Many cruising sailors who have no desire except a leisurely cruise around the lake with no destination in mind are not interested in racing. They might say 'When I go racing it is so stressful and not fun at all... I only go out if the weather is right... If I cruise I will only go when I have great conditions.'
Dalton Long distance race on Lake Simcoe at Lagoon city Yacht club
While all of those arguments are valid, the statements show they come from a beginning sailor. I am also a sailor that prefers cruising to racing most days. It is great to come out of the harbour and let the wind decide where we are going today. Unfurl the sails set and forget for the next few hours, sit back and relax.
But someday you decide to go out there to explore and find new places across the ocean or even just to a new lake. This is where the problems can start and turn a nice sail into an epic adventure. Sometimes when exploring new areas we tend not to pay attention to wind and the waves as we are too busy looking at the new sights around us. Then, suddenly the wind picks up and the weather starts looking ominous, and we need to do something fairly soon. This is where some novice cruising sailors may start to get stressed which in turn tends to make us not use all of our brain cells. We then make a minor error in judgment that leads to more until we could be very frightened because we have not experienced this before.
When we are involved in even low level club racing as crew or in our own boat we have many safe learning opportunities. Club racing involves a group of people that you know mostly doing it for the fun. You will not be out of sight of most of the boats; there will be a committee boat close by.
These are good security options for the beginning sailor while you are honing your skills so that when you are out there alone and the worst happens you will be better able to cope with the situation.
In racing, regardless of the weather 'you go when the gun goes', which offers some good experience in heavy weather sailing. Most racing will not be stopped unless conditions could cause a real problem. This will give you an environment to learn how to handle your boat in less than ideal conditions. It will also teach you the best way to get from point A to B when the wind and waves are not going your way. When you have had some experience in bad weather it will assist you in making better decisions when you do not have a choice.
Naturally, there are many seamanship skills necessary for the adventurous cruising sailor that most 'round the buoys' racing sailor never encounter - complex navigation in close quarters, anchoring safely (one of the most underestimated of skills), boat maintenance in remote areas, jury rigging to complete an ocean crossing, power generation, storm survival when there are no helicopters around and many others. That's another story...
Club racing, apart from honing your sailing (not necessarily seamanship) skills, is also great to meet other sailors who have been there and done that. I find some great ideas for my boat, talk to people that have cruised where I want to go and generally have a great time with like-minded people.
Now what could be better than that?