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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.

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:

  • 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.

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!

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 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!

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.

The Skiff Squad Track

The Skiff Squad Track

Over the last several years, the Skiff Squad has helped to develop some of the top sailors in the country including College National Champions, ISAF Youth World and 29er Open World medalists, and Olympians.  From a coaching perspective, the path from getting into the boat to the top of the fleet is somewhat straightforward, and for sailors who are able to dedicate the time, the process is fairly methodical, so we're going to break it down for you below.

Featured: Isolate Details For Rapid Improvement

Featured: Isolate Details For Rapid Improvement

Okay we’re cheating a little bit here by re-publishing an article that Willie wrote a while back, but this is the core of our training and coaching model, and we really believe strongly in it, so take a look and make it part of your process!  Original article on


How many times have you had a coach tell you, “You need to focus on getting a good start here,” after a rough race?  Thanks for the advice coach, but what does, “Focusing on getting a good start,” actually mean?  If your mind is occupied with visions of coming off the line cleanly and racing away to get the bull-dog, chances are good that you’re not focused on what really matters: the details.  Just as you need to focus on the finer points of the starting process (keeping your bow ahead of the boat to leeward, communicating about incoming threats, choosing the appropriate time to accelerate based on the conditions, etc.), improving a racing technique requires intense focus on the details. 

Let’s explore this idea by using the example of straight line speed, upwind in driving force conditions.  Ripping around the race course in any given condition can be broken into a number of different factors that become more and more subtle as we dig deeper into them.  Within upwind speed, “technique” is one obvious, major factor, but within “technique” we can go a step farther and discuss things like weight placement, sail trim, or steering. Within each of these topics, we could go a level deeper to address, for example, puff response in our steering – that is, how do we adjust our steering technique to compensate for a blast of pressure?  The more time you spend practicing, watching, and thinking about these factors, the more refined your understanding of the nuances will become, and therein lies the opportunity.

As in our earlier starting example, focusing on the end result usually causes you to lose focus on the details which combine to produce success, so the more we can isolate individual, granular skills, and focus on just those skills, the more quickly you’ll see results.  For example, to isolate “Puff/Lull Response” within the subject of “Precise Steering,” upwind in driving force conditions, we could practice a drill where the mainsheet and jib sheet have to stay static – no movement allowed – and the skipper is forced to steer to keep the boat flat.  This drill exaggerates the movements required from the steering, but in doing so, it also exaggerates the instantaneous feedback that the skipper feels, so it allows them to hone their steering technique accordingly.

Next time you head out to practice to correct a weakness in your technique, dig down into the true underlying issues, and try to isolate each one by inventing a drill that forces you to focus on a single aspect of the issue.  Design the right drill, and your practice productivity will sky rocket!

2017 Calendaring

2017 Calendaring

One of the biggest developments in 2017 compared to years past is that we are working hard to lock in a schedule for the full year, so that we can be in sync with the US Sailing ODP program, as well as other events throughout the year....

Passing On The Legacy

Passing On The Legacy

In 2011, Tyler MacDonald asked me to sail the 29er Europeans with him in Switzerland, and I told him that I would be remiss to commit to a summer of sailing in Europe without putting in a full effort to prepare before hand.