Everyone knows that setting up the boat for racing is important. I'm not going to go into the nitty-gritty of boat set-up today, that deserves several posts on each specific subject. I just want to talk about the routine side of setting up the boat, and how having good habits can be very important for club sailors.
For me, setting up the boat before racing is 100% routine. I always do pretty much the same things, in the same order, every time. It makes sense to have a solid routine because, with all the distractions around, it can be easy to forget something. But if you always do the same stuff the same way then you almost never forget anything.
My best example of this is when I first got back into sailing. Obviously I didn't have a routine because I was just starting out again. I had bought my Laser and finally the day came when I could take it out for the first time. For some reason (I can't remember why), my sister-in-law and her partner drove me to the club that day, and hung around while I got changed and set the boat up. I was a little nervous as it was pretty breezy and I hadn't sailed in years but, as I had an audience, there was no option but to just go for it. I wheeled the boat down to the water, dropped in the daggerboard and eventually got the rudder in. I hopped in and off I set on a reach. It was blowing a force 4 (which felt like a 6 to me) and the boat lifted up onto a plane very easily. Everything was going rather well. I decided to tack round (I'd save gybing for later...) and reach back to get the feel of things.
But as soon as I tacked I knew something was badly wrong.
I hadn't sailed for a long time, and I had completely forgotten that the tiller needed to go under the traveller, not over it.
So now I was out in storm-force conditions (well...kind of), and pretty much unable to steer or sheet.
I may not have sailed in a while, but I am proud to say that my reaction was that of any seasoned sailor: I looked to the shore to see if I was being watched and had been caught in my numptiness. As I'd planed away from the shore on my first reach I secretly hoped that my sister-in-law and her partner had stayed to watch, so they could tell everyone how amazing I had been. But as I peered at the shore I can honestly say that I've rarely been so relieved that other people have paid me no attention whatsoever. Thankfully they'd seen me off and then hopped in their car and left.
I don't recall how I sorted the problem out - I think I undid the traveller and threaded it under the tiller, being careful not to let the mainsheet block unthread, and then sailed on. Whatever I did, I fixed it somehow, and had a lot of fun that day.
And I've never forgotten to put my tiller under the traveller since then. In fact, it is one of the last bits of my routine. My rudder is bolted in position to save it riding up in a race, so a I gently slide the bottom tip under the traveller before I go out to launch, so that I can drop it in when I'm up and running.
Having a solid routine can help in so many other ways, too. If you're late to the club, following the same routine means you can get set up whilst thinking about other things. A lack of routine means you're liable to forget something.
Although perhaps not something as basic as putting the rudder on correctly.
Who'd do a thing like that?