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Preparing for a Race or Regatta


I interviewed National and World champion Aussie sailor Roger Blasse about preparing for a race or regatta and parts of that chat are reproduced below.

Roger has won 11 National and 2 world championships in the OK class and is a front-running competitor in the International 14’skiff class.

He is also a past commodore of the Black Rock Yacht Club in Melbourne Australia, serving many years in various committee positions.

Success is the icing on the cake and if you ask Roger why he continues to compete he has said that the real reason is not to win things but because of all the friends that he has made around Australia and the world.”

Brett: So do you have any secrets to preparing for a regatta? Do you have anything that you do to prepare yourself mentally and your boat?

Roger: The first thing I think you need to do is you need to decide whether you’re going to do the regatta or not.

And usually, I think like three-quarters of the year or nine months out, you need to make that decision. And as that time gets closer I mean obviously the first things you’ve got to work on is you got to take…practicing in sailing and so forth and working on your fitness.


Brett: So what do you do if your boat is away for two or three months, do you try and borrow another boat or do you have two boats for instance?

Roger: Well thankfully in the OK I’ve got two boats but if I didn’t have that I’d try and borrow a boat.

Unfortunately, with a 14ft skiff, it’s a little bit different because people are less inclined to lend you a boat and they’re all very different. So I guess with the 14 you’ve got to probably just try and maintain your fitness and maybe sail other boats while just keeping your tactics and your strategies in tune.

So I think the other thing you got to make sure is make sure that the venue you’re going to, that you’re going to be suitable.
That you’ve got the right gear and so forth and you have the right weight. I mean particularly if you try to maybe get into the top 10 boats or something like that you have to make sure that the boat, the gear you’ve got is at World pace.

And that if it’s going to be a light regatta you’ve prepared for that, if it’s going to be a windy regatta likewise prepare for it and things like that.

Brett: Weight is critical in every class I guess. So what do you do to lose weight or whatever, have you got any particular techniques or you’re trying to stay the same?

Roger: I’ve got plenty of techniques. The question is whether they work or not. But look yeah I think I probably what I’ll do is I probably could lose maybe three or four kilos or something like that.

I haven’t been very successful in losing lots of weight. But I think what you do is you manage your expectations. So you have a better understanding of how well you go.

I mean if you’re a big bloke and you’re going to Worlds that would potentially be light then you need to have think about your rig, maybe shed a few pounds or so forth.

But manage your expectations and come up with a clear idea of how well you’re going to go.


Brett: So speaking about the venue, how do you gather local knowledge regarding wind, currents and weather? Have you got a particular thing you do?

Roger: I think it’s just like a group of a lot of things. The first step is to maybe have a chat with people who’ve been there before which is very important.

And obviously, even if they’re outside your class, have a look when the last Worlds who’ve been there or even read, maybe get on the website and have a look at the report.

Have a look at the results and see where some of the Aussies went and just from the people who have been there you’ll understand whether they are a light or heavy crew and so forth.

I think the next thing is to get on the internet. There are plenty of sites that you can have a look at and just check what the winds are going to be like during that period.

Download PredictWind or something like that and just have a good understanding of what the conditions could be.

As we all know sometimes the weather isn’t exactly what it’s meant to be.

Just often go with the knowledge it will be what it will be and you have to adapt to what the wind strength will be and the conditions.

Brett: So you get your head around that a bit before you go to the regatta?

Roger: Yeah you shouldn’t…like if you’ve got, you think, “It’s going to be a windy regatta, it’s going to be fantastic, we’re going to go really well,” you got to be careful that you don’t go with that preconceived idea on the regatta.

The first day is a light one and you just haven’t got your head around…everything is out the window, you haven’t just gone with a one-trick pony type thing.

I think it’s very important to check the weather and find out that you’re going to be comfortable when you’re there and be on the pace.


Brett: You do pick a lot up from mixing with other people at regattas. Food and drink is the fuel that keeps us going, do you look for the best restaurants and supermarket? 

Roger: I think that’s a big part of that getting there three or four days before the regatta.

You pick up where you can eat, you pick up where the supermarket is. And you can stock up where you’re staying, the type of food you like and what you want to eat in the morning.

So I’m not fussed about the type of food I eat. Like all I suggest is that you eat reasonably well. Pick foods that aren’t going to upset you during the race or something like that so don’t have a spicy…
Be mindful that the tap water might be OK but it might just set your stomach off a little bit.

So just try and be careful, drink some bottled water for the first few days until you’re acclimatized a little bit.

I would try a few restaurants maybe pick a favourite one that you’re happy with. You might just go there two or three times in a row because it’s easy.

For breakfast, I think it’s important that you have a reasonable breakfast beforehand. Sometimes I’m just mindful if it’s an early start that having a big meal prior to racing within an hour is probably not ideal. In general, have a good breakfast and then obviously refuel after the race.


Rob Brown on Strategy and Tactics

I have copied below parts of an interview I did with Rob Brown on Strategy and Tactics

Rob is one of Australia’s absolute sailing treasures and a regular nice guy.

Rob is one of those special sailors who has done more than most of us could ever dream of achieving in our sport and is completely humble and down to earth. He has sailed everything from 18’skiffs where he was a world champion to being a crew member of Australia 2 when they won the America’s Cup in 1983.

In 1984, Rob was awarded one of Australia’s highest accolades, the Order of Australia Medal. The award for “Outstanding Contribution to Sport” was soon to be followed by the inclusion to the Australian Bi-Centennial Hall of Fame for being part of the “Best Australian Sporting Team Ever – Australia II”.


Brett: How far from the bottom mark would you start planning your upwind strategy? Of course, it depends on what’s going on, on the boat but do you start to plan your upwind strategy while going down the run?

Rob: Well, most definitely. That’s a very interesting question because theoretically, you should be doing it halfway down the run.

Say the bottom third of the run, you should be thinking about what you’re doing upwind.

But if there are boats around you, you’re fighting for air, and competing for a position to get inside running at the next mark, then it doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to look around.

That’s where if you’re in a two or three, probably more, so with a three-man boat, that person should be looking behind, he should be calling the wind pressures downwind.

He should be saying that he likes the left-hand side of the course better than the right-hand side or whatever as you’re coming down to that bottom mark.

That really places a lot of responsibility on the person to not get involved in the immediate tactics that are going on around the boat but to get his head out of the boat and think about the bigger picture a minute, two, three minutes ahead.


Brett: Obviously there’s going to be some indicators when you’re going downwind as to which side of the course the pressures on.  If you’re back in the fleet you can look at who’s already gone around the mark, what’s going on with them, how high they are, who’s gone where and that sort of thing.

Rob: Say if your compass heading as you’re coming down on the bottom mark, whether you’re in a lift or a knock.

I tend to try and get my head out of the boat and look for…I use the term, dominant pressure…where is the dominant pressure on the course.

If it’s in sort of fluky light to medium conditions, my general rule is to get to the dominant pressure and then work out whether there’s a lift or knock when you get there, whether it’s upwind or downwind.


Brett: Okay, so what you’re saying is you sail for pressure rather than lifts generally?

Rob: Well, if there’s no other consideration, go for pressure.

Pressure is dominant pressure.

Look, there’s no point doing lifts and knocks if you’re not in the dominant pressure.

If there’s a definite windline or band of breeze, the obvious thing would be to get to that pressure and then play that pressure.


Brett: I don’t know how much current you get here in Sydney Harbor but some of the other places you’ve sailed there has been plenty. Do you take a huge note of current? How do you work out where it is and what it is?

Rob: Well I think that, that comes down to your research before the regatta, and how much information you can get on tidal flow, and coming up with how dominant the current is in your decision-making compared to pressure.

If you’re sailing in Cowes, for example, where you get three or four knots or current, then all of a sudden that becomes a major influence on your strategies.

In Sydney Harbor, which I’ve done a lot of sailing on, you’ve got a knot, knot and a half current.

Then it all depends on how much breeze you’ve got. If you’ve got 20 knots with 1 and a half knots of current, that’s not quite as important.

But if it’s 8 to 10 knots with a knot and a half current then definitely I look at my tide tables over and over again.

I’ve probably got them printed on my brain now and I know it pretty well.

But, obviously, there are certain tactics of being out in the current for assistance in getting out of it if you’re sailing against it and that with experience becomes really an automatic strategy before the race.

If you’re going to be fighting current upwind, your strategy before the race would be to obviously try and get out of the current upwind and stay in it downwind.


Brett: If you’re at a new venue, say you’re going to be sailing in Port Philip or you’re going up sailing in Morton Bay in Queensland, obviously, you don’t have that indelibly etched in your brain. How do you work out the currents? Do you look at the tide tables? 

Rob: If we’ve got a major regatta, Auckland Harbor, Port Phillip Bay, there’s not that much current there, but there is current.

I would be researching that, talking to locals and getting as much information I can on current flow, months before the regatta.

Realistically, when you get there, you’re not looking at a bit of paper to tell you where to go.

You’ve done the research before the regatta and on the race day, you’re saying, all right, I’ve got this wind direction, we’re going to have this current throughout the race period so these are the things that we should be doing.

You have that as your database. Then you’re reacting to that database around the track.



I spoke to Matt Bugg regarding his regatta preparation and practice. Matt is a man who has not let adversity stand in his way to achieve great things in our sport.

After becoming a paraplegic in a snowboarding accident at 23, Matthew decided to try to reach the pinnacle of Parasailing, first in Australia and then internationally sailing the very competitive 2.4-metre single-hander.

He has won National Championships and countless races culminating in a Silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in RIO.


Excerpts from that interview are copied below:

Brett: Leading up to a regatta, how important is practice time? And what do you consider as a minimum? 

Matt: Everyone knows it’s the most important thing in yacht racing is time in the boat. But also that time has got to be valuable.

If you’re just going out and sailing around the river on your own for 10 hours a week, is that going to be as valuable as going out for three hours a week and doing lots of short sharp racing against 10 other boats?

Not only is it time in a boat but it’s primarily, valuable time in the boat.


Brett: You said you’ve been doing some two-boat training in recent times and obviously if you can’t get a fleet, you’re much better off sailing against someone else you know and you can both try different things.

Matt: Generally, the more boats, the better, is sort of our rule. The more people on the race course and simulate racing, the better. Two-boat tuning is important if you have a really good tuning partner.

If you’re sailing against someone who’s not particularly quick, it can actually do you harm rather than add value to your program.

Finding a training partner and a training partner that’s really fast, because if you’re sailing against someone that’s slow and you’re going out there beating him and feeling great, and then you get to a race situation and you’re actually not as quick as you think you are.

Brett: So what you’re saying is choose your tuning partners carefully.

Matt: Absolutely. Yes. Be as nice as you can to the fast guys and hopefully, they won’t mind you coming out and tuning up with them.

And then that, of course, is in their best interests as well because if they can get you going fast, then all of a sudden, you become a valuable tuning partner for them.


Brett: Have you got any secrets to your success in managing all those other details in putting together a regatta?  

Matt: Yeah, get someone else to do it. I mean, it also gets your mind off doing the reading, or gets you away from doing the reading that you’d like to be doing and all that time spent on the phone and so on. So, yeah, get someone else to do it. That’s probably a really good tip.

I mean, I’ve always been really sort of quite detailed in the preparation of my boat. I hate racing my boat when it’s not absolutely perfect.

I’ve probably done a bit more boat maintenance than other people who spend a bit more time sailing. It’s always a trade-off, whether your boat’s first of all going to get around the course without having any problems and also whether it’s working properly and it’s going to function to your requirements.

It’s all a tradeoff. If I miss out on a day of practice, am I going to make that up by spending a day in the boat park making adjustments to the boat that may help me go faster?


Brett: On race day, do you have any special preparations you do? 

Matt: Yeah. I mean, I’m always certainly more serious on race day. I’ll certainly get down to the boat park, a bit earlier.

And the most important thing is just getting out on the water much earlier. We try and sail up to the start boat with at least 50 minutes to the first warning signal. Preferably about an hour so you can get a few beats in on either side of the course. A few upwinds and downwinds, and really try and get a bit of an idea of what the wind’s doing.


Brett: That’s pretty important. There’s nothing else you do ashore? You don’t have some quiet time, go off and meditate for a while or anything like that?

Matt: No, not really. When I say I get down there earlier on race days, I’m still never the first person in the boat park.

I don’t like to hang around and chat with people all morning talking about boats and sort of bullshit around the boat park.

The pl to get down there, get the boat set up, and go out racing.

I try and avoid chatting with too many other people, especially competitors, and especially talking about boat setups and general race talk. I like to keep that for either after the race or after the regatta.

There’s nothing worse than getting down to the yacht club and someone putting a silly idea in your head before you go out racing.

So basically you get down to the boat park with your mind in race mode. You build up to getting out to that start boat an hour early.

A lot of people, get a kick out of just doing a regatta. Sort of hanging around and the social side of it, but for me, I am trying to win the regatta.

I just want to get out on the water and get into the racing and not spend too much time on other things.

If it’s sunny, you’re standing out in the sun and I much prefer just to be as fresh as possible. When I get out onto the water I want as much energy as I can have and to be as switched on as possible.



Racing in light air needs the same attitude as racing in heavy air, you have to like it to do well.

In the Southern Hemisphere winter, we get plenty of light air days and in the US about 75% of races are sailed in less than 10 knots. Bearing that in mind, there is plenty of reason to develop a good attitude when confronted with a day of light wind.

Racing in light wind

It’s tough to do well in a race in light air and is tactically challenging. In heavy air, good boat handling and hard hiking will ensure that you are sailing at the front of the fleet.

In light air, most sailors can keep their boat moving fast which should keep the fleet much tighter around the course. Where the differences come is in the tactics which are much trickier. Light wind can be patchy with plenty of shifts and the need is to sail for pressure rather than shifts.

Sometimes sailing on a knock to get to more pressure will generally give you the best result than tacking.

Boat Speed in Light Air

Talk with the most proficient light air sailors in your fleet about set-up and look over their boats.

Remember that the faster a boat goes upwind, the stronger the breeze blowing on the boat will feel. This stronger apparent wind will be shifted closer to the bow than the actual wind. The bottom line is, in light air always sail for speed.

Footing upwind not only increases speed but increases lift on the keel or centreboard and results in less slip sideways.

Because true wind varies so much across the course, always be looking around for the areas of more pressure.

Downwind, it’s critical to continually look for pressure and try to stay in it as long as possible. Use telltales and your masthead wind indicator to see where the wind is coming from and to make sure that a fellow competitor is not interfering with your wind supply.

Setting Sails In Light Air

If the water is smooth, set flat lower sections with medium open leeches. Keep the outhaul tight and set jib leads aft. You should also move the draft aft by easing the downhaul and/or bending the mast slightly.

Experiment with sheet tensions and keep the jib telltales streaming with the windward one lifting occasionally.

If the seas are bumpy, set up with fuller lower sections and open leeches. If your boat has a backstay, ease it so the main is full and the draft moves forward and the headstay sags to leeward. Getting things too tight is a guaranteed way to park the boat.

Tacking or Gybing In Light Air

When it comes time to tack or gybe, roll the boat so a minimum of speed is lost. Turn the tiller very slightly and use the crew weight to help turn the boat.

Keep a bit of heel to leeward after the tack helps the boat accelerate. Often the turn of a tack causes the apparent wind to keep shifting so it appears as though you got a huge lift just as you tacked. Stop your turn after you have gone about 90 degrees and wait for the apparent wind to settle down and reattach.

In a Gybe turn slowly and smoothly. Bring the main in until it is about 45 degrees off the centreline. Roll the boat to windward to help the turn. As the stern crosses the wind, pull the main over hard and let it out to 45 degrees. Then reach up a bit for extra speed and when full speed is reached, bear off and ease the main.

Improve Boat Speed

Who better to get help to improve your boat speed than Mat Belcher, multiple Olympic Gold medalist in the 470 class. 

I have copied below excerpts from an interview that I did with Mat in 2017 while he was waiting at the airport to travel to yet another overseas regatta.

Brett: So the first question is about checking your speed. When is a good time to team up with another boat? Before the regatta and then before the start of each race?

Mat: I guess…we try and break it down into a general speed, which we try to do before coming to the events or any of the other training days prior. Most of our speed work is referenced.

An understanding of all the controls and all the tuning of the boat, so we have a really good knowledge of…if we’re changing a certain aspect of the tuning, then we know exactly what will happen.

I think that’s really important, so then you know, if we’re coming out for a race, we don’t have a lot of time.

Usually, you try and organize everything else, you’re trying to get into the right mindset or organize something, and it’s a bit of a rush, and it’s sort of whether or not you get onto the water.

Which means we don’t have the time. So, if we have an opportunity, we’ll try and partner with one of our squad members, who we know is good in those conditions.

We don’t have a set boat, we’ll know, okay, one guy’s really quick in light winds or really quick in strong wind and we’ll try and encourage them to do a bit of an upwind.
Most of the time, we’ll measure our speed off them. Usually about 30 minutes prior to start, and then as we get closer to the start, we start to really focus on the conditions and just get into a racing mindset.

Brett: How much store do you put in the other boat’s speed? You mentioned a light-air day, and it’s someone that you respect for light-air speed, if you’re really failing against them, what do you do to try and improve, because that’s going to be heartbreaking, isn’t it?

Mat: The one thing about our sport is that it’s really hard to be good in all conditions.

You’ve got your favourite set of conditions that you know you’re going to perform well in, and you have a lot of confidence in. Then there are those conditions that you’re not good at.

Everyone has their favourite and you need to try and work out a lot of self-analysis we say we’re not very good in light wind, we need to improve in these conditions.

So basically we’ll copy them, watch them, do what we can and do as much training in those conditions as we can with them.

Then whether that’s during the event or not, we…classic examples, during the London Olympics we were struggling for boat speed with a team that was…had done a little bit more, a little bit heavier, a little bit different setup.

Even during the actual games we were still, refining our tuning and trying to maximize the speed.
Brett: How important is communication between crew members?  I often hear that we don’t talk anywhere near enough in the boat. Do you guys discuss a lot of stuff, are you talking the whole time?
Mat: I think what’s really important in communication is critical in any boat race or really anything, and the communication that Will and I have is extremely, extremely important, but it’s more the actual type of communication, which is equally important.

Communication with Will and I, because we’ve done a lot of time together, we have really good synergy together.

It’s very, very subtle, and sometimes it’s not a lot, but it’s the right amount of communication for where we’re at.

Obviously, there are different levels, and different forms of communication, for us, we just try and be as efficient and as quiet as we can, in that sense, that just really creates precise communication between us.

We try not to do a lot. That’s just because we get out of our rhythm, we get out of our racing mindset if we’re talking all the time, it’s really, really hard to actually concentrate and to focus on the individual roles.

Brett: I guess that relationship has developed, as you said, the longer you sail together, the less you need to talk I suppose, but you’re still communicating, even if you are not talking.

Mat: I find in a lot of boats particularly big boats or even in the dinghies when we talk about communication, a lot of guys just think you’ve just got to talk about everything.

Every single puff, every single shift, which is really important, but sometimes you’ve got to balance that level of concentration, particularly at our level, to really focus on the steering angle, focus on heel, focus on gust response and really just try to maximize speed.

If you’re constantly talking, you’re constantly getting distracted and the same as driving a car or you’re doing anything that requires a high level of concentration.

It’s very, very, difficult, but you also need to know where to go, so we practice quite a bit, particularly in a high-pressure racing environment that we’ve now got to know what each other’s thinking.

We have got to be on the same wavelength and have the same belief of where we’re going and tuning and all sorts of stuff, so we do that together.

We really try to maximize both of our different skill sets to make the right decisions and also get the best boat speed that we can for the day.
But we are really quite minimal, and some of the basic stuff we won’t actually even talk about it, we just know what will happen.

Sailing Growth and Progress

Etchells NSW Championship 2018 2018 - 18/2/2018 ph. Andrea Francolini/RSYS FLEET
ph. Andrea Francolinii

Sailing Growth and Progress – Sometimes, as sailors, we might find ourselves hesitating when faced with the more challenging aspects of our sailing.

It’s human nature to favour the familiar, to shy away from the demanding… But it’s these tougher aspects that often provide the best opportunities for growth and progress.

While we often fool ourselves into thinking otherwise, it’s not the flashiest gear that makes the fastest sailor. It’s the smart strategies, the little tweaks, the understanding of the wind, your boat, and the water beneath it.

So today, I want to share five quick tips that can help you tap into your boat’s potential speed, without breaking the bank…

1. Mastering the Moves

The best sailors are like expert dancers – they know every move, every step, every rhythm. A mere 15 minutes daily focusing on your weakest manoeuvre can make a significant difference. It’s a small investment of time that can pay off big in improved performance.

Action Items

  • Dedicate 15 minutes each time you get on the water to practising your trickiest manoeuvre.
  • Consider using a waterproof Go Pro to record your practice. Review the footage to identify where you can improve.
  • Keep practising until you’ve mastered all manoeuvres. Not just tacks and gybes, but your low-speed skills and 720 turns too!

2. Mark the Spot – Sailing Growth and Progress

Speed relies heavily on knowing the optimal settings for a broad array of conditions. Make sure to mark all your controls – halyards, sheets, vang, outhaul, etc. It’s an ongoing process, but one that can enhance both your sail trim and handling skills.

Action Items

  • Familiarise yourself with the best settings for different conditions.
  • Make clear, easy-to-read marks on all controls.
  • Continually refine your markings as you get more experience.

3. Keep It Shipshape – Sailing Growth and Progress

A well-maintained boat not only performs better, but it also helps boost the crew’s morale. Don’t let a substandard boat be the excuse for a disappointing performance.

Action Items

  • Regularly check your boat and make sure everything is in good working order.
  • Pay attention to the condition of your foils, sails, and rigging.
  • Keep your boat clean and in good shape – consider a fresh coat of paint or a vinyl wrap if needed.

4. Do Something Different – Sailing Growth and Progress

Don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut. Step out of your comfort zone by sailing with different people, in different boats, or at different places, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can improve.

Action Items

  • Try sailing with a new crew or in a different class of boat.
  • Sail in different locations to experience varying conditions.
  • Seek feedback and learn from more experienced sailors.

5. Post-Race Analysis – Sailing Growth and Progress

Critically analysing your performance in each race can help you understand what worked and what didn’t, allowing you to repeat successful strategies, avoid making the same mistakes, and shorten the learning curve.

Action Items

  • After each race, take time to review and analyse your performance, identifying successful strategies and mistakes for future reference.
  • Use this analysis to improve team communication and overall performance.

Want a step-by-step guide to improving your performance?

In Road To Gold, Hamish Willcox and I examine every aspect of your racing, start to finish. Over 12 in-depth modules, we show you exactly where to focus your efforts in order to climb the leaderboard in the shortest time possible.

It’s not just about going faster – it’s about becoming a better sailor. It’s the little things that separate the good from the great, and with the RTG blueprint in your arsenal, you’re well on your way to the latter.

For Future RTG Members

Road To Gold isn’t just a program – it’s a compass that tells you which direction you should be heading. Check out the full details here – it might just be the key to unlocking new levels of speed and skill in your sailing.

Andy Rice – Co-Creator, RoadToGold.net


I have set out below a number of heavy air techniques that will help you sail more competitively. Success and speed in heavy air grows from a combination of the following ingredients.

Firstly you have to learn to love it.

Secondly, you must prepare your boat so that nothing will break.

And lastly, be prepared to practice and train in heavy air. When you do race in those conditions, you will instinctively respond to situations as they arise.

The list is by no means complete but will at least give you a start to get faster out on the race course.

Upwind – Jib Settings

Use your jib to power the boat and use the main to keep the boat flat. Move the jib leads aft to flatten the foot and open the leech. By keeping the headstay tight with the rig and backstay tension, you will flatten the jib.

Moving the lead outboard will open the slot which although fast may hurt pointing.

In big waves or puffs, when the boat becomes difficult to steer, easing the jib will reduce the load on the helm, otherwise keeping the jib sheet tight is fast.


Upwind – Main Settings

The mainsail should be flat with an open leech. Flatness is achieved by tightening the outhaul which flattens the lower sections. Pulling on the Cunningham moves the draft forward and opens the upper leech.

Flatten the mainsail by inducing a lower mast bend which also widens the slot. This means that you don’t need to move the jib leads outboard as much.

Pulling on the backstay (if you have one) flattens the upper part of the mainsail and opens the upper part of the leech.

Set the vang tight so that the boom does not raise when the sheet is eased to balance the boat.

FREE BOOK – Instant Download

Keep the boat flat

When a puff hits and the boat starts to heel, play the mainsheet to keep the boat flat and head up slightly. Once the boat is flat, hike hard, drive off slightly and trim in hard.

As the forces on the board or keel, rudder and sails begin to build up again, ease the sheet and repeat.


In many classes and boats, the crew is handed that mainsheet to play leaving the helmsperson free to steer to the conditions.

The worst thing in heavy air is to lose your speed, crashing into a wave or letting the boat heel over. Steering accurately is critical as is your ability to concentrate for the whole race.

As you approach a wave that you think may slow you down, try to see what is behind it. Bear off slightly to keep your speed and momentum dependent on the wave sets that you see.



Never tack when the boat is heeled, even slightly and make sure you are travelling at full speed as you instigate the tack.

Always look to weather, pick a smooth spot and make sure everyone has their sails un-cleated before you call “tacking”.

It’s always fastest to have the boat flat or even slightly heeled to weather after coming out of the tack. This can be controlled by mainsheet tension and crew weight placement. The first few seconds after the tack are critical.

FREE BOOK – Instant Download


Prior to rounding the weather mark, the vang will have been eased substantially from the upwind setting. If the boat feels overpowered ease the vang further and if underpowered sneak a little more on.

Riding waves fast in heavy air is what many of us look forward to when the breeze is on. To catch waves effectively you need to keep the boat flat and continually play the sails.


Sailing Practice and Training

I interviewed Skip Lissiman about sailing practice and training, excerpts from that interview are copied below.

Skip has sailed just about everything from Pelicans and Cherubs through J24s, Etchells, 12 Metres and Maxi boats.

He’s also sailed in every position from bowman to sailing master. Skip was in the crew of Australia 2 when they won the America’s Cup in 1983. He sailed for Australia in the Admiral’s Cup and the Kenwood Cup, plus a multitude of other offshore events.

Some of those include the Fastnet Race, Plymouth to Freemantle, Transatlantic Race, and 6 Sydney to Hobart.  Newport to Bermuda and this is just to name a few.

Skip is also an accomplished match racer and has won six grade-one match racing events.

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Brett: Is there any aspect of the sport you reckon can’t be learned? I mean, you often hear about somebody who’s a natural. I believe sailing’s one of those sports, where you’re always learning. You don’t ever know it all.

Skip: Well, every natural yachtsman that I’ve ever sailed with has always started at a very young age.

Picking up the sport when you’re older will be harder to learn the skills than at a younger age. I can’t stress enough the importance of kids getting into the sport and doing the hard yards in the Opti’s and the dinghy classes.

The learning that you do after that, sailing with other people and other classes, will upskill you to a point where you get better and better.

You’ve just got to get out there and do it as young as you can If you pick it up later in life, then read a lot, watch a lot, sail a lot. Especially sail with people better than you and you’ll slowly pick up the skills.

Brett: What age did you start, Skip, as a matter of interest?

Skip: I started about age 6 and really didn’t get into dinghy sailing big time until I was probably about 12.

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Brett: I’ve read a lot of biographies of great sailors and five or six seems to be the magic starting time. Do you reckon there’s any part of sailing where natural ability will trump someone who has to learn and practice the skill?

Skip: Well, each class is different. The modern moth type classes where you sail faster than the wind is a totally different sort of skillset to sailing a slower moving boat like a Dragon, 12 Metre or a 5.5 that tack slowly and carries its speed through the tack.

Each type of class has got a different skill set in how you use the wind shifts and the wind itself. You’ve got to apply the skills differently for each kind of boat that you’re sailing and what the wind patterns are doing.

There’s no easy way around it. The guys that are very good at it have a knack of seeing the different ripples on the water and they can tell generally whether it’s a lift or knock before the wind actually gets to them.

That’s a skill that you can only get good at by watching the gusts as they come to you and seeing what the boat does. Over time you get better and better at it. And if you get it right more often than you get it wrong, you’re halfway there.

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Brett: Once again, that comes back to time on the water in a lot of cases, because some people are slower than others to pick that stuff up too.

Skip: Yep. Some people never really get it.

Brett: Outside sailing, what do you do as part of the training if you were training for say an Etchells regatta for instance? What would you do off the boat other than gym work to keep fit? Is there another sport you’d play for instance?

Skip: I do a lot of bike riding and do some static weights. I don’t go to gyms generally.

The one thing that really is important on a boat is good balance and good upper arm or upper body strength and core strength. If you’re hiking all day on any type of boat, you need core strength. You need upper body strength to be able to pull on the sheets and do the things you need.

So free weights exercises that give you good stamina. Bike riding does that very, very well. A lot of the Olympic athletes have bikes and they do a lot of bike work as well as static weights.

I use an exercise ball and free weights and do that after I get home from a bike ride and that’s enough for me. I’ve been doing more or less the same exercise routine now for the last 35, 40 years. I’m still the same weight as I was when I did my first America’s Cup 40 years ago.

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Following are excerpts from an interview I did with Glenn Bourke regarding Fleet Strategy.

Glenn is an Olympian, an Americas Cup crew, an Ocean racer and a multiple world champion in several classes.

He is known for his attention to detail and meticulous approach to preparation and then execution out on the racetrack.


BRETT: Do you develop a regatta game plan?

GLENN: You have your aspiration in the beginning and you’re trying to learn about the venue and understand what you think the idiosyncrasies of that venue are, so you’re capable of making changes as you need them.

The plan will change based on the input that you get. I think the sailing strategy is very much like playing chess. What’s the other guy done relative to what you’ve done? And can you factor that in, in a quick way and be adaptable enough to alter the destiny of a race or a leg, or the regatta itself?

So it’s always, moving pawns and moving knights and whatever else. And you’re trying to, I think it’s an actuarial kind of composition. I’m always thinking about the numbers in the event.

Where am I? If I’m 30th at the top mark and I need to get into the top 10, I’m going to be a bit more aggressive at the bottom. That I’ve got to get myself clear, I’ve got to get to the favoured side of the course.

I’ve got to take a little bit more of a risk to try and get myself up to 10th because I know that counting a 30th is going to hurt me. And you’ve got to be adaptable all the time like that.

If I’m first around the top mark, I know that I’m going to leg it on port tack from out of the bottom mark. I will then cover the fleet and try and make people do what you want them to do. To shut the race down, to get the least reaction out of the fleet.

If there’s one guy that’s inconsequential to the event, I’m going to let him go and hope that my plan’s better than his.


BRETT: How do you plan an approach the lay line in a big fleet and you’re back 15th or worse?

GLENN: Again, you got to be adaptable. And if you’re coming in under the lay line, and somebody crosses in front of you or just behind you and opens a track up, you need to get out to that starboard hand lay line.

Ultimately the only defence you have is being on the starboard hand lay line and in clear air.

So if a guy ducks you and he’s creating a hole for you, tack on his hip. Take a dig out, get to the lay line, and come back again. Don’t get trapped at the top mark doing a series of doughnuts trying to find a hole.

Don’t get caught late, be preemptive and make your decisions early. Understand that if you’re really deep, they’re going to rack up further and further outside the starboard hand lay line.

Occasionally if you’re in 30th place, stay to the left and then find a hole coming back in.

If you’re in the top 20 at the top mark, don’t be that guy that gets trapped out at the mark.

You know, they tack, they don’t give room. They’ve got to run behind 15 boats before they can find a hole to tack into. You’ve really got to be pre-thinking it as much as you can.


BRETT: When is it prudent to stay with the fleet? 

GLENN: Always, always when you’re constructing a regatta win. It’s safer to stay with the fleet. I would much prefer to have a third with no risk than a first with a medium amount of risk.

If I’m constructing a regatta, I’m trying to get on the podium every day, you know? Can I get a decent result every day? And I know that the more I hang it out there and do dramatic things, the greater the risk.

So if the fleet splits in two, and half go left and half go right, you got to take a punt on which side you think is correct. If the fleet is predominately going right, and three guys go left, don’t worry about the left guys.

Stay with the fleet because you know the worst you’re going to get is a fourth place, and you can count that, and you’re all happy. And your main players are on your side of the course.
So it’s an accounting function where you just trying to work out risk versus reward all the time. But if you’re fast, there’s even more reason to stay with the fleet.

I know that Tom Slingsby in his day, was a fast laser sailor. And he would know when to just stick with them because he was going to make small gains if he stuck with them.

He might have had the opportunity of a huge gain when he went a different way, but why do that when you can stick with them and beat them anyway?


BRETT: Do you try to sail your own race or are you always cognizant of other people on the course?

GLENN: I never sail my own race,  I’m always sailing a race relative to where the known competitors are.

That can be from race one to the last race of the series. I may have a different plan in race one to the last race of the series of the points gap between us in either direction, but I’m always thinking about the other competitors because it’s a component of your race that is fundamentally important. 

It’s part of the mathematical equation of can I put this boat in the right place at the right time around competitors that gives me a better outcome than them?


SAILING - Rolex Farr 40 Worlds 2011 - 23-26/02/11 - Day 4, Race 2 Ph. Andrea Francolini SPINNAKER
       Photo – Andrea Francolini

Excerpts from an interview with highly accomplished Dinghy through to Maxi Yacht sailor and North Sails sailmaker Michael Coxon who answers your questions regarding sail controls and their effects.

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Brett: Michael, could you explain the effects of the major sail shape controls.

Michael: the most important sail control for any boat, is the sheet tension. That’s the most significant variable in anything and it’s a fairly basic answer, but the fact is that the sheet tension is the number one. 

Once you’ve got the sheet tension control it comes to getting the more subtleties of what sail sectional shapes you want to achieve. Where the sheet tension will tend to control the twist of the sail and the general drive of it, you can actually then use the subtler controls.

Controls on a main sail include the outhaul and the Cunningham eye. One very important thing depending on the boat is the mast bend and how you achieve the mast bend. If the mast bend is achieved by having a backstay, it makes the exercise fairly easy. You can actually do infinite adjustments.

If it’s a non-backstay boat it will depend on things such as boom vang, again, sheet tension; it will depend on if you’ve got control of the mast at the deck. In other words, can you control the pre-bend in the mast whether through a leaver or a chocking system.

Another big variable is rig tension. By increasing rig tension you’ll put more compression through your rig and increase, obviously the tension, but also the pre-bend in the rig. And that would be the major controls on my boat.

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Brett:  Any other sail shape controls?
Michael: When we take headsail, obviously car fore and aft is a big deal with a jib, luff tension I don’t think is a huge deal with a stable sail.

It’s mainly car fore and aft. Some boats have the ability to adjust in and out also, so you can in-haul and out-haul. That’s a big deal, and sheet tension. So with a jib, the really critical ones are car position and sheet tension. 

Brett: You talked a little earlier about forestay sag.

Michael: As an example, really critical on an Etchells. Being an older style, it’s a 40-year-old designed boat with an aluminium rig. It’s actually harder to set up than more modern boats that are, say, carbon.

There are a lot more variables because they get a lot more mast bend. So you go through a lot more range and to address that the extra mast bend you’ve got more luff curve. You’ve got excess cloth in certain conditions. What you do with it, that’s the question.

Certainly, mast bend and rig tension is a big deal with any setup. The general rule is the softer the air, the softer the rig. As the pressure goes up, the tighter the rig. That will then get you a tight forestay and a tighter forestay will give you a finer entry on your jib or a flatter jib.

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But just as important to control the forestay up the range, you can make people focus on that. It’s just as important to have the same emphasis on sagging the forestay downrange because if you’re carrying, one jib right through the range from 5 knots to 25 knots, it’s only got one shape.

It’s only got one luff flow in it. You need to continually adjust the parameters around the sail to actually get the right sail shape. If you’ve got hollow in the luff of your jib and you’re sailing in light air, you’ve got to reproduce hollow or forestay sag so you don’t over-flatten the jib.




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