The National championship is often a highlight on the sailing calendar for any class. A week of sailing in a new (often beachy) venue, with people you haven't seen in a while (the North/South divide is broken) and parties throughout the event which often end in a little over excitement (depending on how the racing went that day).
In the case of the 200's it is often where some people appear out of the wood work who have not been on the circuit during the year, or the Pros who have a week of free time and often people who I haven't seen since uni. With the 200 being such a popular, easy to sail, easy to borrow boat it means that you can get some of the fiercest racing the country has to offer.
The thing in my mind which makes the 200 such a great fleet is that the racing is so tight and as such it is the small things that make the difference. Whether you are just able to make that cross, whether you can trim the sails to/from where you want to and most importantly not losing a race to breakages.
So I have put together our guide of how we prepare for a championship:
1) Time in the boat
It may sound obvious but it can be surprisingly hard to find the time to go out and make the most of time on the water. Whilst it is always nice to go for a blast, light winds are often neglected for the sake of training as it can be a bit tedious. This is however where most gains can be made and it is often the case that there is a guy/girl who is the "light wind specialist" and they may be very good in everything but more often than not they come from a sheltered lake where they have sailed in the light and shift stuff most of their life. The same is true of the "breeze specialists" who predominantly come from open sea venues. This can only show that practice does pay off especially if you can find a good balance of the 2.
Secondly, race practice! It is easy to do the perfect tack/gybe 9 out of 10 times under no pressure but then it all comes undone in a high pressure situation where other boats are affecting your decisions of where you go. Fleet management is a great strength and can often make up for a slight lack of pace, this can only be gained by going out and doing it, but it does not have to be in the same class. I find it is always good to stay fresh by swapping classes and often position, I regularly crew my dad in his XOD and it is great racing in small keel boats and it allows you to get your head out the boat and analyse the race around you and you can take it back with you. Being in situations over and over again you often find you make the right decision more regularly.
2) Boat Prep
My dad drilled in to me the simple rule, "If it can go wrong it will........and probably when you are leading". So I always take time to check through everything before we set off and get Soph to check over everything a second time so we are both happy with it.
This means all rope halyards are pinched to feel the condition of the core, especially around turning points around the top of the mast and the cleats. All wire halyards and rigging are twisted gently to see into the middle of the wire and make sure none of the strands are broken, again around the pressure points.
Where there are spliced sheets or control lines I check that all the splices and locks are still in place, if they look dodgy I will redo them or replace them. I always take a spare of every control line and sheet on the boat at the right length, this ensures that any last minute breakages are ready to be replaced without having to cut anything. The right length of sheets is a personal preference I guess, but the only real way to find out is to practice with them, start long and SLOWLY get shorter, there is nothing more frustrating than cutting them too much.
Finally I check the hulls and the foils. I am fairly obsessed with my foils and unfortunately have had to rebuild them a few times, but that is an occupational hazard of sailing in Chichester harbour. Even if having a few dinks on the rudder and board could make 1% difference for an hour long race, this means you are 36 seconds behind where you should be. In a fleet the size of the 200 that could easily be 5-10 places, over a regatta (10 races) that is a minimum of an extra 50 points before discards. Last year the winner had 20 points total. In reality it may not even be that much but it is really not worth leaving it to chance.
Finally prepping the hull. Some people swear by polishing the hull, others just want it clean. Who knows what the right answer is, but all that matters is that the surface is smooth and that it is clean, that is normally as far as I go, but I am open to people letting me know if they think polishing helps?
3) Kit bag
Everyone has had that time where they were warm on land and went out under dressed and as soon as you get on the water and that first wave hits you, you know you have got it wrong. Equally when you get too hot you have to sail around with excess gear and excess weight in the boat, which is fine if you are lucky enough to have a coach boat, otherwise this is detrimental.
With this in mind I take all my kit everywhere and here is my kit bag for the Nationals:
4) Nutrition and Hydration
Maintaining energy levels as everyone knows is key, and Soph especially obsesses over it, which is nice as I never normally get hungry during racing. We always make sure we have 3 litres of water/squash available, ideally one on the boat and the others on a rib with our lunch. Then you need the quick release energy for the sprint hike to clear your air off the start. Sophie's choice is the SiS energy gels, very good, kind of tasty, maybe a bit of a placebo effect but if it's good enough to the Tour de France it's just fine for us. However, for me it is Percy Pigs, more childish, more tastey. Finally we have sandwiches for in between races which are a good way to feel human again after being splashed by salt water for the last hour.
DON'T GO TO MAGALUF THE WEEKEND BEFORE THE EVENT!!! You will not have recovered by the time it comes to the event.
This is just our routine, and so far has meant we have been able to make the most of the championships we have taken part in! Good luck!
George and Sophie