What I’ve learned about racing

Published on September 27th, 2023

Regatta success is about learning throughout the event, but what about long term improvement? Don Finkle with RCR Yacht reflects on some things he’s learned over many years of racing, often the hard way:

• Make sure to enjoy yourself. For the vast majority of us this is only a game, taking things too seriously leads to frustration. Unless you are sailing alone, others on the boat feed off your mood. Grumpy, screaming sailors ruin it for others. There is only going to be one boat that wins, understand that going in. You can try hard but if you don’t win, be a good sport and don’t drag down your teammates, or yourself.

• When there are multiple people on a boat each one should have a defined role and make sure they do that job to the best of their ability. Inevitably something goes awry, and the worst thing to do is start running around, leaving your job to try and fix someone else’s. Now you have two things not going right. An emergency situation may be an exception, but even then your primary task needs to be attended to. Learning other jobs on the boat makes you more valuable and will broaden your own skills, but be sure to do your job first.

• I once asked a friend who has won many championships what was one thing he had learned over the years that made him more successful. He said patience. That surprised me at first, but then I looked back at my own experiences. Sure enough, there were plenty of times when I bailed out of our planned strategy because someone forced us to go the wrong way early in the leg. We let that boat lead us astray from what we had carefully planned to do, and of course we would have been better off sticking to our plan.

• Despite the above, it doesn’t pay to be stubborn either. Other boats will impact your plans and you need to be flexible so long as you don’t get led astray. One example of stubbornness that usually ends up hurting you is getting into needless tacking or luffing duels, especially early in a race. Maybe you beat that one boat, but you are losing to the fleet in process.

• One truism is the old saw, “You can’t win a regatta in the first race, but you can lose it.” The point is to limit poor scores by staying out of trouble and avoiding high-risk maneuvers. Going to the corners is high risk, it might be high reward but the odds are often against it. If you guess wrong you will end up deep. Consider the cost and effort to travel to an event, do your best not to blow it early on.

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