Your Helm Has The Answers

The more you limit excessive helm or rudder drag, the faster you go and because of this, you need to evaluate what your helm is telling you. If you have excessive helm, the driver is working against the boat’s natural course and each movement of the tiller is creating drag. Helm on different boats varies quite a bit but one thing is consistent across them all and that is excessive helm equals drag and drag is slow.

There are 3 factors that contribute to excessive helm and these are:

  1. Sail Trim: The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail, when trimmed in, pushes the bow up into the wind. Using this knowledge, you must set your boat up in balance to eliminate drag by getting each sail to work with the other. Adjustment of each sail will affect helm, trim the main in and helm will increase, ease it and the helm will decrease. Using this information, consider other powering up and powering down factors such as vang sheeting, outhaul adjustment and traveller movement up or down. These too will affect helm so when you or your crew make these adjustments communicate with reference to the effect the new trim has had on the helm and thus drag and make adjustments to renew balance.
  2. Heel and Fore & Aft trim: Heel induces tug on the tiller and many boats load up quicker than others. Communication again is very important and you need to discuss the effect that sideways heel and fore and aft trim are having on the helm. Generally the flatter a boat is the faster it will go but you need to establish the transition point between windward and leeward helm, that’s the sweet spot and where you should aim to be. In light winds, you may need to establish a little windward helm to generate a little lift off the blades and this can be achieved by heeling slightly to leeward. As the breeze kicks, you will feel the helm load up so flatten the boat to reduce the rudder drag.
  3. Centreboard Position: In classes or boats where you are able to adjust centreboard depth or rake, pay particular attention to the effect that board position has on the helm. In boats where the board can be raised, by pulling the board up you move the centre of lateral resistance back which reduces helm and therefore drag. As a guide, when sailing in waves, a little bit of board up will ease the helm and alow you to steer more effectively around waves.

You should always be thinking about helm, by easing the mainsail, adjusting the centreboard or depowering you will be balancing the boat and achieving the best upwind performance


Roll Tacking – How and Why

Tacking the boat is one of the first things that we learn when we start sailing. We also learn what head to wind is and that most boats sail upwind at about 45 degrees to the wind. This is basic knowledge but is not something simply to be learned and never revisited.

Perfecting a roll tack is not easy, and has many parts to it. 

However, when perfected, your advantage over other boats is significant.

One of the biggest differences between a good roll tack and a great roll tack is the timing of the roll. 

Unless it is very windy, rolling the second the jib backwinds is not ideal for effective tacks.  Many sailors get really excited, and roll before the boat is ready.  It’s natural to think that the faster you start your roll, the faster the tack is.

 By rolling too early, you will get less help from the sails to turn the boat, and will actually steer the boat down with your weight while turning up with the tiller.  This creates a lot of friction with the rudder and the water, and you will have to steer much more to turn through the wind, slowing your boat down.  

Backwinding the jib helps the boat turn during a tack significantly, therefore, the longer you allow the jib to backwind, the less rudder you will have to use to steer through a tack.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to wait till the boat is at or just past head to wind before rolling the boat.  Waiting until this point will allow you to use less rudder, and will also allow you to use the wind to help roll over the boat.  

If you go earlier, you will roll the boat against the face of the wind, forcing you to use much more effort to roll the boat over.

There is no exact time to wait before rolling the boat over, and it will change depending on the wind.  For example, in light air, you want to wait a relatively long time before rolling over the boat, as it will take longer for the sails to help you steer through the wind.  

If it is really windy, you may want to cross sides quickly, as soon as the jib backwinds.  As soon as both sailors are hiking, you should not roll at all.  

Instead, you should still use the sails to keep power in the boat the entire time, and simply switch sides and start hiking, when the jib backwinds.


  • To initiate a roll tack, heel the boat to leeward to initiate the turn into the wind.
  • Steer smoothly into the wind and squeeze in on the mainsheet.
  • Uncleat the jib and be ready to move, as the boat reaches head to wind, both crews stay on the windward side. 
  • The sails will depower – the jib will flap first – and the boat will roll on top of you.
  • Remain on the (old) windward side until the boat has turned through the wind. 
  • Back the jib until the boom comes over and ease the mainsheet a bit as you begin to move
  • Keeping the steering smooth, centralise the tiller as both helm and crew now move to the new windward side.
  • Time your movements to be at the same time with the helm and crew hitting the new windward side at the same time.
  • Bringing the boat flat helps you to bear away onto the new tack without needing to over-steer.
  • Sheet in on the mainsheet as you flatten the boat; this is where you feel the speed gain. Set the jib for a fast mode then squeeze on once you’re up to speed.


Being fast upwind is usually the key to winning and tacking well is an essential component of this upwind speed.

As is always the case with sailing, there is no limit to how often you can practise tacking and still improve.

Even at the highest level of our sport, this basic manoeuvre can be the difference between victory and defeat.


Getting Value From a Coach

Using a sailing coach to get better does not have to be expensive. Coaching is an investment that will pay dividends whether it be to work on a particular aspect of your sailing or to prepare for a club, national or world championship regatta.

There are a number of steps that you should take to gain the greatest benefit for the time and money you will invest:

  1. Find the right coach: you need a coach who will be an expert in the areas that you are weak in and not someone who gives you the answers but someone who guides you in the process of improvement and who can help you find the answers from within yourself. Be open to change, sometimes you need a coach whose personality is different to yours but the biggest changes come about from coaches who can spot your weaknesses.
  2. Questions: Don’t arrive at a training session with a blank sheet of paper hoping to be lectured to and the off chance that the coach may touch on something that you believe need improvement. Every sailor will achieve more from the session if the coach can address what the individual or team is interested in.
  3. Come to the training session ready to learn:  Many sailors come to training and treat it as a necessary chore, come with an open mind and be ready to learn something new. You need to keep your emotions under control, you are not there to show the coach how much you know, you are there to add every bit of knowledge you can.
  4. Know all roles on your boat: You are being coached to improve your sailing in your chosen position but knowing what is expected of your teammates will help you to work more efficiently together. You should pay attention when the coach is talking about a manoeuvre that doesn’t involve you.
  5. Debrief: Have a get together with your teammates after the coaching session to talk over what you have each learnt and then formulate a plan to implement and practice to make those new techniques second nature.
  6. Make notes: One of the best ways to guarantee that new ideas are remembered is to write them down. Have a notebook and put down what you have learnt in your own words. Don’t be afraid to make sketches if that helps you to remember better.
  7. Video and voice recording:  Get your on-water sessions videoed, even use your mobile phone to record as much of the session as possible. When you are having the debrief with the coach and then the debrief with the crew, at least record the sound and then rewatch or relisten at a later date. You will be amazed at what extra benefit you will gain by hearing and seeing it all again.
  8. Further ways of learning to get better: Watch videos of sailing events with your team and critique them. Sail with your fellow competitors from time to time and see how they sail and manage their boat. Attend seminars run by clubs, sailmakers and other class associations. Attend training clinics with other sailors not necessarily run by your chosen class, there is plenty to be learned from those sailing in differnt boats than your own.


Trimming Sails Together

Generally, on boats that are going slow, one sail will be much looser or tighter than the other or conversely, it might be flatter or fuller than the other.

Fast boats have similar depth in the main and jib as well as similar twist profiles. It is worth noting though that even if conditions don’t dictate flat sails, flat sails trimmed well and together will still be faster than mismatched sails. Matching sails keeps the slot a similar distance apart from top to bottom.

The best way to match your sails is to talk in terms of power, and the main trimmer or the helmsman usually make that call.

The main trimmer should communicate power to the jib trimmer as an example say, “Perfect power”, that lets the jib trimmer know we are trimmed to the sweet-spot, if a lull comes and you have to trim harder to get more power, communicate that and if the wind lightens off call “searching for power” which alerts trimmers that it is time to adjust controls such as outhaul and jib cars to create more depth and power in both sails.

Other controls that have an effect on power are the vang and cunningham and as the wind lightens off both will need to be eased. The reverse is true as the breeze increases, the controls that were eased when you were powering up need to tightened to depower but as always the contols for each sail need to be adjusted in unison.

Helm load information is another way to talk about coordinating sail trim. If the boat is heeling too much and the helmsman is feeling too much helm, they should mention it to the main trimmer so they can depower the main, which reduces heel angle and reduces helm.

If the main trimmer needs help from the jib trimmer, for example, if the backstay is already tight and the traveller is down, that information gets passed forward.

Communicating what’s happening with the backstay and traveller queues the jib trimmer to adjust the jib to match the new mainsail twist profile.

Small changes to the backstay and traveller need not be communicated but big changes warrant adjustments of both the main and jib sheets.

It doesn’t make any difference which person makes the call as long as the sails are adjusted together, you’ll be faster.


    Using a Race Compass

    You win sailboat races by sailing faster and less distance than your opponents and to sail less distance, you must have a good feel for the angles.

    Many sailors develop this feel visually over time but not everyone retains this visual information.

    A compass gives you a precise tool for the angles and there  are dramatic gains and losses due to wind shifts in various situations, even with small shifts. As an example, a 5° shift results gives the favoured side an advantage of 12% of the lateral separation.

    On a 200 metre starting line this equates to a 24 metre advantage. If you sail a 5°  header for one minute you will lose at least four boat lengths to a boat on the lifted tack. 

    A compass gives you a quick reference for decisions in the stressful moments, such as after starts and mark roundings. 

    A compass helps you find marks, check the starting line, and sail the lifted tack.

    A compass helps you find marks, check the starting line, and sail the lifted tack.

    Many sailors say that using a race compass is just one more excuse to keep your head in the boat. You should be looking around constantly, integrating all the data about sailing angles, wind strength, and competitors.

    You can train yourself to recognize slight headers and store a mental picture of the average wind direction in your head and remember that when a permanent shift occurs, your previous compass data on average wind is useless. 

    The verdict

    Use a compass, but learn to use it as one input, and keep your head out of the boat.

    The compass has helped even on small  lakes opr bays, as the lake or bay gets bigger, a compass becomes more important, since there are fewer shore references to use as bearings. 



    Before you round any mark, it’s essential to visually locate the next mark, not only is this critical for your next-leg strategy, it will have a massive impact on how you approach each mark rounding.

    As an example, at the weather mark, you must ask yourself whether you should round inside other boats so you can do a gybe set, or outside so you can do a bear away set. Having visually sighted the next mark prior to rounding will determine which approach you’lll use immediately after rounding.

    The worst thing you can do tactically is round the mark and then search for the next mark, you lose any tactical advantage you may have had and in fact run the very real chance of being smoked by the boats behind you.

    A classic mistake is not realizing that you can lay the next mark on one tack or gybe so any distance you sail away from the proper course is time and distance wasted.

     If you go around the windward mark and do a bear-away set for example, you will lose a lot of boats if you later realize that your competitors are gybe-setting and laying the nextmark.

    One team member must be given this specific responsibility every time you approach a mark, their job is to locate the next mark visually while there is still time to plan your upcoming rounding and strategy for the next leg.

    Once they have the mark in sight they must describe that mark’s location to the rest of the crew. They can do this by identifying a visual reference point or unique geographic feature behind the mark.

    If you are sailing a set course, such as a windward and return, you can calculate a compass bearing while still on the previous leg to give the helmsperson a bearing to the next mark once rounded, this is especially important if they can’t see that mark.

     Follow these mark-rounding principles and when the fleet converges at a mark you will be able to avoid the chaos that often ensues due to having a plan already mapped out.


    Calling Puffs – Courtesy SailingWorld – November 2017


    When you see a puff approaching: First off, 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.

    1. 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. From aft of 60degrees, 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 adjustments they’re 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. 

    For 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.


    Preparing For A Big Event

    We are coming to the time of the year when many classes and clubs have their State, National and World Championships. Quite often travel to events both locally and Internationally adds a layer of difficulty and preparing a packing list is an important part of being ready to race.

    In every case, preparation is one of the key ingredients to your chances of a great result. Champions succeed because of the preparation made well ahead of time.

    Selecting and training with the right people as crewmates is perhaps the single most important factor as part of your lead up preparation. They must bring skills that you may not possess, be ferocious competitors plus have tactical and boat handling skills.

    For those with the luxury of time before an event, there is no substitute for time on the water, this improves physical fitness and gives you a psychological edge based on being at one with each other and the boat.

    There is nothing worse than turning up at an event feeling as though you are “underdone” and it would have been better to have trained as hard as the teams that you will be competing against. In many cases, some competitors are  afraid of the competition because of their preparation and see their potential result being poor accordingly, as is often said, “where you aim is where you end up”

    In one design racing, you will be pushing your boat to its limits so all the checks and tests you do with your gear prior to turning up to an event give you the confidence to reef on the extra inch of sidestay tension or other control knowing that everything can take the loads.

    I have seen many teams turn up at an important event only to spend the first couple of days working on their boats whilst the better-prepared teams are out sailing, getting used to the local conditions, lining up against rivals, tweaking their boat and generally getting their head in the game so that when the first gun fires they are as good as they can be.

    Fitness counts for more than most sailors realise, a current world champion once told me that his fitness was his main “secret weapon”. He said that he would be hiking just as hard on the last windward work as he was on the first, he also went on to say that his less fit rivals would be sitting up, no longer able to swing hard, the result of this was that he would be faster.

    Great preparation guarantees you will be more relaxed, ensures a good result and as a bonus makes the regatta fun.




    Steering well is an art, and particularly steering well across a wide range of conditions is something that only the best have mastered through countless hours on the water.

    It’s important to have a steering position where you can see as much of the sails as possible and when sailing upwind you need to have your head as far outboard and forward as you can while still being able to steer comfortably.

    You need to view the luff of the jib upwind and the edge of the spinnaker downwind.

    In light airs, the telltales should be your primary focus and it’s imperative to keep them flowing constantly, wind shear (the wind twisting or changing direction vertically) is common in lighter airs and the telltales can behave quite differently as they go up the sail. This is where twist becomes very important so that the telltales all break at the same time for the full length of the sail.

    As the wind builds and the boat is moving through the water more easily, we can begin to work more on height and VMG  toward the mark. The helmsman can now afford to let the windward telltales lift a little.

    In heavier conditions, the helmsman must concentrate on the angle of heel, the flatter the boat the better, and easing the mainsail, lowering the traveller or pulling on the backstay if fitted will depower the boat.

    The important point for the helmsman is to keep the water flowing over the foils and to not slow the boat by pinching. When a gust strikes many helmsmen feather the boat then ease the mainsail when the right response is to ease the mainsail in anticipation of the gust, gain speed then trim back on once the gust has passed.

    Downwind it’s the helmsman’s job to work with the trimmers to keep the spinnaker, whether Symmetrical or asymmetrical, operating at the optimum angle for the best VMG.

    It’s common for inexperienced helmsmen to pull away when they see a collapsing spinnaker when in actual fact the sail has collapsed from lack of pressure.

    The key to good helming is concentration and to focus on telltales, sail shape and angle of heel. One excellent drill practised by many top flight coaches is to get their sailors to either practice without the rudder fitted and to sail the boat with balance and sail trim alone.

    What we as sailors need to be always aware of is the fact that excessive rudder movement acts as a brake and the more manoeuvres we can do with a minimum of rudder movement will ensure that the highest possible speed is maintained throughout tacks and gybes and on the course in general.





    Strive To Be Lucky

    In memory of the great and eloquent Dr. Walker who died on Monday aged 95.

    Luck, wrote longtime columnist Dr. Stuart Walker (1923 – 2018), is a fundamental, but a manageable element of every race.

    When Paul Elvström raced with Aage Birch for the Dragon Gold Cup at Marstrand, Sweden, in 1958, he decided that Sergio Sorrentino, of Italy, was the fastest and that they were the next fastest. The Cup would be won by whoever won the final race, and on the final beat of that race, they alternately crossed each other until, “by pure luck,” according to Elvström, Sorrentino crossed the finish line ahead.

    “When things go like that, and it is luck who would win, then we know that and we don’t have to be disappointed,” he said. Elvström’s confidence, his trust in himself, his remembrance of all the times he had won, assured him that he should have won, that only luck could enable a competitor to beat him!

    The attribution of an outcome to luck is a means of expressing an unwillingness, on the one hand, to assume responsibility for a success or on the other hand to take the blame for a mistake. But it is also a means of retaining power. It’s not that I lost control and that you controlled me; it’s just that this time luck [a higher power, totally unrelated to me or you] usurped my usual control.

    We give lip service to the fun of participating in a story filled with surprises and of accepting the role of luck in the outcome, although our actual purpose—disguised, deep down, hidden from view—is to control the entire game and to beat the hell out of our opponents. (Just don’t let anybody know.) We do not actually believe in luck, but we know that it’s better to have luck on our side than against us.

    The confident feel lucky; they presume that things will go their way. And expecting the best, they assume that whatever has happened has happened for the best. They rig the past to make themselves look good and after a mistake or a failure, they proceed to get on with the race and the series without undue condemnation. Free of preoccupation with irrelevant matters, they are alert to what does matter.

    Consider, for instance, the luck involved in the winning of the Olympic gold medal in the Dragon Class at Kiel, Germany, in 1972. After the racing was over, John Cuneo, wishing to show his appreciation, invited the team meteorologist to come aboard his boat to see how he had used the plastic overlays that the met man had provided. But the met man was horrified to find that Cuneo had won the gold medal by overlaying his daily wind predictions on a deck mounted chart, upside down!