I’m not a racing person. I am not competitive and I don’t find any profound drive for sailing around buoys faster than others. Actually, I always felt that competing for the sake of it was the perfect way of wasting both energy and time together. Yes, I can have a fun playing football and other sports and may even get a kick of adrenaline sometimes. But I never had any serious motivation for winning a game or becoming a champion in any sport. Actually, things like hitting a ball more precisely than others never meant anything to me, let alone made me proud of it.
So here comes the obvious question. Why am I writing a post about racing sailboats? You may laugh about my completely ‘unbiased’ support of sailing races, but yes, I have to say that racing a sailboat is different. First, forget the America’s Cup. I am definitely not talking about anything near this level. Instead, think of small events organised by local clubs, where competitors will be more concerned about what brew to taste after the race than about beating other fellow racers. Obviously, there may always be one or two obsessive compulsive racing freaks even in this sort of environment, but this is not the rule. Second, racing a sailboat can have a purpose beyond instinctive competitiveness, for it is a great way to refine one’s sailing abilities. If you want to squeeze as much speed as possible out of a sailboat you will need to learn new tricks like trimming the sails, balancing the boat as well as different sailing tactics. These are fine skills that we would seldom pay much attention to when cruising (or at least not to a high degree), as tiny gains in speed do not substantially change our cruising experience. However, sometimes – especially during long passages– an extra knot can make a huge difference. Put simply, the ability to sail fastest when needed is very welcome on board, so why not work on it?
So if you are learning to sail but like me are not an innate competitor, there is still a good motivation for joining sailing races. For there is no better way of learning to sail fast than racing with more experienced sailors. Racing will give you the opportunity to test your skills and observe how they translate into sailing performance, and this is as clear as it can be when you have lots of other boats around. If you are starting to learn how to sail, joining a racing team as an inexperienced crew will also give you enough hours of sweat and sailing that you need in the beginning. And the good news is that if you enjoy sailing – as you obviously do– then racing will be fun!
But don’t become too obsessed about speed. What is magical about sailing is to enjoy the journey so don’t spoil a relaxed cruise and keep your eyes off the speedometer!