Welcome to Boot Camp

Published on September 10th, 2020

In the September 2020 edition of the Harken Newsletter, AT THE FRONT, expert coach and world champion sailor Ron Rosenberg reports from the Pacific Northwest and how the region is adapting since the global pandemic began in March:

What’s up in your corner of the country?
Not far from where I live near Seattle is a place called Orcas Island, home to dozens of amazing sailors of all ages. Here, everyone pitches in to make sailing fun, easy, and accessible to all. Orcas Island Yacht Club, near Westsound Marina, is where it all happens.

Sailing is important to these people and their families, so they quickly figured out how to do it safely by limiting it to families or those they quarantine with, and they encouraged double-handed racing (DH) too. This local blend of family-oriented sailing and DH racing was an overnight huge hit.

Lots of great husband/wife and parent/kid teams began trying it out and quickly realized how much more fun and challenging it can be. Add in a bit of coaching, and suddenly you have an inspired group of talented sailors learning so fast and having so much fun they can hardly wait to get back on the water to continue improving together. Some even have realistic Olympic DH aspirations!

From my perspective, the success of our collective efforts has been astounding during this strange time period. Sure, it helps to be removed from a major metro area, but if we can do this here, certainly others can enjoy similar success.

What maneuvers are the most difficult to accomplish double handed? (Kite changes? Jib changes? Kite douses?)
My experience is that most maneuvers around the race course can be mastered quickly and easily if the team is able to first practice them in slow motion a few times and learn the best order or proper procedure for two people to manage the set of tasks.

In manageable wind conditions, tacks, gybes, spinnaker sets, and sail changes can be executed just as fast with two people as can be done with a full crew. I often hear from new DH teams that the boat feels roomy and is devoid of distracting noise when DH sailing.

The most challenging of all is still the leeward mark rounding with a spinnaker drop. I remind my DH sailors that it’s ALWAYS better to drop the kite a bit early, as we all know that spinnakers are much faster when flying them downwind rather than upwind!

Can you talk a little bit about different techniques required for double-handed sailing that you wouldn’t see as much (or in as light a wind range) in a full-crew situation?
The biggest difference is that there is NEVER A DULL MOMENT in DH sailing! I think that’s why it is so appealing to so many people. Rather than being one part of a larger team and only being responsible for a small percentage of roles, you are now involved in every aspect of racing the boat.

Kids especially love being highly engaged in EVERYTHING that happens onboard, and they are mentally responsible for so much of the decision making as well as the more physical tasks of sail handling. We have an inspired group of 13-15 year olds that typically helm while their parent crews for them, and these teams quickly bond and grow together. I know the kids love it… and I think the parents love it even more.

Sure, from a technical standpoint, we make an effort to simplify everything onboard without sacrificing performance and I think that goes a long way toward successful DH sailing. One obvious strong theme here is always asking yourself how can you do your job better in a way that can help your teammate do their job better too.

Simply steering down low as you approach the leeward mark so the kite collapses behind the mainsail and can be easily dropped is one example of this. I think with only two people onboard you’re keenly aware of the stress and strain on the other person, and you realize how much easier you can make their work by just being aware and being present.

You’re using the J/70 in your Orcas Bootcamp. What makes it a good trainer for teams honing their double-handed skills?
The J/70 has proven to be a great platform for improving DH sailing skills. The boat is light and responsive and the helm is quite sensitive to sail trim, body weight, and heel angle. The main and jib are never loaded much and are easy to handle. It’s basically a big dinghy with just enough weight on the keel to keep you out of trouble in heavy air.

These characteristics make it easy to feel the differences between small adjustments. The boats are just so much fun to sail with two people, and they really light up in a breeze off the wind. Essentially they sail very much like a scaled down TP52, and they reward excellent driver focus and execution of great sail trim. Sailors often comment that they love double-handing sailing the J/70 so much that going back to full crew racing someday could be tough!

What seems to separate really good teams from ones that have ground to make up?
The critical components are teamwork and coordination, and the necessary glue is communication. Both sailors have to be on the same page all the time in order to keep the boat sailing efficiently all around the track. The teams that have practiced together can communicate clearly, stay in step with each other, and simply get around the track faster than the rest.

If communication or timing is off even just a little, the boat slows down and you’re losing boat lengths quickly. In DH sailing, those boat lengths are valuable, and they’re hard to earn back against the really good teams. With enough practice, it’s impressive to me how even the most difficult maneuvers can be smoothly handled with very little verbal communication between the two sailors.

The basic rule onboard a DH boat is to be sure you get your tasks completed first, and then support and assist your partner if they need help completing theirs.

What kind of complementary skills do you find absolutely necessary for teams to possess?
In my opinion, all that is required is an open mind and a “learn-it-all” mindset. If you’re willing to work with your partner and you gain satisfaction from your own self-improvement, you’re likely going to excel in the DH sailing world.

Sure, at the highest level of DH sailing, it might be nice to have two perfectly complementary individuals teamed up, however, what if something unexpected happens? Now you need to adjust, and suddenly what was once a nicely organized roles-and-responsibilities chart matching the team’s strengths is now in disarray, and you have to shift to Plan B.

Here in Westsound, our most skilled DH team is a husband/wife team who have worked hard to learn to sail their J/111 very efficiently. They both are equally capable, physically and mentally, to accomplish any onboard task, and they constantly switch positions and roles as they race around the course. These two determined athletes have clearly improved faster than any other team.

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Ron Rosenberg has a unique passion for sailing and coaching. As a sailor he’s won five world titles (Youth Worlds, J-24, Olympic Soling, Etchells, and 5.5 Meter), two gold cups, and one European championship. He has more than 50 national titles in a wide variety of One-Design classes. Ron was elected Team Captain of the US Olympic Sailing Team in Barcelona 1992 with USA winning medals in 9 of 10 disciplines. He has either competed or coached in every quad since 1984. He has coached others to many more meaningful wins than he has achieved himself (including back to back worlds in the Dragon class). Over the past two years he’s been focused on coaching Dragons, Etchells, J/24s, J/70s, J/80s, and TP52s in Europe and Australia. He most enjoys helping others efficiently achieve the results and goals they set for themselves.

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