Racing with the NLSA
You don't have to race but there's no better place to start than with the NLSA! All racing is done on a friendly informal basis and you are particularly welcome if it is your first time.
Formal racing series take place a number of times a year, with the Icicle Series being a particular highlight (particularly cold that is). Informal racing happens throughout the year.
You're not expected to know any but the most basic of rules that you will know as part of your Level 2 qualification. Of course if you are a RYA rules expert then you are expected to abide by the ones you know! Here is a link to an animated site that might help you to handicap yourself.
Racing Top Tips
These tips are not definitive - they are here to provoke discussion!
Tips for racing at West Reservoir
1) Feel the force
On the upwind leg of the course the aim is to get to the top mark quickly by sailing close to the wind while still maintaining speed. Too close to the wind and the boat slows, too far away and it’s a longer route than necessary and ground is lost. However during the leg the wind is likely to shift in direction. It’s relatively easy to identify when the wind direction changes against you so that it is coming from a direction more ahead (i.e. a header). If you don’t bear away (steer a bit more downwind) or alternatively tack then the sails start to flap and you eventually come to a halt. How about when the wind direction changes in your favour though (i.e a lift)? It is not uncommon to see people miss this entirely and sail off to the side of the course while someone else sails directly toward the mark.
If you are in a Bahia then there are telltales on the far side of the jib. When they start to point upwards you should steer upwind until they stream horizontally again. However many of the boats don’t have telltales and those that do are often reluctant to work. There is another way to tell in any type of boat. This is to head up a bit and to see what happens. Head up (steer into the wind) until either you detect the front part of the sails start to lift or the boat balance changes slightly and it starts to lean over on top of you. Then bear away so that everything is once again ok and you are on the optimal course. The interesting part of this tip is how frequently should you do this at the reservoir? My opinion is about every eight seconds or so with maybe a bit less in very light wind conditions. What do you think?
2) Tack on a header
There is a lot that can be said about sailing in sync with the wind shifts but a simple basic rule is that when the wind direction changes so that it is coming from a direction that is more ahead of you (i.e a header) then that’s the time to put in a tack. There are exceptions to the rule but generally it works and can get you sailing a shorter upwind leg by as much as 30%.
3) Keep the damn boat flat!
Easy one this - a flat boat is a fast boat. There are exceptions but the interesting question is how do you manage to keep it flat. A gust comes and before you know it the boat is heeling to leeward and you are more worried about trying not to capsize than in maintaining maximum speed. Opinions differ but here are some ideas.
Sheet out. (Obvious)
Hike hard. (Maybe even pre-hike)
Bear away. (No good if you are trying to go to the top mark)
Head up and feather. (Isn’t that the opposite of the one above?)
Technique, tactics & rules
Racing Rule Changes 2013.
A full list can be found on the RYA website but here are some related to mark rounding with a sensible explanation courtesy of sailing world. An interesting one is that it would appear that you no longer have to give someone room to make a tactical wide in/close out mark rounding - it's only necessary to allow them room for a seamanlike rounding.
Some great roll tacking...
and some roll gybing. Nice breakdown on second part of video.