The Luther Drill
O There is one drill that is so clearly my favorite, I use it more than any other. It’s known as the “Luther drill.” It’s been one of my most requested drills by different classes and different Olympic campaigns, and because you can pack so much into a single drill, it seems to work well across classes. I first came up with this for 49ers because I wanted to take the whole starting thing out of the picture and focus on what’s happening on specific areas of the course. It packs a lot of punch, emphasizing managing lanes, upwind boatspeed, communication, tactical decision-making, sailing on the starboard layline, smooth bearaways into solid lanes, setting and finding fast VMG immediately, and gate selection and rounding technique.
Here’s how it goes: Set a short finish line and one weather mark, about one-quarter the length of normal upwind leg but skewed right. Start with an upwind starboard rabbit ducking the windward end of finish line. The ducking boats, on port tack, space themselves as far apart as they want. Eventually the entire fleet is on port tack in wide, clean lanes. As the beat develops, the focus is on assessment of fleet development on the starboard layline. Once tacked into position, the fleet then bears away and races downwind to the finish line. If doing two laps, use the finish line as gate marks. With classes that sail broad angles downwind, I set a short tight reach mark at the top so they have a square run back down to the gate.
Any time you’re incorporating a rabbit start into a drill, avoid creating a situation where the best rabbit ducker is going to win the drill. Encourage them to spread out more than normal. I don’t want to see a boat crush the rabbit and pinch off the rest of the fleet, minimizing the benefits of the drill.
A skewed-right weather mark forces the fleet to stay on port for a long time. If it’s a fast boat, they won’t want to tack more than once anyway. On a boat such as a Laser, it’s no big deal to hitch up, and it’s fine if they want to be tactical about the top portion of the beat. Figure out how much skew you want for the number of boats you have; the more boats, the longer you’ll want the beat. In skiffs and cats, I forgo the top reach mark. Once they’re sailing downwind, they’re going to be on starboard jibe for a while, and this setup emulates the best course we can for the critical jibe point of the run, allowing them to also work on that part of the game.
To avoid wasted time between drills, I have the race winner immediately reach on port after the fi nish line, and jibe to get set up as the next rabbit. Then I become a bit of a traffic cop for the rest of the fleet,
having them sail on starboard, tack and get into position for the next rabbit start. If you’re just doing a one-lap version of this in a skiff, the whole thing might take five to six minutes. Even in a Laser, it might not take longer than that. I run this drill a few times before I stop and talk to everyone. Gary Bodie used to say that all you’re doing on the first days of a drill is learning how to be efficient at the drill. By the second day, it’s becoming useful. Let boats run through this a number of times before stopping them and coaching specifics. In the morning briefing, clearly stating the goals of the drill and how to sail it efficiently will reap the earliest bang for the buck.
A lot of the drills that we do end up being traffic jams as we go around really small courses, which can distract us from the specifics that we need to work on. I like to try to develop scenarios and drills that feel more like the middle of a big-course race, that isolate moments, key to putting up consistent series scores. This one does that. Q
Every practice drill has its purpose, but this one from a veteran Olympic coach has a plethora of benefits. Course for Skiff s and Cats Rabbit-1- Gate-1-finish Course for Laser, Finn, etc. Rabbit-1-2- Gate-1-finish Mark 2 Optional Reach Finish Line/gate Mark 1 Windward Mark Long port tack to starboard layline