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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Assessing a Regatta Venue and Big Fleet Strategy

 

To get an insight, I spoke with Roger Blasse from Melbourne, Australia. Roger has won 11 National and 2 World championships in the OK dinghy and is also a front running competitor in the International 14′ skiff , a very technical development class.

Brett: When you’re going to a regatta, how long before the racing starts do you arrive and get on the water? 
I think you need to get there and at least get a couple of sails in.  A couple of sails before you go to the invite race. So, I’d suggest at least three days beforehand.

If there’s a pre-regatta see if you can do that. So definitely if you’ve got the time, you should maybe get there three days, if there’s a pre-regatta try and get there earlier and do that because it’s important to just get a knowledge of where you’re going to be sailing.


Do you have any secrets to preparing for a regatta? Is there anything that you do to prepare yourself mentally and prepare your boat?

The first thing I think you need to do is you need to decide whether you’re going to do the regatta or not.

And usually I think like nine months out, you need to make that decision. And as that time gets closer I mean obviously the first things you’ve got to work on is what you got to take…practicing in sailing and working on your fitness. 

So speaking about the venue, how do you gather local knowledge regarding wind, currents and weather? Have you got a particular thing you do?
 
The first step is to maybe have a chat to people who’ve been there before which is very important.

And obviously even if they’re outside your class, have a look at the last Worlds, who has been there, maybe get on the website and have a look at the report.

Have a look at the results and see where some of the Aussies went and just from the people that have been there you’ll understand whether they are a light or heavy crew and so forth.

I think the next thing is get on the internet.
 
There’s plenty of sites that you can have a look at and just check what the winds are going to be like during that period.

As we all know that sometimes the weather isn’t exactly what it’s meant to be. Just often go with the knowledge it will be what it will be and you have to adapt to what the wind strength will be and the conditions.

So it all comes back to preparation. So let’s talk a little bit about championship and regatta strategy. Do you have a plan to deal with other competitors or do you simply sail your own race?
 
 I try and sail my own race in general terms. I think it’s important particularly in a larger fleet that there’s always going to be at least 10 people that are going to be just as good or just as competitive as yourself.

If you start to hone in on a particular person then I think you’re risking the other nine boats. So it’s important to just sail your own race and use the strategies that you’ve got, you feel comfortable with and the knowledge that you’ve got, tactically and try and sail as well you can.

You do have to be mindful of the fleet during the course of the regatta and make sure that you are keeping them in the back of your mind. But in general sail your own race.

One of the problems we have is that at home we sail in much smaller fleets so when you do go away to a worlds, you have rarely sailed in fleets that big so you probably have to think about it beforehand, not just get out there and say now what do I do?
 
It’s one of those things you don’t know until you’ve done it and so certainly if you haven’t sailed in a big fleet before and it’s 20 knots before the start or 25 and there’s 80 boats reaching around before the start line, it can be quite daunting.

If you’ve never been in that type of scenario and particularly if you’re in a 14 that’s travelling at 12 knots, it’s being mindful and looking out, boats can pop up out of nowhere.

Have you got any basic strategies for big fleets is there anything you plan before you go out for instance.

Well I think when you got a big fleet you’ve got to be…before the start you got to have a look up the course and commit to your strategy uphill.

If you’ve committed to the strategy you then can concentrate on sailing the fleet a little bit.

One of the most important things is to make sure you have a clear air lane. So just after the start be mindful of where you’re going to go and how to maintain that clear air lane.

You might not be sailing always on the lift but if you’ve got a clear lane you probably got another half and knot split over everyone else. So that can take up account for any loss whether you’re sailing on a knock or a lift.

It’s also worth noting that as the breeze rotates, you’re positioned in the right spot for that rotation. So don’t get the mentality where you’re always thinking I’ve got to cross that boat, I’ve got to cross that line of boats.

If it’s already knocked, don’t worry about crossing them just tack straight away because you’ll be on the clear air lane and you can maintain that longer than the remainder of the fleet.

If you suddenly find you have dropped back in the fleet, what are some of the things you shouldn’t do, you may have dropped back unexpectedly, what shouldn’t you do?
 
Well I think like I mentioned before, you shouldn’t panic.

You shouldn’t try and take the whole fleet in one flier, which we’ve all found ourselves in that position and it’s very tempting to do that.

The other thing is to look outside of the boat, really start to look at what’s happening out on the course.

So don’t stress too much about where you are, try and just start afresh and have a look at what you can do to improve.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Winning Tips For Sailors Competing Over The Holiday Season

 

 

 

I have copied below a couple of awesome tips written by my good mate Dave Dellenbaugh, sailing legend, coach and author of the Speed and Smarts Newsletter.

I know you will find these tips very useful even if they are just to remind you of things that you already know but have forgotten.

MINIMISE RISK:

Don’t take unnecessary chances! If you want to finish consistently near the top of the fleet, you must follow a conservative gameplan. 

That is, you should minimize risk, or exposure, by sticking to tactics and strategies that have a high probability of success. Of course, there are situations when it’s all right (or even smart) to take a chance, but your general approach should be to avoid risky decisions, manuevers, tactics and strategies. 

Here are 13 ideas on how you can minimize risk around the race course. If you implement as many of these as possible, your finishes should be more consistently near the top of the fleet.

    1. Learn the racing rules. Knowing the rules is the best way to avoid breaking any rule. So spend some time looking at the rulebook on a regular basis. Besides reducing your risk, it will put you in a much stronger position tactically and help you stay in control of your race. (Don’t forget your class rules, too.)
    2. Study the notice of race and sailing instructions. If you really want to minimize risk-taking, don’t ever sail a race without reading all the regatta rules first. This is an easy, foolproof way to avoid the kind of embarassing mistakes that can cost you a regatta.
    3. Work hard on boatspeed. Improving your boatspeed may be hard work, but it can give you a huge return with no risk at all. In addition, good boatspeed will help you recover from mistakes. It lets you take slightly bigger risks (in search of slightly bigger rewards) while reducing your downside.
    4. Practice boathandling maneuvers, especially in heavy air. When you’re racing, there is always at least a small risk whenever you perform a maneuver (e.g. heavy-air jibes). To minimize this risk, practice as much as possible, especially in stronger winds, and try to avoid high-risk maneuvers while racing.
    5. Check over your boat and gear. Another easy way to lose a race or regatta is by having something break. Therefore, if you want to reduce your risk, be sure to check your boat carefully before every race. Pay special attention to areas of high wear like the boom vang, hiking stick, hiking straps, halyards and so on. 
    6. Aim to finish in the top three or five, not first. If you try to win every race, you will probably take too many risks in order to beat all the other boats. A better idea is to aim for the top 5 or so instead. Just as you don’t need the best start to win a race, you don’t need first places to win a series.
    7. Keep your head out of the boat. To avoid bumps in the road, keep your eyes on where you’re going. Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. Keep the big picture firmly in mind so you won’t sail into a position where you are left with only high-risk options.
    8. Avoid close encounters with other boats. If you foul another boat it can be very costly, especially if it’s early in a race. Therefore, in order to reduce risk, keep clear of other boats.
    9. Be willing to take a penalty. No one likes to admit they broke a rule or do circles in the middle of a race, especially when they’re not sure they were actually wrong. However, when you go to a protest hearing you typically have a 50% chance of losing. So, if you really want to minimize risk, your best move is to take a penalty (720° or yellow flag) at the time of the incident.
    10. Don’t take fliers. The greater your separation from other boats, the more you are at risk. Therefore, stay away from the corners and laylines of the course, and avoid sailing off by yourself.
    11. Make a strategic plan and follow it. Much risk-taking results from decisions that are made on the spur of the moment. To avoid this, get out to the course area early, develop a race strategy and use this as your guide for decisions during the race. Of course, you should modify this as necessary during the race.
    12. Sail the longer tack first. In other words, stay on the tack where your bow is pointed closer to the next mark. This gives you the best chance of success because it will keep you closer to the middle of the course in a position where you can best play the windshifts and handle other boats.
    13. Cover the boats behind you. When you want to stay ahead of the boats behind you, cover them by positioning your boat between them and the next mark. This will minimize your risk of losing them.

POST RACE CHECKLIST: 

It ain’t over when you finish! Crossing the finish line may be the end of the race, but it definitely doesn’t end your responsibilities under the rules, and it should mark the beginning of your preparations for the next race. Here is a checklist of things to think about just after you finish the race.

  • If you are protesting, inform the RC.  This is not required by the rulebook, but many times the sailing instructions modify protest procedure and require you to tell the race committee (RC) at the finish if you intend to protest. Often you must hail the number of the boat you’re protesting (or tell them that you did  a 720° turns penalty during the race). Make sure they acknowledge your hail before you leave.
  • Look for witnesses. If you might be involved in a protest, try to find any potential witnesses as soon as possible after you finish. This way you can talk to people before they scatter ashore and before they forget what happened in the race.
  • Hold a crew meeting to review the race. If you want to improve the overall performance of your boat and crew, it’s essential to spend time learning together. Right after you finish, when the race is still fresh in everyone’s minds, is the best time to pull  everyone together in the cockpit to talk about speed, boathandling, communication, tactics and more. All crew are captive on the way in, so use this time wisely.
  • Make a list of boat things you need to fix. Ask one person to start a list of all the boat breakdowns and things that need to be fixed or improved. At your crew meeting, ask everyone to do a brainstorm for this list. For each item on your list, write down the name of one person who will be responsible for fixing that item. The list-maker has overall responsibility to make sure everything gets done.
  • Get ready for your next race. If you have to start another race soon after this one, I recommend preparing for the second race right after the finish. For example, overhaul your spinnaker gear and re-pack the chute. Sail upwind from the starting line to check your sail set-up and the wind. Then, if you still have time, you can take a break.
  • Keep clear of other boats still racing. Once you have finished and cleared the finishing line and marks, the rules require that you avoid any kind of interference with boats that are still racing. Don’t just cross the line and become oblivious to the world – you must keep your head out of the boat and stay clear.
  • Record your finish time and sail numbers  of nearby boats. Recording all the finishers in proper order is one of the hardest jobs for any race committee. To be safe, assume the RC may miss your sail number at the finish, and make sure you can re-create your finish time or position if necessary.
  • Write in your racing notebook. You can  learn a lot by keeping a daily notebook of good moves, mistakes (i.e. things to improve), weather conditions, tactics and so on. When you’re done with your post-race crew debrief, find time to write in this log while everything is still fresh in your mind.
  • Say “thank you” to the race committee. Usually the race committee does a great job, but they don’t get enough appreciation from sailors. So after you cross the line, go by the RC boat, give them a friendly wave and shout, “Nice job.” Even if you feel they made mistakes, you can still appreciate all the time and effort they have volunteered for the job.
  • Compliment your competitors. Another thing that’s not done often enough after the finish is saying “Good race” to your fellow sailors. In particular, compliment any of the top finishers who aren’t usually up there. Or compliment someone who didn’t finish near the top but made a nice comeback or other good move.

If you have found this information useful, have a look at Daves website – https://www.speedandsmarts.com there is a wealth of vital learnings there for competitors of all experience levels.

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How To Keep Your Offshore Crew Alert At Night

With the end of the year offshore race season almost upon us, (in the Southern Hemisphere anyway) I have set out below a few tips for crews.

Keeping the whole team alert at night can be tough especially on the first night of a long race when our internal body clocks have not gotten in to the rhythym of a watch system.

  • Before the race starts, make sure that you get at least two good nights sleep.
  • Have a couple of designated crew members who can operate the stove and make coffee or hot drinks for the change of watch or mid watch when attention can tend to sag.
  • Make night watches shorter than day watches.
  • Watches that are rotation style seem to work best, where only one or a small number of crew switch each time rather than a 50% crew changeover. 
  • Encourage communication amongst the on watch team as this ensures everyone keeps their head in the game and as a bonus, this helps prevent drowsiness.
  • Involve the on-watch team in tactical and trim discussion to stop talk drifting off into other subjects which will move the teams concentration away from the purpose of being on the race course.
  • If you are doing a job such as helming and you feel as though you are losing your edge, don’t be a hero, change positions with someone else, even if only for a short time to get refreshed.
  • Monitor your boats performance by keeping notes on your main competitors whereabouts, noting gains and losses and the reasons that these changes have happened.
  • When there is a change of watch, this is often the time when performance slips. Fully brief the oncoming crew about tactical and speed related issues before or as they come on deck
  • Have one or two crew stay with the new watch they are fully acclimatised to the setup and conditions.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Forecast The Weather For Better Racing Results

I have copied below a couple of questions with answers regarding weather and sailboat racing by two of my favourite sailing mentors. Dave Dellenbaugh of the Speed and Smart Newsletter https://www.speedandsmarts.com/ who asked the questions and Chelsea Carlson https://www.sea-tactics.com/ who has anwered based on her knowledge as a qualified Meteorologist and successful sailor.

If a racing sailor asked you for one weather tip that would be most helpful for their long-term racing success, what would you say?

Long-term success comes from continual learning. You can pick up some quick racing tips here and there, but my advice is to focus on learning concepts about the wind and weather. This will help you understand how the wind behaves wherever you go.

If I absolutely had to give one (and only one) word of advice, I’d probably say ‘Look up at the clouds!’ The clouds are full of good clues about the wind.

Is there any part of weather forecasting that sailors should not worry about so much?

A lot of people rely too much on a favourite weather app on their phone. Technology and models will generally not give you much of a competitive edge (unless you are using custom tech at a high level).

An app can give you a big part of the weather picture (i.e. ‘the wind direction will slowly shift right all day’), but it won’t usually tell you the key, subtle information that makes the biggest difference in your race performance.

That info comes from your brain on the racecourse when you see clouds and all the other local clues that tell you what the wind is doing.

When you’re racing, how much time do you spend actually looking up at clouds?

Probably more than you’d think, but it depends a lot on my crew role. When I’m not driving, I am usually responsible for weather, strategy and keeping track of the compass numbers.

I make a conscious effort to be ‘head out of the boat’ (i.e. looking at the sky and wind) as much as possible. One of the best times to sky-scan and think about the weather is on the sail out to the course.

Then I continue this while we are tuning up, and I spend a solid five minutes watching the sky and clouds shortly before the start.

During the race I’ve also made it a habit to scan the sky every few minutes for changes.

What are some good clues about future changes in wind speed and direction?

Sometimes there are easy clues, sometimes not. The best indicators of changes in the wind are usually clouds, which are certainly the easiest to see.

If you understand how the wind works around clouds, it can be a game-changer.

For other clues you might ‘feel’ them rather than see them – like a change in air or water temperature, which may signal a potential change in the wind.

A good rule of thumb is that warming air indicates more ‘overturning’ in the atmosphere, which means a higher chance of shifts and puffs.

Cool air means the layers of air are more stable, so it’s less puffy and shifty.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Tactics, Boatspeed or Strategy – Which is Most Important For Success?

Strategy is the big picture game plan that you work out before the race starts and tactics are the decisions you make to execute the strategy.

Without boatspeed your chances of success are limited and this is something that you must have worked on during training and practice and prior to starting in a race.

Considering all three elements in the heat of a race can be overwhelming, but simplifying the decision-making process helps us focus on what matters most in the moment.

To have any hope of winning we must make unemotional, repeatable, high-percentage decisions that, coupled with solid boatspeed, will get us consistent results.

When working out your pre-race ­strategy, ther are four basic considerations. The big-picture weather forecast, current, geographic effects and the wind in which you will be sailing.

Track the wind patterns before the start, work out how big the shifts are, how long they last and what happens when there are changes in wind strength.

If the wind is oscillating, the favored end of the starting line becomes more important. Start in clear air near the favoured end, but the priority is to set  up for a quick tack to the right.

As an example, we want to go right after the start and have set up at the windward part of the line. Due to circumstances beyond our control it is no longer possible to be there, what we must now do, is work out where we can start in clear air but still have the ability to get to the right.

If the wind is steady and there’s no reason to sail to one side of the course, then line bias becomes the most important factor. If you don’t anticipate any major shifts, think of the favoured end as a head start.

Sailing in bad air toward the mark is often better than sailing in a clear lane in the wrong direction so constantly be reassessing where you are in relation to all the boats that you are competing against.

If there aren’t likely to be major wind changes, limiting your tacks and sailing in clear lanes becomes a more important strategy.

Just say your strategy is wrong, and this happens a reasonable amount of the time even to the best strategists. Don’t get emotional, quickly think about why it was wrong and update your strategy.

If your strategy isn’t working, there’s nothing wrong with observing what the ­good teams in your fleet are doing and letting them help you ­figure it out.

If your strategy has proven to be flawed re-connect with the pack and look for trends in their ­decision-making.

Watch and learn from those who have ­consistent success. 

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