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T Clewring J-class

The advantages of competing in different classes

by Eric Holden on 5 Jun 2012
Competing in other classes is the best thing you can do to improve your sailing. Sometimes a new challenge is needed to bring your skills up to a new level, as it is too easy to get comfortable and no longer question your actions. Changing the boat you sail keeps you on your toes and absorbing information.

You can’t avoid comparing the responses of each boat to the boat you are used to. The experience of the other classes will show that different and even opposite techniques can lead to equally advantageous outcomes. When you realize that the techniques you’ve been taught are not rules but options for you to consider, then you have taken a necessary step in controlling your own performance.

The thought of jumping between classes may seem like starting again from scratch but, since you already know the fundamentals, you have the ability to get around the course in any boat. There are skills to make your experience in new boats more successful and enjoyable. You must decide on the amount of time you are willing to put into the boat before the chosen competition and how often you will sail the boat in the future. If the plan is more long term, such as sailing a couple of tune-up regattas before the major competition at the end of the season or to sail the class at a regatta or two every year (a worlds or NQR), then you have the opportunity to practice the techniques gained from other classes, bringing in fresh ideas that may even benefit the class. If you just want to hop into a class for a regatta because they’re having a championship in your area, then you may be better off following the class tuning guide, as you won’t have the time to experiment.

There are some important things you can do to help even the odds, when entering a new class. If it is a crewed class, try to have at least one crewmember with experience to help guide you. If you have never raced against someone before, don’t think of him or her as being better than you. Appearances and actions off the water are of no importance out on the racecourse, and arrogance has no relation to skill.

Your lack of knowledge about the class hierarchy means the top sailors are unknown to you and therefore can’t intimidate you. In every situation you will act aggressively in your own best interest and no matter who is around you. The way you handle boat park gossip can have a surprising effect on your performance. You are looking for class tips and to make friends. Often the ones who approach you are the more social sailors, as the serious ones will be too focused and too self-absorbed to introduce themselves. It is nice to have someone to talk to out on the water but don’t accept all they say as you don’t know their credibility, and don’t listen when they tell you which boats to look out for.

What makes the techniques of a good sailor work depends on his or her sailing style and physical attributes. It may work great for some people but what if you’re 50 pounds lighter and five inches shorter? Is that technique appropriate for you or have you seen it done another way in a different class that you may be able to use? A simple Byte example of applying the lessons learned in other classes concerns how to play the mainsheet downwind. Is it faster to hold the mainsheet from the ratchet like a Laser or two to one like a Europe? I could give you my opinion but you won’t know for yourself until you try it both ways, in every condition, with an open mind. Maybe you know of another way that I haven’t tried.

I’ve found that sailing multiple classes is the best way to avoid burning out over a long season. You will be less likely to drop out of the sport if you understand what it is about sailing that you really enjoy. Trying each aspect of sailing means you can make an educated decision on how to get the most satisfaction out of the sport.
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