Why Wait Until Race Day to Start Racing?

by Charlie Pendleton

Racing starts before you’re on the water. And sailing, like most sports, favors repetition. With repetition, things become second nature. You’re less prone to make a mistake or forget something critical and you’re more likely to make good decisions faster. With that in mind, here are some of the things we do each and every week before we even push off the dock. For Jim and me, race prep starts around the time the first accurate weather reports begin to materialize for race day. It usually starts with an email from Jim: “Charlie – it looks like it’s going to be smoking out this weekend… we better start looking for a third” or, “It’s going to be a scorcher and light air – let’s pack extra drinks” or “crappy weather’s on the way – looks like a wet one.” This simple, but very important exchange sets a lot in motion. First, it allows us both to get mentally prepared for race day conditions. Will we have to hike hard? Will it be a light-air chess match? Will we need to face a day of rain? Second, it gets us to think ahead about what special things we might need – foul weather gear, extra drinks, heavier sunscreen, which sails to use, etc. Third, it gives us some lead time to track down and lock in a third person if needed, and nail down logistics before race day arrives. The email exchange usually ends with an agreement on the time we will meet at the boat and who’s turn is it to bring lunch. It’s very important to bring the right amount of food and drink to make sure everyone stays hydrated and has the energy needed for the given conditions. The day of the race, I have a routine of my own. The first thing I do is look out the window so I can start to tune into the weather. Sunny? Cloudy? Wind on the trees? Then I’ll flip on the weather radio and bring up a website like sailflow.com. It’s so important to understand the tides and know how the wind is forecasted to develop and evolve during the day, in both direction and strength. Why? It ensures that you bring the right equipment and are tactically prepared for tide and wind changes. We’ll bring an older set of sails on high wind days so we don’t blow out our good sails. We’ll bring extra foul weather gear and warm clothes in poor conditions. And we’ll minimize gear weight for drifters. Jim and I meet at the boat with enough time to ensure everything is in working order and the bilge is dry. Take five minutes to check the boat over, including ring-dings, pins, lines, cleats, tiller universal, shock chord, boom gooseneck, etc. I’m always surprised at how often I find something that could have broken during a race. By the time we push off the dock, we’re relaxed because we know we’ve done the best we can to prepare for the conditions at hand. Our heads are clear, we’re focused and we are ready to race!