Spring 2011

Page 10

WILL SHARP explores the main challenges in the transition from training to racing

HERE HAS LONG been a perceived “gap” between sailors completing a training program and starting to participate in organised racing. This gap is the eternal enemy of all the training staff and conversations about training will always lead to the questions, “How do we bridge the gap between training and racing? How do we get these keen new sailors into their own boats?” The truth is, there is no gap. Racing appears to take on a mystical element in some people‟s minds that it is a difficult, confusing event that requires a lot of experience. In truth, if someone can sail, they can race. Starting sequences and course layouts may be confusing at first but it doesn‟t take long before they all seem very natural. The best way to get into racing is to talk to a few people who race. Ask them what their recollections are from when they first started. Most sailors I know love to talk about previous experiences. At length. We‟re rather like fishermen in that respect.

Starting Starting can be confronting. There are flags flapping around, horns hooting, boats tacking and gybing in increasingly risky places, the occasional shout and smack bang in the midst of it all is a whopping great big powerboat that seems to always be in the way. When out there the first few times facing a starting sequence just hang back and watch to see what everyone else does. See where others position themselves during the sequence and where they are in relation to the line when starting. It may be a while before new sailors feel comfortable getting into the thick of it on a start line however with a little planning it‟s not too bad. There is a bit of an art to starting, to knowing which end is the better end to start from, to knowing what

others are likely to do, to timing it just right so you cross the line at full power right on the start signal... These are all things that come with time so don‟t be afraid to take it easy and just get used to the process.

Navigation Proper courses are much longer than training courses. However this doesn‟t mean you need a sextant, six different admiralty charts and a mermaid to follow in order to find your way around the course. There is a quick and easy way to determine where the windward mark is – simply get into the vicinity of the leeward mark and look directly into the wind. Unless there has been a massive wind shift, chances are you will see it. If the windward mark appears to have fallen off the face of the earth (which sometimes even very experienced sailors will swear it has), the best thing to do is to simply sail upwind and keep looking as you go. I can guarantee within a few minutes you will be looking in the right direction as it pops up over a wave and you will wonder why on earth you couldn‟t see that massive yellow thing before. After seventeen years of racing I still have this experience on a regular basis.

Being Competitive Sailing is a complicated sport. Very few people are fast straight away. The best thing to do is just to get out and have time on the water. If you find your boat isn‟t performing the way you think it should perform the worst thing you can do is nothing. Even if you don‟t know what it will do, or think it might make things worse, try something! Every boat, every sail and every sailor is dif-

ferent. Nothing works exactly the same way on two boats so if you can‟t seem to get any height upwind or are down on speed, just start pulling on and letting off various controls. It is amazing sometimes when something completely unexpected happens to increase performance. Another great way of improving speed over time is to talk to others after the race and see what they did. Hints and tips picked up over time from various people‟s experiences add up to a formidable array of knowledge later on so don‟t be afraid of asking others what

they did or didn‟t do! Even sailors from other classes will be able to offer advice. After all everyone is dealing with physics and the insignia on the sail often doesn‟t change things that much.

Cruising If racing just doesn't appeal to you there is also the option of cruising, just going for a sail for sailing‟s sake. It might be to introduce others to the sport, to escape the pressures of life or just to do something different. Membership of a yacht club allows people to informally sail knowing that there are people who are aware you are out there and rescue facilities available in case something should go wrong. Hopefully these four topics will help with many of the issues new sailors have about organised racing. Come on out and enjoy the fun everyone else is having!

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