Preparing for Success

Published on June 20th, 2017

Joel Ronning’s Catapult (USA) took top honors at the 2016 Alcatel J/70 World Championship, beating a field of 68 boats on San Francisco Bay. Preparation was key to their success, as the investment in crew (John Kostecki, Chris Stocke and Patrick Wilson), training, and coach support (Grant “Fuzz” Spanhake) was at a level few teams could match.

In a report by Wilson for the J/70 class, we provide some of the team’s winning tips that are relevant for most boat types.

I am going to discuss a few important topics on boat preparation, as well as the process my team and I go through on our boat Catapult prior to the first race of each day. As with many things in sailing, there is no absolute right or wrong way to prepare for a regatta. The key is finding a routine that works best for you and your team.

Sailing is a complex and complicated sport that involves countless variables both in and out of your control. Whether you are competing in your local weekend event or a major international regatta, planning and preparation can be used to give yourselves the best opportunity for success.

Boat Preparation
1. Rig Tune: Having a proper and repeatable base setting for your rig is critical to boat speed. Make sure to use the correct tuning guide depending on which brand of sails you use. In my experience, all the guides are quite accurate and a good place to start. They are a guide so make minor tweaks and changes over time to fit your boat and style of sailing.

The dock tune will get you close, but do not hesitate to add a half turn to one side and take a half turn off the opposite to get the mast in column while sailing. Once you have established your base, calipering the rig is the next step. Using calipers, measure the distance between the studs of the turnbuckle for the lower, uppers and forestay.

On Catapult, we write the numbers on the deck next to each shroud in a permanent marker. With these numbers, it is easier to tune the boat from the time you first step the mast, as well as day to day during an event. Also, if you ever lose track of turns on the water, you can easily get back to base.

2. Know Your Settings: One of the easiest and most commonly overlooked practices in boat preparation is having meticulous marks and number scales on everything. The ability to have easily repeatable settings on all major sail controls is critical to maintaining good boat speed.

Taking the time to accurately and symmetrically mark your boat is something everyone can do that will sharpen your learning curve and keep you going faster more of the time. Off of the starting line, around the leeward mark, and from tack to tack, the ability to get in your mode quickly is critical and starts with good marks on the boat.

3. Boat Diet: Going through your boat prior to regattas and only taking required equipment, minimal tools and spares is a good habit to get into. Over time, we tend to acquire more stuff and before you know it, the boat is full of unnecessary items.

Pre-Race Preparation
As previously mentioned, having a routine prior to the first race of each day will not only give you a tactical look at the conditions for the day but also gives you a chance to warm-up so you can be confident going into the first race. Below is a quick look at our process on Catapult.

1. Timing: Depending on the venue and distance to the race course, we leave the dock to ensure we are at the starting area between 45 minutes to one hour prior to the first race. This ensures we have an adequate amount of time to prepare for the day.

2. Upwind/Tuning: On the way to the race course, it is the ideal time to estimate the rig tune based on the current conditions. It is quite easy to convince yourself as a team that everything feels good going upwind without lining up against another boat.

I have made the mistake of going upwind without lining up against another boat, only to realize during the race that our upwind speed was below average. Often times, the mistake made is to keep sailing in the lineup even when your setup is off. You can always find another lineup.

3. Downwind Run: After we are satisfied with our upwind setup, we return downwind to the starting line. It is essential that the driver is placing the boat at the proper angle out of the hoist for a quick exit out of the offset. Having telltales on the shrouds will give you a great sense of where the bow should be, whether its bow up and plaining or VMG running. Downwind for me is all about communication between the driver and trimmer. It takes time to find your rhythm, but when in doubt, communicate more.

4. Starting Line Preparation: Now that we are pleased with our speed and setup, we shift our focus to the starting line. In the last few years, pinging the line has become instrumental for starting. When pinging, it is important to have the boat at your approximately close hauled angle and boat speed at a minimum. As the GPS updates twice a second, having the boat at a slow speed and avoiding drastic course changes are crucial to an accurate ping.

It is important to pay close attention to conditions that will make pings inaccurate. For example, Charleston in changing tides, offshore in big waves, changing wind velocities or a dragging anchor can all make the ping inaccurate. When possible, sailing up to the middle of the line to check the ping is always beneficial. Having a line sight as a backup and being aware of when the ping is off can save your regatta.

5. Final Rig Check: With around 10 minutes to the start, my team has a discussion about the rig. Discussing changes since the lineup, along with forecast trends for the day (dying verses building breeze) will help hedge your bets since you don’t have the ability to change the rig during the race. If you do make a change and time allows, always go upwind even if only for 30 seconds and test the new setting.

Proper preparation is key for success. It allows you to focus on tactics and have confidence in your marks for boat speed once on the race course. It also helps minimize the risk of gear failures and other malfunctions during races, allowing you and your team to have the most success and enjoyable time racing.

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