The best sailors are those who understand the importance of solid boat handling skills as the foundation for performance.
A question that we should always ask ourselves is, what would make the biggest difference to improve our performance on the water?
The answers we give ourselves range from tactics and strategy, sail trim, navigation, better speed, knowledge of the rules, to understanding the weather.
In reality, the biggest leaps in performance when you are racing come from going back to the foundation of sailing itself and that is boat handling.
Once we learn the basics of sailing, we then focus our energy on the nuances of the sport and start straying from the basics, and the majority of the mistakes we make come from poor execution of basic sailing manoeuvres.
Bad mark rounding’s, poor control in acceleration and deceleration, tacking, gybing just to name a few, all force us to sail with our heads in the boat.
If our heads are in the boat, there is no way that we can concentrate on refining the other aspects of performance sailing like sail trim, boat speed and strategy.
If we handle our boats well, if we can manoeuvre them readily in and out of tight situations, if we can use the currents, closely duck a competitor then the confidence we have in ourselves will enable us to then work on the nuances.
Once we hone our boat handling skills, our confidence level rises, as does our ability to put our sailboats where we want them to go so that when we achieve excellence in boat handling, we can then focus on the next big piece of performance.
Reading, learning and studying the nuances of tactics and strategy is one thing but applying them in situations under pressure is quite another, if we can’t get in and out of tight mark-rounding situations, if we don’t have speed off the line, if we can’t effectively complete a lee-bow tack or a close duck, then we can’t really make use of the tactics and strategy that we have learned.
With regards to boat handling, this is where the biggest gains are to be made and remember, you can’t reach the top of the mountain without starting at the base!
Where your equipment is the same as everyone else’s, there are only two ways to beat your opponent – through superior physiology (your size, weight and fitness) or through superior psychology (just about everything else!).
Psychology is perhaps one of the most neglected parts of sailing, your mental approach and the attitude you bring to your racing is one of the most effective ways of improving your results on the water.
Learning new mental skills will do you more good than buying a fancy new gadget for your boat and they won’t cost you a penny either.
I am going to take the liberty of setting out below some dot points regarding Psychology and sailing from the great Paul Elvstrom.
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.
You must try to put his past achievements out of your mind and you must concentrate on the race that you are in now. Many times we have seen an opponent who has let you past because he thinks you are better than him.
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.
Many sailors get a complex about you and a simple thing like sailing hard on the run or beat out to the course will show others that you are a force to be reckoned with.
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 will have invested considerable time money and effort to enter and travel to a sailing event so it makes sense to invest some time into preparation involving well planned practice hours leading up to the races.
It never ceases to amaze me, how many competitors at events that I have attended have put in no extra effort other than their normal club racing prior to turning up to race at State or National championships.
It goes without saying that if you want to win, practice is essential and importantly, it doesn’t matter how close to race day it is. A day or two, immediately prior racing beginning, and in the waters that you will competing in can sometimes reap the greatest benefit.
All you need are a couple of hours to fine-tune everything so plan the night before the practice and come up with a list of things you want to work on so that when you get on the water, no time is lost getting down to the important task of working on your weaknesses.
Two or three boat practice is a huge advantage if you can swing it and after practicing some drills it is really advantageous to carry out some short races to further hone your skills and to understand the things that still require attention.
Practice races should include a start, upwind leg and downwind leg, short and sharp with a number of starts in order to give you time to make adjustments and have a discussion between the participants to improve the things that are troubling you.
As important as the short races and on water discussions are, probably the most benefit to be gained can be had back on shore with a debrief between all participants.
Obviously having a coach on the water during your practice sessions is the ideal situation and they will be able to guide the debrief using their observations but there is still plenty to be gained in discussions between participating sailors should you not have the luxury of a coach.
Note taking is essential after all training and practice sessions and I highly recommend keeping a journal of not only training and practice findings but also jotting down a few notes of observations from every time you hit the water.
This journal should be referred to regularly because as an example, it is no point coming in from a heavy air race to discover that you didn’t use a setting that worked brilliantly in a previous race in identical conditions.
The traveller has two functions, it controls the boom’s angle to the wind and it steers the boat controlling helm and heeling in puffs and lulls.
The mainsheet controls the twist and then you use the traveller to position the boom on the centreline for maximum power and pointing as long as helm and heeling are within the parameters that give the best results for your respective type of boat.
As a general rule of thumb, as the breeze builds and mainsheet tension increases, the traveller will gradually be dropped to keep the boom on the centreline.
In medium conditions, the role of the traveller will expand to include control of helm. As the boat generates weather helm, drop the traveller to de-power the boat.
The position of the boom, relative to the centreline becomes irrelevant. In medium air, play the traveller aggressively to maintain the correct amount of helm.
Dump the traveller quickly at the onset of a puff, but then be ready to pull it back up as the initial power of the puff dissipates and turns into forward speed instead of heel.
If you leave it down too long you will miss the opportunity to point once the boat has
The beauty of using the traveller is that mainsail twist which is controlled by the mainsheet and which is vital to both speed and pointing, does not change, only the total amount of power.
The mainsheet is the “gross trim” adjustment for the overall amount of power.
As a general rule of thumb, on fractional rigged boats with large mainsails, the mainsheet is played more aggressively and the traveller is usually kept closer to centreline.
The mainsail trimmer continually makes adjustments to both traveller and mainsheet based not just on the overall amount of power, but issues like boat speed, waves, and even a tactical situation.
Now that most of us in the Southern Hemisphere have completed our National championships, our attention must turn to analysing our results so that we can improve for next years competition.
Some competitors will be more than satisfied with the end result but for most, now that they have competed on the same track with the best in their class, their minds will be turning to what they need to do to show up higher on the leader-board next year.
Of course most of us lament the fact that we did not have enough time on the water but a surefire way to shorten the process is to engage a coach. Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive venture for it to add immense value.
Step 1: Find the Right Coach
Consider avoiding a coach who has a personality similar to yours. Sailors often assume that understanding the sport will come easier when explained by a like mind, but benefits will come from those who notice your weaknesses. Seek coaches who are experts in your weak areas. For example, if you struggle with starts, look for a coach skilled in that area.
Step 2: Show Up with the Right Attitude
You’re not there to show the coach how much you know, you’re there to grow. Show up with an open mind, ready to improve or learn something new. Keep your emotions in check. they cloud the experience and distract from getting every bit of information from a coach.
Step 3: Come with Questions If you have a question, chances are that someone else does too. Either as an individual or as a team, spend time writing down a few questions to ask the coach. Having questions ready will help the coach make sure you get the experience you’re looking for.
Step 4: Debrief Take time to debrief with the coach and then debrief with your crew immediately afterwards to share thoughts and the biggest take-aways. Discuss ideas for improvement and make a game plan for implementing and practicing new techniques.
Step 5: Document & Implement Turn your game plan into a playbook for the boat. In addition to being a great resource , a playbook gives new crew ideas on how manoeuvres are made. The key to an effective playbook is to keep it simple with not much confusing detail.
ALTERNATIVE COACHING IDEAS
Video: Coaching doesn’t have to be expensive, take Go-Pro videos and have a coach review them plus trade and evaluate each other’s tapes.
Peer Review: Sailors can find coaches in their peers. Take turns making manoeuvres and then discuss what went well and what didn’t – exchange ideas.
Split Costs: Set up a few-days training session or a clinic for the fleet, and split the coaching costs.
Seminars: Take advantage of seminars, if there aren’t any in your area, call your sailmaker and arrange one for your local yacht club.
Holding on to a lead can be as much about your mindset as it is your speed or tactics. Being at the front of the fleet is daunting, but to stay there its important to focus on the little things.
The anticipation of losing the lead you’ve achieved can create a multitude of thoughts that are unrelated to sailing smart and fast.
The anticipation of success can come with fears that are unrelated to getting to that finish line such as “Will I maintain this success in later events? What will people say? Do I really deserve this?”
Outcomes are largely based on uncontrollable variables, like how fast other people are sailing.
When you find yourself in the lead, you did something right, you focused on variables such as wind-shifts, current, and fleet positioning or such controllable variables as your boat-speed, boat-handling, and keeping calm.
Once you’re in the lead, you don’t want to start doing something different such as wasting mental space on what place you will or won’t finish.
You can influence your thoughts, but not control them and over time, you need to form new habits in thinking, if you’re going to play mind games with yourself, play games that work for you, not against you.
Picture what you want to happen, rather than what you want to avoid and your mind programs your body for action.
Practice mental skills, these are like any other skills, could you imagine having good roll tacks without practicing them?
When you are racing upwind, the principal rule of thumb is to sail toward the next shift, on a run, however, you should sail away from the next shift because you are trying to make progress downwind, not upwind.
By getting farther away from the direction of the next shift you will end up on a lower ladder rung when that shift comes, and this means you will be closer to the leeward mark, one clear exception to this rule is when the next wind shift also brings an increase in wind velocity.
Your main priority should be finding the best pressure, once you take care of that you can play the shifts.
Gaining ground to leeward
One common thing that happens on a reach or run is when the boat behind sails higher than you want to sail. This forces you to sail above the VMG course in order to keep your air clear in front of them. The problem is falling into their bad air and then losing ground to the rest of the fleet.
To avoid this happening try two things, first, as soon as the other boat starts heading high, luff up sharply in their path to let them know there is no way you will allow them to sail over you. The windward boat believes that they may be able to roll over you, so squash that early.
The second thing to try is talking to the other boat, suggest they sail lower so that both of you can gain on the rest of the fleet.
If neither technique works and the other boat keeps sailing high, gybing is one way to keep your air clear and regain the ability to sail your VMG angle, but often this is not a strategic option.
The basic idea is to keep your wind (just) safely in front of the other boat, and at the same time try to work farther to leeward and away from them. In other words, pick a safe bearing to that boat and then try to hold this bearing constant while increasing your range (or distance) from them.
Sail your own race.
As they say, the best defense is usually a good offense. If you find the puffs, hit the shifts and sail your boat as fast as possible, there is little chance that boats will catch you from behind.
Sometimes the worst thing you can do is get overly defensive and reactionary, if you let the boats behind dictate how you sail down the run, you could easily miss the puffs and shifts and slowly lose your lead.
Instead, stay aggressive and proactive.
You want to minimize the amount of time that you sail in bad air and you should generally stay between your opponent(s) and the leeward mark.
Avoid Laylines and Corners.
When you get to the sides of the course you risk being cornered with no option to play wind-shifts, cover the boats behind, or avoid wind shadows.
The only time when the layline is a good place for the leader is when the boat behind gets there first – then it’s easy to stay between that boat and the mark.
Improve your Exit Angles
One of the most important steering techniques for downwind boat speed is exiting gybes. Your exit angle affects your heel angle and acceleration.
During gybes, you should come out just a bit higher than your normal course and accelerate before steering to your downwind angle.
Constantly Ease the Kite
A good spinnaker trimmer is always easing the kite until they see a slight curl in the luff, and then trimming in slightly to eliminate the curl.
Once that process is complete, they do it over and over again to ensure that the spinnaker is not over trimmed, which we all know is slow.
Experienced trimmers can even sense lifts and headers by constantly easing for a curl and watching the bow to see if the boat has turned.
If you ease more than normal before getting the curl, and the skipper sailed straight, you got lifted. If you get a big curl without easing, and without the skipper heading up, it’s a header.
Stating this aloud helps the helmsman immensely because he’s looking to gybe on lifts and sail straight on headers.
Sail Fast on the longer Gybe.
If you come around the windward mark and you are almost fetching the leeward mark, the last thing you want to do is sail below your VMG angle or speed.
If the wind shifted left or increased in velocity, there was a fair chance you would fetch the mark on starboard gybe. If the wind went right, you could gybe across the boats that sailed lower.
In either case you would gain the most by sailing fast down the run without worrying about fetching the mark until you were very close to it.
Sailing has always been tricky to get across to the spectator but now TackTracker can show every spectator what all the sailors know …. and more!
The spectator can be at the hosting clubhouse’s bar or restaurant, at home, the office, down the road in a cafe or even on another continent.
Coaches, sports lovers, friends, family and sailors researching their competition or sussing out the local conditions for the regatta they’ll be sailing in soon all love it.
TackTracker’s ability to bring the sport to the spectator means spectators now exceed many thousands for any significant event
TackTracker’s analytical features also add to the spectator experience. Spectators now understand what happened to their boat of interest out on the course but also all the other boats in the race. They now know the what’s, why’s and how’s!
Races can be embedded almost anywhere – on yacht club’s sites, sponsor’s sites, yacht class’ sites, local council sites, etc.
The lucky sponsors can have their logo on the races and a direct link to their site or a chosen landing page so that every time a replay is watched the sponsors logo and contact details are displayed again.
Considering the number of spectators TackTracker attracts, the number of races and the number of times races are replayed by spectators and competitors, this amounts to great exposure and a direct path to a sponsor. As a bonus this publicity is for eternity.
Ask your next sponsor if they will enable TackTracker-ing at your next regatta and make it a win-win.
With national championships and annual long distance races fast approaching we need to turn our mind to sailing in bigger fleets than we have been racing in all year.
Racing in big fleets requires a number of different disciplines to think about and master. In general you can take more risks in a small fleet and if you make a mistake you are not likely to lose many boats.
There tends to be more highly skilled sailors in bigger fleets, a faster pace and less opportunities to carry out your strategic plan so you need to adjust your strategies and tactics accordingly.
Some important considerations in big fleets are –
Be conservative, in a big fleet there are many other boats which influence your sailing so that you are often forced to take tactical decisions over strategic decisions. A conservative approach means not going for the best position or the best strategy but always being close to it, accept small mistakes or small disadvantages to avoid major mistakes. In the regatta, you may not win every race but by being conservative you will be able to avoid really bad results and be close to the top in most races. At the end of a series the winner often hasn’t won a single race but was always placed well.
Clear Air, this is a no-brainer to any competitive sailor but even more critical in a big fleet. In small fleets it’s much easier to get clear air, which means that more boats will have it but in big fleets, there will be heaps of boats getting slowed down by sailing in dirty air. Don’t be one of them.
The Start, there is more chance of a disaster in a big fleet and it is wise to avoid the ends as they are generally more crowded. Try to have space below and above you so that other boats cannot force you to tack away from the side of the course you have chosen. Tacking early can also cause you to lose ground which means losing many boats in a big fleet.
Boat Speed, set your boat up for the conditions and line up with a known performer before the start to make sure you have the settings right. You will not be able to win a big fleet regatta if your speed is not at least equal to the one of the top boats plus of course it is also easier to recover after a mistake. A word of warning though, boat speed doesn’t help you if you stuff up your start or sail in dirty air for a long time
The best preparation for sailing in a big fleet is to race in big fleets but this is not always possible so there are ways of training to prepare yourself.
When you are out practicing with other boats, simulate the big fleet by staying close together and also learn how to sail in dirty air. With a small practice fleet using a really short line is a good way to practice a big fleet start giving you plenty of boats in close proximity.
Train at holding lanes of clear air and practice how to stay in the windward position of a boat that is going high.
Learn how to go for speed to pace it with fast boats around you and get in the habit of putting the bow down a couple of degrees to get the water flowing over the foils thus generating lift.
Learn how to adapt to each situation and the sailing styles of boats and helmsmen around you, doing this helps you to hold your lane for a long time but also teaches you what you need to do when you drop in a leeward boat or get gassed by a boat that has come out from under your lee bow.
These are all situations that you will encounter regularly in big fleets so instinctively knowing what to do will ensure that you make to right split second decision every time.