Switch Up Your Perspective: Slow Boat Sailing

Switch Up Your Perspective: Slow Boat Sailing

Switch Up Your Perspective: Slow Boat Sailing

Day one and I could barely keep up with the boat handling calls. I kept my head down, did my best to remember which line was which, and - Bang! My first spinnaker set sailing on a Catalina 37 and a misstep sent me crashing down through the bow hatch… 

Lots to learn...

This weekend, for the first time in a long time I did a bit of my own yacht racing. It was my first time on a Catalina 37, my first time doing mast, first time sailing with this team, and first match race regatta since 2012. 

We lost three out of our first four races on day one by narrow margins, but came roaring back to win nine out of the remaining ten races in the regatta, finishing second overall, winning the California Dreamin’ Match Race Series and earning a berth at Long Beach Yacht Club’s, Ficker Cup in March

Willie McBride and Alex Burrow onboard Catalina 37 Sailboat for California Dreamin' Match Race Event

As a team, we went into the weekend knowing that we had plenty of talent onboard, but faced a huge challenge if we wanted to play in the top of the field. 

The mission was simple: starting from a place where none of us had ever match raced Catalina 37s, we needed to absorb information at every opportunity, to learn as quickly as possible and keep our learning curve steep! 

Challenge accepted.

Whether you are a Wednesday night PHRF sailing team looking to step up your game for the 2020 season, a new skiff team working on developing some team chemistry, or an Olympic 49er team looking for that last little edge, this debrief is all about how to get the most from yourself and your teammates in high stakes, racing environments. 

The Right Amount Of Criticism

On Friday afternoon, we got the keys to the boat and the race was on - one day to learn the boat before the start of race number one.

By all accounts from the back of the boat, our first lap was great. Tacking, gybing, setting, dousing - it all happened on lap number one, and with the exception of me taking a bit of a tumble through the hatch that the kite launched out of, it looked fairly smooth… 

Up at the other end of the boat though, we had a slightly different perspective. Did the kite go up? Yes. Was it a beautiful maneuver? Far from it. While I was busy getting my head wrapped around which side of the mast held the spinnaker halyard and which was the jib, our pit guy, Nick had his work cut out to figure out how to pull up on the spinnaker halyard, down on the jib halyard, up on the topping lift, off on the vang, outhaul, and cunningham, and in on the foreguy… all within a boat length or two of the mark. 

catalina 37 sailboat match racing with team dark horse match racing

On any team, whether there are seven people to coordinate, or two, finding a good balance with a healthy amount of tension is key to quick improvement. 

In this case, the afterguard wanted the bow guys to speed up (surprise, surprise) - they were pushing us to get each maneuver done faster and with more precision. Meanwhile, we were communicating back that they needed to slow down! Slow the turn, give more warning into the maneuvers, etc.

You can imagine (or maybe you have first hand experience) of an imbalance in this area - too much tension and things get emotional, yelling starts to happen, and team coordination (not to mention morale) tends to spiral. Too little on the other hand, and no pressure is applied to improve.

A few specific places where it is really important to have some tension are:

  • Between helmsman and trimmer in a straight line: Figure out who likes to press, and who likes to point, and use this to your advantage. If the skipper is always trying to put the bow down, the trimmer can be talking them up: “Good speed here, brining you up two degrees,” as the jib gets clicked in for that higher mode. 

  • Between tactician and skipper on the starting line: If the skipper’s job is to keep the bow up and avoid hitting leeward boats, and the tactician’s job is to ask for bow down and flow on, it will help you to hold your spot on the line.

  • In training boat handling: Like in our regatta experience this weekend, your teammates are your best coaches because they’re sitting next to you, and can feel the same things that you’re responding to. Push each other to pull just a little bit faster, grind a little bit harder, and turn a little bit smoother in practice, so that by the time it’s time to race, you’ve pushed your limits to new heights. 

As we went through the day, Chris and Berto steadily ratcheted up the intensity as we improved to keep pushing us just outside of our comfort zone, and we made steady progress.

But doing the maneuvers twenty times and hoping that you’re going to be able to execute flawlessly under pressure is not going to win you any races, so let’s dig into a few tools that will be critical in expediting the learning curve, and executing more consistently on the race course.

“Do it the same, but better,” Using routines to improve around the race course.

On day one we scrambled and scrapped, and eventually got it done… but through all of this, we worked on our routines. 

We figured out how to shuffle our bodies around on the deck through maneuvers to maximize hiking potential for all seven teammates.

We experimented with different orders of operations in hoisting the spin pole, setting the kite, and dropping the jib to see what worked best.

We played with various combinations of jib, main and spinnaker in the pre-start maneuvers to see what would allow us to have the most control over our competitors.

After nearly every single maneuver, we had a quick discussion about how it went, what was difficult and how we could make incremental improvements to our established routines, in order to help make each other's lives easier, or make the maneuvers more efficient.

One of the biggest differences that I see between pro’s and amateurs (and probably the number one difference that I see between the top of the fleet on a local beer can race and the bottom of the fleet) is the disciplined commitment to building routines. 

quest for the cup team sailing AC45 with Erika Reineke helming,  mac Agnese on boards and willie mcbride trimming the wing

In 2012 I had the opportunity to sail one of Oracle’s AC 45’s with my aspiring Youth America’s Cup team. Part of our homework prior to the experience was that we connected with Morgan Larson, who sent us a maneuver handbook for his Extreme 40 team at the time. Essentially, it was a spreadsheet which outlined each position on the boat, and the role of the person in those positions during each maneuver. 

Since then, every time I’ve sailed with a new pro team, we’ve had a spreadsheet outlining all of our most important routines, whether maneuvers, roles on land, or otherwise.

On the best teams, your routine starts when you arrive at the dock in the morning. The same person rigs the same line - every time. The same person tapes the shackles, the same person coils the tails, etc., etc. If everyone knows their job and consistently executes that job, it allows learning to take place at a much faster pace, because it makes it obvious who is in charge of what, and who is responsible for improvements in which areas.

When you have routines, whether they are right or wrong, you have a baseline, from which you can make incremental adjustments to see if they make things better or worse.

After our training day on Friday, we walked away with a pretty good routine for our spinnaker douses...

But a disastrous douse on the first day of racing where the spinnaker pole twisted around the jib sheets, revealed a major issue in certain tactical situations. Fortunately, because we already had the framework for the routine, we were able to talk through it mid race, pinpoint the modification that needed to be made, and adjust on future maneuvers.

This same maneuver earned us a race win on day two when we forced another team to make the same mistake, and avoided the pitfall ourselves by getting the pole away sooner. 

Some routines that we implemented this weekend included:

  • Morning rigging operations.

  • Boat handling routines and orders of operations.

  • Explicit checkpoints around the race course where each person was responsible for “cleaning their offices”.

  • Starting line compass number routine, and time distance routine.

  • Between race re-hydration and food routine.

Creating routines is a powerful tool to expedite your learning, but there is one critical ingredient when crafting these routines: good communication.

Sailing Team Synergy And Setting the Right Tone For Communication

We went into day two ready for action, and the boys in the back of the boat came out guns blazing on the start. They maintained nice control of the competition, won the end we were looking for, and gave us a small advantage off the line.

But we were slow.

On our side of the course we sailed in more pressure, but couldn’t quite sneak out ahead, and when the two boats came back together into the same pressure, we began losing distance, unable to point with the other team.

After the race we debriefed on the speed issues. At the bow, the bottom genoa telltale was right in front of our faces, and we felt that the sail had been over trimmed for most of the race, but in the back of the boat, they were looking up at the middle and top telltales and liked the look. 

As soon as all of this was articulated, the answer was obvious: we needed to put the jib car forwards to make so that the sail could get eased slightly without trimming the top of the sail. 

This was an example of where communication is key. Moreover, the ability to critique each other in an objective, unemotional way can help everyone see the bigger picture.

This challenge pertains to match racers, yacht racers, skiff racers, and non-racers far beyond the race course! When criticism gets thrown around - especially in high pressure environments - there is a tendency for the criticized to get defensive and in turn become the criticizer.

The best teammates recognize that everyone onboard is dependent on one another. When you do your job well it makes your teammate’s job easier, so rather than getting frustrated with a teammate for a mistake, ask or think about how you can help to make their life easier.

A quick side note here. As a coach, I often work with sailors who want me to validate their opinions onboard by critiquing their teammate. Don’t be that sailor! In the wise words of JFK, “Ask not what your sailing team can do for you, ask what you can do for your team!”

The starting place for every discussion onboard needs to be that everyone on the boat is there for a reason. Everyone is a valuable member of the team, and they are making every effort to get the boat around the course to the best of their ability.

The environment needs to be created so that anyone on the team feels comfortable saying, “I can’t move that fast,” or, “I need an extra second,” or, “I need some help on this part of the maneuver.”

Again, it comes back to striking the right balance: If you can’t talk about the mistakes, you’ll never improve, but if the criticism is too harsh, your teammates aren’t going to be willing to volunteer opinions like, “I need help here, ______,” which will help you improve the routines in the long run. 

As soon as we had our conversation about the jib leads the boat was blazing fast for the rest of the day!

Improve Your Sailing Tactics By Match Racing

Right now I coach a multi-time Women’s Match Race World Champion, and she (along with many others) have always told me that they think match racing is a critical foundation for top level sailors to have some experience with. 

I dabbled a bit at the beginning of my college sailing career, and have some war stories to prove it (Like the time I ripped the stanchion off of a J105 when we didn’t quite have the swing! Thanks to whoever took care of that repair bill… :-/). 

But to come back to the discipline after spending so many hours watching sailboat racing in the last few years was an amazing learning experience.

The focus on the racing rules of sailing, the risk versus reward equations, and the judgement calls surrounding boat handling maneuvers versus leverage were all very interesting. 

One of my favorite scenarios that played out a few times was the final two tacks of the beat. The trailing boat would tack shy of lay line to try to sucker the leader into two extra tacks, and the leader had to decide whether to take the extra maneuvers, or allow the trailing boat to take the last bit of leverage.

The equation plays out often in fleet racing, but rarely in the black and white terms of match racing: is (the cost of two extra tacks) < or > (meters of leverage)*(cost coefficient of potential shift)*(probability of potential shift). A 5 degree wind shift is worth 12% of leverage, so if there’s a 50% chance of a 5 degree shift at the top, with a 100 meters of leverage left to play for at the top of the course (just under 9 boat lengths for us this weekend), you could think of that as being a risk of 6 meters by letting your opponent go (there are more complicated and more accurate ways to think about this, but that’s for another article!). On the other hand, taking two extra tacks might cost you six meters, so the trade off might be a tricky judgement call. 

In match racing, it was pretty black and white from the standpoint that if there was any chance of the other boat getting a piece of you by taking that last bit of leverage, you took the two extra tacks and shut the door. But at the same time, if you had a good process for assessing the risk, and you could afford to make the high percentage move, there were big gains to be had by shifting into more of a fleet racing mode and letting your opponent do the extra maneuvers.

Trust & Yacht Racing

In so many ways, this weekend was a humbling exercise in trust. Rarely have I found myself in the front of a boat over 20 feet long. When your vision is blurred with exertion from ripping on the halyards, and you’re sweating it out below deck sorting the kite, you need to have a lot of faith that the guys in the back of the boat know what they’re doing, and that they’re making the most of your hard work!

Chris Weis, Berto Stevens and Haydon Stapleton in the back of the catalina 37 sailboat

Sailing with Chis and Berto was a great experience because they have an incredible synergy from so many years of racing together. Berto was sharp on the tactics and the match racing moves and Chris adjusted to sailing with a steering wheel instead of a tiller, like a champ, showing excellent boat control in the prestarts and on the course.

I’ve done some sailing on bigger boats in the past, but with this group, it really felt like yacht racing. Everyone was a critical cog in each maneuver, and the communication, precision and process just improved throughout the week. 

At the end of the day, whether you’re sailing a dinghy or a big yacht, the high level advantages are skills that are hard to develop on big boats because they require a more holistic background of sailing experience, which is hard to get when your job onboard is one small piece of the puzzle. 

Nevertheless, the learning undoubtedly translates both directions. Spending the weekend focusing intensely on one single aspect of the boat - just that mast role - got me far more tuned into spinnaker pole height and shape. While the trimmers adjusted lateral sail shape, Nick and I played the spin pole to set the vertical sail shape, and the impact on speed was awesome to see.

How to make the most of your final 15 minutes of practice.

Although I focus mainly on high performance boats at this point, I did a lot of cross training as a junior sailor in 420s, 470s, FJs and other white sail boats!

Although I focus mainly on high performance boats at this point, I did a lot of cross training as a junior sailor in 420s, 470s, FJs and other white sail boats!

In a recent debrief I wrote about the Pareto Principle (click here to read about it), which says that you learn 80% of a skill with 20% of your time, but it takes 80% of your time to master that final 20%. So often what I’ve found is that you can expedite that learning curve by simply switching your perspective. Get outside of your comfort zone and do something different. 

Go sail a slow boat for the weekend, and observe the tactical game at a little slower pace.

Go do some offshore racing and learn about navigation.

Go do mast for a match racing team…  

Even on a micro level this is super important:
One last trick that we used to super charge our learning curve at the match race this weekend was to film our practice using a GoPro, and review that footage in the evenings. This helped everyone on the boat to take a step back from their position, see the big picture and see what our teammates were dealing with.  

Why wasn’t the pole tip going up faster? Well, often times it was because the spinnaker halyard was around the spreader tip, slowing the hoist, so if the bow guy could free that up, the pit man would be free to get the pole up. 

Why wasn’t the kite filling sooner? Because the bow team only had so many hands and, a bit of support from the trimmers to open the jib clutch would go a long way!

Here’s an easy trick to make the last 15 minutes of every practice more efficient: One of the most common places for teams to lose focus is on the sail in. You’ve been practicing hard for hours, coach tells you to send it in, and brain goes into neutral.

An easy way to change this habit by incorporating the ideas in this debrief, is to make switched-sailing at the end of the day a part of your routine - skipper crewing and crew skippering forces you both to get outside of your comfort zones, to reflect on how the boat feels from the other person’s perspective.

Who knows, you might uncover a new way for you to help your teammate by spending a while in their shoes!

How To Win The Final Race Of The Regatta

In the last race of the weekend we saw it all come together: the starting lessons, the boat speed tweaks, the boat handling, and the communication. 

In the pre-start we took control mid way through the sequence, and started with a small advantage, going to the side that we liked for pressure. Our opponent split tacks, and we came back slightly ahead, but with not much in it at the top mark. Our set was beautiful with the trimmers stepping in to help with halyards, and the kite snapping full within a boat length of the mark. 

The race was still tight, so we gybed once - twice - then a gybe-to-hot (one of the more challenging maneuvers we had practiced). 

We busted through our competitor’s wind shadow to establish an inside overlap at the mark, executed a sweet douse, and took control of the next beat. Speed was great, and on each tack we extended away.

Why do you sail?

I like to ask that question to the people that I coach, and even more so, I like to ask parents of sailors why they pay so much money for their kids to sail!

final race of california dreamin' match race sailing regatta

At the end of the day, I think that the people who are lifelong sailors love this sport because of the challenge, the self reliance demanded by the ocean, and ultimately the personal growth that those produce.

This weekend was a perfect combination of all of those things, mixed with some amazing camaraderie and great competition.

For me, the last race is always the most fun to win, because in a small way, it hopefully shows that you’ve learned something over the course of the regatta. I went into this event with no expectations, and our team set a goal to be the most improved team each day. From the speed, to the boat handling, to the comms I think we definitely achieved that goal. 

Thanks to everyone who made it happen, especially the dudes on @darkhorsematchracing, Chris Weis, Berto Stevens, Haydon Stapleton, Dylan Finestone, Nick Wies, and Alex Burrow. Give ‘em a follow on the ‘gram. To the Del Rey Yacht Club for supporting the team. To Bronny Daniels for the great shots. And to Jess Gerry and the Long Beach Yacht Club for an awesome weekend of racing.

No skiff clinics planned for next weekend, so I’ll try to get an interesting debrief posted, possibly with an interview from one of the Skiff Squad alums, but then we’ll be back on the water in San Diego the weekend of November 16-17, so stay tuned.

Master Light Air Skiff Sailing In The 29er

Master Light Air Skiff Sailing In The 29er

Sail In the Extremes

Jordan Janov and Grant Janov, brothers sail the 29er sailboat together in light wind conditions
Paris Henken and Anna Tunnicliffe Tobias, and Nate Houseberg and Lucy Wilmot sailing in light air in santa barbara, california

Want to improve your game all around? Try spending more time sailing in the extremes. And I’m not just talking about the windy, wavy gnarly extremes. 

So many teams sit on land in three knots of breeze, waiting to see if the wind will fill, to avoid the drift-fest of light air sailing, but some of the best sailors in the world come out of light air venues. If you put the work in in the light stuff, you’ll see big improvements across conditions.

Light air sailing teaches you to be patient.

Light air sail trim and weight movement teach you to be smooth and subtle in the boat. 

Training in light conditions forces you to recalibrate your sensitivity to tiny amounts of pressure and heel.

Above all, it requires you to get interested in the tiny details of technique to try to eek out an extra .1 knots of boat speed, which can multiply as you begin to build apparent wind.

Let’s take a deep dive into mastering light air sailing - technique, boat handling, and how we can make the most of our light air practices.

Testing the Boundaries

Before we get into the technique side of things, we first need to define “light air” and some terminology that we’ll be using throughout this article. 

In the future I’ll be writing a whole article on conditions and moding across the whole wind range, and I’ll actually be breaking sail setup and performance down a lot more, but for the purposes of this discussion, we’ll lump all underpowered conditions into one category and focus on that.

What does “underpowered sailing” mean?

Full hike, main on centerline tells you that this team is at “full power” - more pressure and they’d need to ease, less pressure and they’d need to bend in.

Full hike, main on centerline tells you that this team is at “full power” - more pressure and they’d need to ease, less pressure and they’d need to bend in.

To answer this question well, we need to first define “full power” - the dividing line between overpowered and underpowered. At full power, a team can get everyone hiking as hard as possible - toggled down on the wire, shoulders back. BUT, we’re not yet easing the sheets to shed power. If the pressure drops at all from that full power wind speed, the team will no longer be supported in full hiking positions and will have to come in.

In sailing, there are generally only two different reasons to ease the mainsheet upwind. In overpowered conditions the reason is obvious: to keep the boat balanced and keep the heel angle steady, you’ll be moving the mainsheet a lot because you’re already at max hike in overpowered conditions. But what about in underpowered conditions? If we’re not yet to full power, why do we ease the mainsheet?

Setting aside apparent wind shifts (which we’ll dig into later on in this debrief), the main reason we ease in underpowered conditions is to prevent the sail from stalling. 

Pin it to win it. 

Ask the OG skiff sailors - the guys who pioneered the 49er class or did a bunch of 18 Foot Skiff sailing - and they’ll tell you to trim your main hard, don’t move it, and focus all of your energy on weight movement. In other words, “Pin it to win it.”

The old school approach emphasizes an important truth - weight movement should be the number one priority in underpowered conditions

Every little sniff of wind brings the potential for a tiny bit more speed forwards, and extra speed means more apparent wind creating a powerful feedback loop.

In contrast, every time the boat heels, energy is wasted both in the movement of the rig and then in fighting the bow back down with the rudder. 

All of this means that good weight movement is critical!

Each change in pressure makes the boat want to heel or flatten. Each piece of chop makes the boat want to slow or surge. Each of these factors requires a slightly different adjustment.

In general there are two types of weight movement that are important in underpowered conditions: 

  1. The big heel adjustment to lock in the rail position that you’re looking for, and

  2. The small, frequent adjustments to maintain constant heel.

Generally skippers have a good feel for the first type because they can feel it in the helm. Too much heel means too much rudder load, while too flat can make it hard to keep the bow up, especially in tricky sea state. 

Once the helm feels good though, the real challenge is type two weight movement: Taking every tiny change in pressure, and turning it into speed forwards by constantly moving weight to eliminate the 1-2 degree “noise”, and really lock the heel in.

To help nail this technique, we need to dive into apparent wind.

Did you know?

Newer GoPro and Garmin cameras can measure and overlay heel data on your videos so that you can see how stable you’re really sailing. 

Be Proactive, Not Reactive With Sail Trim and Weight Movement

Thinking of skipping this section? Take our quiz on apparent wind!

Has a coach ever told you to, “Anticipate what’s coming next”? 

To, “Keep your head out of the boat”?  

Or to, “Be more proactive with weight movement”? 

Sometimes just being a bit more sensitive to small changes in heel can make it look like you’re more in sync with the conditions and make you more proactive. But the really great sailors look into the future by reading the water, and they prepare accordingly.

You probably know that you should be looking for pressure on the water, but what do you do on the days where texture is hard to see? Or days where the pressure seems up and down, but the texture seems consistent?

While texture can be a good indication of big, medium to long term pressure changes, the quick, constant variation in power that you can take advantage of to stabilize the boat and milk out that extra speed, is often more impacted by sea state than wind, so looking for the peaks and troughs in the waves becomes more important than looking at texture.

What happens when you hit a piece of chop, and how can we anticipate the pressure changes that it brings? 

Boat speed (red) and true wind (blue) combine to make apparent wind (green) until the boat hits chop, at which point speed drops (becoming purple) and apparent wind decreases and shifts aft (orange). Speed then builds again until it is back where it started and apparent wind adjusts accordingly.

Boat speed (red) and true wind (blue) combine to make apparent wind (green) until the boat hits chop, at which point speed drops (becoming purple) and apparent wind decreases and shifts aft (orange). Speed then builds again until it is back where it started and apparent wind adjusts accordingly.

The first thing, before anything else is that the boat immediately slows down. This speed loss causes apparent wind to shift aft and decrease (true wind direction becomes relatively more important because boat velocity becomes relatively less important). If the sails don’t move they’ll be too tight for the new apparent wind direction. 

Then, just as quickly as you stopped, the bow is through the chop and the boat starts to reaccelerate, causing apparent wind to move forwards and increase again. 

Whether the boat loads or unloads in each of these scenarios is somewhat hard to predict. With the initial slow, and apparent shift aft, the pressure is decreasing, however, it is also loading the sails more parallel to the beam of the boat, so it may cause increased loading depending on the amount of the pressure drop and the leach tension in the sails (we’ll get into that part in a minute). On any given day, the trick here is to get on the water early, set your boat up, and see how it responds to the sea state that day.

Other types of sea state effect the boat differently. 

What happens when you surge forwards into the trough of a wave? 

The first two changes are the speed increases, and potentially true wind speed decreases because wind is lighter at the surface of the water. Both of these factors contribute to a forwards shift in apparent wind angle, however one causes an increase in speed while the other causes a decrease in pressure. Again the net effect depends on the condition that day, but chances are good that you’ll end up feeling your power drop. 

One of the most important things you can do to help improve your responses in this condition is to think through different sea state scenarios. This article has more scenarios to think about and when you’re ready you can test your knowledge with out apparent wind quiz.

So we’ve talked about weight movement and the importance of stabilizing the boat with weight in light air, let’s take a look at sail trim.

Mast Dynamics

If the apparent wind ideas all made sense, then you’re starting to appreciate how dynamic the conditions are even on an easy day of sailing, and hopefully you’re starting to see some opportunities to harness a tiny bit of extra power to improve speed.

While weight movement is a huge part of this, knowing when to get sail trim involved is equally important!

Unlike most telephone-pole-rigs found in junior sailing dinghies, the modern skiff rig has a lot of dynamic movement. The fiberglass top section flexes and bends with each change in pressure, helping to regulate leech movement. When a puff hits, the sails load up sideways, causing the mast to bend - especially that flexy top section - and allowing the leech to open slightly. When the boat gets up to speed and the apparent wind shifts back forwards, or a lull hits, the opposite happens - the sails unload, the mast straightens out, and the leech closes again.

In this way, your sails are automatically being trimmed by the rig to help it breathe when it loads up, and capture power when it unloads.

In overpowered conditions, this is great because it means that the sail is automatically depowering in puffs, and powering up in lulls… But underpowered conditions are a different story!

When do you want to trim the sail the tightest in underpowered conditions to capture all of the power? When pressure is on and the boat is ripping!

When the puff initially hits, the flexible mast tip can be a great help to prevent the sail from stalling in that moment as the apparent wind shifts aft, but as soon as the boat accelerates, you’ll want to close the leach to really harness the extra power for speed or height.

This means clicking in the mainsheet.

In light air, the opposite thing happens: the sail unloads, the mast straightens up, and the leech closed off risking sail stall. 

For each of these situations the key is to anticipate the change, and adjust the sail accordingly.

Now that we’ve talked about sail trim and weight movement, we can bring the technique full circle.

See For Yourself

If you attach your action cam to the mast tip, you’ll get a great view of how dynamic the rig really is, and how your sail trim effects the movement. We recommend the GoPro Jaws Clamp mount to make this happen.

In and Ease Trim and Squeeze: Light air sail trim and weight movement

I love to scream at new teams, “In and ease, trim and squeeze!” Because it rhymes. 

It’s also an important reminder of how to approach underpowered sail trim and weight movement. 

As you sail into a lull, the sail unloads, the rig straightens up, and the leech wants to close… To prevent it from stalling, you ease the main, keeping the leech open. In the same instant, because of the unloading and the sail ease, you dive in with weight to keep the heel locked in, slightly to leeward. 

In other words, you just moved weight “in and eased”.

“Puff on in 3, 2, 1…” First thing that happens is that TWS increases, and apparent wind shifts aft. Both of these factors load up the sail and bend the rig, opening the leech. In the same moment, you hike, keeping the boat locked into a steady heel angle. The boat accelerates, and the apparent wind increases and shifts forwards. Those two factors balance each other out to a large extent as far as load on the sails is concerned, so the rig stays bent. Because of this open leech we need to trim the sail now, to get the sail to the edge of stalling and milk the last little bit of power out of the rig. 

All of this is the “trim and squeeze” part. 

Whether in a lull-puff sequence, or as you sail through a piece of chop (initially boat decelerates, then re-accelerates), this rhythm on the mainsheet is super important!

Two Hull Shapes

29er sailboat hull shape

One more thing worth noting about skiff hulls in particular: the hull shape at the bow is very different from the hull shape at the transom. 

At the bow you have a pointy, “V” shaped hull, ideal for cutting through the water in displacement mode.

At the stern however, the hull flares out, and becomes far flatter, for planing conditions.

Fortunately, you have control of which section of hull is in the water, based on weight placement. In underpowered conditions, it’s super important to move weight forward and heel to leeward slightly, so that you’re sailing on the “V” shape, with the aft chine in the water. 

A little bit of everything, and not a lot of anything

The best teams make this sequence look effortless. From the outside, the boat looks almost static because the sailors do everything a tiny bit - they steer, they move weight, and they change trim, all in sync with each other. The end result is that they don’t have to do much of any single adjustment, making the whole technique almost imperceptible. 

Light Air Boat Handling

So we’ve talked about a lot of straight line ideas, but how can we extend these same ideas to boat handling in underpowered conditions? 

Hopefully at this point you’re getting the picture that weight movement is critical in underpowered conditions, and that maintaining flow over the foils - the sails and the blades in the water - keeps the boat balanced and fast when the apparent wind feedback loop is the priority. In these conditions, your maneuvers are no different, and in fact they’re an opportunity to jumpstart the process of rebuilding apparent wind quickly.

A few keys to light air boat handling: 

  • Keep weight forwards in the boat, especially in the exit of maneuvers. Skippers tend to slide back through maneuvers for steering purposes, so immediately try to get back forwards, and get the boat sailing on that pointy, “V” shaped hull.

  • Come out of maneuvers as eased as possible to avoid stalling the sails or blades. This is especially important in roll tacks and roll gybes because you’ll be doing a big flatten, and pulling the sails through the air, generating apparent wind, and putting the boat on almost a beam reach for a moment.

  • Be smooth with weight movement! It’s not good enough to know the mechanics. It’s so easy to shake off the flow in these conditions, you need to be as smooth as possible.

  • Use a “bell curve flatten” to avoid shaking off the flow. For an in depth discussion of this, check out our article on first principles of boat handling.

Practice, Practice, Practice

We’ve talked a lot about what good technique looks like so let’s wrap up by talking about how to master those techniques in your time on the water. To make the most of the extremes, the first step is to get on the water in light air. Don’t be one of the people waiting on land for the breeze to fill - get out there, keep your practice short and sweet, and keep it exciting by focusing on skill drills. Here’s a handful of our favorites 

Practice kinetics.

Light air is a great time to practice rocking, practice popping the battens, and get familiar with how the boat responds to different amounts of mainsheet ease, and different movements. 

Practice being smooth.

Even in zero knots of wind, there is still a lot to be learned about how to move weight smoothly around the boat! We lump a lot of these drills into what we call “boat yoga”. The goal is to learn to be light on your feet, and just get comfortable with how the boat moves and how it responds to weight changes.

Practice being more sensitive to pressure and heel.

One of the most critical skills in light air is learning to be more sensitive to tiny changes! An easy way to start working on this is the heeled to windward drill outlined below. Once you’re feeling good about your heeled to windward skills, try pulling the rudder out, and work on mastering rudderless sailing. Until you can sail around a race course rudderless, there is lots to learn here!

Heeled to Windward Drill (HtW)

For straight line speed, there’s nothing better than learning to lock in the heel of the boat by isolating just mainsheet trim, or by using just weight movement. You can achieve this with a heeled to windward drill, where the goal is to lock in the windward rail, just above the water.

Progression #1 - Start with both skipper and crew sitting inside the windward rail, with skipper trimming main. Try to drive the boat to the tell tales, and keep the heel steady without moving weight, by using just the mainsheet.

Progression #2 - Pass off the mainsheet to the crew and repeat progression #1. 

Progression #3 - Get the crew on the wire, raised all the way up, and pass the sheet back to the skipper to work on stabilizing the boat. Weight movement is now allowed, but try to keep it to a minimum, still prioritizing mainsheet movement. 

Progression #4 - Pass off the mainsheet to the crew and repeat progression #3. From this one, you can try a few tricks, like lifting your feet off of the rail and floating on the trap wire, or doing a “barrel roll.” Remember to keep steering to the tell tales!

Progression #5 - Now that you’ve isolated the mainsheet, let’s switch to isolating weight movement and steering. For progression #5, pin the mainsheet, and start by only moving weight to keep the boat heeled to windward. If it’s windy enough that weight movement isn’t enough, try bringing in some steering.

Progression #6 - As you become more and more confident, try having the crew lift their feet off of the rail as pictured in the Hovering video here. Remember that the mainsheet controls heel, and heel controls body location!


To really test your heeled to windward skills, try sailing rudderless. Your goal is to be able to make it around a race course! This will be the topic of a whole debrief in the future, but for now, remember that it’s all about heeling to windward, stabilizing the heel of the boat using weight movement, and coordinating weight movement with sail trim!

For more ideas on light air practice drills, scroll back to the early days of the @mcbrideracing instagram.

Scrap To The Top

Scrap To The Top

What does it take to make it to the top of the skiff fleet here in the United States or internationally? 

Werk, Werk, Werk, Werk, Werk…

This conversation begins and ends with the importance of putting in the hours on the water. At the top of the fleet, tactics and creative thinking on the race course are really important - your pram experience or time onboard other boats will pay off. But the price of admission jut to play the game in the 29er fleet, is hours and hours of boat handling and boat speed work.

Many teams have a tendency to try to get too fancy, too quickly - working on racing instead of boat handling, or full maneuvers instead of skill details. When it comes to learning the 29er, slow is fast: take your time to develop the foundations, focus on the details, and you’ll progress far more quickly than if you try to get too complicated, too soon.

Keep the coach boat organized: invest in a  dry bag  and  water bottle holder !

Keep the coach boat organized: invest in a dry bag and water bottle holder!

But it can get boring focusing on the fundamentals - you just want to go rip around! One of the most important things you can do as you work towards putting in your first 500 hours in the boat, is to keep things fresh and exciting. 

Let’s dig into the mind set of a championship team, and then talk a bit about how to mix things up to keep them exciting.

Learn Laser Beam Focus

Focusing on the same thing - the same skill or the same technique - day after day can be a sign of intense focus, or it can be a sign of just going through the motions. Focus is important to refine the details, but learning how to engineer productive, focused practice times will turn repetitive reps into steady improvement with new, fresh lessons each time you revisit the skill.

In one word, the mindset of top teams is often, “curious”.

Every skill, every drill, every little detail of boat speed can most often be broken down into smaller, more fundamental details. Upwind weight movement can be isolated by pulling the rudder out, and learning to sail the boat rudderless-ly. And rudderless sailing can be broken into sail adjustments and heel adjustments. Heel adjustments are made by skipper and crew working together, and can be big, fast movements, small slow movements, or anything in between. Each of these movements will have a different impact in different situations. If you can get curious about those tiny details (“When I feel x, which of those movements works best to get the boat going straight again?”), you’ll start to learn real, meaningful lessons, which will accumulate over time.

If you’ve been focused on the same technique for a long time, and you just can’t seem to get it right, try digging deeper into that skill. 

Gybes not coming together? Focus on just the entry, and get curious about the kite float, the heel into the maneuver, or the smoothness of weight movement as you get ready to turn the boat.

Not seeing improvement in your speed? Work on stability by isolating main trim first, and then weight movement.

We’ll outline some great drills to help isolate all of these skills later in this post.

When you walk away from the boat park each day, a good exercise is to ask what lessons you learned that day. If your answer is vague - “I got better at tacking,” or, “I did a lot of rudderless sailing” - then you probably weren’t specific enough in your focus that day. 

Work on articulating specific lessons like, “I learned that when the bow starts to bear away in rudderless sailing, and I trim main to get it to come back up but nothing happens, I need to heel to leeward and keep the main eased to reattach flow until the bow starts to come up. Then I can pull the boat to windward and trim main simultaneously and the course will straighten out.”

Different, right?

Techniques, Skills and the Pareto Principle

I talk a lot about the difference between techniques, maneuvers, mechanics and skills, so let’s clarify for a minute. 

Techniques are big picture race course skills: straight line speed, tacking, gybing, mark roundings, starting, etc. Tacking-on-the-whistle is a technique drill, requiring you to keep the boat moving fast, while executing a specific maneuver, and exiting with good speed. The maneuver in the tacking-on-the-whistle drill is obviously the tack, while the technique includes the tack, but also includes the transitions from straight line, to tacking, and back to straight line speed.

Each maneuver can be defined by a set of mechanics. Where do your hands go? Where do your feet go? What moves first? Second? Third? How does skipper stay in sync with crew and vice versa?

The most granular level of any technique are the underlying skills. Skills are things like steering the boat with the sails, balancing weight for smooth movements, the main sheet hand-pass between the skipper and crew. There are hundreds of skills in each maneuver.

The Pareto Principle says that 20% of your time is spent learning 80% of a skill, while true mastery of that skill requires the other 80% of your time. In other words, if it takes 100 hours to master tacking, it might only take 20 hours to learn to do tacks that are 80% as good as the best tacks in the fleet, but then it takes another 80 hours to really achieve that top level. 

In my experience, most people burn out before they ever hit that 100% mastery, and revert to just going through the motions.

The key to mastery is keeping things fresh and exciting! If you’re seeing rapid improvement in a full technique, keep focusing on it, but as soon as the progress starts to slow down, switch things up, and instead focus on an underlying skill.

Working on starting, but feel that you have plateaued? Switch the focus to down-speed boat handling, where you see big improvements again. Once you start to plateau in downsized boat handling, switch the focus to acceleration moves. Plateauing there? Switch the focus to transitioning flow from forwards to backwards. Plateauing again? Try some time-distance work. I could go on…

The point is, within every individual technique, there are so many underlying skills, and so many interesting ways to break it down, so if you find your learning curve slowing down, mix it up and keep it fresh!


If you’re going to mix things up in practice, it’s useful to have some good skill drills in your pocket to whip out at the right time. 

Heeled to Windward Drill (HtW)

For straight line speed, there’s nothing better than learning to lock in the heel of the boat by isolating just mainsheet trim, or by using just weight movement. You can achieve this with a heeled to windward drill, where the goal is to lock in the windward rail, just above the water.

Progression #1 - Start with both skipper and crew sitting inside the windward rail, with skipper trimming main. Try to drive the boat to the tell tales, and keep the heel steady without moving weight, by using just the mainsheet.

Progression #2 - Pass off the mainsheet to the crew and repeat progression #1. 

Progression #3 - Get the crew on the wire, raised all the way up, and pass the sheet back to the skipper to work on stabilizing the boat. Weight movement is now allowed, but try to keep it to a minimum, still prioritizing mainsheet movement. 

Progression #4 - Pass off the mainsheet to the crew and repeat progression #3. From this one, you can try a few tricks, like lifting your feet off of the rail and floating on the trap wire, or doing a “barrel roll.” Remember to keep steering to the tell tales!

Progression #5 - Now that you’ve isolated the mainsheet, let’s switch to isolating weight movement and steering. For progression #5, pin the mainsheet, and start by only moving weight to keep the boat heeled to windward. If it’s windy enough that weight movement isn’t enough, try bringing in some steering.


Once you’re killing the HtW drill, ratchet up the difficulty by pulling out the rudder. The drill is pretty simple - take your rudder out, and try to sail around a race course!

In the beginning, the boat will want to tack every time you trim the mainsheet, so the two biggest pieces of advice are to heel to windward, and try to balance weight movement with mainsheet trim as you bring the main on from a full luff, so that the heel angle doesn’t change. 

Keep in mind that trimming the mainsheet should head the boat up. If it doesn’t then chances are good that the main is stalled, and you need to ease and start again.

There is soooooo much to learn from this drill, so get curious and keep at it!

Figure 8 Drill

In windy conditions, boat handling often wins the day. There’s no better way to isolate some of the most difficult coordination aspects of boat handling, than setting up a starting line, and sailing a figure eight track around the starting marks.

As you get better, try moving the marks closer together. Be sure to practice the figure eight in both directions - tacking around each mark, and then gybing around each mark. 

There are so many great drills that we can’t go into all of them, but a lot of good drills evolve from identifying a skill that you need to work on, and thinking about how you can isolate that skill in an exercise. Be creative and come up with your own skill drills to move the needle on the skills that you need the most work on.

Video Review

Okay, so you’re hitting the water, logging the hours, and keeping it interesting by working on new skills and new drills all the time. Nice work!

The challenge now, is that you can’t get on the water every day, so you need to make sure that every practice session counts! How can you milk that extra 10% out of a single day of practice?

Video review!

Have you watched Tom Versus Time?

Tom Brady watches replay video like it’s his job… Because it is. And even though it might not be your job, you should too!

Take matters into your own hands by taking a GoPro or another action camera on the water with you every time you head out there, so that at the end of the day, you’ll have plenty of video to review.

Here’s our article on how to get set up with the right video equipment.

What should you watch for? Again, the key is digging into the details. When you’re watching video, it’s best to pick a specific technique, or idea that you’re looking to critique. 

If you’re focused on gybes, find all of the gybing clips, and watch each one several times. Focus on the heel, the steering, the trim, the weight movement, the timing of skipper and crew… All of the individual skills that go into each technique should be evaluated with the question in mind: what changes will help make the technique more repeatable and more powerful. 

One of the best things you can do, is to find a clip of a top team to compare to. What do they do differently? What do they do the same? WHY do they do what they do? These questions will get you pointed in the right direction, and give you something new to try next time you hit the water.

Hours On The Water

How many hours does it take to get to the top of the fleet? That depends on the fleet, and your racing skills that you’re bringing in from past classes, but in our experience boat handling mastery takes about 500 hours of dedicated practice.

If you sail ten hours per week, you’ll get there in a year… So you’ll need to make sure that the process is fun!

Training in the skiff can be punishing at first - lots of swimming and the occasional break down if your equipment is not well maintained, but if you keep things fresh and exciting you’ll find that you make progress quickly. 

Every time you capsize, the boat is giving you immediate feedback, “What you just did, was not right!”

Celebrate the small victories, and try to walk away from the boat park every day with some specific takeaways in mind. Before you know it, you’ll be making gybes in tough conditions, tacking like a pro, and ripping around the race course!

Follow our social media for a lot more idea on how to scrap to the top!

Words From The Champ: Quinn Wilson

Words From The Champ: Quinn Wilson

In March of 2011 I received this e mail from Craig Wilson:

Quinn really wants to sail on Sunday if that’s still a possibility… Whatever is best for Newt and Dane. Quinn’s time will come.


Quinn and Dane Wilson of Ojai California sailing the 29er

That weekend, Quinn got his first taste of 29er sailing in a strange easterly breeze, tacking up the coast towards Summerland in a thick bank of fog.  After about an hour of beating upwind, Quinn had a big grin on his face, as he marveled at how fast we had gotten down the coast, and how he had never been so far from the harbor before…  Just over 3 years later, Quinn returned home from the ISAF Youth World Championships in Tavira, Portugal with his crew Riley Gibbs, bouquets in hand, and silver medals hanging around their necks.  After spending this past year transitioning into a crewing position for his fourth and final ISAF Youth Worlds, there is very little that Quinn hasn't done in this class.

As he sets his sights on a new chapter of adventure (check out @saltybrotherfilms), here are a few insights from the champ, to help the next generation dream big.

What do you remember most about your first ISAF Youth World Qualifier?
For me it was definitely the most important and most exciting qualifier of the four I sailed. The first time was a lot bigger deal for me than the other times because we hadn't been sailing the boats for very long, and we were hungry to get to the top. It was the best lead up to an event I think I have ever had. Dane and I practiced in an old Youth Foundation boat with sails that were about 50% duct tape. We were on the water almost every day in SB for a few months straight; we even practiced a few hours on Christmas Day! We were very excited about the qualifiers and for me I was still excited just to be sailing a 29er.

We had no pressure and nothing to prove so it was a lot less stressful than some of the other years. We had only sailed one other regatta together before the qualifier, so nobody really expected much. It was also very cool for me being as young and small (80 lb.) as I was to be competing against the older, more experienced kids. The qualifier was definitely an emotional roller coaster.  We went from winning by a lot, to losing going into the last race, and just managed to pass the boat we needed to beat at the end of that final race. I remember sailing in afterwards - I don’t think I have ever had that same feeling of accomplishment from sailing since.

ISAF Youth Worlds Silver Medal winners quinn wilson and riley gibbs

What was it like this last time?
It was totally different this last time. I think I put a lot less pressure on myself than the years before, so I enjoyed the lead up more, but I don't think it helped our performance. I think we were the most prepared and at the same time the least prepared that I have ever been. Most prepared meaning that we were very polished and felt very good and had a ton of experience between the two of us on the boat. But I felt less prepared because we still had room for improvement and could have still been a lot better. It was difficult to get enough practice hours in living 6 hours away from each other.

What did you learn in the 4 years of sailing the 29er?
That’s a big question.

I think the number one thing that I learned was to not copy the best guys - to invent your own way of sailing. I think the biggest mistake young sailors have is that they start sailing a new boat and they try to be like the guys that are at the top. That could be the right thing to do for a while, but when you are in awe of the best or want to be like the best, there is no way you will ever beat the best. If a coach tells you something, assume that coach told everybody that same thing.

What would your advice be for a current opti sailor or beginning 29er team with their sights set on the ISAF Youth Worlds podium?
Practice a lot!  Really - Practice a lot! Sail by yourself more then with other people. Get your boat handling down before worrying about racing. The only way you will win is if you practice more and become better at sailing the boat then everybody in the world, which is not an easy task. You need to do something different. Think outside the box. Sail differently than the next guy and don't think that because one person has been winning a lot or is the best in the world, that they can't be beaten. Anybody can win at any time.

What is your next focus?
Definitely ready for a break from sailing for a bit. These last 4 years have been an amazing learning experience that will stay with me forever. Right now I’m going to work mostly on school, film making with #Saltybrotherfilms, and maybe get my kite board racing career started finally! You can bet that I'll be thinking outside the box in all of those arenas too!

Be sure to check out Quinn and Dane's latest project @saltybrotherfilms on Instagram

Go Pro, Bro.

Go Pro, Bro.

I was fresh out of the youth classes myself, and didn’t want to spend my whole summer working for a yacht club junior program, so I organized my first big 29er clinic so that I could sail for most of the summer, and then do two intense weeks of coaching with a group in Santa Barbara.

The big draw was a pile of GoPro HD Heros, that we attached to each boat to get the onboard perspective each day.

At the end of the two weeks, we had about 200 hours of GoPro footage, some awesome content, and a much improved group of skiff sailors.

To this day, I’m a firm believer that if you’re serious about pushing your learning curve to the limits, you need an action camera onboard.

Let’s dig into best practices, best equipment, and how to get the most out of your kit.

Go Pro, Bro.

In the beginning GoPro was the way to go - but these days there are a lot of different options when it comes to action cams. Garmin and GoPro are definitely the leaders, but several other company have entered the market giving you a lot of options to choose from.

Newer models include more sensors than ever before, which can make for some awesome data overlays, and the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 in particular has really raised the bar.

As of October 2019, if you’re looking for top performance, check out the GoPro 8 or the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30. The GoPro is still top of the line, but the VIRB is right up there, and the editing software that Garmin has built to use with it makes it super simple to overlay metrics like track, speed, heel, pitch and more.

If you’re on more of a budget, look at the GoPro Hero 5 Black edition. It does a lot of the GPS stuff, has super high quality video, and costs about half of one of the new devices. There are some other, cheaper models that trade off features for price, but for my money, I think that the Hero 5 Black is the best trade off for what we’re doing as sailors and coaches.


I have one 360 camera in my quiver, and when used the right way, it provides an epic data point. Conversations about communication, and tactics can be greatly enhanced with a head or mast-top mounted 360 camera. But it can also be a big distraction. 360 video is generally quite a bit harder to edit, and to capture the important moments. You end up needing to dig into specialty software a lot more, batteries get burned up faster, and card space is a premium.

My recommendation is that unless it’s something that you really want, or know you need at this moment in time, stick with the standard front facing camera.


Quick note on GPS - one way to make your camera remain relevant into the future in my opinion is to invest in versions that record GPS tracks as well as video. The VIRB does this, as do all GoPro BLACK versions down to the GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition. Even with the latest GoPros, if you don’t get the Black edition, it will not have GPS!

Nail The Angle

Once you have your camera, there are a lot of different ways to use it, so we’ll dig into some different mounting ideas, but my number one tip is to just get it on the boat.

Multi GoPro angle sailing camera

Quick and dirty mounting technique number one, which I tend to use 70% of the time, is to just use a standard sticky mount, with a safety line and lots of tape to toss the camera on the back of the boom, hanging underneath to get the chase-cam shot. The value to thought ratio is super high here, so even if you don’t have the perfect setup from day one, get the camera on the boat!!

Looking to set your game up to something a bit cleaner? For me, the most versatile mount has been the handlebar mount, which you can stick on a tiller extension and put just about anywhere. Stick it inside the end of the boom for a good chase came shot, tape it or lash it to the spin pole for some sweet glamour shots, or carry it on a coach boat to get up close and personal.

The head cam mount is a huge asset when discussing tactics, communication, and priorities. Wearing the head cam gives you a good idea of what each teammate is looking at, what the discussion is onboard (watch what you say!) and where you’re focusing your attention (how often do you look at the sail versus the water versus the fleet?).

Pro Tip: Neewer makes a super cheap GoPro mounting kit that gives you basically every mounting option. Check it out here.

Push The Learning Curve

So you have the camera mounted, and you’re ready to film - let’s talk about getting the most out of your tech.

While there are a million uses that we could talk about, I’m going to talk about my two favorite uses for your action cam. Numero uno is benchmarking your boat handling progress.

The Benchmark Video

Benchmark videos are one of the key data points that can be used to evaluate skills including boat handling, speed, race course decision making, and more. By periodically recording the same skills, benchmark videos become a powerful tool for you to track your progress, and for your coaches to provide productive feedback when crafting individualized training programs.

View an example boat handling benchmark video here.

The boat handling benchmark video should be based on two laps around the racecourse at the beginning or end of a practice session.  The goal here is to provide a snapshot of your skills around the course, so rather than practicing the drill 30 times, and filming the 29th and 30th laps, a good rule of thumb is that you should only do it once.  One shot; two laps; 4-5 tacks and 4-5 gybes per lap - bring your ‘A’ game.

To set the drill up, either get a coach to set a windward-leeward course, or else use marks that are already in the water with enough room to comfortably fit 4-5 maneuvers in between.  Ideally you should have about 30-60 seconds between maneuvers so that you have time to do one, get settled, and then roll into the next one.

This can be a super effective tool for working with a remote coach, or just tracking your own progress.

My second favorite use for your action camera, is in dissecting maneuvers to fine tune the details.

Dissect Your Technique

It’s easy to get lost, mindlessly going through hours of video, or to zero in on the fun moments from the day. But I encourage you to narrow your focus to the details of a few maneuvers and really dig in.

If you’re comparing straight line speed, look at mainsheet rhythm relative to the pitch of the boat (the horizon). Are you playing the sheet in sync with the sea state? Is the sheet leading movement or is movement leading sheet? Is heel leading weight or is weight proactively moving to anticipate what’s coming next?

In boat handling maneuvers, who moves first? Skipper? Crew? Hands? Feet? Is it symmetrical from tack to tack? Can you see any cavitation on the foils as you flatten the boat? Are there any bobbles in the heel of the boat?

At the end of the day, there is so much to learn from watching a single maneuver, be sure that you’re rewinding and rewatching each technique to focus on cause and effect relationships whenever possible!

Into the Future

The action cameras on the market today are already loaded with sensors, and it won’t be long before a standard debrief will include GPS replays, onboard video, telemetry data and more within a few minutes of hitting the dock at the end of the day. Making this part of your daily routine will make a big difference in your training and will set you apart from those who aren’t willing to do that little extra work.

The Bottom Line

The truth of it is, 90% of the value in your action cam video is just that it makes you think about your sailing one more time than you might otherwise.

No matter what camera you have, how it’s mounted, or what you focus on when you watch the video later, if you’re serious about getting to the top of the fleet, get on the water with an action cam!

Check out our social media for a lot more tips on how to make the most of your GoPro footage.

Dress For Success.

Dress For Success.

Are you planning on charging to the top of the fleet in your first year of skiff sailing? Or maybe you’ve been in the boat for a while, but are looking to finally make the jump beyond the “flipping phase”. Either way you’ll need to wear the right gear sailing.

Super charging your learning curve requires a combination of good habits, good feedback, and the right equipment. It begins well before you arrive at the boat park every morning, and it all starts with… making your bed every day… But once you’ve done that, you’ll need to dress for success.

Packing the proper sailing gear will not only keep you comfortable on the water and focused on what’s important, it will help prevent injuries, allow for longer practices, and even help boat handling maneuvers go more smoothly. New teams especially should be sure to pack the correct clothing, so read up, and show up at the boat park ready for action.

Base Layers

The most important piece of sailing gear that you can have when learning how to sail the 29er is a high quality wetsuit with full length legs, and lots of mobility in the upper body. A lot of people like wearing “farmer john” wetsuits, or “skiff suits”, which have long legs, and cut-off arms to allow a lot of mobility, while offering protection for the legs, and plenty of buoyancy.

Do not wear wetsuit shorts! There are many fittings, and sharp edges which will bruise and cut your legs when you are learning, so you need full length legs on your suit to avoid this. When you are learning to sail the 29er, you will do a lot of swimming! Your body loses heat 25 times faster in the water than it does in the air, so it is very important to wear a suit that will keep you warm. In cold conditions, 4:3 wetsuits are recommended, and in warm conditions, 3:2 wetsuits are usually enough.

Our Picks

There’s a lot of great products and brands on the market to keep you warm and comfortable right now, but our top picks are the Zhik Microfleece skiff suit for all around conditions, and the Zhik Superwarm (women’s version here) for the cold days.

Life Jackets

Low profile, strapless lifejackets are the name of the game in skiff racing, to increase mobility and give you a few extra inches to sneak under the boom. In the United States you’ll need a US Coast Guard Approved Life Jacket, but the good news is that more and more of the major international brands are getting their PFDs certified by the USCG (Zhik!).

Our Picks

Internationally there are a lot of good options ranging from Magic Marine to NOB, but if you’re looking for US Coast Guard Approved, options are a lot slimmer. If you’re looking for USCGA, check out the latest update to Zhik’s standard, strapless PFD.

Sun Protection

While you are on the water, every part of your body should be covered! Big muscles bulging out of your life jacket might be impressive, but winning is more impressive... If you are going to be wearing a farmer john wetsuit, or something else that doesn’t offer full arm coverage, be sure to wear a rash guard or a sun shirt over the suit and under everything else that will keep the sun off.

When you’re covering up in sunscreen every day, our experience is that a physical block is much better than a chemical block, so try to find something with lots of Zinc Oxide that will stay on your face.

Our Picks

Our favorite sunscreens right now are Raw Elements and Avasol.


Training with no boots can be a great way to learn your footwork and feel the boat as you get better, but a good pair of boots will save your feet from a lot of cuts and bruises especially in the early stages of the learning curve.

Most dinghy boots are too thick for good mobility and make it harder to feel the boat. When you get good at trapezing, you will need to be on your toes almost all the time, so thinner surf boots are much better. Avoid split toe boots if possible so that the mainsheet can’t get stuck between your toes!

Our Picks

O’neil Superfreak. Enough said.

Life Jacket Covers

Life jacket covers are an essential item in the 29er to keep the straps and fittings on life jackets and harnesses from flapping around or getting caught in maneuvers. A rash guard over the top allows you to tuck everything in, and keep it tight during racing.

Lycra pinnies are a good option, as they keep your arms free and mobile, while keeping all of the straps and fittings covered.


For those baby soft hands, gloves are a must! Save yourself some pain, and speed up your sets with a pair of cheap gardening gloves with the finger tips cut off… Be sure to throw the tips in the trash when you’re done instead of letting them escape into the boat park!

Be picky here. This is one place where you want to find the best glove for you, and stick with it. There are a lot of brands that make similar products, but knock offs often melt in the sun or loose their grip on day one.

Our Picks

Atlas makes sturdy gloves that we prefer over other brands because they hold up well. The question is whether to go for the thin, slightly more slick Nitrile gloves, or to go heavy duty with the standard fabric gloves. Try both and see what you like as each has a time and a place, but we definitely like the thin ones whenever you can get away with it!

This is what a gold medalist skiff sailor looks like:

Gardening gloves; skiff suit; thin life jacket; life jacket cover; thin boots; full sleeve rash guards worn over wetsuit, but under everything else.

Gardening gloves; skiff suit; thin life jacket; life jacket cover; thin boots; full sleeve rash guards worn over wetsuit, but under everything else.

"Get A Good Start And We'll Talk About The Race"

"Get A Good Start And We'll Talk About The Race"

“Go get a good start on this next race so that we can talk about the rest of the race.” This was the main starting advice that I got from coaches as a junior sailor. The philosophy was that practice and failure would eventually teach me to do it right… or else I would quit. 

It’s easy to get stuck in a fixed mindset - “Some people just have that starting magic, while others might as well quit now.” But that is far from reality!

The truth is that starting can be broken down and demystified like any other skill in sailing. If you’re serious about turning your starting skills into a weapon on the race course, unpacking the maneuvers along with the tactical moves is critical. 

In this debrief we’ll focus on how to build the fundamentals, and what to do with them once you have them. 

Let’s dive in.

First Principles of Starting

When most people think about how to improve their starting game, their minds go straight to a dramatic acceleration move just before “go”. They want to practice the maneuver 10,000 times to be able to execute in any scenario, and escape the blackhole of the dreaded “second row” start. But the reality is that in so many scenarios, it is impossible to execute a good acceleration move, so to really understand how to move the needle on your starting game, we have to go a bit broader and really understand the factors that go into good execution on the line.

The term “first principles” is a buzz word in technology and R&D right now, that refers to breaking complex problems or systems into their most fundamental components - often times the physics behind the phenomena. If you’re keen to read more about the physics of acceleration moves and maneuvers in general, click here to check out my take on boat handling and apparent wind first principles.

Help keep the coach boat organized: invest in a  dry bag  and  water bottle holder !

Help keep the coach boat organized: invest in a dry bag and water bottle holder!

The goal of any start is to escape from the line on the most favorable part of the course. This means having good speed in a clear lane for the first few minutes off of the line, which in turn requires a good acceleration move. 

A good acceleration move requires good boat handling, but no matter how good your team is, if you have a competitor glued to your lee bow, pinning you up on the line before the start, executing that good acceleration is going to be nearly impossible. 

So to have a good acceleration move, we need a hole on the line. Creating a hole requires a whole new set of skills - namely, down-speed boat control.

Down speed boat control can be broken into several smaller skills: the “Slow Creep”, the double tack, the slide, flow transitions, and down-speed time-on-distance judgement just to name a few. For our purposes, we’ll consider these skills our “first principles of starting”.

Let’s dissect a few of those skills and discuss how to put them to use.

The Double Tack

Double tacking is one of the fundamental tools on the starting line because it gives you the ability to tack up to take the hole of the boat to windward, or in some cases to escape from a boat who is tight to leeward.

The two big challenges in the double tack, are staying in sync between skipper and crew, and keeping the boat at speed after the first tack so that you can roll into the second one right away. 

One of the best drills to practice this is the “tacks in a minute” drill. Set a watch for 60 seconds, and see how many tacks you can do in that time frame. You’ll learn how to be aggressive with your weight to really throw the boat around, and how to keep speed on between tacks.

One thing to note: this move is much better as an offensive move than a defensive one. As soon as you double tack away from a leeward boat to open your hole back up, it invites them to double tack with you, and stay close. Later we’ll talk about the “slide”, which is generally a much better defensive move because it opens your hole without presenting quite as big of an opportunity for your opponent. 

The Slow Creep

Sit on the starting line luffing with a boat tight to leeward, and it becomes obvious in a hurry that your boat isn’t sitting stationary - you’re actually making slight leeway all the time. If the boat to leeward of you is able to make less leeway, it will be a matter of time before you’re forced to bail out and reset your position.

To minimize your side sliding, the first skill to work on is the slow creep. Essentially the idea is that when the centerboard and rudder are moving through the water slightly, they are much more effective at generating lift and preventing the boat from making leeway. Too much flow though, and you’ll find yourself on the line too soon.

The goal here is to keep the boat moving as slowly as possible while still maintaining steerage (i.e. you can put the bow down without needing to scull). 

A few things that will help are:

  1. Finding the “sweet spot” with the mainsheet, where the bow wants to stay high, but not so high that the speed dips and foils stall.

  2. Using the jib sheet to balance the setup and avoid having to fight too much with the helm. A scull down on the tiller every so often means you’re pushing the edge, which is good, but if you’re constantly sculling to keep the bow down and keep the boat moving, try slightly more jib sheet or slightly less main.

  3. Slight “scalloping” in the steering - in other words, get good at letting the bow float up into the wind for as long as you dare, and then putting it back down when you need a slight speed build to keep from stalling.

A good way to work on these three aspects is to set a countdown timer for three minutes, set up next to a buoy, and see how few double tacks you can manage in that time limit, while staying within three boat lengths of the mark.  

Flow Transitions

If you’re getting good at the slow creep, you’ll find yourself making less leeway on the line, but you’ll also run into a problem: you’re eating up boat lengths to the line, and you need more runway to keep the boat moving. 

Equally as effective at holding your spot on the line as the slow creep forwards, is the slow creep backwards! If you can find a good rhythm moving forwards for a boat length or two, and then reversing back off the line for a boat length or two, you’ll be able to set up on the line at five minutes and keep the boat creeping one direction or the other until go.

Where most people lose control or lose leeway when trying this technique, is in the transition from forwards to backwards or backwards to forwards. The answer is to work on your flow transitions.

A great way to practice this skill is the “T Drill”.

One thing to remember when you’re using this technique on the line: if you backwind your sails to initiate reverse flow, you lose all rights until you start going forwards again, so the faster you can make your transitions, the better!

The Slide

The double tack that we talked about earlier can be a great tool to cover a lot of ground to windward, but it can also take a lot of time to execute and can expose you to a lot of right-of-way risk, especially in close quarters. One last tool that will give you a big tactical weapon on the line, is the “slide” to windward.

In the slide to windward, you’ll put your bow just barely through head to wind, back your sails to leeward (the port side of the boat if you’re sitting on starboard tack), and disengage your rudder by pointing your tiller in the direction that you want the boat to slide. This maneuver can be done far more quickly than the double tack, and can be used to close up the distance to a windward boat.

One thing to keep in mind while learning this skill is that when you’re first learning, it can help to scull to windward (a different technique, which I usually refer to as “crabbing” as opposed to “sliding”), but this is illegal on the race course! Don’t be afraid to scull during practice to get the feel for how sliding works, but the key to making the technique legal is getting good at finding the balance point, where you’re backing your sails just enough to keep the bow in the sweet spot - just through head to wind.

In addition, be sure to practice a quick exit onto starboard by backing the main even more and hitting the port rail hard with weight. Even though you might not be on port tack here, you don’t have any rights when sliding up the line, so you’ll need to be good at that exit to end up right next to your competitors.

More Skills, More Weapons

These skills - the double tack, slide, slow creep and flow transitions - are super important tools when it comes to executing a good start, but they are by no means the whole picture! Your challenge every day that you’re on the water is to refine your understanding of how the game works and what skills will give you an edge.

See if you can apply this same thought process to your daily practice: Identify a challenging part of the game, then break that challenge into first principles. Create drills or games that isolate the first principle skills, and practice them. 

Finally, put it all back together to see the progress you’ve made on the racing skill. That’s what we’ll talk about next.

Boat On Boat Battles

In the starting section of the McBride Racing Tactical Playbook I dig a bit more into the fundamentals of the tactical game on the starting line, but the gist is this: in a boat on boat battle, the leeward boat wants to get in sync with the windward boat, while the windward boat wants to get out of sync. As the leeward boat, your mission is to go forwards when the windward boat goes forwards. When they slide, you slide. When they go backwards, you go backwards.

Leeward boat wants to stay in sync with windward boat.

Leeward boat wants to stay in sync with windward boat.

Windward boat wants to stay out of sync with leeward boat.

Windward boat wants to stay out of sync with leeward boat.

The dance that evolves is a boat control battle. If the leeward boat makes a mistake, it gives the windward boat an escape. If the windward boat makes a mistake, they’ll be one step closer to being pinned at the start.

The Roulette Start 

If the whole fleet is evenly spaced out on the starting line with one boat length between each boat, and you are somewhere in the middle of the line, what are your odds of escaping from the line in a plan A start? 

This is a thought experiment that can lead to some pretty important tactical realizations if you spend a lot of time thinking about it!

At any given time, no matter where you are on the line, the most important battle for you to be able to win is the battle with the boat immediately to windward, and the boat immediately to leeward of you. On a race course full of random chop, shifting puffs, and sometimes unpredictable competitors, whether you escape the pack immediately surrounding you often comes down to factors that are out of your control.

So what CAN you control? The most important thing that you have control over, is where you try to position yourself relative to your competitors.

So often when the fleet is evenly spread as described above, teams are content to try their luck in the chop machine, accelerating at the same time as the boats around them, and waiting to see who hits that first piece of bad chop to fade out the back, or who gets the first puff to jet out ahead. In this situation, you might have a one in three chance of winning your little group and thus establishing a foothold to execute your plan A. 

So how can you improve those odds?

One of the best ways to put your boat control to work for you and improve your odds on the starting line, is to always be attacking the windward boat in your group of three. If you can pin the boat to windward and control when they accelerate, you’ll take one of the three boats out of the equation, and now you’re just playing against one other boat.

Mindset Of A Champion

If I could sum up the tactical starting line mindset with one word, it would be: attack! 

Top teams on the line aren’t content to start bow-even with the boats around them. They’re constantly looking for an advantage over the two boats next to them which will allow them to pinch off the windward boat, or roll the leeward boat.

In the pursuit of a “clean” start, the number one rule of thumb, is ALWAYS BE ATTACKING!

Starting Line Strategy

We’ve covered the basics of starting line tactics, but once you’re able to win the battle with the boats around you, the next question is WHERE on the line should you start? The best sailors have the ability and the confidence to start anywhere on the line, but they also have the wisdom to know when to use their skills.
I could write a whole book on starting strategy, but for now, I’d like to leave you with a few factors to consider when approaching the line, and a process for refining your own system.

Risk Versus Consequence 

In the film, Free Solo, Alex Honald discusses the distinction between “risk” and “consequence” as they relate to his climbing.

Because he trained on the route he was going to climb so many times, and knew how to approach each section, he felt that the chance of failure, or the “risk” was low. In contrast, in the event that he did fall… the consequence of certain death was as high as it gets!

We can apply this same idea on the starting line.

What is the chance that you escape from a certain situation given the fleet density, skew of the line, etc.? In Alex’s terms, that’s the risk. 

But on the other hand, what is the cost if you don’t escape? What place will you be in? Will you have to sit in bad air? Will you be able to go to the side that you like? That’s the consequence.

Keeping those two factors separate is very important.

Here’s another thought experiment to consider for a minute: what is the difference in risk and consequence between a fifteen degree boat favored line versus a fifteen degree pin favored line?

Significantly boat favored line - How will the purple boat look a minute after the start?

Significantly boat favored line - How will the purple boat look a minute after the start?

Significantly pin favored line - How will the purple boat look a minute after the start?

Significantly pin favored line - How will the purple boat look a minute after the start?

In both cases, the fleet is likely to pile up at the favored end making starting difficult. In both cases, the layline is going to play a big role, making it hard to judge where you need to be. In both cases, your rate of approach to the line will likely be different than you are used to, because with the pin favor you’ll be approaching very flat to the line, while with the boat favor, you’ll be approaching closer to perpendicular than you’re used to. 

As such, the risk in both situations is probably fairly high.

But the consequences for a second row start in each are very different.

On the pin favored line, a second row start, or missing the layline to the mark probably means ducking a significant portion of the fleet. Hopefully a hole opens up to pop through, but there’s a good chance that you’re ducking several boats, and that other boats with plan B starts are bailing out as well, which can make escape lanes more limited.

In contrast, the boat favored plan B is fairly forgiving. If you were fighting it out at the boat end already, there aren’t many boats keeping you from tacking out right. Clear lanes on port open up quickly, and because you were already on the favored end, you’re likely beating most of the fleet.

So how do you learn to evaluate the starting line (and other parts of the race course as well!) this way?

Student of the Game

Talent can take you a long way, but at the end of the day, if you want to be the best, you need to become a student of the game. Actively asking, “How can I improve faster,” will provide you with the basis for long term improvement, while others around you plateau.

Some simple steps that you can take the next time you go on the water are to bring a notebook, sail with a gps tracker, or sail with an onboard camera.

When you come in from sailing at the end of the day, try debriefing each start in three parts:

  1. What did you see?

  2. What did those observations make you think, and what was your gameplan as a result?

  3. What actually happened

The goal of this process is first to get better at identifying factors that go into a good start, and then to learn how they all interact, and how to weight them in your decision making process. 

Svenja Leonard and Adra Ivancich ripping in the 29er

For example, maybe in step one, you identified that the boat end was favored, pressure on the course was even, and pressure was strong enough that boats were going to be able to plane.

In step two you made a game plan - “We’re going to fight hard for the boat end because it’s favored and the plan B is easy if we don’t get a good start. The goal is to roll the boat to leeward because we can plane, and if we can roll them, we’ll have a big lane to leeward to be able to keep the bow down and keep ripping.”

In step three, you’ll discuss if anything went differently than expected - were there any factors that you missed in step one? Was the favored end of the line the most important factor, or was something else actually more important? Did the risk and consequence play out the way you predicted in step two?

If you can get in the habit of debriefing every race this way, you’ll be amazed how quickly you improve your ability to recognize opportunities and adjust for new factors.

There’s so much more to say on starting, but the ideas discussed here lay out a framework for improving your skills and then starting to experiment with how to put those skills to work. The most productive coaching relationships always involve a two way dialogue, where coaches provide an outside perspective and athletes experiment, test ideas, and come back with their own thoughts on what is working and what needs more attention. 

If you have any questions on how to apply these ideas in your team, or comments on what you’ve observed as you start working on the skills, I’d love to hear how it’s going and what you’re learning.

Don’t hesitate to reach out via social media channels or via e mail below.

Hope to see you on the water soon!

— Coach Willie

Boat Handling First Principles

Boat Handling First Principles

First Principles of Sailing

“First principles” is a buzz word in the tech industry right now, which describes breaking complex problems down into the most fundamental building blocks possible. This article is a bit of writing that I did several years ago to help roll some boat handling ideas around in my head, but it gets down into the nitty gritty of why the best maneuvers work the way that they do.

Boat Handling Philosophy

In any type of sailboat, speed is about maximizing lift on the foils at all times.  Once maximum lift is being generated – in other words, all crew members are hiking as hard as possible against un-stalled sails and foils – any extra power becomes unnecessary drag, and needs to be reduced by flattening sails, or reducing surface area of the foils.  Boat handling techniques discussed here have one goal; to maximize lift as soon as possible after maneuvers.  

An important thing to keep in mind when you are experimenting with techniques on the water, is that lift is not the same as heeling moment.  Just because you can hike harder against the sails does not necessarily mean that the foils are generating more lift – they might actually just be generating more drag.  The concepts presented here should help you determine if your techniques are succeeding at generating more lift, and help you refine your boat handling

Flow Over Foils

The mission to understand how to maximize lift at all times, starts with the concept of “flow,” which is a term that you hear a lot in sailing, but which few sailors really understand as well as they should.  To understand flow better, consider this question: during a roll tack, would you rather execute a hard, fast flatten, or a slow, smooth one?  What might be the performance difference in each? 

Look to any class of boat, and you’ll see that the top teams answer this question with a range of techniques, and in many classes, the accepted “best” technique goes through cycles, with the top teams favoring one, then the other, and then back to the first one.  When you’re looking for a tiny edge on the competition, it’s important to understand the underpinnings of the battle being fought here, and if you’re not yet in that top echelon of competitors, understanding those same principles is even more crucial to seeing the big picture.

In any maneuver around the race course, there are a few goals which should dictate your technique.  First, we’d like to get as much flow over the foils (the ones in the air AND the ones in the water) as possible.  This means that we want our flatten to be as hard and fast as possible – more weight moving through more distance in a shorter period of time.  There is however a limiting factor, that maybe you’ve experienced before: cavitation on the foils.  Imagine the extreme example for a second; a 1000 pound person flattens with all their might, accelerating the top of the mast from a standstill to 50 miles per hour in a fraction of a second.  As the sail is jolted through the air, and the centerboard is jolted through the water, the fluids surrounding the foils (air and water) can’t change shape fast enough to stay attached to the foils, so a vacuum is created behind each, in what we refer to as “stall”.

Often time, as sailors, we spend a lot of time talking about sails but neglect to talk about the other half of the equation; load on the blades.  To understand when stall happens, it’s important to understand that what happens in the water must balance what is happening in the air. Sails generate lift when airflow creates pressure differences from the windward to leeward side of the cloth, and blades do the same thing under the water.  If the blades are generating enough lift to balance the forces in the sails, the boat will go forward, but if not, the blades will stall and the boat will slide sideways.

Chances are good that if you’ve ever practiced acceleration maneuvers, you’ve felt a moment at the beginning of a flatten, when the flow around your rudder separated, the boat tried to round up slightly, and you ended up pulling the tiller to windward with little effect until the boat started moving through the water.  Although you usually hear about dramatic cavitation at high speeds, when boats “lose their rudders” on a reach, and round up uncontrollably, cavitation at any speed is a super common issue, when the loading in the sails is not balanced by the flow over the foils.

In the acceleration scenario, trimming the sails without any flow over the blades, creates sideways load in excess of the lift that the foils can balance, and therefore the blades stall.  Get a little bit of forward speed on first to create lift on the blades, the forces will balance, and the boat will accelerate increasing flow over the blades even more, and allowing you to load the sails more.  In windy conditions, the cavitation on a reach occurs because the apparent wind angle gets too far abeam, sails load up more than the blades can support, rudder is used to fight against the tendency of the boat to want to turn up causing more drag in the water, slowing the boat thereby reducing flow over the foils, and causing the load in the sails to overpower the lift being generated on the blades. 

The bottom line is that more flow over the blades will allow you to flatten harder without cavitating.  As such, a good flatten in underpowered conditions typically increases exponentially as the boat speed increases up to the 50% mark of the flatten, and then decreases exponentially beyond that 50% mark, allowing the boat to settle into is new speed while maintaining flow.  There are exceptions to this idea, but the beauty of understanding the underpinnings at work here, is that you should be able to identify them as they arise.

Watch this vidoe of flow over a wing to better understand flow and stall.

Apparent Wind

The second extremely important concept to understand when talking about boat handling, is the idea of apparent wind.

Red is the negative velocity of the boat. Blue is the true wind. Green is the apparent wind created by adding true wind to negative velocity.

Red is the negative velocity of the boat. Blue is the true wind. Green is the apparent wind created by adding true wind to negative velocity.

Stick your head out of the window on the freeway, and how much wind do you feel?  If your car is moving 60 miles per hour, through a true wind speed (TWS) of 0 miles per hour (that is, 0 miles per hour over the ground).  You’ll feel a 60 mile per hour wind blowing against your face.  If however, the TWS is blowing 10 miles per hour in the same direction that the car is travelling, then you’ll feel the 60 mph minus the 10 mph tailwind, for a total of a 50 mile per hour apparent wind speed.

It’s important to think about apparent wind as the combination of true wind speed – the wind over the ground (or in our case, over the water) – and an inverse component of velocity – that wind in your face if you are moving in 0 knots of TWS.  Using some math, you could calculate the apparent wind speed (AWS) and angle (AWA) for any combination of velocity, and TWS.  Whether or not you are a “numbers person,” the important takeaway here is that increased TWS without a change in a boat’s velocity increases the apparent wind speed, and shifts AWA forward.  Conversely, a decrease in TWS shifts AWA aft.  If velocity of the boat accelerates without a chance in TWS, apparent wind shifts forwards, while a decrease in velocity shifts AWA aft.

To put this to use on a race course, you need to really understand WHY all of this happens.  DO NOT READ ON until the previous paragraph makes sense.  It is not enough to memorize the relationships; you should be able to explain them from scratch.

Here are a few important examples of how we apply apparent wind on a race course:

Boat speed (red) and true wind (blue) combine to make apparent wind (green) until the boat hits chop, at which point speed drops (becoming purple) and apparent wind decreases and shifts aft (orange). Speed then builds again until it is back where it started and apparent wind adjusts accordingly. Can you figure out how this diagram applies to the other scenarios?

Boat speed (red) and true wind (blue) combine to make apparent wind (green) until the boat hits chop, at which point speed drops (becoming purple) and apparent wind decreases and shifts aft (orange). Speed then builds again until it is back where it started and apparent wind adjusts accordingly. Can you figure out how this diagram applies to the other scenarios?

  • Chop: Sailing upwind, your sails are trimmed for a close hauled course in flat water at 5 knots of boat speed and 7 knots of TWS. You hit a rouge piece of chop, and your boat speed falls to 3 knots. TWS is still 7 knots, and relative to the inverse component of velocity, it is now a more significant factor in your apparent wind, so apparent shifts aft. If your sailing angle stays the same, what do your sails need to do to compensate for the change?

  • Surfing Wave: Sailing downwind in 12 knots of TWS, your speed through the water is 13 knots. You are sailing faster than the waves around you, and as you get to the peak of a wave, your crew steps forward to tip the boat onto the face of the wave. Speed accelerates to 16 knots, while TWS stays the same, making the inverse velocity component of apparent wind more significant relative to the TWS. Apparent wind angle therefore shifts towards the inverse velocity component. If you like your sail trim still, how could you compensate for this change by steering the boat?

  • Puff: In 3 knots of TWS, you are moving 2 knots. A 6 knot puff hits. What is the initial change in AWA for the moment that the boat is still going 2 knots through the water? The boats slowly accelerates in the new pressure building speed to 4 knots eventually. During the period of acceleration where TWS is 6 knots, and speed builds from 2 to 4, what happens to AWA?

  • Advanced: Bad lull response: You are sailing upwind at 3 knots, in 5 knots of TWS, a lull hits, and the apparent wind angle shifts forward. In response your helm pulls on the tiller, to put the bow on a close hauled angle to the new AWA. What effect does the turn down have on AWA? What should lull response be instead?

A Grand Unified Theory Of Sailing: The 100% Rule

In sailing we can talk about the power in the main as a function of how close to stalling the foils we are.  If we are at 100%, any more trim on the sails, deceleration in the boat, lifting pressure, etc. will send us over the edge (i.e.  101%+) and either the sails will stall, the blades will stall, or both.  This accounts for the “crashing” feeling of losing all power when you hit chop.

In slow boats with big, inefficient blades (think Etchells, 420s, etc.), the stall we’re most often worried about is stall in the sails.  We click in the mainsheet, watching the leach tell tales until they begin to flick to the far side of the sail, indicating the presence of flow separation beginning.  This is the point when we are generating maximum lift over the sails, and because we have so much surface area on the blades under the water generating tons of lift (and also tons of drag), we don’t have to worry too much about stalling the blades as long as the boat keeps truckin’ along.

On the other hand, in a skiff, sport boat, or other boats with low drag hulls and high aspect (long and skinny) blades, avoiding stall on the rudder and centerboard is a massive part of the battle.  With the more slender blades in the water, we play a delicate game, trying to convert speed through the water into lift on the foils so that we can squeeze the mainsheet a little bit tighter without losing balance between the forces in the sails and the forces on the blades.  This is where the 100% rule becomes critical.

100% refers to the amount of lift that the foils are generating, but in a boat like a skiff, the faster the boat moves through the water, the more lift gets generated.  This means that as speed increases, we can put more load into the sails without worrying about stalling the blades.  As such 100% is always a moving target, and it’s important to understand when and why that target moves so that we can be as close as possible without going over.

When sailing into a piece of chop, we can anticipate a deceleration in boat speed, which will cause apparent wind to shift aft.  With apparent wind now more abeam, the sails load more, putting us closer to 100% than we started, so the correct way to manage chop, is to ease the sails before we get there, backing off from 95% to 80%, so that when the chop hits and the threshold of force from the sails that our blades can balance drops, the amount of force being generated by the sails is already unde3r that threshold, meaning that we don’t go over 100%.  When we hit the chop, the percentage will rise because the threshold drops, but if we eased in time, it will only go back to 95% instead of jumping to 110%, the boat stalling, power crashing to 50%, and then having to rebuild everything that we lost.  As soon as the chop has passed, the boat will accelerate again and as it does, the force threshold moves higher, bringing the percentage back down, and allowing us to trim back in and load the sails up.

As a rule of thumb, I usually talk about the ideal mode being a 95% power mode.  This means that you are trimming the sails hard, and pulling on the boat, but you have an extra 5% margin of error in the bank in case a puff hits before you have time to react, or a small piece of chop slows the boat slightly.  Feeling the speed is essential here because you need to know how fast you are going through the water to know how hard you can trim the sails without passing 100%.  If you can train your sense of feel to be very sensitive to these small accelerations and decelerations, then sailing at 95% buys you a little bit of time to feel the boat decelerating, and make an adjustment before the boat crashes, whereas, teams who sail super tight and close to 100% all the time will stall before they have a chance to feel the boat getting slow.  

The big question left unanswered here is how you know when you’re at 95%.  In this arena, there is no substitute for time in the boat, pushing the limits of what the boat can take before it stalls, and learning to feel when trimming the sails in causes the boat to accelerate, when trimming has no perceptible gain (this is the moment that you have nearly reached 100%, and should back off to 95%!), and when trimming actually causes the boat to bind up and decelerate (too late!).  

Many sailors train themselves in the opposite direction – trim until they feel stall and then ease, rather than easing the moment before they know the stall will occur – and at the top level, when both of these techniques are honed to near perfection, this is often the difference between the team who hangs for 90% of the beat, and then loses it in the last little bit by crashing to windward, and the team who catches their boat just before the speed crashes.

Fall ODP West Debrief

Fall ODP West Debrief

Hello everyone,

It was awesome to have 6 boats out on the water and to work on speed and boat handling in heavy wind conditions. I’m going to review the specific techniques we talked about to execute gybes in heavy air, and then I will switch focus to discuss some elements of speed. Please read both the skipper and crew sections so that you know what is going on in your sailing partner’s world. 

Boat Handling

For gybes both skipper and crew need to be extremely stable, and putting their bodies in a position where they can push themselves across the boat, against their momentum that wants to throw them out of the boat as it turns. If you do not provide a centripetal force (a “center seeking” force) in the form of pushing yourself off the windward rail towards the new windward side, then you will fall out or get stuck on the weather side of the boat (new leeward side).

Crews are especially susceptible to being thrown out of the boat in a gybe. Skippers should be aware of this and give a countdown so that the crew knows when to go in, and so that they know that the turn will not start before they are ready. When you are ready to go in, you should lead with your shoulders and end up standing with your feet, butt, and shoulders all lined up. If you do not do this one part of your body will be left behind! It is really good to be standing on the rail and leaning inwards. Your weight is still on the rail and you can push off with your feet at any moment. If you are perfectly vertical or leaning outwards, the turn could throw you off balance. 

It is very important to make sure that the spinnaker sheet does not ease excessively as you come into the boat. This means that you will have to do something to trim in the sheet as you come in. Dane and I seemed to agree that the best way to do this is to keep the sheet in your back hand and raise it above your head and outward as you come in, then once you let go of the puck you can use your front hand to grab the sheet again and trim in even more if necessary. Once you are in the middle of the boat you will need to “check” the kite. The idea is to pull the old sheet in quickly just before pulling the spinnaker over so that the leach of the spinnaker is straight and under control before you pull it over. If you check too early in the turn the wind will immediately fill the spinnaker again and it will be useless. If you check too late the top half of the spinnaker has likely already twisted and crossed in front of the luff. The result of checking too early or too late is basically the same, the spinnaker will come out twisted.


Proper footwork for a crew in a gybe is front, back (optional shuffle step) new back, new front. Visualize the footwork as I describe it. Front foot slides forward and in, planting on the wing inside the rail but outside the outermost toe bar. Back foot steps across to the hiking strap area on the new side. After pulling the spinnaker across you can do a little shuffle so that you new front foot is on the outer toe bar, or you can just stay in the middle. Either way, as the boat loads up on the new side jump out onto the trapeze landing with your back foot just before the front on the rail.

Skippers have to get the tiller under the mainsheet before they cross the boat. There are a few different ways to do this, but I prefer to hold my tiller extension close to the end, get up, and as I move towards the center I push my mainsheet hand forward. This keeps the main from easing too far and gives me room to pass my tiller extension under/behind the mainsheet and under the boom. My mainsheet hand then goes on top of the boom and my tiller extension hand goes outward so that my tiller extension is pointing at the new rail. My feet are wide, I have full control of steering in both directions, and I have the main pinned in the center right above my hand. I often pull down a bit on the main to further support myself and too keep the leech tight so I can further depower the main. Once the spinnaker comes across I can let go of the boom, take a seat on the new rail, and switch my hands. 

Footwork: Just before the gybe pull your back foot out of the hiking strap so that it is ready to step across. As you stand up push off of your front foot hard and step all the way across to just inboard of the hiking strap area with your back foot. Then do a small shuffle step, new back, new front, and hook that front foot under the new hiking strap. As you hit the rail you can hook your new back foot under the strap too. 

I hope this helps you all think about gybes in a more detailed way. Always start with the big picture: flat boat, full speed, smooth turn, and then focus on how to achieve that with very specific details. Please try to go through this process with tacks and ask me if you have any questions. I look forward to working with you all at the next training opportunity.

- Coach Neil

Three (Better) Metrics To Evaluate Progress

Three (Better) Metrics To Evaluate Progress

Whether you are a coach helping an athlete learn to focus on that process, or an athlete figuring out what feedback you need from your coach in order to sail to your potential, here are three metrics that don’t require any fancy technology, that can help to shift the focus back to the process.

Summer Is Coming!

Summer Is Coming!

The sun is back, and the breeze is up; summer is right around the corner! This summer, Skiff Squad and 2Niner will be teaming up to offer coaching support on the West Coast as well as internationally, and we hope you'll join us! To make the most of your summer, we want to help you craft a personalized schedule that fits your experience, and goals.

The majority of North American racing this year will take place on the West Coast, so we have put together a program to support that circuit with an all-star coaching cast, while offering coaching at several other National and International events.

The West Coast Circuit

Early Summer Training - June 18-21

Start the summer off right with a Southern California Skiff Squad clinic, June 18-21. Willie and Neil will be coaching, and helping to get everyone dialed in for a great summer! Details on venue will follow shortly, but we’re hoping to hold this in San Diego or Long Beach.

29er North Americans in Squamish - July 2-6

Squamish, BC is known as the windsurfing capital of Canada, and while we’ve never sailed here before, we’ve heard it’s beautiful! The event should be a great experience in a breezy venue with top level coaching!

29er Nationals in the Gorge - July 9-14

The 29er Nationals are in the legendary Gorge venue, in Cascade Locks, Oregon this summer. Whether you’re still figuring out heavy air skiff sailing and are looking for the ultimate windy practice venue, or you’re a veteran looking to rip around on one of the best race courses in North America, you don’t want to miss this one.

Southern California Training - August 10-14

At the end of the summer we’ll have teams coming home with national and international racing experience, and we need to solidify the skills in our local fleets to ensure that we’re building a solid training environment for next season! We hope everyone will join us for one last summer Skiff Squad camp in Long Beach.


Reserve Your 2019 Summer Package*
Reserve Package

The calendar above includes 20 days of coaching up and down the West Coast of North America, designed to help teams perform at events this summer, and head into next season with new skills, new confidence, and a solid learning process in place to be at the top of the fleet next year.

For teams participating in the whole circuit, the coaching cost will be as follows:

Reserve your spot on or before May 27th: $1650 per sailor
Reserve your spot on or after May 28th: $2300 per sailor for the whole summer

For sailors interested in participating at individual events, the cost can be viewed on the registration page for the individual event.

International Racing

29er Worlds

After the Nationals, many of our teams will be heading to the open 29er Worlds in Gdansk, Poland for the peak event of the summer. Coach Phil will be leading the charge in Poland, to get the US squad onto the podium. The logistics for this event are currently in the works, and will be coordinated with all interested teams, so if you’re interested in heading to Poland, send Phil an e mail.

CORK Regatta

Due to conflicts with various other events this year, we expect the US contingent to be smaller at CORK this year than in years past, but for those unable to attend Worlds, and looking for some international experience, this is an option. If you’re interested in attending the CORK event, send Willie and e mail.

April Skiff Squad Debrief

April Skiff Squad Debrief

Last weekend the squad made big improvements in the light conditions on day one, testing those skills in the morning of day two, and finishing it off with some nice planing conditions. This debrief will focus on those light air lessons, and what we’d like to see you solidify before the next training camp!


Across maneuvers and across conditions, one of the most important aspects of good boat handling is the flatten. Teams that are the best at boat handling have the best flattens. If you can master the flatten in light, medium, and heavy air then you will have a huge part of your boat handling locked in. Flattens generate all the power for you boat handling and they are the single most important move to generate speed. We talked a lot about the goals of a flatten and how to do them, but simply knowing this will not be enough. I urge all of you to spend as much time as you can focusing on perfecting your flattens. The difference between a good one and a bad one is monumental. When teams had bad flattens this weekend they were rushed, unbalanced, aggressive, and jerky. When you were able to have a long, smooth, balanced, powerful flatten, your boats shot forward and the maneuver was very good. I hope you all felt this difference at one point or another. I’m going to link two clips from my videos. One is of a bad flatten (click here), and one is of a very good flatten (click here). Your job is to identify the differences and make a list for your team of improvements you can make to have a better flatten.

Check out the playlist from the weekend here to compare your own technique.

The Bell Curve Flatten

Remember the discussion we had about cavitation on the foils? Below are two videos of a paddle slapping the water. In the first, the boat is moving forward, and you can see water fill back in around the paddle. In the second, the boat is stationary, and a big hole appears in the water. In both cases here, the paddle ventilates, but that’s because we’re swinging the paddle at the water HARD, and not moving very fast. Hopefully with the way the water fills back in around the paddle in the moving boat video, you can imagine how flow stays attached more easily at higher speeds. This is why our rate of flatten actually needs to increase as the boat accelerates.

Slow down

One of the easiest ways to improve your boat handling is to be patient and take it slowly. You can practice doing tacks and gybes at half, or quarter speed. You may find that slowing everything down actually makes your average boat speed faster. Going slower means that you will find it easier to get in sync and stay in sync with your partner. You will also have a slower rate of turn, which means less rudder movement to slow your boat speed. Flattening slower is a good way to practice being smooth. A really helpful drill is the entry-exit drill. Start a 1 minute timer, and each time it goes off practice just the entry to your maneuver. Stop in the middle and then practice an exit to get back up to speed. Once you have isolated and mastered each piece of the maneuver you will be able to add all the pieces back together and do a perfect maneuver at a faster speed. At the least, you will know that you got better at one part of your maneuver.

Videos from the weekend can be found here.

The next event will be at Mission Bay Yacht Club, May 4-5. For more information, click here.

Photos from the weekend can be found here. Please be sure to tag @skiffsquad when you post!

March SoCal Squad Debrief

March SoCal Squad Debrief

California has been a hub for skiff sailing since the first 29ers were brought to the US, but we’re in a rebuilding phase right now, and there’s a lot of work to be done to get back to the top of the fleet! One of the keys to success is getting the top talent together from around California to push each other, and to raise the bar in everything from technique to training approaches. This weekend was a good step forward, and it’s exciting to see so many enthusiastic young teams getting involved in the class. This debrief will focus on a few major takeaways from the weekend to help you keep making progress in the next few weeks until we can do it again!

Mechanics Then Racing

In the skiff classes more than any other class, nailing down good fundamentals before ratcheting up the difficulty is key, as there is such a huge difference between good maneuvers and great maneuvers in these boats. To play the game, you need to develop the tools, and that starts with knowing your footwork and handwork forwards and backwards. We did quite a bit of tacking and gybing in a range of breeze this weekend, and saw some great maneuvers, but there is still refinement to do for everyone.

If you’re new to the mechanics check out this playlist, about 29er maneuvers.

Whether you’re new to the mechanics or a veteran, take a look at the boat handling videos from the weekend, and do a little technique dissection. How was the handwork? Footwork? Was the boat stable through the maneuver or did the movements shake the rig around in a lot of unnecessary movements? Was the turn in sync with the weight? Was the sheet in sync with the turn? You’ll get way more out of this debrief if you actually do the analysis yourself rather than me giving you all of the answers!


Starting Practice

What goes into a good start? When people think about starting practice, the number one thing I hear teams talk about is acceleration on the starting line. How fast can you get from parked to full speed? Undoubtedly this is an important skill to work on, but there are many other factors that go into starting, which I would actually argue are more important than the mechanics of the acceleration itself.

Positioning plays a huge role. If you can put yourself in a nice spot with a hole to leeward to accelerate into, your acceleration move will be much easier, as you’ll have space to put the bow down. Positioning requires good down speed control, good time-distance awareness, and a toolbox of tactical moves. To work on this, there are a few drills that you can do to jumpstart the learning curve, and start to see the game from a new perspective:

  1. Time-distance drill: Set a watch for two minutes, and get into position 1:30 from the starting gun. Try to pick a spot where you think you’ll drift down onto the boat end or the pin end just in time to pull the trigger in the last few seconds and start right next to your mark. Fight to avoid sliding for the final minute and thirty seconds and see where you end up. Adjust your positioning and try again!

  2. AMWOT drill: Check it out here. This one is huge for mastering the down speed boat control.

  3. Two Boat Time Distance Drill: Same as the first drill, but one boat is assigned to be a windward boat and the other is the leeward boat. The goal of the windward boat is to force the leeward boat down the line without going for the hook. The leeward boat is trying to stay up the line, and eventually end up on a mark at the gun. This is a great one for practicing the tactical game. As the windward boat the goal is to stay out of phase with the leeward boat, while the leeward boat is trying to get in sync with the windward boat.

Master these skills, and you’ll start to view the starting line game in a totally new way.

Focus On The Details

Getting to the top is all about refining your learning process to improve faster than those around you. Figuring out how to ask the right questions is critical, and it starts by getting more specific about the questions you’re asking. Rather than targeting improvement in “steering” as a whole, we need to be digging into the details. “I want to work on the down turn at the tops of the waves, and ensuring that the boat stays loaded through the troughs,” gives you a clear target - a goal that you can come back to when reviewing video or looking at gps tracks to see if you moved the needle. Refining your focus to emphasize specifics like this is a skill that takes practice, but if you make a habit of setting daily goals, and then evaluating your progress at the end of the day, you’ll improve very quickly, and when you do you’ll see your skills respond accordingly.

Refocusing The Squad

Refocusing The Squad

We're refocusing our efforts on pushing the bar higher for the top California teams while continuing to provide a pathway for developing the up and coming talent. Part of this restructure means that we're going to be dropping a few clinics at the end of the Spring season to focus on providing a top tier summer program. In the long run, we believe that the changes that will be occurring will improve the communication and organization of the Skiff Squad, but while we make the transition, we ask that you bear with us, and don't hesitate to reach out by e mailing info@skiffsquad.com with any questions that you might have regarding the program or schedule.

We look forward to continuing to provide a top tier regional training program for dedicated California sailors!

29er Midwinters Roundup

29er Midwinters Roundup


By Willie McBride
US Sailing Team Olympic Coach



Wow, what an awesome weekend of racing in Coronado! With 50 boats on the line, this was by far the most competitive 29er fleet that we've had in the US in over a decade, with some really impressive performances, and some very tight competition at the top of the fleet. Right now there are generally two different groups of teams on the race course - those who have the speed and handling to race, and those who need to focus 100% on developing those skills. Usually I focus on aspects of how to sail a 29er well, but because we had such great competition, this debrief will focus mainly on tactics and strategy.

Weather: Build Your Mental Model

Every day when I drove down to the Coronado venue from Point Loma, I drove over the Coronado Bridge, and my mind switched into race mode. Getting to see the race course from high up gives you a great vantage point to start thinking about what the wind is doing, and how the weather will effect the race course for the day.  Observing where the light patches are in the morning, where the breeze develops first, how the angle evolves over the course of the morning, what the clouds look like, where the blue sky appears first, etc. can give you a really good idea of what side will pay, later in the day. If you haven't read it yet, go read Wind Strategy right now! 

This weekend we saw perfect sea breeze conditions on the first day. Saturday, we saw a fog bank that sat offshore, probably with a warm top, causing the sea breeze to fight with the gradient, and delaying our nice racing conditions. Sunday was more of our normal sea breeze conditions, but with a colder temp on land, and a stronger gradient component from the north, causing a bit of a tricky transition on the water. Along with the Silver Strand geographic effects on the race course - a left bend in the wind as the wind passes over the land - all of these factors played into building a mental model for what the wind was doing. All of this is described in detail in Wind Strategy.

Once you have a mental model of what the wind is doing on the race course, the next step is to start building your strategy.

Strategy: Keep it simple

The first step here is asking yourself whether or not you can predict what the wind is doing. In a few of the races over the weekend, confidence was high, but in other races, the key realization was that you could not predict the wind's behavior, and that it was therefore better to stick to a more conservative, fleet management game plan.  In either case, simplicity is the name of the game, and sticking to a simple track based strategy is a good way to keep things simple.

Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

The 5 tracks that I generally ask teams to stick to are:

Tracks 1-4: Inside/outside + right/left - These tracks select the side of the course that you think will ultimately come out ahead, and then select whether you think gains will increase on the edges more quickly than risk.  The McBride Racing Tactical Playbook goes into a lot more depth on these, but the bottom line is to select the side you like, and then to choose your level of risk vs. reward on each side.

Track 5: Minimize decisions - I wrote a blog entry on this a while back, that outlines what to do when you're uncertain what the wind will do next.  This is more of a fleet management strategy, and was definitely appropriate for a lot of races at the Midwinters.

Once you know your track, the next step is to execute, and adapt to situations that arrise around the course using your tactical playbook.

Tactics: Build Your Playbook

There were so many tactical plays that occurred around the race course this weekend, and I don't have time to get into them all, so if you're interested in really drilling into this, please go buy the McBride Racing Tactical Playbook.  A few general observations to help guide your decision making in the future:

1. Use the top middle of the course to survive when your lanes aren't great.


2. Stay on the outside of the diamond at the beginning of the downwind, and the inside in the second half.


3. Center up in the commitment zone, then own your side coming into the leeward mark.


February FX Camp

February FX Camp

At World Cup Miami, one of the main takeaways for both teams was that we need to get better at finding the rhythm between main sheet, steering, and weight movement in both under powered and overpowered conditions, and this February camp was our first opportunity to work on that skill as a team.  We had a few practice days in challenging, light and lumpy conditions in the ocean, which did a lot to solidify some of those ideas, and then we got to test them out with the Kiwis on the water.  This debrief will focus on the main sheet technique, looking at it from various angles to hopefully provide some theoretical context to the technique that we're trying to master, and some thoughts on how each team can get there as quickly as possible. 


Feel is often lauded as an elusive, almost mystical aspect of the sport of sailing - a factor that some people just naturally have, while others do not (or don't have as much of).  This is not the case! Speaking as someone who used to have very little feel, but learned to develop a very sharp sense for it, this is a factor that can change your game, and is absolutely a learned skill.  

The first step to demystifying is to define what we mean by feel. At a general level, feel is the intuitive sense for what the boat and wind are about to do next.  This general understanding actually feeds the "mystical feel fallacy" because it seems like people who have feel can predict changes in an invisible force - wind - by either interpreting patterns in the water or feeling it on their skin. The truth is slightly more complex, but less mystical. When we break down feel into its mechanical components, it is part visual (seeing wind on the water, seeing tension in the sail cloth, etc.), part audible (sound of water tapping on the boat, sound of boats around you going through the water, etc.), and part tactile (feel of the rhythm of the waves, feel of stabilizing muscles in the body working to keep you stable, feel of the stability of the boat, etc.). It has been my experience that 90% of sailors tend to hone the visual aspects far more effectively, than any of the others, and thereby become reliant on those factors. You can test this by sailing with your eyes closed for a few minutes; are you able to sense a stable boat with your eyes closed? Are you able to predict what is coming next? If not, we need to tune into the other senses. Ultimately, feel is intuitive, meaning that the end result is not something that we can isolate, but something that it is a combination of these three senses. If we work on fine tuning each sense individually, our overall feel will improve and we will be able to predict changes more effectively, not just by seeing them on the water or in the sails, but by seeing SOMETHING on the water and associating it with a subtle change in stabilizing muscles, an ingrained theoretical understanding of apparent wind, and a slight change in sound.

A few great feel drills that you should be incorporating into training are:

Eyes closed sailing - One teammate close their eyes, then the other, then both. Work on feeling changes in your hiking muscles. Work on hearing changes in the water. Focus on one factor at a time to slowly improve "feel" in each area.

Rudderless sailing - Ingraining a deep understanding of apparent wind, and how the boat responds to sheet and weight adjustments is critical. When you pull the rudder out you get immediate feedback.

Yoga - Focus on mindful movement will help the tactile aspect of feel in the boat.

Heeled to windward sailing - For honing the overall feel mechanism (no one component individually) this is a good exercise that delivers instantaneous feedback.

Why does feel matter so much? It allows us to anticipate what apparent wind is doing without needing to wait for the obvious signs like sails stalling, power crashing, etc. and the more tuned into this we get, the more successful we will be at adjusting sails, weight and steering SOONER when small changes occur, which will allow us to make smaller changes and ultimately keep swinging more weight around the race course.

How Does This Effect Technique?

Okay, so we have dissected what "feel" means a little bit, and we're working on honing it; now how do we actually apply that to make the boat faster? I'll argue that the key here is all about making small, precise adjustments earlier to eliminate the big clunky adjustments later. Part of this adjustment can be made mechanically, by just telling ourselves to always be moving the sheets a little bit, but the underlying theory behind this is that small changes are always happening, and the better we can get at feeling those tiny changes and adjusting accordingly, the less likely we are to need to make the big adjustments later. The change to technique often starts with crews.

In under powered conditions, it's important to keep in mind that crews are driving the boat. The sails are our engine, and while heel, and steering are both important factors in getting the most out of that engine, if the engine itself, is out of tune, there's little else we can do with steering and weight to maintain speed. As a result, I like to say that sails lead weight and steering. When we take video from outside of the boat, and you go back to watch it, a big feedback loop to critique is whether sails are leading weight, or weight is leading sails. This is true in both over powered and under powered conditions.

Under powered example: In under powered conditions when the boat looses power, we want to ease FIRST, as weight swings in - too often we dive in with weight while keeping sails choked, in hopes that the boat will just power up again. This comes back to making small adjustments more frequently, as this is usually a bigger sign that we needed to ease slightly 5 seconds ahead of time, but just didn't feel the drop in pressure soon enough.

Over powered example: In over powered conditions if we start steering up as a puff hits without trimming main sheet on, we loose pressure on the leech of the main sail, and when the puff begins to fade, inevitably we trim on the main sail, the boat doesn't respond, and we end up crashing to windward, pulling on the helm to get the bow down, and losing half a boat length. Every time. Period. This is a result of feeling the pressure gain from the puff too late, and responding to the big change rather than starting early with the tiny change. If we respond early, we feel the initial pressure gain, and we trim on to anticipate the boat's acceleration and therefore the forward apparent wind shift. If pressure continues to increase we might need to ease momentarily to keep the boat flat, but immediately begin trimming on again to anticipate the forward apparent wind shift.

In so many other boats that we sail, this refined sense of feel falls on the helm to tune into, and in big boats, it's muted by the size and momentum of the boat, but it is mission critical that in the FX our crews put in the time practicing feel, and intentionally working to refine these fine tune adjustments if we are going to compete at the top level.

If I had to sum this up in one line it is: smaller adjustments, more frequently, more in tune with small changes that you FEEL occurring in pressure, sea state, and ultimately apparent wind.

Note: Big improvements in all of this at the last camp, but it needs to become more consistent and more of the norm. Focus intensely on this when you have a chance to practice by yourselves.

Apparent Wind

My final note is on apparent wind, which I think we all need to be continuing to wrap our heads around to apply to every technique that we ever practice. In a skiff, where the apparent wind can quickly double in certain conditions if the boat is being sailed well, it is a critical component of boat speed. Especially with mylar sails that don't visually change as easily as dacron sails in changing pressure, we need to learn to anticipate changes based on the feel of the boat. If we wait for the big tell-tale signs of apparent wind shifts (stall, power crash, etc.) we have waited too long.

This is a long explanation of apparent wind and flow over the foils, and if you haven't read it yet, I think it's work the read to spark some thought.

When you're feeling good about it, I'd like all of you to take the quiz below, so that we can figure out where we stand, and specifically, what would be good to talk about.

Apparent Wind Quiz

Playlist of all videos from the camp can be found here



This weekends focused was on “winning”. Most teams have a short period of time before they are in a place where they need to perform, and all teams should have this time set in their minds and calendars. But how can you win if you are not the best or if you don't have the time in the boat you want? This question should be going through your head constantly. We might not have that answer for you, and it will change with every individual. But the answer does not not start with copying the best, it starts by being creative and finding a way to sail your boat in the way that you think will make your boat the fastest around the course. And it starts by knowing where you are at, and changing your strategy based on your level of perspective (remember the mountain climber).

Mechanically: I really enjoyed seeing everybody's improvements on how all the teams looked sailing the boat. figuring out ranges for sail trim, placing your feet and hands during each maneuver in the same place is important. But, remember back to our debrief, there are two ways to sail the boat. You can make yourself look like the best, if you make everything look correct then most likely you will be close to sailing your boat correctly. But doing this does not always mean your boat is going fast. The second way is that it does not matter what you or your sails or lines or anything does, as long as your boat is going fast in the right direction (VMG). Copying what the best look like is a good start, but it might not always work for you or your team, and when you get to a certain level you will never beat the best by copying how they sail. 

Attitude or your mentality is close to one of the most important things if you want to win. Maybe this is your teams communication, how you psych up yourself or you team member, or what you believe will happen in the future. We talked about the winning mentality and being competitive and I think this will be the thing that will dictate who does well at worlds, who goes to Youth Worlds, etc.. All of you need to think about your goal with your partner and figure out what mind set you will have to approach your competition. 
After seeing most of you over the past few years and last weekend I see there is a large gap in the door for any team to sneak into the top spot and take control of the US fleet (this should be encouraging) especially with the attitude I see at the top of the fleet. If you are a top team who expects to win,  there needs to be a shift in your attitude if you want to make it a reality.

3 Elements Of A Successful Training Program

3 Elements Of A Successful Training Program

In the past we've written a few articles highlighting the importance of logging hours on the water, we've talked about the importance of getting out on the water without a coach, and we've given some tips on how to get the most benefit from a coach, but today we're going to back up one step...

Skiff Squad At ODP

Skiff Squad At ODP

In the last year, the US Sailing Olympic Development Program has raised the bar in the US junior sailing world to new heights by pushing more and more junior sailors towards high performance sailing, and by creating a culture of excellence in the Olympic feeder program. Invitations to top level ODP clinics are generally reserved for the top few teams from each fleet, who have proven that they are ready to take their programs to the next level by working with Olympic coaches, Americas Cup sailors, World Champions, and a team of supporting specialists. Our goal with the Skiff Squad is to help as many of our teams as possible reach that level by providing the best regional program available, and by creating a top caliber training program for athletes who are also working with the ODP.  

Last weekend, two of our teams headed out to Florida to battle with the rest of the fleet, as Sam and Ryan (SoCal Squad) prepared for the ISAF Youth Worlds in December.  Over the course of three days, the boys worked with ODP coaches on and off the water, in a regatta format, where the pair topped the rest of the US fleet, and mixed it up with the Kiwi girls who won a silver medal at the ISAF Youth Worlds last year.  

Results from the weekend can be found here.