Wednesday, July 16, 2008

July Racing Column for the A30 Main Sheet

This past month a couple of our local racers headed to the great white north to take on our Great Lakes sister organization in a friendly set of races. See the article in this edition of the Mainsheet for all the details. I'll urge you to add this to your list of "things to do in 2009" right now. It's a fun time and an excellent way to make good friends that you probably wouldn't otherwise meet.

Since the June racing is covered in the article, I figured I'd take a moment to write a bit on something I've learned the hard way about racing over the years: how important it is to split up the task of steering and the role of tactician.

Many of us as boat owners find we like being in control. We wanted a boat. We saved up our hard earned cash and bought the boat. We pay (and do) the maintenance on the boat. We even provide the food and drinks on the races! If you're anything like me, one of the things you like about racing your Alberg is the fact that you are in charge!

When it comes to running the boat, trying to control everything is a recipe for trouble. Here's one of the main reasons why: I've come to the conclusion that you really can't race your best when you're trying to steer the boat and play tactician at the same time. Believe me, I've tried and I can't make it work. My teenage daughter can talk on the computer to seven people at once while watching TV. I can walk and chew gum with aplomb. I cannot steer and call tactics at the same time.

When I moved to Annapolis five years ago, I needed a crew. I grew up racing with my family, but when I arrived in Annapolis my brothers all lived on the other side of DC and Wednesday night racing was not in the cards due to the commute and the fact that they had young kids at home. Thankfully, I found a great group of guys for crew, but I had one problem. None of them had done any racing.

I found myself trying to teach the mechanics of the boat, steer and call tactics for that first year. It was fun but frustrating. The next year, I found they really had the mechanics down, but no one had really stepped up to the plate on the tactics side of things. Maybe I hadn't been teaching them how to do that.

We try to do a post-race debrief after every race and the ride back to Whitehall Creek from the Spa Creek on Wednesday night after racing is a great time to have that talk. We discuss things we did well and things we did poorly. We also talked about anything anyone didn't understand.

Too many times that second year, I'd realize that I'd made terrible calls as tactician because I had my head down in the boat. I'd call for a tack without realizing that I was heading to the wrong (unfavored) side of the course, or tack into a pack of boats that would soon roll us. Once I realized the error of my ways, I really pushed my crew to learn the role of tactician.

Becoming a tactician is something that takes time. You have to develop a sense about racing, the rules and how to make the boat go. However, I find that most people will not do the hard work of learning it unless challenged, encouraged and rewarded. Start a young tactician off by having him or her reading some of Dave Perry's books and the North U. books about tactics. A subscription to Sailing Smarts, a racing focused newsletter, is an excellent tool. Be on the lookout for good articles in Sailing World. Join the racers at a happy hour or a post-race party and ask lots of questions. Don't be afraid to draw some pictures! They can be invaluable.

Today, I have a couple of members of my crew that I can really trust to take on the role of tactician. It's great having someone with which to discuss strategy. If you can, I'd recommend you choose to drive or call tactics--not both--and watch your performance improve.

I like driving and so that's where I keep my focus. (I think it's a control issue.)

The race to Oxford is our next race on September 13th. Make your plans now and get your crew together! It's going to be a wonderful race.

Until then, please come out and join us on a Wednesday night race on the Severn or the Magothy. Just drop me a note and I'll help you find a spot.

See you on the water!

Tim Williams