Preparation for a sailing championships

by Chris Kameen on August 12, 2015

Preparing for sailing championshipI’ve just competed in my first week long National Championships in 10 years and for the first time in 20 years it was as a crew. I crewed for my brother who at the start of the week was reigning National Champion so I knew it was going to be really insightful to see what works and what doesn’t.

Most of the stuff in this is obvious and has been reported before, but it is worth hearing it again and I like the idea of having a checklist! I have split this up into a few sections to make it easier.

Personal Preparation:

  1. Crew: 

    Line up a crew as early as you can for the coming season so that you can ensure that you share the same goals and can train together. Work out a training schedule that works for both of you and your respective families/job/school work!

  2. Practice:

    Practice new techniques for sailing faster during the season.. in fact as early as possible. For example, we can all sail faster downwind, but often we are scared of capsizing.. if we aren’t capsizing every now and then during practice we probably aren’t trying hard enough!

  3. Fitness:

    You will enjoy the event and do much better if you are sailing fit.. the best way to get this is to sail regularly and supplement with other endurance fitness training. I’m not an expert in getting fit, but if you can hike out for two hours without a break you will be the envy of everyone at the event! A hiking bench at home could be the answer!

  4. Sailing kit:

    Is your kit good enough. Having the right kit for the conditions is very important as being too hot or too cold impacts your performance. Plan your kit early so that you can practice in it and make sure that it works correctly. For instance I found that my wetsuit this year was not suitable for UK as it doesn’t have any seams and my highfits were too baggy. I was offered hiking shorts but I had never worn them before and didn’t want to try anything new at the championships.

  5. Sleep:

    A week long championship is exhausting, so make sure that you are topped up on sleep before the regatta. Working late every night the week before is not going to help with your enjoyment. This requires planning  about a month before with regards your work.

Boat Preparation

  1. Varnished and season prepared early

    Having your boat ready the week before the Nationals is not going to be a great way to prepare. Make sure that your boat is ready to go sailing late March, early April. Sanded and faired, this should be done at the start of the season and then about a month before again to give it a “tickle up”! Weigh the boat early in the season to ensure that it is as low as possible and then before the championships, you want to make sure that your boat is already as heavy as it is going to be by the start of the championship.

  2. Boat settings documented and tested

    By having your boat ready for the season early, you can get out sailing and check all your settings, try and do as many early open meetings as you can, or sail against people that you know have good speed. Try and do this on the sea or a big lake as it is easy to convince yourself that you have speed when sailing in shifty tight conditions.

  3. New sails

    If you want to do well at the championships you should ensure that you have at least a new jib and your mainsail should be less than a full season old.

  4. Spares:

    Is it possible to have a decent set of spares for all the bits on your boat… if it is then get these together and have them accessible so that when it comes to championship time you can take them with you

  5. Trailer in good condition:

    At the beginning of the season ensure that your boat trailer and beach trolley is in good condition and ready for the season ahead. Ensure your trolley is well padded and that your trailer is ready for a long journey – get together a spares kit for your trailer including a trialer jack ( no point carrying a spare wheel if the only jack you have is tailored to your fancy car!

  6. All systems working simply.

    It is important that all the systems on your boat work simply and can be repeated even after the boat has been rerigged. Tying bowlines for control strings is fine but you won’t get repeatable settings. Think about how you can do this in a more repeatable fashion. Think about using soft loops in halyards to attach cascade blocks.

  7. Somewhere to store packed lunch and drinks bottles

    When you are doing club sailing it is easy to forget that at a championship you may be out for 4 hours or more and so having somewhere to store food and drinks often doesn’t get thought about until the championships. Plan this over the winter and make what ever gadget is necessry early so that you cant est that it works and doesn’t get in the way.

  8. Somewhere to write down compass bearings and somewhere to write important information for the day.

    Having somewhere to write stuff down whilst sailing is important, you need to ensure that it is somewhere that you can get to when sailing easily.. don’t wait until the championships to sort this.

  9. 2 Tool boxes of kit

    1 to have at the boat which includes, tape, filler, sand paper, a few shackles, pins etc, and another that contains everything else which lives in your car or at home.

Venue Preparation

  1. Accommodation:

    book this as early as you can… definitely one less stress to worry about and will ensure you get the pick of the places!

  2. Sailing notes – print outs

    Check online as to whether any of the top coaches have ever created sailing notes for the venue. you’d be surprised what is online if you look hard enough. Print these out and try and get an understanding of what is going on. Laminate them and get them onboard

  3. Tidal Streams – print outs

    Try and get a print out of the race area(s) with tidal information for every hour of the tide and get it laminated. Get into a habit of doing this for every sea venue where you sail.

  4. Food ordered and planned before event.

    With internet shopping it is possible to plan and order your food before the event. Doing this early will eliminate another stress.. you will probably also be able to save a bit of money and ensure that you eat healthier during the regatta.

Daily Preparation before sailing:

  1. Breakfast early… porridge

    A good breakfast early in the morning will help set you up and ensure that you can operate during the race at peak fitness. I struggle to eat when I am competing, whereas others can’t operate without food. Know where you fit and plan accordingly, but for someone like me it is important that i eat early in the day.

  2. Make sandwiches for lunch, fill up water bottles

    think about post sailing snack to have in your bag for later

  3. Check weather forecast and review against notes – 

    Decide what 3 things are going to be important when sailing and what order of importance they are..e.g. is tide more important than wind, or is tacking on shifts more important, is their a wind bend, or is the wind going to be patchy..

  4. Decide on sailing kit for the day –

    Try and be consistent, wear what you would have worn during training during the year, given the weather. Idealy you shouldn’t have to have a discussion or spend much time thinking about this as it is already a normal thing.

  5. Rig up boat, 

    Make any rig setting changes as appropriate, check against your tuning notes for the particular weather and sea conditions on the day

  6. Write on to boat any tidal or wind information important for the day..

    Write down your notes and ideas that were decided over breakfast and make sure they go on to your boat, to ensure that they are easily remembered during the race.

Daily preparation after sailing:

  1. Wash down boat and sails

    Give your sails and bottom of the boat a good wash down after every race. The salt builds up and does not help your speed! Use a bucket of water and a sponge if hoses aren’t appropriate or available

  2. Get showered and changed as quickly as possible and eat and drink something

    It is easy to hang around in the dinghy park chatting, but actually if you get yourself sorted nice and quickly you will feel a lot more relaxed and you will shorten your sailing time (determined by how long you are in your sailing kit!)

  3. Wash sailing kit and try and get dry for tomorrow.

    If you can get your kit washed as quickly as possible and hanging up to dry. Invariably there are still a good few hours of day light to get stuff dry.. this will make sailing tomorrow  much more appealing

  4. Fix anything that is broken

    Once you have got yourself personally sorted, finish off the boat, fix anything that is broken, hopefully you will have spares if it is catastrophic or you can repair using basic tools.

  5. Review your boat

    check all pins are secure and ropes for fraying, knots coming undone etc. When we were team racing we used to have a process that went through the boat starting at the stern for the helm and bow for the crew and checked everything is in order.. this is a pretty good way to ensure that all is fine!

  6. Sponge out.

    Get your boat dry before putting the cover on if you can.

  7. Listen to your body

    For me, I also know that if I can get a snooze in before dinner, this helps me to allow you to enjoy my evening. I try to eat as early as possible so that I’m not sleeping on a full stomach.

  8. Know your limits

    For most of us the Championships is also our annual holiday and the social aspect of a sailing championship is extremely important. We aren’t professionals, and we don’t make a living out of getting good results, we do it out of personal pride and to challenge ourselves. If you have done all of this preparation already it would be a shame to blow it by regularly coming in at 2am.

 Race Preparation:

  1. Get to the race area in good time

    You need to be able to sail upwind for about 10-15 minutes to get a feel for compass headings of sailing upwind. Record these on the boat. Repeat every 15 minutes or so

  2. Check the start line

    Check the bias and do some practice starts, do some timed runs… how long does it take to sail from one end to the other? try it both ways… Plan where you need to be at 3 minutes to go and ensure that you are always within 2 minutes of there around the prescribed start time

  3. Clear wind

    Focus on ensuring you have clear wind at the start. If you do this and with all your other preparation you should be able to execute your game plan!

Good luck, If you have any thoughts or comments about this do pop them in the comments down below. I look forward to hearing from you and updating as appropriate!


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