Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to Rally Back

"Chris, how are we going to win the Nationals?"
This is the kind of email I usually get about a week or two before another Audi Melges 20 event from our skipper Michael Kiss.
Our team has had a pretty solid track record since we started sailing together last year at Charleston Race Week. It includes winning last and this year's CRW, winning the Nationals last year, finishing 1st at one of the Miami Winter series events and winning the overall Winter Series.

Sounds pretty good, huh? Well, there are also plenty of regattas we didn't win.
The competition has caught up and they have painted a big fat bulls-eye on our mainsail.
So how are we going to win the Nationals this year? How will we keep our competition behind us?
Well, for starters, let’s stay humble. I mentioned that there have been plenty of regattas that we did not win. And usually it’s not because someone else sailed exceptionally well, but instead because we made too many mistakes and weren't able to rally back far enough up the ladder.

So what kind of skills do you need to be able to fight back after bad luck has struck you down? Here's a short list our team will keep working on:

Minimize the damage.
When things don't go your way, try putting a lid on it. By throwing a temper tantrum you will most likely loose twice as many boats, than if you focus on the next opportunity to get back in the game. It once again starts off by having the right attitude in such situations. Instead of mumbling the usual ".... why us again...", giving up on the race or blaming someone else verbally, always give it your best shot. The race isn't over until it’s over! Instead of blowing a gasket because the guy next to you at the mark has no clew what he's doing and is taking it extra wide (and by doing so letting 5 other boats come barging in), embrace the challenge you have been given.

Get good at sailing in thin lanes.
Too often I catch myself ducking a couple of boats more in order to get a clearer, wider lane. Instead, force yourself to pick thin lanes and hang in there, even if it sometimes means to sail in some bad air. So while you are out there practicing before the race, figure out where exactly that “bad” air really starts and how you can stay out of it in crowded spaces.

Get good at sailing in bad air.
This will prevent you from getting bounced out to the lay-lines too often. Usually anything over a 7 degree shift warrants to sail in a bit of bad air instead of continuing on a header, for who knows how long, until you finally get a clearer lane to tack on (by this time the breeze has most likely already swung back anyways).

Risk Management.
Opposed to my usual low risk sailing style, you must also sometimes take a bit of added risk in such situations. But this has to be calculated risk and not just some blind, “ring the bell” in the far right corner. Usually this also results in clearer breeze and therefore you can capitalize on your, hopefully superior, boat speed.

So these are my two cents on winning this next regatta. We'll see how it plays out!
Chris out