Midsummer Solo Challenge | preparations

I got an email…

I’ll participate in the Midsummer Solo and would like to prepare as good as possible for it. I’ve read the walkthrough on the homepage but it would be greatly appreciated if you could expand a bit on the subject, the nitty-gritty details. Would be very interesting to hear how you prepare for your participation and how you reason regarding the different decisions that need to be made.

I’m a novice when it comes to solo sailing so high-level advice would also be appreciated (boat setup, priorities etc).

It’ll be great to see you in Marstrand.

First of all, I’m no expert on solo sailing, and I think everyone might have their own approach to a challenge like this. But below are my thoughts on the matter.

Preparations

In the week leading up to the event, I try to follow the weather. Usually, I try to find a few different models and compare them to the actual weather. Typically I’ll use yr.no (Norway), SMHI (Sweden) and DMI (Denmark) and decide on which one is most accurate. This should give you a pretty clear idea on what kind of weather to prepare for, and help you make a good gameplan when it’s time.

Get the boat ready in time. I hate to do last minute preparations, so fix what need to be fixed, have the right sails on board and worry about simple things. Like what to eat.

I try to be organized and want to be able to find any sail, sheet or tool even in the middle of the night. As you’re solo, there’s no one else around to mess it up… but you might still end up with stuff everywhere. So keep it tidy.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to be smart and add last minute setups. Use what you’re used to, to minimize the chance to screw it up. Remember, maneuvers will be slow – but it’s the same for everyone.

Get some sleep.

The plan

On the day before the race, I try to get a feel for the course. I write it down, and make notes, to force my self to formulate my thoughts on the big picture as well as some specific topics;

Where will I be when, with the current weather forecast?
What are the likely scenarios? Will we see any frontal passages? Wind increases? Shifts? Sea breeze?
What parts of the course are straightforward, and where could it be tricky?
When/where do I need to eat? What are good stretches for some rest?

I think the course description on the site is a great start.

What are the risks involved?
How do I recognize situations involving risk?
What should I do to mitigate risk?
This is typically narrow passages, places where I don’t have room to do sail changes, going from protected to open water, maneuvers in the dark, etc. The more scenarios you plan for, the better prepared you are.

Also have a plan for what to do if you a) fall overboard or b) find someone else that’s gone overboard.

Note that there are usually 3-4 BIG decisions, that really make a difference. The hard part is to identify which those are, and when to be prepared to make them…

My thoughts

A typical scenario is SW-W 3-5 m/s with sea breeze and dying wind late night/early morning. This would be my (very personal) game-plan.

Before the start: get out early, check current, get a feel for the boat, test the proper sail combo and eat something.

Start to Gullholmen. Be active to get into trimming/steering to make the boat go. Find a safe route offshore and conserve some energy. No strategic choices. Plan the approach to Islandsberg/Lysekil properly. TWA? Sail choice? IMPORTANT. Take no risks.

Islandsberg to Lysekil. Easy stretch in moderate wind. Focus on the next stage, on how to get to Smögen. Try to balance the shortest route vs risk vs hard work. Also, sail choice. Don’t get over-ambitious, it’s still early… Decide on a plan and stick to it. Eat something and make any sail choices well before the rounding.

Lysekil to Smögen. Probably full on with navigation and sailing the boat. Focus on that. Before Smögen, have an idea on the big picture for next stage. IMPORTANT as this stage is longer and have some tactical choices. Also possible changes in wind strength & direction.

Smögen to Fjällbacka. Get the boat going in the right direction. Eat something and conserve energy. Download/check weather and re-evaluate plan. IMPORTANT: approach to rounding. TWA? Sail choice? Take no risks but be active in the archipelago.

Fjällbacka. Tidy up, prepare food, organize if there’s a chance it might be a bumpy ride later on. IMPORTANT: strategy for the next stage? Current? Transitions? Plan for where I want to be when the sea breeze dies?

Fjällbacka to Ramskär. Straightforward. Eat something and conserve energy. Download/check weather and re-evaluate plan. This is also a good time to evaluate my personal status? How will I manage myself during the night?

SUPER IMPORTANT: strategy for route south. Long term? Short term? Manage possible transitions? Where do I want to be when/if the wind dies at 03:00? Play it safe or go big? Don’t know? Keep it simple.

Get the proper sails up well before rounding, or before it gets to dark. What’s the next possible sail change? Can I prepare this in any way?

Ramskär to Marstrand. Finally a long leg. Get the boat in the groove and start managing yourself. Eat. Get some sleep. Get into the routine. Enjoy the night.

Sleep is a topic in itself. I’m sure most can do a 24-hour sail without any, but I think I make better decisions if I can get some. I usually try to get 8 minutes of sleep, before the alarm wakes me to have a look around. 2-4 naps in a row reload my batteries.

Download/check weather and re-evaluate plan in the morning. IMPORTANT to understand if there are major changes in the forecast. I’m tired and it’s hard to know when to stick to the plan, and when to think in a different way. It’s also easy to get passive at sunrise when I’m still cold and tired, but it’s a good time to get active and make any necessary changes.

Hard things

The hardest thing with solo sailing, in my opinion, isn’t the maneuvers or the long hours. But the ability to prioritize and stay on top of your own sailing. It’s very easy to get buried in some mundane tasks, and getting behind on some really important ones.

Plan ahead. Divide the course into manageable chunks, and try to plan for the next one before you get there. What are the priorities, important decisions, right sail setup, etc. Force yourself to discuss different scenarios.

Be proactive. This kind of sailing can be busy. Very busy. Try to stay ahead, and prepare for what can/will/may happen next. Tidy up, stow away sails, make food, charge the batteries, … Make lists and prioritize.

Stay active. I prefer to keep the momentum up and use the available time as effectively as possible. And to have rest/sleep as an “activity” rather than a mode that you slowly drifts into.

Eat/drink. Always have a range of options available and make this a priority. You will burn more calories, and dehydrate faster, than you’re used to – so use every opportunity to eat and drink. I usually try to get a couple of proper meals (either in the oven or 24HourMeals), as well as sandwiches and a range of power bars. And I have access to both water and sports drink (like Vitargo +Electrolyte) at the wheel and down below.

Safety, safety, safety. Top of mind. Always. Is this safe? Should I do something different? What are the risks? How can I mitigate them? Use the lifejacket, stay clipped on, keep the AIS and VHF on. Stay safe!

Enjoy the moment

Despite all the chores, hard work and dark/wet/cold hours – sailing solo is a deeply personal experience. Stop and enjoy those special moments, because those will stay with you for a long long time.

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