A Trimmer's Routine

As one of the best, this pro headsail trimmer says success is in the ability to maintain routines. Here’s what you’ll find him doing before each day of racing.

52 Super Series

52SuperSeries/©Martinez Studio

For sail trimmers, a routine approach to prerace prep ensures the right sails are loaded for the day. The goal is to start the first race without any fire drills.Nico Martinez/52 Super Series

Breakfast and hydration: Trimmers have important decisions to make before the race even starts that can determine the outcome of the day. I know how important the first meal of the day is. Never skip it. Hydration is also critical.

Weather update: As trimmer, I help choose the sails for the day. For this reason, weather forecasts are vital to my prerace routine. Plus, I can be better organized. I try not to rely on a single weather prediction. Even if the team has paid for a professional weather forecast, be open to other sources as well. Use the Internet, the race committee, a local sailor or, in the case of bigger boats, your own navigator, who will often have a "hedge" that differs from the professional forecast. Sail list: Once I have an idea about the weather, I make our sail list: mainsail, jibs and kites. We always refer to them by the code names written on the sail or sail bag. We cannot afford any confusion here, as it's a breach of class rules to carry sails that are not permitted (unbuttoned sails, for example) or to race without sails that must be on board (the heavy-weather jib, for example). In bigger programs, the list is emailed to the entire team before we arrive at the boat so everyone is on the same page with the "sail shuffle."

Sail loading: I usually manage the sail shuffle because the trimmers are effectively the end users of the sails. The trimmers also make sure the sails have all ended up in the right place. For starters, this means making sure the sails that are supposed to be on board are in fact on board. And on some boats, it also means making sure sails are loaded in a specific order for ease of use: The sails most likely to be used are on the top of the pile.

Dock-out final check: No matter how confident I am, I always make one final check before we leave the dock, physically eyeballing every sail on the foredeck, in the cockpit, and below. I leave enough time to grab a missing sail or remove a sail that has ended up on the boat by accident.

Prerace discussion: Terry Hutchinson is a huge proponent of this. It doesn't matter how many times I have heard his "briefings" (probably in the thousands), because there's something calming and motivating in having the entire team focus for a few minutes before the day begins in earnest. The format we use begins with a weather briefing from the navigator, and then I give a briefing about the sails we have on board. This lets everyone know about the day's sail choices. Once I'm finished, the tactician or skipper tells us about the race committee's intentions, the strategy for the day, and the points spread. This discussion sets up open communication.

Prerace tuning: We typically arrive at the start area 60 minutes early. I choose the sail for the conditions at that time, not for what is expected. The weather forecast is often wrong, so I do what my gut tells me is right for that moment. Rig tune is also finalized. The overall rig tune usually falls in the hands of the mainsail trimmer, as mast bend and rigging adjustments have the most effect on the mainsail, but as a jib trimmer, I'm also responsible for giving my feedback about headstay tension. Do I want more sag because we are at the bottom of the range of a jib? Or do I want a tighter headstay because we are using a jib further up its wind range?

If we haven’t already planned to meet a training partner, we try to find a competitive team to line up with. If you have a coach, this is an opportunity for him or her to take photos and record observations from behind to provide comparisons with other boats. If your performance is lacking, you will have a good guide next to you of the direction you could go to improve. We also take onboard photos of the main and jib before racing, which quantifies sail shapes and improves repeatability of our trim setup.

Chill time: At the end of the tune-up, we always build in time to regroup. We try to have 15 minutes of downtime before hoisting the jib again and getting set up for the actual race. It's time to hydrate, eat and stretch — do whatever you need to do to make sure you can perform at your best once the racing begins.

I find that chill time is a way to reset before the race starts. If two people need to take a winch apart, let them do it, but don’t let the whole team get sucked into the issue. Let the speed team hydrate, and have the tactician look up the course to make a strategy for the start and first beat. This is hard to do, but the point is to stick to your routine. Reset a frantic start with a condensed chill time, but make sure you have it, or the snowball effect will have an impact on your entire day.

Final sail call: I'm responsible for choosing the sails we will race with. During chill time, I keep an eye on the conditions. Windspeed is the obvious variable for sail choice, but there are also other factors that contribute to whether one sail performs better than another, such as sea state. I might want a more powerful jib than usual because of a lumpy sea state, or in flat water, I might choose a flatter jib than usual so I can sheet the sail on harder. Wind weight also plays a factor. One day's 10 knots can be very different from another day's 10 knots. Cold, well-mixed wind profiles will need a flatter sail than warmer, less dense or poorly mixed wind. All these factors play a part in my final sail call. Go with your gut.