Friday, December 9, 2016


On November 24-26 I had the privilege to coach a great group of sailors at at the USODA Midwinter Championship, hosted by Southern YC. Peter Barnard, Annie Samis, Christian Pendergast represented Chicago YC and our team was joined by Charlie Allen from Pewaukee YC. 

Chicago YC was led by Peter Barnard who finished 73rd out of 265 boats and received an invite to represent  the U.S.A. at the 2017 Lake Garda Optimist Meeting in Riva del Garda, Italy. Way to go Peter!!

Peter Barnard sailing out to the race course

We had two practice days prior to the event with great medium air conditions. We focused on boat speed, sail trim and starts. 

The regatta started on Thanksgiving day, 5 races total were sailed over the 3 day event. The course was a USODA trapezoid.

On the first day no races were sailed and heavy fog kept the visibility low. We had to keep sailors close because you literally couldn't see more than 50 yards in any direction. This day was a good test for us to recognize areas we needed improvement specifically patience with wind delays and improving on rigging.The kids needed to exercise more careful attention to tying their sail ties. Being a USODA regatta the top 10 finishers had to have their sail ties checked as well as safety equipment after each race to make sure they were legal. If one of your sail ties fall off or stretches too much you get a penalty. 

Fog day 1 

The second day the sailors arrived eager and ready to sail. With dying breeze throughout the day, the race committee was only able to get one race off. This one race however was a very good race for Annie and Charlie, who both managed to get clear air by sailing to the right edge of the course.  unfortunately lack of breeze led to multiple abandonments, leaving the fleet frustrated after only one race.

Towing the team in after first race on day 2

The final day of the regatta we managed to get 4 races off, which meant one throw out. The conditions on the last day started choppy, and breezy with north winds at 10 knots. As the day went on, the breeze swung left and died down to 4-7 knots.

Some take aways from this regatta:

Clear air was (and usually is) critical when sailing in light air. Additionally we found in light air that sailing to an edge also paid off. You had to pick a side, get off the line in clear air, and sail the shifts while working towards the edge that had the most pressure. It was important to constantly be looking for pressure on course and watching your angles to mark.

It was important at the start to find a nice hole on the line for which you can maintain clear air. Usually you could find a nice gap 2/3 away from the favored end of the line. 

Starting at the unfavored end also worked at this regatta for the first race on day two. 4 boats started at the unfavored end and the majority of the fleet (70+ boats) started at the crowded end of the line at the boat. The boat end was favored by 5 degrees, but it didn't pay off to start there because there was less clear air. Ultimately, the 4 boats that started at pin were able to tack and cross the fleet. 

The more boats you start around=the less wind that is there.

Also, the lighter the wind, the more important it is to have clear air. Have you ever noticed when you are on a starting line it feels like there is lighter wind than any other place on the course? This is because of the aerodynamics of the fleets collective wind shadow. At this regatta, if you were not one of the top 10 boats off the line, then you were stuck in the wind shadow of the fleet. Before the start its important to asses how favored an end is versus how crowded it’s going to be.

The goal on the reaches and runs was to keep clear air and maximize speed. Sailing high on the reaches was key to keeping your air clear.  

When kiting on the runs you want to sit as far forwards as you can for the given conditions. When doing this you reduce the amount of drag from the transom as well as the rudder. When you sit too far back in the boat, the transom digs in the water more than the bow because the transom has a wider profile and more surface area. Sailors need to position their knees forward and shins should be pressed up against the thwart. The boom should be out exactly at 90 degrees. Sailors also need to raise their daggerboards high enough (when boards are too low, boats are actually more prone to bow plow) and to let off sprit to release the crease and open the leach to create up flow on the sail. 

One thing I find important to teach sailors is the importance of fueling our bodies with the right ingredients for success. Hydration is critical for keeping the brain sharp. Our sailors were assigned homework to drink 4 large glasses of water at night after each day of racing and they continued to hydrate in the morning and on the water. As a result, our team had more energy throughout the day and were able to think clearly. Our team also worked on mental prep, by starting each day with a visualization exercise. Other ingredients for success include boat prep, eating healthy food, and having a good understanding of venue the by arriving early to practice, research, and looking at the forecast every morning.

Congratulations to all of our sailors for working hard at this regatta and thanks to all of the parents who made it possible!

Julia Melton


Photo credit-Tom Barnard

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