Second Smarts

By Erica Beck Spencer: Skipper, Team Wait For It/Sea Bags Women’s Sailing Team

Right to left: Michael McAllister, Erica Beck Spencer, Hillary Nobel, Jess Harris, Molly White, Andrew Gibbons, Charlotte Kinkade, Carter White

Right to left: Michael McAllister, Erica Beck Spencer, Hillary Nobel, Jess Harris, Molly White, Andrew Gibbons, Charlotte Kinkade, Carter White

I just returned from a nail-biting, down-to-the-last gybe, tie-for-first-place kind of weekend at the Sailing World/Helly Hansen Marblehead NOOD Regatta.  My team, my team of driven, bad-ass women led the J24 class for the first two days of the three-day event followed closely by the other  J/24 Sea Bags Team with Carter and Molly White who are well know on the racing circuit. I can now safely argue it is easier to enter the last day in second place than in first place.  We tried to be prepared by not drinking (much), going to bed early, talking with experts who’ve been in our position before, and trying to sleep but the stress is there and hard to ignore. I held the tiller that could steer us to an overall victory, something my team and our beloved competitors passionately wanted.  I can now say that second place smarts more than third, fourth, fifth, sixth, twelfth and possibly even last place. (OK, maybe not last place but close!)  Second smarts.  Being that close and not winning… ah, the agony of defeat. 

I can honestly say that we left nothing on the race course, we gave it everything we could.  We were prepared, aggressive, confident, and fast. Our speed suffered a bit on Sunday possibly because of the excessive lumpy seas or the tune of the rig, who knows, but it showed. But on Friday and Saturday we were in the grove, fast, united on the boat, and making great decisions as a team. It was exhilarating. And overall, we tied for first with one of the best J24 teams in the country.  Now that’s progress to be proud of.

As with every blog post I try to share something that others might learn from. One of the things that the team talked about on Saturday was our between race routine.  There is so much to do between races but sometimes all you want to do is breathe, lighten your bladder, eat, and drink water.  Those things are important but with a team of five (or six—depending upon the event) a team can take turns doing everything that needs to be done so that you’re prepared when the warning gun goes off.

Besides the above-mentioned essentials, here are some things we also pay attention to:

The rig.  We discuss our speed from the past races and think about the new conditions to see if they warrant a rig change. We adjust the rig accordingly and then make sure that we go up wind to see how she feels with everyone on the rail. 

Back her up! We point the bow into the wind, push the main out, and sail backwards (steer opposite of what you would do when sailing forward) to shake any weed off the keel. We do this as close to the start as possible.

Bump the main sail.  Our halyard stretches or slips ever so slightly during a race so we untie the halyard and loosen all of the main controls to make sure we can get her as high as possible. 

Send someone up to stand on the boom by the mast to get a better view of the wind up course. Then discuss with the team which side is favored taking into account the current and past conditions.

Make sure the spinnaker came down correctly and is ready to go.

Get line sights on the starting line.

Decide which end is favored.

Make a plan for the start and the next windward leg so that everyone can be informed.

It is a lot to do in a short period of time but being prepared and mentally in the game will set you up for success for the next race. 

Just want to give a shout out to my team. I hope they know how damn proud I am of them. We had Charlotte Kinkade trimming all three days; Hillary Nobel (new to our team, the J/24 and to calling tactics); Carol Pickering on mast on Friday and Katie Drake for Saturday and Sunday; and Jess Harris, team manager, rockin’ the bow all weekend.  Other team members not on the boat this weekend include Laurie Orlando, Kim Calnan, and Sandy Yale (age 13). 

We’ll be preparing our team and boat for North Americans over the next month! 

Check out the results from the Marblehead NOOD Regatta by clicking here.