Racing is great fun and will improve your sailing skills. Don't worry if you are not at the front of the fleet or even in the middle, you will improve with time on the water, the more races you do, the more practise you get, you will soon be further up the fleet. Taking part is an achievement in itself, the most important part is to have fun and enjoy yourselves!
To help break down some of the mysticism, below are some of the most common questions (and answers) that crop up when contemplating a first race and a quick guide to Getting Started Guide. Do remember, though, that all racers had their nerve-wracking first race, including Sir Ben Ainslie and Elliot Hanson….
Q1 - When are races held?
Almost every Sunday of the year, with four races through the day and each lasting about 45mins - although there is no need to sail all of them. The first race starts at 10:30am and the last at 2:45pm. In the shorter daylight hours the number of races is reduced with only one in the afternoon, starting at 1:30pm.
There are also races on Wednesday evenings in the Summer. These are shorter pursuit races, each lasting 30 mins, with the first race starting at 7:15pm and the second around 40mins later.
Throughout the season there are also a number of introductory Buddy Racing events and Personal Handicap events, which puts all sailors in with an even chance of doing well no matter their sailing experience.
Q2 - What boat can I sail?
Virtually any monhull dinghy may be raced as the Club uses the PY handicapping system to allow boats of different types to race against one another and still let the best sailed one win. Due to the size of Redesmere lake certain common-sense restrictions on boats are applied, though - boats should generally be less than approx 14'length and have a PY handicap rating greater than 1025. Club Boats can be used to race.
Q3 - How good at sailing do I need to be?
So long as you know what happens when you waggle the stick at the back, you're good enough! Racing is by far the quickest way of improving sailing skills and every one of us started knowing very little and we've all got more to learn.
Q4 - What course do I sail?
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 will indicate the buoys to be rounded, in which order and on which side.
- Red indicates that when rounding a buoy it should be on your port (left) side
- Green indicates that when rounding a bouy it should be on your starboard (right) side
Q5 - What rules do I need to know?
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.There are lots of rules that are important to racing, but you certainly don't need to know them all before entering your first race. Your knowledge will build up with experience. If you're particularly concerned, a more than sufficient outline of the basics is contained in the ISAF Introductory Racing Rules.
Q6 - What about those crowded start lines?
When you first start racing, it may be simplest to just hang back a bit at the start, crossing the line after all the ken ones have finished getting in each other's way. During the Autumn there is also a series with a dedicated 5minute later start just for novices, that way you'll not only have a quiet start, but be able to see what actually goes on at close quarters.
However, there is another way.... Pursuit racing.
Q7 - What's a Pursuit Race?
Throughout the season a number of Sunday races are run as Pursuit Races and, during the Summer, two short pursuit races are run each Wednesday evening. Pursuit racing could also be known as Hare and Hound racing. Using the boat handicapping system, the boats start in order of speed, slowest first (eg Optimist or Topper) and fastest go last (eg RS200, Scorpion) and everyone else is spread out in between. The aim of the race is to overtake the slower boats and to prevent the faster boats overtaking you.
Sunday races last for 45mins and Wednesdays 30mins, with slower boats having the full time and faster boats less.
The starts, because they are staggered are much easier for the beginner. There will probably be only 2 or 3 boats starting at the same time. The starting times are displayed by the OD before the race starts.
Give Racing A Go – getting started guide
1. Allow plenty of time to rig and get ready!
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
Make a note of the course somewhere you can read easily, and definitely in water resistant pen. Good examples include,
- On your hand or forearm
- On a piece of insulating tape stuck to the front bulkhead, centreboard case or thwart seat
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 Topper, or a Comet) will start on 'GO'. For example in a 25 minute race if the Comet is the lead boat, the Comet will start on GO, a GP14 will start 3 minutes 45 seconds 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.
5. Keep Going and enjoy it
If it is PY Handicap racing (all boats start together) 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 fixed. You simply keep going round the course until the set race duartion has elapsed, approx 30 minutes on a Wednesday evening and 45 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.
6. Results & Series Results
In Pursuit racing the results are as seen on the water - the boat in the lead wins in the race.
In PY Handicap racing, the results have to be calculated to correct for the different types of boats racing. These will generally be available shortly after the race has finished, but do be patient with the OD as the calculations can become time-consuming depending on the boats, timings, laps sailed etc.
Generally, the results will be announced and posted in the Clubhouse after each race and will appear on the Club website within a few days.
To qualify for a Series, you simply have to sail races in that series, although if you are looking for a credible result, you should at least aim to sail the minimum number of 'races to count' as advertised in the Racing Programme and Calendar.
Remember, 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?