The best way to get started and build your initial skills is to get tuition either at club level or with a course provided by your National sailing body.
If your initial sailing was not in a club environment, joining a club is one of the most important steps to move your skills forward and it’s through a club network that people can improve and develop their sailing.
Many clubs and classes run coaching sessions for both adults and young sailors and these are a very effective way to kick your skills up a level as well as identify areas on which to focus afterwards.
As a bonus, a serious approach to improving your skills will also boost the fun, enjoyment and satisfaction you get from races that you compete in.
Following that, a methodical approach to learning will see a rapid improvement in your performance, make notes after each race about things observed and learned including boat settings, weather, rules and fellow competitors.
One way to avoid flattening your learning curve is to develop a mindset that makes analysing and learning from your performance in each race an automatic routine.
The old adage that ‘a good sailor is one who looks at the race they’ve just sailed and asks: “how could I have done that better?”
Sailing different boats in different places and with people whose experience is in excess of your own means, you’ll learn at a greater pace than by sailing your own boat at the same club and with the same crew.
If you can, spend up to half your time afloat practising and this will make a huge difference to your results. If you can’t manage this, even 10 minutes at either the beginning or end of every day’s sailing will make a big difference.
Concentrating on the core elements of boatspeed and basic manoeuvring will show the biggest rewards and provide a firm foundation on which to build further skills.
Start by fully understanding the way in which all sail controls including outhaul, vang, cunningham and so on change sail shape, particularly in terms of the full/flatness in different parts of the sail and twist.
A fundamental to understand is the steering effects of the sails and the way in which this contributes to the balance of the rig. At its simplest, power in the jib tends to turn the bow away from the wind and powering up the mainsail tends to turn the bow towards the wind.
Changing Gears: Boatspeed requires a combination of sail trim, accurate helming, good balance and settings for a particular wind speed and what works in flat water won’t work in big waves, nor in light airs.
Learn and practice acceleration gear, which is sailing a little off the wind with sheets eased slightly and is used when sailing upwind in waves it is also used in extreme conditions with either a lot of wind or very little, these are times when it’s difficult to get the boat moving.
Understand the Racing Rules: you need to keep referring to and building your knowledge of the rules. Too many sailors, even those who are seasoned racers, are too complacent in this respect and don’t fully understand many of the basic rules.
It’s important to build a core of theoretical knowledge and reading is an important way of doing this, particularly where rules, tactics and sail trim are concerned.