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The Little Details That Add Up to Big Differences in Speed

By Clemmie Everett

Coaches CornerWhen coaching, I sometimes make suggestions that my sailors listen to but don’t seem to internalize. Often these are seemingly small adjustments on their rigging or boathandling, and I’m pretty sure that the thought running though their heads is something along the lines of, “Sure, Coach, but is that really going to make a difference?”

Paying attention to such details as making your sails are fully hoisted, keeping skipper and crew weight together, minimizing rudder movement – and bailing diligently! – will make your boat go faster.   © Cate Brown Photography

True, a single small adjustments may not make the difference between first place and tenth, but a lot of these adjustments together, especially over the course of a long series (like a high school regatta or a frostbite season), will add up to a noticeable difference.

Let’s start with rigging. Make sure that your mainsail is all the way up. To get the head of the sail to the very top of the mast, use a stopper knot and a hitch on the sail instead of a bowline. Every inch (or fraction thereof) slows you down. Similarly, make sure that your jib tension is set appropriately, and check both of these when you rotate into a new boat.

Keep your boat dry. A gallon of water weighs about eight pounds. Picture pouring a gallon of water in your boat…barely noticeable, right? So, by the time you have a half-inch or so of water sloshing around, how many extra pounds are you carrying around the course? In breeze, that’s extra weight that you’re hiking against, and in light/medium air that’s an advantage you’re giving your opponents. A college teammate used to put it in terms a tradeoff between eating an extra brownie after dinner or being sloppy with bailing. That’s an easy decision! No, bailing isn’t fun or exciting, so skippers, this is one more of the multitude of reasons to be kind and appreciative to your crew! Along the same lines, be sure to drain your tanks before heading out on the water.

On the water, be cognizant of your weight placement. Skipper and crew should try to keep their weight together and usually need to sit forward – ideally your center of gravity should be aligned with the boat’s center of effort, also known as the centerboard. In a Club 420 in light/medium air, this means a skipper needs to move at least one of his/her feet forward of the traveler bar. As crews can tell you, being comfortable is rarely fast. As you slide in/out and make small adjustments with your weight on the tank, think about keeping your shoulders outboard of your rear end. Hunching your shoulders forward may seem more natural, but that limits your field of vision and ability to react to the next puff or lull. Instead, engage your core and slide your behind a few inches in or out (no problem since crunches and planks are part of your regular fitness routine, right?).

Every time you move your rudder you create a lot of drag, so try to supplement your steering with weight and sail adjustments. When you want to head up a bit – for instance, into a roll tack – heel to leeward and trim your main a touch. When you want to bear off – such as around a windward mark – hike extra hard, keep your jib trimmed in, and ease your main.

Two sails are better than one sail, so make sure both are working for you as effectively as possible. Upwind, crews should have both jib sheets so in the case of a crash tack, you’re ready to trim in immediately on the new tack. Downwind, it’s easy to let the jib out and relax a bit, but be sure to hold it out to maximize the angle, keeping an eye up the trailing edge to ensure that the top isn’t luffing. Also, communicate with your skipper about pressure in the jib. If it seems light, the skipper needs to head up or look to wing. If it seems solid, you can probably soak down a touch. Skippers, keep an eye on your top batten – if it’s inverted, pull on some vang momentarily and fix it. On the run, get your centerboard up almost all the way, though you’ll need to put it down for unwings and jibes. Yes, this seems like a lot of adjustments, but each one makes a difference!

As you’re sailing around the course, be sure not to sail extra distance. Think carefully about laylines. If you overstand, you’ll sail extra distance, and if you get a lift when you’re on the layline, think carefully before you “put it in the bank” and sail above the layline. Often, the most efficient course is to crack off and point right at the mark. If you are then headed below the layline, you can always tack onto the new lifted tack instead of being stuck on the headed tack. Similarly, a boat that finds itself on the outside of a pinwheel at the leeward mark sails a significant amount of extra distance and finds itself in a bad lane going upwind. If you anticipate being outside, slow your boat down and round behind yet inside, and you’ll soon find yourself passing competitors. Finally, as you approach the finish line, determine which end is favored and work to finish there.

Attention to detail can make a big difference! Good luck and sail fast!

Clemmie Everett is the Head Varsity Sailing Coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, NY. She and teammates Alix Hahn, Carolyn Russell and Erin Sprague won the 2016 International Women’s Keelboat Championship, which was hosted by American Yacht Club in Rye.


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