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Make the Most of Your Practice »

November 16, 2010

This coming weekend will mark the beginning of the Melges 20 racing season as the M and M Racing Team heads to Key Biscayne, Fl for 3 days of boathandling, speed testing and practice races.  We will have 2 other teams to work with as Paul Reilly and his team on USA 414, and Kent Haeger and his squad will be in attendance to spar with.  Both teams will be great training partners and while we have a well laid out practice plan, the goal will be to keep things relaxed, and not let the competitive juices get in the way of our mission for the weekend.

Just like conducting a practice in any sport, it is important to put together a solid practice plan so you don’t end up taking a cruise around the harbor looking for Dolphins.  Whether you are training with a yourself, or as a group, it is important to identify the goals of the practice, and develop a set of drills that will allow you make improve by the end of your session. Having a well laid out practice plan will allow you to tick off the items that you want to work on and make the best use of what often is a limited window of time.  This will alos prevent you from staying on the water too long and burning out, or from coming in too early for a cold beverage!

There are hundreds of drills that can be done either on your own or with a group, and it is all a matter of what you like to do and what will help you improve the most.  Personally, I like to start out most practice sessions with some boathandling practice and slowly amping up the intensity as we go along.  2 staple drills that I like to do –  1). Setting up 2 leeward marks and simply doing figure 8s for a set amount of time in each direction.  This not only helps the driver get used to rounding leeward marks, but it also gets the crew warmed up and moving quickly across the boat.  2). Set up a small racecourse and complete a set amount of tacks, gybes and 360s on each leg.  If the boathandling becomes sloppy, than stop and restart, but if you can pull of 2 laps cleanly, that is the goal of this drill. Ideally, being able to take the same smoothness and demeanor of your boathandling from the practice, to the racecourse.

Sailing with a group can be very beneficial as you can use them as a gauge for your straight line speed.  A couple things to keep in mind when speed testing is to give yourself a good line up.  If the leeward boat is already bow out when you start your line-up, it will not take them long to pinch off the boat to whether, even if they have a faster set-up.  If you do get a good line up and find yourself get punched, slow down and line up again.  The goal of speed testing (unless you dont like the people you speed testing with) is not to hammer the boats around you and sail off into the horizon.  Yes, you want to sail as fast as possible, but if you find yourself getting punched, don’t be afraid to slow down, and line up again. Most line-ups usually last 1-2 minutes, and if you can hold your lane more often than not, you can have reasonably good confidence in your settings.

Ideally when speed testing, if you can have a boat that remains constant while the other boat changes up their settings, this will allow for a better understanding of what changes to the rig and sail profile are doing to the overall performance.  If one boat changes jib leads and mast rake, and the other boat changes shroud tension at the same time, it will be tough to draw any solid conclusions about what is working well for the given conditions.  On the Samba last year, we did 3 days of extensive speed testing with Red and we spent 20 minutes each being the “base” boat, while the other either changed rake, shroud tension or sail selection.  This was very effective to discovering what worked well in the given conditions.

Lastly, whether you are training on your own, or with a group, get together for a debrief.  Whether this happens at the dock immediately afterwards, or at a restaurant later that evening does not matter, but be sure to review the days’ sailing.  If working with a group, try to have open lines of communication. This does not mean you need to tell them every little secret you have on board, but talking about things like shroud tension, jib lead position, etc. will help the group improve at a faster rate, and ultimately help your performance.

Simply going out on the water can help, but developing a solid practice plan and what you would like to achieve from the practice beforehand will allow you to make better use of your time and accomplish more by the end of the session.  Chances are if you are taking the time to participate in a weekend of practice you are hungry to get better, so take it one step further and be prepared to hit the water ready to improve.

Stay tuned for notes from the weekend.

Know Your Mode »

July 5, 2010

Saturday afternoon on Lake Minnetonka served up some great conditions for E Scow club racing; SW, 20-25, 85-90 degree temps…It doesn’t get much better. We had 17 boats on the line for the start of the first race, and the finishing tally at the end of race 2 was 7.  Broken boats and masts and bruised egos for sure. But on top of the close racing and awesome downwind rides, there were some great lessons to be learned, one of which is to always know your “mode” and be able to adjust it.  This is kind of opening a can or worms, but I will give it a go…

By “mode”, I mean your relative angle and speed compared to the immediate boats around you on the race course.  I say immediate because the boats on the other side of the course may have much different breeze and their height and speed may be much different. Upwind, you can talk about your mode being “lower height, same speed”, “Higher, slower”, “lower, faster” etc.  Of course when you hear or observe that you are “higher and faster”, that is music to your ears. You can also use the same adjectives downwind to describe your mode, but how you adjust your mode upwind or downwind will be much different.  And mode adjustments will be different for each boat that you sail on.  Scows for example rely heavily on the vang and traveler to depower, and they are often the things that are adjusted first when you find yourself in a “lower, faster” mode. But to adjust your mode with confidence, you have to be comfortable with your base tune which can be found in almost any one-design tuning guide (I would recommend checking out the North Sails OD page for your specific boat as they have very good base tuning guides for almost any OD boat).  Adjusting your mode is kind of like hitting a fade or draw in golf…once you can hit it straight, than you can start expanding your arsenal.

Normal mode for an E Scow in breeze - main trav down to the rudder post, jib trav down a few inches, vang smoked, leeward shrouds just dancing, and main trimmed to the angle of heel.

The biggest factor in knowing your relative mode and being able to adjust it, is to have a designated person looking around and making observations with the boats nearest to you.  The area where this is most important is off the starting line and leeward marks where maintaining your lane is critical.  On Saturday, we rounded close behind current E Scow National and ILYA Champ Tom Burton and wanted to stay on that tack since it was lifted 10-15 degrees.  We decided to go traveler up, softer vang and a little tighter trim on both the main and jib.  After a minute, we were able to gain a boat length to whether while maintaining our fore and aft position…all good.  As we made our way up the course however, we were much to slow to convert back into our normal mode once we had a safe lane and we found ourselves now sailing higher and slower which allowed the M-9 to gain a few boatlengths overall.

Looking back on the situation, our mode changes were not the problem as the boat was tuned very well for the conditions and we could do with it what we needed.  The problem was our communication and not making things happen fast enough.  We needed to be more observant when we went from “higher, same speed” to “higher, slower”.   We did not do a good job of continuing to identify our mode and therefore we could not make the adjustments quick enough.  Knowing your mode is the first part of the battle, and knowing how to adjust it is the next challenge. Here is a cliff notes version on what to do in what mode assuming you have a good base tune:

Keep in mind the below suggestions can be used independently or together depending on the conditions and the type of boat you are sailing.

Bad Modes – Alarms should be sounding…

Lower, Same Speed – Most likely need to power up and try trimming harder. Could be ok in a tactical situation if you are finding yourself getting rolled.

Lower, Slower – Consult your tuning guide

Average Modes

Higher, Slower – Most likely need to depower and convert some of your height into speed.  More controls like vang, cunningham and backstay and easing the traveler. Easing the sheets slightly and putting the bow down as well.  Could be good tactically if you are trying to maintain a lane with the boat to leeward.

Lower, Faster – Need to convert some of your speed into height and power up – Less vang, backstay, cunningham.  Trav up, slightly tighter trim. Could be ok tactically if you are struggling with the boat to whether.

Same height, Same speed – Some days this is a challenge, so take it when you get it.

Good Modes – Take note of your settings, write them down and repeat –

Higher, Faster

Higher, Same speed.

Again, recognizing your mode and adjusting it accordingly can be huge for the little battles you find yourself in during the course of a race.  If sailing a slightly higher and slower mode allows you to live in a lane for another 30 seconds and get to a new lane of breeze, than you have pulled off a very difficult manuver.

Constant Angle of Heel »

February 20, 2010

Here is a link of the World Champion UKA UKA Melges 24 team sailing in 20-25 kts. While it is cool to simply watch a Melges 24 do its thing if 25 kts, if you a look a bit closer at the technique of the driver, you can pick up a few good nuggets on how to keep a boat on its feet and flat going upwind. Anthony Kotoun pointed this link out to me and provided his own take… Read more »