Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Texas Distance Racing by Shannon Galway
I know every cat sailor has done this, you rig up, head off the beach and tack for an hour or so upwind so that you can sail for 20-30 minutes at Mach 6 with your hair on fire down wind. Reaching is something all cat sailors just LOVE TO DO! Now, imagine if you could go Mach 6 for several hundred miles straight? Sounds interesting? You might want to give distance racing a shot. I won’t bore you with the details of horrible trap harness chaffing, the sore muscles, swollen tongue from salt water ingestion, rank smell, 10 finger blisters, or the potential for 300 tacks if the breeze doesn’t do what it always does. I don’t want to distract you from the giant ear to ear grin you will have for days after the race. The Great Texas 300 finished nearly 2 weeks ago and I am still smiling. I can’t wait for the Ruff Rider Regatta.
Texas is the prime location to get your feet wet in the sport of distance racing. We host the Great Texas 300 (www.gt300.com) which is the big daddy of Gulf coast distance racing over 300 miles and four days. The last day of the GT300 is The Dash, a 50 mile run up the coast over one day. Later in the summer we have the Ruff Rider Regatta (www.ruffrider.net) which is a two day distance event in South Padre Island. The south Texas Gulf coast is an ideal location for catamaran distance racing. We have plenty of open water, consistent breeze, warm temperatures, and almost no other boat traffic.
It’s no small feat to participate in a major distance race. It’s a daunting task at first, but it’s not impossible. Here are five simple points to get you to the starting line. You’re going to have to work to get across the finish line.
Distance Racing in 5 Simple steps
1.) Boat Maintenance – You don’t need the fastest, newest, sleekest boat to participate and do well. However, you do need to make sure the boat is in good order. All fittings should be inspected for corrosion. All standing rigging should be in good shape. All running rigging should be free from chaffs or rubs. All pins and shackles should be tight and free from bends or kinks. All sails should be in good shape. While rigging, you should tape (white electrical tape works perfect) every pin, ring ding, and shackle. You’d be shocked what can wiggle loose after 40-50 miles of sailing. Don’t forget spare parts, stuff breaks.
2.) Gear – A distance racer relies on a few essential pieces of gear. You will need a good life jacket with pockets for snacks and gear. At a minimum, you should have a strobe, mirror, whistle, compass, and multitool attached to the life jacket. Some longer offshore races require you carry an EPIRB as well. You should have at least 1 GPS on board (I carry 3, one on the mast, one on my wrist, and one tucked away as a backup). You should also have a handheld VHF onboard. Depending on the location, you should consider safety tethers to keep you attached to the boat. I also carry a satellite phone, however in some parts of the country this won’t be necessary, but a cell phone in a water proof case is a great idea. Laminated charts are a really good idea for any race even if your GPS has a charting function. Don’t forget a good water proof flashlight. I use an LED headlamp.
3.) Plan – The planning for a distance race is nothing to forget! You will need to line up a road crew if it’s a point to point race. This person must be willing to give up their weekend driving your car and trailer to help you have fun. This person needs a place to sleep and stuff to eat. Take care of them, they are doing you the biggest favor of all. You will probably need to arrive the day before the regatta so you have plenty of time to rig and prepare. There’s more to do on the beach for a distance race than a typical buoy race or a day on the bay.
4.) Prepare –Personal fitness is something to consider. Long days on the water are physically taxing. Remember, there’s a good chance you could be on the water for 8+ hours if the day’s course is long or the breeze shifts to an unfavorable direction. Make sure you are drinking water and eating all day. I eat apples slices, oranges, and granola bars. Basically anything that tastes the same soaking wet will suffice. Make sure you’ve opened up and tested any new gear you have. The best is to actually sail with it a time or two before your distance race. Try not to get too fancy with your equipment, the fancy stuff usually breaks, the tried and true is what you can depend on. Make sure your trailer is in good order, especially if somebody other than you will be towing it. Make sure you have boat towing insurance, if you break down and nobody is hurt they can tow you in. If the Coast Guard has to come after you the boat stays and you may get a bill from Uncle Sam.
5.) Sail! -- Sail your boat as much as you can in your local water. Get used to it, get used to what can go wrong. For your first distance race, chose a relatively short one over a weekend. As you complete the shorter races you will build the confidence and experience to tackle the longer multi day races. Talk to other distance racers, we love to get more people involved.
Distance racing can get a little expensive with all the gear and time required. But in the end it is totally worth it. The feeling of crossing the finish line of a multiday race is hard to beat. Give it a shot in one of our races the Great Texas 300, The Dash, or the Ruff Rider Regatta.