The summer of 2016, the summer after I graduated from college, was the first time I set foot on a skiff. Having some experience on high performance boats and a decent bit of knowledge of the 49er world, I thought that I could pick up the basics in a couple of weeks. After all, any videos I’d seen of 49er sailing were always ones with perfect boat handling. How hard could it be?
Sure enough, it’s two years later and I am finally feeling comfortable racing the boat. By that I mean that I can look around for shifts or other boats and we won’t instantly capsize like Mac and I did for the first few months.
The length of time required in the boat is what sets the 49er apart from the 8 years of high-school and college sailing that I took part in. In the CFJ or the C420 anyone with some semblance of sailing experience can get around the course and probably keep an eye out for tactics. However, in the 49er, it takes month-after-month of basic skills training just to get the point where you can comfortably call a layline, or decide to lee-bow a pack of boats coming your way. It sounds silly, but it’s true.
On the flip side, the scenarios that come up on the 49er race course are not all that different from the ones I would find myself in at the MAISA Conference Champs, the ACC’s, or ICSA Nationals. College sailing and 49er sailing complement each other in many ways. College sailing is a game of consistency with no throw outs. Both college sailing and 49ers encourage sailors to sail in low-density areas of the course where they don’t have mess around with other teams. In college it helps keep your average score down and in 49ers it helps keep your average speed up.
Having sailed in college and in the 49er circuit, I’ve found that many of the rules of thumb are the same but for different reasons. Maybe this is why some of the best college sailors have succeeded in the 49er recently (Thomas Barrows & Joe Morris, Erik Storck & Trevor Moore). But if one thing is for sure, it’s that time in the boat is where we can make our biggest gains.