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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How To Keep The Playing Field Tipped In Your Favour

 

To do this in Sailing, you need to have the experience to prioritise what you should be working on.

You need the resources to travel to where the best competition is and to have the best possible equipment that you can afford.

You must also be prepared to put in the extra training time necessary so that you are just a little more prepared than the other teams.

When you are planning a season or leading up to a championship, you must prioritise and set realistic goals and work gradually but inexorably towards them. 

The important thing here is staying on track, not panic if you are not progressing as quickly as you had hoped, and not making drastic changes.

Importantly, work with your team to set a training schedule that will not see you burn out or put stress on your theirs work or personal relationships.

Make a list of your weaknesses and prioritise those, that when mastered, will give you the greatest gains. These may be the things you enjoy doing the least but will see your greatest overall improvement.

An example may be gybing in heavy air which in the past has seen more than your fair share of swimming. To fix this would be the difference between a tail end result and a personal best in a heavy air series.

Another habit to develop is arriving for the days sailing early so your boat preparation is perfect, you can relax and get your head into sailing mode, observe and plan for the day’s weather and then being the first boat out on the course. 

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HOW TO SET SAILS – THE CONTROLS AND THEIR EFFECTS

Excerpts from an interview with highly accomplished Dinghy through to Maxi Yacht sailor and North Sails sailmaker Michael Coxon.

What’s the most important sail control and how does that vary from class to class?

The most important sail control for any boat is the sheet tension. Where the sheet tension will tend to control the twist of the sail and the general drive of it, you can actually then use the subtler controls. Those controls include the outhaul and the Cunningham eye.

One very important thing depending on the boat is mast bend and how you achieve the mast bend.  If the mast bend is achieved through having a backstay, it makes the exercise fairly easy.

If it’s a non-backstay boat it will depend on things such as boom vang, again, sheet tension; it will depend on if you’ve got control of the mast at the deck. In other words, can you control the pre-bend in the mast whether through a lever or a chocking system?

Another big variable is rig tension. By increasing rig tension you’ll put more compression through your rig and increase, obviously the tension, but also the pre-bend in the rig.”

How often during a race do you adjust your settings and what indicators tip you off to make the changes?

Depending on how you’re going is how often you’re going to adjust it.

If you feel comfortable, you’ll tend to not play with things that much. You might make subtle adjustments for conditions. I find that if I feel that I’m off the pace, that’s when I’ll get more aggressive in what I do. 

My golden rule in one design, it doesn’t matter who the boat near you is, sail yourself boat relative.

I don’t care if that boat is regarded as one of the front markers or one of the back markers. If he’s got an edge on you, use your eyes. See where his traveler is. See where his pre-bend is. How much forestay sag does he have?

The other rule I always have is that most races have two or three beats in them.

 So many times I’ll come back to the club afterward, and someone will say, “Ah, I was really slow off the starting line.” And I’ll go, “Okay, so you were slow off the starting, so how were you up the second beat?” “Oh, really slow still up the second beat.” I’ll say to them, “Well, what did you change?” “I didn’t change anything.” I’m back here asking you now. I say, “Well, what you need to do is whether you change something for the better or the worse, if you made a change you would have learned.”

Once you are comfortable and well-positioned on the run as a team, you need to debrief the beat. If you do identify you had a problem, for instance, you might say, “I think we had a height problem. We were good through the water, but we had a height problem.”

If I was on my Etchells, the first thing I’d say, “Hey guys, we’ve got to look at whether we have to control the forestay sag a bit more, so perhaps we should straighten the mast up a little bit with the mast lever and that will instantly give me more forestay tension.” We also might want to take the rig tension up a little bit.

While you calmly think about that down the run before you get to the bottom mark and the action starts again, you’ve made some adjustments. You’re ready to round the bottom mark. You’re in a new boat and you restart again.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

Twelve Actions That Will Improve Your Sailing Skills

 

You are unlikely to win every race you enter but you can learn something new every time you go out on the water. For the champions of our sport, learning is one of the most rewarding aspects of competition.

  1. Race as many different boats and classes as possible. Different boats react differently concerning changes in sail trim, boat handling, and reaction to waves. Sailing in a large variety of boats will deepen your understanding of what controls do, steering outcomes, and crew requirements.
  2. Watch Races. You will learn plenty from watching races from a coach boat or reviewing videos of sailing events. Sometimes you will learn more than you would have learned if you were actually competing.
  3. Champions are happy to share their knowledge so don’t be too shy to ask questions in the boat park after a race or in the bar.
  4. Two boat training with predetermined exercises and outcomes is a great way to learn quickly about what you need to do to get as fast as possible. This is especially useful in one-design boats but can also work with two different types of boats with known performance parameters.
  5. There are plenty of seminars, webinars, and Zoom meetings that you can attend and many have interactive Q&A sessions where you can ask for further clarification of concepts that you may not have fully grasped.
  6. Discuss a race from start to finish with your crew or even reconstruct it in your head and note down details and learnings for future reference.
  7. Keep a journal that you enter after each race or regatta. Things to record include the boat set up, conditions at the venue including wind speed, sea state, current, size of the fleet, and the sails you used. Record other factors relevant that will help you analyze and remember what worked and what didn’t.
  8. One of the easiest ways to get faster in your chosen class is to copy the top performers in your fleet. Watch how they prepare, how they set their boat up, when they leave the beach and what they do before the start.
  9. Sail with the best sailors from your fleet on their boats and occasionally get them to sail on your boat with you. Any feedback they give you about your boat’s setup will be invaluable. 
  10. As part of your journal, keep photos of great ideas and layouts on other boats. Keep a video library to study sail trim and sailing techniques. This does not need to be restricted to your class and a lot can be learned from other types of boats.
  11. Save articles from magazines and read them again and again, join relevant sailing websites and forums and be proactive in commenting and asking questions.
  12. Get involved in your clubs learn to sail program and share your knowledge. It is often said that “you don’t really know something until you can explain it to someone else”

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How to Approach a Regatta in Big or Small Fleets

 

Interview with Glenn Bourke to give us some insight into championship and regatta strategy. Glenn is currently the CEO of the wildly successful Hamilton Island home of Hamilton Island race week. Not only is Glenn a successful businessman but he is a high achieving competitive sailor with multiple Olympic, World and National championship successes to his name.

  • Brett – Do you approach a regatta differently in big or small fleets?

Glenn – A little bit. I guess I’ve predominately done most of my sailing career in big fleets. And I certainly have a system that I employ in big fleets, and some of it’s applicable to small fleets, and some it’s not so applicable.

For example, before technology in boats, I used to start maybe a third or a quarter down from the favoured end of the line, or a quarter up from the favoured end of the line if it was for the pin.

The reason for that was that usually there’s a bulge at the top end of the line or the bottom end of the line if it’s favoured quite a bit.

You can generally get yourself clear air and away off the line and not be seen by the committee boat if you start a little bit away from that mad pack that generally goes over the line early.

So you might call it a conservative start, it’s probably not the Hail Mary start, but it’s one whereby you tuck yourself away and if the whole fleet goes, you’re probably not seen from an OCS or maybe you’re not an OCS because you’re behind the line, but they’re bulged out underneath you.

You’re still clear and going, but you’re not in the ruckus of the chaos at the end of the big fleet. 

In smaller fleets, I think you can have the opportunity to be a bit more aggressive and to take the favoured end of the line because there’s not as much carnage there, and you can pre-manoeuvre and do whatever else you need to do.

Some of it depends on who is your main competition, if it’s a small fleet and everybody’s even, then you want to get the best start. You want to get into the first shift first.

If it’s a small fleet, and there’s one other competitor that’s tough, you want to make sure that you get a slightly better start than that person so that you can control them up the first beat and take advantage of getting off the line a little bit better.

  • Brett – What are some big fleet basic strategies? If you’re sailing in a regatta, obviously, it’s going to be a number of races. 

Glenn – There’s a number of them. First of all, you’ve got to be fast. In a big fleet, if you want to get to the front end of the fleet, you have to be fast.

If you can jump out of the start and clear yourself, tack across a group of boats and get into a really clear position, you ought to take that opportunity and do it straight away.

It depends where you end up at the first mark as to what your strategy might be after that.

You can’t compete in a big fleet unless you’re fast because you’re going to get spat out and then you are just going to be looking for crumbs on the table rather than being assertive in your strategy or where you’re putting the boat compared to the fleet.

It also changes from the beginning of the regatta to the end of the regatta.

At the end of the regatta, you’ve got to be more perfect. At the end of the regatta, you’ve got to watch your opposition.

You make a transitional strategy from being very fast, off the line well, getting to the first shift and trying to get around the top mark in good order.

At the beginning of the regatta, you are watching where your competitors are, being generally in the right place, being generally a bit more conservative and covering their moves rather than necessarily trying to get the perfect regatta or the perfect race under your belt.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

How To Work Out The Favoured End Without Instruments

Getting a great start in clear air can be the most important part of your race and knowing the favoured end and determining how much it is favoured will help you settle on your starting strategy.

Some of the many considerations to ensure a great start are current, where other boats are congregating, the size of the fleet, wind speed and any anticipated shifts.

Of course, there are many other factors to take into account as well so a lot of thought and preparation needs to be given in the lead up to the gun going off.

Instruments to ping the line (if legal in your class) can be of enormous benefit but I believe that you should also be able to use your compass only to work out the line and a couple of methods are set out below.

Going Head to Wind on the Middle of the Line: To carry this out, sail down the line from the boat end about a couple of boat lengths to leeward, when you get to the middle of the line, ease the sails and point directly into the wind. Once you are on the line and at right angles to it, see which end the bow is pointing to, that will be the favoured end. 

A variation of this is to carry out the same procedure but a number of lengths below the line. Doing this will make it easier to determine which end the bow is pointing to and will also keep you clear of heavy traffic on the line in large fleets. A disadvantage here is that there may be boats above you feeding back bad air making it harder to get an accurate reading.

Going Head To Wind On the Line But at an End:

The leeward end is probably the easiest end to carry out this check as generally there is less traffic there. Go head to wind beside the pin and use the angle of your transom to the line to determine the favoured end. If the imaginary line at right angles to your heading is above the start boat the pin is favoured and vice versa if the line is behind the start boat.

This will also give you an idea about how favoured one end is from the other and if the bias is not that great you may decide to start a little away from the favoured end where the chances of a clear air start are greater.

Using Your Compass:

Sail accurately down and on the line from the boat end noting the compass heading, then add 90 degrees to that. 

The angle of the line must be compared with your measured True Wind Direction which you have ascertained by getting a head to wind reading.

One clear way of demonstrating this is if you have a shifty wind, with the line laid to be approximately on the average wind direction.

Say that the wind is periodically shifting ca. 10 degrees on either side of this mean direction.

When the wind is on its maximum left shift of 10 degrees, clearly the port end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees. Conversely, when the wind is on its maximum right shift of 10 degrees, the starboard end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees. 

Obviously, in a shifty wind, the wind direction measurement must be repeated at intervals, so that the changes in the line bias can be monitored and from this, a good attempt can be made to evaluate the best starting approach.

A Method to Use if You Don’t Have a Compass:

Often referred to as the Sheet and Cleat method. Once again, sail down the line from the start boat end and set your sails until they just start to luff. Either cleat them or take a note of exactly where the sheet is through the turning block. When you reach the other end of the line, tack or Gybe and head up the line in the opposite direction without adjusting the sheets. If the sails are luffing, the start boat end is favoured and if you need to let the sails out to get the telltales flying, the pin is favoured.

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SAILING TO WIN!

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

If You Sail Your Boat Flat You Will Be Fast

This article was written by super coach ADRIAN FINGLAS during his time as Head Coach at Royal Brighton Yacht Club.

We have all heard the old saying flat is fast, once the boat is powered up and sailing upwind the flatter you can sail your boat the faster it will go.

A common sight from dinghy to one design keelboats is often the winning teams will always have the flattest sail set up and the least angle of heel.

Watching a world-class Etchells fleet race from a coach boat is always interesting, the fast guys are easy to find as they are the least heeled over.

Small dinghies can be sailed extremely flat and the best teams practice for hours just perfecting keeping that exact angle of heel perfect. Steering and mainsheet trim are the two controls constantly being changed and monitored in our small boats.

We have many different controls that can assist in keeping the boat flat and they all have different effects.

One control and the biggest that’s overlooked is steering accurately with the power you have – I call steering a primary control and generally had the biggest effect on power.

If you are overpowered and heeling too much in a dinghy or a yacht you steer closer to the wind luffing the jib slightly and reducing the power and angle of heel. A yacht or a dinghy that heels over makes considerable leeway (drift sideways) very quickly compared to a yacht sailed flat.

We can be losing so much distance and speed to our opponents if we are heeling too much. In stronger breeze, it is not uncommon to see the top helms luffing the first 6 to 8 inches of the jib as they sail upwind. This is keeping the power and angle of heel under control.

A boat set up poorly with too much power can be like a bucking horse – very difficult to control. Too much sail depth is the common mistake made in most setups. The sails always look much flatter onboard than from the coach boat. When you see a boat from behind you will be surprised how deep the sails are.

Our secondary controls must be pulled on very hard to stretch the sails flat to reduce power. Listed below in order of importance to reduce power on a big boat.

  1. Backstay on
  2. Traveller down
  3. Outhaul on hard lower mainsail shape must be flat
  4. Cunningham on hard to hold the draft position in the sail forward of 50%
  5. Jib cars aft making the jib flat in the bottom third
  6. Jib halyard on hard, no wrinkles, this holds the draft position forward in the flying shape
  7. Vang – vang in a dinghy to yacht has radically different outcomes, the vang has much more effect on the dinghy rig compared to a yacht rig.

A sail is a soft flying wing so holding the flying shape in the correct position with your controls is key.

I have an old saying – except for very light winds wrinkles are slow. Keep the sails smooth, we don’t see planes flying around with bumps on their wings.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win Yacht Racing

The Boom Vang & It’s Importance

Depending on the boat you sail, the boom vang will be one of the most important controls to determine the twist of your mainsail. 

As we go from sailing upwind to across the wind and then downwind, the difference in mainsheet tension will determine how much the boom will try to lift as you ease the sheet and this is where vang tension plays its part.

When sailing upwind, different amounts of twist in the mainsail are needed depending on wind strength and sea conditions and as a rule of thumb, in 10-12 knots of wind the main telltale should be breaking 50% of the time and not much or any vang will be needed.

In order to replicate settings for each wind strength and angle of sailing to the wind, it is important to have marks on the vang rope as a reference for the correct amount of tension to control the leech of the mainsail for the current conditions.

When you sail into a lull, the mainsail begins to stall and more twist is needed so the main sheet is eased until the tell tail eventually flies but with the vang on, the mainsail moves to leeward closing the slot. With the vang left slack, the boom is able to rise and the mainsail twists at the top without losing power from the lower sections of the mainsail, and without dropping the boom to leeward and closing the slot.

In light wind and choppy conditions have the vang on hand tight to stop the boom from bouncing but constantly check that your twist is correct by watching your tell tales.

As wind speed increases, the twist is controlled by a combination of sheet and vang tension.

In heavy air where your traveller is completely to leeward and you are still easing mainsheet to keep the boat upright, the mainsail will begin to flap  when the mainsheet is eased. Pull your vang on to tighten the mainsail leech to stop it from flapping while keeping power in the leech. You are in effect driving off the leech of the mainsail.

In these conditions ensure your outhaul and Cunningham are pulled on hard and your backstay (if you have one) is at maximum to flatten the mainsail as much as possible without inverting it.

When reaching, the vang is the main control which effects mainsail twist. As your boom is eased beyond the quarter of the boat, the mainsheet is no longer effective at holding the boom down, so the vang takes over.

On a run, the boom is even further out and the mainsheet is now completely ineffective at controlling mainsail twist, pull your vang on to keep your top batten parallel to the boom and this keeps the mainsail fully projected to the wind.

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When, Why & How to Take a Sailing Penalty

Having a good knowledge of the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS) will help you avoid infringements but unexpected incidents on the racecourse can happen and will jeopardise your results thus you will need to take decisive action.

When to take a penalty – When another boat protests, you have to make an instant decision whether to take a penalty or not. If you are unsure, taking a penalty is the easiest solution – hoping for the best and doing nothing is a risky strategy and likely to see you in the protest room and perhaps blown from the race.

How long do you have to take the penalty – If the Sailing Instructions say nothing about penalties, the default is RRS 44, and 44.2 states that penalty turns should be taken ‘as soon after the incident as possible’.  Be sure to get well clear to avoid impeding other boats, especially at busy mark roundings.

Types of Penalties – Make sure you have read the sailing instructions. Is it one turn, two turns, or a scoring penalty? Unless otherwise specified in the Sailing Instructions, the penalty for touching a mark (RRS 31) is a one-turn penalty. When boats meet and other infraction penalties are also spelt out in the SI’s so read them diligently before heading out, you will not have the time or perhaps the ability to do so in the race.

How to take the penalty – During training, practice penalties to ensure that in the unfortunate case that you infringe, that you will lose as little distance as possible.  Although a penalty must be done immediately, that does not mean it needs to be taken in a blind panic. Think through whether it is better to tack first or gybe first – in most instances the tack first is the better option, but there are situations where gybing first will put you in a better position on the fleet.

Preparation – Use the time while sailing clear to prepare the boat for the manoeuvre, ensuring the crew are aware of your intentions, the sheets are clear to run and you are ready to ease the vang if the breeze is up. If you are on a downwind leg, you should also consider how you want to exit the penalty and ensure the spinnaker and pole are set up ready. On a symmetrical boat, you may be able to leave the pole on by executing a leeward drop, then you are ready to hoist immediately after the penalty. The alternative is that it may be better to do a windward drop so you can hoist out of the last tack without the pole and do the last gybe with the spinnaker drawing.

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TO WIN THE START, DON’T BE WHERE OTHERS ARE

Most racers believe that they must always start at the favoured end but the favoured end is the crowded end and the crowded end is where most of the bad starts happen.

Inshore races nearly always have oscillating winds shifting back and forth and if the starting line is set anywhere close to square to the mean wind direction then just about any point on the line can be a good place to start.

You don’t need to win the start in order to win a race and the goal of the start should be the ability to go straight to your preferred side of the course at full speed with the freedom to tack on the shifts.

A typical scenario is when the race committee sets a decent line about square to the first mark, one boat at the favoured end takes the start and every other boat crowded in that end has less than the perfect start.

Some start behind, some are forced over early, some are caught barging and circle out, some get back-winded and tack into the header, and worse some get fouled.

Meanwhile, it’s really easy to start down the line where the others are not and this might be good for the second or third-best start in the fleet still giving you plenty of options to sail your race not dictated to by the position of other boats. 

How to work out where the others will not be:

Look at their wind shots to determine where you think they will start and watch the traffic patterns during the starting sequence.

There might be many boats on the left half of the line at two minutes but if they are all tacking to port and heading right, the left might soon be clear.

If, on the other hand, you are on port at one minute and a large pack of boats are luffing on the lower third of the line, keep going on port until you get to the least dense area.

One of the reasons this works so well is that many skippers have the attitude that they have to win the start at all costs and they are convinced they can win the pin or win the boat. 

By getting a clean start, race after race you will always have options and be able to put your game plan into effect heading to the preferred side of the course and not being dictated to by other boats.

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Competitive Sailing Sailing To Win

ALWAYS HAVE A PLAN FOR THE NEXT LEG

Excerpt from “Speed and Smarts” Newsletter issue 131 –               David Dellenbaugh

Almost every sailor realizes the importance of making a strategic plan for the first leg before they start the race but how many of those sailors also develop a strategy for every other leg in the race?

It’s tough to make a game plan for the second leg before starting the race, but you should do this sometime before you begin that leg. It’s much too late if you round the windward mark and then ask your crew, “OK, which way should we go on the run?”

By that time, you have likely missed your best chance to pursue the optimal strategy. Instead of waiting until the last minute, look ahead to the next leg several minutes before you reach the mark.

 Talk about what you see (e.g. wind pressure and the angle of other boats) and discuss your tactical and strategic options. It’s good to do this early since certain mark-rounding moves (e.g. a jibe set) require some planning before you get to the mark.

Your strategy for the next leg doesn’t have to be complex; it could be something simple like, “We will do a bear-away set and play the right side of the run where there is more wind.” Or,

“We are going to round the leeward mark and then tack to get the shift on the left.” It’s critical to do this before you round the mark because it often affects the rounding you make.

Use your next-leg strategy to plan the rounding and an ‘exit strategy’ is especially key at gates.

There are two important things that you must do every time you round a mark and they are 1) get around that mark as fast as possible, and 2) set yourself up to sail the next leg quickly.

A fast rounding is not helpful if it means you must sail the wrong way at the start of the next leg, so it’s key to plan your rounding with the next leg in mind.

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