You’ve reached a level of sailing that’s now prime for racing, and you want to join the competitive, community spirit that draws sailors to this aspect of the sport around the world, year on year. To ensure you’re prepared, relaxed and ready, here’s a breakdown of some top tips for your first regatta.
Choosing the right regatta from the diverse melting pot of racing atmospheres and purposes, is the difference between signing up for a friendly competition or a cutthroat tactical one.
The right regatta should challenge yourself in accordance with your skill-level, not debilitate your confidence because you went in too advanced too soon. So select your race with mindfulness of what best suits your abilities, to ensure you enjoy it and in turn, improve your ability at a steady rate.
Inshore dinghy racing is a good place to start, with a transition then into yacht racing often (although varies) taking place offshore in more adverse conditions. Both require the same core skills in rules and wind awareness, but the latter; by nature of it being a bigger boat, requires a bigger team and meticulous monitoring of the likes of the winch, clutches, and the prevention of being K.O’d by the boom in a gybe…
Dinghy racing is a popular place to start, offering a good transition into yacht racing. There are plenty of races available - from inshore round the cans to offshore sprints, offering a wealth of weather conditions to test you. Both require the same core skills in rules and wind awareness, but the latter; by nature of it being a bigger boat, requires a bigger team and meticulous monitoring of the likes of the winches, clutches, and the prevention of being K.O’d by the boom in a gybe…
Familiarise yourself with the regatta rules and the outlined criteria set out by the organisers regarding the correct boat specs and requirements. Racing oftens inspires lots of good natured shouting of the rules between boats, so be prepared!
Choose the right gear according to the conditions (see our article The Difference Between Inshore and Offshore Gear and pack enough food with the understanding that a regatta can be a marathon at times, not a sprint.
Get a full night’s sleep beforehand to ensure you’re rested and ready for race day.
Fuel up on high-energy food the morning of racing, A.K.A, breakfast of champions!
Communicating with the skipper and your team beforehand is essential. Once you arrive, familiarise yourself with the sea conditions and be clear about your job, as well as each member of the team’s job and the course strategy.
Like all teams – communication is key, so if a team member is saying something, be at the ready to respond and act quickly. Timing is everything; you may be left doing nothing for a while then expected to jump on a duty at a moment’s notice (all part of the excitement of racing).
If you lose bearing of the direction you’re going in, follow the fleet.
Often, there is a lot of space between you and other yachts so it’s hard to gage where you are in the competition. Winds can drop, conditions can change, and racing can last from a few hours to a few days, so it’s not always speed that counts but sustained efficiency at doing the set job.
One of the most useful pieces of advice on yielding results at sailing, uttered by a three-times Olympic medallist Iain Percy himself, is: “The winning is only a by-product of going through the right processes to make sure you are the best you can possibly be”.
What he stresses here is whether you are in front or behind of the scoreboard; until the race is complete, the behaviour that’s most conducive to winning is concentrating on performing each task consistently well, not pursuing 1st place and the subsequent time it needs to achieve.
The most effective key to advancing your skill set and ensuring you enjoy regattas is staying as relaxed as possible. Sailing has a community spirit and is done for both the competitive fun, where the joy is in the whole experience: the hype before, the challenge during, and the after drinks and sharing stories with fellow sailors…