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10th & 11th July 2010 Start Racing RYA course

A weekend of sailing- fantastic! Wind guru did its usual guess work and got it wrong, suggesting Saturday would be between 0 and 1 knot! It was fairly calm in the morning, with 5-8 knots, but the afternoon was a little more lively hitting somewhere around 10 knots. Sunday was more exciting at around 14-16knots!

The format of the weekend was:


  • Practice starts
  • Practice races
  • Follow the leader
  • Course sailing/racing
  • And theory of course!


  • Race practice around a single buoy
  • Real racing with the sunday racers

They did a good deal of videoing to provide some really helpful constructive criticism. This was very revealing not to mention embarrasing!

What did I learn:

In light winds the Xenon is not a happy bunny. On more than one occasion we tried to tack in the lightest of winds; the boat would trun to the point of nearly tacking, then would stall on us. There were two ways of getting around this: If the wind was really dire the boat was much happier gybing than tacking, the weight of the boom helping to pull the sail across; the second option is roll tacking where:

  • the crew step over to the same side as the helm, cutting the boat into the water,
  • the helm pushes the tiller and the crew swapped the jib across when the boat starts its turn,
  • then the crew return to a position to balance the boat once again.

Don't be lazy! Sailing isn't racing. Following a course is different to racing a course. Keep close to the bouys, on a course that is on a reach, then tightens to close hauled, go wide, then tight in as you round the buoy. Keep your boat between your competitors and the mark- even if this involves a bit more effort and number of tacks!

Dirty wind. Whilst I was aware of wind being stolen, the concept of dirty wind and the effect this has on the performace of a boat was something I became aware of during the course. Searching for a course that steers clear of dirty wind from behind other boats enables a faster smoother course. Again thinking ahead to plot a course that avoids this is key and anticipating what other boats are doing. Inversly blocking other boats and showing them your dirty wind is another tactic to employ!

kicker:  At one point the instructor jumped into the boat to do some videoing demonstrating how the kicker can affect the sail shape. To see the footage clcik here: the difference the kicker made could not only improve performance, but also used as a tool to slow your sails.

Single handing: I took out an RS Feva for the Sunday, such a responsive boat, but the one lesson I learnt is that in high winds, it's best not to try and pull on the power straight out of a tack. On many occasions I found my self hiking out with the boat way out of the water. The Feva is nothing if not accomodating, so dropping it back down wasn't a problem, but inifficient sailing was too easy if you're eager to pick up the pace! Good fun- blooming exhausting!

Responding with speed to wind change: If sailing close hauled and the wind changes the key is to respond before your competitors do. I know it's obvious, but if your sailing to a mark that being close hauled will take you closer to, if the wind changes and you can sail even closer to the mark, if you pick up on this before everyone else you can make up time and distance.

Read the water: I think just the awareness of coming gusts and patches rough water becomes more acute and important to you in race conditions. There is a huge amount of planning ahead and anticipating what's coming up in a race, the water is just another of the many things! But it is clear that if you take all of these things in to account and make them part of your natural sailing technique you're on to a winner!

Starting the race: Stay close to the line! Power up in good time- the Xenon takes a while to pick up speed, so heading for the line with a few seconds to go is no good, you need to keep close to the line, but time your runs carefully. Start on a starboard tack and take advantage of the right of way. Start at the right point of the line e.g. shortest distance to the first mark, or if equidistant, the end of the line that is windward.

There are times for slowing down: Sometimes it is faster if approaching a buoy that has heavy traffic, to slow down, come wide in, then tight to the buoy. Over taking is not a quick option unless your boat is vastly mismatched to the one you are trying to over take near the buoy, it's quicker to spill wind, let those in front of you waste time fighting it out, then pull on the power after the buoy and try and take advantage by keeping it tight into the turn.

Rules of racing: Blimey, there are one or two! If you are within 3 boats lengths of the buoy and another boat is overlapping you, you have to give it clear water to round the buoy. The flags are all a bit oddd, as the preparatory flag (the first one) will depend on the race. The next flag may depend upon the club you're sailing in e.g. Bewl does a 6min, 3min, go flag. There are loads more rules, but I'll save those for another day I think!

Learnt a great deal, but just getting 9 hours on the water over the weekend and doing a million starts and discussing tactics was superb!