Open Your Bag of Tricks
Open Your Bag of Tricks
There’s no magic to doing consistently well in sailboat races, but having a few more tricks up your sleeve than the other guy will always help. "Fundamentals" from our November/December 2010 issue.
6. Read the book Sailing Smart, by Buddy Melges
Michael Miller and I read Sailing Smart just before competing in the U.S. Men’s 470 Pre-Trials in 2002. By following Buddy’s advice, we went on to win five of seven races and won the regatta with a race to spare against one of the best sailing teams ever. We beat Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham, who were campaigning for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, where they eventually won the gold medal. Sailing Smart gave us a few more tricks to add to our bag; enough to help us to accomplish something truly memorable in our sailing careers, and it can do the same for you (pick it up on amazon.com).
7. Make sailing in clear air a top priority
I absolutely hate sailing in bad air, and you should too. Try to sail the entire race in clear air. If someone tacks or jibes on you, stealing your breeze, do something about it and find a better lane. Try to anticipate what those around you will do in order to help you maneuver in a way to keep clean air. Remember, wind makes sailboats move. So, don’t let your competitors steal it from you. It’s your golden ticket.
8. Mark your sheets
The best sailors I know mark their main and jib sheets so they can repeat fast settings. It’s simple and effective. Marking your sheets allows you to repeat settings you tested in prestart tuning and at previous events. It also allows you to accurately trim your sails for a fast speed build out of tacks and then in for a final trim: you spend more time with your head out of the boat. Through experimentation, you can find the best settings for accelerating and straight-line sailing. Mark your sheets initially with electrical tape, and once you have the marks in a good place, meaning they are visible and near a repeatable reference point, you can use a permanent marker or whipping twine to make the mark permanent.
9. Don’t be afraid to let boats cross
One of the first things I learned in college sailing was that the best sailors did not always exercise their starboard-tack right of way. Instead of hailing “starboard!” and forcing me to leebow, sending them in the other direction, they hailed, “cross” and ducked me. At first, I thought they were foolish. But then I figured out what they were doing. If you’re confident in the direction you’re sailing, and a duck is not too significant, let port tackers cross and continue the way you want to go. If it’s a big duck for you, the other boat is probably not close enough to leebow you effectively anyway, so you’re likely smart to use your rights. The favored side typically gives you much more gain than the small loss you incur when ducking a few feet.
10. Lead on the long tack if possible
One of the most fundamental rules of tactics is to sail the course that takes you toward the mark, the long tack, the one on which your bow is pointed closer to the mark. If you are stuck in a group of boats and the other tack is becoming longer and longer, try to be the first one to tack or jibe so you are leading toward the mark. Leading on the long tack should give you a wide open lane and more chances to gain or extend on the competition.