Small Things - Big Wins

By Elliott Pattison Sailmakers

Do you ever wonder what the big difference is between the boats that consistently finish in the front of the fleet and the boats that don't? Sure, sometimes it is just one or two big things; maybe a brand new set of sails while your struggle along with sails 5 or 6 years old, or maybe you think they have some uncanny way of always being on the correct side of the next shift. But after years of racing in all kinds of fleets I can tell you without a doubt that 95% of the time it is nothing so simple but yet something that can be easily attained. The magic factor is really a combination of a whole lot of small things that add up to a big difference and a big winning percentage.

Boats that win consistently have spent the time and effort to take care of all the small things that make the difference between winning and losing races. Do you put the time and effort in to accomplish that? Start with the basics, boat bottom. You can have a good bottom job by doing a light sanding of the existing bottom, spraying on two coats of bottom pain, and sanding it with 180 or maybe 220 grit sandpaper. Put it in the water and let the diver wipe it down every few weeks which will smooth the finish a little more, and there you are. Or you can spend a day with a few of the crew and long board sand the bottom, filling any low spots and taking down any high spots as you go, spray two or three coats of bottom paint on and sanding with at least 220 grit paper in between coats, and finish by sanding the bottom out with 600 grip paper and then burnishing that. It's a few days of hard work or a couple of thousand extra dollars at the yard, but the result is a boat that will be 3 to 6 seconds a mile faster in all conditions and all points of sail.

How about weight? I have a friend that was sailing the same type of boat I was sailing and he asked how we could possibly always be faster than he was. His boat was right next to ours and a quick check showed his boat was sitting almost an inch deeper in the water than ours was. The difference? At least once a year we completely empty the boat and then make sure we put nothing back on that we don't need for racing. He had fishing gear, a some pots, pans, and dishes, a few sets of foul weather gear, a delivery main, some books, a bunch of CD's and even a small 12 volt TV.

When it comes to rigging there are two rules. Make sure that you have the necessary rigging so that the crew can accomplish all their jobs quickly and easily, and make sure that is all there is. Our rule is that if something doesn't work perfectly once wait and see what happens in the future, if it doesn't work correctly twice - FIX IT. Make sure that all control line lead to areas that the appropriate crew can reach them, Make sure they have enough purchase to do the job, but keep friction to a minimum. Jib leads should be easily adjustable because they need to be moved during a race as wind, sea, or tactical considerations change.

Have you checked you rig lately? You should, and it should be done at least a few times a year. Go out sailing in medium air and sight up the mast while sailing hard on the wind. If the mast isn't straight side to side on both tacks then spend some time tuning it until it is. How about rake? We change our depending on the wind strength for the day. In light air you need a little more rake to give you some weather helm and on windy days you need less rake because as the boat heels over it generates more helm on its own and you will find that you end up dragging the rudder through the water at a great angle and with a lot more drag.

And last, at last for this article, is crew work. Top boats have top crews and that doesn't mean having a bunch of pro's on board. It means having a crew that is committed to sailing with you on a regular basis that understands what their jobs are and are willing to spend some time practicing to accomplish them. There is no better feeling than going around the weather mark and having that "perfect spinnaker set", or that perfect gybe. If you don't enjoy that on a regular basis get your crew together for some practice time. It will work wonders for crew moral and for your finish position!

Each on of these things may only add a few seconds per mile, but put them all together and they will make a significant difference over the length of a race. So look at your results and see how many seconds per mile you generally are out of first place. The difference won't generally be one big thing or some super secret you don't know, it mostly likely is just a matter of taking the small things that will add up to the big difference!

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