Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

A Checklist For Successful Trimming

Trimming sails is a challenging crew position which requires knowledge and experience but the trimmer also needs the ability to work with the rest of the crew.

The goal of the trimmer is to get the boat to perform at peak efficiency and to use that speed to out sail the competition. A good trimmer must recognise changing conditions and react accordingly taking weather, sea state and tactical position on the race course into account.

The best teams set themselves up for success long before leaving the beach or dock and the trimmer is an integral part of that team.

As a trimmer, when you leave the dock, have a good understanding of what the forecasted weather is likely to be and update this information when out on the course.

Once at the boat, look around your area, make sure everything is in its place and sails are packed and stowed where they are readily accessible. It is very important that all unnecessary gear is removed to ensure that the boat is as light as possible.

Inspect the sheets, blocks, winches, handles, cleats and jammers for any issues. Carry a grab bag with duct or electrical tape, lube, markers, sail repair tape and tools plus energy bars and drinks (include spares where appropriate).

Spray all moving shackles and clips to ensure that they will not seize at a crucial moment replacing any that are worn or bent. Make sure there are knots in the end of halyards, that all telltales on sails are intact and the right sails are in the right bags.

As a trimmer you can be a valuable backup to the tactician so read and memorise the sailing instructions. Carry a rule book and notice of race in a waterproof folder for reference where necessary.

Keep target boat speeds and note down what  sails are required depending on wind strengths and sea state. Have this information written on a card plus have it prominently displayed on the boat as a reference for your teammates.

This is particularly important so that everyone can understand what sail should be set and when meaning each crew member will be prepared as conditions change.

Trimming sails on a dinghy or being part of the crew on a Maxi is equally rewarding. Define the mission, set parameters, prepare your trimming area, stay focused and constantly reviewing your fastest trim will make sure you are successful.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Useful Tips For Racing Sailors


Boat Preparation – To win you must be the best prepared, and a lack of attention in this area can mean gear or boat breakages and to be able to win you must be able to finish.

Beyond that, you must have competitive equipment, efficient systems and excellent hull finish. Carry spares for things that can be repaired on the course along with tools that are needed to effect those repairs.

Financing an Event – Look at your season and pick out the events that you would like to do. Work out whether you can attend each one and compete at the top level required with the finances you have available.

If you find that you are having to make the money stretch by scrimping on accomodation, food and equipment options, consider doing fewer events but dedicating more resources to those events.

You will find your stress levels will be reduced and the fun levels and your event success will greatly increase.

Mental Stamina –  Are you able to keep going when things get really tough or do you let frustration get the better of you? Sleep and diet are not only important for your physical well being but they are important for your mental state as well.

When you train, work as hard as you would if you were racing and eat and hydrate the same way as well. Many of us practice specific things but don’t push ourselves as hard as we would if we were racing.

If your class does 3 x 45 minutes races each day, some of your training sessions should be for the same amount of time, that way you build the necessary mental stamina to carry forward to race day.

Concentration – In sailing, because there are so many variables, you are not able to concentrate on every variable all the time.

The best sailors pick the variables that need the most attention given the current course and conditions and disregard the ones that won’t make much difference.

There are always plenty of distractions at your club, a regatta or around the boat park, try to concentrate on the days racing by thinking about the weather, the course and what you need to do to succeed.

Many top sailors I have spoken to use headphones prior to heading out on the water and play music suitable for the day to set the mood and block out unwanted distractions.

Keep a sailing Log – All of us have plenty going on outside sailing so trying to remember settings that worked in particular conditions. This becomes especially tricky when you may not encounter those exact conditions again for many weeks or even months.

The act of writing things down helps your memory. Keeping a sailing diary enables you to refer to it to when you encounter the same conditions again. 

Body Weight – Many boats and classes we sail have an upper crew weight limit or ideal weight for best performance and many competitors get involved in yo-yo dieting to meet those weight requirements.

Changes in weight need to be gradual and balanced otherwise it can affect your ability to perform at your peak.

An ideal situation in a class that has a particular weight range to be competitive is to be somewhere in the middle but of course this is dictated to a large extent by our physical size.

When choosing a class of boat to sail, it makes sense for sailors to select a boat matched to their natural size.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How to Understand The Effects of Current in Sailboat Racing

Firstly you must understand what current is, how it acts on your boat and  its effect on windspeed and direction. 

Currents are driven by three main factors:
  • The rise and fall of the tides. Tides create a current in the oceans, which are strongest near the shore, and in bays and estuaries along the coast.
  • Wind. Winds drive currents that are at or near the ocean’s surface.
  • Thermohaline circulation. the movement of seawater in a pattern of flow dependent on variations in temperature, which give rise to changes in salt content and hence in density.

Current Characteristics and Causes:

Current is faster in deep water and slower in shallow water so sail out to deeper water when the current is with you and sail in shallower water when you are sailing against the current.

Sustained, strong breezes push water in the direction of the wind; when the wind subsides, the water flows in the opposite direction.

Pressure systems also create current and influence tidal flows. Lows increase the height of high tides and prolong flood currents; highs push the water away, which increases the strength and duration of low tides and ebb currents.

Current is strongest around prominent points and in narrow openings such as harbor mouths. There are usually back eddies on the down-current side of  islands, shoals and points. 

When a tidal-induced current begins to change direction, it changes first along the shore lines and later in mid- channel.

Working Out Current:

One way to predict what the current will be doing on the race course is to use published charts and tables. These give a fairly accurate guide to the velocity and direction of current that is caused by tides.

Another way is to look at fixed marks or buoys like the starting pin. Be careful not to confuse wave action with current and anchored boats will also give you a good idea about current flow.

Another important clue about current is the appearance of the water surface. When the current is flowing toward the wind, the water will be choppier than usual. When it’s flowing away from the wind, the water is smoother.

Look also for distinct lines of separation between different water surface textures.

Racing In Current: 

When starting a race in current, be sure you have a line sight to help you judge the position of the line. When the current and wind are going in opposite directions, you’re likely to end up with multiple recalls. This is a great time to start at the leeward end (assuming you want to go left) because it will be easy to make the pin.

However, don’t start right at the committee boat, because it’s too easy to get caught barging. And be careful not to be over early, since it will take a long time to get back against the current and re-start.

Current affects your course over the bottom and therefore changes the laylines to any windward or leeward mark. When the current is pushing you away from the layline, it’s easy to under lay the mark and lose distance by trying to pinch up to the mark. The safest route is to overstand slightly — this will keep you clear of the mess of other boats and eliminate the need to make extra tacks.

When the current is pushing you toward a layline, the biggest potential mistake is overstanding. Prevent this by approaching to leeward of the “normal” layline or by avoiding the starboard layline completely until you are almost at the mark.

On reaches and runs, current will usually cause you to sail a longer course than necessary. Stick to the rhumbline and gain valuable distance. The best way to do this is by using a land sight.

If you can see land behind the next mark, use this to set up a range so the mark stays in the same place against the land. In the absense of a land sight use a compass bearing to the mark and steer a course so this bearing remains constant..

Myths Regarding Current:

There is no such thing as the lee-bow effect, if you are sailing upwind directly into the current, you can’t gain by pinching to get the current on your lee bow.

Another Myth is the belief that the direction of the current favors one tack over the other. As long as the current stays the same for all boats, it doesn’t matter whether you take the up-current or down-current tack first or last.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Secrets For Going Fast Upwind

These days, for those of us that race, we seem to be doing more and more short, windward leeward races.

Arguably the upwind leg, especially the first upwind is the most telling in where we end up at the finish.

Of course the start is very important but next it is how we perform getting to the first mark that gives us tha best chance of success.

To help us understand how to tackle the upwind legs, I interviewed Noel Drennan a hugely accomplished sailor with a number of round the world races under his belt plus a multitude of National, World and One Design championships with his name against them.

Noel is also a senior Sailmaker with North Sails in Sydney Australlia and I have copied part of that interview below.

  • What’s the most important trim adjustment when you’re going upwind with the velocity up and down?

Noel I think just as simple as it is, it’s just the main sheet, it does so much in all boats, dinghies to keel boats. The main sheet is the absolute key adjustment for the balance and trim.

  • I think you are the main sheet trimmer on the Alinghi RC 44?

Noel: Most of the boats I sail on, I’ve been somewhat pigeonholed into a main sheet trimmer position, essentially, I guess because I do a lot of steering. It’s quite often that if you’re steering and you don’t have a very good main sheet trimmer, the work with the balance of the boat more so than just the trim of the sail is key.

For me that’s the difference between the better main sheet trimmers and headsail trimmers. Main sheet trimmers essentially trim the boat to the overall balance more so than just looking at the mainsail and reporting“it looks good today.”

  • One of the things I’ve noticed with some keel boat crews is that they they feel after it happens, that they reactive rather than proactive.

Noel: I think that’s been a very important factor for my success that I have the dinghy feel, but I’ve sailed a lot on keel boats, so you’re feeling what’s happening with the boat, it’s loading up or unloading or the mainsheet’s too tight for acceleration, whatever it is.

On a keel boat you’ll have your instruments package that will quantify that, but if you have the feel from previous dinghy sailing you will be ahead of the instruments and that’s what you need to be.

  • You hear often that you should always sail towards the next shift, is there a reason why you should sail towards the next shift?

Noel: Not really, but it does work out usually as an advantage, it really depends if it’s more likely to be a header on one side of the course or not, but I don’t think it’s always a golden rule that you should sail towards the next shift because it might be a lift and you might end up being to leeward of everybody.

  • How do clouds influence your upwind strategy?

Noel: Pretty big part of it, I’ll always look up and look at the clouds, so if I was sailing in Melbourne, for sure I’d be looking for:

  1. The sea breeze clouds building on the land or
  2. If it’s any sort of southerly or westerly, just the cloud formations out to sea, because you’d better be going upwind to them.

Because I’ve done a reasonable amount of ocean racing, and in the Volvo ocean race you sail with really good navigators and when they come up on deck and tell you “look at the cloud, go to the right-hand side of it and you’ll be lifted, or stay away from that one”

You learn what to stay away from or if it’s safe to go towards it, which side of the clouds you’re going to be lifted and which side you’re going to be headed, so I think it’s a pretty important thing to do.

  • Should you sail for puffs or shifts?

Noel: Essentially it’s the little bit to do with the boat. If it’s a boat like in an Etchells, if you’re racing in six to eight knots, its windspeed. Over probably 10, it’s probably shift. Downwind in a planing boat I go for windspeed every time.

  • You’re going out for a training day, what should you practice uphill?

Noel: I like defining my practice time pretty clearly on what the goal is for that particular training period. Essentially, I like to go and say, practice starting and do nothing else but starting.

 I prefer to practice trying to hold off somebody just on the hip more so than just straight line sailing to see how fast you are. Essentially the more difficult things.

  • What do you look for when trimming up wind sails?

Noel: I’d probably just use the leech ribbons as a bit of a guide in certain conditions to make sure I’m not too over-trimmed. Look at the leech and the telltales in the middle of the sail to see, camber wise, if they’re lifting or they’re stuck or flowing, but also the back wind from the jib on the luff of the main,

If most of the back wind is starting down low in the main sail from the jib, the jib cars will be down too low or in too far, for example. Trying to work towards getting the even back wind across the luff of the main sail, as long as the main sail’s not ridiculously full.

There are things that I would talk to the jib trimmer about. “Hey, we’ve got a lot of back wind up high” a blowback from the headsail, so then those things create the environment for the two of you who are working together on the package more so than trimming the individual sails.

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