How Do You Get to the Line on Time?

If you want to improve your racing results, a great place to start is to practice the boat handling that will allow you to be on the line at the horn. The skills you practice to improve your starting will also pay dividends at marks and other boat on boat situations.

It takes a certain amount of nerve to challenge for a front row seat in a fleet start. If it’s still early in your racing career, you will probably need to push against emotions that can easily distract or dishearten you and create hesitancy. And being successful in claiming a spot in the disorder of a fleet start requires practice of the skills you’ll need to maneuver in the fluid peeking order before the horn sounds.

In the past I’ve talked a bit about the bias we all have against loss. If you can push against that bias and you still find yourself hesitant to mix it up then there are skills you may want to practice. Take the following examples as a checklist to get you started in your research toward developing the necessary skills.


Fear of Loss Overrides a Better Shot at Winning

At every racing clinic we hold at the club I repeat my mantra, “Get closer to the line at the start!”

Many novice racers let their fear of being over early inhibit them from getting into a competitive position for the start. The apparent disorder of a fleet start seems to erase most good advice from peoples’ minds, so when I advise I concentrate on one or two ideas that are most likely to improve the racing experience. “Stay close to the line,” is my basic starting advice.

Like a Plastic Bag Slowing Your Thinking Down

If you feel like you don’t have the time or energy to recover from a bad start or from missing a critical wind shift, you’re probably further sabotaging your possibilities of success. Allow that feeling to take over and you’re now facing two separate problems—poor position compared to your competitors, and potentially diminished capacity to think and make good strategic choices. The poor position is obvious and quantifiable; the diminished capacity is often an unrecognized drag—like a plastic bag on your Laser’s dagger board.

The Advantages of Goal Setting

Most of us are bombarded with work and personal projects. A number of these regularly fall off our radar or we park them in a holding pen for future consideration. Often these neglected projects are ones with longer-range outcomes. We naturally tend to focus on things that generate a feeling of urgency in us, and something out there 30 to 60 days just isn’t as likely to grab our attention.

If a long-range project is also a totally personal project, it is even easier to let it slip and slip until we’re up against a hard deadline and personal endeavor usually don’t have the urgency a work or family project has. Your desires around racing your Laser may be threatening to slide out of sight. Setting specific goals increases the odds you will actually remember what you wish you had done while you still have time to accomplish growth in your skills and physical conditioning.

Formal Protests or Not?

When our club holds a Laser regatta we always announce where and when the protest hearing will be held—usually in the middle of the lake at midnight, no boats allowed. Protest hearings interrupt the flow of awards, refreshments and packing up all the traveling Lasers, so we really want protests to be settled on the water.

What we’ve discovered is that this approach doesn’t set the right attitude for a few of the sailors. These competitors don’t seem to be able to handle the responsibility of learning the rules, accepting responsibility for their transgressions—accidental or purposeful—and taking their penalty. These same sailors often are very vocal about their right of way. From the outside it looks like they are more interested in winning or aggressively claiming a tactical advantage then in playing by the rules.


Winning Is A Short–Term Goal

Most of us have a tremendous pull toward chasing short-term goals. We let right-now goals distract us from more important longer-term objectives. This normal trait is accentuated in people with less ability to regulate their attention—those who are distractible, high energy, more impulsive, less disciplined.

Accomplishments that are close in time to now, which fill our vision with urgency, which promises more immediate riches—perhaps of the fame and glory type—drown out important, more distant purposes. Every day at work I coach executives to filter through their urgent tasks for those of most importance.

Tis the Season to Prepare

The old bumper sticker says, “Cheat the nursing home, die in your Laser.” My take on it is, “Sail a Laser, Stay Healthy.”

If you have passed age 35, the age where you’re eligible for Maser status in the Laser fleet, you’re most likely beginning to be challenged by weight gain and muscle loss. One of the key reasons to sail a Laser is to crowd yourself into staying in better shape. As the spring season approaches it’s time to up your commitment to being in sailing shape. Here are a few simple ideas that can kick start your season.


What to Do, if You Usually Win?

Winning is satisfying and fun. We all love to win? But it can be a problem if you win all the time.

One of the most intriguing things about competition is pushing yourself to excel and then assessing your excellence against worthy opponents. Some perpetual winners don’t race at their local clubs anymore because the sailors just don’t offer enough of a challenge. Despite winning more than my share of races and series at our club, I still have opportunities to learn at our Wednesday and Sunday races.

Why Race if You’re Losing Badly?

There are advantages to thinking through why you might want to continue racing in a particular race or series, even if you are miserably behind—think after dumping it, going to the wrong mark, being over early in light air, being so far back in the rankings that you can’t get even close to your expected finishing place, etc. We race for lots of individual reasons but “to lose” is not on the list. Yet the Laser gives us plenty of opportunities to be spectacularly out of the running for an expected finish—then what do you do?

I remember an ocean regatta where I dumped in 25 knots with 30 plus gusts, and struggled to right my Laser into the wind. Each time I got it positioned and the sail began to pull free of the water, a wave caught the hull and washed it back to an untenable angle, which would have required a hiking human for stability. When I finally got my timing right and flopped into the boat, the race seemed beyond salvation and I was exhausted.

Racing for Non-Racers

Sailing can be a quietly satisfying activity—a gentle breeze nudges and lifts your boat across the water without motor, oars or paddle. On another day, sailing becomes an edgy activity—threatening a wet experience, if you don’t compensate quickly enough for a strong gust, and delivering an exhilarating ride when you synchronize sheet and sail, rudder and body weight.

So why isn’t this enough? Why add the minutiae of outhaul and cunningham, the complexity of shifts and competitors, the pressure of starting positions and timing? And more to the point, why add these things when you don’t feel the pull to test your skills against other sailors?