Preparation Is The Key to Success
Atlantic Cup Staff Note: Rob Windsor has raced in every edition of the Atlantic Cup and has logged hundreds of thousands miles offshore. He has also prepared multiple Class 40s and the odd Open 60 for racing. He wrote this after winning the 2015 Pineapple Cup on board Amhas.
Preparation is the Key to Success
By Rob Windsor
As I sit here on my late night watch bringing the Class 40 Amhas back to Charleston from Jamaica after a Class win in the Pineapple Cup I got to thinking. I’ve learned a lot these past few years racing Class 40’s. They are unlike any other boat I’ve worked on and exactly the same, at the same time. An awful lot goes into just getting these boats to the starting line. Even more to make it to the podium. Most of this is preparation. I have broken, stripped, busted and smashed just about everything you can think of on a boat. I’ve learned my lesson a bunch of times when I thought we were ready. I have had the water maker break in the first few days of a transatlantic race with not enough water to make it (we came second and rationed for 10 days). I have had a brand new loop for the Headstay (not made by me) fail in the first week of a 6000 mile race ( we came last but we finished). I’ve had the main bulkhead splinter coming off of a wave. Just in this race, we had the horizontal wind wand shear off and had the hinge pins in a nav pod door work their way outfrom the pounding, you get the point. Now when I prepare a boat I thinkabout all those lessons. I think about what could happen and go fromthere. An extra lashing here, an upsize in line there.
It’s not just preparing the boat though. Preparing yourself for the taskis a big undertaking in itself. What are the expectations for the boatand the event and how can we manage them? Before I get myself ready, I like to ask the owner what their goals are for the race. Are we looking to compete and do well? Is it win at all cost? How bad do you want it? Once you get the answer, which may or may not be the one you were looking for, then you can prepare. Part of that is being honest and figuring if the tools are there to manage the expectations. Do we have the budget to make upgrades? Do we have the time to practice and get the boat and ourselves tuned? Is it going to be a mad rush to get the boat on the line? Do you really want it? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? Once you have all the info, you can start to get ready.
Getting your head in the game is not as easy as it sounds and I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time when I get into a program we are weeks, even a few months prior to race day. We generally have a work list of things to do and a delivery to the starting line. We have a list of needs and wants, but it isn’t real yet because the boat is still in the shed or the mast isn’t even stepped. That’s when I find it¹s tough to think about race day. I try to leave some notes for myself around the boat. Launch date, delivery date, race start. It helps me keep thinking about the goal. When I’m crawling into the rudder compartment to check the pilot drives and I pass a post it note with the start date on it, it helps. When I’m installing a new water maker and I slice my finger open on a hose clamp, I grab a paper towel to stop the bleeding and see the note with the delivery date, it makes me feel better. It’s the little things that keep me going. You might not need any help or you may need a banner, not a post it, all depends on the kind of person you are.
Once the boat comes out of the shed and she is sitting ready to go my wheels really start to turn. Is she ready? Did I put enough lashing on the solent? Rig tuned? I generally stand on the dock and stare at the boat. I look for anything that is out of place, not pretty, loose. I always find something that I don’t like. On the delivery to the starting port, I usually find 5 more things that I wish I had thought of or should have done. Hopefully there’s enough time to get them sorted either under way or while waiting for start day to arrive. Once we are in the start port, I again stand on the dock and stare. Is it all here? Do we have the right sails picked for the weather? Is the stack set for the predicted wind direction on start day? There is nothing worse than not being totally ready on your way to the start line. The race is won or lost on the dock.
OK, we made it to start day. Race day. I stand on the dock and stare one more time. Are we ready? Got the latest weather file? Routing done? Spares? Food and water? I always try to have an easy food solution for the first day/night. Wraps, with meat and cheese or premade sandwiches work well. Have we got the right VHF channel for the RC? Start time? SI’s on board? Leaving the country? Passports? Don’t forget we actually have to sail this thing. It’s one thing to get her there but now we have those expectations to manage that we talked about 2 months ago. Are they still the same? Do you still want it? How bad? Remember that the most committed always wins. If the boat is ready and the goals haven’t changed, then it’s time to Send It.
After the gun goes off and you are on your way, now it’s time to manage the boat and yourself. Something will break, it always does. Can you fix it when it does? If you’ve done a good job putting the boat and kit together it should be no problem. If it’s you that breaks, can you handle it? Med kit? Hopefully, if you have done all you can physically and mentally in the end you will do well. No offense, but I hope I did it better and I get in before you.