Sailing skills and “Can Racing”. I was once quoted as saying that Set Course Course Yacht Racing or “Can Racing” as it is often called, is to me, “practice for ocean racing”.
Now please do not misunderstand me. I fully appreciate and respect that to many other sailors and skippers doing their very best on a set race course is life itself. And this is great. What I often worry about is the sailor who goes to sea with boats that are not prepared and sailing skill sets that have not been practised. When we join ブイ周り (Go Around the Buoy) set course races we get the best practice there is to build sailing skills.
The ISAF category rules and ISAF Offshore Special Regulations give us guidelines to prepare our boats to be strong and suitably prepared for safety at sea but how about our sailing skills? Yes the Rules and regulations do provide some requirement for training but again these are mostly directed at safety.
We need to practice sailing skills under actual sailing conditions. We need to know how to set and trim sails, tack and gybe. Set spinnaker poles and spinnaker sails then douse them and put them away again in such a way that they can easily and quickly be used again. When you see photos or videos of yacht racing crews performing these skills as they round the fixed race course “marks” they often make it look easy. But try it for yourself and you will very quickly find out just how amazing these crews are and how much you need to practice to become smooth and safe at the skills.
Recently I was asked “But cant we practice these skills alone on the ocean?” The cry of “Starboard!” is a good way to answer how I feel about this question. To a beginner yacht racing skipper these are the last two words he wants to hear. They mean he just lost the luxury of deciding when his boat is ready to tack or gybe.
Rule: If two boats are converging on a collision course the boat on Port tack must give way to the starboard tack boat. I say must give way, not if you feel like it, must give way even if that was not in the sailing plan.
When we practice alone we can take our time and do things in our own time with no pressure. When we are trying to keep up speed and racing a set course with many other boats all working to go around the same buoy at the same time we lose the luxury of when we move. We must change our sails at the mark not when we feel like and if we are on a port tack and we hear “Starboard” then we must tack out of the way. Not when we feel like it, not when we are all ready on deck, immediately. The timing is not set by you any more it is set by the race and the boat that yelled. “Starboard!” You need to be ready to move quick. You need to be good at your sailing skills and have your boat ready to tack or gybe at any time.
Nature controls the conditions we sail in at sea. Often nature controls when we do things at sea. We have many things to consider. The weather, the course, Navigation, the safety of the crew, the safety of the boat, we have to calculate the food and water on board to feed the crew until we reach shore, we have to be continually checking the boats rigging for damage to screws, bolts, shackles, running rigging, sail wear, and the list goes on. What need to not be thinking about are our sailing skills. These need to be natural movements of our body and mind. We need to be skilful at the base sailing skills. To me the best place to get those skills is competing with other yachts who are better than me on a set race course. When I race I come last a lot. Not by far but last is last. Of course I would love to be closer to the winner but I really don”t care because if I made it around the course safely, without hitting another boat, in a reasonable time and with a smile on my face then……I won new skills. Skills that will keep me safe at sea.