Windemon Takes Coaching Contest by Storm

The Windemon program is looking to jump to the next level.

Windemon 1

Courtesy Tim Snyder, Dave And Debbie Clasen

We had 50 responses to the coaching contest we introduced in our December issue, and it was difficult to pick a single winner. Applications came from all over North America, ranging from Laser sailors to 45-foot PHRF teams. From the 50, we narrowed it down to a field of nine finalists, each of which showed an impressive commitment to improving their race results. From this group, we chose our winner, Dave and Debbie Clasen from Hawthorne Woods, Ill. (The runners-up in our contest are described later in this article.) Dave and Debbie sail in Chicago's huge Tarten Ten fleet. They have been racing in the fleet for six years, at first crewing for other teams and now campaigning their own Windemon for three seasons. For a young team, they've had some encouraging results, and they list boat preparation, a strong work ethic, and enthusiastic team members as their strengths. The Windemon team have a busy sailing schedule for 2005. Big events include the Lands' End Chicago NOOD in June, the Chicago-Mac race in July, and the Verve Cup in August. They also sail a two-race regatta nearly every weekend, as well as the local Wednesday night beer-can races. On their application, they stated some performance goals for these events (top 15 at the NOOD, top 6 at Verve Cup, and top 5 in class in the Mac race). They would also like to win more of the casual beer-can races-this is one driven team. They have identified three areas where they would like to improve: boat handling, light-air sail trimming (particularly when the waves do not match the windspeed), and crew communication. My initial impression is that the Windemon program is at a crossroads. After a few years of big jumps in performance, the improvements will now come in ever-smaller increments. Frustration is inevitable, so the important thing will be to fine tune the group's goals to make the small victories easily attainable, as well as help them set up some practice drills that allow the whole team to work as a unit, taking ownership of their specific roles while gaining an understanding of how their job fits into the entire maneuver. Imagine sailing the perfect race, where you get a good start, have great speed, hit all the shifts with confidence, and steadily pull away from the fleet to victory. This would be 100-percent perfection. Most of us consistently dwell somewhere around the 75- to 85-percent level of perfection, and that is on a good day. It sounds as though the Clasens have quickly brought their program up to the 75-percent barrier, but have hit that wall, where the improvements are harder to earn. The Clasens will be fun to work with because they're motivated and willing to put in the practice time. I am looking forward to our coaching sessions, and I'll keep you updated at sailingworld.com. Now, for our other 49. The applications came from all over-from dinghies to cats to big boats-but there were a few recurring themes worth reviewing, as well as some memorable comments. Communication "The helmsman steers, trims the main, the runners, and calls tactics. I think at times the workload on the skipper is a disadvantage." A keen observation from a frustrated crewmember on a 30-something keelboat. There needs to be a crew meeting where the responsibilities get divided up. There are moments in the race when the helmsman has more responsibilities than, say, the spinnaker trimmer. But if the jobs are spread out among the crew, two good things will happen-the boat will go faster because each job gets more focus, and because each crewmember has ownership of a role, they are happier as a team. "Sometimes I think we need a lawyer more than a coach." (I'm not sure comment is required here). "…tell my husband that yelling does not help, and it is not a good thing to get your wife mad especially when she is calling the starting line and jibing the spinnaker." Good call. Although it's easy to get frustrated and let a few words fly at the nearest human target, this can backfire. If a crewmember is constantly berated, he or she may be hesitant to provide critical input later, for fear of getting an earful. Boatspeed Interestingly, we had no comments of "We're slow and we don't know why." A lot of entrants referred to difficulty with "gear changing," or knowing when and how to make subtle adjustments to the sail shapes as conditions change. Because sailmakers have done such a thorough job with their tuning guides, most teams have a reasonable idea of how to set up their rigs. The problem becomes identifying when small changes need to be made. "When the puff hits, I don't know if I should drop the traveler down, pull the backstay on, ease the mainsheet, or just hike harder." The answer, of course, is it depends on the situation. But here's a tip. Next time you're sailing in puffy conditions, deputize someone on the rail to watch the other boats, and have them report back on traveler and jib car positions, size of scallops in the jib luff, boom angles, height of backstay blocks, spinnaker pole height, etc. Simple observation can be a powerful learning tool. Positioning "We have too much 'decision by committee,' so we're often indecisive and lose boats in critical situations." If you spread the tactical calls among the troops, indecisiveness is inevitable. Pick a tactician, give them thoughtful input, and stick by their decisions. If you really want to roast the tactician, do it after the race at the debrief, and try to keep it constructive. "While patience is generally beneficial in sailing, it can also result in a slow, stubborn death." I love this quote, from a San Francisco Bay team. His point is that they are good at deciding on a pre-race strategy, but that they tend to stick to the plan even when it is obviously not paying off. This is a classic problem in places that have well-known wind or current patterns (like San Francisco Bay). Local knowledge of a racecourse can be both valuable and dangerous, as there are times when the current just doesn't do what it is supposed to. The best thing is to base your plan on the expected patterns, but be prepared to react and adapt if the ebb hasn't started yet, or the right shift that is "always" there, has failed to arrive in time to bail you out. Kite Twists "Our spinnaker often twists when we hoist it, and we lose a lot of distance getting the wrap out." We had three teams list spinnaker twists as a weakness. There are many factors that can contribute to a twist, but here's one simple tip-delay your hoist by a few seconds. Most of the time, a kite isn't twisted in the bag (or in the hatch), but the head of the spinnaker starts twisting as it's hoisted. If you begin your hoist before the boat has borne away enough that the wind is aft of the beam, the apparent wind fills the head and spins it on the way up. If you wait until the wind goes aft, the kite should go up forward-instead of to leeward-the head shouldn't twist, and the afterguy should come back more easily. Calling Puffs "I want to call the puffs upwind, but I'm not very good at it." Identifying wind pressure on the water and accurately timing its approach is really difficult. One alternative is to try calling the light spots instead of the puffs. Look for large sections of glassy water in your path. If I have my head down trimming or driving, I really like to hear that an extended light spot is coming up, so I can start easing the backstay, raising the traveler, etc. Laylines "We tend to lose boats on the final approach to the leeward mark, because we either overstand or come in too deep." Calling leeward mark laylines is also tricky, because your approach angle can change dramatically with every puff and shift. Here's a trick that Stu Argo taught me, but you'll need a masthead wind indicator. The skinny end points towards your apparent wind. Follow the fat end of the arrow downwind, and it's pointing directly at the course you would steer if you jibed at that moment. When it lines up with the leeward mark, jibe. If the breeze is relatively steady, and the current is negligible, you should be within a few degrees of a nice, fast angle into the mark.