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29er

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!

 
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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.

29er Midwinters Roundup

29er Midwinters Roundup

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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.

 
 

September SoCal Debrief

September SoCal Debrief

This weekend’s range of wind speed in the ocean provided an awesome opportunity to focus on the finer point of sailing in lumpy conditions.