Winning the Long Event
Published on October 12th, 2016
When it comes to winning a long event, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page about what’s essential – from the practice until the final race. This article breaks down the sequence of events for a successful long event so you can focus on what’s important.
Farr 40 Flash Gordon 6 is hardly a stranger to large, multi-day regattas; they’re also hardly strangers to winning them. The 2016 Farr 40 North American Championship took place in Chicago in early September, and Flash Gordon 6 was able to add another major win to its belt.
Winning a long event begins before the first gun, when it’s go time, make sure you’re 100% ready to race. However, above all, make sure you’re having fun! Quantum Chicago’s Andy Camarda spoke with the team about their strategy.
Pre-Regatta and Training Day
Preparation and practice can make all the difference. Plan logistics well in advance and make sure everything is in working order. If you’re sailing with a new team or new team members, practice will be extra important.
Make a check list. When it comes to getting logistics ready, lists are your best friend. If you don’t have the time, or you want a second opinion, hire a local pro to put a list together or to discuss your plan with you so the boat and equipment will be ready well before the event. Then check everything.
Even if you regularly sail your boat, do a comprehensive check with enough time to fix any problems. Don’t overlook common items that could be tired, like plastic blocks that need replacing or worn-out lines. Tracks in the mast and below deck systems are often overlooked. Make sure everything runs properly with the least friction possible.
Practice to prevent boat handling mistakes. Can you imagine a football coach calling for a play the team has never practiced before? Of course not. That’s why you need to practice like you play! This has to happen up to the day before the event.
Take the time to practice each maneuver in as many conditions as possible. Make a list of each type of mark rounding (both top and bottom turns), make a short windward-leeward course, and cycle through them so there’s no confusion come race day. Try incorporating Quantum’s Doug Stewart’s plan for practicing before the big race.
The tactician should recognize the team’s abilities and be ready to communicate possible maneuvers well in advance. Remember this: the rougher the conditions, the simpler everything should be so you have enough time for everything.
Communicate. In addition to making sure your crew is all on the same page with regards to logistics and schedule, make sure everyone knows the rules. It’s each crew member’s responsibility to read the race documents (SIs, NORs, and class rules) so there are no surprises. Make sure you remind your team of this. Before the event, point out anything that might be unique to that regatta.
Twas the night before the big regatta… Is there anything else to tick off the boat list? Review your to-dos again and make sure everyone’s set up for success. Flash Gordon 6 trimmer Dave Gerber says, “The biggest thing we do on the Farr 40 is have the boat completely ready to go the night before, except for food and water.” Bow stickers, packing kites, taping ring dings, etc. Be ready to focus on the race in the morning without scrambling or stressing about the details.
Early Days (Day 1-2)
We’ve all heard it: You can’t win the regatta on day one, but you can lose it. So, how do you race to not lose?
Focus. Putting a strong emphasis on 100-percent focus right from the start will allow the crew to relax later in the series. Always host a pre-race briefing on the docks before the day’s first race for any last minute questions, announcements, or reminders. After the briefing, be on the water early enough to run through a few warm-up maneuvers, test boat speed against a fast boat, and review pre-start homework. When practicing, it’s easy to get lackadaisical on the rail or during downwind legs. Remind your team to practice like they’re racing and to keep their focus in the moment.
It’s a game of averages. It’s always great to win, but sail for the best average and not to win races. These are your “keepers.” The best way to a single-digit finish is to execute clean starts away from big pileups and groups of boats going slow. Next, focus on going fast and winning your side; that way you’ll still be in the top ten, even if you went to the wrong side. From there you can move up through the fleet.
If you find yourself at the back of the pack early in a race, work on picking off boats one-by-one instead of risking a low percentage flyer out to the corner. Set small goals that will lead you to the front. That will keep the end goal manageable and prevent it from becoming overwhelming. It also makes it easier to focus on what is needed at the moment without getting lost in the larger goal of finishing higher.
Flash Gordon 6 found themselves behind on the first day of this year’s North Americans. Gerber and the team focused on passing at least one boat each leg to finish third, a small victory for the team but those points mattered in the end.
Keep the alphabet soup off your score line: communicate. Avoid big scores: DNF, DNS, DFL, and the dreaded DSQ. Prevent these by keeping a good dialogue on the boat – make sure the flow of information is precise and pertinent. Tactician and driver communication must be spot-on with a good list of common words so there’s no chance of being misinterpreted. If there is a problem, do everything you can to avoid going to the protest room, even if you feel you are right! When in doubt, take your penalty turns.
Middle Days of the Event
Reassess your goals and adjust your plan if needed. The tactician should reassess your goals and communicate them to the team. Compare your goals to reality and see how you stand. Do you have an opportunity to move up? Are you still in striking distance of your goal, or should you make a new one? If there’s a big gap to your ideal outcome, it may be time to take a few calculated risks to step up a spot or two. Look for opportunities that maximize your potential gains on the fleet with the least amount of risk.
“Identify if you can make a move on the third day, and set your goal,” said Gerber. “In Chicago, we had a nice lead going into day three, and our goal was to put the event away. In Santa Barbara, we were second going into day three, so our goal was not losing any ground to the leaders. Morgan Larson, our tactician, looked for small chances to make gains on the leaders, so we capitalized and put ourselves in a position to win.”
Don’t forget to check the forecast. Knowing the conditions for the final day may also affect your tactics. Both the long- and short-term forecasts will affect your strategy and how you attack later days in the event.
Know the positions of the fleet. Going into the last day, understand how the scores play out and which scenarios will get your team your desired results. Be ready to communicate a clear plan to the team, and make sure someone keeps a running total of finishes for all race days. Knowing the point totals will dictate if you can focus on the boat next to you in the standings or if you need to keep an eye out on a number of boats.
Get all of the information. Talk to the race committee and check race documents to determine how many races are planned for the final day. Race officials generally have a plan based on the conditions and schedule. During day two or three, it’s easier to be more conservative and take small bites out of the deficits your team needs to overcome. On the final day, however, you may need to be more aggressive.
Focus on you, not them. Just like day one, pick a side and win it. If there’s a boat you need to beat, focus on your own speed and handling until the first big cross (80-90 percent of the way up the first beat), then assess what you need to do to advance. Until then, focus 100 percent on your own boat.
Focus on what you can control. You can’t control the other boats, the wind, or the weather, but you can control how you respond, so sail your boat. Focus on passing the boats near you, and make gains where you can.
Preparation, communication, and focus will carry you a long way. The most important thing is to remember to have fun and keep the stress down. Stick to that plan and maybe one day you’ll be giving Helmut and Evan Jahn a run for their money!