My boat’s well-worn mast cone – good thing we checked it over.  Disaster averted!

I don’t know about you, but once January rolls around, I start thinking about getting ready for the sailing season to come.  It’s not that I don’t think about sailing pretty much all the time, but when everyone else is grappling with New Year’s Resolutions, I prefer instead to focus on what I’ve come to call my “Sailing Season Resolutions” — planning the steps necessary to make sure that I and my boat are going to be ready – really ready! – for the upcoming sailing season.

Some of you may have a boat yard do the work on your boat, from varnishing to rigging to bending on sails, but other than farming out the varnishing, I like to do all the other stuff myself.  Why?  Because it gives me a certain level of control in knowing that things are done exactly as I like.  Plus, I can check everything out with my own eyes (it’s hard to see the rigging aloft when the mast is already up), and seeing exactly how things work helps me think about whether there are ways I can improve them.

A couple of months ago, when we were taking the rigging off my mast, I decided to check out all the blocks at the top of the mast attached to the mast cone.   To my great surprise, we could see that the fitting on the mast cone that holds the peak halyard block was nearly worn through.  It wouldn’t have lasted another season!  And if it had given way in the middle of a race, we would have had no choice but to limp back to the mooring – certainly not the way any self-respecting, competitive sailor envisions a race ending.  As you can imagine, I checked absolutely everything after that, and decided that since they were 20 years old, I’d also spring for new shrouds and forestay.  The shrouds had been on my mind anyway, as we had had a particularly windy season last summer, and two of our boats were dismasted in heavy winds  — in one case, because the windward shroud had let go.  As a person who was on that particular boat, I can assure you that losing your mast is another race ending you want to try to avoid. . .

Get yourself into the habit of checking your boat and rigging thoroughly after you’ve hauled her, and develop a winter to-do list.  Think of that sad, boat-hauling day as sort of a handy seasonal “reminder” to check things over, much like remembering to change your smoke detector batteries in November when the clocks fall back.  An annual boat and rigging and sail inspection can make a big difference in safety and in how well your boat can perform on the racecourse.  Take a look and see whether anything looks worn or isn’t working as it should be.  Check your halyards and sheets for wear and tear.  Don’t forget that it’s much easier to replace things when the boat’s on the hard, rather than when she’s afloat.  And don’t wait until April to develop a to-do list – as you know, things with boats always take way more time than you think.

The other thing I like to do to get ready for sailing season is to study the Racing Rules of Sailing.  This has the added benefit of chasing away the winter blues, because you can be thinking about sailing when summer seems ever so far away!  It’s important to know the rules not only for everyone’s safety on the race course, but also because you can use them to your own tactical advantage.  Even though the rules book can seem daunting, there’s really only a short section that you need to be familiar with.  Start first with having a good understanding of the definitions, and then move on to the rules themselves.  You owe it to your fleet to know your rights and responsibilities at the start and at mark roundings especially, where there is likely to be a lot of traffic.  If you’re not yet sure of the rules, and feel that you need more time on the tiller, ask whether it’s ok to shadow the fleet until you feel more comfortable.  A couple of boats have done this in our fleet, and it seems to work really well.  Also, having the opportunity to talk afterward about questions that come up on the race course is helpful for everyone involved.  No one is perfect, and we can all learn from our own, and each other’s, mistakes.  Make some time for that to happen.

So if you haven’t already, check out your boat and go over everything with an eye to safety and seaworthiness.  Make a list, and start working on it, so you’ll be ready and raring to go when the season starts.  And do make a plan to chip away at the Racing Rules of Sailing  – once May rolls around, you’ll be really glad you did.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Knowing that your boat is race-ready and that you’ve got a good understanding of the rules will help you to feel prepared and can add to your confidence.  This will help you on your way to developing what I call a “winning mindset,” which is something I’ll be writing about in a future post.

In the meantime, good luck with your Resolutions!

Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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