Take Your Sailing to the Next Level

If you want to improve your results and strive to get to the next level you need to dedicate many hours to the sport, even if you can’t sail every day, making a commitment to sailing as often as possible and in as many conditions as possible is the key.

Play to yourStrengths and improve on your weaknesses.

It is important to know yourself, are you introverted or extroverted? Understanding your personality type will help you determine which people you will have a good rapport with and this is necessary to create effective communication on the boat.

It’s helpful to know that people recharge differently, so allow those who need an hour to themselves post-race to have it.

Find out What you Love outside Sailing

Finding common interests will connect you to other like-minded sailors in the sport and provide you with a healthy outlet from the constant grind of racing.

Maybe its playing another sport like golf, fitness training at the gym or even a game or two at the snooker table.  Giving back to the sport by assisting with junior training and coaching or even getting involved with a club working bee helps you to connect with other members of the sailing fraternity.

Observe how Pro Sailors Behave:

The more you observe how the pros conduct themselves and operate, the more you will understand how to be part of the smaller team within the larger team if you are sailing on a multi crewed boat.

Slowly gain trust by asking questions and being accountable, the key here is to ask, never tell!

Your observations of teamwork on the boat and how systems can be improved could save the day but as per the previous sentence, the way the information is passed on is just as important as the information itself.

Be careful not to become negative:

It can be hard, but don’t let your emotions get in the way,  know how to react in tense moments or when things go wrong, add some humour into the program – it will go a long way.

It isn’t worth holding a grudge or badmouthing anyone in the sport, the more you overcome a bad race or regatta with good humour the more people will want to make you part of their team or circle.

Develop a wide range of skills:

Try to work in as many positions on the boat as you are able including mainteneance, navigation and even a stint on the bow. By doing this you never stop learning but above all you become a much more valuable member of the team.

Pull your weight physically:

Good nutrition, hydration and regular stretching are a great investment not to mention exercise.

Speak to a trainer who understands our sport, explain what you do on the boat and get them to design a sailing specific set of exercises with durations that will match up with the bursts or sustained energy that you need in a typical event.

Concentrate on balance and strength.

Whilst on the subject of health, don’t neglect your skin and live by Slip Slop Slap. We are seeing more and more sailors with skin cancers and its worth noting also that sun and saltwater age sailors quickly so attention to covering up will pay dividends in later life.

Develop a Support Network:

It is great to have both Male and Female fellow sailors who you can vent with and discuss aspects of your sailing.

It’s helpful to speak with someone who has experienced what you have and when you are in a race whether it be a short round the cans event or longer passage event remembering back to those conversations will help you push through.

Having someone on the boat who can back you up by stating that you know what you are doing can be really helpful in building trust amongst teammates.

Make Notes:

When you return to a specific sailing venue you will realise how important it is to keep a sailing record. Find a system that works for you and keep specific notes for boats sailed and venues raced.

Keep track of specific boat setups for conditions that day and any discoveries you or the team made.

The next time you return to that venue or boat, you will have an easy refresh before practice and can quickly appraise any new teammates of what to expect.

Buy a beer for someone or go out of your way to help someone, especially at clubs, sail lofts and boatyards. Simple acts of kindness open the door to making friends in the sport and industry.

Sometimes the favor is returned in a cross on the race course or with sail setup, advice on maintenence issues down to borrowing tools, spare sheets or fittings.

Sometimes it’s returned as an invitation to sail a Wednesday night social race or can lead to racing a bigger regatta or event at some time in the future.

Make  your commitment to the sport known and don’t be afraid to follow up.

If you have a positive work ethic when the going gets tough and the willingness to own up to your mistakes, you will get called.








Setting Sailing Goals

Sailors, regardless of their respective age and skill level, are always looking for that edge over their competition and a simple investment of time setting sailing goals could lead you to a guaranteed, measurable improvement of your performance on the racecourse.

Many of us don’t  set goals for our sailing because this is our recreation time and setting goals makes it like a work project.  I have found that setting definitive goals for sailing means you are  more likely to end up sailing more and as a bonus sail better in races which means you are having more fun.

Athletes know that goal setting is essential for making consistent progress in their athletic performance, because goals provide direction. The primary reason for goal setting is to provide the motivation and commitment to improve one’s personal sailing performance. A goal serves to remind you where you are going and how you plan to get there. 

Once you have set the goal, and you are serious about it, then the next step is to plot out steps to get there.

One of the first things to do before the start of each year is to get a calendar and set up  a schedule around sailing. By doing this you will certainly get out on the water more often and your crew will be able to plan their year as well, it is important to share this with training partners and other competitors in your fleet so that you can all work together to build on your improvement.

Don’t be shy to pencil in some training time, regattas that you want to attend and of course some not so serious sailing with friends and family. If you are working up to a state, national or world championship, when filling out the calendar make sure you consider time constraints and other responsibilities, such as school, work and family.

You must be realistic as well, there is no point scheduling regattas and times to go sailing that there is little chance of you or your crew being available, doing this is a great way to set yourself up for a fall. When you are not able to sail at many of the times that you marked in your calendar, you will get to the event thinking that because you didn’t do everything you had planned, that you are underprepared so you will already be defeated.

Another goal of the calendar should be to not only include sailing times and events you are intending to compete in but scheduled maintenance and fitness and gym times as well.

If you enjoy being competitive then you should always try to shoot for the next higher rung on the ladder but if you are not a serious racer and simply enjoy getting out there and having fun with friends, that’s fine as well and is probably what the majority of people should be shooting for anyway.

The process of determining the steps to reach your goal will define how easily that goal can be achieved but l if you are not honest in plotting the steps, this business of goal setting might not be for you.



5 Sailing Tips

Tip 1: Stay Focused

A lapse in concentration at a critical time in a race can cost you several places and although this sounds obvious it is impossible to give 100 percent concentration all the time. 

If sailing in a crewed boat don’t let conversations wander away from the race and this is just as important for the time on the water before the start.

A similar situation is relevant in a single hander, once you are on the water get in to race mode and avoid seeking out mates for a chat prior to the start.

This concentration on the job in hand is equally important as the race nears the finish line as it is prior to the start and those competitors who stay focused to the end are the ones that often pull a rabbit out of the hat in the closing stages of a race.

Tip 2: Nutrition and Hydration

Whether you are racing around the cans in a dinghy or one design keelboat or doing a Sydney to Hobart the correct food and fluid intake is essential to your performance.

Without the right type of energy in the form of carbohydrates to cope with the job in hand, you won’t be able to perform at your best.

After a period of intense effort and concentration followed by relative inactivity even the fittest sailor will feel tired and make poor decisions.

Remaining correctly hydrated is really difficult if you are working hard on the boat and quite often by the time you are thirsty you have generally been dehydrated for some time and dehydration affects your mental acuity.

If you have ever watched the Tour De France notice how often the riders take sips of fluid and have a snack. Our sport  is no different to the riders who tackle climbs and then downhills when they can rest a little.

Sailing also requires bursts of energy followed by periods of relatively less energy needed, so fuelling reularly throughout the race is essential for peak performance.

Tip 3: Develop Your Knowledge

Be a student of the rules and read articles and books on tactics, sail trim and class specific blogs and articles. 

To get better results in your sailing, learning should be incremental and ongoing, many of us get stuck and turn up each week expecting better results without having put in any effort to improve our knowledge.

Most of us have busy lives and have little free time for studying our sport so each week concentrate on one specific topic and work on that.

Tip 4: Mix It Up

Sail on different classes of boats, sail with different people, swap positions on the boat and sail at different clubs wherever possible.

You will be amazed at what you will learn and bad habits and weaknesses developed from sailing against the same people at the same club in the same waters will become obvious.

When you come back to your regular boat and crew you will re-evaluate many aspects of your sailing and the new found skills and knowledge will re-invigorate the whole crew.

Tip 5: The Blame Game

Sailing like many other sports is as much about mental preparation as it is about the physical and many wins, decent regatta places or potential miraculous recoveries have been thrown away by blame causing arguments in the boat which distract from concentrating on the race.

If you believe that your boat is slow, you aren’t fit enough, you are too heavy or too light or you or your crew is tactically weak and you have a bad result, it is easy to fall back on those reasons to justify what happened out on the water.

Blaming a member of your crew for a mistake that cost you places, through to anger at the sailor who barged you on the startline putting you at the back of the fleet is counterproductive and takes your focus away from the race, get over it quickly and get on with sailing.

In those situations, an after race de-brief away from the heat of the moment will prove to be an awesome learning  exercise and help to ensure that when a similar situation arises again that you will be mentally prepared to dig out and sail hard to negate the damage caused to your race.





5 more Sailing Tips

Tip 1: Don’t line up on the Starboard Tack Layline too early

Hitting the layline early means you will probably end up overstanding and the bigger the fleet the more damage you will do to your position.

In many fleets it’s possible to make the mark if you tack on to port just underneath the boats that are overstanding – but if you are going to do it make sure you are outside the three boat length circle and if you need to luff to shoot the mark, be careful not to go beyond head to wind. 

This tactic generally doesn’t  work on the first beat in a big fleet as the fleet is still relatively bunched up, although, if you can pull it off you can gain a large number of places.  This is where planning and keeping you eye out of the boat and up the course is really important.

As a word of caution, watch out for any gamblers piling into the mark on port and be prepared to sail round the resulting carnage.

Tip 2: Pick the Correct Gate

When you bear away at the windward mark you should have already worked out whether the left or right side of the course  is favoured.

In a big fleet, picking the right leeward mark will be essential, where possible pick the mark that is closer or is on the side that you believe will be favoured on the next upwind leg.

If you don’t have a plan you could end up pinned on the wrong side of the course at the same time losing places to dozens of boats.

When approaching the mark keep your head out of the boat and work out where the boats in your vicinity will be at the mark, be prepared to consider the other mark if you end up having to deal with a sudden wall of boats.

Tip 3: Continually evaluate weight distribution

Correct Fore and Aft trim is critical to boat speed and especially on light air days where dragging the transom or the large flat sections aft can create severe drag  which will, slow you down.

Weight distribution athwartships should not be ignored either and be mindful of the boats lines and work out the perfect angle of heel to get the best maintainable speed.

Just because you sail on a heavy boat, don’t ignore weight distribution. Roll tacking a 12 or 15 metre boat will be guarantee that you will be fast out of tacks at the same time maintaining the highest possible boatspeed .

Tip 4: Acceleration from Gear Changes

Avoid getting caught in another competitors windshadow or getting buried in disturbed air especially after a poor start.

To get out of either of these situations sheeting in and attempting to point high is always counterproductive, even in a lightweight boat.

You need to ease sheets and bear away until you’ve gained some boat speed to get clear or found clean air.

Tip 5: Practice to find your boats high and low upwind modes

Being able to maintain VMG while pointing higher than usual – or lower than usual – gives tactical control over other boats around you and helps to keep clean air.

Don’t be tempted in a race situation to overdo it, any more than 3-5 degrees in each direction will put you on the conveyor belt towards the back of the fleet.


Five further Racing Tips to Improve Your Sailing

When you want to kick your sailing performance up to the next level, many sailors think first of spending money – buying new sails, replacing gear, or even buying a new boat.

In most cases a number of small and easy improvements in your technique can yield great results using the gear that you already have.

Tip 1: Be Consistent

Always try to balance any risk you are thinking of taking against the potential gains, fellow competitors who have inconsistent results tend to be those that take too many risks.

When they get a run of good luck they are at the front of the fleet, but all too often the risks they then take don’t pay off and they end up mid-fleet or worse.

If your own results aren’t consistent, there’s a good chance you are being let down by a small number of mistakes and identifying these can be very revealing, helping you to finish  a long way further up the fleet.

Tip 2: Duck or Tack

When heading upwind on port tack you need to know well in advance whether to tack or duck upon meeting a starboard tack boat. You should always be thinking about what you would do if you meet a starboard tacker and so this emphasizes the importance of having your head out of the boat and knowing where the boats around you are at all times.

If you’re on starboard and want to continue on that tack, don’t let a port tack boat that’s on collision course with you tack under your lee bow, call them through and duck their transom if necessary.

Tip3: Post race Analysis

Always analyse your days performance in a race when you get back ashore. When you have a great result make a list of the major contributing factors to that success, conversely when you have a bad day, list the reasons why and then learn from your mistakes.

If sailing in a crewed boat, this process helps to improve communication with the team and is an excellent opportunity to air issues that may have arisen in the heat of competition. A bonus of this is that if there has been a problem during the race, there is a chance to air the grievances when blood pressure has subsided and everyone is in a more relaxed mood.

Tip 4: Sort the boat out

Everything in your boat must work flawlessly. You may train hard working on weaknesses but if the boat is not up to scratch any gains made by crewing improvements you have gained  may be lost during a race if a fitting or system fails or jams.

An advantage here is that psychologically, your team knows that if they push extra hard that the boat will not let them down.

Make sure that the bottom and foils are fair and smooth and that the rig is properly set up to class specs. Sails need to be as good as they can be given their age and past use.

Having the boat looking good and presenting well will make the crew feel good about sailing it and that is important for crew morale and performance.

Tip 5: Look After Yourself

Have the right clothing and equipment for the boat you are sailing on and for the conditions. Make sure that the gear you bring with you will cover the full range of conditions that you expect to encounter, the key being preparation. 

If you are cold or wet and not comfortable, you can sail at nowhere near your best and in fact if you become really uncomfortable you probably wish you were somewhere else as well.

Good quality gear can sometimes cost a bit more than inferior stuff but generally lasts quite a lot longer with the bonus being that you will enjoy your sailing more.




Week One – 5 Sailing Tips To Improve your Sailing (of 20)

When you want to kick your sailing performance up to the next level, many sailors think first of spending money – buying new sails, replacing gear, or even buying a new boat.

In most cases a number of small and easy improvements in your technique can yield great results using the gear that you already have.

Over the next four weeks I will give you some sailing tips to help improve your performance, this is by no means an exhaustive list but will give you some worthwhile things to work on.

Tip One: Practice Boat Handling

This does not need to involve hours of drills and practice – 15 minutes spent practicing your weakest manoeuvre before the start of each day’s racing will rapidly pay dividends.

Once this first manoeuvre is nailed, you need to find another weakness  to work on.

Buy or borrow a  GoPro camera in a waterproof housing, this is an ideal self-coaching tool and will reveal both your strengths and weaknesses when played back after a race or training session.

Tip Two: Hoists, drops and gybes

Getting gybes right in a single-sail boat in all weather is an essential skill as is perfecting hoists and drops in a boat that carries a spinnaker. Practice done outside of race conditions will always give excellent returns.

The boats with polished crew work in this area always gain an advantage on their rivals in a race especially in pressure cooker situations whatever the weather. Practice manoeuvres using a mark or some other point to replicate race pressure.

Tip Three: Mark all Settings and build up a tuning Guide

Your tuning guide will be a work in progress that will be continually refined over the course of your racing life.

A great starting point is to get a guide for your class or type of boat from your sail maker and then refine it to suit yourself and your crew. This refinement will come from your own on water experiences.

Everything should be marked – halyards, sheets, vang, outhaul, shroud tensions etc. Like the tuning guide, it’s the beginning of an ongoing process that sees both sail trim and boat handling improve as you gradually refine the markings.

Tip Four: Mark Roundings

You will be amazed at how much time is lost at mark roundings and this even goes for some great sailors. One of the biggest mistakes is failing to follow the basic ‘wide in, narrow out’ principle and thereby allowing other boats inside, added to that  uncoordinated sail handling by not planning ahead or leaving it too late will cost you plenty.

Sometimes an early drop will set you up to pass the boats in front, the small amount of time that you lose without the extra will be more than compensated for by an orderly roundng.

Planning ahead for your mark rounding will also pay dividends, plan where you want to be in relation to the boats around you least halfway down the leg.

Tip Five: Practice Starting

Getting away with clean air and runway below you at the start and on the first beat gives a valuable early advantage plus starting without being boxed in allows you to re-jig your plan if something changes immediately after the start.

Get a reliable transit and don’t be afraid of being half a length ahead of the boats around you as most hang back too far. Have a dedicated yachtrace timer and know how to use it.

Do time on distance drills and get to know your boats head to wind, tacking and gybing manouvreability and above all know the rules. 


Listen to Your Teammate(s)

Published on FEB, 2018

2004 Olympian Carol Cronin reviews how the balance of ego and communication contributes to the functioning of a successful team.

At a recent Snipe regatta, Kim Couranz and I counted up the number of lines we each control. Her total? Sixteen (eight on port tack, eight on starboard). My total? One.

Giving Kim all the controls except the mainsheet allows me to concentrate on steering and trimming, without the distraction of the many other adjustments required to keep the boat going fast as wind and waves increase or decrease. Of course, that means I trust her completely.

So why is it still so hard to listen to her excellent advice about what to do next on the race course?

I’ve been dodging the answer for years, because the truth is a dirty word: ego. Even as a former crew with attitude, I have trouble taking input from the front of the boat.

Taking over the tiller gave me the same irrational belief in my own abilities that every skipper I’ve ever sailed with has. And that can wreak havoc with my listening skills.

Read the balance of the article  


Changing Gears

In sailboat racing, change is continuous, you have puffs, lulls, lifts, headers, bad air, waves, tacks and so on.

It’s rare that you can set the boat up and sail for too long without changing something, to go fast you must constantly adjust the trim of your boat and sails. We actually use many different settings to cover the full range of conditions in which we sail and to change from one gear to another, we usually have to make multiple adjustments. 

As an example, when you sail into a lull, you typically ease your mainsheet and bear off slightly and when the wind increases, you trim in and head up.

When you get a lull you don’t put a softer batten in the top pocket of your mainsail or change your mast rake, you might do these things when you set up on the beach when you expect light air, but they are not normally considered when changing gears.

A mistake I see out on the course more often than I should, is heads in the boat changing major settings; generally no change you will make on a beat will make you enough extra distance to make up for the distance lost whilst making the adjustment. It is worth noting that in a race of 60 minutes, with 4 upwind legs that you will only be on each upwind for about 8 -10 minutes. 

An exception to this is of course if there has been a major change in the weather.

In sailing it’s relatively easy to set your boat up so it will go fast in one particular condition, as long as the wind and waves remain constant, it’s not hard to zero in on the sail shape and other variables that get you to optimum upwind speed.

The problem is that conditions almost never stay constant.

You may get your boat going fast in one condition, but if you don’t adjust things when conditions change, you will not be going as fast as possible, that’s why the ability to change gears is so important for boatspeed.

The best sailors might be in the right gear for 90% of a race whereas the sailors at the other end of the fleet might be in the right gear only 50% of the time, or less.

Clues for when to change gears – 

  • Trust your sense of feel, indicators like pressure in the helm and angle of heel will tell you a lot about whether the boat needs more or less power
  • If your performance relative to the nearby competition is not great, there’s a good chance you are in the wrong gear.
  • Look for visual clues, many changes that require a gear change are things you can see before they reach you (e.g. puffs, lulls, waves) so keep your eyes open.

Most racing sailors are  good at “shifting up” when they get an increase in wind pressure as puffs are generally easy to see and their effect on your boat is  easy to feel.

The ability to change down is a different story, and this is where the best sailors make their biggest gains. It’s harder to detect decreases in the wind, so most sailors don’t downshift soon enough or far enough, as a result, they compound the negative effects of sailing into a lull.

Therefore, if you want to get better at changing gears and going faster for a greater percentage of the race, I recommend you work hard on shifting down.

Try to shift sooner, more quickly and further when you encounter lulls, bad air, waves or any other situation where you might slow down.


Starting Strategy


I have copied below, excerpts from an interview with Mike Holt, multiple 505 world champion who is renowned for getting awesome starts and having an uncanny knack of digging himself out if things go wrong during or just after a start.

  1. Describe your overall start strategy

For me, whether it is a line or gate start I am focused on ensuring having a runway to leeward and being at full speed when I start. I then want to be able to climb when I can and foot when I need to. Getting to the next shift in good shape and aiming to control my destiny.

  1. Tell me about your favourite tactical moves you use in the start sequence.

Generally, I will look to impose myself on the boat to windward, I will look for a boat that is a weaker link and use them as a buffer. Basically, invade their personal space.

  1. What are the most common ways competitors get into trouble on the start line?

By being bullied by another boat and ending up without any leeward space. And or being caught too close to the wind with no steerage.

  1. What is the crew’s role in the start sequence?

Feed information and make sure the boat can still move. Talk about time, where there are gaps, who may invade your space and attempting to work out time on distance to the start.

  1. How do you hold your lane off the start line?

The key to this is in making sure you can get to full speed at or before the start. Once racing in a crowded area you have to keep moving between height and speed, too much of one over the other will get you in trouble. Height, height, speed. Repeat until the space around you is acceptable to sail your own race.

  1. If you get baulked or get a far from satisfactory start, what do you do to recover.

It’s important to recognize this quickly and then stop the bleeding. Tack, take sterns and look at your options. Unless you are utterly convinced that left is the way to go, in that case, suck it up and sail fast, Better to go slow the right way than fast the wrong way.

  1. Talk about risk-taking in a start, e.g balance that with the favoured end, clear air, favoured side of the course.

I don’t like taking any risks.

  1. In general and not necessarily related to the start, what’s the single most important thing that a sailor looking to improve should concentrate on?

This is boat dependant and also individually related. For me and sailing performance boats, fitness and the ability to operate the boat at 100% for the entire race.


The ‘Doppler’ Windshift Effect – by David Dellenbaugh

On a beat, the speed at which you converge with shifts (and puffs) is roughly equal to the sum of the wind speed plus your VMG to windward. In this case, that’s 10 (windspeed) plus 5 (VMG), or 15 knots. But on a run, the convergence speed is the wind speed minus your VMG to leeward. Here it’s 4 knots (10 minus 6). So on a run the shifts are coming at you several times more slowly than on a beat, so you will experience that many fewer shifts.

We all know what happens when a train comes toward us at full speed with its horn blowing, at first the sound is very high pitched, but it drops quickly as the train passes by and becomes quite low-pitched while the train speeds away.

The reason for this is what’s called the Doppler effect. The sound waves in front of the train are compressed very close together, which results in a higher pitch. Behind the train, the sound waves are much farther apart, resulting in a dramatically lower pitch.

The Doppler effect is a useful analogy for what happens on a windward-leeward course. When you sail upwind, it’s like being on the front of the train, since you are sailing toward the wind, you will get the shifts and puffs at a faster rate than if you were sitting in an anchored boat.

Conversely, on a run you are sailing away from the wind, so you get the shifts and puffs at a slower rate, that’s like what happens after the train passes the point where you are standing.

Though you won’t hear any changes in pitch when you go from beating to running, you may notice some subtle changes in the wind. To illustrate this, let’s consider an example, suppose you are sailing around on the starting line and you find that the wind is oscillating every five minutes.

As you sail up the first beat, will the shifts come at you at the same rate?

The answer is no. Since you are sailing towards the shifts, you will get them faster, perhaps every three or four minutes.

How about when you round the windward mark and sail down the run?

Since you are sailing away from the shifts, you will get them less often, perhaps every 7 or 8 minutes!

The strategic implications of this phenomenon are significant. For example, if there are 8 minutes between shifts when you are sailing downwind, it is possible you will only see one shift on the run and if you get only one shift on the run, it means you should treat that as a persistent shift even though the overall wind pattern is oscillating.

The ‘Doppler’ wind shift effect also explains why better pressure is so critical downwind. Since you are sailing with the wind, you won’t see so many puffs, but you can stay in one much longer than on the beats, therefore, getting into the puff and using it fully is critical for optimum performance.

On a beat, the speed at which you converge with shifts (and puffs) is roughly equal to the sum of the wind speed plus your VMG to windward.

In this case, that’s 10 (windspeed) plus 5 (VMG), or 15 knots. But on a run, the convergence speed is the wind speed minus your VMG to leeward. Here it’s 4 knots (10 minus 6). So on a run, the shifts are coming at you several times more slowly than on a beat, so you will experience that many fewer shifts.

Dave publishes the newsletter Speed & Smarts. For a subscription go to