The Power of a Good Duck

April 23, 2011

Last week, while sailing in the first BCYA Tuesday Night Series race of the season I was reminded of the power of a good and smart duck.  For those of you who are thinking about feathered quackers, a duck on the race course is when one boat sails behind (astern) of another.  When two boats come together and would collide if one or both didn’t alter course, then the right of way rules kick in and one boat will often “duck” behind the other.

I am fond of saying that when two boats on opposite tacks meet on the race course — one of them is headed the wrong way.  Races are generally won by getting to a strategic advantage on the race course (more wind velocity, better current, advantageous wind shift, etc.) first and taking advantage of it.  Get to the strategic advantage (you’ll often hear me refer to this as the big money) first and you’ll be hard to beat.  Because there is usually only one “big money” for any given segment of the race (i.e. the moment when two boats on opposite tacks are about to cross each other) then one of the boats MUST be headed the wrong way.

Tuesday night was a great example of this.  We were sailing in a light (4-8kts) westerly breeze that was filling into the racing area after the passage of a small storm cell.  Onboard, we had discussed how we felt there were likely right shifts, if not a persistent right shift coming with the new wind.  With that in mind we were pretty sure, the right side of the race course would be “big money.”  But the starting gun went off in less than 5kts of wind (the water was like glass because most of the new wind was still aloft) and we were midway down the line, with two of our competitors on our windward hip.

In the super light stuff – nobody likes to tack.  It costs too much (said in the tone of the “the rents too damn high!” guy.)  Moreover we were headed for pressure and were slightly headed, making the eventual cross that much easier assuming they got the same left hand shift (reminder – consolidate on THEIR loss not yours.)  All the boats in the scenario were eventually headed and the cross would have been easily make able, but after :30 seconds of analysis of pressure vs shift vs staying fast vs getting to the big money the boats inside of us had found the right hand shift, gained back due to being right of us in a right handed shift and now were an issue.  We didn’t have the cross.

This can be one of toughest moments on a race course.  Conceding to the other boats that they are ahead in order to sail towards what you believe is the “big money.”  But the call was made to tack, and upon coming to course and hitting our target boat speed it was clear that we wouldn’t cross in front.  We would need to duck.

There are good ducks and bad ducks from a boathandling standing point.  Good ducks don’t cost much, and often gain, but bad ducks can be deadly.  Setting the boat up for a good duck starts with anticipation.  When sailing upwind, a small alteration of you angle will have you footing to your target rather than needing the bear off significantly – which inevitably slows the boat down and costs boat lengths!  In our case, a quick weight shift to windward, a big ease on the mainsheet and finally a burp on the jib kept the underwater foils working, kept consistent flow across the sails, and allowed us to head down without needing to deflect the brake… er, I mean the rudder, much at all.

So now we are sailing into a header.  The boats that we’ve ducked are looking more and more lifted as we are more and more headed.  After some discussion about leverage (the lateral distance between two boats) we decided to hedge our bet a bit, and tack back to starboard.  Less than a minute later, our competition that had continued to sail to the left on the lifted tack also tacked, and we quietly crossed them by about 15 or 20 boat lengths.  WHEW!

My personal take away from this is something that I’ve been reminded of hundreds of times – almost ALWAYS head towards the strategic advantage – the big money – even if it means ducking a few boats.  Sail to your strategy not to the other boats and you will be more successful.

Gate Marks – Rule 18.4 – Which Way Do We Go?

March 13, 2010

Editors note: Weekly I receive quite a few queries about rules, sail trim, strategy and tactics. I am making an effort to share those questions with everyone who reads this blog. So if you have a question you want addressed please send it in. I’ll answer in email and then edit your question (with your permission of course) for the blog. Here is an example of one I got today, that even came with it’s own diagram. I love this stuff!

On the attachment.  A windward leeward course with a leeward gate.  Does the starboard tack boat (which will round the starboard mark of the gate) have rights over all port tack boats (rounding the port mark) even in their 3 boat circle?  If so, why would anyone round the port mark in traffic unless that side of the course was heavily favored?

Thanks in advance.

Thanks for the note.  I hope you feel comfortable sending these sorts of questions anytime.  As I think I mentioned in the BVI its my pledge to anyone who suffers through a course, lecture or bar napkin discussion (let alone a week of cohabitation) to be “tech support.”

A windward leeward course with a leeward gate.  Does the starboard tack boat (which will round the starboard mark of the gate) have rights over all port tack boats (rounding the port mark) even in their 3 boat circle?

So the situation you’ve outlined has become fairly common with the increased use of gates for leeward marks.  Because of this, the rule writers made changes in the most recent iteration of the rules to deal with this specific situation.  It is important to point out that part of the challenge of these sorts of situations actually rests on the shoulders of Race Committee’s which SHOULD place gate marks far enough apart so that each ZONE (commonly thought of as the three boat length circle) is independent of the other.  Of course, that doesn’t happen that often – especially in mixed size fleets.

So something that is important to remember is that even when boats are approaching a mark or are in the zone, rule 10 (Opposite Tacks) is still in effect.  Take the mark away, and the port boat in your situation would have to keep clear.   So when we add the MARK and ZONE the next question must be asked – IS THERE AN OVERLAP and if so WHO IS INSIDE?

In your case, the Starboard tack boat is INSIDE OVERLAPPED with the port tack boat.  So Port tack must keep clear of starboard.

Now, in the event this was a single mark leeward rounding (aka no gate) then the Starboard tack boat would be LIMITED in how far she could sail from the mark before she gybed and went around.  According to rule 18.4 she would have to gybe when it was her PROPER COURSE to do so.  NOTE:  Proper course has a definition, which is course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of the other boat being referred to in the rule.  So that means in this case – when she would gybe if port wasn’t there.

BUT!  Because this is a GATE, Rule 18.4 does not apply and starboard is free to sail to either gate, gybe when she please, etc.

If so, why would anyone round the port mark in traffic unless that side of the course was heavily favored?

You’ve answered your own question.  If the port mark (looking downwind) was; more upwind, leads to the favored side of the course or strategic advantage, you were sure the starboard boat was headed to the other gate and you wanted/needed to split from them or that gate mark was less crowded, then you would likely make for that mark.  The rule doesn’t force either boat to make a choice of marks, it just makes clear which boats must give MARK ROOM and/or KEEP CLEAR.

The tactical, and therefore rules, game is played in the future.  You must be able to anticipate what will happen and what your rights and obligations will be at that moment.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this note, this happens often at crowded GATE MARK roundings.  It is worth spending time learning how to SLOW DOWN at marks in order to maintain as many options as possible.  In this case, if port really wanted the (looking downwind) left hand gate, they should have slowed down (taken the kite down early, over trimmed their sails, steered erratically) and gone astern of Starboard.

Keep those questions coming!

Upwind “Dirty Air” Slideshow

February 18, 2010

What a long, strange trip it’s been.

February 17, 2010


St. Pete NOOD Regatta

After 47 days on the road; a trip of racing, teaching, coaching, team building and more is over.  For at least three days.  I am back off to the British Virgin Islands on Friday.  No rest for the wicked.

Most recently I coached and raced in the 2010 St. Petersburg NOOD Regatta. This is one of my favorite events because of the venue and because I think the NOOD series is well managed.  Sure, you can gripe about a few things; but on the whole these are some of the best events in the country.

Over the next few days I’ll be posting thoughts and commentary about lessons learned at this event.  These events are so much fun and challenging because as a coach I am trying to balance my need to both teach my clients new skills and coach my clients’ skill to a higher level, and then try to compete.  That is no easy task when there are more than a dozen other boats trying to beat you on the race course, and you just met your team a few days before.  But we try to cover all that.

Every time I am reminded of the fact that it is exceedingly hard to do all that in the heat of battle.  But, at the same time there are no other programs, that I do, where clients get that full excitement and experience.  I think it comes down to being able to  articulate exactly what are reasonable expectations for each event and each client.  That clients can expect to improve every day and learn experientially.  I guess what I am saying is; we put learning first.

On top of all that, I like to think of the final debrief I do with my clients as the start of our racing relationships rather than the end.  So I write.  I write down my lessons learned, what I think they team improved on and areas where I think they can improve.  Here is the first email to my St. Pete team, taken from an email sent to my them this morning:

Well the aches and pains are really starting to set in.  And the “I wish I was still racing” blues are definitely in full effect.

One of the first things I like to do after these events is review the pictures that the photographers take.  First it is fun, but second there are lots of analysis that we can do about sail shapes, body weight positioning and more.  Here is the link to Tim Wilkes’ site that has several pics of our boat from the St. Petersburg NOOD regatta.  Fortunately, there is a series of images from one of the upwind legs with Christe (a good boat to gauge off of).  There is also a decent series of our lighter air downwind set up on Day Two.

Take a look and let me know if you see anything interesting.  I know I did.  There are some pretty neat shots there, and Tim is a great guy.  So buy a pic while you are at it.

Much much much more to come.


You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel;
Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.
I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’,
Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me, What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Truckin’, I’m a goin’ home. Whoa whoa baby, back where I belong,
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin’ on.

Key West Race Week – Part Five – A Response

January 8, 2010

Sorry that it has been so long since I’ve written.  After celebrating the New Year holiday Jeff Jordan and I zipped a J80 to Key West from Annapolis in a 48 hour 2500 mile round trip blitz.  I don’t recommend it, but it can be done.  Unbelievably I am headed back down there right now.  I’m in Florida and will be back in Key West late tomorrow afternoon.

So, the question was basically, we are coming to the first windward mark, the wind is blowing 16kts from the same direction, we still have current moving left to right and the slight geographic left hand shift DID come in as we sailed to the left.  So where do we tack?

Well, I would argue that there are three places where we might tack: (diagram two)

Position One, would be to tack RIGHT NOW.  With the current pushing us toward the layline we should be able to get to the mark, and with the boats to windward of us not quite fetching the layline they are likely to continue on and give us enough clear air to make the mark.  If we were interested in being inside at the weather mark then this might be a good move.  Is that what we want?  Likely we’ll have to pinch up to make the mark, we’ll be slow, but we’ll be inside.  It is even possible that we will “catch” a piece of those boats on our hip (the port tackers) and force them to tack shy of the layline.  It is RISKY.  But, it could move us up quite a few places.

Position Two, would have us tacking on the leebow of the lead starboard tack parade boat.  Again, we should initially have clear air, and given this position we should have no trouble making the mark and likely maintaining much of our speed.  Given that the boat that is just to windward of us is being controlled by the boat to windward of her, we may well get an inside overlap at the weather mark, and possibly be able to hold that overalp going to the offset mark.  This has potential benefits regarding our position, but we’re likely to be slowed significantly by the other boats.  A pack of boats always travels slower than a boat alone.

Position Three, would have us tacking well past the layline on the outside of the the bulk of the group.  Usually we’d like to avoid being on the outside of the pinwheel due to the extra distance that is forces us to sail.  But, I would argue that in this case it is a safe place to tack, guarantees the clearest air, and given how crowded this rounding is going to be, might give us the opportunity to sail our own rounding.  Furthermore, we are sailing to the windward mark on a port tack lift, which suggests that we want to do a bear away set and continue on starboard tack after the mark, so being outside initially could be to our advantage. 

Three viable choices.  But just as when we started there are elements of a great mark rounding.  Having ALL of these elements if very difficult to do, and therefore we often have to compromise and prioritize.  For instance, in the absence of all other boats I would want to:

Round each mark close enough to touch it – without touching it.
Treat the rounding as the set up for the next leg.
Steer aggressively with body weight and sails.
Sail fast.
Be able to immediately know whether I am lifted or headed to the next mark.

In this instance I would go with number three in this instance.  I can make arguments in favor of all three, but I feel pretty strongly that tacking outside the parade is in this case a good move.  It is the first rounding.  So let’s be fairly conservative.  We have to be looking ahead; this tack is not about where we end up at the weather mark, but rather where we are positioned for the spinnaker set.  The strategic factors indicate that we want to initially head to the same corner we just came from, so sailing to the outside of this pack should give us a clear lane around both marks and the ability to continue on after the spinnaker set without fighting for clear air.

So in this case I would go outside of the pack, and hope for a dog fight that we aren’t a part of.  We are now clear to really focus on our spinnaker set, rather than fighting for positioning.  We are overstood slightly and can sail fast, possibly past boats that are slowed by the pack or their own efforts to clear the mark.  For this first mark, I am satisfied to be very conservative.

I think you can argue for anyone of these positions (and more), but for me the take away here is to look at where we want to be, not necessarily where are.  I also want to really make my “move” when I’ve got a bigger advantage, and if I don’t then I will focus on the simple things (go fast for instance) and put myself into a situation that limits the chance for mistakes.

Key West Race Week – Part Four – A Response

December 28, 2009



Most of the responses to this visualization said that this was an easy one, but you should have known it couldn’t be that easy. In order to keep frivolous fouls in check, the rules are written to make both the protested and protesting boats clear a few hurdles.

Starboard certainly had to avoid contact (Rule 14) which violates Rule 10 (On Opposite Tacks).  But what is important (and becoming seemingly more so) is how Starboard goes about protesting.  Recently it seems that more and more PC’s are working hard to disallow protests before they get to the protest room by being STRICT about the procedural steps.  So that brings us to the:

What do we do?

1)  Hail “PROTEST”.  This needs to be immediate, polite and clear.  We should also be VERY clear on who is going to be talking to the other boats on the course.  Generally, I would suggest that I’m in the best position to do so, but I am certainly open to discussing this.  “Do your turns!”, “Hey, you SOOO fouled us!”, “What the f*&(@@%@^&!!!!! are you thinking!?” are NOT acceptable, and don’t need to even be mentioned (although they often are.)  Just a clear “PROTEST” and the boat name or sail number will do.

2)  Immediately Fly Flag and fly until we’ve finished.  This seems to be the favorite “out” of the protest committees these days.  We’ve got about 10 seconds to get the flag displayed.  It also pays to have some sort of time mark for when we did it.  So, I carry a protest flag in my PFD, in addition to the flag on the backstay/stern rail/etc.  We can always pull the more permanent flag when time allows.

Interestingly, this year I acted as the arbitration officer for several big boat events.  Often I was told that they flew the flag as soon as the person who was sent to fetch it from the nav table got on deck.  Not good enough.  I was told once that they flew it about a minute after the incident, once it was clear that everyone was OK.  ISAF says you can do better than that.  There was only one incident this year that, I witnessed, where a PC (arbitrator actually) said to another party “well, did you KNOW you being protested?”  When the answer was yes, we moved forward in spite of some questions about the flag.  Point is, we’ll be flying it and leaving it flying from as soon after the incident as possible.

3)  Get back to racing.  Following the incident we have done what we are required to do at this time.  There are a few things that we should do before too long, but right now we need to get back to racing ASAP.  Too many teams let an infraction, or the other team’s actions (or inaction) consume the conversation.  For the most part, it is time to forget about it and get back to racing.

4)  Write down time of hail and incident information.  Given how we are structuring our team work, I think that our forward person should be able to draft an incident report immediately after we start racing again.  This info is best to get down ASAP so that we can get on with the race and not worry about forgetting important info.

5)  Immediately after finishing, hail the RC to declare our intentions to protest.  While the SI’s for this race only request that we inform the RC that we intend to protest, some PC will take this request very seriously.  This past summer I was racing at an event where the arbitrator was questioning the validity of my protest because the PC didn’t have a record of my hail.  Fortunately, I had a witness (from another fleet) that was willing to testify (although it was never necessary).  So I also add that we should record the time of our hail and any other hails that we might hear.  Finally, we should continue to hail until the RC confirms our hail.  I hate being a chatty Cathy on the radio when racing, but it always is a bummer to loose a valid protest on something minor.

6)  We also should be looking for witnesses.  A witness that saw the incident will make our case MUCH stronger, and knowing who to find back at the dock will make the process MUCH easier.  Now is the time to do it.

7)  We should as a team review the incident report to confirm that we all agree with what happened and then get ready to race again.

If it seems like a lot – that’s because it is.  The key to winning in a protest situation is preparation, and I believe that begins at immediately following any incident.

How about those hails?

You are absolutely right, from a rules standpoint they have no meaning or bearing.  There is no required hail of “starboard” or “hold your course” in the rule book.  In fact in this situation starboard isn’t required to necessarily hold her course (and she didn’t she bore away) so the hails don’t change the situation.  That said, they hails are a good idea.  STARBOARD is making it clear to PORT that she doesn’t think the cross is going to happen.  PORT is declaring “I’m going for it.”  Communication on the course I think can improve the game that is played.  It is important though that the communication be clear and not be a distraction.  In this case – I think both hails helped; even if they weren’t necessary.

Now, what should THEY do?

Well, they fouled us.  It is pretty clear, so what they should do is take a penalty.

According to the SI’s they have the option of either doing a One-Turn Penalty, or taking a 20%.  They can do a tack and a gybe in the same direction or they can fly their yellow I flag and carrying on.

Upwind, I think the 20% penalty is worse than the one-turn penalty.  So, they need to sail clear of the other competitors (or make sure they are clear of them) and do a tack and gybe in the same direction.  A well executed one-turn penalty should be less of a penalty than the 20% would be.  So they would have been wise to have practiced that before the regatta started.  They should also start their one-turn penalty with a gybe, rather than a tack, use their sails and body weight to aggressively steer the boat through the turn and then get back to racing!

After the race is over, they should find the boat they fouled and make it clear that they they took their penalty.  If they DID take a 20% penalty it will be important that they inform the race committee and file within 90 minutes of the RC docking.

So they have plenty to fret about as well.

For some, all of this is more than they want to deal with, and either do not call protest, or don’t follow through with it.  I’m of the opinion that there are inadvertent that take place on the race course, and in order to have a fair game, we should enforce them.  I just go back to any other game I play – basketball, tennis, squash – if a friend fouls I call it.  If those fouls start to impact my game I work to improve.

Have a great day!


Protest Flag

Key West Race Week – Part Two – A Response!

December 27, 2009

Thanks to everyone for the great responses!  There were some great offline conversations and the responses I’ve included some of those conversations below.  I’ve also included two images.  The first is The First Cross Visualization and the second is representative of what where I think the windward danger zones are.

NOTE:  There was an error is the original visualization.  Our heading is not 055M, but rather 305M.  That makes a big difference in the thought process.  The good thing is that most folks either realized I had made the mistake (the compass makes more sense if you are just ADDING *sigh*) or made an in interesting conclusion that was a good conversation starter.

In the last visualization I asked seven questions;

1)  Should we change our set up?  2)  What information can each person (helm, spin trimmer, bow) communicate in this situation to help the boat make the right call?  3)  What should the two forward positions be concentrating on?  4)  Should we tack?  5)  Why or why not?  6)  In the event that we decide not to tack, if we are in a close crossing situation with another boat, what should we call them across or make them tack?  7)  If we do tack, where should we tack?

I think the following conversations should help illuminate most of these questions (responses from readers are italicized)

I do not see a reason to change setup. Btw, what are all the items considered in this category?

I would agree.  The differences in the angles is probably due to the left shift that we’ve gotten, and the boats to leeward of us have gotten even more of.  Speed and angle the same – so let’s make a note of what our settings are so that if we do make changes we can always come back to our “base” and at the very least match the other boats.

Items in the set up category would be Angle of attack, draft, twist for both sails as well as crew weight position.

I’m expecting everyone to update me on shifts, puffs, waves, traffic, other boat performance above, below and ahead or behind.

I think you are asking for the right information, but I would suggest that you assign information to individuals so that the information you want/need at any given time is always available and you know who to go to for it.  If all of the info is up for grabs I find that teams can very easily distract themselves with one thing and the other information gets lost or isn’t available when you need it.  I think I said it before, but I have my bow person talking about how we are doing performance wise on the boats to windward, as well as helping track heading info and big picture strategy.  Then my spinnaker trimmer (next position back) is calling puffs and lulls as well as waves.  What naturally occurs is the puff and lull info is communicated more easily to the helm due to being closer.

Unless we see something desirable to leeward or we get lifted I would tack a few boats above the last to cross to stay with the pack and have clean air.

Interesting.  To get lifted here would be a really bad thing.  After 8 minutes we are pretty far to the left hand side of the course.

In the diagram to the right, you can see that in the corners we are LOOKING for reasons to tack away from the layline.

Also, we were expecting there to be a left shift – a header.   So a lift here, as we near the layline would mean that when we tack (and we WILL need to tack) we will be sailing on a header and all those boats that went right (or we forced to the right) would be gaining – and probably gaining big due to the leverage we built.

But I DO like where you are going with the stay with the pack with clear air thinking.  Now what gets important is how do we stay connected with with this fleet.

This is a long race.  We want to stay in contact with the majority, pick off boats one by one, and limit our risk.  The left shift has come in.  We see it on our compass, and we see it in the fact that the majority of the competition is cashing in on the shift.  So in order for us to gain on the boats that are slightly ahead of us, we would need to realize MORE left shift beyond the competition.  Nothing that has been presented (which we could interpret as nothing that we KNOW) says that there is more shift to the left.  In fact 3/4′s of the pack we are racing think there’s little left to tap in the left.  So I think there are a lot of factors that are screaming tack.  But tack BEFORE the fleet crosses us rather than after.

Where are we on the course?  After eight minutes we’ve probably sailed pretty far into the left hand side of the course.  In fact, we’ve probably sailed about 4800 feet.  In the simplest (and often the best) tactical thinking you want to sail the tack that takes you closer to the mark.  At this point the other tack is pointed more directly at the mark.  Simple racing principle – sail AT the next mark.

By allowing the majority of the fleet to cross us here, we put ourselves closer to the layline than our competition.  Generally, we want to herd our competition towards the laylines and save the middle for ourselves in order to keep our options open.  So if we duck here, then we are allowing the competition to sail to the middle while we sail to the edge.  Simple racing principle – avoid the laylines.

By ducking, we’ve conceded to the other boats that they are ahead.  We’ve committed to going away from the other boats in an effort to get ahead of them.  So now we are gambling and every second we separate we are building risk.  Conversely if we tack, we stay with our competition, if later, we decide that the edge really holds the pot of gold; we can head to it later.  Simple racing principle – stick with the competition.

Monitor and adjust – We are luck to have the bulk of the fleet going the way we want and just a couple of boats going the other way.  It is early, in the race, so this is one of those great opportunities to see who gets paid in this situation without risking our own bacon.  By watching where the other two boats end up at the weather mark we can make an informed decision on the next weather leg.

So with all of that added up, I’d say that we tack.

Also, one of the questions was if we are going to tack, where should do it?  Well, I would argue that this is a time to execute the safe leeward tack.  In other words we want to tack ahead and to leeward of the boats to the left.  We want to maintain a clear air “lane” and maintain the ability to tack back if we choose to.  We also don’t want to tack so early that there is a lane between us and the fleet we are sticking with.  That’s just too attractive to the boats we might have to duck who are coming out of the right hand corner.

OK, more to come this week.

Key West Race Week – Part Two

December 21, 2009

Less than a month from now I will be pushing off from the dock at Old Island Harbor Marina on Stock Island. Just off of the Key West’s south shoreline the race committee will be waiting to start the 2010 Key West Race Week.

With only a few short weeks to go, I am continuing to try and get my clients as prepared as I can for what will certainly be an battle; both physically and mentally. Here is the most recent visualization email that I wrote my crew.

Team Willy T -

I shared my first visualization scenario with some of the other coaches and boats that I know are going to be headed to Key West this year. It was great to see the enthusiasm and range of answers. It will be even better to see it played out on the race course in a few weeks. There is snow, piled 20 inches high outside my door right now, so today I hope to have plenty of time to just sit back and think about our racing this January. Fire, cocktail and some racing thoughts.

As I mentioned before I am using past mistakes as the foundation for most of these visualizations. I have been coaching these programs for years now and simply digging into my “gripes” list of what we didn’t do is providing some rich material. I figure we’ll just keep going around the race course in our minds, so in the coming weeks you can expect visualizations in the following order:

Start – Done
First Windward Leg
First Windward Mark
Spinnaker Set and Escape
First Leeward Leg
Leeward Mark/Gate
Second Windward Leg
Second Spinnaker Set and Escape
Post Race Procedure
10 Minutes to our start

Visualization Scenario Number 2 (First windward leg)

Same race/same conditions

We are sailing along on starboard tack about 8 minutes into the first windward leg. Our COMPASS reads 305M. Our boat speed could improve relative to the other boats, but our pointing has been better than those boats to leeward of us, but we don’t really look to be doing as well as the boats on our windward hip – although our speed is still just fine. Should we change our set up? What information can each person (helm, spin trimmer, bow) communicate in this situation to help the boat make the right call? What should the two forward positions be concentrating on?

Of the eight boats that were to leeward of us, six have just tacked and are very likely to closely cross us. In other words, they are just slightly ahead. Two of the eight boat pack are continuing further into the left and the rest of the fleet (six boats) is to our right, apparently even or just behind us. Should we tack? Why or why not? In the event that we decide not to tack, if we are in a close crossing situation with another boat, what should we call them across or make them tack? If we do tack, where should we tack?

This scenario, I call it the first cross, is one that we will likely see every single race. How we handle this situation is often key to salvaging a top half of the fleet rounding from a bottom half of the fleet rounding. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

I have also CC’d the other members of the JWorld Racing Team staff so that they are up to speed on what we are doing. With luck, all of this will make us all more competitive on the race course.


ps – Here are the questions in order.

Should we change our set up?

What information can each person (helm, spin trimmer, bow) communicate in this situation to help the boat make the right call?

What should the two forward positions be concentrating on?

Should we tack?

Why or why not?

In the event that we decide not to tack, if we are in a close crossing situation with another boat, what should we call them across or make them tack?

If we do tack, where should we tack?

Got answers? Want to add your own visualization to the list. Post a comment or send an email!

Key West Race Week – Part One – A Response!

December 19, 2009

So I have received several responses to the first visualization exercise and I wanted to post some of the thoughts.  The great thing about sailboat racing is that there are almost always more than one way to skin the cat.  Of course each team can make there scheme work so long as they are all on the same page, and that’s what these exercises are intended to do for the team I am coaching in Key West.  Get us on the same page.  Below is an example of how I responded to one of my teammates thoughts (his comments are italicized)

First, if we knew left would be favored , why are we in the middle of the starting line???

Great question.  Because EVERYONE knows that the left hand side of the course is favored, and in the given conditions being able to continue to the left is at the top of our priority list.  There are seven elements to a perfect start:

1.  Full Speed
2.  On the line and on time
3. Clear Air
4.  Clear Lane
5.  Freedom
6.  Favored end
7.  Having a plan

Getting all seven on any start (including a start where you are the only boat there) is really difficult.  Add 15 boats and you have to start prioritizing your elements for what is the most important for you in this start.  In this case, as you identified, going left is what we must do, but being in the dog fight where few (if even more than one) will be able to retain the other elements by over-prioritizing the favored end is a risky strategy.  So by being in the middle, we concede a small portion of left hand advantage (assuming the left comes in – if not we’re even – or even ahead) to sail faster and longer towards the advantage than the MAJORITY of our competition.

With 16kts wind and 4 ft waves I would think we would already be in footing mode; open slot
and a little twist in main with enough power to keep our speed in big waves. I would keep going left,
wanting to be the first to the header.

I think you’ve got a pretty good setting in mind – especially for the open course.  With the waves, we will be reaccelerating (maybe a little different than keeping our speed) often .  One thing I would point out is that the main and the jib need to be in similar modes, so if we are twisting the mainsail we should likely be twisting the jib as well.  Right off the line – we may need a little something different.  A different gear for our desired outcome – but I like where you are going with the set up for the general conditions.

I would ignore windward boat on our hip, if he foots off also we can always take him up and keep him off of us, however the boat above him, if he is faster, could be a problem  If he is footing also but faster, we want to keep as much separation as possible to stay in clean air, and we want separation when the wind goes left, so we may want to go deeper to maintain our position.  Our footing may hold him off long enough, and it sounds as if we can roll the boat to our left (or keep even ) even if he is footing also.

So back to the elements of a perfect start.  Immediately after the start we would like to reclaim or salvage or maintain as many of our elements as possible.  It is why we take clearing tacks when we don’t have a lane, or why we foot off from the pin to regain any speed we sacrificed in our efforts to win the pin on time.  Or even when we return to the line because we were OCS.  We are always trying to get back to all seven elements in the first minute or two of the race.

So with that in mind I would argue that we actually have the helmsman keep the boat as high as he can – while still maintaining enough speed to keep us rolling along.  The man on our hip is REALLY important to us – in so much as he controls our freedom to tack.  There is a thin lane to leeward that must be maintained, and by going a little high off the line we should be able to force the boat on our hip back or into a tack.  When we’ve established that controling position, or established that we aren’t going to get it, THEN we can shift back into our footing mode.  So how high?  High to maintain our lane (if not grow it), and high enough to pinch off the guy on our hip, but not so high that we park the boat.  This puts a real premium on helmsmanship and feel.  The net gain being that we’ve opened up a bigger lane that we can actually foot into without being impacted by our neighbor to leeward, and with luck we’ve opened up the freedom to go right if needed.

Finally, I think it is really important to remember that this is a one design start. Rolling the boat to either side of us should (in theory) be really hard to do, so we have to imagine we are all traveling at nearly the same speed.  This is yet another reason why keep our lanes open is a pretty high priority.

The wind is only ” slightly” favored on the left side but the 1/2kt tide boost is a big reason to go left( even bigger if the wind lightens up).  HOWEVER, (always a however) the contrary wind and tide could cause some speed killing chop. Both tide and wind say go left, left left, unless waves are killing our speed.

Left left left is right.  In the scenario I presented the current (lateral water movement, rather than tide which is vertical water movement) is running ACROSS the wind.  So you are right that the left is important because the current makes starboard the long tack due to the shifting layline.  All the more reason to push our competition onto port whenever we can and defend our starboard tack as hard as we can.

Telltales?? Outside should be flicking a little if we are footing.

OK, so I would argue that the leeward telltale should NEVER EVER EVER bounce.  That telltale is showing how the airflow is attaching along the leeward side of the sail.  If it bounces that means we are starting to stall the airflow – which will quickly rob the sail of power and shift us from PULL MODE into PUSH MODE.  Bad news.  Rather, given that we are trying to sail high, we want to the INSIDE telltale to LIFT.  Moreover the jib sheet should be active when we do move into the SPEED or WAVE (likely more appropriate) mode you described earlier.   In a future visualization we’ll discuss telltales a little more specifically.

(1) Bow calling wind puffs and looking for large or out of sequence waves
(2) Trimmer – how are we doing against the fast boat and other boat positions

Alright, so there was more to this question than just communication.  First and foremost these two positions must be at MAX HIKE.  To get the boat to sail the mode we are talking about those two positions must be doing all they can to get the boat flat.  AFTER they have done that, I like to have the forward position (bow) communicating TACTICAL data.  How we are doing relative to the other boats to windward of us (point/speed/net).  The reason for this is that this information is important to the tactician who is sitting forward of the helm.  So this allows this info to not incumber the helmsperson but get communicated to the tactician.  Then the next person back, our Spinnaker Trimmer is responsible for the environmental data of waves, puffs and lulls.  This info gets communicated directly to the helmsperson, and because of their relative positions should be able to be done so in a clear way.

All that said – HIKE FIRST, talk later.

Love the challenging questions, keep’m coming , along with your evaluations.
Makes me want to be on the water now !!!!!

Thanks!  Me too.

Key West Race Week 2010 – Part One

December 17, 2009

Here it comes.  It is just four weeks away.  30 sleeps.  Key West Race Week 2010.

The boats are on their trailers and we are preparing all the little things.  Running all the lists.  Checking them twice.  And now (for the first time since last March) I am excited about heading down for winter racing.  The program is grueling.  The coaching is really frustrating and hard.  But, I’ve forgotten all of that and I am looking forward to going at it again.

But maybe I haven’t forgotten everything.  This year I think I am preparing for my best work, because I have tried to examine how I could improve on the past years.  What little things could I do more that will make the events that much better.  I’ve got a few new tricks for this year.

For instance I am trying to use visualization guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or mediation in my preparation.  I used it as a swimmer in high school (Thanks Coach Dave!).  Lots of athletes use it as a means of “intending” an outcome.  And I am trying to bring it to my clients.  For instance, here is an email I sent them the other day:

Thanks to everyone for sending back notes.  It is usually about this time of year that I have completely forgotten how hard Key West is and get really excited about it.  Well yesterday, as Willy T (our little yacht) settled onto her trailer with her rig packaged and strapped down, I got absolutely giddy.  John, thanks for the offer to help me with the bottom prep.  There’s something about strapping on that respirator and getting really dirty that I like.

I realize that this is holiday season, but I want to encourage you to do any and all physical activity you can between now and the event.  It can be grueling physically, and while I think I have learned some tricks for keeping the crew together, fatigue is certainly a factor to performance.  If if it is a 30 minute walk daily, just find some sort of physical routine.  We are four weeks away from the regatta, but I think our team preparation can start right now.  Each of us can take on our own commitment to being physically fit.  Mentally I think we can start preparing as well.  I will send out “thought pieces” over the next few weeks so that we can have a discussion – or at the very least you can begin to know how I think – about situations we are likely to see at KWRW.

For instance:

Visualize that the starting gun has just gone off.  It is blowing 16kts, from 005M, seas are about 4 feet and a little confused here on the line.  We are in the front row and smack dab in the middle of the line.  The left hand side of the course appears to be slightly favored to us, due to likely left hand shift (geographic), and potentially some current advantage (it is running left to right along the beach at a little more than .5 kts).  We’ve got a boat to leeward of us about 2 BL’s away.  To windward we have three boats.  One is right on our hip and likely an even competitor.  To windward of them is one of the fastest boats in our fleet and she has a full BL hole between her and the boat between us.

Start Line Visualization.001

So…how do we need to set the boat up?  If you are the helmsman, what do you need to concentrate on?  What are your jib telltales doing?  If you are the spinnaker trimmer (2nd back from the bow) what should you be concentrating on?  What should you be communicating to the team?   If you are the bow person (first back from the bow) what should you be concentrating on?  What should you be communicating?


I’ve never sailed at KWRW without this EXACT scenario taking place.  NEVER.  What happens over the course of the next two minutes will roughly determine whether we are top or bottom half of that race.  So, I’d like for you to (if you have time) fire back your ideas (just to me please) of what needs to happen based on THIS scenario.

Can’t wait to hear what you all have to say.  I really believe that if we visualize over the next month likely scenarios we won’t be caught off guard when we see them in the heat of battle.

I think this will help my clients be better prepared for when we actually get there.  If not, it was at least a good excuse to daydream about sailing.  But I think it is much more.  Have you got an idea of how you would answer my questions?  I encourage you to respond by posting a comment here on the blog.

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