Campaign 101 Part 6: Classes and Venues

This is the final installment of a six-part series written by Dave Dellenbaugh. It is the backbone of what we do here at Clever Pig. You might want to start at the beginning with Part 1: Getting Started. If you want to save the whole series, you may download the entire series as a PDF.


Picking a Class

The singlehanded Finn dinghy has been an Olympic class since 1952. To sail this boat competitively you need to be tall (over 6 feet), heavy (over 180 pounds) and incredibly athletic and fit.
The singlehanded Finn dinghy has been an Olympic class since 1952. To sail this boat competitively you need to be tall (over 6 feet), heavy (over 180 pounds) and incredibly athletic and fit.

You may already know the class(es) you want to campaign. In that case, make sure you learn everything there is to know about that class. Clever Pig’s “Class List” will help you find a lot of information that may be useful.

If you are trying to decide which class or classes to campaign, you will need to answer some questions about yourself (and your team if you plan to sail with others). Then you’ll have to do some research. Again, the “Class List” will be a great help to get you started.

Some obvious questions to ask yourself include:

  • What are the goals of your campaign?
    This is a very important question. The class you choose may be a stepping stone on the way to a future goal, so it is important to pick the best stone. If you’re 16 and think you want to sail in the Olympics in the 49er, then it makes sense to sail a 29er now. If you’re 145 pounds and growing and think you want to get to a Laser Worlds someday, it makes sense to sail a Laser Radial now. If you want to win the Bemis Trophy (US SAILING’s doublehanded national championship) next summer and it will be in Club 420s, then campaign a Club 420 now.
  • Do you want to sail singlehanded or with a teammate?
  • If a team boat, do you want to be the helmsman or crew?
  • Do you want to sail a fast, planing type of dinghy, or a slower displacement type of boat?
  • Are you going to be able to travel extensively to regattas, or are you going to be racing mostly near your home?
    Obviously, if you won’t be able to travel much, you need to see which of the local classes you want to join in with. If you have the ability to travel more extensively, it will give you a wider selection of classes to choose from.
  • What is your size and weight and the combined weight of your team (if you are choosing with a team already in mind)?
    Be sure to pick a class that suits your size and weight, and that of your team’s. Or, you may choose a class you like and then pick your team to be the best fit for the class. One of the first questions to ask a good sailor in any class is: what is the ideal size and weight for the sailors in the class?
  • What sort of budget constraints exist for you?
    Again, this is an important question. Perhaps money is not an object for you. Great. But for most, it is. You may have to start campaigning a smaller, less expensive boat before moving into the larger boats. Or, pick a class with racing you like where there is a good used-boat market. Fiberglass boats that have been well maintained hold their performance potential fairly long. You may only need to buy a new sail and some new line or fittings. Or, if you want to crew, find a helmsman who can afford to fund the campaign and offer to do most the “grunt work” (planning, logistics, boat preparation, etc.).
  • What are your sailing strengths right now?
    Clearly sailing is a sport that rewards being strong in all the aspects of the sport. But if you have particular strengths and can find a class that fits your other goals, then great. If you enjoy the tactical aspect of the sport more than developing boat speed, then find a strict one-design class where all the boats and equipment will be nearly identical. If you enjoy the athleticism of hanging out on a trapeze and you enjoy the tactics of the sport, consider crewing (where you can look around and call the tactics) and finding an excellent helmsman to be your teammate.

You can look at the question from the other viewpoint as well. If you have identified your strengths, then you have essentially identified your weaknesses. You may decide to choose a class that will force you to improve in your weak areas, so that you can become an overall better sailor. For instance, if your strength is singlehanded sailing and tactics (maybe you are just graduating from an Opti program) but your weakness is sailing a team boat with a spinnaker and making it go fast, you may consider a 420 or Lightning, etc.



RadialVenue-TipsOne thing you can say about most sailing campaigns is that they will bring you to a bunch of places where you have never sailed before. Therefore, one of the skills you need for success is the ability to adapt quickly to the conditions at a new venue. This includes wind and current patterns, of course, but also everything else you need to manage a successful campaign, including where you sleep, eat, store your boat and so on. The more you know about that particular area, the sooner you’ll be in your comfort zone, and the easier it will be to focus on going fast around the race course.

That’s why we have included a list of Venue Reports on cleverpig.org. We started with the most popular racing venues in North America and asked racing sailors to send in their comments about local knowledge (this is an ongoing work in progress). We have also included a number of specific links for wind and weather at each location. So when you are racing at one of the sites on our list, just add a bookmark for that venue and check often on the conditions and forecasts.

There are many other ways to learn about the local conditions before you start racing at a new venue. Here are a few:

  • Find and talk to the ‘local knowledge’ guru – It seems like there is always a person in every venue who has been racing there daily for the past 25 years. Corner them and find out what they know that could help you.
  • Spend time sailing in that area – Go to that venue before your regatta and sail there, preferably with one or more boats. Watch what happens with the wind and current. Then write down your observations at the end of each day.
  • Get to the race area early – On race day, leave the dock early enough so you can sail all around the race course, looking for patterns in the wind and water.
  • Find a buddy – Ask another boat if they will work with you before the races to figure out the wind. You might sail to opposite sides of the course, or just do speed tests and see which boat gains consistently.
  • Watch the local sailors – Keep an eye on the good local racers since they will go the right way more often than not.