Winning with Fundamentals by Hal & Sally Smith

Written by Hal & Sally Smith

Editor: First published in MainBrace-Summer 1981. Hal and Sally wrote this article after they won the 1981 Catalina 22 National Championship Regatta.

The main reason we won the Nationals this year (1981) was that we simply sailed the best set of races we have ever put together. The motivation for this effort came from the extremely close competition among friends. Our Association can be very proud of the many strong friendship that exists among its members, and I believe this does a great deal to bring out the very best in us.

This demands skillful rather than devious methods to perform well which results in a better overall effort. I know of racers who view the competition as the “opposition” and feel justified in using any method available, fair and otherwise, to beat them. I feel that this attitude hinders top performance and is discouraged when racing among friends. We all need to appreciate this special quality our Association has and do all we can to preserve it.

To be more specific about our technique, the fundamentals of a winning effort fall into three categories for us:

  1. Boat Speed
  2. Tactics (Plan)
  3. Mental Attitude

All of the above are extremely dependent on crew and execution. I am proud that my wife Sally (and occasionally our daughter Patricia) is always my crew. I believe it is significant that the top three finishers this year were husband and wife teams. Brute strength is not as important on our family racer/cruiser as coordination of a routine and a clear division of responsibilities. An example is when we tack:

  1. I begin to ease the helm over
  2. Sally releases the sheet
  3. I move the traveler over
  4. Sally tails the new sheet
  5. I sit to leeward and crank the genoa winch as Sally tails from windward
  6. Sally prepares the windward winch for the next tack as I check trim and move to balance the boat (I learned this from Fowler Higler.)

This has been done so many times that we have a natural flow to the sequence that happens without any talk as we both pay attention to what is going on around us. We become a part of the boat, and it just reacts to its circumstances. Victories go to the teams...individuals take up the rest of the space.

Boat speed is developed by producing the maximum power with the least resistance. This means good sails with good controls and a low-friction bottom. We have North Sail's 5-ounce main sail with shelf, flattening reef, slab reef, and slugs (convenience; 3.8-ounce CTY 150% Genoa with both yard and ribbon telltales; jib (do not use while racing). From the deck top I can control the outhaul, Cunningham, and genoa luff tension. On a weather leg, the main sail may be retrimmed a dozen times and still other adjustments made on free legs. This should be a completely separate discussion, but basically you are wanting to make the boat stand up with near neutral helm in a breeze with as much drive as possible. This is primarily done with the main. The bottom of the boat has Sears “Best” anti-fouling paint, wet sanded to #400 grit with a filled and faired keel...very important. The keels as they arrive from the factory are pitted and irregular. This is fine for general sailing, but a smooth keel is worth the effort for the competitor.

The ultimate tactic, of course, is to get in front and stay there. To accomplish this, a good start is imperative. I much prefer clear air at the pin to disturbed air and water at the committee boat. If you have practiced with your boat enough to know what is fast, now is the time to pay attention to wind shifts, favored sides, and anticipate other boats’ actions. Maneuvering around other boats on the first leg is usually a necessity. There are two very important action you may take which most people do not use. When you are near another boat on the same tack, both during and after the start, remember you can gear down for power instead of trying for speed when working through disturbed air and water to put you in the advantaged position. Good trim for boat speed is good only as speed is achieved. Prior to reaching top speed, the boat moves best with a little looser trim. Also, remember that you may not wish to force a port tack boat over when you are on starboard. If you are on starboard, you probably feel it is the advantaged tack, and you do not want your competitor there also. If you force him to tack, he may do so right on your air...not good. When on starboard, you may hail the port boat to cross your bow as you duck his stern. He is not obliged to continue his tack but will usually do so if given a chance and consequently leave you alone.

Mental attitude consists not only of a positive attitude for winning, but also has to do with your state of nerves, alertness, and mental stamina for concentration. A positive attitude is very important, which I do not wish to minimize. But too little credit is given to these other three features of your mental preparedness. Nerves played more of a part on our success this year than ever before. Because of several major distractions, Sally and I simply did not have time to become nervous. This sharpened our alertness, reduced mental fatigue, and allowed us to deal with small problems as they occurred with a proper response instead of blowing up as we are apt to do under stress. All of this left us more energy to maintain concentration throughout the very hot days and prevent being beaten by stupid mistakes. The race is as much a mental effort as it is physical effort; therefore, you need prior rest for alertness and concentration without wasting energy and nervousness.

Books are written about boat speed, tactics and attitude. So, it is beyond me to prepare a synopsis of all this in a few paragraphs. I believe it is important to emphasize that it does take a combination of all this in Catalina 22 competition these days. I have to stress my strong belief that all these things may be best accomplished with a dependable, consistent crew which may be a family team.