Hello All- The Eastern and New England Champs have generated lots of great media and interest- We also saw quite a few new racers on the ice giving it a shot. Remember that we are happy to have a start for three boats of any class that show up at any event- come one, come all! One of the new faces on the track was Ron Bouchard and he was kind enough to share his thoughts and memories of his first time…. Take it away Ron!!
Everything You Need to Know to Enter Your First Race! By Ron Bouchard
I had been ice-boating for twenty years and had never entered a race. Why? Because I had no idea what the race entailed and did not want to look like a fool out there; how do you start? How many markers are there? Which way do you go? The guys racing are obviously highly experienced, high-tech, obsessed racer types, right? As I found out, some are and some are just like me. I told myself and others that cruising around was fine and I had no interest in entering a race, but that was not the truth. No matter the race, racing is thrilling! The feeling of “I’m gaining!” and the fact that the decisions you are making have a measurable impact. Long-short, I entered my first race last March (New England Championships. No, I did not win). It was an amazingly satisfying experience and when it was done I felt as I had accomplished something. I had overcome my fears and done something I had always wanted to do and did not look the total fool as I had feared. And now I am going to tell you what you need to know so you can enter your first race (please understand that these are the basics and I am not getting into different sails and runners and mast location, etc.):
The Course (see the drawing I have attached):
You all line up across a straight line, facing straight into the wind. There are two markers. The closer (leeward) one is in the middle point of the starting line, about 50 yards out. So, half the racers are to the right side of the marker and half to the left. The other marker is way out, straight up wind, about say a half a mile. A starter stands out in front of the racers, between the starting line and the closer marker (about 25 yards, so everyone can see him). He look to make sure everyone is up to the line, he asks if everyone is ready and raises his arms over his head. He waits a few beats and then drops his arms and you are off! Everyone runs as fast as they can and then when they can run no faster or the boat is getting away from you, you jump in.
Half the field heads off to the right and half to the left, BUT, everyone has to travel in the same directions (counter clockwise) so, the guys who start to the right of the field generally go way out to the right and are looking to make one tack to round the upper mark, which will be on their left. Keep the sail tight and the boom right down tight. It should be right off your shoulder pretty much. The guys who start to the left go out a ways and then tack and go BETWEEN the closer and farther marker and then tack again and go around the upper mark (also, so that it is on their left). This is something I did not know before I started the race. As you go around the outside of a marker, it should always be on your left side (counter clockwise). You cannot have guys heading straight for each other!
Heading down wind:
So, I was doing great, heading out towards the right and then tacking and heading towards the upper mark. I was actually gaining! The adrenalin was flowing. I was stoked!! Then I rounded the upper mark and headed back down towards the lower mark. I sail Lasers so I did what I do with them, which is to let the sail out and cruise down wind. Wrong! You keep your sail tight and let off just a bit so the sail rounds a bit and catches the air and head off more towards the right. The less air, the more you have to head up towards the wind to keep going. What is crucial is trying to take a smooth turn off that upper mark as you head down to keep your speed up. The more wind, the sharper angle you can take down towards that next mark. When you think you can gibe back towards the mark and round it without your speed dying out, do so. I pretty much just followed the guy in from of me. Then, back around you go!
A few notes:
- The races I was in were three laps per race.
- You want to lay pretty low in the cockpit for aerodynamics.
- Your neck gets tired. A lot of guys had these loops on their helmet that they attached to a hook on their belts to help hold their heads up. I wish I had one during the race!
- It’s good to know the basic rules of sailing and the different variations for iceboating:
-Upwind; starboard has ROW over port, leeward boat has ROW over windward boat
-Downwind; starboard has ROW over port, WINDWARD HAS RIGHTS OVER LEEWARD
-A BOAT GOING DOWNWIND ON EITHER TACK MUST KEEP CLEAR OF A BOAT GOING UPWIND ON EITHER TACK
- Remember though, it’s not the America’s Cup. If in doubt, ease out!
The last two things I would say is that the guys I was racing with were so patient and helpful and welcoming and open with information. Everyone gathers behind the starting line area to tune their boats and exchange tips before the race so do not be afraid to ask if you have a question!
And secondly, I realized that no matter your experience level or the condition of your boat, you can have a great day racing. I had the best time!! I loved it and cannot wait to race again. I am hooked. Going fast is fun and when other boats are around you and you are eye-ing your next mark and you zip by it is a crazy rush. It has been a long time since I have had so much fun and I felt great that I did it. You will too.
Call me with any questions! I am happy to talk to you and tell you why that although cruising is a ton of fun, racing is more.