You have to train yourself to use your eyes, and this takes practice – Buddy Melges.
“Get your head out of the boat” is pretty much a universal catch cry of just about any coach who is tasked with helping you to improve your racing results.
This is a skill that must be practised but if you look around the best one design crews, there will always be a crewman whose express job is to continually watch their competitors for strategic positioning, locate marks, look for pressure and watch around the course for shifts.
Once the skill is honed, winning sailors can sail fast whilst looking around. A sailor who is constantly at the front of the fleet will be able to remember tactical and strategic details about a race and will be able to recount them during discussion post-race, things like who was leading at different times, major shifts in both direction and pressure and will be able to relate that to a particular leg of the course.
The main reason they are able to do that is that they had their eyes out of the boat, constantly evaluating where their competitors were, where the next shift was coming from, the location of the next mark and changes in pressure.
A lesser sailor would be constantly watching telltales, adjusting trim, eyes glued to the compass or concentrating on steering thus missing many opportunities that are presented out on the course.
What should you be looking for:
- Waves, both direction and size.
- Wind on the water to anticipate shifts and pressure changes.
- Watch other boats for changes in wind direction and pressure
- Watch the position of other boats to plan strategy especially when about to cross or approaching marks.
- Other indicators such as smoke, flags, current at fixed objects or cloud movements:
Ways to develop your senses so you can keep your head out of the boat:
- Verbalise the feedback that you are getting from the feel of the tiller
- Note the sound of the boat as it moves through the water
- Verbalise the angle of heel e.g. flat, too heeled plus the fore and aft trim.
- Predict the next wind shift, verbally calling – puff, header, lift or lull.
- Verbalise whether you are underpowered or overpowered.
When out training, make small changes whilst looking out of the boat and try to feel the effect, all the time trying to feel when the boat is in the groove. Another good way to develop this feel is to sail with your eyes closed,
Once you are able to sail fast without constantly looking in the boat, at the compass and up at the sails constantly stressing that something is not set perfectly and are able to continuously look around the course you will find your results will continue to improve.