Having recently sailed a 10 race series at Key West Race Week that featured a large part of the regatta with waves and cluster chop. Here are some key strategy, tactics and boat handling elements that can help your team sail a fast and consistent series when the waves are up.
Two effective elements to practice with a team early in the season relate to spinnaker jibes and free flying the spinnaker prior to the takedown.
We have all been on boats where the spinnaker collapses consistently on jibes and on takedowns when the spinnaker pole is taken down and it can make for a tricky day on the water for everyone.
Keeping the spinnaker filled through a jibe can be challenging, particularly on shifty days when the velocity is up and down. And it's also tricky in light air. With that in mind, here are some ideas that can help, particularly if you have a new trimmer or driver on your team.
One of the hardest things for a team to do is to field the same team at every race or regatta. Inevitably someone cannot make the event and the team has to adapt with new crew. This is a reality of life that just about every team has to adapt to.
As a coach I recognize this fully and have formulated team position charts for different types of boats so that the team has a blueprint on how to plug in someone new as seamlessly as possible. The most challenging scenario very often is on bigger boats where there are more team members and very often more complexity than smaller boats' teams experience.
For most of us the season on the water has slowed down, but there are a number of things to do off the water to maintain and improve individual and team skills.
To keep your skills up during the off-season, try having the team meet up every month to talk sailing. Make it a fun social time, watch videos of boat handling, review the tuning guide for the sails, starts and sail trim, plan the schedule and consider reviewing a racing rule a month.
Picture this: your team is sailing upwind in four knots of wind and progress is slow and hard to come by. Now it is time to tack shy of the layline and make the trek across the course toward the mark in the dying westerly wind. Going into the tack your team moves smoothly to the high side and rolls the boat, the headsail is slightly back-winded to help the bow turn. The boat smoothly turns through the wind and the sail fills on the new side. Both sails remained eased out as the boat goes into speed build first gear mode and then the boat is smoothly flattened as the sails are trimmed in once the boat is fully accelerated. All goes well and the team almost breathes a collective sigh of relief as the boat gets going toward the mark.
Multi-class events and big fleet venues are increasingly opting to utilize offset marks as a means of reducing congestion (and protests!) at the weather mark. With that in mind, take every opportunity to practice rounding a mark, sail a reach for a short distance, and then bear away and set the spinnaker.
Even if you don’t anticipate sailing with an offset mark this season, much of the information below will help your crew be smoother at the windward mark rounding.
Very often, back on shore after a day’s racing, you'll hear some familiar post-race stories told by competitors. “We ended up barging at the start and got shut out.” Or “We were doing really well and then over stood the weather mark and let four boats in.” Or perhaps “We ended up over standing the leeward mark and gave up three boats on the inside when that shift came in.” Any of those sound familiar? It’s happened to all of us and it costs places in races and regattas and all of them relate to laylines.
Picture yourself on port tack, going fast, with a wall of starboard tackers coming at you. You can barely see them, but you know their bows are charging at you! Your team communicates well and is all on the same page, you cross the first three starboard tackers and then do a smooth duck on the last one before tacking on to the lay line for the weather mark. The whole situation seems almost routine. Why? One big reason is that the team was communicating well as each crew member was apprised of the situation and his or her subsequent role in it.