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Essential Training and Practice

In the excerpts of an interview I conducted below, I am speaking with Sam Haines who has recently joined the ranks of yachting professional sailors and we are going to discuss Essential Training and Practice.

Sam has a vast sailing background and is a qualified sailmaker, working in the industry for 19 years, having had his own loft in Melbourne Australia and until recently, worked with North Sails as their One Design specialist.

Sam started sailing at 7 in a Sparrow and is a member of the famous dinghy Club – Black Rock Yacht Club

Some of he classes Sam has sailed are Etchells, International 505’s, Sydney 38, Laser, OK Dinghy and J/24 and he now spends his time sailing and coaching at the highest level.


Brett: We talked about practice time. How important is practice time, and what percentage of that practice time do you train on your own rather than with another boat?

Sam Haines: So again, the fresh thing in my mind is how I lead up to the Worlds. We did, I would say 80% of our lead up to the Worlds by ourselves. Just working on technique.

We were confident that our boat speed was pretty good, and then we made sure that we would line up with one of the better teams just doing a short upwind. Maybe only 10 minutes at the end of the session and just check-in.

But the boat-on-boat stuff, we all do enough racing to cover the boat-on-boat stuff.

One thing I will say with the training though is that you want to do it in reasonably short sessions. If you go out for a day, you’re not going to achieve anything apart from boredom.

Brett: Sure that’s a good point. So what you’re saying is more sessions rather than…

Sam Haines: More sessions but short sessions.

When I say short, anything over about two and a half hours is a long session.

You need to go out there, one, when you go out, you need to go right out, “Our purpose today is…” Have a goal, and go and achieve that goal, and that goal might take you two and a half hours to achieve or it might take you a half hour to achieve.

Tick the box and move on. Don’t out there and go, “All right, well now we’re just going to go and do a couple of tacks.” It’s sort of you need to have a goal, achieve it, tick the box, come back in.

You might find that on those days you got the box ticked in an hour or so, you come back in and that’s the day you do your boat work..


Brett: Do you try to mix it up with conditions as well? What I see, is a lot of people training in their favourite conditions, 15 knots and a beautiful day. Should you go out on a really light day for instance and should you also go on a day when it’s pretty crappy, like really hard?

Sam Haines: Yeah, that’s a good point but again, over at the Worlds we had times where we went out training before an event at 8:30 to 9:00 in the morning to get a light breeze.

We also went out later in the day to get some real heavy breeze. I think you have to have an open mind when it comes to that and it’s the same here in Melbourne.  There’s a lot of mornings that you can get out in four of five knots but in the afternoon, you’re going to be sailing in eighteen knots.

You’ve got to engineer that environment and not get stuck just going sailing in 15 knots. We all do that already.

Brett Bowden: I must say a lot of people do just that.

Sam Haines: When many teams get to a regatta, it goes light and no one has that setting on their boat and they fall off the edge.


Brett: We talked earlier about the communication. What sort of communication do you have? 

Sam Haines: Communication, like in anything in life is the key really.

It’s amazing how many boats I get on that there isn’t a communication loop through the boat.

The guy at the back sits there and holds on to the stick and you don’t hear a thing from him all day.

I’ve got small children and they know to acknowledge. If you say, “Can you go and put your shoes near the fire?” They say, “Yes, dad.” And it’s the same in a boat. When the bowman says, “Let’s duck this guy.” The guy at the back needs to go “copy” otherwise the guy at the front is going, “Shit, did he hear me?

Other communication through the boat has to do with settings as we were talking about before.

We would set up for the racing 10 minutes before the start we’d actually set up to what we see out the window and then I would say to the guys on the boat, “The next setting up from here is two turns on the caps, one turn on the lowers, and we’ll just sheet a little bit harder, a little bit wider on the jib car,” or whatever that setting is.

A Psychologists Take On Sailing

SAILING - Laser Worlds 2008, Terrigal (Australia) - DAY 2, RACE 1 - 08/02/08 - ph. Andrea Francolini

I had a fascinating discussion with Dr Gavin Dagley Consulting Psychologist and Executive coach with a reputation for results and performance development about A Psychologists Take On Sailing

You may ask why should I read further and why is Gavin worth listening to? A brief summary of some of Gavin’s sailing experience and achievements follows.

Some notable Sailing achievements are:

2016 1st Laser Worlds Grand Masters, Nuevo, Mexico

21 national title podium finishes

5 World and International Regatta top 10 finishes

21 podium finishes at National championships, and

5 top-ten finishes in the 8 World and International regattas he has completed, including two wins.

Gavin has received Yachting Victoria awards for “Contribution to Yachting” and “Coaching Program of the Year.”

He is a published sailing writer on the technical aspects of yacht racing with more than 10 years of regular contributions to the US-based magazine “Sailing World.”

As a designer, his sailboard and 14-foot skiff designs have both won their respective national championships.

Gavin has also completed more than 10,000 ocean miles

Part of that discussion is copied below.

Brett: In a recent chat with Mike Fletcher, he said that he takes the tell-tails off the sails of his sailors. He gets them to look backwards, not close their eyes, but look backwards and get the feel for the boat because he said exactly what you said, that feel is just about everything.

Gavin: So to put it in technical terms, feel is the only mechanism we’ve got to translate science into performance. It’s the vital bit in the middle.

So you’ve got this sort of knowledge building that goes on. “I know I’ve got to have a sail shape that looks like this, or the boat’s got to sit with this sort of trim”

  • Then there’s the translation piece, which is actually feel, which is governed by skill.

The third part is the decision-making.

So you’ve got all this knowledge, for instance we know if it knocks, you tack, except if it’s a persistent shift, when you hold on.

Then the cross them when you can, and the top mark’s over there and I’ve got no runway left.

So the whole decision-making thing is like the third big bit. And that is often where people trip up with the anxiety stuff, which is the question you asked.

Often what happens when they get stressed, they’ll stop focusing on performance and the decision-making process will get snarled up. They’ll start making bad decisions because they stopped focusing on learning or what’s going on around them.

Our focus becomes, “I’m not winning. I’m not winning.”


Brett: But then they make a bad decision that compounds the problem then, doesn’t it because they get a little bit further behind. And they get even more frantic and start making decisions that don’t make sense.

Gavin: Exactly. So I don’t think that the latter part is such a big deal until you get to the very top of the sport.

Everybody suffers from it, or has to deal with that in some way, but when you get to the very top of the sport, what you find is that there’s a whole lot more riding on it.

The pressures become bigger and that’s when you start to see those sorts of things. And the people you’re talking to are elite sailors. They’re all athletes. So they’ll be more exposed to that.

I think the average sailor, or the club sailor who wants to improve, that shouldn’t be the focus of attention.

The focus of attention should be on, “How do I build my learning processes and the translation into performance, and the focus on performance?

When I’m out in the water, I’m not winning this race, but you know “Oh, how come his main sheet is further out than mine?”

Or, “This doesn’t feel right. The helm feels like it’s got a lot of load,” or, “I wonder what happens if I rock the boat a little bit further upright,” And it’s this constant orientation to learning.

Brett: I was talking with a really accomplished sailor and he said upwind he was looking at where the other boat’s main sheet was for example. And I thought, “You know, know the sport inside out, you’ve got trophies and achievements up the wazoo”. And he said, “Look. If someone else is going slightly quicker than me, I’ll look over and see how his boat’s setup.” I thought, “Hey, man. You know everything, how come you would copy someone else’s setup.

He said, “At the end of the day, I’ve gotten everything exactly the way I think it should be, but the other fella’s slightly higher or slightly quicker. I don’t care whether he’s a backmarker or a front marker. He’s doing something better than I am.” When you look at the other guy’s boat I used to think, “Well, that’s almost cheating, and you sort of think less of yourself for looking at someone else’s boat. Is their traveller a bit further down, is their boom a bit further off the centre line or something like that. Why wouldn’t you just have a look, it makes so much sense, doesn’t it?

Gavin: Well, that’s exactly the orientation I’m talking about.

The best sailors are constantly just trying to figure it out and figure it out a little bit better.

Taking it a step further, I think a lot of the models that we’ve got, in terms of how we think about sailing, are actually not that helpful.

Let me give you an example. We talk about light winds, moderate winds, and strong winds. I think that model is patently unhelpful. Because, for instance, light winds for an 18-foot skiff is not the same as light winds for an Optimist.

So if you’re giving general advice about how a boat sails, what are light winds? And then, but hang on. Some books say, “In light winds, you want flat sails.” And other books say, “In light winds, you want full sails.” What’s the deal with that?


Brett: Then there’s the sea state that makes a difference sometimes.

Gavin: So I’ve spent the last decade or so trying to…, I suppose it’s the psychology bit in me, trying to figure out what models actually work?

In terms of the conditions stuff, I think that there are four conditions, not three. And I think there are three wave states, not just waves and not waves.

Brett: So suddenly it’s getting complicated, isn’t it?

Gavin: But it means you can orient yourself, because for instance…so there’s four…Let me talk about wind conditions.

There’s fragile, there’s powering up and there’s de-powering and there’s overpowered.

That orientation talks about the boat. You can see immediately if the boat…It doesn’t matter what boat it is. Is it powering up or de-powering?

The differentiator, like the mid-point is, am I balancing the boat with my body, or am I balancing the boat with de-powering controls like Cunningham and kicker.

If I’m using my body to move in and out and to balance the boat, then it’s one of the first two. And if my body’s fully hiked all the time, and I’m using my steering and my sail controls, then it’s one of the other two.

You can start to differentiate then, okay, so my techniques are going to be tied to those four conditions.

Likewise, you hear people talking about waves and they say, “So you steer up the front and down the back and stuff.”

And I think, “Well, hang on. There are waves that you can’t do that in, the short steep ones.” So you’ve got basically flat water, you’ve got stop chop, and you’ve got rollers and you sail quite differently in those three.

Those are defined not by the size of the wave, but by how the boat responds to them.

So there are a whole lot of models like that, models around all the technical stuff, for instance.

So Stuart Walker, in my personal view, is one of the greatest thinkers in terms of racing thinking, racing technical thinking. I find his stuff really hard to read and I’ve just forced myself to read through it.

Brett: I’ve got a lot of yachting books and I looked at all of them. I thought, “I’ll do a bit of research for what I’m doing here now.” And some of the books, and his is a good example, they’re bloody hard to read. There are pages and pages of words and it’s all gold, but it’s tough to absorb and stay focused on.

Gavin: He’s a genius.


Brett: But it’s hard to read.

Gavin: How do you absorb that stuff? How do you try and simplify it so that it’s usable?

For instance, we talk about a persistent shift and he talks about a completed persistent shift or a continuing persistent shift. I look at that, and I think, “I have no idea how to use it.”

To my mind, there are three types of persistent shifts. Sometimes you have shifts where just the oscillations are really long, and the beat’s too short so you’ve got to shift.

Let’s take a situation, you’ve gone up the first beat, and the left-hand side was favoured. The boats that came in from the left did well. So the question you come to…come down the bottom mark. And you say, “Right.” If I’m not that particularly thoughtful about this, I’ll just say, “Left worked last time. I’ll go that way again.”

It might not be the right thing to do because, if it’s too long oscillating, it just simply means that they came in from the left because the left was favoured in that series of swings. It might be the right favoured this time.

So I’ve just got to know where I am on the phasing. So too long oscillating is one type and then you’ve got what you call one side. In other words, one side is favoured because of the current, and the left side is always favoured.

And then the third type of condition is the one-off, where you’ve had a rain squall come through and the left side was actually favoured, but now…

Brett: The squall’s gone.

Gavin: …the squalls gone, or the sea breeze has come in, or something’s changed. So that big left side favour…We’ve not got a different, new set of rules so we start again. So now I can use that. It’s either too long oscillating, it’s one side or it’s one-off.

Now I can start thinking about it I can use it, these are new terms.

So people go, “Eww,” but when you start to think about them and start debriefing around that sort of stuff, people start to say, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that sort of makes sense, and I can use that.

I was doing quite a bit of coaching the last few years and when you’re having to explain, particularly to juniors, this sort of stuff, you’ve got to be able to simplify it down.

I think I’ve really had to understand what I’m trying to say because it’s very easy to parrot what somebody else has said. And then you get the hard question. And you say, “Actually, I don’t really know.”


Psychology and Mental Toughness in Sailing



Below you will find parts of an Interview covering Psychology and Mental Toughness in Sailing that I conducted with champion sailor Dave Dellenbaugh.

David is the publisher, editor and author of Speed & Smarts racing newsletter. https://www.speedandsmarts.com

He was the tactician and starting helmsman on America3 during her successful defence of the America’s Cup in 1992 and sailed in three other America’s Cup campaigns from 1986 to 2007.

In addition, David is a Lightning world champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle national champion, two-time winner of Canada’s Cup, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. match racing champion and past winner of the U.S. team racing championships for the Hinman Trophy.


Brett: Let’s talk about psychology and mental toughness. From a psychological point of view, what are the toughest challenges most sailors face and how do you think they should overcome them?

David: Okay. Well, let me ask you a question about the question. Are you talking about sort of overall getting in sailing or are you talking about like during a race, let’s say, or any of the above?

Brett: If you are a front-runner and end up stuck down at the back, how do you overcome that? 

David: I think that what we want to talk about here is your average sailor who’s out there on weekends or whatever, trying to have fun and do their best. They want to win a few races and not somebody who’s sailing all the time and has lots of time and money.

The toughest thing is when you get behind you need to do as well as you can from where you are.

I think the easiest thing is to make a mistake or get behind for whatever reason. Whether it’s just luck or bad luck. Don’t blame yourself for being there and then be frustrated. This brings about negative emotions.

The thing is, no matter why you got wherever you are, let go of that. Understand why you are where you are.

From an objective point of view, was it a wind shift, but let go of the psychological reasons for being there.


Brett: As a coach, do you think that psychology is one of the most neglected aspects of our sport? Is it something you are working on within your coaching routine?

David: As a general rule, it’s neglected. If you go to other sports, you see that psychology plays a bigger part.

In the U.S. sailing team and many other Olympic teams, we have a dedicated sports psychologist who’s available to do the athletes.

I think that it really comes back to what the sailor wants. Everybody’s different, and for some people, the psychology part of it can help them more than it would help others.

Some people don’t want to talk about psychology at all, and other people, it’s all psychology it’s a huge part of it. 

Brett: I think that each team has to find out what’s the best balance. What is the best emphasis to put on the mental and psychological aspect?

Dave: Some people put too much emphasis on it and some people don’t put enough. It’s up to each team to figure out. They must try different things and find out what works best for them.

If anything people don’t get into a routine and don’t act. They do the same thing over and over. 
I think that learning involves trying new things or looking at things differently.

Not 100% of the people are going to relate to that, but maybe half the people or a third of the people will say, “Aha, that’s a way that I’ve never looked at that before, that’s kind of cool. Maybe I can look at it that way.”

I think that that’s as far as dealing with psychology in sailing, it’s good to try things that are a little bit different.

Brett: Do you have sessions ashore with your crew as part of your training? Maybe you all get together and talk about what are the things we need to do to improve? Or the training session ashore, I guess, is what I’m talking about rather than that on the boat.


David: Definitely. I think that one of the things that people don’t do enough of is planning and setting goals.

Having said that, I would say that for people who have a limited amount of time to spend together training for sailing, time on the water is more valuable than time on land, and if you have a good chance to go sailing, you should do that.

Again, having said that, if you go sailing and you don’t have a plan for what you’re doing, then your time…if you don’t spend your time efficiently on the water, you’ve wasted that time. 

So there is a certain amount of off-the-water thinking that you need to do to make your on-the-water time as efficient and productive as you can.

I hate from a sailing or a coaching point of view, wasting time on the water. This goes especially in any kind of practice situation.

I have this thing where…and this is something that Buddy Melges did when I sailed with Buddy in America’s Cup in Australia and in San Diego, is that when you’re out there, the switch is always either on or off.

If the switch is off everybody is just totally relaxed. You can just eat and do whatever you want. 
If the switch is on, it means you are 100% racing or practising for racing.

What’s not good is to be in between that. Whereas some people think that you’re practising, some people think you’re not really. Some people are 60% and some people are 95%. That’s a bad combination.

You make a plan, you go out there, you’re either totally on or you’re totally off. You’re using your time as efficiently as possible.


Fitness Equals Sailing Results

I have copied below excerpts of an interview with Krystal Weir on how Fitness Equals Sailing Results.

Krystal is a qualified Physiotherapist and Exercise scientist and has sailed at the highest level in many different classes from sailboards to catamarans. Krystal has also represented Australia in the Olympics twice. Once in the Yngling class and once in the Laser Radial.

Currently, she runs her Physiotherapy business out of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club on Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne Australia. Krystal works with sailors helping them improve their sailing fitness and strength.

Krystal gives us an insight into the importance of using a professional for your sailing fitness and care of your body.


Brett: In speaking with many successful sailors, they insist fitness is one of their key weapons. What do you say to that?

Krystal: 100%, fitness is key.

There are a few key things in sailing that you need to make sure you’ve got covered so that when you go out on the racecourse you can actually play the game.

That’s making sure that your boat preparation is spot on, that you’ve got the right gear like sails and equipment, and the speed work. Making sure you’ve got good boat handling and then making sure you’ve got good fitness.

I think a lot of people do the first three points of tactics they’ve got rules, they’ve got strategy, they’ve got great boat preparation.

And then when it comes down to it, they just can’t get the kite up quickly or winch the brace around.

They can’t actually physically do it, or get out trapeze quickly, or hiking for a whole entire beat, so they’ll fall back by half a boat length on every single leg and then that just sucks them back into the pack.

Fitness is quite an easy way to be in front of the fleet.

At an Olympic level, everybody has a ridiculously high level of fitness, but as you go down the levels through world, national, state, and club levels, the fitness sort of drops off a bit. So it means you can win a club championship just because you’re fitter.


Brett: In the fitness programs you put together, what parts of the sailor’s body do you concentrate on and what should their priorities be? Obviously, there are a lot of parts to a body, where should you start if you’re starting from point zero?

Krystal: Sailing, depending on what you do on the boat, it might be hiking, for example, is quad dominant.

You end up with really tight hip flexors and then it’s more of a pulling action with your arms, so your gym work should actually be the opposite of that.

If you’re doing lots of pulling actions with your arms like pulling ropes, for example, you need to do the reverse which is a push, and it’s the same with your quads.

It’s good to develop your quads through cycling but I think a lot of people get into trouble because they don’t work on their hamstrings or their glutes or their calves, the back part of their body.

So, make sure that you’re actually using your gym work to balance you up so that you’ve got synergy between the front and back of your body so you’re able to be injury-free.

It actually means that you’re stronger through the key muscle groups that you need to do the actual technique.


Brett: How many days a week should a sailor participate in exercising away from the boat?

Krystal: It depends on how much you’re sailing because a lot of your fitness can actually be done on the water as well.

Hiking is a good example, you could do interval training or interval max efforts or 70% efforts. You hike for a minute, or hike for 30 seconds max and then have 15 seconds off, and repeat that to improve your hiking technique.

The same with trapezing, setting your shoulders back, and pushing through your toes rather than slumping into the harness for long training sessions can be detrimental to your overall speed if you want to work on technique and improve your sailing.

Back to your question about how many times a week should you sail, it depends. I recommend if you’re not sailing full-time, that doing other sports, its fun and social.

I play hockey for example as another sport, or you go cycling is another nice way. People like to do standup paddle boarding or surf or something like that just to cross-train.

The younger you are the more I encourage that because there are basic skills that adolescents need to be able to lunge properly, to jump, to land, and to squat.

There’s a whole lot of these basic motor skills that they need to develop.

Sailing is a sport where you can start young but it doesn’t need to be specific early.

Sailing is a sport where I think multiple sports at a young age is a good idea.

I recommend at least two times a week in the gym and then three times a week cardio and then your sailing.

Gust and Lull Response

Many sailors have poor gust and lull response but if we want to be successful it is something that we must master.

When hiking in gusts, there is a tendency to “fight” the boat and to use too much steering to control power. The boat heels, we pinch and use over-corrective steering. These factors lead to reduced speed and reduced VMG.

Conversely, in lulls, even experienced sailors tend to chase apparent wind around killing VMG and inadvertently, slowing the boat.


Correct Gust Response

The right way to handle a gust is Ease – Hike – Trim.

When a gust comes on your boat and is from the same direction, the apparent wind immediately swings aft. To gain the maximum benefit we need to:

a) Keep the flow attached to the sail by initially easing and accelerating, then pointing up and trimming in.

b) Keep the boat flat by using the maximum amount of body leverage. When good pointing is because of good speed, the apparent wind comes forward and hiking is easier.

Better pointing is achieved through higher speeds first, not steering angle changes. The increased speed and flow over the sails and foils creates more lift which means less sideways force.

TIP: Don’t feather or pinch in the gusts as it also increases leeway.


Incorrect Gust Response

The wrong way to handle a gust is Pinch – Hike  – Corrective Steer – Stall.

Because a gust drags the apparent wind aft it causes weather helm and the boat wants to naturally head up. If you don’t ease the sheet and hike, heel will be induced, helm will be increased and thus drag.

Correct Lull Response

The correct strategy when encountering a lull is to coast.

In a lull, apparent wind is dragged forward which is the opposite of a gust. keep the boat flat and if need be move your weight inboard.

Initially trim in to reduce drag but as you slow down be prepared to ease again as the apparent wind changes as speed drops.


Incorrect Lull Response

The wrong way to handle a lull is to chase apparent wind.

If you chase the apparent wind, you’ll never find good flow because the apparent wind is all the way forward.

You could bear off 150 degrees and your windward telltales will still be luffing – but during that turn, you’re decreasing your apparent wind speed.

You’re also pointing further away from your intended goal and destroying VMG.

Should We Train More and Race Less?

Racing sailboats is addictive and for many of us, the more we race, the more we want to race.

The potential for us to improve our racing results though, grows the more we practice our skills.

We need to look forward to and enjoy training, if we don’t it becomes a chore to be discarded. Knowing the end results of your time, and developing skills will ensure that this will be the case.

Few top sailors got to where they are, without a serious amount of time on the water honing their craft.

Why don’t we train more?

Lack of time is probably one of the greatest reasons. Even if you are time-poor, getting out on the course an hour before the start to go through a few drills will see a noticeable improvement.

Another reason is that it is difficult to measure progress. The race course is never the same, conditions are always different, so it’s very tough to measure progress in a meaningful way.

Unfortunately, if you want to get better race results, there is no substitute for practice.

Types of Training

Thinking about your last race, where did you lose the most places on the race course?

This will form the basis of what you should concentrate on. You should identify your greatest weaknesses and ascertain where the biggest room for improvement is.

Is it being behind on the start line, going slow in a straight line, or capsizing during a tack, a gybe, or a mark rounding?

A couple of ideas to get you started are:

  • Practice slow boat handling such as hovering at a mark.
  • A figure of 8s – great for practicing tacks, gybes and mark roundings.
  • Two-boat tuning.
  • Sailing without the tiller.

Two Boat Tuning

Find someone in your fleet who wants to improve and partner with them for side-by-side lineups. Initially set your boats up the same and have a plan on what you are going to change before each run.

Set up a couple of boat lengths apart and sail for a couple of minutes. Compare notes and evaluate what works and what doesn’t. Keep a record and build on findings all the time making adjustments so that your speed keeps improving.

Two-boat tuning is a way to test out technical and technique changes, risk-free. You will find out more about how to make your boat go faster in 30 minutes of two-boat tuning than you might discover in a whole year of racing.

Training Tools

Many classes do not allow GPS-based instruments while you are racing.

Having said that, there is no restriction when using these tools for training. If you can’t always find a tuning partner, a way to measure your progress is to fit an instrument like a Velocitelc, Sailmon or Vakaros Atlas 2.

These instruments not only measure boatspeed but also show pitch and heel. By making adjustments to how you sail your boat, the instrument will show how the changes you have made affect your speed.

When you get back to the beach or marina you can look at the data to further reinforce what worked and what didn’t and learn from it.

If you have been training with a partner and they also have the same instrument as you, by downloading and overlaying your tracks, you can debrief and further learn from the session.


I have copied below parts of an interview that I conducted themed Observation and Sailing with Super Coach and super competitor Adrian Finglas. Adrian is an extremely experienced coach and has spent more hours in a rubber duck coaching than just about anyone else on the planet.

Brett: do you approach your regatta differently in big or small fleets? 

Adrian: Great question, Brett. Sailing in big fleets is very different from sailing in small fleets, so the priorities have got to change.

The big fleet, you know, the basic thing that I think about is risk, so you’re always trying to minimize the risk. It’s a little bit like gambling, going to the casino, putting all your chips on the table, and having a crack.

But, you know, sailing in small fleets is more about speed. And so, yeah, the different way you approach regattas, depending on the numbers is definitely something you think about.


Brett: How do you avoid, or do you avoid risks on the racetrack? Sailing at the level you are sailing at, you’re at the front of the fleet so probably you don’t need to take the same risks as someone back further in the fleet. Have you got any thoughts on that?

Adrian: I think it doesn’t matter where you are in the fleet, you’re always managing risk.

The regatta I just did with 90 boats, the Sabre states, there was a lot of risk involved at the start line. You had to be always managing the people coming in from behind, late in the sequence.

So just make sure that you’re not ever flat-footed. Always swiveling your head, making sure you’re looking around everywhere. Just trying to see or foresee the potential pitfalls coming up.

A lot about observation. Sailing in a big fleet you got to observe a lot. And that’s a skill in itself.

Brett: Part of that observation would obviously be looking for where the good guys are. You’ve got to plan your strategy based on who’s around you at the start. 

Adrian: That’s an interesting thought, Brett. Many years ago, one of my mentors, the famous John Cuneo out of Queensland. John was a gold medalist in the ’72 Olympics.

When I was a young lad sailing Sabre’s, John said to me, “Starting is like being a boxer. If you stand flat-footed, you’re going to get hit.”

So in the regatta we just did, I was always on the move, always changing my gaze, looking for other boats coming in. But also changing my boat position. The competition has a little bit of doubt in their mind about what you’re going to do.

So, I love that old analogy, “Don’t be flat-footed on the start line. Keep moving and shaking and keep your competitors thinking.”


Brett: What you said about keeping your head out of the boat, I hear that from a lot of really good sailors. That’s probably one of their key differences from the rest of us further back in the fleet.

Adrian: You’re looking up the course along the way, there’s a few phases with observation.

You’re looking at long-term, midterm, and immediate-term, You’re constantly going through those observation phases to try to capture that information and change your plan.

And the older I’ve got, I’ve got glasses on, and I can’t see as well these days.

I am always washing my optical sunglasses so I can see up the course, to make sure I am capturing those little wind lines accurately.

Brett: You mentioned planning for legs. How far out do you plan the next leg?  Do you have a plan before you get to the mark, or do you wait until you get there?

Adrian: No, I try to get a bit of a snapshot…especially on what the breeze is doing before I approach the mark. The other thing, as I’m sailing to the top mark, I have a bit of a visual on where the reach mark or the downwind mark may be.

So you’ve got a basic idea of where things are situated. So you got that rough plan in your head and then when you get to your mark. You’re prepared somewhat for the visual on where the mark is or the pressure is.

Brett: And whether you’re going to go left or right on the downwind.

Adrian: Yeah. So you do plan ahead a little bit.

Brett: But basically you’ve got to have your head out of the boat because situations change.

Mark Rounding – Planning and Placement


I have copied below excerpts from an interview I did with Mark Bulka on Mark Rounding – Planning and Placement.

Mark has won World, National and State championships in a number of different classes ranging from single handed monohulls through to catamarans.

On top of that he is an accomplished Ocean Racer and has competed in a number of Sydney to Hobart’s as sailing master.

His experiences and thousands of mark roundings have given him a unique insight into what it takes to effectively carry out this manoeuvre.  

Brett: As you get close to the weather mark, I have heard you talk about where you don’t want to be..

Mark: I always called it the “death zone,” from the mark backwards and this area here in the last 400 meters is another area we just didn’t like to be.

It really gets ugly as people get spat out and start to come back, it just becomes this mixed up area, you’re ducking people and unless you right at the front it’s a pretty bad area.

Brett: in a big fleet, the air is even more disturbed and when you’re closer to the front of the fleet there are fewer boats, what do you do if you are deep in the fleet?. How far out do you plan your weather mark strategy?

Mark: It’s an evolving situation over time and there’s a lot of luck involved as well because you only need someone who doesn’t care about you so much to lamp on you at the right time.

Or perhaps it’s your mate coming across…he’s more likely to give you a little bit of breathing room. So there is a lot of luck involved and…

Brett: So what you’re saying it depends on the boats that are out there because it might be someone who you’re racing against for a regatta or a championship so they’re not going to give you any leeway at all. Whereas, it may be someone from your own club who might have a bit more respect and say, “We’ll look after Mark because he’ll look after me”.

Mark: Certainly at the Olympic level, it was a no go to ever tack on your…on anyone else in the front group.

It was a lot of respect amongst the sailors and they were happy to fight it out with shifts and not try to hammer you early on in a race anyway.

They would probably hammer you on the last beat if there was nothing in it but, you know, there was a friendly…because they know if you do it to them…

Brett: It’s going to come back.

Mark: It’s going to come back so it’s good to have as many friends on the water as possible so, you know, that’s really important as well.

Brett: Something we just spoke about before, how would you normally approach a weather mark if you find yourself well back in the mob in a big fleet? You said an interesting thing about, sometimes you’re better off coming in later on the port tack lay line perhaps.

Mark: If you’re back in the fleet obviously it’s pretty hard. There’s no magic trick all the way back up, but there are some things you can do that can pick up big numbers of boats.

One, don’t go to the starboard lay line. That will always lose you ground, I have never seen a starboard lay line work.

Perhaps if you’re on an A class cat which is accelerating…you know, accelerates by 50% of its speed by overlaying, but a boat like an Etchells which doesn’t actually accelerate at all you’re just guaranteed to lose heaps of ground

If you’re looking for a big pick up of places, the port lay line is actually your best chance to pick up a lot of places.

You can pick up 20 boats in a solid Etchells fleet just coming in on the port lay line, but as I said you’ve just got to be prepared to take a big duck at the end if there’s no hole.

You know it’s a risk. I think it works 80% of the time but, if it’s a really bunched up fleet and there’s no holes, you’ve got to be prepared to go back early.

Brett: Pretty good odds, 80%, isn’t it?

Mark: Yeah, the other way we would do it is the one thing I don’t want to do is come in…like I said, you don’t want to go on the starboard lay line but you don’t want to go underneath the starboard lay line and have a wall of boats either.

So I would always tack back when I knew I could still hold my air.

So if you’re in 10th place and there’s a bunch of boats already lobbed up on the starboard lay line, a bunch of boats on the port lay line, and you can’t obviously get right up. You tack before you lose your air on the starboard lay line.

So it might be 50 meters short of it, it might be 100 meters short of it. Whatever will still give you a lane of breeze getting across back towards the mark. So that’s one way I determine when to go back.

Obviously, if you’re 30th, then there’s no air. There’s boats coming from both sides. That’s a bad situation but there are less boats coming on the port lay line than the starboard lay line.

You’ve got more chance on the port lay line and again, this middle zone here it’s a terrible place to be. In a big one design of fleet there’s nothing going on here in the middle, upwind or downwind.

Brett: So what you’re saying is you got to make a choice as you’re approaching the weather mark. You make a choice whether you keep going back to end up on a port lay line, You don’t want to get in that death zone as you called it.

Mark: The death zone’s no good and the starboard lay line is the worst place ever, so.

Brett: It’s interesting when you’re seeing a big fleet you’ll notice that the guy’s right back get in the starboard tack parade. The further back they are, they end up sailing a hell of a lot of extra distance and they can’t dictate any terms at all. Everyone else dictates to them.

This guy will come in with so much more speed and maneuverability to be able to put himself in a position.

Brett: Because everyone’s guarding their position on the starboard tack lay line, they’re going higher and higher, trying to keep out of each other’s dirty air, and they’re going slow.

Mark: And the other thing is most of the boats on the starboard lay line, they’re often over the lay line so, the rule does allow the boat on Port to tack as long as they don’t cause the boats above to fetch. There’s actually a lot of opportunities to tack underneath just at the end.


Wind, Weather and Currents – Part 3

Wind, Weather and Currents – Part 3. Continuing Andrew Palfrey’s insights regarding working with the weather to improve your racing.

Brett: If a wind shift seem persistent, how do you establish a mean or is it a constant process?

Yeah, look, just to comment on Melbourne, it’s a fantastic place to race boats, as we know, great conditions, wind, sea. But because of that steady-state nature of the breeze, when it’s blowing from the sort of southwest area, and also the lack of tides.

You come to a place of like Cowes where I live now, and it’s almost a different sport. So I think people that learn to sail in…there’s so many good sailors that come from Sydney that  learn to sail up west of the Sydney Harbor bridge, for example, or Pittwater, where the breeze comes out of all the valleys, and little bays, and nooks and crannies. It’s so unstable.


Local Knowledge

Even Tom Slingsby is an example of that, having grown up in the Gosport area. Basically, you just become used to things not being stable and instinctively pick-up these cues of what the wind looks like on the water or even looking at the landscape geography.

Up the course, say, the wind’s coming from the land, and just sort of instinctively almost knowing that all that little hollow there, fair chance there’s going to be more breeze downwind of that, or whatever.

So this…I mean that’s just a little one off the side. I mean, what is the mean number? It’s something we set in our own mind. So I think, yes, for sure, it’s fluid.

I think, depending on kind of how your mind works and how…I think that these sorts of things…I mean, what does the mean do for you? I think a mean or an average number gives you a base for your decision-making.

Working with a persistent shift

And for sure, if you think it’s going to be a persistent breeze or if you know it’s going to be a persistent breeze, like say, you go to Sydney or Pittwater and you race offshore, you know, sea breeze, you generally know it’s going to go left, so you’re probably updating your mean number as you go through the yacht race for sure.

Like if you’re up in Sydney, say if you’re pointing at 20 degrees on starboard tack in race one that might be like 005 degrees in race three on starboard tack. And you’re happy to be at 005, whereas, you wouldn’t have been happy in race one. So you update through the day for sure, if it’s a persistent shift.

What’s interesting too is that I think, even with your placement on the course, that sort of dictates in a funny way, like you create your own persistent shift, and that might sound strange.


But what it means is that…let’s say, you’re approaching the top mark, and the shifts, you kind of established through your tuning up and then It’s fairly, common that you might be prepared to dig into a shift a little more ie you’re sailing at the headed tack a little more to get to a side on that kind of final four, five, or six minutes of an upwind leg.

Knowing that, let’s say, for example, if you’re on port tack, and there’s two minutes left of starboard tack in the leg, let’s say, it might start to head, been left, but now it’s going right and it’s gone through your mean and it’s now, you’re on the headed tack, you might just dig into that for another minute or so. So you get right into the header and then when you tack, your lifted, but it won’t go back until after you rounded the top mark.

So that, in effect, is a persistent shift, even though it’s an oscillating day, it’s just another way to think about it. You’re playing it as a persistent shift.

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

Andrew: Yeah, I think it sort of depends what you see, and it depends where you are, and it depends where the fleet is. And the amount of importance for each one of those three things also, you need to weigh. up

It’s a fairly complex decision but the guys that sail a lot and race a lot, they can make those decisions instantly. And it’s definitely, having raced at a higher level regularly is quite important for a good tactician.

It is also a bit of a confidence game, as well. So what does all that mean? Well, it might be that the breeze has headed. It’s now in what you would definitely consider to be headed based on all your homework.

However, you can see more breeze ahead. And your homework before the start, or your sailing around before the start, you may have sort of deduced that the breeze isn’t moving across course that well, for whatever reason.

So it might be that you need to dig into…you just got to get to the breeze, it’s that sort of day, you got to get to the breeze, it’s not going to come to you. So it might be that that’s the most important thing.


Compass or Wind?

And just sailing the compass isn’t as important as getting to the wind. So what I’m doing here is I’m probably just highlighting why you wouldn’t just sail on the compass numbers.

So conversely, it may be that you just don’t see any difference, side to side, however we’re headed. Okay, that’s fine. Let’s say, we’re on starboard tack, out near lay line. Not on lay line, but out near lay line with a lot of starboard tack left to do. And most of the fleet is to our left.

Okay, I think we’ve got to hold up, I think we’ve just got, you know. I don’t think we should tack back. If we tack back, we’re going to be putting our self on lay line and so on and so forth. Most of the fleets to our left, if we get a little righty, we’re going to gain on all of them anyway.

So, no, we shouldn’t tack. We need to ride this one out a little longer. If they all tack, well, that’s possibly a little different, that maybe you just want to stay in phase as much as you can but… Or it might be that you’re kind of midcourse, can’t see the difference side to side. You’ve got pretty much equal boats left and right of you, you don’t want to sail a header tack.

You probably should be on the other tack or you need a really good reason to keep going.

So big picture

With a lot of these things, I often say in my work as a coach, one philosophy I have that I sometimes say to people is, sailing, there might be 10 things going on.

I might actually probably know how many, and I should probably write them down, but let’s say there’s 10 things happening in a race, that have an impact on the race.

10 things to consider in a race

One is speed, another is set up and sail trim, another is hiking, another is decision-making. Strategic decision-making and another is tactical decision-making, and so on.

At any given time in a race, if you could graph those things along the bottom, at any time, one of them is going to be kind of peaking out.

If it was like a diagnostic on your computer, one of them is a very, very high importance at one time, and the other, bunch are kind of just buzzing away at low import.

For example, off a start line, assuming you got a fairly decent start but you can’t tack. You’ve started a little bit down the line and you can’t tack and cross. So at that time, hiking is right up there, and speed and set up is about right up there as well. Tactics don’t matter.


You’ve made your bed, you can’t tack.
  • Tactics mean nothing at that time, and strategy means nothing at that time. So you just got to put your head down, hike, trim well, be accurate on the helm. You need to be good on short-term wind calls and wave calls. Just aim to get a two or three feet gain over the next 30 seconds on those closest to you.

And then, obviously, in coming towards the mark, mechanics might be another one. Mechanics is going to be huge. Communication is going to be massive. And decision-making, on whether we jibe or we don’t jibe, or we protect and hold high, or we don’t.

So those things are kind of…decision-making, communication, mechanics, they’re all kind of peaking. Hiking, trim, set up, really down low.

As a general philosophy, I think that’s really, really important.


Part Two – Wind Weather and Currents

Part Two – Wind Weather and Currents – following on from the recent blog from the interview with Andrew Palfrey. Andrew is better known to the worldwide yachting fraternity as “Doggy”. He will give us the benefit of his vast experience in factoring wind, weather and currents into sailing and its importance in planning the conduct of your race.

This is part two in a series of excerpts from an interview I did with the high-achieving sailor, Olympian and coach.


Brett: How do you call wind shifts and what feedback do you want from your crew? How do you handle communication in the boat?

Andrew: I might take a little bit of a different path here, because I reckoned you hit on something that’s ultra-ultra-important and that something that people struggle to get right, and it’s taken me many, many years to kind of think about and work on.

Who in the team is strong at what?

Where do people’s strengths lie? But also, playing your role and supporting those around you. And it all sounds pretty airy-fairy and fluffy, but what it really means is…

I’ll give you an example. When I was sailing with Iain Murray in the Star, we had it pretty well worked out, what he was responsible for, what I was responsible for, and where the overlaps were.

And to start with, we were very weak tactically. And it took a few days of sailing together to kind of put the finger on what was going on. I think what was happening is, from our side…but we hadn’t spoken about it, that was the key.

Leading up to the Olympic Stars, Iain and I sailed an Etchells with Michael Coxon to get some high-quality fleet racing experience.

But from our side, Iain and I’s side, we’re kind of probably thinking subconsciously, “Well, he’s Cocko. He’s one of the best tacticians going around.” Well, he used to do the tactics. And I’ll call the wind and Iain can do his thing at the back of the boat.

Cocko, it turns out, was thinking, “Well, hang on, these two guys are embarking on an Olympic campaign, they probably don’t want me to do too much or say too much. I’ll kind of let them do their thing and I’ll trim the main.”

Crew Discussion

And basically, what would happen, we had really good discussions before the start, but as we approached times where decisions had to be made, we weren’t making the decisions. It was all too…there was too much decision by committee.

We were just, we were doing some really silly things, tactically, which was having quite a big effect on our races.

So I think I said to Cocko something along the lines of, “Look, I’m here to help. You’re the tactician. And it’s not a democracy, it’s not a committee. Decisions have to be made. You’re not going to be second-guessed, we’re all behind you.

So make the decisions, be clear, and if you do the exact opposite of the picture I’ve just painted, that’s 100% fine. There’s no problem at all. I’m happy with that.

You make the decisions and we can review it later over a beer that night. Why did you want to go that way when da da da?… But there’s not going to be bad feelings at the time, there’s not going to be second-guessing, and let’s just get on with it.”

And from that point, we turned it around. And I learned a lot from that and I’ve since had that discussion, I have that discussion with pretty much everyone I sail with.

Crew Responsibilities

With that comes core responsibilities which, on that side of things, the calling the wind, short-term, having a view of the wind, long-term, and helping make decisions into the top mark and bottom mark based on what we’re seeing up the track.

So do we gybe or do we go straight out of the top mark? That sort of thing. So when I sail, that’s the way we work. It’s one guy’s responsible for the wind, one guy’s responsible for tactics and strategy and the helmsman, we generally try and leave him to steer because as we know, that’s a damn hard job to do well.


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

Andrew: Yes, for sure, for sure. I think they’re definitely a big part of the overall picture.

And so, like I said in the e-mail, it might be as basic as just helping you figure out when a thermal breeze is setting up. Like, seeing the cumulus develop over the land, let’s say, just an indicator there’s some convection there and the sea breeze is setting up, which maybe, quite, might not really have an impact.

If the wind’s offshore and it’s weakening, that could say, well, this is going to happen in a hurry. Or it could be that it’s a squally day and the clouds are coming through pretty quickly and there might be a bit of rain in them or that cold air falling out of them for sure, I think they’re going to have a much bigger effect on your mindset and your game plan, or things like that.

Or it may well be there’s a change in the weather system driven by the synoptic situation and you sort of see some high cloud coming across that you’d seen in the morning in the weather, and that’s indicating to you that big picture, “Okay, that’s signifying that the gradient winds going to move a little one way or the other,” that you’d seen that morning.

So I think these things are triggers, to me, anyway.


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

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I have a bit of a routine on a race day which… I quite like getting up early so I’ve got the time to sift through the internet and the weather and so on.

It just goes in, it’s just sort of in there, back of mind. Then, there’s some recall through the day if it does play out the way you had seen it that morning.

And to the person that’s only gone into one layer, just the numbers, is going to be hedging pretty hard right. But the person who’s done a bit more homework will look up the track and say, “Well, there’s no cloud.” That cloud’s not in evidence.

That was the thing that was going to drive it to go one way or the other. So then, half the fleet is jammed up against the windward end of the start line, half of them getting crappy starts because they think they want to go right.

Whereas, the people that dug another level, they’re getting nice starts a little way down the line and no hurry to tack. And all of a sudden, it didn’t go right. You’ve invested all that risk in something that didn’t happen.






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