Tony Bull's Top 10 Sailing Tips

Published Mon 16 Nov 2020

1.  Have fun! That’s the reason we go sailing. Crew harmony is most important. Work towards having a balanced and race ready crew. Do some practising and if you’re time poor, do it on the water before the race commences. Set up a little email group and discuss how the day’s sailing went. If you do have an issue on the water, have a chat and sort out a possible solution and leave it there. The blame game at the bar post-race is a sure sign of a fractious crew! 

2.  Be ready to race. All your gear should operate correctly. Generally speaking, if it’s meant to move, then it should and easily, if it’s not meant to move then it shouldn’t! Your sails should be reliable and your hull should be clean and smooth. The best sails, crew-work and tactics won’t mean a thing if you are sailing around with a hull that features its own eco system! Working bees and regular maintenance are essential. Know your rules! The rule book is a bit daunting by its size, but it holds a lot of stuff which is not relevant to our afternoon or evening racing. We really only need to know rules 10-20. Six pages to familiarise yourself with to avoid collisions and know your rights, everything else we can deal with ashore after the race. 

3.  Boat speed. You need to have your boat going as well as you can. It is impossible to perform on a slow boat, so class and OD sailors you need to be on the pace! For mixed feet racing work on the things that make your boat go well and don’t just concentrate on your strengths. Going a little bit better in your weakest conditions over time have a huge impact on your regatta or season results. Remember a little extra boat-speed can make you a tactical genius.

4.  Good start. Getting away to a good start means you have greatly enhanced your chances of success for that race. If you get a really bad start, your race isn’t over but you have made it harder to get a good result. Remember a good start is not having the best start (although they are fun pursuing) but it is being relatively close to the line and being able to go where you want to go. It means being be proactive in placing our boat against being reactive to other boats when we will be losing ground in the feet.

5.  Clear air. If you are sailing in another boat’s bad air, then every boat that is in clear air is gaining on you. Sometimes we are at a disadvantage as boats position themselves and then you have to make a decision. Do I hang in here? Would I be better tacking away? Really the only time you should be consciously sailing in bad air is on a huge advantageous wind shift. Then sometimes the amount being gained on the rest of the feet is more benefcial than losing a bit of ground to the boats covering you.

6.  Developing different modes. We all know (or should know) our best angle to sail in most conditions. But sometimes we have to slightly change this for tactical or geographic considerations. We might want to sail a bit lower and faster to get to the favoured side of the course or escape the tide. Other times we might need to sail a bit higher and slower, laying a mark or someone under our bow pushing us up and we aren’t ready to tack or gybe away (or can’t due the proximity of another boat or obstruction). So, we need to practise these modes - we can only race as well as we train (there are few junior sailors sick of that phrase) so that is our default setting. If we try things for the frst time in a race, it won’t go well.

7.  Plan your race, have a pre-race plan. What side of the course do I want? Are there indicators on the racecourse? How is the wind behaving? Better to have the wrong plan than no plan as it is easier to work out where we went wrong. Uncertain? I will sail up the middle until I see a trend - that is still a plan and often a good one!

8.  As you learn to sail your boat better, catalogue what you have learnt and write it down. We have some great sailors in this club who will tell you their settings which are numbered and catalogued for different conditions. Put marks and reference points on your moveable parts even for referral from tack to tack.

9.  Concentrate on your task on the boat and don’t try to do everyone else’s. If you steer, then steer. Don’t get distracted by the others and start telling them their job unless it is of paramount importance because it will distract you from doing yours. If you are on the bow, don’t tell the helm he / she is too low, remember crew harmony. The helm should be the quietest person on the boat with lots of little soft conversations going on between relevant crew roles to keep speed up and being prepared for upcoming manoeuvres.

10.  Plan ahead for mark roundings. Have a chat about the manoeuvre and make sure you all know your roles. What side is the spinnaker coming down? Who’s dropping the jib and so on. Sometimes things change quickly and that bear-away set is now a gybe set or that headsail you dragged on deck now has to go back down. Don’t get exasperated, just rectify things as soon as you can. The decision has been made that something is to change and the new alteration will be more benefcial to the boat’s position despite the obvious time lost.


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