Pro racer Steve Hunt has learned from the best and shares the best of what he’s learned.

Having sailed with and against many sailing greats, he's learned a lot of solid lessons, and shares a few favorites.
Skip Whyte


Sailing coach Skip Whyte preaches the importance of sitting inboard when needed, and using good posture to better see what’s happening up the course. Jesus Renedo/ Sailing Energy/ US Sailing Team

The longer we race sailboats, the more we realize how true it is that we never stop learning. That’s what makes the sport so fascinating. I have notebooks full of little nuggets of knowledge that are now ingrained in me whenever I’m on the racecourse or coaching. Let’s start with Karl Anderson, who always preached the importance of delivering a positive message to the team, especially after a tough day, letting them know the team is still in good shape and all is well. Make everyone feel like they’re still in the regatta. This goes a long way, especially if you are respected on the boat.

From Moose McClintock I learned that twings down on a spinnaker sheet or guy is similar to applying vang tension on a mainsail; it closes the leech and stabilizes the kite. He taught us this while sailing on Farr 40s with the kite up in big breeze and waves.

Ed Adams long ago explained to me the importance of setting the foot of your jib — ideally, the majority of the foot — so that it kisses the deck. The seal formed between the sail and the deck forces wind aft rather than allowing it to escape underneath the sail. Capturing and accelerating the wind gives you increased power and lift.


Jonathan McKee once simplified this one for me: The farther away the jib clew is from the lead, the more you have to move it to make a change. An Etchells jib clew almost touches its lead; therefore, small changes make a big difference. On the other hand, a Melges 20 jib clew and lead are much farther apart, so your range of jib-lead movement is greater from light to heavy air.

Dave Ullman is a master of rig tune, and he explained to me that raking your mast forward will give you more power because the wind flows over your sails closer to a 90-degree angle. It also closes your leeches. Raking back generates more up-flow, from front to back, decreasing power. It also twists the sails and effectively moves the jib lead aft (because your jib clew lowers toward the lead), which also decreases power.

Skip Whyte, now coach of the University of Rhode Island sailing team, knows a lot about sailing dinghies. He preaches sitting upright with good posture so that you can better see the wind and the sails. When you need to scoot in, slide your butt and hips in first. Doing so keeps your head outboard, again helping visibility. Slouching in toward the boom is uncomfortable and less effective.


In his book, Sailing Smart, Buddy Melges says to practice tacks and jibes because they can provide massive gains in short amounts of time. Especially if you are practicing by yourself, spend a lot of time on both. Now get out there and do it.

Larry Suter greatly improved my ­starting technique by explaining how, when the pin is favored by 10 percent, it takes about 10 percent longer to get to the line (compared to a square line) from a given distance because your approach angle is more parallel to the line. If the boat is favored by 10 percent, it takes about 10 percent less time to reach the line from the same distance because you are sailing more directly at the line. That’s why there are more on course sides and general recalls when the boat is favored. It’s critical to factor in line bias when setting up for the start.

Vince Brun‘s valuable lesson was that while sailing upwind in flat water you can pinch and get away with it because nothing is disturbing the flow over your sails and blades. But as the chop increases, you have to put the bow down to keep speed. The choppier it is, the lower you have to sail. Chop throws the boat around and makes it pitch fore and aft, causing everything to easily stall, especially when you slam into waves. Make sure you ease your sails to increase the twist and decrease helm load. This bow-down twisty mode is more forgiving and keeps the boat moving fast.


James Lyne, coach to many top teams, emphasizes the lifted tack. In an oscillating breeze, he says, if you sail a header out of the gate or off the starting line, you end up missing the first shift and often end up missing shifts later up the beat. As you sail a header early in the leg, you rapidly get near the layline. If you get to the layline early in the beat you have painted yourself into the corner. Later up the leg, if you get headed, you don’t want to tack because you are already on an edge, with not much distance to sail the other way. You have a dilemma because you are still on the long tack, but you are also headed. You end up sailing through a header or two later in the beat, compounding your losses. Those who sail the lifted tack more often are positioned in the middle of the course and don’t mind tacking on headers at the top of the beat.