Once I recovered from the long journey home and went back to fleet racing at Gosport which is some of the best I have experienced, I began to think more about getting round the race course.
I break a race down into a series of steps.
Before the race start sequence. Deep breaths to settle any nerves. Sail the boat smoothly, check boat set up, check speed and pointing angles and do you homework on wind shifts.
The final minute. Have a plan and a route to the start line. There are many factors to consider here
Number of boats - will the start be competitive and the favoured end be crowded or are you able to sail an easy course to position your boat for the start.
Sail the boat slowly into position. You are looking for control and not sharp jerky actions
Consider approaching on port tack to find you position on the start.
Watch out for sudden shifts just before the start. At Chipstead we had a couple of starts where the wind headed so we could not cross the start line. When I saw this coming I sailed as fast as possible to the pin end and was able to tack in front of the fleet off the line.
The final 10 seconds
Your boat should be in the correct position wherever that maybe and you hold it staionary so boats to leeward fall off down the line and leave you with a good gap to leeward.
The final 5 seconds
Focus on the count down. Ideally ease the boat forward from 4 seconds and sheet in on 3 or 2 depending on the gap. Because you will be close to the line, only harden up on the gun.
If you get this right you will be in the leading group off the line.
The first 20 seconds
You need to decide rapidly whether you want a high mode or a fast low mode to take advantage of any gap to leeward. This is where all the hard work setting up a balanced boat pays dividends. If you can let your boat sail itself, it will stop you luffing or bearing away too much. if like me you have a twitchy finger, it is so easy to have a momentary luff which slows the boat down and puts you back in the pack.
As you sail away you can check that your plan for the beat is still oK and you can position your boat to either tack or drive to the favoured side.
The first tack
Make it smooth so the boat gets max acceleration out of the tack.
The first beat
Play the shifts and try to keep to the right side of the fleet so you remain control. If you need to get to the right, don't be afraid to duck a few sterns. There is nothing worse than tacking for a starboard boat and then being forced to the extreme left of the course.
The rest of the race is all about protecting position and taking any opportunities that come your way. In one race at Chipstead open, I picked up weed on the first beat and had to clear it at a pontoon on the first run. By the time I got going I was last by 20 yards and 80+ yards behind the leaders. On the second beat I explored the very right hand side of the course where I could see wind and felt that the shift would go my way. The fleet followed itself up the left side of the course into an area of no wind. By the time we met I had overtaken all bar two boats. It was a rare opportunity worth taking with rich rewards.
If you have read the above, you can see the focus on the start and 1st part of the first beat. Get this right and you can sail where you like. Get it wrong and you are stuck in the pack and your position on the course dictated by other boats.
Good luck with your racing.