"They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds" - Winston Churchill
What you need to know
There is a lot you can do on your own
Focus on starting practice as this is 80% of the race
Best practice is being with another boat or in a group
Balance your boat so it will sail to windward on its own
Ease sheets slightly after tack for maximum acceleration
Enter wide and leave close on any mark rounding
Gybe using the winch so you have minimal change in direction
When we are eventually allowed back on the water, you may like to sneak down to the club to brush up on your skills before racing begins. You may ask, "How do I make best use of my limited time"? Here are some ideas.
On your own
The first thing to do is check your boat travels in a straight line. Sail the boat directly away from you or towards you with the sheets eased enough to keep you boat upright. Adjust the steering if necessary using the fine control on your transmitter.
Sail to windward and let the boat sail itself. Does it luff up or bear away? Try on the other tack to check the same behaviour is exhibited. Tweak the tuning to until the boat tracks in a straight line or pull ever so slightly to windward.
If you do nothing else, focus on starting technique. The start is 80 percent of the race. If you see a mark near the shore, create an imaginary start line between you and the mark and practice the following:
Time on distance into the mark. Set a timer on your phone for start, say 30 secs. Put your boat on the line and sail away at full speed for 10 secs from your desired starting position, turn the boat round and sail back to hit the line bang on the start time. This will get you used to the time it takes to get back to the line. Vary the time and the angle you sail away you sail away from the line but always try to cross the line as close to the start time at full speed. It will not matter if you are over in this scenario.
Using a 1 minute countdown, practice holding your boat within one boat length of the line or a Mark. Hold this position for as long as you can. Then in other sessions practice bailing out, i.e. bear away, sail down the line to find an imaginary gap and stop the boat and hold. Accelerate on the gun. A variation on this is to hold back from the line so you can start to accelerate with 3 or 4 seconds to go. If you watch most starts, boats often sheet in within 1 second of the gun because they are too close to the line. Those that hang back can cross the line at full speed.
In a Group
Finally, if there are other boats, practice starting as a group and if there is a windward mark close by you can race to that and back and repeat.
Sailing to windward
Practice sailing to windward without touching the transmitter controls. Does your boat hold its line, if not it may require a bit of tuning. Practice sailing in high mode, sheets slightly tightened so you can point high and then eased sheets slightly to foot fast. You will need both of these techniques (to avoid other boats or accelerate away) at some point in time especially after a start. If you see a puff of breeze try sailing in fast mode to get to it.
When tacking, once you have completed the tack, momentarily ease the sheets slightly to build speed and then sheet back in. You will not be easing more than half a centimetre but it does make a big difference to acceleration. You can also do this in strong gusts.
There are a number of things to do here. As well as practicing your technique going round the mark, you need to get into the habit or working out which way you want to go on the next leg well before you round the mark. When practicing on your own, if you are rounding from a beat to a run, pick your chosen gybe you want to get your boat to the most favourable side of the course. When rounding a windward mark, if you are some distance away, leave plenty of room as distances can be hard to judge.
Windward mark - approach on port and tack on the mark (rarely will you do this in a race), for a starboard tack approach make sure to tack 6 boat lengths from the mark so you hold right of way over any port tack boats trying to tack in front of you inside the zone.
Practice rounding coming in wide and leaving tight on the mark to avoid other boats getting inside yours. Also practice tacking on the mark as if there was another boat there in front of you and you had to find clear air.
Not a huge amount to practice here other than fast goose winging and gybing without dramatic course alterations. I use the sheet winch to get the boom across on a gybe so I do not need to alter course very much.
Two boat tuning
If you can find another willing owner, practice two boat tuning. One boat keeps the same setting all the time, the other can tweak settings and see if that makes any difference to speed and then reverse the process. You can also practice any of the above. In addition you could also match race together which would be great for boat handling skills.
Why do it?
The aim of all this practice is to build your confidence. In a strong fleet, you will know that whatever manoeuvre you employ, it can be done at speed and most importantly, you know exactly what angle and sail setting your boat should have when it comes out of each manoeuvre.