Give Racing A Go – getting started guide
1. Allow plenty of time to rig and get ready!
Give yourself (and your crew) plenty of time to rig the boat, get changed, have a cup of tea, launch the boat, suss out the course – where is the start line. The more you do it the less time you need, the later you can arrive! Don’t get flustered before you have even started the race.
2. Sign On and Off
It is easily done, but don’t forget to sign on and off for each race. Sign on in plenty of time to give the OD sufficient time to get the race set up; it is especially useful to sign on early when it is pursuit racing as the OD needs to calculate a start time for each different class of boat in the race.
3. Write down the course
The OD will display the course to be sailed for each race on the display board on the OD hut and on the numbers board by the flag pole outside the OD hut (if it is a waterborne start the numbers will be displayed on the side of the Committee boat). The black number will dictate the maximum number of laps, red and green boards with numbers below will indicate the buoys to be rounded, in which order and on which side. Red indicates that when rounding a buoy the buoy should be on your port (left) side; green that it should be on your starboard (right) side.
4. Start Sequence
Most importantly you will need a watch; any watch with a stopwatch function will get you started. The starting sequence used for club racing is controlled with a system of sound signals and flags. The first sound signal (possibly a double blast) should be a 10 minute rigging signal. If new to racing this would be a good time to launch the boat and head out towards the starting area to give yourself plenty of time to ensure everything is ready and working. Subsequent hooters will be sounded counting down to the start of the race.
a. 5 minute gun - The next signal will be the 5 minute preparatory signal when a blue flag with a white cross should also go up indicating the beginning of the 5 minute countdown to the start of the race. Most people will start their stopwatch or countdown function at this point - the start of the race will be exactly 5 minutes from this point.
b. 4 minute gun - Next will be the 4 minute signal, when another flag will go up (blue with white middle). By this point you should be launched and heading towards the start line. According to official rules if you are not on the water and rigged you are disqualified, but the OD is often a little relaxed with this rule, but it is encouraged to be out on the water by now.
c. 1 minute gun - Next is the 1 minute signal, the flag (blue with white middle) will come down. You should be close to the start line, with all the other boats. If you do not feel confident jostling for position on the line, hang back and look out for a space. But don’t leave it too long before you get in on the action. Keep checking your watch, the start gun is about to go.
d. GO - the last gun of the start sequence is go, when the blue flag is lowered. Get across the line and get to that first mark as quickly as possible.
If it is a pursuit race, start times will be allocated shortly after everyone has signed on. You will need to know your start time, this will be a number of minutes and seconds after the start signal (GO). The lead boat (usually an Optimist, a Heron or a Topper) will start on ‘GO’. For example in a 25 minute race if the Heron is the lead boat, the Heron will start on GO, a GP14 will start 3 minutes 45 after the GO and a Laser will start 7 minutes 30 seconds after the start. For each class of boats’ start the hooter will sound. On a Wednesday evening, if possible the OD is very accommodating and reminds competitors which boat is due to start next.
There are lots of rules that are important to racing, you don’t need to know them all before entering your first race. Your knowledge will build up with experience. The most important rule to remember before and during the race is Starboard boat has right of way, the official wording is port boat must give way. If you are on starboard, call early to alert others on port that you are there.
I have two unofficial rules that have proved very important;
a. don’t panic, keep your cool, we are all there to enjoy ourselves and have fun,
b. if you’re not sure keep clear and ask afterwards, you’ll learn for next time.
6. Keep Going and enjoy it
If it is handicap racing it is advisable to cross the start / finish line each time you do a lap. You should hear the hooter when you cross the finish line at the end of your last lap. The OD may have shortened the course so don’t worry if you haven’t done the number of laps indicated on the course board.
If it is pursuit racing the finish will be slightly different as there is no finish line and the number of laps is not prescribed. You will simply keep going round the course until the set time has elapsed, approx 30 minutes on a Wednesday evening and 50 minutes on a Sunday. The hooter will sound to indicate the finish; your position on the water will be your finishing position. It is advisable to carry on sailing for a few more minutes allowing the OD time to ensure all positions are recorded correctly and remember who you were racing against, who was in front of you and who was behind you.
Time to go in, sign off, grab a well deserved drink and discuss the trials and tribulations of the race.
Nothing beats time on the water to help you improve. Talk to other competitors; don’t hesitate to ask for advice. There is a lot to think about, but take your time, keep practising and it will start to sink in. What’s stopping you?