Technical Articles
By Magnus Liljedahl
Apr 16, 2003, 14:47

I always loved sailboat racing. There is nothing that I would rather do. To line up on the starting line and then play the game is what it is all about.

To succeed, you must stick with the sport for a long time. There is always another race, so don't get down on yourself when things turn against you.

The ultimate reward is the one we can all gain if we play "fair and square"; it is the friendship and respect earned from people, around the world. I wouldn't trade any of them, for any victory, that I have been fortunate enough to achieve.

Remember, it is only a game.

The following is a brief instruction on how you can improve your skills and get the most out of your race.

Our sport is filled with exceptions and variables. Not only that, there are many different techniques that can lead to the same success. It would take a book to try to cover them all. Here, I have tried to give you the basic scenarios. (There is a lot more to it, but, at least I gave it a try.)

Preparing for a season
As always in life, it starts with a vision, a dream and the setting of goals to achieve. Since the weight rule is in effect, a good place to start is, how much do you need to weigh and by when do you need to weight this amount?

Physical training is a basic for any athlete, and the Star crew no exception. Even though the best training you can do is to sail the boat, spending countless hours hiking and tacking; it is practically impossible for two people to connect and spend the required time working out exclusively on the water. This is when cross-training comes into play. I was always keen on going to the gym and lifting weights, but the last few years I have also included other forms of cross training. Power walking, biking, rowing and kayaking are some of my favorite alternative exercises.Massive abdominal work and stretching is a daily routine, even though the abdominal muscles should get some rest every 4th day.

Make sure that you work out your entire body and not just a few muscle groups. Your body is similar to a chain-- it is important that all links are equally strong. Your lifting routine should be sport specific and therefore different from the everyday "musclehead" you meet in most gyms.

I recommend that you find a personal certified trainer, who will help you set up a program and assist you with the work-outs. It makes a world of difference. If you can't find or afford a personal trainer, working out with a partner is the next best thing. You will get so much more accomplished with someone there to spot for you.

Your food intake is as important as your workouts. Your trainer should be able to help you in this area too.

For example, my trainer helped me realize how important it is to have at least five meals per day. If you need to gain weight, you make those meals bigger, (smaller if your goal is to lose pounds.) Even if you don't need the extra weight, the multiple meals will help your digestive system to supply your body with the essentials it needs to become stronger and faster. You and your skipper should have a set target weight and your job is to meet that weight at the time of weigh-in and during the event.

To succeed, at least in the long run, it is important that you are open to input from many sources. Usually, your best source of input is your skipper. While this may not apply at all times, at least in my case, it is how I have learned most skills during the nineties.

Don't take it personally when you are told to do something. This is where most crews fail, on and off the water. It holds true in other areas of life as well. I have made this mistake many times, and it is only during the last few years that I have isolated the problem and realized that it is for the best of the team that the crew sometimes get an earful. There will also be times when you may not deserve it, but in the heat of the moment, it will happen. Remember, do not take it personally, no matter what!

Getting down to the boat:
This is actually when the race starts for you. It is time to focus and concentrate, at least for the more important events.

Don't be late and make your skipper wait for you. He has enough problems to deal with, and you are the one who is supposed to be helping him. No matter your skill level, you have no excuse for being late.

Have your clothing worked out in advance. Make sure you will stay comfortable in all conditions. It is your responsibility to ensure your gear weighs in; it cannot weigh more than 10 kg.

While I have never been the best boatworker, and some things are best left to the skipper, a crew can always make sure that the tanks are empty of water, that the backstay has the proper markings and that there is drinking fluid on-board. Also, check your hiking straps and customize them if needed. How about adding a little Teflon polish where you sit? It makes sliding in and out easier. Learn your digital compass to perfection. If you don't have one on the boat, ask your skipper to get one. It is a must! Stay with your boat so your skipper does not have to search for you before the race begins. Again, your job is to help him do well in the race, and he may need you for a last minute change.

Going sailing:
Hoisting the sails in heavy air can be a very difficult task, but if you follow these steps, it will make it much easier. The sails are expensive and not only that, you need to have them fresh for the race. Flapping them in the breeze is not an option.

The jib should be hoisted first in most circumstances.

Facing forward, with the jib (rolled up) between your legs, hook up the tack, then turn around and hook up the sheets. If it is windy, you will need to have your skipper help you from this point on, but if it is under 12 knots you can hoist it yourself.

With one foot on each side of the jib and the head in your hand, you stand up, facing forward. In heavier air I lean, heavily, with my back on the mast and allowing it to support me from falling.

Hook up the halyard and then (still with the jib between your legs and feet) move forward and zip up the luff as far down as you can.

Hoist the jib some and then continue zipping it up. If it is windy, your skipper will have to help you. As you lean up against the mast, hand the head back to him so that he can hook it up and start hoisting while you are holding on to the forestay, standing up, zipping the luff..

Once it is 3/5th of the way up, you must move your leeward leg, allowing the Jib to fly freely. Your skipper can now move back in the boat while holding the halyard. It is your job to get back to the mast and lock it in.

If the luff is not zipped up all the way, get back up to the bow and do so.

While hoisting the main in windy conditions, I like to be on my knees in front of the mast, facing aft. Help un-roll the sail, while keeping the luff tightly together one the leeward side of the boom. It is very important that you keep the luff together thus preventing it from falling in the water. Unless you are still tied up to the dock, keep in mind that your jib is up and the boat is moving. Losing the luff in to the water is not a good thing and it could easily ruin your day. If it is very windy, I would remain on my knees, with one knee holding in the luff. If the conditions are moderate, I would stand up and hoist, still holding in the luff with my foot. It's nice when it locks on the first pull when you get to the top, then feed the luff in at the tack.

Now your sails are up, the Cunningham is on, your lines are organized and your clothing and harness is on (I suggest that you get dressed before hoisting the sails. Don't make the skipper wait for you to do so. You may lose valuable time to check out the wind and the racecourse).

To avoid kinks in the jib sheet, I frequently undo one end and throw it in the water so it will straighten out. Don't coil it back up. Simply pull it back in to the boat in a pile. If you coil it, chances for another kink to develop increase. I usually gather the jib sheet on the port side, under the deck. I do the same with the back stay line, except, I put it under the starboard side. In windy and wavy conditions, where you get a lot of waves rolling in to the boat, the ropes have a tendency to float aft and they end up around the Barney post. To prevent this, simply keep kicking the ropes forward

Final preparations:
Calibrate the compass to the heading given on the committee boat. Adjust the tacking angle if needed. It should be somewhere between 63-73 degrees. I usually read the high and low indicator on our compass while my skipper reads the actual course we are steering. It is very helpful for the crew to be aware if you are on a header or a lift. If you pay attention the next tack won't be a surprise. Having the compass calibrated also helps you on the run.

Try to find the weather mark before the start. This will be your job all day, so the sooner you find it, the better off you are.

Now, look for the breeze and don't block the compass as your skipper tries to find the favored end of the line. Keep the bailers open if needed but let's not forget to close the bottom ones before the start. Some of the new boats don't have the side bailers any more but I'm referring to the most common set up with side and bottom bailers.

Keep an eye on the committee boat and be prepared for the sound signal.

An added benefit with the digital compass is the timer function. Even though, the display is visible for the skipper, I still count it down.

Inform your skipper where other "hot teams" are on the line and help him keep clear of other boats.

On the final approach to the line, I make sure that the weather jibsheet is pulled in. The same applies to the leeward back-stay. You may have to tack right away so you got to be prepared. Keep the bulk of the jib sheet to one side under the deck and the backstay on the other side, under the deck (I don't believe in storage bags). If it is real windy, keep kicking the sheet and the backstay line, up underneath the deck, or else it will float back to the bamey post area and may cause a tangle.

I try to help my skipper by looking behind us and up the line, informing him about approaching boats and also if I can see the committee boat. Chances are that if we can't see them, they can't see us.

By the time the gun goes off, your boat-speed should be full throttle. If the conditions permit, you should both be fully hiked. This is a good time to try straightening your legs for as long as you can endure the pain.

First beat:
Feed information back to your skipper thru out the race. Let him know what you see, especially after the start. Let him knoww iff there is an opportunity to tack, if he should put it in a "point mode" or "foot" and avoid being run over. Talk to him about where other boats are going. Who passes behind your transom? Did the boat that just crossed us on port clear the boats to windward? Keep feeding the information. My skipper usually knows before I tell him, but I keep talking to him as much as I can. It doesn't hurt. Some information needs to be edited in order not to distract the skipper, but that usually works itself out, as the two of you become a team.

Keep looking for that mark. You must find it. Not only do you need to find the weather mark, you also need to locate the leeward gates. If you know where they are before you get around the weather mark, it will be a great help to your team. Keep looking back. You will find it.

As you approach the weather mark, your job is now to find the offset mark. Is it up or down from the weather mark? Are we going to reach to it or is it going to be tight? Are we lifted going in to the mark or are we headed? This information will help in deciding which gybe will be favored on the run.

Offset leg:
Make sure that your skipper got the vang tight before the rounding. This will help maintain an optimum sail-shape as you get around the mark.

While on the offset leg, I start looking for the breeze. Depending on the conditions for the day, I will keep looking all the way down to the leeward gate.

Adjust your trim according to the apparent wind. Usually, you need to drop the jib leads out-board and sometimes you need to start bringing the mast forward, but it all depends on the angle.

The run:
Once around the offset mark I usually let the mast forward first of all. If we do a gybe-set, we may gybe first but the standard rounding would be mast forward, pole up, jib up, get forward in the boat and never ever cause a leeward heel. Stay on the weather side of the boat at all times (yes there are exceptions, but not many).

Look at the boats that are still sailing upwind and approaching the mark (hopefully, there are some boats behind). Can you detect either of them being lifted and or in a puff? Let's say that you are running on a starboard gybe and when you look back, you see a group of boats, lifted on starboard tack and also in more breeze. This may indicate that you should gybe right away.

A basic technique is to have your skipper put the boat in the direction of the next mark. You would want to stay on the gybe were the main wants to be.

Mark and I developed the standing-up technique during most of the 2000 season. I actually got the idea from looking at Ross MacDonald and Kai Bjorn at the Worlds in 1999, but I was reluctant to try it at that regatta. As we practiced in Miami, after the Commodores Cup that year, I ran up on fore deck right away, as we got around a mark. We felt fast and I've continued to do that ever since, given the proper conditions.

The advantages with this technique are:

You can achieve a weather heel much easier and because of it, you get less wetted surface;

the crew will get a near perfect 360-degree view and will be able to see both the breeze and the competition much easier;

the crew can easily hike the boat to weather and help steer the boat too;

the skipper gets a better view of the water in front of the boat and therefore can avoid steering into weeds and other objects (This is particularly helpful in places like Miami, where sometimes avoiding weeds is the difference between winning and losing.);

and, it allows the crew to move for and aft much quicker.

To be successful, you need to:
know where the next mark is;
get out of the wakes from boats ahead of you;
drop the mast forward sooner rather then later;
adjust your sail trim;
pull the vang very tight;
hike as hard as you can.

Other than balancing the boat and finding the next mark, the most important task for the crew, while sailing down wind, is to keep your air clean. Obviously, if your boat has a masthead fly, you will find your apparent wind easily. The problem is--so will your competition.

During the past year, we have substituted the masthead fly with yarn on the shrouds and, sometimes the intermediates. We always carry two pieces (about 6" long) below the spreaders.

As you approach the leeward mark, you have to be lightning quick, with the takedown and putting the boat back in the upwind mode. It is always helpful to talk about your next upwind leg strategy while you are on the run. Ask your skipper what his plan is, or better yet, tell him what you see and make suggestions.

If you know that you will stay on the same tack for a while, after the rounding, you may put less emphasis on making the boat tack ready and perhaps make a later takedown. If you plan on tacking right away, obviously your leeward backstay needs to be tight and the slack taken out of the weather jib sheet.

Our standard rounding would be:
Cunning ham on slightly
Slug down
Out haul on
Jib down
Mast aft (pull back stay - ram off)
Pole down
Trim your sheet and take up as much slack as you can in the weather jib sheet and leeward backstay
Balance the boat as needed.

Critical here is that your skipper trims in the weather jib sheet for you. He will not be able to get it all the way, but the more the merrier.

Pay attention to any course change as you get around the mark. Be observant as always.

This is my favorite leg of the racecourse. Unfortunately, even though recommended in the Star Log, it doesn't get used as much as it should. To be fast on the reach spells hard work. The masters of these legs are Torben Grael and Marcelo Feirerra. By watching them, you soon realize that it is not only hard work, but also a lot of technique is required.

A good skipper will keep the boat moving all the way. Keep telling him to head up in the lows and, very important, bear off in the puffs. No crew could straight leg hike the entire distance. Similar to a wrestling match, you need to put your system in a recovery mode now and then, in order to go the distance.

An added benefit by bearing off in the puff, or on the top of a wave, is that it gives your team that opportunity.

Once you gybe on to the next reach, you have got to know where the bottom mark is. Keep looking for the puffs. Again, head up in the lows and leave yourselves with plenty of space to leeward, so that when the next puff hits, you have room to bear off and make gigantic gains.

Next lap:
Now, the upwind game starts all over again. Keep reporting where the competition is headed and start looking for the next mark. Whatever your position might be, do not give up! Think of it as a basketball game, where you may end up winning at the buzzer.

Once you cross the finish line, you may rest.

See you on the race course!

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