Tag Archives: techniques

2018 Season Wrap

Hi all,

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

Cheers, Niko

Parts of a Perfect Practice

Contrary to popular wisdom, poorly executed practicing will not make you perfect.  You need to practice well to improve quickly.  I try (and don’t always succeed) to structure our practices so you have each of the following items to improve your practice, but you can do much of the same on your own time (while racing on Friday for example).

  1. Preparation: be sure that you have the right gear, and that you are practicing in generally the same conditions as you will race (don’t practice in waves on a laser if you intend to race on flat water in a Mercury). Get your boat rigged correctly, and if something breaks or needs adjusting, take a time out to correct it — remove yourself from the group while you do so others can continue to practice.
  2. Set Goals: long term (eg. I want to improve my finishing place this summer, or yell at my competition less) and short term (eg. I want to improve my tacking today, or no raised voices this regatta). Your goals should be something you can control, making them different from dreams (which are good to have too). They should be simple, but something that can be measured and has deadlines. Personally I feel that having a range for your goals is good, as the high end may push you harder, while the low end may be more achievable.
  3. Focus: be focused during the practice, and be clear with yourself when the practice starts. Does the sail out to the course count? You may want to take a short mental/physical break in the middle to catch your breath or shake it out. Or you might need to take a break from a drill for a teaching moment. Focus also applies to creating a drill which addresses the goal or deficit, hopefully excluding other factors. Practice is so valuable because you can exclude many things, and work just on the issue at hand.
  4. Feedback/Measurement: without a measuring stick, one can’t be sure if one is improving or not. Racing is valuable for this on the whole, but it doesn’t always help you measure the parts and pieces. For improving speed, boats will often pair up and “speed test” upwind, take a break to discuss or make adjustments, and then try again. Or if you are learning to hold your place on the line, you might need a buoy and an egg timer. For any goal you can come up there should be a corresponding drill, including a feedback system so you can judge your progress more objectively.
  5. Reenforce and Record: when you learn a new word, the sure way to remember it is to use it in a sentence that day or the next. The same is true with a new skill you have practiced. When you have finished a practice, it’s never a bad idea to spend a couple of minutes reflecting on anything you learned. Write down settings that were good or bad. Take notes on your successes and your failures. Ask questions. The comments section on this blog or your own blog are both free ways to do this, but obviously there are many others.

Lastly, remember that not every practice is successful.  Sometimes your coach is an ass, and sometimes you don’t achieve your goal, or you feel you’ve unlearned a bad habit without picking up a new good one. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate, or you had a shoddy day at work and it carries over. My tennis instructor considered a lesson most successful if you learned something, but also worthwhile if you had fun, and if it was just a bad day, he at least figured he’d run you around to get some exercise. Some similar hierarchy exists in sailing. Even on a bad practice day, at least you’re out in a boat on the water, and as Kenneth Grahame once wrote, there is nothing—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Steering with sail and weight trim

Top sailors often speak of boat feel, and they have worked over many years to hone their skills at steering the boat to be fast, both in a straight line, as well as through every maneuver.  In fact, straight line sailing is really a series of small maneuvers, adjusting the boat trim, sail trim and angle for the changing wind and wave patterns.  While using the rudder is essential to making these adjustments quickly and exactly, it can also create drag, and overuse will slow the boat more than necessary.  To reduce rudder drag, we will ideally use weight placement and sail trim to help the rudder steer the boat.  Below, I describe the theory behind this, a drill you can use to practice effective boat steering, and some places where these techniques might be most effective during a race.

A boat resting in the water, without sails, will pivot about it’s center of lateral resistance (COLR) (essentially the mid-point of the keel or centerboard.)  Any pressure applied forward of this point will push the bow down (figure 1) and pressure applied aftward of this point will cause the the bow to turn up (figure 2).

A trimmed sail exerts the same pressures on the boat.  With only the mainsail trimmed, the force of the wind is exerted aft of the COLR, and as before, the boat turns up (figure 3).  Likewise, with only the jib trimmed, the wind acts forward of the COLR, and drags the bow down, away from the wind.

A sailboat’s steering can be further influenced by it’s heel, with a boat turning away from it’s low side. A boat heeling to windward will bear away from the breeze, while one heeling to leeward will head up into the wind.  The heel can be affected both by crew weight placement, as well as by sail trim.  For this reason, easing the main often has a compounding effect, where the boat bears away because there is less effort aft of the COLR as well as less heel to leeward.

To practice steering with your weight and sails, lash the tiller in the centerline of the boat (use a quickly removable cleat or knot so you can recover steerage if needed.)  Try sailing around a simple triangle or box course using only your weight placement and sail trim to change course.  Communication is key here, and it may require exaggerated adjustments to initiate or stop a turn, but as you get more comfortable, you will be able to anticipate more and adjust less.  Unlash your tiller, and try making those same turns with as little helm as possible, using mostly your weight and sails.  You will often need a strong helm in a race, whether rounding a mark, avoiding a boat, initiating a turn, or intentionally slowing, but being able to use less than other sailors will cause less drag, and increase your speed around the course.

We can imagine this steering is most important any place where a sharp manuever is required, especially as you initiate the turn.  In particular, these techniques are important when initiating a tack, at the windward and leeward marks, and when ducking another boat on a beat to weather.  For example, when rounding the windward mark, it is key to ease the main aggressively, both to reduce the pressure aft of the COLR, and to allow the boat to heel to weather a bit, both of which will help the boat bear away with minimal drag.  The opposite is true at the leeward mark, where coordinating the main to be slightly overtrimmed during the rounding, and the jib to be slightly undertrimmed will allow a great deal less helm to be used, and therefore the boat will carry more speed into the next leg.