Recognising, Evaluating and Calling Puffs

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.

  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, and from aft of 60 degrees, it’s a lifting puff.
  2. 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.
  3. How long will it last? This tells the helmsman and trimmer how long they’ll sail with the new trim.
  4. 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.


Crew Assignments

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.



Read Situations at the Leeward Mark

All the good work of the upwind leg can be undone at the leeward mark.

Leeward mark rounding in a competitive one-design fleet can be a daunting experience and when a mix of boats are arriving at different speeds and angles it can be even tougher to work out who’s going to get there and when.

Learning to read situations as they develop comes through practice and with some clear thinking you can  make big gains at the bottom end of the course.

  • Begin the leg with the end in mind –                                                                                                                                                                          What are the priorities for the next leg? Get in phase with the oscillating shifts? Hold a lane to the advantaged side? Get onto the ‘long tack’ as soon as possible? The answers to these questions should shape your positioning against other boats on the leeward mark approach.

    For an early tack, avoid being overlapped outside another boat at the mark: drop early, weave around if necessary to break the overlap and exit tight on the mark so following boats cannot pin you out.

    If you are making a charge for the left hand side (in a port hand rounding), a tight rounding is only necessary if there are boats close ahead: a smooth arc gives better VMG.
  • Understand Rule 18 –                                                                                                                                                                                              Sailing Rule 18 is by far the longest and wordiest of all Part 2 rules. Its main purpose is to state when one of a pair of boats must give mark-room to the other. The boats must both be required to leave the mark that they are near on the same side, and one of them must be in the three-length zone around the mark.

             An inside right of way boat can generally push for the classic ‘wide in, tight out’ rounding: a keep clear boat cannot if the  right of way boat is close outside. If there is doubt about whether there was an overlap at the zone, the protest                    committee will go back to the last point of certainty.

  • Choose the right Gate Mark

    If one mark appears favoured, ask yourself why. If it is due to an oscillation, the only way to bank any apparent gain would be to tack immediately; this may not be possible. The boats rounding the ‘unfavoured’ mark will get straight in phase, and cross you on the next shift.

    Depending on leg length, if you are three-quarters of the way down the run and you can’t tell which one is favoured, there is almost certainly something more important to think about. Go back to point 1 and chose the mark that is going to get you on the tack you want.

  • Think Ahead

    Hoist the jib part-way in plenty of time to avoid last-minute fumbles, check the conditions early and get everything onto its mark well before the rounding – nothing is more frustrating than a saggy jib luff or in-haulers that need adjusting at the most important part of the beat when weight on the rail is at its most critical.

  • Use the Angle

    A gybe drop inside the zone guarantees an overlap on any boats approaching on the other gybe. Aim to hit the zone directly to windward of the mark and be prepared to slow down by sailing extra deep to give a little extra time.

    Avoid overshooting the layline at the last gybe in. If a gust then forces you down to or below the layline on the final approach, the gybe drop will be almost un-achievable for the crew.



When to Pinch and When to Foot

The  concept of going fast-forward in a lift, or pinching in a header, has been around forever.

When to Sail Low and Fast

Going fast-forward or making a bearing gain is a great weapon to have in your tactical arsenal, bearing gain is when make trees on your competition. 

To gain bearing you need two things:

  1. A boat that is capable of going faster when you put the bow down and a high-performance dinghy can make a better bearing gain than a heavy displacement boat.
  2. You need an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve by sailing high and slow or low and fast.

In a planing boat, such as a 505 or 470 there’s a fine line between going fast and sailing out of your lane and you need to set up your sail trim to be able to do both, the extra load put on your foils by going fast should help you hold your lane.

To reproduce the settings for a variety of modes and wind conditions, mark your sheets, backstays, and any other adjustments. If you spend a lot of time trying to get the sails set up properly, chances are you’ll miss a brief window of opportunity to go fast.

There are many different situations, but generally you are looking to go fast-forward when you know you are lifted and leveraged near a corner.

As an example, if you are sailing a long beat and have tacked on a lift to go toward the top mark, anywhere within 2 minutes of layline, you should work on gaining bearing with the fleet to leeward while also maintaining gauge on the boats to leeward.

Another time where you’d look to gain bearing is in a breeze where the shifts are oscillating within a 5 to10 minute period. Sailing fast across an oscillating shift allows you to maximize your leverage and use the maximum amount of the shift before the breeze oscillates in the other direction.

When it comes to which mode to sail in, the decision will be based around true-wind direction, heading and feel.

It’s important to be aware of what you’re doing when you’re going for


bearing gain because you don’t want to spear off into a corner potentially sailing extra distance for a shift that never materializes.

When to Sail High and Slow

There will be times when you need to know how to sail the boat two-tenths under target for a period of time.

Instances where this may be necessary include getting off the starting line, getting away from a leeward mark, when a boat is on your leebow, heading into a persistent shift or when you’re on a layline in the dirty air of a competitor.

If you are stuck in traffic, but wanting to go the the side of the course that the traffic is heading, you would intentionally sail a higher slower mode to play out the long-term tactical plan. More often than not, the high/slow mode is a traffic mode and you need to adjust you sail setup accordingly with traveller up and more sheet or vang tension.

Knowing your set up allows you to quickly and efficiently go from a normal, to fast, to high mode trim.

If you’re blindly sailing high and slow and gaining bearing, there needs to be the conversation of what is the tactical goal for the next three minutes and this needs to be constatly re-evaluated based on what is happening with the fleet.



As temperatures climb again, it is important to remember how important a regular intake of fluids is to be able to maintain performance capability.

The consequences of a lack of fluids –

Effects on mental performance

  • Mental tiredness increases, attentiveness and concentration decrease.
  • Co-ordination ability decreases; special manoeuvres don’t work anymore as they should
  • Decisiveness is impaired and this has negative effects on our tactical decisions.
  • Distances and angles are harder to judge and the chances of an incorrect decision increase. 

Effects on physical performance

  • The cardio-vascular and central nervous systems are affected, causing an increased pulse rate, lower blood pressure and loss of muscle strength.
  • Physical tiredness leads to lower performances in all areas; all movements become subjectively more strenuous. 
  • Even a reduction of the body mass, caused by lack of fluids, can reduce muscle strength by up to 6%.

The consequences of loss of water –

An 80kg sailor only has to lose 1.2 kg in order to feel negative effects on mental and physical performance.

Even with light physical effort under moderate conditions, say 18-22 degrees, the rate of perspiration equals 400ml per hour.

If we assume the sailor is on the water for 2 hours including the journey to the race and waiting time, even before the first race of the day starts, the critical limit of 1.2kg will be reached by the end of the first race.

Normal sailing clothing and sailing in warm areas will heighten these effects. 

If you are thirsty its already too late

Recent research results confirm that light dehydration can affect your mood,your energy level and the ability to think.

According to the opinion of hydration experts, our sensation of thirst does not occur before the body mass has reduced by 1-2%, and dehydration has already begun. 

At this stage, our mental and physical performance are generally already lowered.  


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.