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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.



Wind, Weather and Currents

Andrew Palfrey, better known to the worldwide yachting fraternity as “Doggy” will give us the benefit of his vast experience in factoring wind, weather and currents into our sailing and its importance in planning the conduct of your race.

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


Brett: Doggy, because the interview is primarily about weather and how to use observations to run a race day or regatta strategy, can you tell us how sailors who are looking to get better should go about gathering information and then utilising it to give themselves the best advantage on the racetrack. Perhaps a little history of your weather journey would be really helpful here.

 Andrew: This sort of thing has become so much easier in the last few years.

I didn’t start Olympic campaigning until  1998 properly. I was in my thirties. And back then, it was hard, it was difficult. I can’t even remember how we kind of did it back then or probably didn’t do a lot of it.

But these days it’s obviously, it’s a hell of a lot easier on the internet. And it’s like the United States, for example, the NOAA resource, N-O-A-A, I don’t even know what it stands for, National something, something. It’s just a huge resource.

There are so many layers and you can get historical data and so on. Really, I mean, as we know, you really just got to plug in, you know. I’m heading to Nassau in a couple of weeks, just plug in Nassau for historical weather data for December, and it’s there, it’s three clicks away.

So I think the challenge is to decipher that and to filter through that and to figure out what the important information is because there’s a lot of stuff there that, it’s not rubbish but it’s just not relevant to what you need.


Brett: How much information do you gain from fellow competitors about venues, especially those that you have raced at previously or from locals such as fishermen who may have relevant observations that you can learn from?

Andrew: I guess through this lifetime of sailing, we gain a network of friends, or at least acquaintances. We tend to go back to the same sorts of places, the same sorts of locations, year after year. You’ll know someone, and that person will know someone.

My experience, like I know for sure when I get contacted about the weather in a place I’m living, I don’t mind spending a little bit of time or whatever, with the person, if I know they’re kind of quite keen. And I kind of like that human-human interaction, that side of it. So I think that a lot of it comes back to that.

But in terms of in the pre, sort of getting ready to go away side of things, make contact with that person and your questions would be, “Where do you look, what do you look at for your weather for that location?” And they might say, “I look at Windguru is generally the best here, or this, or that.” And all of a sudden, bang, you’ve just saved yourself a whole lot of time.


Brett: Are you asking about what is likely to happen at the time of the regatta or are you delving in to history of previous years at that time of the year and how far out do you plan?

Andrew: I think it goes back further than that, further than the day. It might even be as fundamental as even several months out. You might make some decisions on equipment or where you want your, for example, the Etchells Worlds next year.

It’s in San Francisco and we’ve all got time…time is a limited resource, we’re all in the same boat there, it doesn’t matter how big your budget is. Time is the same for everyone. So you want to make the right decisions early so you’re not spending your time going down the wrong path.

A lot of people are already saying, “Oh, San Francisco. It’s going to be windy.” But the fact is, it’s very late in the summer that we go there and there was a regatta this year, at the same time, that was three out of four days were light air. And so, that information is critical.

You could turn up in San Francisco or you could sort of get to San Francisco two weeks before the Worlds, let’s say, quite well-prepared, well-resourced, all that sort of thing.

And you’ll start talking to locals and they might say, “Oh, no, no, no. It’s actually, there’s a fair chance we might get some light air here.” And you’re thinking, “Shit! I’ve invested all…I’ve exactly invested all this…” It might even be, I mean, you might have your light sails there. You’ve shipped them over or whatever you did but you haven’t spent time using them.

So harping back to these decisions we made months before, they can… Probably, a lot of people don’t realize, even as they come away from these events, that those decisions were probably more of an impact than what people realize.


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




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