Small Sailboat Racing: Finding Balance

Finding Balance

Sailboat racing. Photo by Dan Phelps

“Whoo-ee!” I thought, as I turned the corner to run the trail that runs along the backside of the Naval Academy stadium, “I am whooped.” I kept pushing along, one foot in front of the other, as my breathing drowned out the music coming through my ear buds. “But I feel fine,” I told myself. 

I had done a running event at the end of December that left me with some nasty blisters and a wonky right butt, so instead of heading out for some low-light runs over the winter, I spent more time in the gym, picking things up and then putting them down again. And again. And again. And of course I spent some time on the treadmill doing some intervals. But the “go out and run for an hour or two factor”? Nonexistent for the first two months of the year. Yup indeed, it was a winter where I focused on getting strong in the gym. So there I was, early March, back on the road, very much feeling my scenario. Strength? Great. Cardio? Definitely not up to standards. 

It was pretty clear that, my glute injury mostly healed, I needed to bring my fitness back into balance. That even though I felt like I could do some monster squats and lift some pretty good weights, that wouldn’t let me run far and fast if my cardio couldn’t keep up. 

Even through the panting, I can get some good thoughts going when I’m running. And often those thoughts turn to sailing. So it struck me, somewhere between Farragut Road and Taylor Avenue, that small-boat racing is an area where people need balance, too. While we all want to get faster, smarter, and more aware on the race course—focusing on only one of those areas ultimately won’t improve your game tremendously. You’ve got to do it all! 

If you cut that up into little bite sizes, it’s really not insurmountable. Here are some little things you can do to keep your three-legged stool from tipping over:


Boatspeed and boathandling

Boatspeed and boathandling make you go faster. But if you are fast enough to get to the weather mark in the middle of the top group—the “A fleet”—if you don’t know your rules, you’re likely to foul someone and give away valuable boat lengths as you spin your circles. So in addition to working on getting your straight-line speed, well, speedy, and working on your tacks, gybes, sets, and douses, you need to make sure you’re savvy on the Racing Rules of Sailing and know how to use them. 


Rules and tactics

Those rules and tactics enable you to pick your way through the tight situations you’ll find yourself in when you are speedy. Reading books and going to seminars are great ways to learn more about the rules—as are simple conversations with fellow sailors after a day of racing, talking through scenarios you encountered on the water that day. You’ll know whether the rules let you cross someone to get to the right side just before the top mark, or whether you should accept reality and tack before you create an incident. But what if the left side is really where you need to go to get a big wind shift or to stay in good current? You need to know more about the race course, so you know where to apply your knowledge of the rules and tactics.


Understanding the big picture and strategy

Understanding the big picture and strategy sets your framework for how you’ll attack the race course. Should you use your boatspeed and smarts on the right side of the course or the left side? Is the forecast for the breeze to build or die—and what does that mean for what sails you should use and gear you should bring? Building your “situational awareness” by talking with top sailors in your fleet, asking them how they prepare for a day on the water can help make sure this aspect of your game is strong. But even if you have a good sense for what the wind is going to do on a given day, if you don’t have the boatspeed and boathandling to go fast enough to be in the game, you can’t use that knowledge….

So, be sure to strengthen all the legs of your three-legged stool to make for a successful day on the race course!

By Kim Couranz