Helping competing sailors to improve their results.
Brett Bowden is an author, entrepreneur, business broker, and yachtsman. Brett is a competitive yachtsman and has competed in many races and championships around the world and still owns several boats.
Brett Bowden is the author of “Sailing To Win” and lives in Victoria, Australia.
The traveller has two functions, it controls the boom’s angle to the wind and it steers the boat controlling helm and heeling in puffs and lulls.
The mainsheet controls the twist and then you use the traveller to position the boom on the centreline for maximum power and pointing as long as helm and heeling are within the parameters that give the best results for your respective type of boat.
As a general rule of thumb, as the breeze builds and mainsheet tension increases, the traveller will gradually be dropped to keep the boom on the centreline.
In medium conditions, the role of the traveller will expand to include control of helm. As the boat generates weather helm, drop the traveller to de-power the boat.
The position of the boom, relative to the centreline becomes irrelevant. In medium air, play the traveller aggressively to maintain the correct amount of helm.
Dump the traveller quickly at the onset of a puff, but then be ready to pull it back up as the initial power of the puff dissipates and turns into forward speed instead of heel.
If you leave it down too long you will miss the opportunity to point once the boat has
The beauty of using the traveller is that mainsail twist which is controlled by the mainsheet and which is vital to both speed and pointing, does not change, only the total amount of power.
The mainsheet is the “gross trim” adjustment for the overall amount of power.
As a general rule of thumb, on fractional rigged boats with large mainsails, the mainsheet is played more aggressively and the traveller is usually kept closer to centreline.
The mainsail trimmer continually makes adjustments to both traveller and mainsheet based not just on the overall amount of power, but issues like boat speed, waves, and even a tactical situation.
Now that most of us in the Southern Hemisphere have completed our National championships, our attention must turn to analysing our results so that we can improve for next years competition.
Some competitors will be more than satisfied with the end result but for most, now that they have competed on the same track with the best in their class, their minds will be turning to what they need to do to show up higher on the leader-board next year.
Of course most of us lament the fact that we did not have enough time on the water but a surefire way to shorten the process is to engage a coach. Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive venture for it to add immense value.
Step 1: Find the Right Coach
Consider avoiding a coach who has a personality similar to yours. Sailors often assume that understanding the sport will come easier when explained by a like mind, but benefits will come from those who notice your weaknesses. Seek coaches who are experts in your weak areas. For example, if you struggle with starts, look for a coach skilled in that area.
Step 2: Show Up with the Right Attitude
You’re not there to show the coach how much you know, you’re there to grow. Show up with an open mind, ready to improve or learn something new. Keep your emotions in check. they cloud the experience and distract from getting every bit of information from a coach.
Step 3: Come with Questions If you have a question, chances are that someone else does too. Either as an individual or as a team, spend time writing down a few questions to ask the coach. Having questions ready will help the coach make sure you get the experience you’re looking for.
Step 4: Debrief Take time to debrief with the coach and then debrief with your crew immediately afterwards to share thoughts and the biggest take-aways. Discuss ideas for improvement and make a game plan for implementing and practicing new techniques.
Step 5: Document & Implement Turn your game plan into a playbook for the boat. In addition to being a great resource , a playbook gives new crew ideas on how manoeuvres are made. The key to an effective playbook is to keep it simple with not much confusing detail.
ALTERNATIVE COACHING IDEAS
Video: Coaching doesn’t have to be expensive, take Go-Pro videos and have a coach review them plus trade and evaluate each other’s tapes.
Peer Review: Sailors can find coaches in their peers. Take turns making manoeuvres and then discuss what went well and what didn’t – exchange ideas.
Split Costs: Set up a few-days training session or a clinic for the fleet, and split the coaching costs.
Seminars: Take advantage of seminars, if there aren’t any in your area, call your sailmaker and arrange one for your local yacht club.
Holding on to a lead can be as much about your mindset as it is your speed or tactics. Being at the front of the fleet is daunting, but to stay there its important to focus on the little things.
The anticipation of losing the lead you’ve achieved can create a multitude of thoughts that are unrelated to sailing smart and fast.
The anticipation of success can come with fears that are unrelated to getting to that finish line such as “Will I maintain this success in later events? What will people say? Do I really deserve this?”
Outcomes are largely based on uncontrollable variables, like how fast other people are sailing.
When you find yourself in the lead, you did something right, you focused on variables such as wind-shifts, current, and fleet positioning or such controllable variables as your boat-speed, boat-handling, and keeping calm.
Once you’re in the lead, you don’t want to start doing something different such as wasting mental space on what place you will or won’t finish.
You can influence your thoughts, but not control them and over time, you need to form new habits in thinking, if you’re going to play mind games with yourself, play games that work for you, not against you.
Picture what you want to happen, rather than what you want to avoid and your mind programs your body for action.
Practice mental skills, these are like any other skills, could you imagine having good roll tacks without practicing them?
When you are racing upwind, the principal rule of thumb is to sail toward the next shift, on a run, however, you should sail away from the next shift because you are trying to make progress downwind, not upwind.
By getting farther away from the direction of the next shift you will end up on a lower ladder rung when that shift comes, and this means you will be closer to the leeward mark, one clear exception to this rule is when the next wind shift also brings an increase in wind velocity.
Your main priority should be finding the best pressure, once you take care of that you can play the shifts.
Gaining ground to leeward
One common thing that happens on a reach or run is when the boat behind sails higher than you want to sail. This forces you to sail above the VMG course in order to keep your air clear in front of them. The problem is falling into their bad air and then losing ground to the rest of the fleet.
To avoid this happening try two things, first, as soon as the other boat starts heading high, luff up sharply in their path to let them know there is no way you will allow them to sail over you. The windward boat believes that they may be able to roll over you, so squash that early.
The second thing to try is talking to the other boat, suggest they sail lower so that both of you can gain on the rest of the fleet.
If neither technique works and the other boat keeps sailing high, gybing is one way to keep your air clear and regain the ability to sail your VMG angle, but often this is not a strategic option.
The basic idea is to keep your wind (just) safely in front of the other boat, and at the same time try to work farther to leeward and away from them. In other words, pick a safe bearing to that boat and then try to hold this bearing constant while increasing your range (or distance) from them.
Sail your own race.
As they say, the best defense is usually a good offense. If you find the puffs, hit the shifts and sail your boat as fast as possible, there is little chance that boats will catch you from behind.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do is get overly defensive and reactionary, if you let the boats behind dictate how you sail down the run, you could easily miss the puffs and shifts and slowly lose your lead.
Instead, stay aggressive and proactive.
You want to minimize the amount of time that you sail in bad air and you should generally stay between your opponent(s) and the leeward mark.
Avoid Laylines and Corners.
When you get to the sides of the course you risk being cornered with no option to play wind-shifts, cover the boats behind, or avoid wind shadows.
The only time when the layline is a good place for the leader is when the boat behind gets there first – then it’s easy to stay between that boat and the mark.
Improve your Exit Angles
One of the most important steering techniques for downwind boat speed is exiting gybes. Your exit angle affects your heel angle and acceleration.
During gybes, you should come out just a bit higher than your normal course and accelerate before steering to your downwind angle.
Constantly Ease the Kite
A good spinnaker trimmer is always easing the kite until they see a slight curl in the luff, and then trimming in slightly to eliminate the curl.
Once that process is complete, they do it over and over again to ensure that the spinnaker is not over trimmed, which we all know is slow.
Experienced trimmers can even sense lifts and headers by constantly easing for a curl and watching the bow to see if the boat has turned.
If you ease more than normal before getting the curl, and the skipper sailed straight, you got lifted. If you get a big curl without easing, and without the skipper heading up, it’s a header.
Stating this aloud helps the helmsman immensely because he’s looking to gybe on lifts and sail straight on headers.
Sail Fast on the longer Gybe.
If you come around the windward mark and you are almost fetching the leeward mark, the last thing you want to do is sail below your VMG angle or speed.
If the wind shifted left or increased in velocity, there was a fair chance you would fetch the mark on starboard gybe. If the wind went right, you could gybe across the boats that sailed lower.
In either case you would gain the most by sailing fast down the run without worrying about fetching the mark until you were very close to it.
Sailing has always been tricky to get across to the spectator but now TackTracker can show every spectator what all the sailors know …. and more!
The spectator can be at the hosting clubhouse’s bar or restaurant, at home, the office, down the road in a cafe or even on another continent.
Coaches, sports lovers, friends, family and sailors researching their competition or sussing out the local conditions for the regatta they’ll be sailing in soon all love it.
TackTracker’s ability to bring the sport to the spectator means spectators now exceed many thousands for any significant event
TackTracker’s analytical features also add to the spectator experience. Spectators now understand what happened to their boat of interest out on the course but also all the other boats in the race. They now know the what’s, why’s and how’s!
Races can be embedded almost anywhere – on yacht club’s sites, sponsor’s sites, yacht class’ sites, local council sites, etc.
The lucky sponsors can have their logo on the races and a direct link to their site or a chosen landing page so that every time a replay is watched the sponsors logo and contact details are displayed again.
Considering the number of spectators TackTracker attracts, the number of races and the number of times races are replayed by spectators and competitors, this amounts to great exposure and a direct path to a sponsor. As a bonus this publicity is for eternity.
Ask your next sponsor if they will enable TackTracker-ing at your next regatta and make it a win-win.
With national championships and annual long distance races fast approaching we need to turn our mind to sailing in bigger fleets than we have been racing in all year.
Racing in big fleets requires a number of different disciplines to think about and master. In general you can take more risks in a small fleet and if you make a mistake you are not likely to lose many boats.
There tends to be more highly skilled sailors in bigger fleets, a faster pace and less opportunities to carry out your strategic plan so you need to adjust your strategies and tactics accordingly.
Some important considerations in big fleets are –
Be conservative, in a big fleet there are many other boats which influence your sailing so that you are often forced to take tactical decisions over strategic decisions. A conservative approach means not going for the best position or the best strategy but always being close to it, accept small mistakes or small disadvantages to avoid major mistakes. In the regatta, you may not win every race but by being conservative you will be able to avoid really bad results and be close to the top in most races. At the end of a series the winner often hasn’t won a single race but was always placed well.
Clear Air, this is a no-brainer to any competitive sailor but even more critical in a big fleet. In small fleets it’s much easier to get clear air, which means that more boats will have it but in big fleets, there will be heaps of boats getting slowed down by sailing in dirty air. Don’t be one of them.
The Start, there is more chance of a disaster in a big fleet and it is wise to avoid the ends as they are generally more crowded. Try to have space below and above you so that other boats cannot force you to tack away from the side of the course you have chosen. Tacking early can also cause you to lose ground which means losing many boats in a big fleet.
Boat Speed, set your boat up for the conditions and line up with a known performer before the start to make sure you have the settings right. You will not be able to win a big fleet regatta if your speed is not at least equal to the one of the top boats plus of course it is also easier to recover after a mistake. A word of warning though, boat speed doesn’t help you if you stuff up your start or sail in dirty air for a long time
The best preparation for sailing in a big fleet is to race in big fleets but this is not always possible so there are ways of training to prepare yourself.
When you are out practicing with other boats, simulate the big fleet by staying close together and also learn how to sail in dirty air. With a small practice fleet using a really short line is a good way to practice a big fleet start giving you plenty of boats in close proximity.
Train at holding lanes of clear air and practice how to stay in the windward position of a boat that is going high.
Learn how to go for speed to pace it with fast boats around you and get in the habit of putting the bow down a couple of degrees to get the water flowing over the foils thus generating lift.
Learn how to adapt to each situation and the sailing styles of boats and helmsmen around you, doing this helps you to hold your lane for a long time but also teaches you what you need to do when you drop in a leeward boat or get gassed by a boat that has come out from under your lee bow.
These are all situations that you will encounter regularly in big fleets so instinctively knowing what to do will ensure that you make to right split second decision every time.
Regattas generally bring with them diverse wind conditions, so crews need to be prepared to handle whatever the venue hands out.
Researching the most up-to-date forecasts, in combination with understanding the venue is absolutely critical in preparing for success on race day. Although it is great to speak to the locals about what to expect and by all means take this into account, but do your own research as well.
How many regattas have you been at only to hear the locals say, “its not normally ever like this”. What’s worth remembering is that they mostly only sail on weekends so their experience generally does not cover a week long regatta.
In fact if they had done the research they may have found that what you got is exactly what always happens. Having said that local knowledge can be a key weapon when dealing with current and knowing where and when to hide on the course.
Shifting from a heavy building breeze one day then down to light air the next can take a toll on even the best crews and staying connected is essential.
Understand the limits of technology, and as much as it helps, it can also hinder boat awareness so its important for the helmsman and crew to be aware with what is actually going on.
As an example, remember the basics and be aware of what the tell tales are communicating and how the boat feels as conditions shift.
Communicating weight management and sail trim relative to tactics and strategy in varying conditions will help keep the team focused on the impact their individual roles have in the outcome of the race.
Keep fun in the program. and make sure everyone is enjoying the day.
Dialing the rig and managing the tune as conditions build or diminish will have a direct result on how the boat responds in varying conditions. An important consideration may be the differences between symmetrical and asymmetrical car set-ups to take advantage of favored tacks in chop.
Whether races are in big breeze or light air, it’s important to know and communicate when it’s time to change gears along with changing conditions. Develop a strategy and be aware of what is happening both on the course and in the boat, then adjust as needed.
Looking at the water on light air days with little cloud cover, it’s easier to see a puff approaching because the extra wind causes the surface of the water to ripple and change to a darker colour plus it will be moving away from the source which will tell you whether it’s an approaching lift or knock.
It’s always a little more difficult as the wind increases in strength or it’s overcast but by continually observing the water whenever you are out sailing, you will get better at recognising puffs and their direction.
When you see a puff approaching even if it’s not your job to call puffs, it’s always good practice to run through the motions in your head, it’ll help you stay sharp the next time puff calling is your job.
When you see a line of breeze rolling down the course, there are four important pieces of information about the approaching wind that will make a difference to your helmsman and trimmers.
Is it a lifting or heading puff?If it approaches from 45 degrees or forward of your course, it’s a heading puff, from 45 to 60 degrees, it’s a median puff, and from aft of 60 degrees, it’s a lifting puff.
How much more wind is it? This helps the helmsman and trimmer know how much to adjust their trim and angle for the new wind.
How long will it last? This tells the helmsman and trimmer how long they’ll sail with the new trim.
When will it hit?A countdown helps the helmsman and trimmer time the adjustments they are making.
Calling puffs downwind is just as, if not more important than spotting incoming breeze upwind as you have more flexibility to sail higher or lower to meet the approaching puff.
When calling puffs downwind, ask yourself the same questions as you would sailing upwind: (Lift or header? How much wind? How long will it last? When will it hit?).
Make sure to converse with your trimmer and/or driver beforehand to determine the language that will be most helpful for them.
You have to remember that while you are looking up course, your fellow crew trimming the sails will likely be looking down course, or up at the sails.
Saying “puff coming on the right” might be confusing – your right, my right, course right, downwind right?
A good general rule is to call the puffs where they fall over the shoulder of your forward-facing crew members.
As an example, say”puff over your right shoulder,” this makes it easy for trimmers or helmsmen to look back over their shoulder to see the incoming breeze and react accordingly.
On a single handed boat you steer, trim sails, watch the instruments, read the compass, track the fleet, call the tactics and attend to a myriad of other responsibilities to get you around the course as fast as possible.
When there are two or more crew on a boat it is important that each sailors roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and understood.
On championship two-person boats, the driver steers and the crew does tactics. On a three-person crew, the forward crew and helmsman focus on trim, while the middle crew handles tactics and so the responsibilities get divided up as the team size grows.
Crew assignments should be based on the number, skill, experience, and interest of your crew. Each crew position should have clearly defined responsibilities during each maneuver, and maneuvers should be executed the same way each time.
In a perfect world you would have the same people in the same position for every race but unfortunately that is not always possible. In larger crewed boats you should work toward a nucleus you can count on and then pair new or less experienced crew with a regular crew member.
The key to developing good crew work is practice, its simply impossible to train crew during a race and you must practice to win, there is no other way. Go through maneuvers one at a time: tacks, gybes, sets, douses, reefs, sail changes, plus straight line trim and speed and then debrief after each training session to answer any queries that crew mates may have.
In a large fully crewed boat another effective practice tool is rotating crew positions. When you switch places, each will understand better what is going on and can anticipate the other’s needs during a race. Similarly, trimmers and drivers who trade places will better understand how they impact each other.
Don’t discount changing places occasionally in a one design, two or three person racing boat either, there is nothing like sailing in a different role on the boat occasionally to understand what is required or how easy or difficult the task of the other athlete is.
Find a tuning partner once you are happy that your crew roles and responsibilities are established. Sail parallel courses to work on boat speed, use cat-and-mouse drills to improve boat handling then engage in short match races to add competitive fervor.
The difficulty of boat handling increases with increases in the wind speed, so keep practicing until you are confident in all conditions.
Try to refine your techniques to reduce crew movement but pay attention to weight placement, either fore and aft to reduce drag or across the boat which affects heel. In many designs, heel affects waterline length and thus boat speed.
In most one design dinghies excessive heel creates drag and the boats must be sailed flat for optimum performance.