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!



Hailing for Mark – Room is Not Required

SS Rules Tip 1

Rule 18 (Mark-Room) begins to apply between two boats when the first one enters the zone at a mark, and it says the outside or clear astern boat must provide mark-room.

Note that rule 18 never requires an inside or clear ahead boat to make any kind of hail for mark-room.

There are only two rules in the rulebook that require a hail: 1) Rule 61.1(a) when you must hail ‘Protest’ to another boat, and 2) rule 20  when a boat must hail if she needs room to tack at an obstruction.

So a boat that is required to give mark-room must provide that room whether or not she hears a hail.

However, it can be helpful for the boat entitled to mark-room to make a hail to that effect.

Even though it is not required, a hail can remind the outside boat of her obligation to provide mark-room, and it can help avoid a messy situation where both boats think they may be entitled to mark-room.

Communication between competing boats is often helpful even when it’s not required, especially in tight situations such as mark roundings.

By proactively talking with nearby boats you can often clarify each boat’s rights and avoid risky situations.


Staying Out of Trouble

This one’s a classic: If you’re the outside boat of a group approaching the leeward mark and blindly carry on with pace, you’ll sail extra distance in bad air, carry wide around the mark, and then exit in a terrible lane.

This is one of the rare times when it pays to slow down and let other boats move ahead.

To kill speed, take your ­spinnaker down early and steer a little extra distance. If you’re slightly advanced on the group and they barely have room, you can slow down a lot by steering hard, swerving back and forth, and swinging wide to slow your boat and kill time.

Once you’ve slowed, let the pinwheel unfold, and watch as the boats swinging around the outside become pinned and stuck in bad air. These boats had room on you, but because they are now pinned wide from the mark, they can no longer make a tight ­rounding and close you out.

When you can round the mark tightly without fouling those boats (because you don’t have room), sail toward the mark, ideally reaching a little bit before rounding so you have speed.

You will now be on the inside track going upwind, no doubt passing a boat or two. More importantly, you’re setting yourself up on the inside track for a nice beat.

One cautionary note: When slowing down and waiting for your opportunity to round inside, there might be boats coming up from behind with no room who want to speed into the gap you’re ­shooting for.


They might not slow down and wait their turn, so be sure to communicate to them that they have no rights, thus saving yourself the drama of an ugly foul and big pileup.


SAILING PRINCIPLES divided into Tactical and Philosophical.

With Special thanks to Mike Hobson – J Boats, Chesapeake USA.


  • Sail on the tack or gybe that points closer to the next mark.
  • Sail in clean air.
  • Sail toward, and in, the most wind pressure.
  • Keep manoeuvres to a minimum.
  • Form a game plan where you want to be after the start and first leg. What is your goal?
  • Be flexible. Even though you have a game plan, be ready to change.
  • A general rule is to be up-current of the rhumb line.
  • Cross the pack when you can. Take the advantage when you get it.
  • Get a clean start; allow yourself the start so you can execute your game plan.
  • Avoid the lay lines too early in the leg.


  • Go fast, don’t let outside distractions interfere with your boat speed.
  • Sail fair, don’t break the rules. Like Elvstrom says.
  • Stay out of trouble with competitors. Focus on getting around the course the fastest.
  • Relax, and keep it fun.
  • Think ahead; be observant of what the fleet is going to do on the next wind shift.
  • Don’t panic, be patient, wait for opportunities to develop.
  • Be prepared; have weather, current, sailing instructions.
  • Don’t think too much, rely on your experience.
  • Don’t gamble or get greedy.



Boatspeed requires a combination of sail trim, accurate helming, and good balance and trim. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

The problem is that settings for a particular wind speed in flat water won’t work in big waves, nor in light airs.

Just like riding a bike you need to be able to change gear to suit the conditions.

Acceleration gear is used when sailing upwind in waves — each wave will tend to slow the boat — and after coming out of a tack it can take precious seconds to build up to target close-hauled speed and wind angle, depending on the boat.

Acceleration gear is also often needed in extreme conditions — either lots of wind or very little — when it’s difficult to get the boat moving.

This gear is achieved by sailing with bow down trim, with sheets eased to suit and with slightly fuller sails, with Cunningham and outhaul eased if the acceleration gear is to be used for any period of time.

Another aim should be to work on basic manoeuvres in light to moderate wind strengths — up to the strength at which moderate hiking is required.

Roll tacking and gybing are crucial skills for dinghy sailors, especially in light and moderate conditions — the boat should emerge from the tack faster than when entering it.

Mark rounding is also important — make sure you follow the ‘wide in, narrow out’ principle — it’s amazing how many otherwise relatively good sailors fail to do this.

Spinnaker hoists, drops and gybes are really crucial to clean mark roundings, yet few crews practice them outside of races.

Having done this, then aim to master the same skills for super light weather and for strong winds.




Of course, there are some things you can do by yourself in areas such as boat preparation, sail shape and boat handling but it is almost impossible to improve your boatspeed very much by working alone.

For you to make substantial progress on speed development you need to line up with two boats side by side. The best way to judge your boat’s upwind or downwind performance is to compare it to the performance of a similar boat sailing in the same conditions.

As part of your pre-season, pre-regatta or championship preparation it is important to include another boat in your plan.

Ideally, you and your tuning partner should put together one or more training days to carry out a systematic test of various sail-trim and rig settings through a range of different wind conditions.

An important part of the training days is the keeping of notes to refer back to and then having a de-brief to discuss what each of you found to work and not work.

Prior to the start of individual races, it is essential for you and your tuning partner to sail part or all off the first leg of the course making sure that you each have the fastest settings for the conditions.

However, if time has beaten you or there has been a quick turnaround between races even a three-minute line-up before the start of the next race will be extremely helpful.




I recently re-read the following article by the late and great Paul Elvstrom and have reproduced it here because I believe that if we can internalise these points we will go a long way to overcoming our feelings of self-doubt and self-belief on the race track.

You must not believe that a fellow competitor is better than you. If he is currently sailing a little faster than you, you have to say to yourself that this is just happening at this moment, soon it will be my turn to be faster.”

“In a regatta it is important to sail in the practice races and to show your worth and always arrive at a regatta a number of days before the event, sail around the course and tune your boat. This will not go unnoticed by your adversaries.”

“When lining up against practice partners or other competitors sail your hardest and you can bet that your fellow competitors may get a complex about you.”

“You must always keep your spirits up and say you are hurting after a long beat just remember that so are your fellow competitors.”

“If you are behind in the fleet and you are tired and hurting, remember so are the guys in front of you.”

“If you get a bad start you must still go the way that is the fastest, you should not get flustered and start taking chances or going off on a flyer, never do the opposite of what the leading boats are doing in the hope that you may pick up a little advantage.”

“If you are sure the leading boats are going the right way then all you have to do is follow them. If you think they are going the wrong way, of course, you shouldn’t follow them.”

“It is really important to recognise the difference between good and bad luck and also skill and good fortune.”

“It is important that when you have a bit of good luck, recognise it for what it is because in the next race or leg you may not concentrate or think it through as thoroughly.”

“Don’t keep clear of the better sailors on a run for fear of interfering with them, compete hard and sail your own race taking all factors into account.”




You Can Win Without Natural Talent

What are you good at, what are you bad at? Ever looked out at a mill-pond day and told yourself “I hate light airs” or seen it blowing dogs off chains and muttered nervously: “I’m rubbish in strong winds.”

Maybe you’re just not talented enough, you tell yourself. 

First, ask yourself: 

What makes a great sailor? Talent or hard work? Probably both.

To win an Olympic gold medal though… surely that’s only within the grasp of the truly talented, right?

From Cart Horse to Racing Thoroughbred

Well, maybe not, if we’re to believe Tom King, who won an Olympic gold medal racing in the 470 for Australia on home waters in Sydney 2000. King and his crew Mark Turnbull won the gold after a spectacular season in the lead-up to the Games, winning the World Championships and a handful of other big regattas along the way.

The gold medal was certainly no fluke, and yet a year earlier, no one would have given King and Turnbull a hope of winning any kind of medal, let alone the gold. Yes, they’d been on the scene for a while, but this world-beating form seemed to come out of nowhere.

It wasn’t just the men either. The Aussie women, Belinda Stowell and Jenny Armstrong, also took gold on Sydney Harbour. And all this from a nation with a very poor record in the 470 class.

Not since Ian Brown and Ian Ruff had won a bronze at the 1976 Games in Montreal had Australia even had a sniff of a medal in the 470. In fact, they were so bad that the Aussie selectors refused to even send a team to the Games for one Olympiad, even though the sailors had qualified the nation.

At the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the most successful 470 nation was Ukraine, with the men and women’s teams winning gold and bronze respectively. Both had been coached by Victor Kovalenko, a seemingly mild-mannered Ukrainian, yet famed and feared for his fierce work ethic.

 From a no-hope, 470 nation to kings of the 470 in less than four years – and Australia has continued to dominate this Olympic class ever since.

The helms and crews come and go, but in Olympic, World and other major regattas, it’s always the Australians who are setting the benchmark.


So, what was – and is – the secret?  Sheer, hard work. That’s what Tom King said was the secret. 

Relentless tacks, gybes, tuning runs, starts, breaking down every manoeuvre into the tiniest detail and working on each detail and the sailors could execute perfectly. “We trained, and trained until talent was no longer an issue,” said King.

“Until talent was no longer an issue.” What could YOU do, to make sure that talent is no longer an issue?