Your first big regatta is always exciting and a great learning experience. First of all make sure you are physically prepared for several long days on the water. Eat well, get good rest and stay hydrated. If you have a coach on the water with you make sure they bring drinks and any special snacks you might want. Also extra warm gear because you never know what the conditions will be like. No coach boat? Than get yourself a good dry bag (West Marine, EMS or REI all have them) that you can either keep in your cockpit or attach to the front of your mast. Put drinks and snacks (granola bars work great) in there. You should always hydrate and eat between races which typically are designed to last about 45 minutes. Oh—and if you don't have hiking pants - GET SOME!
On the racing front you should focus on the KISS principle (KEEP IT SIMPLE SAILOR). This will be a great experience if you don't put too much pressure on yourself and just use it as a learning experience. I think you should focus on starts the first day. Big fleets can be super tricky so developing a plan of action is key. Starts are always easier if you have a routine to follow and every great laser sailor I know has one. Things like timing the line, figuring out the current, deciding where to start (for you I wouldn't worry too much about which end is favored but more looking for a spot where you get clear air and room to maneuver.). Usually in a big fleet (with a fairly balanced line) mid-line is good because there is some sag there. I can't stress enough how important it is to work on your starting routine - use the five minutes before the start as a time to gather knowledge - not just sail around willy nilly.This is an opportunity for you to practice holding your position on the line and protecting it from boats to windward and leeward (especially leeward!). Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Get up there in the first row and go for it! I always tell my sailors if you aren't aggressively starting you aren't starting. That said make sure you know your rules so you can anticipate problems and stay away from them. A great video on starts can be found at http://internationalsailingacademy.com/2013/01/downspeed-maneuvers-the-key-to-a-better-start/. Watch this a lot!
I could go on all day about this topic but I think you will get more benefit from reading some of the posts on my blog Center of Effort. There are two posts about sailing at BBR http://centerofeffort01.blogspot.com/2012/08/lessons-from-buzzard-part-one.html which I think you will find helpful. It talks alot obout what to do, look for and how to avoid common mistakes when sailing in a bit regatta. Also read Clay Johnson's post "Size Matters" on five tips for starting in big and small fleets.
Good luck! Feel free to contact me with questions.
Best - Coach Judith Krimski
I did that regatta many, many years ago. Definitely a good sailing experience. If you haven't sailed in a big fleet before, I think your two biggest issues are going to be starts and mark roundings. When I went, there were ~85 boats on the starting line. If it is more than 100 boats, often they will split the fleet into a "red" and "blue" fleet for a couple days of qualifying races, then sort sailors into "gold" and "silver" fleets.
Having that many boats on the starting line can be very intimidating. You need to be confident in your ability to park your boat in a spot on the line and defend it. However, my experience at CORK was people started lining up THREE minutes before the start. There were of course many general recalls and black flags.
Going down to the leeward mark, you invariably will be in a big pack of boats. People are going to be hitting the mark, hitting each other, and doing a lot of shouting. What you want to avoid doing is a mega-pinwheel around the outside. The phrase I've always heard from sailing seminars is "slow down to win". If you see a big mob ahead of you at the mark, don't get caught up in them. Put your board down and sheet in to slow your boat to let them clear out. You can then make a tight rounding, cut inside the ones who pinwheeled, and tack away into clear air. You won't get ahead of every boat in the mob, but you'll get ahead of several of them.
Good luck with your first big regatta! Always a special moment. As Torrid already mentioned, don't get intimidated by all the screaming and what ever else is going on the course, but do give a check to leeward sometimes... Everything in the regatta is won on the first leg so be sure to be good on that one. A good option would be to use the leeward sag in the middle of the starting line (not sure if this also occurs in a laser fleet, but with the Melges 20 & 24 it occured 90% of the time). The final advice is to just enjoy it and learn from it as this is where you really improve your sailing!
I sailed in Junior Olympics last summer in a 66 boat fleet and my starts went pretty well. I'm definitely going to use this as a learning experience and just go to get better. I'm wondering if I should try to find a coach for the regatta? My coach can't go and it was nice at JO's to have someone to hold some snacks and spare parts as well as give some advice in between races. Does anyone know how I could find someone who would coach me for the week?
One other thing. When you sail many races against the same people, you will often find yourself amid the same sailors. Especially on the the first downwind. You will quickly learn those sailors' styles and idiosyncrasies. Learn to play off them, and even get them to play off each other.
For example, in one regatta I always found myself between the same two boats. I was always right ahead of a guy who liked to camp on your air. He was almost like a schoolyard bully, provoking a lot of people to see who would react first. Always just ahead of me was a woman who was VERY aggressive on defending her air. On a couple of occasions I was able to reel in the camper, then dump him off on the defender. While they battled each other, I was able to get to clear air and sail ahead of them.