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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How Can You Recover From A Disastrous Start?

Its important to remember that a bad start is not the end of your day, patience and keeping a cool head will generally save you from a total disaster.

If your start has gone wrong, don’t panic and look for a clean exit sooner rather than later.

Be patient though, a hasty change to your pre-determined plan without considering all options may actually place you in an even worse situation.

Two things that are critical to an effective recovery are that the helmsperson must continue to sail the boat as fast as possible all the while deciding where to get clean air.

Depending on your situation though, sheets should be trimmed for footing or pointing, you need to make decisions based on what you are seeing up the track.

If you find yourself in the second row, you need power because there is less wind and more chop. The backstay needs to be eased, Cunningham released and jib leads moved forward to give you a fuller, more powerful headsail.

The most common escape starts with gentle pinching in an attempt to get above the boats to leeward , to do this, move the traveller up and sheet a tick or two tighter than the conditions require.

This cannot be maintained for too long though and the desired result is an escape to clean air with the goal being to find a lane which you can live in for at least two minutes.

If you need to tack for clearer air, make sure there is no one that will tack on your wind, watching the boats around you for crew movement that may indicate a change in their direction which will affect you.

Once you have a clear lane and are now going in the planned direction, look at the fleet to see if that plan is falling in to place and if not be prepared to alter the plan to suit.

If you have a bad start near the weather end it is easy to tack away to clear and then tack back again as soon as there is a lane if you are looking to go left.

A poor start in the middle of the line in more difficilt to extricate yourself from and generally occurs when you are late due to line sag or when a port tack boat tacks under you and establishes a lee bow.

Generally it is a mistake to foot off below the boat on your lee bow but conversely do not tack too early because you will then have to dip the boat to weather who then has a chance to tack on your air.

If you have to bail out at the leeward end there are few options as clearing out to the right is rarely an option as you will have the bulk of the fleet on starboard tack to deal with.

If you are at the pin end and your plan was to head left, crack off a little to get speed and get to clear air as soon as possible.

Cracking off for clear air, generally only works if there are a small number of boats below you otherwise it will take an eternity to reach clear air if in fact you ever do.

If you are forced to bail out, be patient and wait for the proper clear lane to get right, all the time keeping the boat moving fast.

Once on Port tack, you can look for another lane to tack back to the left.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Train Yourself To Use Your Eyes When Sailing

Using your eyes effectively whilst racing takes plenty of discipline and practice.

First, you need to ascertian what it is that you are looking for, is it a mark, a puff coming towards you and does that puff look like it is a lift or header.

It may just be simply a case of working out where you will be situated when you meet competitors coming together on opposite tacks. 

Whichever the case may be, you must learn how to visualise ways you can turn what you see into a offensive or defensive manouvre.

If you are back in the fleet, you need to analyse how you can work your way through the boats ahead.

Think about what staying on the lifted tack may do and what that may mean as you approach a mark, a small gain here may put you in a world of pain as boats come together further up the track.

Might the better tactic be to take a short dig on a knock but which will mean that you are in a better position approaching the mark compared to the boats you are racing.

The best way to train your eyes is to spend more time on the water and there is no substitute to having been in that situation before and to have the experience to interpret it and respond accordingly.

 A good pair of Sunglasses are essential because they heighten the contrast made by the ripples on the water of an approaching puff and they help you also see the direction that the puff is moving.

Get used to looking for all things that are coming at you no matter whether they are puffs, waves or other boats.

Be actively looking ahead and around the course and avoid simply staring at the bow as it goes through the water or the sails and telltales.

The simple message is keep your eyes out of the boat and be continually evaluating the ever changing chess board of wind, waves and boats on your racetrack.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Olympic Gold Medallist Tips For Boatspeed and Changing Gears

Who better to get help with boatspeed issues than Mat Belcher, current Olympic Gold medallist in the 470 class from Tokyo 2021.

I have copied below excerpts from an interview that I did with Mat in 2017 while he was waiting at the airport to travel to yet another overseas regatta.

Brett: Where would you look to change gears, before or after a puff hits? If you can see a puff coming towards you, do you start to make a few changes before or wait until it gets there?
 
Mat: Yeah, we do, we’re constantly…and I don’t know whether, I guess, my experience in this kind of thing is so relevant across classes because we’re constantly changing gears.

Every five seconds we’re doing something, whether the gust is approaching, just before the gust, during the gust, after the gust, during the lull.

I think the gusts are very important, but equally important is also the lull.

 That’s quite a critical…and usually, that’s actually where you lose most of your opportunity to gain is actually during the lull and responding in time to make sure that you’re continuing your speed that you’ve harnessed, all the power, and really trying to get through that lighter period.
 
Brett: So how do you power up and power down with special reference to the order you do things in? What’s the best way to power up? 
 
Mat: It’s really quite boat-specific… 

I think you’ve got the usual basic controls. You’ve got your out haul, you’ll let your Cunningham off, you’ll let all the vang off, and you can put your center board down, you can put your jib track forward.

There’s so many different things, and depending on your boat if you can control your rake, you can maybe bring your rake up to match.

You can move forward a little bit in the boat.

You can also possibly move your main sheet bridle a little bit more to windward, depending on what type of class you’re sailing.

Brett: There’s a lot to remember, and I guess it all comes back to that time in the boat so that all becomes second nature, you don’t have to think about it.  The other thing is having a system that works properly…
 
Mat: Yeah, well, we talked about time, that’s a critical part, spending time in the boat, but it’s also your understanding.

So typical…for me, it’s typically that I sail a lot of different classes, and when we have discussions about what different controls do on the boat, it surprises me that a lot of people just don’t know.

They don’t know when they pull that rope, what’s the effect or what’s that going to do?

It’s very difficult if you’re in a racing environment or you’re trying to do it quickly, and the gust is very short, to do all these controls.

If you don’t know what it’s going to do, that’s quite a limitation.

Typically when you buy a new dishwasher, or you’re buying something, you don’t read the manual. I don’t read the manual at all.

My wife always tells me that “you got to read the manual, how do you know how to put it together?”

It’s the same with when you get a boat for the first time or you’re sailing a 505 for example.
 You’ve got to really know and have the feel and play around, and just use all the controls and see what they do, and then you’ve got a much better ability with your added understanding of them.

Practice, keep changing.

Brett: What are some of the common mistakes you see racing sailors make when they change gears?

Mat: Different people obviously make different mistakes, but I think trying to stick to the basics is critical, to make sure you’re doing things you know and know you can do well and quickly.

That would probably be depending on whatever level you are, it’s just making sure that you do the basics, and if the basics is just changing the vang tension or just then transitioning to your Cunningham and then maybe your center board.

If you have a two-person boat, then look at your weight control a little bit, fore and aft in the boat, and just really do the simple things right, you can’t really go wrong.

If you have the time and more experience, then you can really start to refine that to get that extra meter or extra half a meter, but the basics, from what I see most commonly, is that people just…they’re trying to look at the small details and over-complicate it without actually doing the simple things.

Brett: If you had to help somebody in middle or towards the back of the fleet most of the time, what is the one thing you would say to them that they need to do to start moving up the leaderboard?

Preparation.

So really focusing on your boat preparation or your crew preparation, the biggest thing for me, is that most of the time you come to an event, everything’s already done.

It’s the work that…I guess at our level, is done outside of the racing environment.

It’s preparation, it’s the sail testing, it’s the time in the gym, it’s where you staying in accommodation, it’s the training coming into it, the loading, and really looking at the detail.

Its usually things you can’t see that actually make the difference, and for me it’s just preparing, preparing well.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How To Find More Speed

 

To find more speed is largely a matter of trial and error and getting to know your boat.

You can set your sails so that they look right but to get the last fraction of boat speed you must experiment with different settings and shapes to see which ones give you the best results.

Even when you are out having a pleasure sail or taking friends for a ride,  experiment with luff, outhaul and leech tension, sighting up the sail to see what the sails look like after each adjustment.

As always, make notes about what worked and what didn’t so that next time you encounter similar conditions you can replicate the fast settings.

It is important to have reference points marked on sheets and the boat to enable you to faithfully reproduce the fast settings.

Using your vision memory of what fast settings looked like is never enough.

Whenever you make an adjustment (depending on the conditions) remember that it can take a reasonable amount of time for the boat to speed up or slow down. 

Also, when a change has been made, it often takes the helmsman and crew a little time as well to settle in to the new setup so don’t be too hasty in assuming the changes have not worked and then adjust something else.

Take time to analyse what has occurred by watching the other boats in your fleet.

Given the vagaries of the wind and water it is very difficult to decide whether a change in speed relative to your competition is due to weather, a couple of short sharp waves, your steering or your sail trim.

There is no substitute for time on the water to make you a better sailor, to improve boat handling and to be able to make effective trim adjustments.

More often than not its the better sailor who wins.

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