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Racing For Beginners

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This information is to help non-racing IBRSC members (and of course new members for the club) to join in the fun on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. This is not a racing tutorial, more of a survival guide to let you get a taste for it all.

For more details on racing visit the full racing for beginners guide .

Dinghy racing is a great deal of fun, and there's no better way to improve your sailing. The sport is equal for all ages, shapes and sizes, and a handicap system allows different types of boats to race each other. Even the least competitive of personalities will soon find themselves drawn in. IBRSC is a friendly fleet and always welcomes new racers.

To start racing, all you need is reasonable control over your dinghy, and understanding of the following three basic rules and corresponding shouts:

Starboard tack boat has priority over port tack boat ('starboard!')

Windward boat gives way to leeward boat ('windward boat keep clear')

Water at the mark ('water!') - the inside boat has right to room to go round the mark, if she had an overlap on the outside boat when the first boat was three lengths from the mark.

The upshot of the 'windward' rule is that the leeward boat may luff up as much as she likes, meaning that the windward boat also has to, probably to the point of being forced to tack away. You may hear a cry of 'up up up' from the leeward boat, as he forces you over the start-line too early.

Water at the mark does not apply at the start line; you have no right to barge in next to the boat or buoy and demand room. So there.

There are also two penalties you need to know:

Touching a mark with hull, sail, person or anything else requires a 360 (i.e. one complete turn with a tack and a gybe)

Other rule infringement - not giving way, bumping someone, anything that you know you have done wrong - requires a 720 turn (two complete turns with two tacks and two gybes). You may hear 'do your turns' if someone thinks you merit this, but generally you're expected to realise and exonerate yourself.

Penalties should be done as soon as possible but out of the way of everyone else - sail clear first because you have no rights while doing a penalty. Naturally, if you don't do your penalties, someone will protest you and you will be disqualified, so if in doubt, spin and stay in!

These three rules and two penalties are pretty essential and you should understand these before racing. It isn't very complicated.


First choose your race
Handicap: everyone is racing each other, times are corrected for the type of boat you are using, so where you finish on the water isn't necessarily your final position. Held on summer Saturdays (two races) and summer Wednesdays, also winter lunchtimes and bank holidays.

Class: you are only racing the people in your class, everyone else is just an obstacle to progress (although you must apply the rules!) Where you finish on the water relative to the others in your class is what matters. Every Sunday throughout the year, two races in the summer, one in the winter.

Pursuit: starts are timed according to boat types, with the slowest boat leaving first. If everybody was equally good and got constant wind, all the boats would cross the line simultaneously. Again, where you finish on the water is your final position. Held once a month in the summer, often a charity race so drop your pound in the box before starting.


Start Types
These vary according to the race. The Saturday race is easy; everyone starts at the same time. The Sunday race is busier, and so to avoid a dangerous pile-up between fast RS400's and fragile Toppers, the start is phased. The exact times are on the club noticeboard with the class flags, but the sequence is:



The Wednesday race also has a phased start to ease congestion.


For a pursuit race, first find your start time on the list in the clubhouse. If you're an RS400 sailor, go and have a cup of tea (why didn't you stay in bed a bit longer?) because your start is 26 minutes after the Topper, who should get on the water quickly. The race crew will hold up numbered boards at one minute intervals, and you start when your number appears and the starting horn is sounded.


Start Procedure
I'll describe the Saturday race first as this is simplest. I earnestly recommend that you begin your racing career with one of these, it is less crowded and less serious - and more fun! I'll then demonstrate differences for other races.


First, go and put your race card in the central rack - IF YOU DO NOT DO THIS YOUR RESULT DOES NOT COUNT!!. (No race card? Speak to the membership secretary) If races are defined as 'back to back' entry to the first automatically enters you for the second, otherwise you must go and put the card back in for the second race. If you're using someone else's boat, write your name on the back of the card and insert it this way round, but check the results sheet afterward because the race crew may not notice. The club boats all have race cards.

If it is less than half an hour to start time, there should be a course up in the clubhouse, so write that down. (Please put the biro back!!) It is shown as a diagram and as a list of marks, obviously red numbers mean 'go round the mark to port' and green 'go round the mark to starboard'. Work out where the start line is.

The marks go clockwise round the water from the clubhouse. Even numbers are yellow, odd numbers are orange and round. Also there's a pink 'X' in the middle, and a yellow 'F' by the clubhouse. Don't get confused with the rescue boat buoy by no. 7 and the extra '5' somewhere in the middle. The checkered buoy by the clubhouse indicates a large and solid pipe under the water, don't go inside it. The clubhouse produces strange wind effects and you will find that the klutziest things happen there, with a grandstand view for the onlookers.

Aim to be leaving your pontoon 15 minutes before the race start time - for me, this means arriving at the club about an hour before to give time to get changed and rigged up. Allow for a queue to get down ramps, don't hog pontoon space and remember that it takes longer to get to the start in light winds!

Sail to the start line, remembering that it is between the flag mast (in the committee boat, or on the shore if wind direction permits) and the outer mark. The inner is just an indication and does not necessarily mark the other end of the start line, it's often there to protect the committee boat from ramming. However, to start you must pass between the outer and the inner if it is there - it's just that the inner does not indicate the position of the line.

Keep an eye on the race crew as start time approaches, and have the counter on your watch ready to go. The race officer's watch is definitive. The sequence follows two-minute intervals. 

Maybe start with a Saturday race (less intense than sunday and everyone starts together)

Four minutes to go: one hoot, and one flag goes up Two minutes to go: one hoot, and a second flag goes up  Start: one hoot, and both flags lowered. Go!

Easy. Now you've mastered that, what about Sunday?

Same principle really, only one of the flags indicates the class. You can memorise your class flag, but it is easier to work out which class of boats has the start before you - when they go, you have two minutes. If you have the first start, then just apply the above principle. If it isn't your start, please try and keep clear of the line until the last two minutes before your start.


Postponements, course changes, recalls and other confusions
Winds shift and die, and race officers have to respond. So the course might change or the race be postponed between your visit to the clubhouse and the start.

If the course is changed, you will hear two hoots and see an yellow-and-red checked flag. The new course should be displayed at the start, and the race officer may well be yelling that he's changed the course. Two hoots can also mean a postponement and the related flag. When the postponement is over, the postponement flag comes down and there is one hoot. The four-minute signal will be one minute after that.

The race is generally set to more laps that you will actually do, and shortened when the lunch is ready or if it is going too long; it isn't possible to lengthen races. If you hear two hoots from the club house and see the 'shorten course' flag, (white with a blue square in the middle) you have only to keep going until you cross the fimnish line. 

Accurate finishing of pursuit races requires an airship (no air disturbance) hovering above the race to take a snapshot when the time is up. As IBRSC's airship is grounded with a puncture (JOKE!), we finish races by driving the rescue boat from the front of the course to the back, noting numbers as it goes. The crew will tell you when you have finished.

Anyone starting too early (crossing the start line before the start) will hear their sail numbers or names called, and must come back and re-cross the line without getting in anyone else's way. There should be TWO hoots not one for the start if someone is over the line. Somebody may well be waving a tatty blue-and-white checked flag too. Very raely in club sailing (but quite common in biger competitions) if too many jump the line the whole fleet is recalled - if it is a class race the guilty fleet goes to the back of the queue and has to wait until all the other boats have gone. If it is a handicap, everyone goes back and tries again.

For back to back races, the start sequence for the second race should commence about ten minutes after the last finisher crosses the line in the first race. If you are one of the last finishers, you'll have to go straight to the new start line and note the new course from there; as it is a back-to-back race you are automatically entered.


Survival tactics for newcomers
For your first start, go for a starboard tack line aiming to be in the middle of the line - this isn't the best position as it will put you in wind shadow, but it gives you maximum priority. The start may look intimidating, but just keep a sharp lookout, apply the priority rules and be prepared to react quickly. It won't be long before you are mixing it with the rest of them.

If it's a phased start and you aren't in the first group, please keep the line clear for those who are. Once your two-minute signal has gone, you can get into position for your start.

Then just sail the best you can; feel free to assert your rights but NEVER to the point of a collision; the rules place an onus on all boats to avoid collision if at all possible. If you pass a boat closely to windward you may well get luffed, so give plenty of room and/or be prepared to tack away. He has to give you a chance to keep clear under the new rules.

Someone on starboard tack may call 'hold your course' which means that he is happy to avoid you. He's probably doing this for some fiendish tactical reason; you can tack if you want to, just as long as you give him room. 'Hold your course' is also use by someone on port tack to advise that he's seen you and will avoid you. In class races, don't make life unnecessarily difficult for boats in another class as you aren't really racing them; defend your own position by all means, but if you are having one of those days don't wreck a battle at the front of another fleet.

The standard at IBRSC is pretty high and you really needn't worry about getting in the way of the leaders, they'll be off to the horizon. Don't worry about counting laps, just concentrate on following the correct course and keep going until hear a finishing hoot. You have then finished - give 'em a wave!

If you are sure you have finished, but you didn't hear a hoot, this means that you have either missed a mark or didn't put your card in (or you were over the line at the start). Either way, your result doesn't count, sorry.

Important - don't coross the finish line again in either direction after you have finished. (It confused the Race team and will get you disqualified.) This rule is to keep the finish line clear for those still racing. On your way back, keep clear of those still locked in combat. 


Manners, tantrums and collisions

Dinghy racing gets us all a bit excited in the heat of the moment, but it should all be very good natured. IBRSC is a friendly club and we don't have any modern-day Captain Bligh types. (If the yells and screams are coming from within your own boat, that is a different problem...) Light wind Saturdays, when Solos are as fast as Lasers, often produce friendly inter-boat chats as we drift round!

Give the living-on-the-edge asymmetric sailor a chance; they have a big blind spot behind their spinnaker and a lively boat to control. If you're in a singlehander, use the same survival tactics that you would on a bicycle - make eye contact with one of the crew and don't hesitate to yell if you think they haven't seen you, even if you are not asking for priority. Bear in mind that once over-powered, their only options are to bear away or capsize, so think twice before luffing an ISO on a windy day as if they lose it they might fall on top of you!

If you bump someone (and you will, sooner or later) do your penalty and then go and see them afterward to apologise and check for damage. That is why we have insurance; close-quarters dinghy racing is bound to produce a collision or two. Laser sailors have the luxury of tough low-level gunwales which can put nice dents in wooden boats. A swift apology and a pint will usually make amends in the unlikely event of offense being taken.

A capsize doesn't necessarily mean that it is the end of your chances; plenty of others will probably go in too, so learn to right your boat quickly. On a breezy day you may well find that the rescue boat is following the race round to be at hand in case anyone gets into trouble; they may also lurk at gybe marks, possibly for the entertainment value. If you go over they will circle to keep an eye on you, but unless you are in obvious trouble they won't touch your boat without asking you first, because helping you get your boat upright will disqualify you from the race. While you are capsized or recovering, other racers must avoid you.


Confusing Situations
There are plenty of books on the subject of dinghy racing which give 'what if' examples, and as you get into the sport you'll probably want to get hold of one of these. Here's a couple of common situations:

you're coming up the beat while faster boats have already rounded the mark and are running down. They give way because they are windward boat (unless you are on port tack and they are on starboard).

you are coming to the windward mark on the same tack as another boat, and inside him at the two length circle, but you are windward boat. In this case 'water at the mark' overrides 'windward boat clear' and he must give you room.

you are windward boat of another and you are both getting close to an obstruction; you call 'water to tack please'; he can't run you into the bank.

you are approaching a mark on port and another boat is coming on starboard; you need to tack to clear him. You must not leave the tack so late that you obstruct him; he will call 'you tacked in my water' and you owe him a penalty.

You're overtaking someone to leeward - you can't come up from behind and then luff him becasue you came up from behind. You may not sil higher than you would if he wasn't there 'the techical phrase is not above your proper course' He can't bear away into you, either - you must give each other room.
It's worth pointing out that excessive luffing often achieves nothing except to slow you both down and let everyone else through, so think twice before getting madly tactical.


The charm of dinghy racing is that it is all in the skill - you can compete on equal terms with everyone and there is no reason that you can't improve. (And, as racing driver Graham Hill always used to say, you meet a better class of people at the back of the fleet...) And finally, because points only go to participants, even if you are last in each race, if you turn up to lots you will still finish higher in the series than you think, and have a lot of fun too.


Further reading
Mark Johnson's 'Racing Basics' - an excellent public-domain publication, available on the web if you click here or as a pdf download here.
IBRSC Sailing instructions  Available  here .
John Caig and Tim Davison 'Racing Basics'
RYA Dinghy Racing handbook - a small but perfectly formed publication with all you need to know.