Lessons from a record race >> Scuttlebutt Sailing News | SehndeWeb

World-renowned sailor, educator and two-time America’s Cup winning navigator, Peter Isler is offering a Scuttlebutt discount on his online weather and navigation course program. But first, he shares a recent experience:


I was lucky enough to be invited to sail Manouch Moyashedi’s Rio100 in the 2022 Newport to Ensenada Race, a 125nm course from Newport Beach to Ensenada, Mexico. Starting on April 22, the race has been a fixture on the West Coast offshore sailing scene for 75 years.

I had sailed Rio100 when it was first launched (after its supermaxi conversion) and did the Sydney Hobart Race 2014 on it, although in recent years I have raced against it on the turbo of Roy Disney Volvo 70 Pyewacket70. But since Pyewacket wasn’t racing, I was in for it.

I had watched the weather settle and it looked like the ‘100 year race’ – a front was to pass in the morning and a new northwesterly fill would follow to push the fleet south quickly. Thankfully, the predictions stayed true to form.

At the start of the race at noon, we unfurled the 100ft’s huge A3 drop sail and set off onto the race track – soon hitting 20 knots on the hot VMG angle. The wind remained perfect for the rest of the race and when we crossed the line at 7:02 p.m. we had shaved more than 2:30 hours off the monohull race record.

This one could last a very long time, just like the multihull course record we set on Tom Siebel’s MOD70 Orion in 2016 of 5 hours and 17 minutes.

For a race that most Southern California runners think of as one of those sleep-deprived “sprints” with an after-dawn finish as you cross the finish line with the drifter barely drawing, it was really weird (and fun) to finish before sunset.

But every race is different, and woe to the tactician who just follows the golden rules that (supposedly) worked in the previous race. Even on the remarkably direct track we took in Rio (a motorboat would have followed our course for 90% of the race), there were a few good takeaways:

1. Use weather routing and weather patterns as a guide, not an absolute.
My partner at Marine Weather University, Chris Bedford, continues to hammer home this point, but it’s tough when this gorgeous latest weather model shows such a peculiar route to take. Off the start line, most of our fleet ignored this advice and set smaller sails to set a course slightly higher (and slower) than the rhumb line to go offshore ( where the models said there was more wind).

I resisted the temptation and used the good old general rules I learned from Dennis Conner years ago: When you reach a distant waypoint, max out your VMC (Velocity Made good on Course) and when in doubt, navigate the direct route.

2. Navigate the shortest course and remember the cosine rule.
On Rio100 we put on the “big gear” and had a reef in the mainsail and were pushed slightly lower of course….. but I was happy – our speed was faster than the rhumb line and we we got closer to the finish line (than if we hoisted smaller sails and set course).

DC loved talking about the cosine rule – which is basically this middle school math that tells us as long as we’re within 15 degrees of course – we’re barely navigating any extra distance – so if you can go faster by walking ( or heading up) then go ahead. The cosine of 15 degrees is 0.966 So if you can go 5% faster sailing 15 degrees from the rhumb line to a distant destination, that’s a “winner”.

3. Keep sail changes simple.
Changing the headsails on any boat is an expensive manoeuvre. On the 100 footer – even with two furling headsails – you would have to trim to make work on the bow possible – and probably 10 minutes of off-rail crew to deal with trimming.

As we approached Point Loma in San Diego, we were still low of course and slowly rising. With 30 mins to go – it looked like we would have to change sail to clear the point – but then the course would open up downwind – so it would be a short term change – never good on a maxi (or any ship).

But we were expecting a slow climb, so we could get there – and we didn’t want to change too soon. As we were discussing how many minutes we needed to make the switch (to avoid sailing the beach in San Diego – I hate lee shores), I remembered a lesson that professional sailors in Volvos I cruised with on Pyewacket70, Rambler100 and other high speed maxis had taught me. For squalls and short term course changes, “roll it up and sail with the jib”.

We already had the J4 under the huge A3 – so we could push things safely until the last minute, with all the crew still hiking – and then if we had to climb back up to clear the point – we could simply furling the A3 (good old furlers) and sailing for a few minutes jib – once the point cleared – we could redeploy the A3 with a minimum of harangue.

Even on a smaller boat, it’s a valuable lesson. A jib is infinitely easier to change than another handy jib – so for a short term change of course or a short burst – keep it simple and go for the easy change.

4. Look at the sky.
Off the start line, we spotted a thin line-shaped high cloud ahead of us on the rhumb line. It was pointing directly downwind. As I learned from Chris’ classes at Marine Weather University – you can glean a lot by looking up – not down on your weather app.

I told the crew it looked like a cloud of convergence – where the wind picked up as we approached it – then steered us as we passed to the other side.

Sure enough – that’s exactly what happened – and if I had looked at the satellite image, I could have known where we would cross that transition line – instead I kept walking praying so that nothing breaks because we were sailing straight to the finish at a record pace!
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Hey, speaking of Marine Weather University – part of my online school: Peter Isler’s Academy of Sailing Secrets. We are having a May/Mother’s Day sale on campus. Please browse through our curriculum which includes Chris Bedford’s Weather Courses and Comprehensive Courses, as well as my Race Preparation, Navigation and Expedition Software Courses. For our Scuttlebutt family and friends, here is 15% off coupon code it’s good until May 9th: IT’S THE MONTH OF MAY

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