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Competitive Sailing

Sailing Tactics To Be Better Than The Competition

 

Often too much significance is attributed to sailing tactics and tactics only become the most important factor if you are sailing at a very high level. 

For most of us, it’s better to invest in training time, concentrating on sailing technique and boat tuning. As a word of caution though, you can’t manage without tactics altogether.

I have jotted down below, a couple of rules, that if you follow, you’ll be better than 80% of the competition unless of course, you are sailing at World Cup level. 

  1. Read the Sailing Instructions – How often have you seen it that someone who doesn’t know the course, sails to the wrong mark, or doesn’t know what a penalty would be when a rule is infringed?
  2. Know the Rules – You don’t need to know the rules by heart but you should have an understanding of the main ones such as when boats meet. If fellow competitors know you aren’t sure of the rules they will  make the most of it, often screaming rules that don’t exist or have not been in effect for years.
  3. Get out to the course early – set your boat up for the conditions, get used to the wind and waves, observe whether tt is increasing or softening, are the shifts oscillating or persistent and what current is there across the course.
  4. Check the Start line – Look for line end bias and establish transits so you will be right on the line when the gun goes.
  5. Starting Strategy – Of course having your own starting strategy is best but if you are not yet confident, observe where the best sailors in your fleet are setting up and head in that direction but of course don’t start too close to them otherwise you may become their “marshmallow”.
  6. Start on the line in Clear Air – For a beginner, it is very difficult to calculate the distance to the line, that’s why you should orientate yourself with the boats immediately near you in the last minute before the start. Keep a constant lookout for boats coming in from above and below but above all try to have space to leeward so you can foot off to maintain clear air.
  7. Sail the long tack first – From your homework prior to the start you will have noticed whether the first mark is square to the start line. If not, where physically possible, sail the longer tack first, this means that you will have more options to play the shifts before arriving at the layline.
  8. Avoid arriving getting to the Layline until as late in the leg as possible – for the reasons mentioned above, once you are at the layline you have lost the ability to play any shifts. 
  9. Have a plan – From your time on the water prior to the start you will have established a plan for the race. While racing, have your head out of the boat watching your fleet and for changing conditions. Be prepared to change your plan should your observations tell you there is a permanent change occurring.

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How to Find, Manage and Keep a Race Crew

Having the right crew on your boat is as important as the sails and equipment and contributes completely to the fun you have both on the boat racing and afterwards off the boat socialising.

As a skipper and leader on your boat, an enormous amount of time should be spent putting your race crew together.

With the right mix of skills and personalities, you are guaranteed to not only race well but keep the team together because they have fun and look forward to the next race or event.

When there is conflict on the boat or lack of respect for each other you will find yourself continually replacing people who are not committed to the same goals and aspirations as yourself and your team.

Crews have family, work and social commitments so if they think that turning up is a chore they will soon find other places to be.

This means perhaps perpetuating the problem by your constant search for “arms and legs” to fill positions rather than finding the right person for the role and one that fits in with the rest of the team.

Things to pay particular attention to are things like the program for the season.

Start by looking at all the races and regattas you’re interested in sailing and then step back and think about what is realistic. It’s easy to get excited about all of the great sailing events of the season, it’s easy to over-commit.

Put yourself in your crew’s shoes and remember that even though they’re a lot of fun, races and regattas are also a lot of work. 

Schedule some practice sails, a crew get together which includes family and above all ask the team what they would like to do, you will find that if the crew have input into the program that their commitment will be far greater.

If you are managing a big crew, designate one of the other members to be the contact point and team communicator, this works really well in getting great feedback because often crewmembers are a bit timid in speaking directly with the “boss” about their concerns.

Post-race or regatta de-briefs are essential to get feedback from the team and allow for adjustments to the sailing positions, race strategies, the future program and for improving race results for the future.

The de-briefs need to be a little structured with someone responsible for jotting down some bullet points regarding the day’s event with a bit of time to get input from the team. Importantly the de-brief should not be too long, everyone these days have busy lives and there is always plenty to do.

At a regatta, the debrief can take the form of a crew dinner and by all means, include spouses so that they feel part of the group and have a real feeling of being part of the team.

With a club or single race event, a debrief on the boat before heading to the club or home enables you to sort out any issues on the boat from the day’s event, either crew wise or mechanical and gives you a chance to confirm the program going forward and who is available.

Above all, remember that sailing on your boat has to be fun for all participants, that is what keeps the team together and makes them keen to come back.

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Understanding and Controlling Upwind Sail Power

Upwind sail power comes from 3 sources:

  • The angle of attack.
  • Depth in the sail (draft)
  • Twist.

When trimming our sails we want to get our boat to full power and we must adjust for the sailing conditions by altering the three power sources listed above.

Sails are built so that they can perform in a variety of conditions but must be fine-tuned by the sail trimmer to achieve the designed shape of the sail.

The first source of power is the angle of attack.

At zero angle of attack, the sail is luffing. If the sail is luffing you need to trim in to increase power or the helmsman needs to bear off to increase power if the sail is already trimmed in as far as it can go. 

Power increases as the angle of attack increases up to the point of a stall. When the angle of attack is too great, flow stalls and power drops quickly.

The second source of power is sail depth.

Sail depth controls the power, acceleration, and drag of the sail. More depth creates more power and better acceleration while a flatter sail has less power and less drag.

As with angle of attack, power increases with depth up to the point where flow stalls and maximum power is achieved just short of a stall.

A flat sail is best when overpowered in heavy air and a flat shape is also fast in smooth water, as it creates less drag.

A deep sail is best to punch through waves and chop or to accelerate after tacking.

The twist is the third source of sail power.

Twist describes the relative trim of the sail high and low and a sail has lots of twist when the upper part of the sail is open.

Increasing twist reduces power and decreasing twist adds power.

Another reason that twist needs to be considered is that due to less surface friction, the wind is stronger at the top of the sail than at the surface and this is known as wind gradient.

The true wind and boat speed together create the apparent wind and a stronger true wind up high creates a wider apparent wind angle and stronger apparent wind the higher up the sail you go.

Sail twist is fine-tuned to match the sail shape to the prevailing wind gradient and we further fine-tune twist to wind and sea conditions.

The fine-tuning of twist is one of the most important and powerful trim adjustments we can make.

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What Happens if The Windshifts in The Pre-Start?

In the last few minutes before the gun goes there is plenty happening. You must be observant of what is going on up the course as well as finding a spot on the line to accommodate you and your plan.

Keep an eye on boats that may have already started on your course, but if you are the only fleet out there, take note of changes in angle as you parallel the line or the different trim of sails that you need to make to maintain your course. 

As you are idling forward prior to cranking on to get up to speed watch how your sails are behaving, if nothing changes but the jib suddenly luffs heavily or fills, as long as it is not the effect of another boat nearby, you will detect a shift in the wind.

If you have been keenly observing what has been happening you should be ready to modify your starting plan and it might be time to reconsider where you want to start on the line.

If you see someone sailing upwind, and their angle is different than the angles you’ve been seeing, there’s a last-minute shift, and you may need to change your plan.

A word of caution though, make sure you consider the type of boat that you are watching and how its pointing characteristics compare to yours.

At the start, the shiftier the venue the more likely you’ll see a last-minute shift. This happens often on small lakes, or with venues with offshore winds when the course is located close to land.

In these situations, it can be safe to start near the middle of the line and with the mid-line start, you’re not fully out of the race if a shift happens in either direction. 

A fleet that starts before you are “tell tales” and their spread across the course gives you wind directions. If you see a boat that’s bow up on starboard, they’re likely in a right shift, if they are bow up on port, they’re probably in a left shift.

When looking at the boats in the fleet ahead and you see the leaders gybe set around the weather mark, you can be sure they’re in a right shift at the top of the course.

Watch what happens with that fleet as they continue downwind as this will give you some clues as to what has been occurring on that part of the course, just be aware that by the time you get there the wind may have switched back.

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Laylines & Getting Them Right.

Windward mark layline mistakes, unfortunately, are very common and can be extremely costly.

One of the most common things that sailors get wrong is getting to the layline too early. If you get to the layline too early, you can no longer play the shifts and you also lose tactical options.

More often than not it is really hard to judge laylines without a good visual reference and wind changes, dirty air, waves, or current are all outside factors that you need to take into account. 

Problems that can be created by getting to a layline too early:

  • A lift or increase in wind velocity causes you to overstand and sail extra distance.
  • Other boats that were below the layline may now be fetching the mark.
  • A header favours the boats inside the laylines, since they are closer to the shift.
  • In an approaching lull, you have fewer options to sail towards more pressure.
  • Boats not on the layline can tack on your air, leaving you with few options.

As you get about two-thirds of the way up each beat, work out your relative distance to the port and starboard laylines and consider your plan accordingly.

Are you a lot closer to one layline than the other? If so, make sure your strategy is sound. You must have a really good reason to keep going toward the closer layline so continue to evaluate all possibilities.

When considering tacking for the mark a simple test is that if you have to look back over your shoulder to see the mark, you’re probably on or past the layline.  

It is extremely important to know your boat’s tacking angle which is the difference in headings on each tack. 

Different conditions such as wind strength, sail trim, waves and dirty air will affect the tacking angle and in light air and the difference in light to heavy air could be as much as 30 degrees.

Learning your boats tacking angles comes from practising in various conditions and it does no harm to record these numbers on the boat for quick reference and to aid your memory in pressure situations.

Drawing tacking lines on the boat are one way of helping to call a tack.

Other boats are a great clue when judging laylines but just make sure that the boats you are referencing are trimmed on and sailing hard, they may have overlaid and are reaching down to the mark or they may have underlaid and are pinching to try to get up to it.

Even if you are very close to the layline there are a few reasons why you may delay your tack or you may even decide to tack early and they are:

  • There is a favourable shift coming.
  • There is more breeze coming as more breeze lifts you and decreases your tacking angle.
  • There are tactical reasons relating to other boats in your immediate vicinity.
  • There is an unfavourable shift coming.
  • You are heading into a lull.
  • There is no clear air on the layline.
  • If there is a big wave coming, perhaps delay until it passes as a tack right on it may stop the boat and cause you to underlay on the other tack.  

There are things you can do to practice judging laylines, but make sure you practice in varying conditions.

One drill I have found to be particularly useful is to use a fixed mark and tack at it from various distances with the aim of getting to it fully powered up, close-hauled and to pass within half a boat length.

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Headstay Sag and Why it Matters

Headstay sag affects everything from boat speed to pointing ability.

Sailboats with headstay sag often point higher and maintain boatspeed better in light-air conditions and one of the key methods to power up a sail is to induce sag in the forestay.

Dinghies obviously only have one jib and many sailboat classes limit the number of jibs that a boat may carry so the ability to be able to power up and down is very important in changing conditions.

When the headstay sags, it not only sags to leeward but also sags aft, which puts the luff closer to the leech, thereby adding depth to the jib. The key controls for manipulating headstay sag are shroud tension, mainsheet tension, and in some cases, headstay length.

In light air, the number one adjustment for headstay sag on boats with either deck-stepped and keel-stepped masts is varying the shroud tension. More tension effectively pulls the mast aft (assuming the chainplates are aft of the mast)

The other way to induce headstay sag is to minimize mainsheet tension. If the mast is stiff, trimming the mainsheet will quickly increase headstay tension and reduce sag. Ideally, in light and puffy conditions, when you ease the mainsheet in a lull, you’ll see the headstay sag to leeward, powering up the sail.

Easing off the rig isn’t the only way to increase headstay sag, chocking the mast at the partners, using a mast ram (if your class allows this) or moving the mast butt aft are other methods of achieving the desired sag.

When you sag the headstay, the maximum draft in your jib moves forward. To compensate and keep the draft aft, ease halyard tension, which also creates additional power. If you increase headstay sag but the halyard remains too tight, you’ll get a knuckle in the front of the sail and an entry that’s too deep, so you won’t gain the overall power you’re looking for.

A major effect of increased headstay sag is that it rotates the middle of the sail, changing the angle of attack causing the mid-luff of the sail to move to leeward as well as aft. At the same time, the mid-leech rotates slightly inboard, similar to the effect of weather-sheeting, which increases pointing ability.

With too much headstay sag the leech will rotate inboard too far, becoming extra sensitive to sheet tension and stalling too easily. Equally problematic, the entry angle becomes too extreme; when you bear off to rebuild speed, you have to sheet out too much to power up the sail.

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HOW TO BE EFFECTIVE – STEERING OFF THE WIND

On reaches and runs it is essential that the helmsman and trimmer communicate and co-ordinate their actions.

As the helmsman, you must also respond to input from the tactician and changing sailing conditions plus the trimmer’s input based on sheet load and boat speed. The problem here is that there may be conflicting voices advising the steerer thus unsettling his concentration.

Since your tactics won’t succeed without good trim, it makes sense that the tactician talks to the trimmer who then gives feedback to the helmsman so the trimmer is the only one who communicates with the helmsman.

Steering on Reaches –

  1. Light to Moderate Air

On a reach, the fastest way between two points is a straight line and you should plan the reaches with that in mind only varying this based on changes in the sailing conditions or tactics.

In fluctuating wind conditions, work up in the lulls and down in the puffs as necessary to maintain speed, while holding a good average course. The trimmer will indicate when the sheet load is light head up, and when the spinnaker sheet is fully loaded bear off. The amount of course change required depends on wind speed.

When you must head up to pass another boat or defend your position let the trimmer know before making an abrupt change of course, to ensure that the manoeuvre is successful.

2. Heavy air

In heavy air, the helmsman is at the mercy of the trimmers.

The vang, main sheet, and spinnaker sheet must be eased when the boat is overpowered or it will round up and broach but it is fast to carry as much power as you can as long as you can control it.

Carrying some weather helm is OK as long as the rudder doesn’t stall, leading to a round up, this is once again a time when communication between the helmsman and trimmer is essential.

Steering on Runs –

  1. Light air (3 to 9 knots)

In light winds, the best sailing angle is about 140° true wind angle (40° above dead downwind). The angle changes very little as the wind speed fluctuates, so don’t head up in the lulls and off in the puffs except for tactical reasons. The fastest way to the next mark is to tack downwind and keeping the apparent wind forward is fast. A word of caution here though, this is boat dependant so it pays to practice to find out what is true for your particular class or boat.

2. Moderate air (10 to 15 knots)

The optimum speed and sailing angle change dramatically with every change in wind speed. For every knot of wind the optimum course shifts five degrees. In ten knots of wind, the optimum angle is 140° true wind angle and fifteen knots a 165° true wind angle is fastest. Do your best to respond to every change in wind speed, driving off with the puffs and heading up in the lulls.

3. Heavy Air (over 15 knots)

Aim for the mark, sail fast and keep control using the waves to surf wherever possible. Use crew weight to balance the helm, avoid sailing dead downwind and trim the spinnaker directly in front of the boat. Crew weight should also be moved aft to promote planing and to avoid the bow burying.

The helmsman should be forceful to keep control but also be mindful that smooth is fast, jerking the helm creates drag and slows you down.

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Sailing Wind Velocity and it’s Importance

 

In all sailboat races, you must sail toward better pressure as more wind velocity almost always means more speed. 

On the course look for darker water as changes in wind velocity are a lot easier to see than changes in direction.

More wind creates more ripples on the water, and these appear darker because of how they reflect light.

Be careful though to consider variations in sunlight and clouds when assessing heading over to darker looking patches on the course.

Other boats around you are also a great source of information about velocity across the course and be sure to not only take into account their angle of heel but also their heading.

Changes in heading maybe a puff, lift or knock so continual observation should give you the answers you are looking for.

Generally, increases in wind velocity make more difference when the wind is light. An increase of a few knots in the wind when it is light may increase your boat speed by a knot or more whereas an increase of a couple of knots of windspeed in the higher wind ranges may see no increase in boat speed at all.

Once you have found yourself in better wind velocity, do your best to stay there and it may serve you better to stay in a puff longer by pinching up a little, footing off into it or tacking/gybing to stay in the puff longer.

Beware of velocity headers and when velocity changes it affects the wind you see and as an example, when you sail into a lull your apparent wind goes forward which feels as though you have been headed even though the wind direction stays the same.

The mistake a lot of sailors make is to tack on a velocity header and tack is not only slow in light air but you could well be sailing on a knock on the other tack.

When you experience a velocity header, change gears to keep your boat speed up and continually be on the lookout for the next puff or shift.

The amount of wind pressure also affects your ability to survive in another boat’s bad air. In light air, wind shadows are bigger and much more hurtful.

In heavy air, you can sail fairly close to leeward of another boat and go pretty much the same speed.

Wind pressure impacts what you do in different positions on the first beat.
Having more velocity means you will sail faster with narrower tacking angles, so you’ll get to a lay line sooner. In light air both tacks take more time, so you can afford to spend more time on the shorter tack.

A factor that can have a big effect on wind pressure is current. When you’re racing upwind, the choice is easy – head for the part of the course where there is stronger current flowing toward the wind or less current going with the wind.

This will not only help you make better progress over the bottom, but it will give you better wind pressure as well.  

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Common Myths of Competitive Sailing

 

MYTHS REGARDING CURRENT ACROSS THE COURSE

MYTH – Your apparent wind will be different on each tack. Since you sail faster over the bottom on the down current tack, you’ll feel more wind on that tack and this will affect sail trim and speed.

TRUTHThe apparent wind on both tacks is affected equally by the current, so you will feel the same wind and therefore need the same sail trim on each tack.

MYTH – You can improve VMG by pinching to get the current on
the leeward side of your bow.

TRUTH – It doesn’t matter where you are heading since the current only
pushes your boat in the direction it is moving. So pinching will be slower.

MYTH – On a beat, it’s always better to sail the up current tack first.

TRUTH – Current affects all boats equally, so as long as you don’t overstand the mark it doesn’t matter where you are. But if the up-current tack is much longer, it may be better to sail that tack first.

MYTH – If the starting line is square to the wind, it’s better to start at
the up current end.

TRUTH – All boats are being pushed in the same direction by the current, so it doesn’t matter where you start on the line (as far as current is concerned). 

MYTHS REGARDING STARTING

MYTH – If you are in the middle of the starting line and you turn up so your bow is pointing straight into the wind, the end of the line that is closer to your bow is the end that is favoured.

TRUTH – Going head to wind in the middle of the line will help you determine which end of the starting line is farther upwind, but that end is not necessarily ‘favoured.’ The favoured end of the starting line is the one that will get you to the windward mark sooner, taking into account a number of strategic and tactical factors including which end is farther upwind (and by how much).

MYTH – You should be more careful at the start when the race committee has signalled with flags that a starting penalty is in effect. Because of this, you should be more conservative as you approach the line.

TRUTH – Even when there is no special starting penalty in effect, the consequences of being over the starting line prematurely can be severe. You should not change your approach to the start just because one of these flags is displayed the rest of the fleet will be hanging back so your chances of a great start are much better.

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This Week a bit of Fun – Top 20 Sailing Superstitions

Because of the dangers faced by sailors and fishermen, there are countless superstitions around safety and luck on the sea. Some seem a little strange today. While most no longer apply, we’re guessing that some still linger in sailors’ minds.

20. Re-naming a boat
It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.

19.  Tattoos
When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore.

18.  Blood
It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.

17.  Fishing nets
When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number 

16.  Caul
Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).

15.  Hat overboard
Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.

14.  Eggshells
Eggshells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.

13.  Personal grooming
Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.

12. Feet
Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.

11. Women
Women were bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts. 

10. Non-sailing days
It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself).

9. Watch your mouth
Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including “drowned”, “goodbye” and “good luck”. Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church,  pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.

8. No whistling 
Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”

7.  No farewell
It was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.

6. Stirring tea
Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck

5. Turning a loaf of bread upside down
Turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut brings bad luck too. These two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea!

4. Red-heads
Like flat-footed people, red-heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.

3. Salt
It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.

2. Fishy
In order to encourage fish to be caught, Scottish fishermen would begin their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on 

1. Bananas
No bananas on board. They were believed to be so unlucky they would cause the ship to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.

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