The Benefits of Racing

Once you have learnt the basics of dinghy sailing and perhaps invested in your first boat you really have three choices as to how you spend your time on the water: racing, cruising or pottering around. Pottering around can of course be a lot of fun, but eventually many of us feel the need to do our sailing with more of a purpose.

Having a go at club racing is a great next step for many of those looking to graduate beyond the beginner level. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Having to sail round a course that someone has laid out for you forces you practise your skills on all points of sailing rather than always settling for an easy option or just drifting around aimlessly
  • Observing more experienced helms sailing the same course gives you a great opportunity to learn from the way they do things
  • There is usually an opportunity after the race to talk about things that went right or wrong and to pick up tips that will help you to improve your progress

Despite these benefits, many people are reluctant to come along and give racing a try. If you are one of those, the following questions and answers may encourage you to change your mind and to have a go:

Do I have to be an experienced helm?

Not really. If you are confident enough to sail your boat around a predetermined course (typically Level 2 skills or equivalent) then you are ready to have a go at racing. At Crawley Mariners we run a short ‘Start Racing' series on Saturdays at monthly intervals that provides an ideal first opportunity to try racing to see whether you like it. For these races there will normally be an instructor on the water to give you advice to help you get the best out of the event. Alternatively of course you can just turn up and take part in any of our weekend or midweek club races.

Will I be in the way?

This is one of the most common concerns of those who don't take part in races, and the answer is: Definitely not. Quite often there are less than ten boats taking part in any particular event, so there is plenty of room even on our modestly sized lake. Also, those members who race regularly will normally recognise that someone less experienced is taking part and will take that into account if their boats are sailing near each other during the course of the race.

Do I have to know the rules?

Not all of them, no. When you are taking your first steps in racing you can get a long way simply by knowing and observing the rules that require port boats to give way to starboard and windward boats to give way to leeward. And until you are more confident about who has rights of way when rounding the marks of the course, it may be better at first to give other boats plenty of room to allow them to go round the marks more closely. (Once you understand the rules about this there won't be any need to keep showing other helms this courtesy though!).

Do I have to let people know in advance that I want to take part?

Not for the racing events at Hedgecourt. All you have to do is to turn up at the lake and sign on in good time with the Race Officer's team (preferably around one hour before the race is due to start). For racing events at the coast you do need to register in advance though.

What are all the different racing series about?

Grouping races into series across the course of the season gives those who race regularly a chance to compete for a range of club trophies, but you can take part in as few or as many races in any particular series as you wish.

Most of our racing is done on a handicap basis, over several laps of a course set by the Race Officer. This means that all boats start at the same time, and the Race Officer and his/her team keep a record of the times at which boats complete each lap of the race. Each class of boat has a recognised handicap value. The results of a race are calculated after the race by relating the finishing time to the handicap value, and are published Here


An alternative to handicap racing is class racing, where entries are restricted to a single class of boat. These arguably represent the purest form of racing, since all helms and/or crews are competing with similar equipment, so that the winner should be the one who displays the most skill and ability to deal with whatever are the prevailing conditions. (In handicap racing by contrast, certain classes of boat may for example be favoured by stronger or lighter winds, giving them a particular advantage on the day). We only do a limited amount of class racing in Crawley Mariners, as it only really works well where you have a sufficient number of boats of one class competing to make this worthwhile. Currently we hold separate class racing events for the Comet class on Wednesday evenings in the summer and on Sunday mornings in the Autumn.

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