The Need For Speed!

These days, wherever you go, whatever you do, the accent always seems to be on how fast you can do it. Only one thing comes to mind where you would want to do it slower (especially at my age), but that's another story!

My last article 'LOOKING GOOD' focussed on the word 'LOOK', covering all aspects of the way you sail your race, and what you should ideally be looking for, from start to finish, as you traverse the course.

This time, I shan't keep you in suspenders wondering what on earth I'm talking about, as it should be fairly apparent now that the key word for this article is 'SPEED'.

Although the maximum speed of the average dinghy / catamaran is usually well below 20 m.p.h, it is entirely appropriate to compare ourselves with F1 racing cars having a top speed of around 200 m.p.h, because the goal is the same, i.e. to complete the race circuit in the fastest time and by covering the shortest distance. The last three words are obviously much more relevant to boats, since cars can only make maximum use of the track by using the extremities of the tarmac, limiting wheelspin, clipping kerbs and trying to straighten out the corners as much as possible in order to carry the most speed to the finish. On a sailing 'race track', the parameters and options are much wider, since apart from having to round the course marks in sequence the right way round for a given number of laps, you can sail pretty well anywhere you want. These last three words now present an extra dimension and a new dilemma as to which way to go for the helm and/or crew, but the successful resultant of these decisions will come about by constant thinking, planning, strategy, observation stealth, and continual assessment of the situation and conditions in order to maximise your chances of winning.

A racing driver does not win races by simply getting into a car, flooring the accelerator and steering round the bends until he crosses the finishing line. If you listen to the pre-race commentary, you will soon realise that there are 1001 things happening, many of which begin well before the race has even started, with full team support, and continue right through to the end of the race to produce the required result .

Racing your Dart 15 with the same objectives (to win the race) has obvious limitations, not least of which is that it is usually a 'one-man-band' operation where the helm is the supplier of the equipment, responsible for it's upkeep and maintenance, where and when he is going to sail it, and most importantly he is the chief strategist/driver who will put all the thought and planning into action in order to win that race.

By now you should be getting the message that the game is much much more than just sitting there, keeping your tell-tales parallel and steering round the course. It is in fact the sum of a sequence of events, consisting of :-

1. Arriving at the 'circuit' in good time (mentioning no names Foggy!)
2. Ensuring your equipment is in good working order - boat that is!
3. Knowing the start times, starting sequence and local rule changes (open meetings)
4. Knowing the course to sail and where the marks or buoys are
5. Setting up your boat according to the weather conditions (rig tension, battens etc.)
6. Being aware of tidal strength - effect and direction , where applicable
7. Assessing likely wind shadow areas to avoid
8. Maintaining clear air as much as possible , particularly off the start line
9. Sailing the boat to it's optimum performance - 5 essentials/tell-tales/lifts & headers
10. Watching and covering the opposition as necessary
11. Knowing the rules in practice
12. Knowing where the finish line is

If you put all these 12 points into practice, this will go a long way to giving you pole position and the best chance of earning at least a podium place at the finish.

Just to spell it out more clearly, consider the following:-

If you get a bad start, you will be slow off the line, sailing in dirty wind, probably surrounded by boats, thus preventing you from escaping or tacking into clear air. RESULT - SLOW PROGRESS.

If you tack badly or get in irons, your speed drops considerably, and time is lost (much more than you would lose in a monohull). RESULT - THE PACK GETS AWAY.

If you stay on the wrong shift, you get taken away from the next mark and therefore sail a greater distance than is necessary. RESULT - YOU ARE NOW EVEN FURTHER DOWN THE PAN.

If you tack under another boat, you lose valuable horsepower to your sail. RESULT - THE BOAT SLOWS DOWN AGAIN.

If you don't bear away in the gusts offwind and luff up in the lulls, maintaining speed, you are not harnessing the extra horse-power available to your engine (the sail). RESULT - THE PACK INCREASE THEIR LEAD ON YOU.

If you don't round marks tightly, you sail further than is necessary. RESULT - IT TAKES YOU LONGER TO COMPLETE THE COURSE.

If you turn too tightly off-wind, you scrub off speed. RESULT - YOU SLOW DOWN AND YOUR RACE TAKES LONGER, LOSING YET MORE GROUND.

The thing about all the above potential mistakes is that you may not even realise that you are discarding all this potential power - rather like having a small hole in your pocket and slowly losing all your small change. IT WILL COST YOU THE RACE!

So I hope you can now begin to appreciate that when we talk about boat speed during a race, this does not simply mean how fast the boat is going, but rather how long it takes to get round the course, which is quite a different matter, and from what you have just read and hopefully taken on board so to speak, it will allow you to view your race and manage it with a new perspective from now on, so as to emerge a potential race winner at the finish.

So all you fat blokes or bean-poles, do not despair - excess weight or lack of it is actually not that critical, providing you observe all the other factors, and treat every race as if it were a GRAND PRIX.

Now get out there, sew your pockets up, push man and machine to the limits, and success is sure to follow.

Wishing you all more successes in your 2001 racing season, and happy sailing from the Dartful Codger.

Paul Smith (Beaver S.C.)