Sailing World - - Contents -

Olympic 470 cam­paigner David Hughes lays out a path­way to get you to your next “Big Event.”

O Sure, we all en­joy read­ing about the long­haul cam­paigns of the Amer­ica’s Cup or top-level Olympic ath­letes: many years of train­ing with a no-stone-un­turned ap­proach; coaches, phys­i­cal prepa­ra­tions, months upon months on the wa­ter, and equip­ment test­ing. But let’s be hon­est, that’s not the re­al­ity most of us can mimic. It’s sim­ply not prac­ti­cal. But there are some lessons we can steal from even the most ro­bust Olympic or world-cham­pi­onship cam­paigns. From them, we can learn the best path up the prover­bial moun­tain that bal­ances the lim­ited time we all face. Let’s break it down.

Deal with lo­gis­tics well ahead of time.

Noth­ing dis­tracts like lack of prepa­ra­tion, so cre­ate a clear cal­en­dar. If your cal­en­dar says Au­gust 2 to 10 for the Worlds, what does that re­ally mean for you and your crew? Ar­rive on the 1st to sail on the 2nd? Ar­rive the 2nd and not sail? Be spe­cific. A day here or there makes a big dif­fer­ence. It also al­lows your team to know what sort of ar­rival and de­par­ture day they are likely to face. Plan, share, dis­cuss and com­pro­mise.

Set clear goals. Be spe­cific about your ob­jec­tives for the re­gatta re­sult and team goals. Dis­cuss these goals with the en­tire team in an hon­est fash­ion. It’s all well and good to dream about win­ning a Worlds, but if you’re putting in only five days of train­ing in a boat you haven’t sailed in 10 years, then a bit of re­al­ity needs to sink in. Set­ting false ob­jec­tives feels good at first, but that can be de­struc­tive in the end.

Choose the right team. That means se­lect­ing a team, not in­di­vid­u­als. It might sound like a bril­liant idea to re­unite a group of your col­lege bud­dies, but per­son­al­i­ties mat­ter, and how peo­ple mesh is piv­otal. If two crew mem­bers fancy them­selves the top-dog tac­ti­cian, then you will surely have trou­bles at some in­op­por­tune mo­ment. The ideal team con­struc­tion is one in which each mem­ber is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of do­ing ev­ery other job on the boat at a high level, and yet they are 100 per­cent com­mit­ted to their spe­cific po­si­tion. No one-up­man­ship, just to­tal at­ten­tion to do­ing their job and be­ing a solid player work­ing to­ward the team’s vi­sion.

If your boat re­quires a weigh-in, be hon­est about your weights and who can fit that. The worst hand you can deal your­self is a bit of hope and fudg­ing on tar­get weights, only to set up your team for a mas­sive weight dive the days be­fore the big event.

The body is pri­or­ity No. 1. When your body isn’t work­ing, noth­ing else re­ally mat­ters. This is true in life and in sail­ing, so take care of it. Sleep early dur­ing events. Hy­drate more than you think, specif­i­cally be­tween races and dur­ing practice breaks. De­hy­dra­tion is a slip­pery slope. Also, stretch at the be­gin­ning and end of each day. Use this as a sched­uled 10-minute down­time with you and your team. Talk about the plans for the day or re­view what hap­pened. This can pre­vent phys­i­cal is­sues, and it’s a great trick for re-cen­ter­ing a group who wants to scat­ter in var­i­ous di­rec­tions once you hit the dock.

Es­tab­lish a practice ra­tio. Practice time to com­pe­ti­tion time is a crit­i­cal piece of math. Work back­ward from Day One of the big event and think about the per­cent­age of practice hours you can (and should) hold your­self to. Train­ing- to- racing ra­tios should be 1-to-1 at the very min­i­mum. Ide­ally, strive for a 2-to-1 ra­tio, or more. You’ll find that keep­ing to ra­tios of more practice than racing is a chal­lenge. Make an ex­er­cise of count­ing the hours. You will be sur­prised, and I guar­an­tee it will in­form not just this cam­paign, but cam­paigns to come.

Find a train­ing part­ner. You don’t need some world-cham­pion, glam­orous train­ing part­ner. In­stead, find the per­son or team that prop­erly matches your sched­ule, at­ti­tude, en­ergy lev­els and ob­jec­tives. Be­ing pro­duc­tive on the wa­ter al­ways trumps ev­ery­thing else. On the flip side, don’t grav­i­tate to the team that’s first to the beer tent and re­ally won’t push you. The proper part­ner­ship should feel like you’re try­ing to climb the same moun­tain to­gether, all the while with match­ing en­thu­si­asm. There will be a turn­ing point of your cam­paign when your train­ing part­ner will de­liver you that much­needed emo­tional booster shot. Pick the per­son or team that can do that.

Get the mon­key off your back. Train at times you don’t want to. Is it rain­ing? Good, then go. Is it a lit­tle too windy for your nor­mal com­fort zone? Go — it’s never as bad as you think. Of course, safety comes first, but a lit­tle wa­ter over the bow can only build con­fi­dence when the con­di­tions get hairy. Trust me, there will al­ways be that one race at the cham­pi­onship that tests the un­ex­pected.

Be a stu­dent of the boat. Fo­cus on

Your “big event” is on the hori­zon. Here’s how to plot your path to the podium.

boathandling, ac­cel­er­a­tions and down­wind speed. That’s the low- hang­ing fruit. Up­wind speed is ob­vi­ously crit­i­cal, but re­sist the temp­ta­tion to spend end­less hours on up­wind tun­ing and minu­tia. Try var­i­ous modes both up­wind and down. Un­der­stand the amount of time, postjibe and post- tack, it takes to get back to speed. Count the sec­onds. Round the buoys mul­ti­ple times and ex­per­i­ment with different ap­proaches and ex­its. Get used to down­speed ma­neu­vers.

Quiz the good guys. Again, this doesn’t have to be about tun­ing or the lat­est jib de­sign. Rather, chat with the top teams about the ba­sics. Where do they sit in heavy-air jibes? What’s the best heel an­gle after the set? The ba­sics will see you for­ward, not the idio­syn­cra­sies of the lat­est main­sail de­sign. If, how­ever, sail de­sign is ir­re­sistible to you, then change your ques­tions to what re­peated lessons the good guys keep cir­cling back to over the years. I guar­an­tee some good sto­ries.

Con­trol the con­trol­lables. There is no ex­cuse for any­thing but the best boat you can pos­si­bly pre­pare. Don’t say, “I’m not a boat- work per­son.” That’s a cop- out. You don’t need to re­place ev­ery block and line, but ev­ery­thing must run smoothly. Get rid of the “fric­tion fac­tory.” Spend some qual­ity time with the boat. Solve the nag­ging is­sues. Ask oth­ers how they’ve rigged such- and- such. That said, al­ways walk away from the boat with it in a state of “ready to race.” While some of us ac­tu­ally love do­ing boat work, you must never miss practice be­cause of some not truly crit­i­cal project. Time on the wa­ter is more valu­able. If thoughts about fin­ish­ing that per­fect splice on the vang keeps you up at night, then get down to the boat early the next morn­ing and deal with it.

Sim­plify the num­bers. Know the tun­ing, but keep it simple. Never, never, never look to tun­ing to solve a tech­nique prob­lem. Don’t get wrapped up in on­shore talk about tun­ing and sud­denly present some left-field idea to your crew you hap­pened to hear at the re­gatta be­fore. Tun­ing is sci­ence, but it’s also ex­pe­ri­ence, and ev­ery­one’s ex­pe­ri­ence might be slightly different. Keep your tun­ing steps simple un­til you’re pre­sented with an ex­pe­ri­ence your­self that twists your arm in an­other di­rec­tion. Re­mem­ber, the real tun­ing power comes from your soft con­trols (sheets, vang, cun­ning­ham, etc.).

Don’t fall of the equip­ment cliff.

Think­ing about test­ing mains? If so, ask your­self two ques­tions. First, what prob­lem are you try­ing to solve? Sec­ond, when will you be done with your test? The cliff comes when you opt to do more ex­per­i­men­ta­tion at the loss of stick­ing to the ba­sics. Things get fur­ther clouded when dead­lines aren’t re­spected. Take in the ad­vice given and un­der­stand your equip­ment lim­i­ta­tions, but don’t sac­ri­fice at­ten­tion to the fun­da­men­tals. Ask your­self, “What should I take on?” and “When should I stop ex­per­i­ment­ing?” New equip­ment — or “shiny ob­jects” — are tempt­ing. Be mea­sured and rec­og­nize that there is no magic bul­let.

Log time at the venue. If you haven’t sailed there be­fore, can you do so be­fore the big event? Does it fit to cre­ate a train­ing camp there? Are there any lead-up events? Be­yond the sail­ing, there are plenty of boxes to tick. Dis­cover where the best su­per­mar­ket is; find the go-to coffee shop; fig­ure out if your ac­com­mo­da­tions are ad­e­quate; learn the idio­syn­cra­sies of the club’s hoist — the list goes on. The goal is simple: When game day ar­rives, ev­ery­thing feels fa­mil­iar.

Cre­ate daily check­lists. Be a slave to your check­lists — boat work, weather, lunches, ev­ery­thing. This will cre­ate an ef­fi­cient daily sched­ule, which equals time sav­ings. Re­mem­ber, rest and en­ergy lev­els are the two po­tent items of own­er­ship. At ma­jor re­gat­tas, lit­tle is­sues have a dev­il­ish way of be­com­ing ma­jor prob­lems. As­sign tasks, del­e­gate and, even though it might sound silly to build rules like the same per­son starts the en­gine ev­ery day, trust me, it works. Q


Along the path to your per­sonal pin­na­cle event, it’s good to sweat the de­tails such as mark­ing set­tings and stay­ing on top of your boat work, but don’t let it get in the way of im­por­tant steps such as practice, team build­ing and per­sonal train­ing.

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