MYTH – Your apparent wind will be different on each tack. Since you sail faster over the bottom on the down current tack, you’ll feel more wind on that tack and this will affect sail trim and speed.
TRUTH – The apparent wind on both tacks is affected equally by the current, so you will feel the same wind and therefore need the same sail trim on each tack.
MYTH –You can improve VMG by pinching to get the current on the leeward side of your bow.
TRUTH – It doesn’t matter where you are heading since the current only pushes your boat in the direction it is moving. So pinching will be slower.
MYTH –On a beat, it’s always better to sail the up current tack first.
TRUTH – Current affects all boats equally, so as long as you don’t overstand the mark it doesn’t matter where you are. But if the up-current tack is much longer, it may be better to sail that tack first.
MYTH – If the starting line is square to the wind, it’s better to start at the up current end.
TRUTH – All boats are being pushed in the same direction by the current, so it doesn’t matter where you start on the line (as far as current is concerned).
MYTHS REGARDING STARTING
MYTH – If you are in the middle of the starting line and you turn up so your bow is pointing straight into the wind, the end of the line that is closer to your bow is the end that is favoured.
TRUTH – Going head to wind in the middle of the line will help you determine which end of the starting line is farther upwind, but that end is not necessarily ‘favoured.’ The favoured end of the starting line is the one that will get you to the windward mark sooner, taking into account a number of strategic and tactical factors including which end is farther upwind (and by how much).
MYTH – You should be more careful at the start when the race committee has signalled with flags that a starting penalty is in effect. Because of this, you should be more conservative as you approach the line.
TRUTH – Even when there is no special starting penalty in effect, the consequences of being over the starting line prematurely can be severe. You should not change your approach to the start just because one of these flags is displayed the rest of the fleet will be hanging back so your chances of a great start are much better.
Because of the dangers faced by sailors and fishermen, there are countless superstitions around safety and luck on the sea. Some seem a little strange today. While most no longer apply, we’re guessing that some still linger in sailors’ minds.
20. Re-naming a boat It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.
19. Tattoos When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore.
18. Blood It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.
17. Fishing nets When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number
16. Caul Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).
15. Hat overboard Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.
14. Eggshells Eggshells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.
13. Personal grooming Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.
12. Feet Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.
11. Women Women were bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts.
10. Non-sailing days It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself).
9. Watch your mouth Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including “drowned”, “goodbye” and “good luck”. Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church, pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.
8. No whistling Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”
7. No farewell It was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.
6. Stirring tea Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck
5. Turning a loaf of bread upside down Turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut brings bad luck too. These two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea!
4. Red-heads Like flat-footed people, red-heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.
3. Salt It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.
2. Fishy In order to encourage fish to be caught, Scottish fishermen would begin their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on
1. Bananas No bananas on board. They were believed to be so unlucky they would cause the ship to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.
An important ingredient to winning a yacht race is to make fewer mistakes than your fellow competitors.
Because of sailing’s complexities, even the best sailors will make mistakes but it is the avoidance of the major ones that are the most telling, minor mistakes will make a difference but should not be sweated over.
I have listed below things which will ensure that you avoid major mistakes. You need good planning, execution on the course and staying alert whilst racing to guarantee you avoid a disastrous result.
Read and absorb the sailing instructions before heading out and where possible carry a copy to refer to if time and circumstances allow. If you are on a crewed boat have at least one other team member do the same. Write the most important or unique instructions on your boat with a Chinagraph pencil.
Constantly check the wind direction both before the race and during the event, this will help you to identify persistent or oscillating shifts and assist you to modify your strategy if necessary. Head out of the boat.
Constantly look around the course for differences in wind direction and strength. To head to the wrong side of the course in changing conditions because you were not constantly observing changes can be extremely costly.
Choose your lanes carefully to avoid sailing in dirty or disturbed air and tack or gybe away to stay clear.
Check current direction and strength and read tide tables to see if there is a likely change of direction and strength as the race wears on. What was correct on the first time round may, in fact, be very different the next time around.
Have a race plan before the start but be prepared to modify it if conditions or your position in the fleet changes, a constant re-evaluation may be necessary.
Sometimes even if you have rights in a mark rounding or crossing situation you may be better off not to force the issue. Avoid collisions, these could finish your day and by taking your right of way you could be pushed to the wrong side of the course. It is important to plan in each situation, this will avoid snap decisions which could end in disaster.
Don’t arrive at the course with minutes to spare, get out there early to settle the team and get their heads in the race. This also allows you to set the boat up for the prevailing conditions ensuring that you get off the line in as good a shape as possible. Having the setup wrong and the subsequent messing around to get it right will mean that you will probably not recover.
Don’t head out with an item of equipment that you haven’t used before. Try all new gear during training or two boat testing to evaluate its suitability or whether it is better than what you already have.
When rounding a mark, locate the next one as soon as you can. It makes little sense tactically, to blindly follow the fleet if you are behind and if you are in the lead, locating the next mark is fundamental in planning your strategy for the leg.
What you feel in your tiller or wheel gives you an indication as to what is right or wrong with your sails and the balance of the boat.
What the helmsman feels is dictated by sail trim, centreboard position, mast rake, heel and crew weight placement. With excessive helm, the steerer is working against the boats natural course.
By eliminating excessive helm you decrease rudder drag and thus increase boat speed.
The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail when pulled in moves the bow up towards the wind.
On a boat that is mainsail driven like a 505 or Etchells, you should focus more on the mainsail as it contributes the most to the helm and constant adjustment will affect the helm you experience.
The mainsail should not be cleated or at least the cleat should be placed in such a way that it is hard to engage and easy to uncleat.
Have a mark on the mainsheet as a reference so you can repeat a setting when you tack or adjust for an increase or decrease in wind velocity.
The same goes for marks on your vang, fine-tune and traveller so that you can replicate settings when powering up and de-powering.
Heel and Balance
In a dinghy the rule is, always sail the boat flat because if you don’t, the rudder becomes a brake and an easy way to find if the boat is flat is where the helm goes from windward to leeward helm.
One exception, especially in lighter winds is where you might want to generate a little windward helm to gain hydrodynamic lift off the blades and a slight amount of heel will generate that.
When sailing slightly heeled and you feel an increase in the helm, flatten the boat to re-instate neutral helm and reduce drag.
Obviously, not all boats are the same, but if you pull the board up, this moves the centre of lateral resistance back, thus reducing helm.
Most classes have tuning guides which give you those settings and the centreboard is integral to the helm balance so mark it so that you know exactly where to set it for a given wind range.
Don’t slavishly follow the tuning guides though, merely use them as a starting point, there is no substitute for two boat testing to find out what works best for you.
Knowing where to have the board set in all conditions and then fine-tuning it from there is really important and in many one-designs, the centreboard is integral to helm balance and as an example, when sailing in waves, you might need a little more board up to free up the helm to drive around the waves.
Most people sail to enjoy it and reach a level of fitness that allows them to race each weekend.
On the other hand, if you are trying to get to the top whether it be in a dinghy, one design keel-boat or ocean racer, the long hours that you spend on the water honing your skills will demand additional physical training.
Full time sailing can be an excellent way to improve your physical fitness but you should not rely on this alone.
Additional on land training not only provides variety but it also allows you to work on aspects of your fitness that you need in an intense racing situation that may not be gained from a full year of sailing.
Exercise ashore can be made interesting, enjoyable and helps you to avoid too much time on the water for the wrong reasons. Exercises can be developed to make your body adapt in a very much more controlled and efficient manner than you could ever hope for on the water.
Fitness is a relative term and the type and level of fitness will vary depending on the type of boat and sailing that you do and it is important to strike a balance between the fitness and all other aspects of your sailing.
Fitness encompasses stamina, speed and skill and the mix and relative importance of each is essential for you to ascertain which aspect you need to work on for your particular type of sailing.
Think about weightlifting, sprinting and sailing, what do you think the mix would be for each of these for the roles you need to fulfill on your boat?
As with most things to do with achieving greatness in any pursuit I recommend that you find a coach or fitness professional to write you a program so that you can achieve your desired results. They will able to watch your progress and make adjustments to the program if necessary.
There are plenty of ex-Olympians and high achieving sailors who have made a profession in this space and who are more than qualified to guide you to get to where you want to be.
I remember once asking Mike Holt, a multiple world champion in the highly competitive International 505 class, what was the main factor that made him stand out from many of the other high achieving sailors in that fleet.
His answer was “fitness”, he went on to qualify that statement by saying that “at the end of any race I am able to sail my boat as hard as any one else in the fleet was able to at the start”
In my haste to send out my already late Blog, during the paring down to make the article short and easy to read I eliminated the essence of “shifting Gears in a Lull” what should have been included follows in bold italics.
Bearing off to restore luff telltale flow in a lull is a bad habit. Frank Bethwaite recommends you consider trimming in and very slightly feathering down in a lull and unnecessary steering will slow you down. The boat will slow down due to the lull and moves the apparent wind back closer to its direction before the lull. If the lull persists, your final heading might be only a touch lower than your original heading. If you steer down initially, you will then need to steer up again as the apparent wind comes back to its original direction.
Moose McClintock learned that twings down on a spinnaker sheet or guy is similar to applying vang tension on a mainsail; it closes the leech and stabilizes the kite. He taught this while sailing on Farr 40s with the kite up in big breeze and waves.
Jonathan McKee The farther away the jib clew is from the lead, the more you have to move it to make a change. An Etchells jib clew almost touches its lead; therefore, small changes make a big difference. On the other hand, a Melges 20 jib clew and lead are much farther apart, so your range of jib-lead movement is greater from light to heavy air.
Dave Ullman explains that raking your mast forward will give you more power because the wind flows over your sails closer to a 90-degree angle. It also closes your leeches. Raking back generates more up-flow, from front to back, decreasing power.
It also twists the sails and effectively moves the jib lead aft (because your jib clew lowers toward the lead), which also decreases power.
Buddy Melges says to practice tacks and jibes because they can provide massive gains in short amounts of time especially if you are practising by yourself, spend a lot of time on both.
Vince Brun’s lesson was that while sailing upwind in flat water you can pinch and get away with it because nothing is disturbing the flow over your sails and blades. But as the chop increases, you have to put the bow down to keep speed. The choppier it is, the lower you have to sail.
Chop throws the boat around and makes it pitch fore and aft, causing everything to easily stall, especially when you slam into waves. Make sure you ease your sails to increase the twist and decrease helm load this bow-down twisty mode is more forgiving and keeps the boat moving fast.
Skip Whyte, coach of the University of Rhode Island sailing team knows a lot about sailing dinghies. He preaches sitting upright with good posture so that you can better see the wind and the sails. When you need to scoot in, slide your butt and hips in first. Doing so keeps your head outboard, again helping visibility. Slouching in toward the boom is uncomfortable and less effective.
Ed Adams explains the importance of setting the foot of your jib — ideally, the majority of the foot — so that it kisses the deck. The seal formed between the sail and the deck forces wind aft rather than allowing it to escape underneath the sail. Capturing and accelerating the wind gives you increased power and lift.
Karl Anderson preaches the importance of delivering a positive message to the team, especially after a tough day, let them know the team is still in good shape and all is well. Make everyone feel like they’re still in the regatta. This goes a long way, especially if you are respected on the boat.
Larry Suter explained how, when the pin is favoured by 10 per cent, it takes about 10 per cent longer to get to the line compared to a square line from a given distance because your approach angle is more parallel to the line.
If the boat is favoured by 10 per cent, it takes about 10 per cent less time to reach the line from the same distance because you are sailing more directly at the line.
That’s why there are more on course sides and general recalls when the boat is favoured. It’s critical to factor in line bias when setting up for the start.
James Lyne, coach to many top teams, emphasizes the lifted tack. In an oscillating breeze, he says, if you sail a header out of the gate or off the starting line, you end up missing the first shift and often end up missing shifts later up the beat. As you sail a header early in the leg, you rapidly get near the layline.
If you get to the layline early in the beat you have painted yourself into the corner. Later up the leg, if you get headed, you don’t want to tack because you are already on an edge, with not much distance to sail the other way. You have a dilemma because you are still on the long tack, but you are also headed.
You end up sailing through a header or two later in the beat, compounding your losses. Those who sail the lifted tack more often are positioned in the middle of the course and don’t mind tacking on headers at the top of the beat.
Shifting gears on your boat requires knowledge of your boat, the conditions, and plenty of practice. Gear changing is what separates those with adequate boat-speed from those who always seem to be higher and faster.
Many in your fleet start a race with a similar setup using a tuning guide or by following class accepted principles but the faster boats in your fleet are constantly making additional adjustments. and when conditions suddenly change these sailors shift gears smoothly.
Fix Pointing Problems:
Pointing problems are not only indicated by the angle that the boat is sailing relative to the boats around you but more by the fact that the boat is actually sliding to leeward.
Trying to pinch to maintain height is generally the problem and to solve this we must remember to foot, then point. Your boat needs to go fast so the underwater foils develop enough lift to hold their position in the water.
To regain pointing ability, ease the sails out, bear off slightly, and get back up to speed. Once your pointing has been re-established, re-trim your sails.
Fight the urge to heel the boat to aid pointing and keeping the boat as flat as possible will maintain a balanced helm and ensure the efficiency of your foils plus reduce the drag caused by the rudder.
Fix Footing Problems:
The simplest fix is easing the sails and more open leeches on both sails will help the boat sail lower and faster.
If this results in a pointing problem the first thing you must do is check your helm balance.
First, try to sail the boat flatter, if that doesn’t help, try flattening the main by bending the mast.
Next ease the traveller to balance the helm and lastly tighten the outhaul and apply Cunningham to the mainsail and tighten the jib halyard to move the draft forward in both sails which will open the leeches and remove drag.
Shifting Gears in a Lull:
Puffs feel like lifts and lulls usually appear as headers.
In a lull, it’s important to bear off as smoothly as possible making sure that the boat remains flat and resist the temptation to add heel to maintain “feel” in the helm.
To maintain speed in a lull, ease the main and allow the boat to heel to weather creating lee helm to steer the boat down then ease the jib, level the boat and pull the traveller up if the boom is below the centerline.
If it is a long lull, straighten the mast and ease the main Cunningham and jib halyard.
Even though we employ the best tactical foresight out on the racecourse, we can still often get ourselves into a jam and to that end, I have outlined below some tips to enable you to dig your way out.
Ducking a Competitor:
The main reason that you have to duck is to minimise a loss and a good duck generates extra speed when you bear off.
As a bonus, you also gain a little lift as you cross close behind the other boat, it’s important though, as you cross close behind to get back to closed hauled as quickly and smoothly as possible.
If you do this well, there is a good chance that next time you come together and you are on starboard tack, that you will have the advantage. This is especially powerful at the top of the course a few lengths under starboard tack-layline.
If it appears the other boat will leebow you, and for tactical reasons you want to continue and you are in a lightweight boat with good manoeuvrability, try a late duck, which will keep from giving away your intentions.
Avoid The Pinwheel Effect at a Mark Rounding:
As an outside boat in a group approaching the leeward mark, don’t carry on with pace, not only will you sail extra distance in bad air, you will get carried wide around the mark and you will end up in a terrible lane coming out the other side.
The remedy here is to slow down and let other boats move ahead, kill speed by taking your spinnaker down early and steer a little extra distance.
If you’re advanced on the group, you can slow down a lot by steering hard, swerving back and forth, and swinging wide to slow your boat and kill time.
The advantage of falling in behind is that while the group in front push each other wide of the mark and sail in each others bad air, there is the opportunity for you to round the mark tightly without fouling those boats and be on the inside track going upwind ensuring that you pass a boat or two.
When slowing down and waiting for your opportunity to round inside, there could be boats coming up from behind with no room and who want to sail into the gap you’re shooting for, be sure to communicate with them that they have no rights.
Recover from Overstanding:
If you find that you have overstood a mark, the key to recovery is to crack off and put the bow down to get to the mark as quickly as possible.
In medium and heavy air, cracking off causes heel, so depower the rig, traveller down, backstay on, hike hard, and move your weight aft.
Set the sails to reduce helm but always keep a little in the bank by sailing slightly high of the mark especially if you’re sailing in current or just in case you get headed or a boat tacks on you.
If you have overstood while sailing downwind, sail high and fast toward the leeward mark, if sailing high puts you in the dirty air from boats ahead, sail low to keep your air clear as long as possible, then heat it up late near the mark.
At all times, either upwind or downwind, keep the boat flat to avoid going sideways and keep the foils working efficiently.
The wind has just shifted left so it has headed all boats around you on starboard tack – Should you keep sailing into the header, or take the instantaneous gain and tack?
As always with sailing, the perfect answer begins with ‘It depends’
Possible scenarios for you to consider:
The wind has headed, but you are still certain there is more wind on the left-hand side of the course, and that is going to make more difference. You will keep heading towards the pressure, but revisit the decision if all the boats on your hip tack off before you get there.
You are still above your mean heading for starboard tack and you believe that the wind is still moving left. As soon as you are down to mean numbers you’ll tack onto port, and duck the boats on your hip if necessary.
You have no confidence in what the wind might do next, therefore positioning is your first priority. If you are getting closer to the port layline you need to look for an opportunity to head back to the centre of the leg.
The header has given you a gain on the boats to your right so you are going to tack to put that gain ‘in the bank’ right now.”
The Big Picture:
You should have an informed opinion gleaned from a practice beat before the start and that will usually narrow the basis for ‘staying’ or ‘going’ to one or two key factors.
Questions To Ask Yourself:
Can you see more pressure on either side of the course?
Is there tide or current affecting the course and the time of tide change?
Will there be a wind direction bend caused by land at either end of the course?
Is there a possibility of a persistent shift in wind direction?
Is the water less lumpy on one part of the course?
If the wind is shifty, are the shifts likely to be small or large?
Are the shifts oscillating, regular and repeating or completely random?
How many shifts do you expect per upwind leg?
Do you want to risk everything to win the race by a leg, or just be happy to arrive at the windward mark in touch with the leaders?
If you’ve spent most of the upwind leg chasing gains or tacking on the shifts, positioning rules should take over as the leg progresses.
If you are less willing to take a chance on a big gain on your own, the position of the next mark and the rest of the fleet must take a bigger part of your “tack or continue” considerations.
Tack or Continue:
Don’t get pushed around by the other boats, take every opportunity to work toward the favoured side of the course.
If there is a regular pattern and you are confident that there will be at least two cycles per beat, tack whenever you are headed below the average heading on that tack.
If you are not confident about what is going to happen next, start on the tack that takes you closest to the mark, keep away from the laylines and tack and cross or close gauge on boats to windward whenever the wind heads.
Twist is when the top of the sail opens in comparison to the lower sections and twist gives us the ability to control the lift and drag created by our sails.
Twist is increased in light winds and progressively taken out as the wind increases, the reason for this is that fiction from the water slows the wind down on the lower parts of the sail relative to wind further up.
In the lighter wind, the wind angles as you look up the sail vary greater than they do than when you are sailing in heavier winds so you need to twist your sails in light air to make sure they are trimmed correctly all the way up.
As the wind speed increases and the surface friction has less of an effect on the wind angle there ends up being less difference between the top and bottom of the sail so less twist is required.
How to Set Twist for the prevailing conditions.
Headsail: The luff telltales tell you where the sail is in terms of power and car position, but, when sailing upwind, the leech telltales are absolutely crucial as they show how close you are to maximum trim.
You always want to be right on the edge, as close to stalling as possible and your leech telltales are the best indicator of this. Generally, the top leech telltale will stall first so trim the sheet until the top telltale stalls.
Once it stalls, ease the sheet slightly and in the case of the jib leech ribbons, the top one should flow 95% of the time.
As the wind drops the sheet should be eased and as it increases, the trim should come on.
Trimming the mainsail is virtually identical for all boats, fractional, masthead, racing or cruising and the cunningham, backstay, outhaul and running backstays (if fitted) are all used for the same purposes.
On a cat-rigged boat, telltales near the luff can help and are sometimes known as steering telltales.
Set the mainsail with the maximum depth it can carry but without stalling the leech and as with the jib different amounts of twist are needed depending on the prevailing wind conditions.
When sailing upwind twist should be controlled using mainsheet tension, and the correct twist is determined using the mainsail telltales.
A word of warning – If your vang pulled on hard you will not be able to add twist by easing the mainsheet.
When you sail into a lull and the mainsail begins to stall more twist is needed – the main sheet is eased until the telltales eventually fly.
For correct trim in lighter air, all mainsail leech ribbons should flow, in moderate conditions, the top leech telltale should flow about 50% of the time.