What Is It Like To Race A Sailboat?
Racing a sailboat isn't for everyone. I'm the kind of person that enjoys sailing as a leisure activity, but friends of mine swear that it is one of the most exhilarating activities that you can possibly partake in. So what is it like to race a sailboat? Why do people decide to do it? There are obviously a plethora of reasons to do it, but just as many reasons to decline the invitation to do so.
I've obviously made my stance known. I participated in a race exactly once and it wasn't something that I'd like to relive. It takes a lot of sacrifices to squeeze out that extra knot of speed that can add up quite significantly over time and as you can probably guess these sacrifices usually add up to less fun, not more. Then again, the thrill of winning can't be denied.
With all that stated, let's explore some of these sacrifices and explore what makes sailboat racing such a draw for so many people. I'll attempt to weight both the pros and cons but I openly state my bias just in case it starts to shine through in some parts, you can remember to take it with a grain of salt.
Why Do People Race?
Fame and fortune of course! While there are plenty of sailboat races out there that don't offer much of a cash prize, there are a number of elite regattas that some people can make a very nice living. Of course, these sailors and their racing vessel are among the best of the best but they all started in the same place. You won't win a race your first time out, but placing well can cause whispers about an up and comer that people should keep an eye out for.
Aside from prizes, some people do it just to sail and get consistent time on the water. If you can't afford a boat you can still easily sign up on a sailboat racing team. It isn't a free ride of course, and you'll be expected to work hard but if you love boats it's a small price to pay for some. You will of course also share in the prize winnings. Most deckhands make less than $100 per race but there is always room for advancement if word gets around that you're knowledgeable and perform well under pressure!
What Is It Like To Race A Sailboat?
At the highest level of racing there is a lot of stake and you can expect no-nonsense white-knuckle sailing for the entire duration. Sleep is a luxury that racing teams simply can't afford. So is excreting and showering since most heads on racing vessels are stripped bare to squeeze out those extra half knots. At lower tiers of sailboat racing it can be a much more relaxed experience that will allow you at least a bit of time to enjoy the water. You might still lack amenities like a head or sleep, but at least the pressure isn't constant.
The truth is that the huge majority of sailboat races are pretty laid back. It's not all that different from just a normal day on the water apart from the fact that you have somewhere to be, hopefully faster than the other people heading to the same place. The rub for me comes from the fact that I'm generally on the water for freedom and being timed on how fast I can get from place to place isn't my style. I'm the guy that says "Let's just go fishing. Break out those fishing rods instead."
Tips for New Sailboat Racers
If you do decide to enter the wide world of sailboat racing there are a few tips that I'll offer here to make your time there much less difficult. I only wish I had known about these before jumping in with both feet. Had my first experience not been such a culture shock, I might've continued to race, so take it slow and don't hop into the deep end before you're ready. Regardless of your experience level, you'll need to carry ID so check out required boating identification blog for more info!
Picking the right race is probably the biggest tip I could give to a new sailboat racer. If you're headed to a more serious 'elite' regatta your first time out you'll probably get blown out of the water and even have to endure a bit of ribbing at the yacht club afterwards. Perhaps more than just a bit. Trust me, I know this from experience. It's not gonna be any fun at all. Try a benefit regatta or barbeque race, and race to have fun. Not necessarily just to win.
Another tip to avoid a dreaded 'friendly' ribbing is to keep your boat looking on-point as often as possible. Marine leather cleaner and conditioner will keep those fancy seats looking like brand new, and marine metal and chrome polish can keep your various bits and bobs shining like the sun. You might even blind the opposing teams for long enough to take the lead!! (Though I wouldn't count on it.)
Know all the rules, and ensure that your crew is competent. Sailboat races can be significantly more dangerous than other sports if people don't know what they are doing. If you have an experienced hand, ask them to be your safety net. It's such a blessing to have a friend to lean on, but you should try to make due without them if you feel like you can. Don't turn your safety net into a trampoline!
Imitating success is one of the last tips I can offer. Don't push too hard at the start, just sit back and watch. Attempt to understand why they are making the decisions that they are, and use these tips to your own advantage when the opportunity arises. Remember, when it comes to your first sailboat race you aren't necessarily in it to win it but rather to become a better sailor.