Mike Marshall: Three Tips for Everyone

Published on June 24th, 2019

Mike Marshall, who earlier this year won the 2019 J/22 Midwinters, offers advice that can help anyone succeed anywhere, in any boat.

Thinking back on the regatta, I attribute our success to three things. One is knowing and trusting the team. Another is doing all we could to maximize speed. And the third is being ready to handle the gear-changing needed when in shifty and puffy breeze.

I was fortunate enough to have an absolutely all-star team: Zeke Horowitz in the middle and Todd Hiller on the bow. Zeke was calling the shots and trimming the jib, while Todd was calling the pressure and the boat speed. Their work was stellar, so trusting them was easy. But trust is an important element no matter who your crew is.

Trusting your tactician is particularly important. In a shifty venue, tactics are critical, but not as critical as trusting your tactician’s calls. As we all know, there are times when it can look like things are going great and the race is in your hands, only to have that outlook change in an instant. The 2019 Midwinters presented an extreme version of this situation, which was all the more reason not to second-guess the tactician.

Keeping my head in the boat and staying focused on driving it as well as I could aided Zeke at his job. By not having his calls questioned, he could confidently tack and gybe where he thought we should, never missing the split-second chance to trust his instincts and pick just the right place.

This freedom of judgment in a demanding job is essential to a tactician’s success. And without me trying to do Zeke’s job in addition to my own, the boat went much faster than it would have without my full attention.

At the same time, trust in Todd calling the breeze was also essential. It enabled me to be ready for the next shift while keeping my head in the boat. In this way, I could always be proactive with my changes instead of reactive.

As important as it is to be going in the right direction, it’s just as important to be going fast. The old saying, “It’s really easy to be smart if you’re fast” rings especially true at puffy and shifty venues. Speed is king in getting yourself out of bad situations.

In a 30-boat fleet, going the wrong way but being fast means that you can still round the top mark in 10th and be set to gain places downwind. Speed also opens up a host of options to tack on the first shift right off the starting line.

If you’re fast and can get free of other boats, you control your own destiny and can choose which shifts you want to tack on instead of the fleet dictating that for you.

Changing gears efficiently so that the boat is always at maximum potential is a third critical factor to success in shifty and puffy conditions. This involves recognizing that you can’t predict every shift; you only have to do a better job than the boats around you. Once you put yourself in this mindset, it’s much easier to handle the puffs and shifts even if you make a mistake.

Editor’s note: Mike also offered three tips for helping to change gears efficiently no matter how shifty the breeze is, and while they were J/22 specific, his advice boiled down to these nuggets:

• Keep things simple and focus on the most vital controls. You can only do so much.
• Setting up for the lulls, not the puffs, will deliver the best overall speed.
• Be active in moving crew weight as the wind strength changes.

Source: J/22 Class

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