There is a saying in sailing that “if two sailboats are on the water, they’re racing…” and while that may not be every sailor’s cup of tea, there is a large contingent of people for which that is the only reason to get up and go sailing. While I fall flatly in between, owning both a Catalina 270 (NOT a race boat) and a Laser (Classic Olympic Class Racer), I can say that I learn more about sailing from racing than from cruising.
Now before anyone shoots me, there is a lot more to being a “Competent Sailor” than just sailing skill. But Sailboat Racing really forces you to understand the sailing part of the sailing at a very deep, almost emotional level.
There are all kinds of sailboat racing: Buoy racing, point to point racing, One-Design racing, Handicap racing, poker races, reverse PHRF races…the list goes on. The most recognizable is Buoy Racing. Simple buoy racing involves a course, set with one buoy to windward and one to leeward, a start line and a finish line.
The first leg of a race like this involves getting off the start line in close quarters cleanly and sailing upwind to the first, or windward, mark. Then it is a turn down towards the leeward mark. Often this involves a sail change from a jib to a spinnaker. It also involves a whole different set of tactics and ways to get ahead (or fall behind!)
Then everyone converges again at the leeward mark (sometimes a gate…even more complicated!) Down comes the spinnaker, back up with the jib. Was it twice around or are we going to the finish?!?! We’re going upwind again. Was that a shift? Should we tack or lead back? You must cover!
All of these things make going 2-6 knots in a sailboat one of the most fun things on the planet. Whether you race big boats or small boats, buoy racing or around the world racing, it is addicting.