Article Written by Dave Elsmo, Head coach of the Wisconsin Sailing Team
As with our first installment we will be continuing to overview the most effective drills for team growth. We will continue with coach-led drills as the third part perspective can be invaluable in whittling away the bigger corrections so sailors can concentrate on their in-boat communication and physicality.
Any team looking to climb in the results needs to put a priority on getting off the line with speed and options. Too often, I see sailors going through the motions of getting off the line with little or no consideration of pre-start homework or line geometry. Teammates tend to get comfortable knowing who they can out boat-handle and often go for the easy start. This brings the competitiveness of the team down and reinforces a lowest hanging fruit mentality that won’t work at higher level events. I feel that if you spend any more than 45 seconds luffing during the pre-start you are doing it wrong. Sailors need to get into the mindset that each start must to be taken as if it is a make or break it first leg and act accordingly. Boats in the second row or the poachers waiting outside the boat-end of the line must be coached back into the fray. After the start sailors should sail without tacking for at most 45 seconds to give them a fair perspective of their placement.
We modify our rolling starts based on problems that arise during events or to model a venue we know has distinct attributes. Here are a few modifications I recommend
Problem 1: Sailors at an event find themselves getting their hole to leeward poached causing a delayed acceleration and a second row start:
Modificaton 1: I will incorporate two extra marks into the starting area to make a box two boatlengths wide. Sailors must be within the box during the entirety of the last minute of each sequence. If they need to bail out they must do so under an I-flag restriction and round the ends before re-entering. Under this modification sailors have to fight harder for their hole and it disincentivizes getting to the line late.
Problem 2: The team will be visiting a very shift venue for their upcoming event.
Modification 2: We will either set our starts up closer to shore to introduce the same shifty attributes or, if that isn’t possible, will incorporate a second and third mark to the pin end of the line. Sailors are expected to do their regular pre-start homework but for the first two minute of the sequence they will not know which pin the RC will be using. At the 1 minute horn the RC boat hails which pin is the correct end of the line and sailors must adjust accordingly. This tends to put the focus on a starting plan with options and quick thinking with regards to last minute changes.
Problem 3: The team will be visiting a current-heavy venue but sails on inland waters.
Modification 3: Adjusting for current can be difficult in inland waters, but is still do-able. Best practices for these starts is to use two coach boats that can drive slow to windward or leeward to mimic moving water. If that is not possible put your pin-end mark in the water without enough anchor rode to touch bottom. The RC boat can then drift together with the mark to simulate current.
Problem 4: Sailors are setting up way too late to get a start that resembles regatta-like conditions.
Modification 4: We will remove all the sound notifications within the last minute of the sequence and add two marks to the pin-end. The RC can start the race any time within the last minute of the sequence with one long sound. I find it only takes one or two early starts to get people to the line.
Problem 5: Sailors aren’t fighting for the favored side of the line.
Modification 5: Make one side of the line distinctly favored and incentivize the start by racing the first leg of a course.
It is my opinion that running 30 minutes of rolling starts can be highly effective if all sailors are engaging in the spirit of the drill. If people get lazy or disinterested re-engage them individually, challenge them to start in a different area of the line or have them on-on-one another member of the team. This will keep people thinking and engaged through out all the whistling.
Last Two Legs:
Often in less developed conferences, teams comprise sailors with a wide-range of skill. Getting your practices to contain regatta-quality conditions can be difficult if not impossible with smaller teams. In an effort to create congested scenarios it helps to slice courses into chunks to give less experienced sailors opportunities they may not encounter in a given race. Most practice races space out after the first mark and the rich tend to get richer. The Last Two Legs drill emphasizes a hyper congested downwind and a premium on positioning at the leeward mark. Secondarily it gives everybody the same chance at a good rounding.
To set up the drill set a starting-line to windward of a leeward gate with a downwind leg about half the length of your standard race. Sailors are to stay to windward of the starting line until the sequence is over. We tend to run a two minute sequence for this drill as the object isn’t to get a good start, it’s to get people sailing downwind on the same ladder-rung. After the ‘start’ sailors are to race downwind to the leeward mark round and finish to windward. Since the legs are so short, the boats in the middle of the fleet will need to fight for positioning and the boats on the edges will need to be wary of how much distance they travel to get to the marks.
This continuously running drill helps emphasize the importance of ducking a starboard boat to gain leverage and climb the ladder. The drill itself is normally started with a rabbit drill. The coach boat then runs to windward of the fleet and whistles the drill on. Boats that make it to the laylines of the coach boat are to tack in. Different iterations of this drill can help for different mindsets.
- If you put the Port-Tack MUST duck restriction on the drill it helps teach a proper duck therefore reinforcing the need to get leverage to the right.
- If you remove the restriction it allows sailors to experience a busy windward mark layline when coming from the left side of the course. Should they feel they can gain to windward, boats have the option to leebow and stay on their ladder rung or duck to get leverage.