Lessons from the Winter Circuit

Published on January 17th, 2018

The growth of winter racing for one design classes in Florida has helped to extend the sailing season for northern competitors, but doing well in these events means overcoming new obstacles. Along with additional travel logistics, the body and mind must be transitioned from snow shoveling to race ready. Not always easy.

Tim Finkle of RCR Yachts is competing in the three-event Quantum J/70 Winter Series with weekend racing in December, January, and February in Tampa, FL. After his result in the January event came a bit short of his goal, here are some of the lessons he hopes to apply at the final event next month.

Practice is important. Almost all of the teams went out at some point on Friday and had some tuning, practice starts, or just boat handling practice. We did not, and with a new team, that was a mistake. But, we all have jobs and other commitments, so that is the case sometimes.

Don’t start in traffic. With 53 boats on the line, it’s tough, but the line was long enough so it was possible to find low density areas. We didn’t always do that and it made it tough to live in tight lanes off the start. In a big fleet, it’s about being free off the line to get to the side you want or being free to tack on the first big shift to cross a big pack of boats. We could never really do that and when you fall back into the middle of the fleet, it’s hard to work out of because you don’t have clear air.

Start in the front row. In a fleet that uses Velocitek ProStarts that produces time and distance readings, everyone knows where the line is. It’s not okay to be a few meters off as that will result in being spit out the back. You have to be on or even over in some cases, especially if you have some boats around you for cover. We found that even just a few feet back was not good enough.

Don’t be afraid of the Black Flag. They use it a lot in the J/70 fleet to avoid general recalls. The U-Flag is also used, which is the same as a black flag but that you can restart in a general recall. This event didn’t have any black flag penalties which surprised me when looking at the results. The RC was using the U or Black every single race. That either means that it worked and the boats all laid back (I doubt it) or they weren’t calling the line that closely. My take away is that I was too hesitant and didn’t push the line hard enough.

Have a prestart routine and don’t get lazy. The RC did not waste a lot of time between starts, so that made it even more critical to get your stuff in order between races. There was not a lot of time to drink water or go to the bathroom and sail off the starting area. You had to get back into your routine, checking the line, pinging the ends, looking for wind, tuning the rig, etc. If you were not ready, the 5 minutes goes by very quickly and you will find yourself wishing you had done more prep before the start. Missing a shift and being on the wrong end of the line is very hard to dig out of.

Take what is given. There were times when we had a game plan but did not execute. We may have wanted to get to one side or another but couldn’t get there or worse, chased across the middle of the course to get to the side. Sometimes you need to sail the side you are on and do you best to stay on lifted tack and use what is given to get to where you want to go. It’s not always easy especially if you don’t have good lanes to do it, but chasing something and going for leverage for a big gainer doesn’t work that often.

Trim settings. We did not keep good records from the last regatta and sort of had to start over on that with a new trimmer. We should have made better notes so that when a new trimmer comes aboard, we can hand them the notes so they know what marks to trim to, where to set the jib cars, how much to in-haul, etc. in different conditions. This is not a knock on our trimmer, who is excellent, but it’s just hard to expect someone to step in and know the best settings if they have not trimmed the sails on this boat before; that’s unrealistic.

Work hard to the end. This is an area where we did well this weekend. When we found ourselves deep in a race, we did not quit and kept working at it, trying to make gains until the finish. We caught a lot of boats by communicating and working the boat. I was proud of the guys for keeping it positive and working together. You can’t control everything around you, but you can control your own boat, so it’s important to focus on what you can control and make the best of it.

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