A sailing race consists of a series of points or marks which make up the course. The first boat to complete the course wins. Most dingy races begin with a windward leg. Downwind or reaching starts are only found in yacht racing. Most courses for club level dingy sailing are set up to ensure the boats sail counter-clockwise round the course, guaranteeing the final stretch of the race will subsequently be on a starboard tack. This means that the boats competing for the finish line will have right of way over other races, and so lowers the chance of a collision. There are several types of course:
- Old Olympic Course – Also known as the Triangle-Sausage course, this was once the standard course set up for Olympic class boats (as the name suggests). It is commonly used for club races for single-helmed boats. This course provides few opportunities for overtaking and so can be somewhat processional.
- Windward Leeward Course – This has become the standard race course for sportsboat classes and gives the opportunity for gybing downwind. This is a risky manoeuvre that can lead to a significant gain in time.
- Square Course – This is a popular course type for fleet racing as it allows one set of judges (called a race committee) to race two separates fleets on the same course. The course is set up with two routes; an outer and inner loop. The two fleets are set off with a time delay on the two different routes of the course.
The start of a dingy race can determine the whole outcome. As it would not be practical to get all the boats to line-up and start the race from stationary, it is unlikely that all the boats will cross the starting line simultaneously. The imaginary line is set between the committee boat and a buoy (which is called the pin-end of the line), and the line is usually perpendicular to the wind direction. The entrants must tack up and down the line and cross it only once the race has begun.
Any boat that is already over the line when the race starts will be individually recalled. If too many boats are ahead of the line the race may have to be restarted, called ‘a general recall’. The committee boat sounds a series of whistles or horns accompanied by a flag. The ‘Warning blast’ and class flag indicate there are five minutes to go before the race starts. The ‘Preparatory’ signal is one blast and Flag P (which shows a white square inside a blue square) and is four minutes before the race begins. The Flag P is removed one minute before the race starts and another horn is sounded. The race finally begins with a sounded horn and the removal of the ‘class flag’. The class flag indicates which class of boat the start is for and this allows the committee to allow different classes to set off at once or in a staggered manner.
Getting started in racing
Racing provides an excellent opportunity to learn the best way to sail and tune your boat according to the conditions. Your relative times and position gives a good indicator of how well you’re sailing, providing you’re racing people of a relatively similar standard. Sailing clubs organise races at local levels – the national and international events tend to be run by class associations.
Your boat will need to be assessed and measured to decide which class you are to race in. An association can organise for this to be done and will be able to provide you with information on which clubs organise racing for your class of boat. It is a good idea to find a club which has a decent number of boats of your class for you to race against, although there are always handicapped races which allow all classes to compete together.
If you do not own your own boat and would like to get involved in racing, most clubs have their own which you may be able to use. The availability of these boats during races will depend heavily on the size of the club and how long you have been there. To gain racing experience and skills, it is very easy to find someone you can crew for. Club notice boards and bars are a good place to start looking.
Before you invest in a boat or get too involved in a particular class of racing, your ambitions as a competitive sailor should be addressed. If your aim is to be a world-class or Olympic sailor, then you should be prepared for a long, competitive and expensive struggle. First, you must master sailing large boats by taking the relevant qualifications and getting as many sea-miles as a crew. There is no shortage of spaces for those who are prepared to work hard for little glory or recognition, but places as a skipper of a competitively raced, high-performance boat are very limited (unless you can afford to buy your own vessel).
If, on the other hand, you would be content with the status of a good club-level dingy racer then the options are far more open. You can decide which class of boat you’d like to race, which in turn dictates the type of racing and whether you have a crew or helm the boat alone. This is not to give the impression that club racing is not fiercely competitive; egos clash and a lot is at stake to those involved. It is also surprising how much shorter one’s temper becomes when confined to a few square metres of boat, even in the most clement conditions.
Types of Race To put it very simply, there are two types of racing; high-speed and tactical. The classical boats such as Enterprises and Wayfarers are some of the slower racing classes (compared to the high performance models). Therefore, this type of racing is far more tactically intense and boats sail very close, battling for right of way and wind advantage. The Laser, which is the Olympically raced single-helmed dingy, is a very popular choice for this type of racing. The boats are relatively cheap to buy and run, and you will always be guaranteed a fleet to race within.
The faster boats are those with large asymmetric sails (known as spinnakers) and multiple trapezes and are very hard work to sail. Catamarans are a fairly cheap entry point into speed racing, costing as little as a thousand pounds second-hand, and have the advantage that they can be raced without the need for a crew.