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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.

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