. The idea is not to win every start, it is just to be in the front row with speed. Going outside the box can put you in high risk places, depending on how other boats setup. It also leaves you less options if there is a windshift.
3. Never setup for a barging start. This is related to staying within the triangle. Though occasionally someone barging ends up with a hole, and then can tack off to the right (when that is clearly favored due to current) and be first to the windward mark. That won’t happen every time. Others will figure it out and cause congestion there. And remember, the best series is the one with the least bad races.
4. Once the gun goes off, stick the bow up and go. If you are thinking that you are close to the line before the start with your bow down, don’t keep it there as the gun goes off. Steer up hard and sheet in. Remember it only matters where your bow is at go, so don’t hold off after the gun or your close-to-the-line start could be wasted.
5. For the minute after the start, you should have full concentration on boatspeed and hiking. If you have a decent start, this is what will put you in the front row, and allow you to make your own decisions. The only time that I break this rule is if there is a big left shift, and I can tack and cross.
*In a shifty breeze, do not bang a corner…even if you are behind. One may think that in a shifty breeze, the most gain can be made by banging a corner. However, what we typically see is an oscillating breeze that has shifts less than every 3 minutes. So, that means that you want to take advantage of every shift, and you can’t do that if you are in a corner. Now, many times the winner of the first leg does come out of a corner with the last shift, but consistency is the key, and the next few boats are usually those that played each shift/puff. This brings up an interesting starting situation. As long as the starting line is square to the average shift, then I would say that you can start anywhere on the line, even if there happens to be a left or right shift at the start.
*New rig setup. Eric, Bill and Amanda came back from the Worlds with information on a new rig setup that some were using. Considering that my boatspeed has been quite variable in recent years, I was quick to give it a try. It is actually simple to do if you are already setup with an adjustable jens rig. You basically put in a jens, and then just snug the upper halyard. As I understand it, this pivots the rig back and allows for tighter sheeting without bending the boom. Therefore allowing for higher pointing. The other thing that it does is shift the whole rig back. So, you then need to move the rig a bit forward by sliding the gooseneck back. I sailed in the light stuff with the gooseneck at 15.5”, where I would normally have it at 14”. I found that the boat was really balanced in the light stuff without having to heel the boat, which seemed fast.
*Downwind can be more important than upwind! This fall we had multiple weeks when the current was moving against the wind. This caused there to be a longer time sailing downwind than upwind. The fleet would get to the windward mark quickly, and then all come to a big slow down and crunch together as they rounded the windward mark. Being first around the windward mark was always precarious, and it was very difficult to hold that place. So, there is no relaxing downwind. You need to search the puffs, and also understand the tidal flows. It can be a long way downwind. A few years ago Bill gave be some really good advice on sailing in a big fleet. When you round the windward mark, you need to escape. Ensure that you catch the first puff or wave, and just get out of there. The situation quickly changes at a windward mark, where the boats ahead go from having clear air to very dirty air. I find when the wind and current are against each other, even in a small fleet, this advice is very beneficial.
*Keep a notebook. This fall, I started keeping a digital notebook, writing down the conditions and happenings each week. I use Evernote, so when I am thinking about any situation that came up, I can update that via my laptop, iPad or any via any other device on the web. Just writing things down really enforces lessons.
Happy New Year! See you in March!
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