How to Keep the Rust Off During the Off-Season

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. 

While watching video and looking at pictures of boats sailing, pay particular attention to sail trim and the leech profiles of the jib and main, spinnaker shape and trim, crew weight and heel angle. Watching what people are doing on tacks, jibes, sets and takedowns and what good weight placement looks like going around the course can be really helpful. This can help you adapt to a new situation quickly, refresh after a long lay off from sailing, and generally be more effective team members. 

If meeting up proves impractical then this can be done online with a dialogue about sailing topics of interest.

A fun and helpful thing to do as a team is to talk about hypothetical tactical scenarios on the race course. This is a particularly good activity to do on the drive to the regatta. An example would be something like this. “The line is fairly long and is favored by 7 degrees to the pin end in a fairly big fleet, but the right side is the place to go for a geographical shift. What would you do?” 

Another example of a hypothetical scenario is “We are on starboard tack on an average (median) compass heading, the velocity is even on both sides of the course, we are 10 boat lengths to leeward of the starboard tack lay line and about 25 lengths from the mark and a pack of four boats are coming out of the left side, 6 boat lengths to leeward of the port lay line, and look either bow to bow with us or just slightly ahead. What would you likely do?” There is no exact correct answer to these scenarios. The important thing is to explore the tactical process for each crew member and help get them involved in playing what is essentially a game of chess. 

Working through situations like these really helps teams develop awareness and visualization skills and get on the same page about what the likely move will be on the race course. It’s also fun as you are thinking about the moving chess game that tactics and strategy present. The tactical mind sure doesn’t like to be beaten but it does want to learn from the situation so success can be had when a similar situation is presented. 

One thing I try to do before a regatta which I would encourage you to try, particularly if you are sailing on a new boat (this can happen when you show up at a winter regatta looking to hitch a ride with a team) or in a new crew position, is to visualize the steps necessary to be successful, everything from being part of the boat preparation, the commute out to the starting line, the pre-start practice, and then each subsequent maneuver around the race course.

Read as much as possible, particularly on tactics, strategy, starts and tuning as well as other sports-related books. One of my favorite books is The Inner Game of Tennis by Neil Innes, which explores the psychological make up and visualization of champion tennis players and competitors in general. Another personal favorite is Dave Perry’s Winning in One Designs, which has nuggets of advice that can help one design and PHRF, dinghy and keelboat sailors alike.  

Even if you can’t be out on the water, there is plenty you can do to maintain your own and your team’s skills and awareness levels so that come the start of the season you will have already sailed a number of regattas mentally (and maybe even a few in person!) which can help accelerate the process of sailing at a good level from the get-go.