What’s the Secret to Winning Races?

Let’s face it. Sailors like winning. It’s more fun to be on the boat that finishes first. It can be easy to win races in our local yacht club, especially if you’re racing PHRF or against people who are new to sailing. But if you want to start moving up the ranks in a one design class–whether it’s a Melges 24, an iQFoil, or a J30, you need to get serious about building your skills.

As North U’s Bill Gladstone said, “There’s really no magic. There’s no secret. The champions are just doing the fundamentals really well, all the time.”

The Sailing Skills Pyramid

Bill uses the metaphor of a pyramid to illustrate what it takes to make performance gains. If you are committed to building the skills you need to start winning races, you need to focus first on building a strong foundation of boat handling. Once boat handling is second nature, then you can focus on boat speed. Once you have everything within your boat totally dialed in, then you have the freedom to focus on your tactics.  

As Bill points out, “Often people think they have tactical problems, and it’s really the base of their pyramid crumbling out from underneath their tactics. They have a good plan or a good play, but they can’t execute.”

What does it take to build a solid foundation for your sailing skills pyramid? Practice.

3 Tips to Practice Better

Not all practice sessions are the same, though. If you have your eye on a podium finish, you need conscious, consistent practice. Practice that has a clear goal. Practice that improves team communication and flow. Practice that gives you the space to make the fundamentals second nature.

Here are three tips to help you practice better:

  1. Give yourself dedicated practice sessions. If you want smooth, accelerating tacks, consistently clean hoists, and coordinated, efficient gybes, your crew needs the time and the space to work the kinks out of your maneuvers. Then give yourself 30 minutes of warmup time before each race to run through maneuvers, get focused on the race ahead and make sure there are no rigging surprises.
  2. Set a clear goal for each session on the water. Whether it’s a dedicated practice session or a race, you need to know what you’re working on that day. Set a clear goal for yourselves before you go out on the water. A clear goal helps you be more conscious about your progress and feel more confident at the end of the day.
  3. Record and debrief. Debriefs are essential to making progress and improving team communication. To set debriefs up for success, record trainings and races (when allowed) with a GoPro 7 or higher, and upload the footage through the Kinetix AI software. The Kinetix AI software will allow you to focus on the most important moments of the day. Watch the footage together as a team when you get back on land, or each member of the team can watch the videos on their own time, tag the moments they want to review as a team. Give yourselves a 30-minute meeting to discuss what you observed in the footage and identify 3 things to work on in your next practice session.

Learn from the Pros

Watch the full interview with Bill to learn what insights he’s gained from coaching thousands of sailors and how you can use these lessons to work up the sailing skills pyramid yourself.

Want to build a stronger sailing skills foundation? Schedule an appointment to learn more about Kinetix AI.