Why Winners Win

Published on August 25th, 2015

By Steve Hunt, Sailing World
Here’s what the pros do, why they beat you, and how you can get there.

There’s a tendency in our sport to overcomplicate things, especially when it comes to stringing together a series of top finishes in a regatta. We wonder why our competitors beat us time and time again and chalk it up to better boatspeed, better sails, or maybe having a few professionals onboard. While some that may be true, the reality, however, is pretty simple: they win because they’ve learned by making mistakes. In my experience there are a few obvious things that winners do to win. In other words, the beat you because they . . .

Have Marks on their sheets and use them to repeat fast settings.
Speed is essential to winning in sailboat racing, and a big component of speed is how you trim your sails. Before the race starts, tune upwind with another boat and try different amounts of sheet tension on the main and jib. When you find the fastest trim, look at your marks on the sheets so you can repeat them off the starting line and again at the leeward mark. Having marks allows you to not only go faster, but also get your head out of the boat to look around for more wind and big lanes.

Do Practice Starts before each race to dial in their time and distance.
Top sailors know that time and distance is crucial to a good start, and that it’s difficult and requires practice. It is something that changes with wind and wave conditions and also line bias. As the pin gets more favored, for example, it takes longer to get to the line. If the boat is favored, closing speed is much faster. Therefore, top sailors do a few runs at the line before each start. With 10 minutes before the first warning, I like to start a 5-minute sequence and start near the committee boat at 3 minutes, and again at zero, that way you keep your watch set for the actual 5-minute gun but can get two starts during that 5-minute practice time.

Run Spinnaker Tapes as much as possible to avoid twisted sets.
Nothing seems more painful than setting your spinnaker with high expectations of a great run, and then having a massive twist. Simply running the tapes before each set helps avoid this painful and slow scenario.

Have Defined Roles on the boat and do the same jobs every time.
Most teams violate this simple rule all the time. When you are involved in someone else’s job you’re not only interrupting them, you are not doing your own job well. To win in sailboat racing you have to trust your teammates and let them do their job. To help alleviate the need to do others’ jobs, put people in positions where they have strengths. It’s also important to do the same jobs all the time, even when rigging the boat before racing.

Look for Wind more often than you do, and work hard to be in it.
When I sail with top sailors their biggest concern is “where is the wind.” Read On

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