To do this in Sailing, you need to have the experience to prioritise what you should be working on.
You need the resources to travel to where the best competition is and to have the best possible equipment that you can afford.
You must also be prepared to put in the extra training time necessary so that you are just a little more prepared than the other teams.
When you are planning a season or leading up to a championship, you must prioritise and set realistic goals and work gradually but inexorably towards them.
The important thing here is staying on track, not panic if you are not progressing as quickly as you had hoped, and not making drastic changes.
Importantly, work with your team to set a training schedule that will not see you burn out or put stress on your theirs work or personal relationships.
Make a list of your weaknesses and prioritise those, that when mastered, will give you the greatest gains. These may be the things you enjoy doing the least but will see your greatest overall improvement.
An example may be gybing in heavy air which in the past has seen more than your fair share of swimming. To fix this would be the difference between a tail end result and a personal best in a heavy air series.
Another habit to develop is arriving for the days sailing early so your boat preparation is perfect, you can relax and get your head into sailing mode, observe and plan for the day’s weather and then being the first boat out on the course.
Excerpts from an interview with highly accomplished Dinghy through to Maxi Yacht sailor and North Sails sailmaker Michael Coxon.
What’s the most important sail control and how does that vary from class to class?
“The most important sail control for any boat is the sheet tension. Where the sheet tension will tend to control the twist of the sail and the general drive of it, you can actually then use the subtler controls. Those controls include the outhaul and the Cunningham eye.
One very important thing depending on the boat is mast bend and how you achieve the mast bend. If the mast bend is achieved through having a backstay, it makes the exercise fairly easy.
If it’s a non-backstay boat it will depend on things such as boom vang, again, sheet tension; it will depend on if you’ve got control of the mast at the deck. In other words, can you control the pre-bend in the mast whether through a lever or a chocking system?
Another big variable is rig tension. By increasing rig tension you’ll put more compression through your rig and increase, obviously the tension, but also the pre-bend in the rig.”
How often during a race do you adjust your settings and what indicators tip you off to make the changes?
“Depending on how you’re going is how often you’re going to adjust it.
If you feel comfortable, you’ll tend to not play with things that much. You might make subtle adjustments for conditions. I find that if I feel that I’m off the pace, that’s when I’ll get more aggressive in what I do.
My golden rule in one design, it doesn’t matter who the boat near you is, sail yourself boat relative.
I don’t care if that boat is regarded as one of the front markers or one of the back markers. If he’s got an edge on you, use your eyes. See where his traveler is. See where his pre-bend is. How much forestay sag does he have?
The other rule I always have is that most races have two or three beats in them.
So many times I’ll come back to the club afterward, and someone will say, “Ah, I was really slow off the starting line.” And I’ll go, “Okay, so you were slow off the starting, so how were you up the second beat?” “Oh, really slow still up the second beat.” I’ll say to them, “Well, what did you change?” “I didn’t change anything.” I’m back here asking you now. I say, “Well, what you need to do is whether you change something for the better or the worse, if you made a change you would have learned.”
Once you are comfortable and well-positioned on the run as a team, you need to debrief the beat. If you do identify you had a problem, for instance, you might say, “I think we had a height problem. We were good through the water, but we had a height problem.”
If I was on my Etchells, the first thing I’d say, “Hey guys, we’ve got to look at whether we have to control the forestay sag a bit more, so perhaps we should straighten the mast up a little bit with the mast lever and that will instantly give me more forestay tension.” We also might want to take the rig tension up a little bit.
While you calmly think about that down the run before you get to the bottom mark and the action starts again, you’ve made some adjustments. You’re ready to round the bottom mark. You’re in a new boat and you restart again.
You are unlikely to win every race you enter but you can learn something new every time you go out on the water. For the champions of our sport, learning is one of the most rewarding aspects of competition.
Race as many different boats and classes as possible. Different boats react differently concerning changes in sail trim, boat handling, and reaction to waves. Sailing in a large variety of boats will deepen your understanding of what controls do, steering outcomes, and crew requirements.
Watch Races. You will learn plenty from watching races from a coach boat or reviewing videos of sailing events. Sometimes you will learn more than you would have learned if you were actually competing.
Champions are happy to share their knowledge so don’t be too shy to ask questions in the boat park after a race or in the bar.
Two boat training with predetermined exercises and outcomes is a great way to learn quickly about what you need to do to get as fast as possible. This is especially useful in one-design boats but can also work with two different types of boats with known performance parameters.
There are plenty of seminars, webinars, and Zoom meetings that you can attend and many have interactive Q&A sessions where you can ask for further clarification of concepts that you may not have fully grasped.
Discuss a race from start to finish with your crew or even reconstruct it in your head and note down details and learnings for future reference.
Keep a journal that you enter after each race or regatta. Things to record include the boat set up, conditions at the venue including wind speed, sea state, current, size of the fleet, and the sails you used. Record other factors relevant that will help you analyze and remember what worked and what didn’t.
One of the easiest ways to get faster in your chosen class is to copy the top performers in your fleet. Watch how they prepare, how they set their boat up, when they leave the beach and what they do before the start.
Sail with the best sailors from your fleet on their boats and occasionally get them to sail on your boat with you. Any feedback they give you about your boat’s setup will be invaluable.
As part of your journal, keep photos of great ideas and layouts on other boats. Keep a video library to study sail trim and sailing techniques. This does not need to be restricted to your class and a lot can be learned from other types of boats.
Save articles from magazines and read them again and again, join relevant sailing websites and forums and be proactive in commenting and asking questions.
Get involved in your clubs learn to sail program and share your knowledge. It is often said that “you don’t really know something until you can explain it to someone else”
Interview with Glenn Bourke to give us some insight into championship and regatta strategy. Glenn is currently the CEO of the wildly successful Hamilton Island home of Hamilton Island race week. Not only is Glenn a successful businessman but he is a high achieving competitive sailor with multiple Olympic, World and National championship successes to his name.
Brett –Do you approach a regatta differently in big or small fleets?
Glenn – A little bit. I guess I’ve predominately done most of my sailing career in big fleets. And I certainly have a system that I employ in big fleets, and some of it’s applicable to small fleets, and some it’s not so applicable.
For example, before technology in boats, I used to start maybe a third or a quarter down from the favoured end of the line, or a quarter up from the favoured end of the line if it was for the pin.
The reason for that was that usually there’s a bulge at the top end of the line or the bottom end of the line if it’s favoured quite a bit.
You can generally get yourself clear air and away off the line and not be seen by the committee boat if you start a little bit away from that mad pack that generally goes over the line early.
So you might call it a conservative start, it’s probably not the Hail Mary start, but it’s one whereby you tuck yourself away and if the whole fleet goes, you’re probably not seen from an OCS or maybe you’re not an OCS because you’re behind the line, but they’re bulged out underneath you.
You’re still clear and going, but you’re not in the ruckus of the chaos at the end of the big fleet.
In smaller fleets, I think you can have the opportunity to be a bit more aggressive and to take the favoured end of the line because there’s not as much carnage there, and you can pre-manoeuvre and do whatever else you need to do.
Some of it depends on who is your main competition, if it’s a small fleet and everybody’s even, then you want to get the best start. You want to get into the first shift first.
If it’s a small fleet, and there’s one other competitor that’s tough, you want to make sure that you get a slightly better start than that person so that you can control them up the first beat and take advantage of getting off the line a little bit better.
Brett – What are some big fleet basic strategies? If you’re sailing in a regatta, obviously, it’s going to be a number of races.
Glenn – There’s a number of them. First of all, you’ve got to be fast. In a big fleet, if you want to get to the front end of the fleet, you have to be fast.
If you can jump out of the start and clear yourself, tack across a group of boats and get into a really clear position, you ought to take that opportunity and do it straight away.
It depends where you end up at the first mark as to what your strategy might be after that.
You can’t compete in a big fleet unless you’re fast because you’re going to get spat out and then you are just going to be looking for crumbs on the table rather than being assertive in your strategy or where you’re putting the boat compared to the fleet.
It also changes from the beginning of the regatta to the end of the regatta.
At the end of the regatta, you’ve got to be more perfect. At the end of the regatta, you’ve got to watch your opposition.
You make a transitional strategy from being very fast, off the line well, getting to the first shift and trying to get around the top mark in good order.
At the beginning of the regatta, you are watching where your competitors are, being generally in the right place, being generally a bit more conservative and covering their moves rather than necessarily trying to get the perfect regatta or the perfect race under your belt.
Firstly, I would like to correct an error in last weeks Blog regarding using the compass to establish Line bias. Phil Crebbin, a UK 470 Olympian kindly pointed this out and has provided the correct method which is copied below in bold.
Everybody knows that it is the wind direction vs the line direction that defines the bias of the line (subject only to other things like any variation of current at each end of the line, of course). The direction to the first mark has absolutely nothing to do with it, except in the extreme case when the mark can be laid in one, without having to tack.
One clear way of demonstrating this is if you have a shifty wind, with the line laid to be approximately on the average wind direction. Say that the wind is periodically shifting ca. 10 degrees on either side of this mean direction. When the wind is on its maximum left shift of 10 degrees, clearly the port end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees. Conversely, when the wind is on its maximum right shift of 10 degrees, the starboard end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees.
RIG TUNE –The four main elements to rig tune.
Mast Rake is measured from the masts vertical position to how far aft that the mast is angled. Angling the mast aft shifts the power aft and forces the bow to windward and creates weather helm.
Forestay length determines how much rake you have and how much rake a boat needs to generate the right amount of weather helm is a function of hydrodynamics being hull form, keel shape and placement (or in the case of a dinghy, centreboard position or rake if your class has a pivoting board).
In most one-design racing classes, sailmakers and class stalwarts have put a lot of time figuring out what works best and creating tuning guides that specify headstay lengths and thus rake for different conditions.
These are readily available by doing a Google search of your class.
Mast Bend – After setting the rake turn your mind to mast bend. Mast bend changes the mainsail shape, the more bend the flatter the mainsail which in turn gives less power.
No matter what type of rig you have, you want to start with a little mast bend or pre-bend and this is the amount of bend you have with no backstay tension.
Lengthening the headstay increases the bending moment and adds pre-bend and this is why it’s important to set rake first.
If your mainsail develops diagonal wrinkles from the clew up to the luff, you are over-bending the mast for the amount of luff curve in your mainsail.
Athwartship Tuning the rig must be centred in the boat otherwise performance will be different on each tack. Using the main haliard and taking the loose end to the gunwale on each side will give you a side to side reference.
The tension on the shrouds needs to be firm, the same on both sides and if you are sailing a dinghy, the use of a tension gauge when setting up on the beach gives great results.
In a keelboat, when sailing in 10-12 knots of breeze, sight up the aft face of the mast to check whether the tip is falling off or not. If it is, you need more upper tension.
The next step on a boat with lowers or with multiple spreaders and diagonals is that you need to work on the lowers and/or diagonals next.
In over 10 knots, you want the mast to be straight but for more power in light air, you can let the middle of the mast sag a little to leeward to increase the depth in the mainsail.
It is common in one-design classes to ease tension on the lowers (and diagonals if relevant) in light air to create a smooth sag.
Headstay Sag When the headstay sags, the headsail becomes fuller and more powerful, which is great in light conditions. As the breeze builds, you’ll want to reduce the amount of sag as much as possible to de-power the boat and help with pointing.
When you pull on the backstay, or in the case of swept spreaders with no backstay, sheet tension and/or pulling on the sidestays (if they are adjustable) will initially tighten the headstay, but because you are also compressing the rig, the more backstay or rig tension you pull on, in turn, cause mast bend which increases headstay sag.
To counteract this some classes have a strut or chocks to lessen the bend and keep the headstay sag to a minimum and in other boats, you have check stays to change the bend and thus control headstay sag to match the rig and sails to the prevailing conditions.
Getting a great start in clear air can be the most important part of your race and knowing the favoured end and determining how much it is favoured will help you settle on your starting strategy.
Some of the many considerations to ensure a great start are current, where other boats are congregating, the size of the fleet, wind speed and any anticipated shifts.
Of course, there are many other factors to take into account as well so a lot of thought and preparation needs to be given in the lead up to the gun going off.
Instruments to ping the line (if legal in your class) can be of enormous benefit but I believe that you should also be able to use your compass only to work out the line and a couple of methods are set out below.
Going Head to Wind on the Middle of the Line: To carry this out, sail down the line from the boat end about a couple of boat lengths to leeward, when you get to the middle of the line, ease the sails and point directly into the wind. Once you are on the line and at right angles to it, see which end the bow is pointing to, that will be the favoured end.
A variation of this is to carry out the same procedure but a number of lengths below the line. Doing this will make it easier to determine which end the bow is pointing to and will also keep you clear of heavy traffic on the line in large fleets. A disadvantage here is that there may be boats above you feeding back bad air making it harder to get an accurate reading.
Going Head To Wind On the Line But at an End:
The leeward end is probably the easiest end to carry out this check as generally there is less traffic there. Go head to wind beside the pin and use the angle of your transom to the line to determine the favoured end. If the imaginary line at right angles to your heading is above the start boat the pin is favoured and vice versa if the line is behind the start boat.
This will also give you an idea about how favoured one end is from the other and if the bias is not that great you may decide to start a little away from the favoured end where the chances of a clear air start are greater.
Using Your Compass:
Sail accurately down and on the line from the boat end noting the compass heading, then add 90 degrees to that.
The angle of the line must be compared with your measured True Wind Direction which you have ascertained by getting a head to wind reading.
One clear way of demonstrating this is if you have a shifty wind, with the line laid to be approximately on the average wind direction.
Say that the wind is periodically shifting ca. 10 degrees on either side of this mean direction.
When the wind is on its maximum left shift of 10 degrees, clearly the port end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees. Conversely, when the wind is on its maximum right shift of 10 degrees, the starboard end of the line is now favoured by that 10 degrees.
Obviously, in a shifty wind, the wind direction measurement must be repeated at intervals, so that the changes in the line bias can be monitored and from this, a good attempt can be made to evaluate the best starting approach.
A Method to Use if You Don’t Have a Compass:
Often referred to as the Sheet and Cleat method. Once again, sail down the line from the start boat end and set your sails until they just start to luff. Either cleat them or take a note of exactly where the sheet is through the turning block. When you reach the other end of the line, tack or Gybe and head up the line in the opposite direction without adjusting the sheets. If the sails are luffing, the start boat end is favoured and if you need to let the sails out to get the telltales flying, the pin is favoured.
When sailing on a run, the key to success is locating better wind velocity, getting your boat into that pressure, and then staying in it as long as possible.
Better pressure allows you to sail lower and faster than your fellow competitors meaning you will gain on those in front or move away from those behind.
Keep your head out of the boat because you want to find puffs early while you still have a reasonable chance of getting to them.
Wind velocity is an important strategic factor because it allows you to sail lower and faster.
The wind you get comes to you from the direction of your apparent wind and that’s where you should search for puffs. Look straight into the wind you feel on your face or in the direction where your telltales or masthead wind pennant indicate the apparent wind, this is where you will see the puffs and lulls that are coming.
Changes in pressure are not always visible on the water so you need to use other indicators such as other boats on your course. Become a detective, often boats around you are going faster and higher because of an increase in pressure and this often appears as a wind shift.
It is often not wise to chase after wind shifts because you may have to sail in the wrong direction to get there but it is sensible to chase after puffs. If you are not in a puff, generally you are in a lull and when sailing downwind don’t be scared to gybe to get to more pressure.
Conversely, if the increase in velocity is to windward, head up more to get there sooner, once there, the extra boat speed will allow you to sail lower and stay in the puff longer.
If there is a choice to sail for more pressure or a better shift it generally pays to sail for the puff and this is especially relevant if the wind is light to moderate.
Downwind you can stay in the puffs longer as they are moving with you. Milk them for all they are worth and consider gybing back when you reach the edge unless there are tactical reasons not to.
Try to connect the dots sailing from puff to puff.
Weight movement fore and aft will also promote planing to make the boat go as fast as possible with the extra velocity of the wind.
One last note, make sure you shift gears to adjust for the changes in wind strength using changes to mainsheet tension, pole angle on a symmetrical chute or a change of heading with a Symmetrical.
Trying to luff someone going faster than you almost always ends badly because the faster boat’s momentum will take them around you and there is little that can be done to stop that.
Momentum is also essential in the last 10 seconds before the gun goes, you need to have momentum on your side and be a little faster than the boats around you. That little extra momentum generally continues for the first minute or two of the race and you only need to be a tenth of a knot quicker for you to succeed.
When you’re sailing upwind, and you cover another boat or want to make them go the other way, tack just on their line, not directly upwind of them.
If you tack directly upwind of another boat, they get to coast through their tack with very little wind on their sails because you have taken their wind. This loss of boat-slowing friction will ensure they will come out of their tack faster than you did which is a gain for them.
If you tack on their line, they don’t get that free gain and they are still going to tack away anyhow and if they don’t tack, they will soon be going slower.
We spend a lot of time and energy working on upwind speed where the gains are tiny compared to downwind. You need to concentrate on using every possible gain from puffs, waves and crew weight positioning from the second you round the top mark until you get to the bottom.
Most of us work hard to gain two boat lengths upwind whereas downwind, there are five times that gain available to you. Many of us use the downwind legs to relax a little, but in fact because of the gains that can be made, perhaps that little breather should take place when you are going upwind.
In most cases, the goal of rounding the leeward mark is not to have to tack right away but you don’t want to get into the bad wind of the other boats that have already rounded the mark.
Another thing to be mindful of is that you don’t want to have your bow right on the stern of the boat ahead of you. Half a boat length gap works better.
A smooth turn at the mark with the main trimmed in just ahead of the jib but matching the rate of turn will assist in helping you turn and lessen the drag caused by rampant use of the rudder.
When you reach the leeward mark, blindly pulling the sails in and turning tightly on the mark won’t give you much chance of having a fast, high exit.
This article was written by super coach ADRIAN FINGLAS during his time as Head Coach at Royal Brighton Yacht Club.
We have all heard the old saying flat is fast, once the boat is powered up and sailing upwind the flatter you can sail your boat the faster it will go.
A common sight from dinghy to one design keelboats is often the winning teams will always have the flattest sail set up and the least angle of heel.
Watching a world-class Etchells fleet race from a coach boat is always interesting, the fast guys are easy to find as they are the least heeled over.
Small dinghies can be sailed extremely flat and the best teams practice for hours just perfecting keeping that exact angle of heel perfect. Steering and mainsheet trim are the two controls constantly being changed and monitored in our small boats.
We have many different controls that can assist in keeping the boat flat and they all have different effects.
One control and the biggest that’s overlooked is steering accurately with the power you have – I call steering a primary control and generally had the biggest effect on power.
If you are overpowered and heeling too much in a dinghy or a yacht you steer closer to the wind luffing the jib slightly and reducing the power and angle of heel. A yacht or a dinghy that heels over makes considerable leeway (drift sideways) very quickly compared to a yacht sailed flat.
We can be losing so much distance and speed to our opponents if we are heeling too much. In stronger breeze, it is not uncommon to see the top helms luffing the first 6 to 8 inches of the jib as they sail upwind. This is keeping the power and angle of heel under control.
A boat set up poorly with too much power can be like a bucking horse – very difficult to control. Too much sail depth is the common mistake made in most setups. The sails always look much flatter onboard than from the coach boat. When you see a boat from behind you will be surprised how deep the sails are.
Our secondary controls must be pulled on very hard to stretch the sails flat to reduce power. Listed below in order of importance to reduce power on a big boat.
Outhaul on hard lower mainsail shape must be flat
Cunningham on hard to hold the draft position in the sail forward of 50%
Jib cars aft making the jib flat in the bottom third
Jib halyard on hard, no wrinkles, this holds the draft position forward in the flying shape
Vang – vang in a dinghy to yacht has radically different outcomes, the vang has much more effect on the dinghy rig compared to a yacht rig.
A sail is a soft flying wing so holding the flying shape in the correct position with your controls is key.
I have an old saying – except for very light winds wrinkles are slow. Keep the sails smooth, we don’t see planes flying around with bumps on their wings.
To make the helmsman look great on your boat, they need good information and feedback, so who should provide it?
It probably sounds a bit crazy but believe it or not, everyone on the boat has a part to play. At the end of the day, when you have had a great result the helmsman gets the glory but without a skilful crew, they would not be collecting the chocolates.
Everyone on the boat should be either feeding back information to the relevant person (normally the tactician) or doing their jobs in such a way that they don’t interfere with the steerers’ concentration.
Good, reliable feedback ensures that they steer fast and do not need to look around this means that their sole concentration is focused on keeping the boat moving.
In a keelboat, the feedback from the genoa trimmer is essential for the best speed upwind. If your boat has a speedo, the genoa trimmer should know the boat polars and after a tack, the trimmer should call the rate of increase in speed to indicate to the steerer that he can head up or maybe slow the pointing until the boat gets up to speed.
The mainsheet trim has a lot to do with how the boat feels and the trimmer will also know how the sail should look in different conditions and different wind speeds. The feedback to the helmsman should also include a reference to the position of the traveller and sheet tension especially if you are trying to say in a lane of clear air. The helmsman is then able to call for a little more sheet, less traveller or whatever is needed to get the boat in balance.
The tactician will be communicating things like the position of other boats, where the layline is and the possible need to cross or duck where boats are converging. Being forewarned eliminates the need for crash tacks or ducks which will cost you many boat lengths and again the steerer will not have to break concentration by looking under the boom or over their shoulder.
It’s important to have the tactician relaying accurate information. Going upwind you need a tactician who understand puffs, headers and lifts as they relate to wind velocity and his feedback also needs to relay whether nearby boats are going faster or slower and the reasons why.
Depending on the number of crew, some of the jobs such as calling waves, calling puffs and developing situations at marks will be allocated to a trusted crew member. This information will be fed back to the tactician who should be the main person to be communicating with the steerer, he will disseminate the information and only pass on the relevant details.
Downwind, the tactician or designated person should be constantly looking at boats behind to make sure that you are not sailing in or about to sail into their wind shadow. As with upwind, the tactician should be watching boats that are converging with your course so that you have a plan when you do meet and constantly alerting the helmsman to the potential consequences.
All this is designed to stop the helmsman from having to look around and to ensure that he can concentrate on steering for the best speed which in turn will give you the best possible result.