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Getting Value From a Coach

Getting Value From a Coach

Using a sailing coach to get better does not have to be expensive. Coaching is an investment that will pay dividends whether it be to work on a particular aspect of your sailing or to prepare for a club, national or world championship regatta.

There are a number of steps that you should take to gain the greatest benefit for the time and money you will invest:

Find the right coach:

you need a coach who will be an expert in the areas that you are weak in and not someone who gives you the answers but someone who guides you in the process of improvement and who can help you find the answers from within yourself.

Be open to change, sometimes you need a coach whose personality is different to yours but the biggest changes come about from coaches who can spot your weaknesses.


Don’t arrive at a training session with a blank sheet of paper hoping to be lectured to and the off chance that the coach may touch on something that you believe needs improvement.

Every sailor will achieve more from the session if the coach can address what the individual or team is interested in.

Come to the training session ready to learn:  

Many sailors come to training and treat it as a necessary chore. Come with an open mind and be ready to learn something new. Keep your emotions under control, you are not there to show the coach how much you know. You are there to add every bit of knowledge you can.

Know all roles on your boat: 

You are being coached to improve your sailing in your chosen position but knowing what is expected of your teammates will help you to work more efficiently together. You should pay attention when the coach is talking about a manoeuvre that doesn’t involve you.


Have a get-together with your teammates after the coaching session to talk over what you have each learnt. Then formulate a plan to implement and practice to make those new techniques second nature.

Make notes:

One of the best ways to guarantee that new ideas are remembered is to write them down. Have a notebook and put down what you have learnt in your own words. Don’t be afraid to make sketches if that helps you to remember better.

Video and voice recording:  

Get your on-water sessions videoed, and even use your mobile phone to record as much of the session as possible. When you are having the debrief with the coach and then the debrief with the crew, at least record the sound and then rewatch or relisten at a later date.

You will be amazed at what extra benefit you will gain by hearing and seeing it all again.

Further ways of learning to get better: 

Watch videos of sailing events with your team and critique them. Sail with your fellow competitors from time to time and see how they sail and manage their boats. Attend seminars run by clubs, sailmakers and other class associations.

Attend training clinics with other sailors not necessarily run by your chosen class. There is plenty to be learned from those sailing in different boats than your own.


Trimming Sails Together

Trimming Sails Together. Generally, on boats that are going slow, one sail will be much looser or tighter than the other. Conversely, it might be flatter or fuller than the other.

Fast boats have similar depth in the main and jib as well as similar twist profiles. It is worth noting though that even if conditions don’t dictate flat sails, flat sails trimmed well and together will still be faster than mismatched sails. Matching sails keeps the slot a similar distance apart from top to bottom.

Match Your Sails Trim

The best way to match your sails is to talk in terms of power, and the main trimmer or the helmsman usually makes that call.

The main trimmer should communicate power to the jib trimmer. Say, “Perfect power”, which lets the jib trimmer know we are trimmed to the sweet spot. If a lull comes and you have to trim harder to get more power, communicate that. If the wind lightens off call “searching for power”. This alerts trimmers it’s time to adjust controls like outhaul and jib cars creating more depth and power.

Other controls that have an effect on power are the vang and Cunningham.  As the wind lightens off both will need to be eased. The reverse is true as the breeze increases. The controls that were eased when you were powering up need to tighten to depower. As always the controls for each sail need to be adjusted in unison.

Helm Load

Helm load information is another way to talk about coordinating sail trim. If the boat is heeling too much and the helmsman is feeling too much helm, they should mention it to the main trimmer so they can depower the main, which reduces heel angle and reduces helm.

If the main trimmer needs help from the jib trimmer, for example, if the backstay is already tight and the traveller is down, that information gets passed forward.

Communicating what’s happening with the backstay and traveller queues the jib trimmer adjusts the jib to match the new mainsail twist profile.

Small changes to the backstay and traveller need not be communicated. Big changes warrant adjustments of both the main and jib sheets.

It doesn’t make any difference which person makes the call as long as the sails are adjusted together, you’ll be faster.

Using a Race Compass


Using a Race Compass – You win sailboat races by sailing faster and less distance than your opponents and to sail less distance, you must have a good feel for the angles.

Many sailors develop this feel visually over time but not everyone retains this visual information.

Compass as a Precise Tool

A compass gives you a precise tool for the angles and there are dramatic gains and losses due to wind shifts in various situations, even with small shifts. As an example, a 5° shift result gives the favoured side an advantage of 12% of the lateral separation.

On a 200-metre starting line this equates to a 24-metre advantage. If you sail a 5°  header for one minute you will lose at least four boat lengths to a boat on the lifted tack. 

A compass gives you a quick reference for decisions in stressful moments, such as after starts and mark roundings. 

A compass helps you find marks, check the starting line, and sail the lifted tack.

Many sailors say that using a race compass is just one more excuse to keep your head in the boat. You should be looking around constantly, integrating all the data about sailing angles, wind strength, and competitors.

You can train yourself to recognize slight headers and store a mental picture of the average wind direction in your head and remember that when a permanent shift occurs, your previous compass data on average wind is useless. 

The verdict

Use a compass, but learn to use it as one input, and keep your head out of the boat.

The compass has helped even on small lakes or bays, as the lake or bay gets bigger, a compass becomes more important since there are fewer shore references to use as bearings.



Essential Habit Before Rounding a mark

Essential Before Rounding a Mark – Before you round any mark, it’s essential to visually locate the next mark. This is critical for your next-leg strategy. It will have a massive impact on how you approach each mark rounding.

The Weather Mark – Essential Before Rounding a Mark

As an example, at the weather mark, you must ask yourself whether you should round inside other boats so you can do a gybe set, or outside so you can do a bear away set. Having visually sighted the next mark prior to rounding will determine which approach you’ll use immediately after rounding.

The worst thing you can do tactically is round the mark and then search for the next mark. You lose any tactical advantage you may have had. In fact, you run the very real chance of being smoked by the boats behind you.

A classic mistake is not realizing that you can lay the next mark on one tack or gybe. Any distance you sail away from the proper course is time and distance wasted.

 If you go around the windward mark and do a bear-away set, for example, you will lose a lot of boats if you later realize that your competitors are gybe-setting and laying the next mark.

Locate the Next Mark – Essential Before Rounding a Mark

One team member must be given this specific responsibility every time you approach a mark. Their job is to locate the next mark while there is still time to plan your strategy for the next leg.

Once they have the mark in sight they must describe that mark’s location to the rest of the crew. They can do this by identifying a visual reference point or unique geographic feature behind the mark.

When sailing a set course, like a windward and return, you can calculate a compass bearing while still on the previous leg. Give the helmsperson a bearing to the next mark once rounded. This is especially important if they can’t see that mark.

 Follow these mark-rounding principles and when the fleet converges at a mark you will be able to avoid the chaos. 

Calling Puffs – Courtesy SailingWorld


When you see a puff approaching: First off, even if it’s not your job to call puffs, it’s always good practice to run through the motions in your head; it’ll help you stay sharp the next time puff calling is your job.

When you see a line of breeze rolling down the course, there are four important pieces of information. Mention the things about the approaching wind that will make a difference to your helmsman and trimmers.

  1. Is it a lifting or heading puff? If it approaches from 45 degrees or forward of your course, it’s a heading puff. From 45 to 60 degrees, it’s a median puff. From aft of 60degrees, it’s a lifting puff.
  • How much more wind is it? This helps the helmsman and trimmer know how much to adjust their trim for the new wind.
  • How long will it last? This tells the helmsman and trimmer how long they’ll sail with the new trim.
  • When will it hit? A countdown helps the helmsman and trimmer time adjustments they’re making.


  • Calling puffs downwind is just as, if not more important than spotting incoming breeze upwind. You have more flexibility to sail higher or lower to meet the approaching puff.
  • When calling puffs downwind, ask yourself the same questions as you would sailing upwind: (Lift or header? How much wind? How long will it last? When will it hit?).
  • Make sure to converse with your trimmer and/or driver beforehand. This will determine the language that will be most helpful for them.
  • You have to remember that while you are looking up the course, your fellow crew trimming the sails will likely be looking down the course, or up at the sails.
  • Saying “puff coming on the right” might be confusing – your right, my right, course right, downwind right?
  • A good general rule is to call the puffs where they fall over the shoulder of your forward-facing crew members. 

For example, say” puff over your right shoulder,” this makes it easy for trimmers or helmsmen to look back over their shoulder to see the incoming breeze and react accordingly.

Preparing For A Big Event

Preparing For A Big Event – It’s the time of the year when many classes and clubs have their State, National and World Championships. Quite often travel to events both locally and Internationally adds a layer of difficulty. Preparing a packing list is an important part of being ready to race.

In every case, preparation is one of the key ingredients to your chances of a great result. Champions succeed because of the preparation made well ahead of time.

Select and Train With The Right People – Preparing For A Big Event

Selecting and training with the right people as crewmates is the single most important factor as part of preparation. They must bring skills that you may not possess.  They must be ferocious competitors and have tactical and boat handling skills.

For those with the luxury of time before an event, there is no substitute for time on the water. This improves physical fitness and gives you a psychological edge based on being at one with each other and the boat.

There is nothing worse than turning up at an event feeling as though you are “underdone” and it would have been better to have trained as hard as the teams that you will be competing against.

In many cases, some competitors are afraid of the competition because of their preparation. They see their potential results being poor accordingly, as is often said, “where you aim is where you end up”

One Design Racing – Preparing For A Big Event

In one-design racing, you will be pushing your boat to its limits. All the checks and tests you do with your gear prior to turning up to an event give you the confidence to reef on the extra inch of side stay tension or other control knowing that everything can take the loads.

I have seen many teams turn up at an important event only to spend the first couple of days working on their boats. The better-prepared teams are out sailing, getting used to the local conditions.

They are lining up against rivals, tweaking their boat and generally getting their head in the game. When the first gun fires they are as good as they can be.

Fitness counts for more than most sailors realise. A current world champion once told me that his fitness was his main “secret weapon”. He would be hiking just as hard on the last windward work as he was on the first.

He also went on to say that his less fit rivals would be sitting up, no longer able to swing hard. The result of this was that he would be faster.

Great preparation guarantees you will be more relaxed, ensures a good result and as a bonus makes the regatta fun.




Fine Tune Your Steering – Steering well is an art, and particularly steering well across a wide range of conditions is something that only the best have mastered through countless hours on the water.

Steering Position – Fine Tune Your Steering

It’s important to have a steering position where you can see as much of the sails as possible and when sailing upwind you need to have your head as far outboard and forward as you can while still being able to steer comfortably.

You need to view the luff of the jib upwind and the edge of the spinnaker downwind.

In light airs, the telltales should be your primary focus and it’s imperative to keep them flowing constantly, wind shear (the wind twisting or changing direction vertically) is common in lighter airs and the telltales can behave quite differently as they go up the sail. This is where twist becomes very important so that the telltales all break at the same time for the full length of the sail.

As the wind builds and the boat is moving through the water more easily, we can begin to work more on height and VMG  toward the mark. The helmsman can now afford to let the windward telltales lift a little.

In heavier conditions, the helmsman must concentrate on the angle of heel, the flatter the boat the better, and easing the mainsail, lowering the traveller or pulling on the backstay if fitted will depower the boat.

The important point for the helmsman is to keep the water flowing over the foils and not slow the boat by pinching. When a gust strikes many helmsmen feather the boat and then ease the mainsail when the right response is to ease the mainsail in anticipation of the gust, gain speed then trim back on once the gust has passed.

Steering Downwind – Fine Tune Your Steering

Downwind it’s the helmsman’s job to work with the trimmers to keep the spinnaker, whether Symmetrical or asymmetrical, operating at the optimum angle for the best VMG.

It’s common for inexperienced helmsmen to pull away when they see a collapsing spinnaker when in actual fact the sail has collapsed from lack of pressure.

The key to good helming is concentration and focusing on telltales, sail shape and angle of heel. One excellent drill practiced by many top-flight coaches is to get their sailors to either practice without the rudder fitted or to sail the boat with balance and sail trim alone.

What we as sailors need to be always aware of is the fact that excessive rudder movement acts as a brake. The more manoeuvres we can do with a minimum of rudder movement will ensure that the highest possible speed is maintained throughout tacks and gybes and on the course in general.


Strive To Be Lucky

Strive To Be Lucky – In memory of the great and eloquent Dr Walker who died on Monday aged 95.

Dr Stuart Walker

Luck, wrote longtime columnist Dr Stuart Walker (1923 – 2018), is fundamental, but a manageable element of every race.

When Paul Elvström raced with Aage Birch for the Dragon Gold Cup at Marstrand, Sweden, in 1958, he decided that Sergio Sorrentino, of Italy, was the fastest and that they were the next fastest.

The Cup would be won by whoever won the final race. On the final beat of that race, they alternately crossed each other.  “By pure luck,” according to Elvström, Sorrentino crossed the finish line ahead.

“When things go like that, and it is luck who would win, then we know that and we don’t have to be disappointed,”.  Elvström’s confidence, his trust in himself, his remembrance of all the times he had won, assured him that he should have won, that only luck could enable a competitor to beat him!

The attribution of an outcome to luck is a means of expressing an unwillingness, on the one hand, to assume responsibility for the success or on the other hand to take the blame for a mistake. But it is also a means of retaining power.

It’s not that I lost control and that you controlled me; it’s just that this time luck [a higher power, totally unrelated to me or you] usurped my usual control.

Strive To Be Lucky

We give lip service to the fun of participating in a story filled with surprises. Of accepting the role of luck in the outcome. Our actual purpose—disguised, deep down, hidden from view—is to control the entire game. To beat the hell out of our opponents. (Just don’t let anybody know.)

We do not actually believe in luck, but we know that it’s better to have luck on our side.

The confident feel lucky; they presume that things will go their way. And expecting the best, they assume that whatever has happened has happened for the best.

They rig the past to make themselves look good. After a mistake or failure, they proceed to get on with the race and the series without undue condemnation. Free of preoccupation with irrelevant matters, they are alert to what does matter.

Consider the luck involved in winning of the Olympic gold medal in the Dragon Class at Kiel, Germany, in 1972.

After the racing was over, John Cuneo, wishing to show his appreciation, invited the team meteorologist to come aboard. He wanted him to see how he had used the plastic overlays that the met man had provided.

But the met man was horrified to find that Cuneo had won the gold medal by overlaying his daily wind predictions on a deck-mounted chart, upside down!


Hailing for Mark Room is Not Required


Hailing for Mark Room is Not Required


Hailing for Mark Room is Not Required when one boat has rights at a mark.

Rule 18

Rule 18 (Mark-Room) begins to apply between two boats when the first one enters the zone at a mark.  The rule says the outside or clear astern boat must provide mark-room.

Note that rule 18 never requires an inside or clear ahead boat to make any kind of hail.

There are only two rules in the rulebook that require a hail: 1) Rule 61.1(a) when you must hail ‘Protest’ to another boat, and 2) rule 20  when a boat must hail if she needs room to tack at an obstruction.

Providing Mark Room

So a boat that is required to give mark-room must provide that room whether or not she hears a hail.

However, it can be helpful for the boat entitled to mark-room to make a hail to that effect.

Even though it is not required, a hail can remind the outside boat of her obligation to provide mark-room, and it can help avoid a messy situation where both boats think they may be entitled to mark-room.

Communication between competing boats is often helpful even when it’s not required, especially in tight situations such as mark roundings.

By proactively talking with nearby boats you can often clarify each boat’s rights and avoid risky situations.

Staying Out of Trouble at a Mark


staying out of trouble at a mark

This one’s a classic: Staying Out of Trouble at a Mark – If you’re the outside boat of a group approaching the leeward mark and blindly carry on with pace, you’ll sail extra distance in bad air, carry wide around the mark, and then exit in a terrible lane.

Slow Down: Staying Out of Trouble at a Mark

This is one of the rare times when it pays to slow down and let other boats move ahead.

To kill speed, take your ­spinnaker down early and steer a little extra distance. Say you are slightly advanced on the group.

They barely have room and slow down a lot by steering hard. Staying Out of Trouble, and swerving back and forth. Then swing wide to slow your boat and kill time.

Once you’ve slowed, let the pinwheel unfold. Watch as the boats swinging around the outside become pinned and stuck in bad air.

These boats had room on you, but because they are now pinned wide from the mark, they can no longer make a tight ­rounding and close you out.

When you can round the mark tightly without fouling those boats (because you don’t have room), sail toward the mark, ideally reaching a little bit before rounding so you have speed.

You will now be on the inside track going upwind, no doubt passing a boat or two. More importantly, you’re setting yourself up on the inside track for a nice beat.

One cautionary note: Staying Out of Trouble at a Mark

When slowing down and waiting for your opportunity to round inside, there might be boats coming up from behind with no room who want to speed into the gap you’re ­shooting for.

They might not slow down and wait their turn. Be sure to communicate to them that they have no rights. You will save yourself the drama of an ugly foul and big pileup.




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