Please select your home edition
RS Sailing 2020 - RSSS - LEADERBOARD

Fernhurst Books' Sail to Win series: Optimist Racing

by Jeremy Atkins 12 Jun 02:30 PDT

While we can't race at the moment, that's no reason not to try to improve. In this 10-week feature we will be providing an extract from each book in Fernhurst Books' Sail to Win series.

In this tenth instalment we turn to Optimist Racing by top coaches Phil Slater and Steve Irish, who have coached from a regional level to Britain's sailing stars, including Ben Ainslie and Hannah Mills (who writes the foreword to the book).


Basic Principles
Many styles of wave sailing can be seen at international events. Different wave conditions pose different problems, but two basic principles always apply:

  • It is vital that speed is maintained and as little of the boat's dynamic energy as possible is lost negotiating each wave
  • Energy loss occurs when the boat and helm are slowed by pitching, by sailing uphill and by wave impact on the bow or helm

When a boat goes through waves, the ends of the boat move up and down. This is called pitching and this movement absorbs driving energy and slows the boat down. The more easily the ends can lift, the less energy will be lost. This can be achieved by:

  • Keeping the ends of the boat as light as possible. Food, drink, sponges, painters and paddles should all be stowed by the daggerboard box.

  • Sitting at the point where the boat pivots, so the boat moves without moving your body. Only the boat pitches - you maintain your equilibrium and less energy is lost. Allow your body to move with the motion of the boat, keep your core muscles relaxed and flexible. On larger waves you can help the bow rise by more forcefully rocking your shoulders back then returning to your equilibrium position.

Apart from the loss of energy and speed when pitching due to the hull moving up and down there is another effect. The rig will also rock backwards and forwards. The apparent wind moves forward as the rig rocks forward down a wave and, as the bow rises and the rig rocks back, the apparent wind moves backwards. This means that the sail is never set at the optimum angle causing loss of power and speed.

This isn't too much of a problem once you are overpowered because you can adjust to this with steering and playing the main. However, in lighter winds and big waves or chop, it can mean that, when trying to stop the boat pitching, it is better to keep the power in the sail and accept the loss from hitting the waves.

In these conditions you move your body the opposite way and, as the wave tries to lift the bow, you rock forward to try to push it down to keep the sail more stationary.

Energy and speed are lost when the boat has to rise to go over a wave. In chop this isn't as much of a problem - pitching is more important. However, in larger waves, going up the face of the wave can slow you dramatically and cause lots of leeway.

You can steer to minimise the time going up the wave: head up as the wave lifts your bow then, on the top of the wave, bear away and power up. This is called power beating. As you get to the top of the wave and pull the power on, hike the boat level as forcefully as you can. Then move in for the short lull in the trough and as you head up the face of the next wave.

Wave Impact The impact of waves on the bow will kill boatspeed. The weather bow is particularly important because impact here results in water coming aboard.

  • Sit back to lift the bow: sailors 45kg or more sit 20cm behind the bulkhead; smaller sailors sit up to 60cm back in heavy weather
  • Heel the boat 5 degrees to lift the weather bow
  • Balance the boat by lifting the daggerboard
  • Sail fast and free
  • Allow the boat to pitch easily
Wave impact on the helm can seriously stop the boat. It is important in waves to hike with your thighs parallel to the boat so your body doesn't get close to the water and you can see the waves.

Wave conditions vary massively in size, shape and angle. When sailing in waves, the key is to work out which effect is the most detrimental to boatspeed and then deploy the best technique of set-up, steering, body movement and position to counter this. And remember waves are great fun!!

Bad Habits
Take a look at top competitors at an international event sailing to windward. Most will be storming along, hiking hard and appearing to be going fast. Take a closer look. While some are sailing with a smooth continuous motion, others sail fast then pause, slowing before getting back to full speed, then slow again.

Take a look at your own sailing. Do you sail smoothly and at maximum speed, or are you a pauser? It's easy to pick up bad habits which are hard to recognise and change.

  • Do you luff too much in the gusts? Is this due to letting your boat heel too much? Should you be playing the mainsheet to keep her level?
  • Are you fit enough to drive fast and hard for a whole beat? Are your hiking pants comfortable?
  • Are your feet supported firmly by the toestraps in the right places? Do you wriggle from one leg to the other, and what happens to the boat when you do this?
  • Do you really keep the boat level or is it heeled to leeward? It's easy to get used to an angle of heel which is comfortable, but it may make the boat unbalanced. How about trying an inclinometer on your mast thwart to help change your style?
  • Are you hitting waves with the bow or with your body?
When you are training or racing, try to sail the boat at 100% focus and as well as you can. Avoid picking up bad habits.

To learn more from top coaches Steve Irish and Phil Slater, Optimist Racing can be bought here with a 25% discount for those who sign up to the mailing list. It's also available in Hungarian and will soon be in German!

Related Articles

Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race update
Romping south towards the Gallimard Waypoint Speeds are up and the boats are flying south towards the end of the seventh day at sea in the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne race this morning with Jérémie Beyou back in charge on Charal. Posted today at 9:09 am
Relive AC34 in San Francisco! Race 17 & 18 replay
First contact between boats as ETNZ get caught high The 34th America's Cup saw its first contact between boats as Emirates Team New Zealand got caught high and early on the startline of race 17. The resulting protest saw them receive two penalties and an instant 400 metre lead for ORACLE TEAM USA. Posted today at 5:52 am
A crewed Drheam Cup to kick off the 2020 season
Offshore racing's protagonists are gradually returning to the 'school benches' After a start to the season that was completely turned on its head by the global COVID-19 health crisis, offshore racing's protagonists are gradually returning to the 'school benches'. Posted today at 5:23 am
Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne Race update
Wipe the slate clean and start over? This evening, all the competitors in the Vendée-Arctique-Les Sables d'Olonne have rounded the virtual IOC-UNESCO mark, Clément Giraud (Vers un monde sans Sida) bringing up the rear more than a day behind the leaders. Posted on 10 Jul
U.S. Olympic trials conclude for Finns
And continue with 2021 Worlds for women's 470 Upon review of current State Department and Travel Advisories and at the recommendation of US Sailing's Selection Committee, the OSC determined that these regattas will not be used as the third 2020 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team selection event. Posted on 10 Jul
Melges 32 World League in Malcesine day 2
Photo finishes and continuous changes in the ranking It has been another day of tight racing in Malcesine for the Melges 32 fleet: between match-race-style duels, photo finishes and continuous changes in the ranking, today has been an exciting day of sailing. Posted on 10 Jul
ChubangaV3 approved as registered series equipment
By the IKA Technical Committee After a successful factory inspection, Chubanga V3 mast and glider have been approved by the IKA Technical Committee as registered series production equipment for the IKA Formula Kite Class. Posted on 10 Jul
Storm Trysail Club Ted Hood Regatta preview
Mass Bay ORRez and PHRF New England Mass Bay Championships at stake The 4th Annual Storm Trysail Club Ted Hood Regatta (named after famed Marblehead hero, America's Cup winner, National Sailing Hall of Fame Inductee, and STC member) Ted Hood, is scheduled for August 21 – 23. Posted on 10 Jul
Sailors for the Sea launches Skippers Program
Eight sailors volunteer to mobilize local sailing and boating communities Today, Sailors for the Sea Powered by Oceana launched its Skippers Program, a volunteer network of local conservation leaders in sailing communities across North America to protect the world's marine environments. Posted on 10 Jul
Gladwell's Line: We've seen this Cup movie before
Long history of the Government of the day and the America's Cup team having their 'moments' Quite what is behind all the current commentary and the audit is a little hard to fathom. But there is a long history of the Government of the day and the America's Cup team having at least one stand-off during an America's Cup cycle. Posted on 10 Jul
SOUTHERN-SPARS-OFFICIAL-SUPPLIER-52-SS728-X-90 BottomHenri-Lloyd 2020 FOOTERCyclops Marine 2020 - FOOTER