There I was when---
---when I learned "this" about sailing. This is my progression of learnings about sailing and sailboat racing. Yours will be different but I've found these things important to me in my growth as a sailboat racer. They are listed in order of my discovery. One of my favorite stories is of the guy who bought a boat, got a tutor and won an Olympic bronze medal in only three years. Being self taught, I've taken much longer and have no gigantic wins to show for it. There are no secrets. Sometimes we don't see things and sometimes we won't acknowledge that our way is wrong. So here goes.
When i learned about the importance of balancing the boat? I don't really know but I remember moving the mast forward on my first C scow 5 inches in 1963. Right off the below deck support. Had to move it back about an inch but the balance wasn't quite as good. Your rudder is a brake, balance the helm.
When I learned the importance of being on the correct tack for the wind you are in. Maybe late 60s on Lake Shawnee beating toward the South on the East side of the lake and seeing club champ Jolly Walker on the West side. We were both pointing at the windward mark but on different tacks. It clicked that one heading was always better no matter which tack you are on. Sometimes a lot better. Often you can see boats going across the lake when, if they tacked, they would be progressing directly toward the mark. Racing is a geometry game.
When I learned that a good start was critical. Pewaukee Wisconsin with a fleet of 105 C scows. On the correct tack all the time but finished about 75th. The next two years I devoted myself exclusively to learning how to get a good start. First boats off the line have first choice of where to go, full strength wind, undisturbed wind direction, and no waves from other boats to climb. Late starters ( EVEN BY A FEW INCHES) get the leftovers. THE START IS HALF THE RACE. The MOST IMPORTANT 10 minutes BY FAR.
When I learned to be on the correct side of the shift. Lake Lotawana crossing tacks with Jerry Huse, a multi time national champ. We went left, Jerry went right (when two boats cross one of you is always wrong). The wind went right and we dropped to about 20th. We stayed on the left half of the lake expecting the wind to come back. It did and we moved up to about 10th. Then we stayed on the right side waiting for the next shift. It came and we moved up to about 5th. (*1) Further gains were harder to come by as the big boys don't make as many mistakes. If you can lead into the shift you make monster gains. Racing is a geometry game. By the way, the boats ahead are great wind direction indicators. Use them to position yourself for the wind when it will get to you. Sail toward the expected shift. Don't wait for it, go to it!
Some where in the 70s we became meticulous about matching the sail to the mast and balancing the boat. And we became fast. You can be a little sloppy in your decisions if you know the boat is fast. Actually, when you know the boat is fast, you can get your head out of the boat and make better decisions because Racing a geometry game.
When I learned to consolidate. Actually. looking back, I should have learned this much sooner. It finally sank in while reading Buddy Melges' book. When you have a temporary gain because the wind has temporarily shifted your way, take your gain by tacking toward or crossing the other boats. The first and most important time to do this is usually within 5 minutes of the start. This move solidifies you among the race leaders. Anytime you have a gain (these are usually temporary) pocket it by consolidating. Often you don't cross, but you should always close the gap if behind. Racing is a geometry game.
When I learned about steering in waves. I havent' learned this yet. I still have trouble going upwind in big waves but seem to do OK going down wind.
The winners win because they do the correct things. If someone is consistently beating you they are doing something right and you are doing something wrong. Find out what it is and correct it.
Sailing is a geometry game. But you have to go fast.
(*1) Great tip for sailing on Lake Lotawana. Since the lake is so narrow, you can't hold one tack until the wind shifts, so stay on that half of the lake until the wind shifts then go to the other side for the next shift. Left shift, left half. Right shift, right half. This assumes you know how the wind is phasing. If you suddenly find yourself down the tubes, you were on the wrong side of the lake for the shift. Now you know the phasing and what to do about it.