The best sailors are those who understand the importance of solid boat handling skills as the foundation for performance.
A question that we should always ask ourselves is, what would make the biggest difference to improve our performance on the water?
The answers we give ourselves range from tactics and strategy, sail trim, navigation, better speed, and knowledge of the rules, to understanding the weather.
In reality, the biggest leaps in performance when you are racing come from going back to the foundation of sailing itself and that is boat handling.
Once we learn the basics of sailing, we then focus our energy on the nuances of the sport and start straying from the basics, and the majority of the mistakes we make come from the poor execution of basic sailing manoeuvres.
Bad mark rounding, poor control in acceleration and deceleration, tacking and gybing just to name a few, all force us to sail with our heads in the boat.
If our heads are in the boat, there is no way that we can concentrate on refining the other aspects of performance sailing like sail trim, boat speed and strategy.
If we handle our boats well, if we can manoeuvre them readily in and out of tight situations, if we can use the currents, and closely duck a competitor then the confidence we have in ourselves will enable us to then work on the nuances.
Once we hone our boat handling skills, our confidence level rises, as does our ability to put our sailboats where we want them to go so that when we achieve excellence in boat handling, we can then focus on the next big piece of performance.
Reading, learning and studying the nuances of tactics and strategy is one thing but applying them in situations under pressure is quite another, if we can’t get in and out of tight mark-rounding situations, if we don’t have speed off the line, if we can’t effectively complete a lee-bow tack or a close duck, then we can’t really make use of the tactics and strategy that we have learned.
With regards to boat handling, this is where the biggest gains are to be made and remember, you can’t reach the top of the mountain without starting at the base!