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Kit Guide

Top Tips for a Successful Training Session

By James Dowrick 2nd October 2020

As a coach, I often get asked; “what can I do to make training without a coach more productive.” The answer I always give is “lots”. There is so much you can do whilst training on you own or with another boat. The best thing I suggest is something a lot of coaches, including myself, call "the standard hour." This structured session is great to make sure your training session is productive as possible. When training with out safety cover it's always a good idea to have a training partner, or just make sure someone is on the water at the same time you are. For safety, if this is not possible ensure you make someone aware how long you intend to go sailing for and what time you'll be back. Another top tip is to always take a form of video camera with you, GoPro’s are great for this.

Once on the water, sail upwind for a minute to make sure all your controls are set to give you maximum squirt from the sails. Once you're happy, continue with 20 tacks, it’s important to focus on a particular part of the tack, whether it be the entry, execution or exit. If you focus on one of these in particular then your more likely to improve quicker. Top Tip: Look back at your video footage to see how you improved throughout the exercise.

Next move on to downwind, again before you start, just sail downwind for a minute to make sure all your controls are set to give you maximum speed. Once you're happy, continue with 20 gybes, again just like the tacks focus on a particular part of the gybe to ensure more focused improvement. Top Tip: When training in light winds, try to focus on the speed on the exit of the gybe, this can be achieved by using as much body weight as possible to roll the boat rather than using the rudder which acts as drag and will slow you down.

The next exercise to do is 5 minutes on each tack (Port & Starboard), whilst doing this, ensure you are using perfect boat trim, boat balance & sail trim. Constant adjustments of the sail will give you maximum efficiency. Also in stronger winds hiking for a solid 10 minutes with just one tack to break it up is a great builder for stamina in your core as this is your engine whilst going upwind. Top Tip: Try the extremes of boat trim, boat balance & sail trim to help you understand how changes have an affect on your speed.


The next two exercises are specifically for spinnaker boats. Its always good to practice the different types of sets & drops you may face whilst on the race course. Start with 5 straight spinnaker sets, with the crew focusing on a quick hoist and the helm focusing on balanced boat. Follow this with 5 straight drops with the crew getting the spinnaker down as quickly as possible whilst the helm gathers their focus on executing the perfect mark rounding. Next try doing 5 gybe sets & 5 gybe drops. These are slightly more tricky as the helm must control the boat through the gybe whilst keeping a level platform for the crew to do their job properly. Top Tip: Its always a good idea to have an understanding as to how fast the crew can hoist & drop the spinnaker using an arm over arm action, this helps the helm when making tactical decisions.

Some people would regard the next exercise as a bit of a strange skill to practice, but being able to do penalty turns quickly can really help when you have already lost time in conceding the penalty. Practice 2x 360’s and 2x 720’s. Top Tip: Use as much body weight as possible to help speed up the turn, if you sail a double handed boat work together to get that extra roll.

Now onto starting; I cannot emphasise enough how important starting is, it sets you up for the entire race. I often use the Formula 1 analogy, a driver that starts from pole position already has a head start over his opponent before the race has even begun. How good does that sound? If you can set up a start line using small training marks, that's great. If not, just use some local fish markers or something similar and practice two starts on starboard tack and two on port tack, working hard on timing and holding your position. Top Tip: Try different approaches to the start, perhaps two starts holding position close to the line then accelerating, and two starts coming in at speed to practice your time/distance judgement. If possible, have your training partner film your starts so you can watch back later and see how close you were to the line each time.

Next, try a few boat handling skills that you might not always use but are super handy when needed. These could include; reversing, double tacks & holding position. Reversing is a great skill to have, it can be extremely useful during preparation for the start as you may at some point need to give yourself an extra boat length to accelerate into. Double tacks again are really useful, these can be used to gain height on the start line if the tide or waves have pushed you downwind. It's also a technique that can be used if you have under stood the lay line by a boat length and need to do a double tack to get around. Finally, holding position; you should have already practiced this in the starting exercise, but it's always good to practice again. Top Tip: If sailing a double handed boat make sure communication is good, the crew needs to know everything that's going on in these quite confusing manoeuvres. IMG_5221

Finally, gut busters to finish. This involves four tacks then a 360 turn around a buoy, then another four tacks before a windward mark, followed by 4 gybes before another 360 turn around a buoy, with 4 more gybes to finish. With your training partner, each take a turn to do this and time the other boat, the slowest boat has to buy the drinks when you get back to the clubhouse - a fun way to finish the session! Top Tip: Ensue that you do everything you worked on during the session in the gut buster - it is designed to focus on all parts of your boat handling skills.

Overall coaching top tip: Debrief after every training session, use the video you took to help this and give each other feedback (if you trained with another boat). Lastly, analyse and identify refinements then development.

I hope this blog helps you with your training, remember to have fun whilst doing it and work hard as sailing is a sport so it should be fun, enjoyable & hard work.

Happy Sailing ⛵️ James

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