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Psychology and Competitive Sailing

                             

Where your equipment is the same as everyone else’s, there are only two ways to beat your opponent – through superior physiology (your size, weight and fitness) or through superior psychology (just about everything else!).

Psychology is perhaps one of the most neglected parts of sailing, your mental approach and the attitude you bring to your racing is one of the most effective ways of improving your results on the water.

Learning new mental skills will do you more good than buying a fancy new gadget for your boat and they won’t cost you a penny either.

I am going to take the liberty of setting out below some dot points regarding Psychology and sailing from the great Paul Elvstrom.

  • You must not believe that a fellow competitor is better than you. If he is currently sailing a little faster than you, you have to say to yourself that this is just happening at this moment, soon it will be my turn to be faster.
  • You must try to put his past achievements out of your mind and you must concentrate on the race that you are in now. Many times we have seen an opponent who has let you past because he thinks you are better than him.
  • In a regatta it is important to sail in the practice races and to show your worth and always arrive at a regatta a number of days before the event, sail around the course and tune your boat. This will not go unnoticed by your adversaries.
  • When lining up against practice partners or other competitors sail your hardest and you can bet that your fellow competitors may get a complex about you.
  • Many sailors get a complex about you and a simple thing like sailing hard on the run or beat out to the course will show others that you are a force to be reckoned with.
  • You must always keep your spirits up and say you are hurting after a long beat just remember that so are your fellow competitors.
  • If you are behind in the fleet and you are tired and hurting, remember so are the guys in front of you.
  • If you get a bad start you must still go the way that is the fastest, you should not get flustered and start taking chances or going off on a flyer, never do the opposite of what the leading boats are doing in the hope that you may pick up a little advantage.
  • If you are sure the leading boats are going the right way then all you have to do is follow them. If you think they are going the wrong way, of course, you shouldn’t follow them.
  • It is really important to recognise the difference between good and bad luck and also skill and good fortune.
  • It is important that when you have a bit of good luck, recognise it for what it is because in the next race or leg you may not concentrate or think it through as thoroughly.
  • Don’t keep clear of the better sailors on a run for fear of interfering with them, compete hard and sail your own race taking all factors into account.
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Practice Techniques Leading Up To an Important Regatta.

You will have invested considerable time money and effort to enter and travel to a sailing event so it makes sense to invest some time into preparation involving well planned practice hours leading up to the races.

It never ceases to amaze me, how many competitors at events that I have attended have put in no extra effort other than their normal club racing prior to turning up to race at State or National championships.

It goes without saying that if you want to win, practice is essential and importantly, it doesn’t matter how close to race day it is. A day or two, immediately prior racing beginning, and in the waters that you will competing in can sometimes reap the greatest benefit.

All you need are a couple of hours to fine-tune everything so plan the night before the practice and come up with a list of things you want to work on so that when you get on the water, no time is lost getting down to the important task of working on your weaknesses.

Two or three boat practice is a huge advantage if you can swing it and after practicing some drills it is really advantageous to carry out some short races to further hone your skills and to understand the things that still require attention.

Practice races should include a start, upwind leg and downwind leg, short and sharp with a number of starts in order to give you time to make adjustments and have a discussion between the participants to improve the things that are troubling you.

As important as the short races and on water discussions are, probably the most benefit to be gained can be had back on shore with a debrief between all participants.

Obviously having a coach on the water during your practice sessions is the ideal situation and they will be able to guide the debrief using their observations but there is still plenty to be gained in discussions between participating sailors should you not have the luxury of a coach.

Note taking is essential after all training and practice sessions and I highly recommend keeping a journal of not only training and practice findings but also jotting down a few notes of  observations from every time you hit the water.

This journal should be referred to regularly because as an example,  it is no point coming in from a heavy air race to discover that  you didn’t use a setting that worked brilliantly in a previous race in identical conditions.

 

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Use your Traveller or Mainsheet to de-power the Mainsail

The traveller has two functions, it controls the boom’s angle to the wind and it steers the boat controlling helm and heeling in puffs and lulls.

The mainsheet controls the twist and then you use the traveller to position the boom on the centreline for maximum power and pointing as long as helm and heeling are within the parameters that give the best results for your respective type of boat.

As a general rule of thumb, as the breeze builds and mainsheet tension increases, the traveller will gradually be dropped to keep the boom on the centreline.

In medium conditions, the role of the traveller will expand to include control of helm. As the boat generates weather helm, drop the traveller to de-power the boat.

The position of the boom, relative to the centreline becomes irrelevant. In medium air, play the traveller aggressively to maintain the correct amount of helm.

Dump the traveller quickly at the onset of a puff, but then be ready to pull it back up as the initial power of the puff dissipates and turns into forward speed instead of heel.

If you leave it down too long you will miss the opportunity to point once the boat has

   

accelerated.

The beauty of using the traveller is that mainsail twist which is controlled by the mainsheet and  which is vital to both speed and pointing, does not change, only the total amount of power.

The mainsheet is the “gross trim” adjustment for the overall amount of power.

As a general rule of thumb, on fractional rigged boats with large mainsails, the mainsheet is played more aggressively and the traveller is usually kept closer to centreline.

The mainsail trimmer continually makes adjustments to both traveller and mainsheet based not just on the overall amount of power, but issues like boat speed, waves, and even a tactical situation.