Become a Student of The Weather – Part 2

                       

Part 2 of the interview that I did on the subject of weather and how it affects your sailing with Professional Sailor and International Sailing Coach Andrew Palfrey.

Do you take notice of the clouds on the course and how do they affect your decision making?

Yes, absolutely. I think broadly speaking, the clouds can tell you a lot about whether the forecast is playing out, or not. This assumes you had that information to hand prior to racing.

What can Clouds tell you?

Lots but to highlight a couple of things that I look for:

  • In terms of a sea-breeze development, they are fundamental in highlighting the convection above the land
  • On a day of squally and rainy conditions, the clouds are your main indicators for where to go and where to avoid going.
  • The approach of a change in conditions (be it a tightening of pressure gradient, a front etc..).
  • Basically they are part of the environment in which we make our decisions

If the wind shift seems persistent how do you establish a new mean or is this a constant process?

The mean is something we set in our minds, so of course it is quite a fluid number. Keeping an open mind and constantly updating what is happening and where we are relative to course and laylines is key.

How do you calculate wind strength in order to set your boat up for the conditions?

I think the keys here are:

  • What is the sea-state?
  • How dense does the breeze feel on the sail plan?
  • Are the waves offset to the True Wind Direction?
  • I’ll try to get a quick feel for these questions in the first couple of minutes in a pre-race line-up. Set the boat up and adjust as necessary using your senses. Then check in with performance relative to other boats and make some simple evaluations based upon your power level and balance

If a front is predicted during the race, does your strategy take this into account?

Yes – you’d be constantly monitoring the sky and the True Wind Speed and True Wind Direction.

If you feel a sudden change in temperature either up or down, what can you read in to this?

Tricky one… we all feel when the wind becomes warmer when sailing toward land on a summer’s day in an offshore breeze or the colder air filling in when a sea-breeze starts to build.

Hard to generalise what this means. Sometimes it is obvious, like the examples here. Other times it can be quite subtle.

But I think it is another indicator that things have just changed and you need to be tuned into what it might mean and how it affects your decision-making in the short term.

What effect can a rain squall moving across the course have and how can you use it to your advantage?

If the squall is generally upwind, I’d be aiming to place the boat near to the leading edge of the rain squall. But not so close that I get engulfed too quickly relative to the fleet.

In general you will find more breeze and shifted direction on the edge. If the rain squall is downwind of the gradient True Wind Direction, I’d try to get away from it as quickly as I could (or try to avoid it if you are sailing downwind).

In this case the colder air coming from the cloud would generally reduce the True Wind Speed.

Do you time shifts to get an idea when to expect the next shift or is it something that you feel?

I’ve never really taken the times of shifts methodically like that and I do not write the shift range down I seem to have a good recall for the numbers.

Where is the best place to get your weather information from?

I have developed a trust for Predictwind. Very user-friendly. Gives a good over-view snapshot, but allows you to dig deeper into the bigger picture synoptic and cloud situation with a few clicks. I like it.

Do you look at a weather map and what do you read from it?

Yes – I think it important for sailors to know what is driving the weather and what are the 2 or 3 biggest influencing factors. This helps over the course of an event.

I just like to know what is driving the wind we see and how might that change over the course of the day or the event, I think it is just another component in developing your decision-making instincts.

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Become a Student of the Weather – Part 1

Because I am not a student of the weather but now knowing what I should have realised much earlier after speaking with a lot of high achieving competing sailors, that no race planning is complete without gathering as much information as possible prior to heading out to race.

To that end I have put together a 2 part interview that I did on this very subject with Professional Sailor and International Sailing Coach Andrew Palfrey. The questions and answers from that interview are below.

How do you collect data about weather and wind at a regatta venue especially historical information prior to arriving?

I think the “gold standard” is to try to make contact with a respected local. The main things to speak to them about are:

a. What are the two or three biggest factors to concern yourself with in terms of race-course effect (ie: tidal? Geographic features that effect the wind?, the characteristics of sea-breeze evolution? etc etc). You just want to hone in on the big things.

b. What are the best forecast resources locally? Again, this will save a lot of time. We are so much more fortunate these days in regard to the amount of resource available. The down-side can be that there is too much info. You need to hone in on the best resource.

c. In the lead-up to the event, touch base with this person again and discuss the weather map and what he/she might see as important over coming days.

Do you put together a plan for the days racing with regard to the forecast?

First thing would sail choices then also the sailing kit to take afloat. Sounds simple, but if you are not comfortable, you’ll find it harder to get the most from yourself.

Spend the morning continuously checking the sky and water to see if the forecast is playing out – you want to know if the forecast is accurate, in order to gauge the confidence to have in it.

Obviously forecasts are general and not necessarily specific to the regatta venue, what notice do you take of the forecast?

Depends on all of the above. If you have done the homework and have done some validation in order to gain confidence, then it can be quite a weapon. If not, well, you’d take it into account, but more likely to sail the fleet and place the boat conservatively.

How do you call wind shifts and what feedback do you want from your crew?

Its important to get a feel for the range of shifts and what you’d class as mean headings on either tack. This gives you a framework for the decisions during the race.

Re feedback, it is critical to know your position relative to the laylines and relative to the fleet.

How long before the start do you collect data on the wind?

From first waking up in the morning. I want to know if the forecast is playing out accurately to start with – or more likely, which forecast to start with has it more accurate.

Can you tell whether a puff is a lift or a header before it gets to you?

I think I have a reasonable eye for that. Not as good as some people I have sailed with!

But I think this is a constantly “improve-able” skill. eg: During the per-race tune-up, I will develop my instincts by looking at an approaching wind line and take a stab at whether it will lift, head or stay the same direction.

The resultant change (if any) in the True Wind Direction will go in the memory bank for later when I see a similar looking wind line approaching.

Other things help with this “instinct”, ie: if we are already one one edge of the wind range, odds are that the next shift will be back towards or beyond the mean.

In an oscillating breeze how do you work out when to tack?

Again, where are we on the course with relation to laylines? I’d be more likely to tack from port to starboard on a “mean” heading if we only have a few percent left of starboard tack in the leg.

Where are we in relation to the fleet? If 90% of the fleet is to our right – and on port tack, you’d be silly to continue on starboard tack for too much longer looking for more left shift unless you had established in the pre-race tune-up that gusts are not moving down the course.

Where is the True Wind Direction in relation to what we consider is our “range” of shift.

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To Improve – Get Back To Basics

The best sailors are those who understand the importance of solid boat handling skills as the foundation for performance.

A question that we should always ask ourselves is, what would make the biggest difference to improve our performance on the water?

The answers we give ourselves range from tactics and strategy, sail trim, navigation, better speed, knowledge of the rules, to understanding the weather.

In reality, the biggest leaps in performance when you are racing come from going back to the foundation of sailing itself and that is boat handling.

Once we learn the basics of sailing, we then focus our energy on the nuances of the sport and start straying from the basics, and the majority of the mistakes we make come from poor execution of basic sailing manoeuvres.

Bad mark rounding’s, poor control in acceleration and deceleration, tacking, gybing just to name a few, all force us to sail with our heads in the boat.

If our heads  are in the boat, there is no way that we can concentrate on refining the other aspects of performance sailing like sail trim, boat speed and strategy.

If we handle our boats well, if we can manoeuvre them readily in and out of tight situations, if we can use the currents, closely duck a competitor then the confidence we have in ourselves will enable us to then work on the nuances.

Once we hone our boat handling skills, our confidence level rises, as does our ability to put our sailboats where we want them to go so that when we achieve excellence in boat handling, we can then focus on the next big piece of performance.

Reading, learning and studying the nuances of tactics and strategy is one thing but applying them in situations under pressure is quite another, if we can’t get in and out of tight mark-rounding situations, if we don’t have speed off the line, if we can’t effectively complete a lee-bow tack or a close duck, then we can’t really make use of the tactics and strategy that we have learned.

With regards to boat handling, this is where the biggest gains are to be made and remember, you can’t reach the top of the mountain without starting at the base!

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Psychology and Competitive Sailing

                             

Where your equipment is the same as everyone else’s, there are only two ways to beat your opponent – through superior physiology (your size, weight and fitness) or through superior psychology (just about everything else!).

Psychology is perhaps one of the most neglected parts of sailing, your mental approach and the attitude you bring to your racing is one of the most effective ways of improving your results on the water.

Learning new mental skills will do you more good than buying a fancy new gadget for your boat and they won’t cost you a penny either.

I am going to take the liberty of setting out below some dot points regarding Psychology and sailing from the great Paul Elvstrom.

  • You must not believe that a fellow competitor is better than you. If he is currently sailing a little faster than you, you have to say to yourself that this is just happening at this moment, soon it will be my turn to be faster.
  • You must try to put his past achievements out of your mind and you must concentrate on the race that you are in now. Many times we have seen an opponent who has let you past because he thinks you are better than him.
  • In a regatta it is important to sail in the practice races and to show your worth and always arrive at a regatta a number of days before the event, sail around the course and tune your boat. This will not go unnoticed by your adversaries.
  • When lining up against practice partners or other competitors sail your hardest and you can bet that your fellow competitors may get a complex about you.
  • Many sailors get a complex about you and a simple thing like sailing hard on the run or beat out to the course will show others that you are a force to be reckoned with.
  • You must always keep your spirits up and say you are hurting after a long beat just remember that so are your fellow competitors.
  • If you are behind in the fleet and you are tired and hurting, remember so are the guys in front of you.
  • If you get a bad start you must still go the way that is the fastest, you should not get flustered and start taking chances or going off on a flyer, never do the opposite of what the leading boats are doing in the hope that you may pick up a little advantage.
  • If you are sure the leading boats are going the right way then all you have to do is follow them. If you think they are going the wrong way, of course, you shouldn’t follow them.
  • It is really important to recognise the difference between good and bad luck and also skill and good fortune.
  • It is important that when you have a bit of good luck, recognise it for what it is because in the next race or leg you may not concentrate or think it through as thoroughly.
  • Don’t keep clear of the better sailors on a run for fear of interfering with them, compete hard and sail your own race taking all factors into account.

Practice Techniques Leading Up To an Important Regatta.

You will have invested considerable time money and effort to enter and travel to a sailing event so it makes sense to invest some time into preparation involving well planned practice hours leading up to the races.

It never ceases to amaze me, how many competitors at events that I have attended have put in no extra effort other than their normal club racing prior to turning up to race at State or National championships.

It goes without saying that if you want to win, practice is essential and importantly, it doesn’t matter how close to race day it is. A day or two, immediately prior racing beginning, and in the waters that you will competing in can sometimes reap the greatest benefit.

All you need are a couple of hours to fine-tune everything so plan the night before the practice and come up with a list of things you want to work on so that when you get on the water, no time is lost getting down to the important task of working on your weaknesses.

Two or three boat practice is a huge advantage if you can swing it and after practicing some drills it is really advantageous to carry out some short races to further hone your skills and to understand the things that still require attention.

Practice races should include a start, upwind leg and downwind leg, short and sharp with a number of starts in order to give you time to make adjustments and have a discussion between the participants to improve the things that are troubling you.

As important as the short races and on water discussions are, probably the most benefit to be gained can be had back on shore with a debrief between all participants.

Obviously having a coach on the water during your practice sessions is the ideal situation and they will be able to guide the debrief using their observations but there is still plenty to be gained in discussions between participating sailors should you not have the luxury of a coach.

Note taking is essential after all training and practice sessions and I highly recommend keeping a journal of not only training and practice findings but also jotting down a few notes of  observations from every time you hit the water.

This journal should be referred to regularly because as an example,  it is no point coming in from a heavy air race to discover that  you didn’t use a setting that worked brilliantly in a previous race in identical conditions.

 

Use your Traveller or Mainsheet to de-power the Mainsail

The traveller has two functions, it controls the boom’s angle to the wind and it steers the boat controlling helm and heeling in puffs and lulls.

The mainsheet controls the twist and then you use the traveller to position the boom on the centreline for maximum power and pointing as long as helm and heeling are within the parameters that give the best results for your respective type of boat.

As a general rule of thumb, as the breeze builds and mainsheet tension increases, the traveller will gradually be dropped to keep the boom on the centreline.

In medium conditions, the role of the traveller will expand to include control of helm. As the boat generates weather helm, drop the traveller to de-power the boat.

The position of the boom, relative to the centreline becomes irrelevant. In medium air, play the traveller aggressively to maintain the correct amount of helm.

Dump the traveller quickly at the onset of a puff, but then be ready to pull it back up as the initial power of the puff dissipates and turns into forward speed instead of heel.

If you leave it down too long you will miss the opportunity to point once the boat has

   

accelerated.

The beauty of using the traveller is that mainsail twist which is controlled by the mainsheet and  which is vital to both speed and pointing, does not change, only the total amount of power.

The mainsheet is the “gross trim” adjustment for the overall amount of power.

As a general rule of thumb, on fractional rigged boats with large mainsails, the mainsheet is played more aggressively and the traveller is usually kept closer to centreline.

The mainsail trimmer continually makes adjustments to both traveller and mainsheet based not just on the overall amount of power, but issues like boat speed, waves, and even a tactical situation.

Using a Coach and How to get the Most out of Them

Now that most of us in the Southern Hemisphere have completed our National championships, our attention must turn to analysing our results so that we can improve for next years competition.  

Some competitors will be more than satisfied with the end result but for most, now that they have competed on the same track with the best in their class, their minds will be turning to what they need to do to show up higher on the leader-board next year.

Of course most of us lament the fact that we did not have enough time on the water but a surefire way to shorten the process is to engage a coach.  Coaching doesn’t have to be an expensive venture for it to add immense value.

Step 1: Find the Right Coach

Consider avoiding a coach who has a personality similar to yours. Sailors often assume that understanding the sport will come easier when explained by a like mind, but benefits will come from those who notice your weaknesses. Seek coaches who are experts in your weak areas. For example, if you struggle with starts, look for a coach skilled in that area.

Step 2: Show Up with the Right Attitude

You’re not there to show the coach how much you know, you’re there to grow. Show up with an open mind, ready to improve or learn something new. Keep your emotions in check. they cloud the experience and distract from getting every bit of information from a coach.

Step 3: Come with Questions
If you have a question, chances are that someone else does too. Either as an individual or as a team, spend time writing down a few questions to ask the coach. Having questions ready will help the coach make sure you get the experience you’re looking for.

Step 4: Debrief
Take time to debrief with the coach and then debrief with your crew immediately afterwards to share thoughts and the biggest take-aways. Discuss ideas for improvement and make a game plan for implementing and practicing new techniques.

Step 5: Document & Implement 
Turn your game plan into a playbook for the boat. In addition to being a great resource , a playbook gives new crew ideas on how manoeuvres are made. The key to an effective playbook is to keep it simple with not much confusing detail.

ALTERNATIVE COACHING IDEAS

  •  Video: Coaching doesn’t have to be expensive, take Go-Pro videos and have a coach review them plus trade and evaluate each other’s tapes.
  • Peer Review: Sailors can find coaches in their peers.  Take turns making manoeuvres and then discuss what went well and what didn’t –  exchange ideas. 
  • Split Costs: Set up a few-days training session or a clinic for the fleet, and split the coaching costs. 
  • Seminars: Take advantage of seminars, if there aren’t any in your area, call your sailmaker and arrange one for your local yacht club.

How to Cope with the Pressure of Being in the Lead

Holding on to a lead can be as much about your mindset as it is your speed or tactics. Being at the front of the fleet is daunting, but to stay there its important to focus on the little things.

The anticipation of losing the lead you’ve achieved can create a multitude of thoughts that are unrelated to sailing smart and fast.

The anticipation of success can come with fears that are unrelated to getting to that finish line such as “Will I maintain this success in later events? What will people say? Do I really deserve this?”

Outcomes are largely based on uncontrollable variables, like how fast other people are sailing.

When you find yourself in the lead, you did something right, you focused on variables such as wind-shifts, current, and fleet positioning or such controllable variables as your boat-speed, boat-handling, and keeping calm.

Once you’re in the lead, you don’t want to start doing something different such as wasting  mental space on what place you will or won’t finish.

You can influence your thoughts, but not control them and over time, you need to form new habits in thinking, if you’re going to play mind games with yourself, play games that work for you, not against you.

Picture what you want to happen, rather than what you want to avoid and your mind programs your body for action.

Practice mental skills, these are like any other skills, could you imagine having good roll tacks without practicing them?

 

Downwind Secrets

 

Sail away from shifts and toward better pressure.

When you are racing upwind, the principal rule of thumb is to sail toward the next shift, on a run, however, you should sail away from the next shift because you are trying to make progress downwind, not upwind.

By getting farther away from the direction of the next shift you will end up on a lower ladder rung when that shift comes, and this means you will be closer to the leeward mark, one clear exception to this rule is when the next wind shift also brings an increase in wind velocity.

Your main priority should be finding the best pressure, once you take care of that you can play the shifts.

Gaining  ground  to leeward

 One common thing that happens on a reach or run is when the boat behind sails higher than you want to sail. This forces you to sail above the VMG course in order to keep your air clear in front of them. The problem is falling into their bad air and  then losing ground to the rest of the fleet.

To avoid this happening try two things, first, as soon as the other boat starts heading high, luff up sharply in their path to let them know there is no way you will allow them to sail over you. The windward boat believes that they may be able to roll over you, so squash that early.

The second thing to try is talking to the other boat, suggest they sail lower so that both of you can gain on the rest of the   fleet.

If neither technique works and the other boat keeps sailing high, gybing is one way to keep your air clear and regain the ability to sail your VMG angle, but often this is not a strategic option. 

The basic idea is to keep your wind (just) safely in front of the other boat, and at the same time try to work farther to leeward and away from them. In other words, pick a safe bearing to that boat and then try to hold this bearing constant while increasing your range (or distance) from them.

Sail your own race.

As they say, the best defense is usually a good offense. If you find the puffs, hit the shifts and sail your boat as fast as possible, there is little chance that boats will catch you from behind.

Sometimes the worst thing you can do is get overly defensive and reactionary, if you let the boats behind dictate how you sail down the run, you could easily miss the puffs and shifts and slowly lose your lead.

Instead, stay aggressive and proactive.

You want to minimize the amount of time that you sail in bad air and you should generally stay between your opponent(s) and the leeward mark.

Avoid Laylines and Corners.

When you get to the sides of the course you risk being cornered with no option to play wind-shifts, cover the boats behind, or avoid wind shadows.

The only time when the layline is a good place for the leader is when the boat behind gets there first – then it’s easy to stay between that boat and the mark. 

Improve your Exit Angles

One of the most important steering techniques for downwind boat speed is exiting gybes. Your exit angle affects your heel angle and acceleration.

During gybes, you should come out just a bit higher than your normal course and accelerate before steering to your downwind angle.

 Constantly Ease the Kite

A good spinnaker trimmer is always easing the kite until they see a slight curl in the luff, and then trimming in slightly to eliminate the curl.

Once that process is complete, they do it over and over again to ensure that the spinnaker is not over trimmed, which we all know is slow.

Experienced trimmers can even sense lifts and headers by constantly easing for a curl and watching the bow to see if the boat has turned.

If you ease more than normal before getting the curl, and the skipper sailed straight, you got lifted. If you get a big curl without easing, and without the skipper heading up, it’s a header.

Stating this aloud helps the helmsman immensely because he’s looking to gybe on lifts and sail straight on headers.

Sail Fast on the longer Gybe.

If you come around the windward mark and you are almost fetching the leeward mark, the last thing you want to do is sail below your VMG angle or speed.

If the wind shifted left or increased in velocity, there was a fair chance you would fetch the mark on starboard gybe. If the wind went right, you could gybe across the boats that sailed lower.

In either case you would gain the most by sailing fast down the run without worrying about fetching the mark until you were very close to it.

REGATTA CHECKLIST

For those of us travelling interstate or overseas for National or World championships I have set out below a checklist to help you get packed for the regatta.

Good luck, go out there and sail fast and smart but above all have fun and learn heaps.

Essential stuff

□             Notice of race

□             Sailing instructions

□             Rulebook and class rules

□             Appeals book

□             Charts of racing area

□             Money/cheque book/credit cards

□             Rating/measurement certificate

□             Class membership card

□             AUS Sailing membership card

□             Your personal racing notebook 

Car and trailer

□             Trailer registration

□             Car registration and insurance

□             Spare tire for trailer

□             Trailer license plate

□             Wheel Nut spanner that fits trailer

□             Extra wheel bearings for trailer

□             First aid kit/safety items

□             Extra key taped under car

□             Road maps/directions

□             Plane tickets

Personal items

□             Water bottles to bring on boat

□             Cooler and frozen ice packs

□             Hiking pants

□             trapeze harness

□             Hiking boots

□             Sunglasses

□             Sunblock lotion

□             Hats/visors

□             Sailing gloves

□             Life jacket

□             Wet weather gear

□             Stopwatch and spare watch        

Boat preparation gear

□             Ditty bag

□             Tool box and extras

□             Spare rigging and blocks

□             Lifting bridle

□             Boat cover(s)/sail bags

□             Masthead fly

□             Extra corrector weights

□             Wet/dry sandpaper

□             2 protest flags/I flag

□             Class identification flag 

Sailing things

□             Mainsail and spare(s)

□             Jib or genoa and spare(s)

□             Spinnaker and spare(s)

□             Sheets, spinnaker pole, etc.

□             Rudder, tiller, daggerboard

□             Battens (heavy and light air)

□             Bucket, bailer, sponge

□             Required safety equipment

□             Tow Rope

□             Compass

Miscellaneous stuff

□             Roll of paper towels

□             Plastic cups, plates, utensils

□             Wet/dry hand wipes

□             Garbage bags/sandwich bags

□             Snacks (e.g. granola bars)

□             CDs/tapes for trip

□             Bug spray/lotion

I am sure there may be other items that are specific to you and your boat but the list above is a great start.

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