Written by Willie McBride and Neil Marcellini

This weekend we talked all about one of our favorite topics: “the process” of learning how to improve faster than your competition. From a big picture perspective, this is what sailing is all about, and it encompasses learning how to look at photos, look at video, and compare technique setup between boats, and much more. The Quote of the week at the Santa Barbara camp was “Imitate, imitate, innovate,” and hopefully you walked away from this weekend feeling like you have some new tools to help you use that process. This debrief will remind you of some of those tools, and then highlight a few specifics about the techniques we talked about this weekend.

How to Watch Video

We watched a lot of video this weekend, which can be found on this playlist. We encourage you to go practice watching the video the way we discussed over the weekend. Here are a few key points:

  • Focus on technique! Way more important than setup is how you’re sailing the boat.

  • Main sheet rhythm is the king. Look at rate of trim, rate of ease, size of range, etc.

  • Sync up the three components of speed: steering, weight and trim. Look at each of these components under the microscope: for each piece of chop, were they in sync?

How to Look at Photos

Below are three types of sail photos that we discussed: an aft shot, a boom shot and a depth shot. Can you identify which is which below? Use these angles to compare sail setups when you’re looking at videos. But don’t forget: Focus on technique first!

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Get comfortable in the boat!

This weekend we spent a bit of time working on getting comfortable moving around in the boat. Heeling to windward, jumping or “floating” on the wire, practicing barrel rolls. These types of drills will make you much more agile in the boat, and train you to feel the boat in ways that you hadn’t thought about before.

Big Picture Boat Handling Goals

Understanding the goals of a maneuver is far more important than only knowing how to do a specific technique. What are the goals of a gybe in side force conditions? Take a moment to think about this. What are the goals of a tack in side force conditions? The most important things to focus on are a powerful and smooth flatten to start the tack, a smooth turn and weight transfer through head to wind, and a well timed and powerful flatten on the exit. It is also really important to make your goals as simple and basic as possible. I did not include “pop the battens” as a goal because it should merely be a side effect of a good tack. Think only about what is going to increase your vmg and help make your maneuvers consistent.

Talk about the essential goals for each maneuver with your partner. Doing so will help you flesh out the most essential goals. You may realize that a disagreement in these goals is causing problems with boat handling. Always ask “why?”, until you come to an agreement. If you have persisting questions, ask a coach, or better yet, do a test on the water.

Rate of movement

One thing that I noticed between the teams with good boat handling and the ones who are having troubles is what I will call the ‘rate of movement’. There are two aspects to the ‘rate of movement’. The first is the rate at which your team moves your collective center of mass across the boat. I am thinking about this from a physics perspective; your team has a center of mass which is the sum of each person's center of mass. If your weight is far apart and out of sync you are going to have a hard time controlling your team’s center of mass. Stay together and move together. The second aspect to the ‘rate of movement’ is the skipper’s rate of turn. I want to include both of these concepts in one term because I think that they are interdependent and inseparable. If you have a synced rate of movement then your boat heel through maneuvers will be consistent and controllable. If your rate of movement is out of sync your boat heel will quickly become out of control. Often I saw teams moving their body weight first and then reacting with steering. There is some inherent lag time with steering. The skipper needs to be able to create a synced rate of movement by predicting the timing and placement of the team’s center of mass and matching his steering to that movement. Rate of movement = rate of turn/rate of mass movement. If your rate of movement is not equal to 1, there will be issues.

3 tips for getting your rate of movement close to 1:

  1. Have a countdown for maneuvers - A countdown for maneuvers has two main purposes. The first is that you can start your body movement at exactly the same time. This helps you begin your maneuver in sync. The second is that the speed of your countdown serves as a tempo for the maneuver. If I hear a slightly faster countdown I know the skipper is looking for a faster turn. If both skipper and crew have the same tempo in their head then hopefully they can move in sync.

  2. As a skipper watch your crew and move with them - As a skipper you can see you crew the whole time, so watch their back and move with them. It is much easier for you adjust to their movement than the other way around.

  3. Move slowly - Moving slowly gives you more time to do everything and more time to be precise. Practice maneuvers at half speed and then speed up once everything is perfected.

Videos from this week can be found here