Hone Your Cruising Skills By
by Vicki Staudte
If the prospect of becoming a better cruiser
is your goal, try racing for a season or two. Beware though, you may get
hooked. The sailing skills used by racers and cruisers are the same, the
differences are, simply put, timing and tweaking. Actions happen quickly and
precisely when racing. Adjustments to steering and sail trim are constantly
being made to adapt to every little nuance in the prevailing conditions.
These are the skills that make racers better sailors.
|Sydney 41 Scoutís consistency brings them success in PHRF 2 -
Verve Cup Offshore. Photo provided by Boatingshots.com.
Whether you come to the sport of sailing from large boats or small, or
accustomed to sailing on oceans, lakes or rivers, much of the fun is being
on the water with the wind in your face and having to strategically maneuver
the boat from one spot to another using your intellect, your experience and
your gut to guide you. Racing assembles these things neatly for you. ďRaise
the main, raise the jib, trim, tack, tack, trim, ease the sheet, pole up,
spinnaker up, douse the jib, jibe, jibe, raise the jib, douse the spinnaker,
trim inĒ, etc. are all accomplished in short order. Before you know it, the
race is over and youíre a winner, no matter the actual outcome.
The racerís attention is focused. Starting hours before the race, racers are
researching the weather updates and observing the weather conditions. At the
dock, the rigging is tuned and decisions are made as to what size sails to
start with, and what other sails should be ready in case conditions change.
Pre-race sailing allows the crew to hoist the sails, adjust the cars, and
practice some tacks and jibes. At the start of the race, the focus is on the
clock, your starting position, the preferred side of the course to be taken
and the compass heading. During the race, the focus is on steering a smart
course, tacking and jibing expediently, perfecting sail trim during the wind
shifts, and using the spinnaker. These maneuvers are exercised on the upwind
and downwind legs of the course, allowing crew to hone their sailing skills.
After all, practice makes perfect, and racing means lots of repetition in
Racing takes place in a variety of weather conditions. Races are held rain
or shine, although they are cancelled if lightening is in the area. Most
sailing clubs have a minimum and maximum threshold for wind, e.g. below
three knots and above 30 knots. Knowing the strength and direction of the
wind, and the forecast for diminishing or escalating winds has a bearing on
the size of sails to be used and reefing considerations. While sails can be
and are changed out during a race, this pre-planning is more practical and
There are generally two forms of sailing races: buoy races and long
distance, point-to-point races. Buoy racing is the primary form of racing on
most lakes in the Upper Midwest. There are many different configurations of
courses, but they all have racers going upwind and downwind generally having
boats sailing close hulled or on a broad reach, but that can change if the
winds clock around after the racecourse has been set. No matter what the
course, the compass is a necessary tool for any race. Itís important to
determine the compass heading of the first mark at the start. This should be
noted and used on windward/leeward courses. The compass heading may help
keep you in the race if the next mark to be rounded is out of sight, (not
unlike when the next waypoint is out of sight when cruising).
Both cruisers and racers watch their wind indicators, telltales, the water
surface, the clouds and the effect the wind is having on other boats to help
determine their strategy. A race boat generally has a tactician who takes in
all this information, then will direct the helmsperson and crew how to best
react. Itís generally the tactician who decides what sails to use at the
onset, when to hoist and douse the sails and spinnaker, the exact moment of
tacking and jibing, and directs tweaking for sail and car adjustments. For
larger boats with spinnakers, there generally is a person in charge of the
foredeck who communicates with the tactician. Other positions include
mainsail trimmers, jib trimmers, a mast person, a pit person, and more. When
cruising, the skipper is generally responsible for making all decisions, or
decisions may be made ďby committeeĒ.
Not all parts of racing are glamorous. Boats in racing mode arenít
necessarily set up for cruising. The boats may be pared down inside and out
to reduce weight. Creature comforts that get in the way of racers are
removed from larger boats such as cabin cushions, the bimini and dodger, the
cocktail table, etc. This allows more room for the numerous racing sails
needed for all kinds of weather. Fear not though, the boats are generally
provisioned with more than enough food and beverage to last the duration.
After a long day of racing, itís relaxing to come ashore. Granted most boats
donít anchor out when racing if thatís what you prefer, yet itís fun to
socialize with like-minded sailors. When away from home, it does feel good
to get out and stretch those legs that have been scrambling around a boat
all day, take a relaxing shower, and explore quaint little sailing
Now that youíre persuaded that racing is for you . . .
There are myriad ways to get involved in racing if you are a sailor living
in the upper Midwest. It could be on the lakes in and around the Twin
Cities, e.g. Medicine Lake Sailing Club, Minnetonka Yacht Club, Wayzata
Yacht Club, White Bear Lake Yacht Club, or closer in on Lake Calhoun. For
college students, thereís also the University of Minnesota Sailing team. All
these offer racing on boats under 30 feet, though there is a fleet of sleek,
low-riding 38-foot A-Scows on Lake Minnetonka.
Opportunities on larger boats abound on the Great Lakes-for the annual Race
Week through the Apostle Islands Station of Wayzata Yacht Club on Lake
Superior, the Chicago to Mackinaw Island Race sponsored by the Chicago Yacht
Club, the TransSuperior (from the base of Whitefish Bay to Duluth), and the
International Triangle (a triangle race from Bayfield to Houghton/Hancock to
Thunder Bay and back to Bayfield). Sail Fest is a one-day pursuit for
cruisers and racers at the end of Bayfieldís Race Week. Itís a day in which
cruisers can host a racer aboard who is there to give pointers on how to
sail their boat more effectively. Then thereís the Lowisa in Lake of the
Woods, alternately hosted by clubs in the U.S. and Canada, which has people
bringing in their boats from hundreds of miles around.
No matter if youíre racing or cruising, you already know there is something
majestic about being on the water. Sailing combines the physical, mental,
emotional and spiritual aspects of us all at the same time. With all this
stimuli, where else can you find such likable people? By combining racing
and cruising, youíll have lots of fun making great friends along the way.
Vicki Staudte is freelance writer and photographer, seasoned traveler and
sailor from the Midwest. Sheís cruised, raced and/or taught sailing in the
Great Lakes, on the coasts and internationally. She can be reached at
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