Advice on Racing on the Mystic Lakes
Jim Bowers, John "Jocko" MacRae and John "Tags" Tagliamonte offer their insights into how to race on the mystical Mystic Lakes as well as good reading material following the 2006 Winchester Invitational (solicited, collated and edited by Art Rousmaniere).....
From Jim:
I'm sure that Jocko and Tags read more than I do.  I've really learned the most by many years of trial and error.  Lake sailing is a unique experience and skill.  Many people contribute success or failure to good fortune but there are certainly things you can do to increase your odds of good fortune and I think that's what you need to do on the Mystic Lake.  Maybe it's time I volunteered to give a talk on lake sailing.  Anyway, here are a few quick principles:
  1. The favored end of the starting line is usually dependent on where the first puff and shift will be.  Luffing head to wind at 3 to 5 minutes before the start is useless information - much like making investment decisions based on past performance.
  2. Sailing up wind is about connecting the dots - kind of like checkers.  The dots are puffs and, to be really good on the lake, you need to understand that the puffs "pour" onto the lake like a liquid (usually from the sides) and will fan out accordingly.  Knowing this, you want to be on the inside of the puff to be on the lifted tack a majority of the time.
  3. Be patient.  What I mean by this is wait until your sure that you have a shift before tacking.  The leading edge of many puffs is turbulent so you don't really know what you are dealing with until you are into the puff.
  4. Keep perspective about where the next mark is.  If your bow is heading away from the mark (i.e. not sailing the closest tack to the mark), you better have a good reason for it - like a big puff.
  5. When behind, try to focus more on the wind and the shifts than the boats directly in front of you.  This is hard to do but once you hit a few shifts correctly those boats will no longer be in front of you.
  6. Try to approach the windward mark on a tack coming from the middle of the lake.  There is usually more wind in the middle of the lake than along the edges.
  7. Experience on the lake counts because of specific geographic features that will often dictate the best direction to sail in a given wind direction.
  8. Downwind is all about pressure.  Keep you head out of the boat and find the pressure.
  9. Finally, you need to have your boat handling down cold to keep you head out of the boat (i.e. steering and sail trim need to be second-nature).  Good starts, tacks, jibes, and mark roundings will make a big difference.  Knowing all of the above principles won't matter if you can't execute them."
From John:
Brilliant words and advice as always, Jimmy! I would be hard-pressed to add any wisdom (if you could call it that). But as someone who grew up sailing on lakes myself, I can reinforce his points about patience. That is often easier said than done, but you must remember that the Lake giveth and the Lake taketh away. Try not to get too down on yourself when you are on the wrong side of the shift. As long as you follow Jimmys rules about sailing on the tack that points you closest to the mark and you are in solid breeze compared to the other boats, you will have opportunities to catch up.
Of course, the notion of practice is very important. Get out as early and as often as you can and just sail. spend the first 30 minutes just getting the feel of going upwind, tacking and jibing, stopping you boat and starting again (like before a start), etc. Its nice to do this with another boat but not essential. As Jim said, your goal is to make all of that second-nature, and it takes time. After sailing around try picking a windward mark and practice judging which tack points you closer to it. Once you have a good feel for that, make sure to tack once you know you have been headed and constantly ask yourself if you are on the tack pointing you closest to the mark. Of course, that doesnt mean you should tack on every header!
Anyway, enough thoughts from me. As for good books, I can suggest three: "Winning in One Designs" by Dave Perry, "Sailing Smart" by Buddy Melges, and "The Inner Game of Tennis" by Tim Galway. You may know of these already because they are not new. The first two have all sorts of general tips that are always helpful, and while I don't recall specific lake sailing sections I am sure you will find some references. The third is all about the mental side of the sport, something that has always interested me. The medium for description is tennis but the general rules apply to all sorts of sports including ours. Read it after you start seeing some improvements in your results based on Jimmy's advice if you are hungry to get deeper into the whole game. "
From Tags:
Beyond Art's, Jimmy's and Jocko's points, I can add little other than perhaps the following.
  1. Especially on small lakes in light air, the Snipe often feels heavy and underpowered.  The boat's relatively heavy hull, small rudder, and flat board cause it to accelerate and decelerate slowly.  One thing these lake experts do especially well is keep the boat moving near its maximum possible speed at all times.  Remember, the rudder is a brake and any sudden movement of it or of crew weight and hull trim can 'park' a Snipe, and getting it moving again may not occur until several boats have slipped away or passed.  When a wind shift comes, sometimes radically in the form of an 'autotack' header or mega lift, it is more important to smoothly adjust sail and hull (crew position) trim to build or maintain max speed, than it is to immediately steer sharply to a new course relative to the new wind.  Conversely when the wind is truly disappearing, Art is especially good at pointing to the next mark or next puff while coasting on remaining speed rather than holding course or worse steering down on a beat to "eat" a velocity-header away from the next mark.
  2. Windier days on the lake with ranges from 2-12 knots require a whole discussion on "shifting gears".  I generally go with a constant outhaul setting, and use vang as my primary "shifter knob" upwind with each major puff, with cunningham perhaps as a secondary gear control easing toward the typically lighter top of the beat closer to the trees.
  3. A final note on books, stay away from Stuart Walker's Advanced Racing Tactics and his articles in Sailing World.  He is a great contributor to the sport, and a good person but even most advanced sailors gain little practical experience from his lessons nearly always written with 20/20 hindsight following an error in judgement that cost him a major race.
  4. One of my favorite psycology articles was in the August 1996 issue Sailing World by Ed Baird titled "Think Simple Thoughts  (racing success through basics of mental game)"  (I had to look it up on-line).  Here is the link I found:
  5. Well worth reading and remembering.  Even though it is a bit oriented to bigger boats, I find it highly relelvant, and may be worth posting copies on a bulletin board at the Club this spring.
  6. I suggest starting the season by spending an hour or two measuring everyone's boat to be sure all are sailing with their rig at the current recommended numbers for their type of boat and mast.  I know mine will need it after 6 months under covers, maybe on World Snipe Day sat. May 20th.  The lake will be pretty crowded with 24 Larks from the Tufts Alumni regatta that day anyway.