Geared towards experienced racers, these chalk talks and on-water practices are run by Tiller Club volunteers. Spring chalk-talks will prepare sailors for limited on-water training hours. Each practice will include briefing, debrief, a structured practice environment, and on-water feedback. Drills vary per attendance and wind conditions with focus on improving boat speed, boat-handling, tactics, and other racing techniques in Mercuries.
Who: Regular CBI racers with Mercury Red rating
When: See the schedule post on the blog
Where: Please be dressed and rigging on the front of the dock at the start of practice. For chalk talks, check the white boards.
Sign up each week after reading the day’s briefing in our blog below:
A big Thank You to those who participated this season. It was a good summer and I think most of you got a lot out of the practices. We'll aim to do something similar next summer. These practices can actually be more effective with more boats, so let's try to spread the word to other regular racers.
Two things to think about during the next few months of sailing:
- What we discussed yesterday was to focus on leaving your tacks at the right angle, and with the right sail and hull trim. Basically, begin sailing fast again as soon after the tack as possible. This doesn't mean rushing the tacks, but instead accelerating immediately after them, rather than staying slow for a while before getting back to proper techniques.
- You might find this Race Q's app interesting. If you can get a few sailors to use it, then you can track how you did in a race, perhaps see how good or bad each tack or leeward mark rounding was, etc. You might find a couple items to work on.
That's about it, but there's plenty of racing still going on out there. Don't miss it, as it's what you've been practicing for!
Alright, last practice of the season! Sad, but should be a good one. It's looking like we'll have a nice little easterly. I want to work on two drills that we've done before which can really be good in lighter wind. Also, a game I call Sumo Sailing. Let's try to take off from and land on the L-dock.
We'll begin with a quick follow the leader to gather everyone. Then, going up the river, we'll do either tacking or gybing on the whistle. Upwind, 3 whistles starts the drill, and from there on means stop or start. 2 whistles - do a 360. 1 whistle is a tack. Feel free to skip a tack or do an extra in order to re-join the group.
Downwind, 3 whistles is stop/start, 2 is go from a reach to a run or a run to a reach, and 1 whistle is gybe. We really want to get good at the rolling aspects of the tacks, gybes, and going to a reach. Other learning goals are to make sure we come out of the tacks right at close hauled, to control our steering and our main through the gybe, and to adjust to wind-shifts on the reach or run.
Sumo sailing is a team drill, we do inside of a box course. The goal is to force the other team out using the ROW rules. I will blow a 3-minute start sequence and the game begins at go. The team entering on port can enter ten seconds early. I'll describe this again on the dock. See you on the L-dock at 6pm.
We will be holding this practice next week, Tuesday July 31 at the same time. This will be the last practice on-water practice of the year due to JP coaching commitments. I'm sorry for the late notice as my timing predictions proved to be off yesterday and I cannot make it back from Marblehead in time.
If you are out sailing today, I suggest these two drills you can do solo:
- use a buoy on the water (or bring your own). Set a three minute timer while you are near the buoy, sail away for a full minute, and then spend two minutes returning to the buoy. Can you get it right on? Try from different directions. Can you get creative in slowing down, while still pointing generally towards the buoy? Use luffing, S-curves, rudder stall, and pinching to help you. If there's a second boat, you can each choose a side of the buoy so there is some interaction (but you can still both get off the mark on time!)
- using the same buoy, try the "hold your spot" drill where we use the same slowing techniques to hold our bow on the buoy for a long time. In reality, the first drill will often end up being the second drill.
- bonus option: if there are three or more boats, try rabbit starts. You can do this with the rabbit blowing a few short whistles to say "get ready" and then 30-60 seconds later, a long blast saying "I'm coming". Try to have the rabbit round within 15-20 seconds of the "I'm coming" whistle.
And of course you can always practice roll tacks and gybes with a crew-mate. Throw in some 360's and 720's for good measure.
If you are looking for today's briefing, please see the previous post below this one.
Our last on-land debrief got slightly contentious, and I've been meaning to write an addendum. While I do think that taking yourself out of your comfort zone to learn to roll tack and gybe is really important, I also know that it's hard. It's physically difficult, and there are mental hurdles. These are not small issues, but they often can be overcome if you will let yourself, at least with the mental parts.
However, there are two other items you can try to also improve your tacks and gybes. Try new hand and footwork to try to keep yourself balanced, and also allow yourself to CONTROL both the mainsheet and your steering through the entire tack. Finishing the tack RIGHT on close-hauled should be a learning goal for most new/intermediate racers (and advanced racers too) , as many come out of tacks low (or high) and you can never make up for that lost height or speed. Same thing with the gybes. Having control, meaning a solid footing, and good control of the helm and sheets will make gybes much less scary. If my footing/handwork ideas don't work for you, try new things until you find ones that do. Don't keep doing something that's not working. You should feel COMFORTABLE tacking, gybing, and controlling the boat throughout and feeling like you have an attachment to the boat, and your feet and/or butt underneath you. I am here to help you with that, not to set impossible tasks, but I will also continue to push you to not do the same thing you've been doing if it's not working.
Hi all, very excited for nice (not steady) breeze today. Per usual, let's try to be dressed and rigging on the front of the dock at 6pm for a quick briefing. Everyone's work in the past in this regard has been super helpful for our good race practices so far.
We will start with a blind-fold sailing drill. Rig, and get out past the worst of the traffic, and then sail out to our course area near the Harvard Boathouse with the skipper blind-folded. This will require the crew to do lots of communication and explaining where to sail, how to trim, etc. Please be prepared to remove your blindfold if necessary, and perhaps have a safe-word for the crew ("help" is pretty good). We'll have a short windward/leeward course set up, and you can do a lap of that, and then rotate skipper and crew.
Our second drill will be rabbit starts. These consist of a countdown start near a leeward mark or "pin" buoy. The designated "rabbit" boat will round that buoy to port at about 15 seconds remaining, and begin sailing on close-hauled on port tack. Other boats can start on starboard tack between the pin and the rabbit. Note that the rabbit has right of way even though they are on port tack, and you will need to duck them in order to start. Please see this .gif for an animated example of a rabbit start: https://www.dropbox.com/s/68rhgm63w5pctnc/Rabbit%20Start%201.gif?dl=0
Lastly, we'll do some pursuit races. I will set up a triangle course (we NEVER get to do those!) with a windward mark, a wing/gybe mark, and a leeward mark. We'll do a follow the leader by ascending or descending sail number into the windward mark, and the goal is after rounding that mark to pass as many boats as possible. The race will go from the windward "start" to the wing, to the leeward, and finish back at the windward mark. This drill can force more experienced sailors to pick their way through the pack of the fleet, and give less experienced ones some time sailing towards the front or middle of the pack.
We do have one newly red-rated sailor who is just becoming a regular who is looking to crew only, so if someone wants some extra time at the helm, you can pair up with her. See you all at 6!
We had a great practice two weeks ago. We really focused on keeping the boat at an even heel level by using main trim, steering, and weight placement. We also tried hard to keep the boat pointed as far to weather as possible, as many people lose a lot of distance by sailing below close hauled. Improvement was excellent during the day, and I hope people had fun.
For today, breeze is looking pretty good, a moderate SEster. Let's be dressed and rigging at 6pm. I'll be there a bit earlier today to help groups get ready.
We'll begin by sailing out to the anchored floating dock in the middle of the river, and doing loops of that (rounding it to port continuously). The goal here is to warm you up, to gather everyone, and to practice our gybing and tacking maneuvers, as well as our windward and leeward mark-rounding maneuvers. You can attempt to get inside overlap as you come around each corner, taking a shorter or faster route. Be careful about being inside at the windward edge though, as you still need to clear the dock AND it's anchor lines!
Then we'll briefly gather on the dock for a quick roll-tack and roll gybe demonstration. Hopefully we can land all the mercuries on the dock safely for a few minutes. We may need to lower the mainsails. Lastly, we'll do some loops of a smallish windward leeward course with a requirement to tack or gybe five times between each mark. Also work really hard on making tight leeward (and windward) mark roundings, particularly on finishing on the correct course.
I promise, next time we'll do starts, slowing or stopping the boat, and even maybe some "Sumo-Sailing".
We had a great evening on the water two weeks ago. The light wind allowed us to focus on rolling our tacks and gybes. I REALLY appreciated everyone being on time (dressed and rigging at 6pm). It made the practice much more successful because we could meet as a group ahead of time.
Today we have a really nice day with quite a bit of breeze (some sailors may choose/be encouraged to reef). The focus will be on heavier air sailing, as well as some starting practice. For the heavy air sailing, the goal is to maintain a constant heel angle. This applies upwind and downwind (all the time, not just heavy air) and allows you to sail straight with minimal tiller movement. Use your sails, weight, and heading to control your power level (and thus your heeling moment).
Given a steady course and tilt, in a shift or a puff, you can apply a small change in the heel, along with rudder movement and sail adjustment to head up, bear away, etc. That means when we get a gust or lift, we're easing the jib slightly, letting the boat heel to leeward a touch, and the tiller go below centerline, all of which help the boat head up. Anticipate the close-hauled course and bring your trim back in as you approach it. The opposite items apply in a lull or header (generally).
To begin the day, we'll have a long starting line, and we'll collect everyone there. I'd like each boat in turn to sail across the line on close hauled, and raise your arm all the way in the air when you think your bow is on the line. I will give a sound signal when in fact you are so you can test your judgement. Also take this time to do a time-check on the start line. We'll run that same drill 2-3 times with each skipper (switching helms part way through).
After the start test drill, we'll run some practice starts, and sail up to the Mass Ave bridge. Tack on the whistle (but mostly we'll be sailing straight to practice that constant angle thing.) You can tack extra if you want/need to in order to stay with the group, avoid boats, or just for practice. Out of the tacks, try to get the boat flat and on course right away. Good tacks in this breeze are about getting through the wind quickly, and then moving fast again.
We'll run the same drill downwind, but all of the maneuvers should be less aggressive and more focused on keeping the boat steady, especially as a puff approaches. One whistle is gybe, and two is go from a reach to a wing or vice-versa.
Towards the end of the day, we'll add a small gate in the middle of the line, which is restricted to only a couple of specified boats. Other than that, it's a regular starting sequence. We may also do some "mystery" starts, where I can blow 20 seconds any time after 30 seconds (right away or a minute later). This encourages you to hold your spot even on a windy day. Do this by "limping" on a pinched course so that you have steerage but are moving very slowly, and making minimal upwind headway.
See you all soon. Cheers, Niko
Ahh, beautiful weather. We should finally get on the water today! Email me if you can make it, or sign up online.
Let's try to be dressed and rigging by 6pm (if you're late, pair up and join us on the water.) Most of you will be paired with a co-skipper, and it's extremely important that you practice the craft of crewing as well as helming, both so you can be good at it, and so your skipper can improve. It's nearly impossible to correct skipper issues if the crew work is not good.
With the Easterly, we should have a fairly long river, so we'll do some follow the leader to collect everyone, then some work with tack and gybe on the whistle. We'll try to line up luffing on a beam reach, and then go either upwind or downwind (depending on which way we have water.)
In the upwind drill, three whistles means accelerate or stop (don't lose steerage though when you stop.) Two whistles means do a 720. One whistle means tack. As a helm, do not rely on my whistle to tell your crew you're tacking, spinning or stopping. Relay the message to your crew, as your situation may require a delay (boat in your way, etc.), or perhaps your crew heard something different. We're working on roll tacking, using weight and sails to spin, and controlling our speed when we stop, then accelerating again quickly.
Downwind, three whistles means start or stop. Two means go from a wing to a reach or a reach to a wing. One whistle means gybe. Get a roll and flatten out of the gybe as well as the turn up to a reach. A crew's roll initiates each of these turns. The crew should have the board DOWN for all gybes, and to go from a wing to a reach. All gybes should end on a reach. The crew should wing the jib ONLY through the fairlead (I always say "through he block"). The skipper can slide forward, collect the sheet, and walk it around the side-stay. Try to spend as little time as possible with the jib not drawing, and also to steer as much as possible with the sails and your weight.
See you all out there!
The reason this post has been delayed is weather. We have a plan A, which is to pair up at 6pm to go out an sail Mercuries. We would focus on heavy wind sailing, safety gybes, tuning the boat for breeze, switching modes, 360's in heavy wind, keeping your boat flat and pointed upwind, and flat and stable downwind, etc. If we're open, I'll see you rigged and dressed at 6pm.
Plan B is to do some work in the demo boats if we can go on the dock, but not sail. Some simple stuff like hand switches, as well as more complex footwork, demonstrating helm, crew positioning, etc. Still would hope to start at 6, and get done a bit early.
I'm expecting we'll have to go to plan C, which is a chalk talk. We can still talk about all of the above stuff, and also answer any questions anyone has had over the last two weeks. Hopefully you've been racing on your own, and running into situations where you weren't sure what was going on. We can talk more about when to use your sail/weight steering methods, how to plan your windward leg, and how to adjust as you go upwind. I've run across some rules situations with my HS sailors over the last few days as well that I can share with you. Please write down your questions for this evening so you don't forget them!
We had a great discussion on starting two weeks ago. We talked about pre-start routines, controlling your speed approaching the start, and about starting strategies and protecting your hole. We also looked at a little animation on rabbit starts. More detail on all of this below, as well as our plan for this week (tomorrow, Tuesday April 1, 2018).
Tomorrow we'll once again be on the white-board and using the projector to break down some upwind maneuvers, some drills we'll do on the water, and some downwind strategy and tactics. We'll talk about roll tacks and roll gybes, steering with sails and weight, follow the leader, ultimate sailing, and sumo sailing, and about passing lanes and reaching vs. winging strategy downwind.
Two weeks ago, we talked a lot about starts. We talked about having a routine for between the dock and the race-course, and specifically for working right around the starting area. Run the line to get a sense of the time/distance/speed for the day. Find the laylines to the boat and pin in order to get oriented on the course. And figure out which end of the line is favored. This may be before or after you practice some tacks, gybes and other maneuvers with your crew to warm up.
We also discussed different starting strategies. One involved timing your way away from and then back to the line. Another suggested you come in from the port end and find a hole on the line to set up in. No matter what, we suggested that being able to control your speed was really important. This doesn't always mean stopping, but might require you to sail slowly, or sail higher than normal. It might even mean aggressive use of the rudder to slow your boat and also to sail extra distance. In almost all cases, it meant luffing your jib to slow, and usually trimming your main to maintain height and steerage. This week we'll talk a little about when you might trim your jib and luff your main during the sequence, as we get into steering with sails and weight.
Lastly, we discussed rabbit starts, which require many of the same maneuvers to control your speed, but ask for a different kind of geometrical judgement. In a rabbit start, a port boat rounds a leeward mark, and sails close-hauled. Other boats start by passing between the "rabbit" and the buoy by ducking the port boat. You can see an animation of one here. In addition to positioning ourselves to start correctly without barging, the rabbit start also asks us to guestimate where the rabbit will be headed as she leaves the leeward mark, and draw a reverse layline in our head. This is a useful skill for leeward mark roundings, for judging whether someone is ahead of you (ladder rungs), and for practicing ducking, in addition to helping us practice our starting slow//hold/accelerate maneuvers and strategies.