Practice Notes 10-8-2019

Today we did practice starts, first upwind beats, then DW in SNO to a leeward gate, finish upwind.

Conditions: NE Wind 5-14 knots, with fairly consistent oscillations around 20-30 degrees at the most. Today the wind had a middle, and it simply went back and forth on either side of it. The race course was set mostly, in fact very closely, in the median of this oscillation, and in different drills, boats won on the right and left side, however the course geometry gave more open water to the middle/left. Mostly normal flat water, with some chop around turning marks, and an occasional motor boat wake, mostly ineffectual.

This condition report is actually very important. You need to discuss with your crew/skipper what the conditions are, as they should/better inform your tactics. The windier it is, the quicker you need to make tactical decisions, the more crisp you need to be, and the less you can sit around and wait for things to happen.



  • Line today was plenty long for the number of boats…. find a space. Start where others are not. If you were in a tight pack today, you might have been in the wrong spot.
  • Best teams accelerated the best, and had by far the most consistent and best timing. Timing/distance is a critical skill that you cannot practice enough. Every single start is different, so approach each one as a new opportunity
  • My tactical thoughts: I don’t think you needed to “win” the favored end today, and with the exception of one really pin-favored start (which Mariner/Ryan won cleanly) the line was, I think, mostly fair across the board, In fact, a few over early boats today did just fine on the first beat, as an over early start almost always gives you a clear lane on port tack, which then gives you a chance to play the race course.
  • Winning a slightly favored end on a long line, in an oscillating breeze, can actually be a disadvantage, as unless you can tack and cross everyone to weather and behind you, you must wait for them, and in that you can miss shifts. Let’s say the breeze is left, and you win the pin. That’s great, but you darn well better be able to tack, or you will miss the next right-shift that you KNOW is coming. Boat 2 today had a fairly conservative and wise system of staying out of the edge of the line; they never “won” a start, but most of the time they had an opportunity to tack if they wanted to.
  • Please press eject early, bail out, and duck and go when you’re flushed at the start. The worst thing you can to is hold on to your bad air lane for long enough for another boat ahead of you that’s flushed to tack, forcing you to tack into yet another bad lane. This happens a LOT to poor performers.

Mark Roundings

  • We need lots of work here. Many mark roundings put you at least 3/4 of a boatlength to leeward after your rounding. Many were slow. Lots of sail-trim errors. We will go over mark roundings this week


  • Again, you absolutely must consider conditions when you consider your tactics. If the wind is up, especially downwind, most of the time everyone will be going right at the marks at about the same speed. So, it becomes fundamentally critical for you, on a shorter downwind leg to boot, to claim your edge at the latest 50% down the leg, and fight for your side. In more wind everything happens much more quickly; you must appreciate this and have it inform your decisions.
  • Today as Mariner/Ryan said, there was benefit to be patient, and retain the ability to switch sides and/or gybe, but I would divide the dw leg into 3rds or 1/2s, and by the 1/2 way mark, then make a VERY concerted effort to win an edge, so you have clear air when you round. This is worth its weight in gold, and why winners around a leeward gate often stretch their lead. So, first part of the DW, sail fast in a very narrow lane but leave options open, then, make a choice and win your edge, where you are in the fleet.
  • For God’s sake, on the final 1/3 of the beat, BE ON THE Headed fast gybe, be wing on or off, whatever is appropriate. I saw today embarrassingly too many boats sailing by the lee, jib doing nothing, so that they wouldn’t have to do an extra boat handling maneuver…just waiting to get to the mark, and going slower than they could have been. This will stop. You better be willing to gybe aggressively toward the end of the run, and even in the zone to fight for your spot. As a former Laser sailor I know this well. It’s very easy and tempting just to run out the clock on the downwind leg without doing an extra boat handling maneuver, which takes away the risk of a bad gybe, or the mainsheet catching on the transom corner.  I’ve done it myself…. just eased out the mainsheet far too much to be fast just to get the leg over with. Problem is, other sailors who work harder will make the extra move, gain, and come out ahead. Boat handling around turning marks is a fundamental separator between mid-fleet teams and better ones.
  • If you look at the photos down below of leech profiles, there are some differences. What is fast? Ask, experiment, and always be ready to change your vang tension. Too much vang downwind can create a very narrow steering groove and be slow. Too little in bigger wind is simply slow.
  • Crews must work to make the jib 100% fast 100% of the time downwind. Learn/ask about downwind jib trim and make yours faster.


  • Some good sailing upwind today overall… boats trying to find clear air and lanes in a challenging upwind course.
  • Avoid getting trapped in a windsprint. These can be devastating to your ability to make your own calls. This is hard to avoid on the first part of the first beat, but should be a conscious thought you have.
  • More wind requires far quicker decision-making, more active, athletic, aggressive tactics, and a killer instinct to make a move. Being passive in more wind sends you to corners quicker. In very big wind however, lots of tacks are slow…. so make sure you really understand the race course geometry and the conditions you’re sailing in.
  • Ducking is often a good thing, as it can free you of a pack, but make sure your duck brings you to more pressure.
  • some over-thinking… and teams seemingly over-estimating the size of the course. Link puffs, lead fleets on the edge back to the middle, be conservative when necessary to avoid losing many boats. You don’t have to win the upwind, but you have to minimize potential for getting hung out in a big lull or skating too far to a side too early to not allow yourself to play the game. Take what you have where you are. Most college/hs events feature a lot of races with no throwouts ever. Minimize your risk and let others make bigger mistakes. Better to stay with your pack, stay somewhat near the leaders, than take too many leverage risks in a venue, course, and conditions that allowed for potential gains in most places.

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