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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

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.

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.


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...

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.

November NorCal Debrief

November NorCal Debrief

2016 November NorCal TC


With the NorCal region starting to flourish, it will be important for all the teams to nail down the basics of boat handling before the new year in order to put us in a strong position for strong results at Worlds.

Lessons Learned

Saturday - A good rabbit start is crucial to productive training and the learning process. When you line up well it allows you to judge how well you are doing at different aspects that each line up focuses on.

Sunday - If you can sail well in light air everything else gets easier. As you add more wind you are given more options of what you can do. For example, in light wind if you need more power the only option is to lean into the boat and power up, but if there were wind you could also adjust sail trim in order to get power on.

Light Wind - 0 to 5 Knots, Less is More

For most teams every movement in light air shakes the rig, boat, and blades. Shaking is not fast. The goal is to simplify movements and let the boat get moving. All you are aiming to do is to help the boat move. Prioritize getting your weight forward, slowly transitioning weight to each foot, and thinking out your movements through boat handling. Check out the video below and decide which movements are smooth or not….


Side Force - 6-12 Knots, Harness All Power

Be aggressive with pulling the boat into and out of maneuvers. A good tack can be completely done by the crew pulling on the trap into and out of the tack. The keys to pulling is to wait till the boat has maximum heel, then drop your butt hanging on the wire, and then pull your body to a flat trapping position and go straight to hooking in. The power in your sails come from precise sail trim, so focus on being consistent with where you put your sails. More info on that from the last debrief below….

There are two reasons to ease your mainsheet: either you are over trimmed, and thus stalling your sail, or your are overpowered, and thus healing the boat.  If one of those things is not true, you should always have your mainsheet two-blocked!  Here are some generalizations that can be made about the 2 reasons to ease main.

Main is stalling

  • Wind is lighter (light to side force)

  • Vang should be loose (goal of easing is to open leach)

Boat is heeling

  • Wind is stronger (driving force to windy)

  • Crew weight should be all the way outboard

  • Vang should be tight (don’t want leech to open off)

Learn the Basics Through Video

There are about eight videos that have been posted from the weekend. All have some really good information in them if you watch closely and break it down to step by step videos...first watch main trim….then watch body movements...then watch leaches….then watch rig movements...etc. Videos from the weekend can be found here. Compare and analyze like we discussed. Here is a good video of  Ryan and Wells at CalYC from the SoCal Squad in light air.

Please register for the December NorCal Skiff Squad Clinic before October 31st to avoid late registration fees.

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.

October NorCal Debrief

October NorCal Debrief

This weekend’s stormy weather created a way for sailors to push their limits and preparation on day one, with lighter wind on Sunday to focus on being calm and smooth....

September NorCal Debrief

September NorCal Debrief

Over the weekend we saw each of you sail for the first time, and we're really excited for the potential in this core group of teams up in the Bay Area.  Here are some of the main take aways from the weekend...