The Weekly Routine

29er Midwinters West Roundup

By Willie McBride
US Sailing Team Olympic Coach



Wow, what an awesome weekend of racing in Coronado! With 50 boats on the line, this was by far the most competitive 29er fleet that we've had in the US in over a decade, with some really impressive performances, and some very tight competition at the top of the fleet. Right now there are generally two different groups of teams on the race course - those who have the speed and handling to race, and those who need to focus 100% on developing those skills. Usually I focus on aspects of how to sail a 29er well, but because we had such great competition, this debrief will focus mainly on tactics and strategy.

Weather: Build Your Mental Model

Every day when I drove down to the Coronado venue from Point Loma, I drove over the Coronado Bridge, and my mind switched into race mode. Getting to see the race course from high up gives you a great vantage point to start thinking about what the wind is doing, and how the weather will effect the race course for the day.  Observing where the light patches are in the morning, where the breeze develops first, how the angle evolves over the course of the morning, what the clouds look like, where the blue sky appears first, etc. can give you a really good idea of what side will pay, later in the day. If you haven't read it yet, go read Wind Strategy right now! 

This weekend we saw perfect sea breeze conditions on the first day. Saturday, we saw a fog bank that sat offshore, probably with a warm top, causing the sea breeze to fight with the gradient, and delaying our nice racing conditions. Sunday was more of our normal sea breeze conditions, but with a colder temp on land, and a stronger gradient component from the north, causing a bit of a tricky transition on the water. Along with the Silver Strand geographic effects on the race course - a left bend in the wind as the wind passes over the land - all of these factors played into building a mental model for what the wind was doing. All of this is described in detail in Wind Strategy.

Once you have a mental model of what the wind is doing on the race course, the next step is to start building your strategy.

Strategy: Keep it simple

The first step here is asking yourself whether or not you can predict what the wind is doing. In a few of the races over the weekend, confidence was high, but in other races, the key realization was that you could not predict the wind's behavior, and that it was therefore better to stick to a more conservative, fleet management game plan.  In either case, simplicity is the name of the game, and sticking to a simple track based strategy is a good way to keep things simple.

Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

Image from McBride Racing Tactical Playbook

The 5 tracks that I generally ask teams to stick to are:

Tracks 1-4: Inside/outside + right/left - These tracks select the side of the course that you think will ultimately come out ahead, and then select whether you think gains will increase on the edges more quickly than risk.  The McBride Racing Tactical Playbook goes into a lot more depth on these, but the bottom line is to select the side you like, and then to choose your level of risk vs. reward on each side.

Track 5: Minimize decisions - I wrote a blog entry on this a while back, that outlines what to do when you're uncertain what the wind will do next.  This is more of a fleet management strategy, and was definitely appropriate for a lot of races at the Midwinters.

Once you know your track, the next step is to execute, and adapt to situations that arrise around the course using your tactical playbook.

Tactics: Build Your Playbook

There were so many tactical plays that occurred around the race course this weekend, and I don't have time to get into them all, so if you're interested in really drilling into this, please go buy the McBride Racing Tactical Playbook.  A few general observations to help guide your decision making in the future:

1. Use the top middle of the course to survive when your lanes aren't great.


2. Stay on the outside of the diamond at the beginning of the downwind, and the inside in the second half.


3. Center up in the commitment zone, then own your side coming into the leeward mark.


If You're Unsure About Conditions, Minimize Decision Points


When you're not sure exactly what the wind is doing, here's a strategy to try.  Excerpt from the upcoming McBride Racing Tactical Playbook.  Subscribe to our newsletter to get notified of the book launch.

If you’re not sure whether to choose the inside track or the outside track, it probably means that your confidence is low in any specific prediction about the wind, and no pattern is immediately evident in the wind shifts; this is totally fine!  When you are unsure about what the breeze is going to do, the best thing you can do is acknowledge that fact, and choose a high percentage upwind strategy, which allows you to postpone any critical decisions until the race has had a chance to develop a little bit.  A simple strategy to accomplish this starts with a mid-line start on starboard.  Drag race with the fleet until boats begin tacking back from the left corner (probably about half way up the beat), and then ask the question, “Who is winning, and why?”  If the left has gained and you have gotten headed, you’ll have an opportunity to lead back the lead pack.  If the left has gained and you have not seen a left shift, then continue as close to the left corner as you dare – chances are, it will continue to pay for whatever reason it paid in the first place.  If the right has paid, was it associated with a right shift? If so, chances are good that you’ll want to keep going left and wait for your shift to go back on.  If not, it’s time to abandon the left and start digging into the outside track on the right. 

The biggest risk in this strategy, is the risk of a slow persistent shift tricking you into digging for more, when you should be abandoning a losing proposition.  To have the best chance of avoiding this pitfall, keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Changing weather that might cause a persistent shift (clouds, a change in temperature, a shift in current direction, etc.)
  • Wind shifts outside of the range that you saw in your pre-race research
  • Observations that corroborate an earlier forecast, predicting a persistent trend in the wind

This strategy works well because it simplifies the decision making process by minimizing the number of choices that you are making on the beat.

New Years Resolutions For A Successful 2016

I don't believe in New Years Resolutions.  On the other hand, I do believe that every big success begins with an expertly crafted plan. Starting the year off with a clear picture of where you are going and how to get there will help to reinforce new habits while they become part of your routine, and eventually part of your psyche as an athlete.  On January 1st, instead of resolving to do a bunch of things that you'll forget about over the course of the next month, block out a few hours, sit down, and make a plan using the following four ideas:

1. Set Goals - Start by setting your goals for 2016 and beyond.  This can be one of the most daunting parts of the process, because writing down your goals means that you might fail.  Despite this, if you don't set goals that scare you, you'll never even begin to realize your potential, so dream big, keep them private if it scares you to share them, but write them down so that you know what you're planning for.  For help setting functional goals, be sure to check out our Goal Setting Worksheet available on the Sailor Resources page under the "How To" section. It's never too early to start setting goals so think long term!

2. Plan ahead - Instead of setting a goal and hoping to achieve it, set a goal and PLAN to achieve it! Setting a detailed plan in place to achieve your goal is a super important part of the process of success because it provides you with a document to check in on every few weeks to see whether or not you are on track to achieve your goals.  Your plan should focus on the granular details of how you are going to achieve your goals.  What skills do you need to acquire? What drills will you need to do to develop those skills as quickly as possible? How much time will it take? Is that amount of time commitment realistic?  If not, how can you make your training more effective?  To help put together a bulletproof plan, and keep track of your progress in the new year, check out our Hours Tracker Template here.

3. Stick to the 70:30 Rule - As you put together your plan, it's important to keep the 70:30 rule in mind: at least 70% of your time on the water should be spent training, while 30% should be spent racing.  Racing should be viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate and experiment with new techniques that you learn in practice, NOT a time to develop new skills.  Color coding your plan (see step 2) can really help to visualize whether you're getting enough practice time!

4. Put In Hours Alone - While a lot of people believe that sailing against other boats leads to faster improvement, and this can sometimes pay out, in the long run, rising to the top requires hours to be spent on your own, putting in the hard work.


Wishing everyone a productive New Year!

- Willie out

Weekly Routine: Isolate Details For Rapid Improvement

How many times have you had a coach tell you, “You need to focus on getting a good start here,” after a rough race?  Thanks for the advice coach, but what does, “Focusing on getting a good start,” actually mean?  If your mind is occupied with visions of coming off the line cleanly and racing away to get the bull-dog, chances are good that you’re not focused on what really matters: the details.  Just as you need to focus on the finer points of the starting process (keeping your bow ahead of the boat to leeward, communicating about incoming threats, choosing the appropriate time to accelerate based on the conditions, etc.), improving a racing technique requires intense focus on the details. 

Let’s explore this idea by using the example of straight line speed, upwind in driving force conditions.  Ripping around the race course in any given condition can be broken into a number of different factors that become more and more subtle as we dig deeper into them.  Within upwind speed, “technique” is one obvious, major factor, but within “technique” we can go a step farther and discuss things like weight placement, sail trim, or steering. Within each of these topics, we could go a level deeper to address, for example, puff response in our steering – that is, how do we adjust our steering technique to compensate for a blast of pressure?  The more time you spend practicing, watching, and thinking about these factors, the more refined your understanding of the nuances will become, and therein lies the opportunity.

As in our earlier starting example, focusing on the end result usually causes you to lose focus on the details which combine to produce success, so the more we can isolate individual, granular skills, and focus on just those skills, the more quickly you’ll see results.  For example, to isolate “Puff/Lull Response” within the subject of “Precise Steering,” upwind in driving force conditions, we could practice a drill where the mainsheet and jib sheet have to stay static – no movement allowed – and the skipper is forced to steer to keep the boat flat.  This drill exaggerates the movements required from the steering, but in doing so, it also exaggerates the instantaneous feedback that the skipper feels, so it allows them to hone their steering technique accordingly.

Next time you head out to practice to correct a weakness in your technique, dig down into the true underlying issues, and try to isolate each one by inventing a drill that forces you to focus on a single aspect of the issue.  Design the right drill, and your practice productivity will sky rocket!