A few years ago I had to take an online driver’s education course to erase a speeding ticket. As I researched the options, one class caught my eye. It was labeled “comedy driving school.” It covered the same material, but it was done in a humorous way. I took that class and found that it was actually fun. The experience left me wondering if I could get my high school sailors to remember the most important lessons that I’ve used and written about in the same way, through a sort of comedy sailing school, so I came up with a few sailor sayings that I now make the Point Loma High School team, in San Diego, repeat aloud as a group.
Using these sailing phrases makes some people laugh and other people feel awkward, which is always fun. I’m convinced these funny sailor sayings and quotes have been one element that helped lead the team to seven national championship titles. So as you read these funny nautical terms and phrases, try saying them aloud, maybe with a funny voice and definitely with a smile, and maybe the next time you’re out on the course, one of them will pop into your mind and help you out. If nothing else, it will lighten the mood on your boat.
I make my mama proud; I never start in a crowd.
Who doesn’t want a mother’s praise? True, she will still love you if you lose, but she will love you even more if you win, and that begins with a good start. Starting well is hard enough as it is, but starting well in crowds is nearly impossible, or at best a crapshoot. Therefore make it a point to start in low-congestion areas. With open space, you can focus much more on your own time and distance. If you’re battling in tight quarters with surrounding boats fighting for the same spot, starting well becomes exponentially harder. It’s also easier to see the line in open-space areas. When it’s congested, it’s tougher to know where the line is, and there are more distractions, like luffing sails and people yelling.
How do you avoid crowds? When sailing back and forth in the flow of boats, look for areas of congestion (which always form) and do your best to position yourself against the grain of those packs or in between them. If you find yourself in a crowded area, tack or jibe to exit the pack.
Also, when setting up for your final approach, which is a critical moment, tack onto your final starboard just before a big group, or continue on and tack after the big group. You might end up a little bit away from the favored end or your ideal starting area, but it’s better than being stuck head to wind in the second row, near your perceived “sweet spot.”
Occasionally you’ll find the uncrowded area is at the favored end. I like to think of this as a starting jackpot. In these moments, count your blessings, have a great race, and think of the smile it will bring to your mama’s face.
Sail in more breeze and win with ease.
Your number one priority should be to get your head out of the boat and scan the course for wind, working hard to place your boat in it. This will help your boatspeed more than anything. One of the best sailors I’ve ever sailed against, Olympic 470 gold medalist Paul Foerster, used to stand up in the boat while sailing upwind to search for wind. He is the only sailor I’ve ever seen do this. He knew the importance of seeing what was coming and positioning his boat in more wind.
When sailing downwind, look backward a lot, searching for the dark spots of pressure coming down to you, and maneuver yourself into their path.
I sail the fat lane because my tactics are insane!
In case you’re not hip, “insane” is a good thing to kids, especially if you emphasize the “a” in insane by dragging it out and delivering it with a crazy look in your eyes.
Top sailors work hard to anticipate what others will do and position their boats in fat lanes. In doing so, they are free to sail the boat unrestricted as fast as possible. Also, following the “sail in more breeze” saying, open spaces have more wind. Wind flow goes up and over big groups of boats and sails, which creates wind shadows, so if you’re in a tight lane or sailing in a pack of boats, you’re guaranteed to have less wind. Therefore make it a priority to have big lanes.
I’m not a hack; I sail the long tack.
Sailing the lifted tack upwind and the headed jibe downwind will put you on the long tack and keep you sailing toward the mark. Always ask yourself, “If I were to tack or jibe here, would I be aiming more directly toward the mark?” If the answer is yes, you should seriously consider tacking or jibing. By placing your boat in more wind and sailing toward the mark, you set yourself up for the next shift or puff. You’ll also be making good time toward your destination, the next mark or finish line. If you do this consistently, you will always be in the hunt.
There are a few exceptions to the long-tack rule. For example, sometimes you have to take the short tack to get a better lane, or the short tack will take you into more favorable current, more wind, or a geographic shift nearer the layline. If you do choose the short tack away from the mark and into the corner, be darn sure there is a good reason, or you might soon find yourself trailing the fleet on layline with no good tactical options.
Sailing fast is no big deal; just focus on angle of heel.
The beauty of focusing on angle of heel is that it encompasses three important components of boatspeed: steering, sail trim and hiking. For optimum speed (and heel), you must get the angle of the boat to the wind correct. Upwind, if you are too heeled over, head up slightly to flatten the boat. Downwind, if you heel over too much, bear away slightly to reduce the heel. The opposite is also true: Bear away upwind to power up and heel over more, or head up downwind for the same.
Crew weight also obviously affects angle of heel, so in light winds your crew should be sitting forward and to leeward to achieve the correct heel, and as the breeze increases, everyone should move to the high side and back.
Lastly, sail trim dramatically affects heel. Trim your sails and make them fuller to induce more heel, and ease them and flatten them to level the boat. Get all the factors right, and you will have a perfectly heeled, balanced and very fast boat. Once you figure out the optimal heel and learn the helm associated with it, work to keep the boat in that sweet spot.