May 19, 2016 Practice Debrief

Hey all, another great practice.  In addition to the sailors improving greatly, I’m picking up some tips for what I can do better before and during these practices to be sure they go smoothly and are valuable for everyone each week.

We got to three and a half of our four drills, and there was also some good work on tacks and gybes on the way out and then back in. Light wind made some of the drills tricky, but I think the concepts were understood. In our debrief, we talked about the reasoning behind a couple of these drills, as well as some tips on how you can go about practicing further on your own.

I also talked on the water with several boats about their weight placement.  It is important for the skipper to sit opposite the mainsail, and for the crew to position themselves so the skipper is comfortable there. I only suggest standing in a boat at two times; for the skipper during the hand-switch, and for the crew while winging (although there may be other times when you need to briefly stand up in order to cross the boat, etc.)

  1. In the hold-a-spot drill, we used an anchored mark as a gauge for how well we could hold a spot, and how fast we were sliding down a starting line. This skill is valuable as a down-speed maneuverability exercise, and is a good way to simulate a crowded starting line. The goal on the line is to hold a spot, maintain a hole beneath you, be able to defend or close that hole if someone else approaches, and then be able to accelerate into that hole and off the line at the gun.  You’ll never be able to sit at one point forever, but by limiting the speed you slide at, while maintaining maneuverability, you should be able to create and protect a hole below you as the fleet sets up early and slides down the line pre-start. To expand this drill, we should also incorporate timing how long you can hold, and starting from this down-speed position.
  2. Everyone picked up the concept of the lashed-rudder drill quickly, but some of the actual boats (not the sailors so much) were somewhat unresponsive to the sail and heel adjustments, while others turned with ease.  We are as yet unsure what differences in the hulls and sails caused this, but it is certainly clear to me that in the mercury, it is easier to steer without the rudder, than with a rudder lashed to the centerline.  This is in contrast to the 420, which steers poorly without the rudder unless an adjustment is made to rotate the centerboard aft 20 degrees, but I suspect would work well with a rudder lashed amidship.
  3. Gauging the line is an important skill for both starting and finishing. You essentially run this drill at every finish. At the start at least, we can get a better sense with a line sight.  Good sailors who don’t explicitly get a line sight from one end, still use references on shore to help them gauge how close they are. Like driving, golf, and many other sports, estimation is an important part of sailing. But like anything else you practice, without feedback, you won’t know how you’re doing.
  4. As we discussed, sailing backwards isn’t a common part of sailboat racing, but it IS a skill that you can master, improving your boat-handling and confidence. Plus, in pieces, it will apply daily to your races, while other parts may apply occasionally, but in crucial situations. There is a very subtle difference between stopping, and sailing backwards, and it’s no accident that we practiced both on the same day. For one, you have no momentum, and therefore no steerage. For the other, you have steerage, but it feels backwards (no surprise). It is important to know if you switch over to this latter situation, as you will need to steer differently to get out of it.  This happens a lot coming off a dock, at starts, during light-wind tacks, or maneuvering in other down-speed situations. Better to encounter and be able to sail in these conditions on the open water than during a mark rounding!

I think that’s all for today.  Check back next week as I will have a intermediary post, and see you all in a week and a half on Tuesday the 31st.  Happy weekend and sail fast!