The Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race is quickly approaching, and I thought it might be interesting to offer my thoughts on preparing for the race and discuss race strategy.
In preparing the boat, my first thoughts are always about weight and keeping the boat as light as possible. We sail a 35-foot J 109 that rates 69 in Performance Handicap Racing Fleet (PHRF) and only needs five crew members to be competitive.
. To keep the weight down, I empty all the water tanks on the boat and bring only bottled water. We bring food for one breakfast, two lunches and one dinner. Chocolate candy, chips and cookies make up our snack list. I request that the crew refrain from bringing their own food.
All the food is placed in the galley, and I put all the soda and beer in an ice chest and place it next to the mast. Also around the mast are our tool kit, anchors, anchor chain rode and whatever we are using as a life raft. Sails are also kept in the middle of the boat and stacked to whichever side of the boat we want the weight.
We keep 14 gallons of diesel in the fuel tank and make sure we have emptied the holding tanks properly before race day. When we go into our night watch, everyone is asked to sleep in the middle of the boat.
Regarding the night watch, make sure you start one. Pending the weather conditions, we will keep three crew on deck. With one crew member changing out every hour, that's a two-hour power nap and you are back at it. Every 30 minutes we rotate crew positions to keep all the crew on watch alert.
Our routine is that the two watch captains are never off watch at the same time. When we rotate out we discuss true wind direction and the numbers that keep us on the favored course to the mark. Both watch captains understand when we need to change sails to obtain the best performance.
My strategy revolves around the wind strength and staying on the "rhumb line," which is the path of shortest distance between two points. As we get about four days from the start I will take a glance at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and SailFlow websites and start to fine-tune my strategy. I have overthought this race way too many times, and it always comes down to some basic tactics.
If it appears to be a moderate breeze that is forecasted to die at night, I will place my first waypoint at the Coronado Islands. If the wind appears that it might hold through the night, I will sail inside of the islands. If it looks like we will have a very long night, I will sail outside of the islands. Big, fast boats can sail great distances and hunt out the wind offshore while smaller boats have to stay on the rhumb line and hope for the best.
The race is won or lost as night falls and crew members start to get cold and tired. Extra effort has to be given to sailing your boat at its best performance to the wind's strength. All your attention is placed staying in the breeze and watching the wind direction. The navigator who can do all the above and keep the boat sailing the best angle toward the finish line wins the race to San Miguel.
I have never figured out how to get to the finish line in a dying breeze from San Miguel. All you can do is hope for the best and keep your eyes open. If you see a group of boats ahead of you stopped, sail the other direction and keep looking for the wind. Always make the effort to have the proper sails up and keep looking for more wind.
If your plan works out and you are a 30-foot boat around a lot of 50-foot boats then you have done it. If you missed the wind in San Miguel like I did last year, there is always the party to look forward to and next year's race.
Stop by my blog at lenboseyachts.blogspot.com to review other notes I have made. On Thursday night I'll post my take on the weather.
Sea ya around the pool.
LEN BOSE is an experienced boater, yacht broker and boating columnist.