Melges/Rowe: Transitioning To The Big Rig

Finn and I started sailing the 29er in the spring of 2015, and we started sailing the 49er in August 2017. We did not sail the 29er for very long but we feel that without sailing the 29er our progress  in the 49er would be diminished. The transition for us was pretty smooth to be honest, or at least we thought it was for the first few weeks. Lake Geneva, where we are from is not a very demanding venue sea state wise, so when we were able to stumble across the boat in the 15 knot gybes we were pretty stoked. We found out later that our footwork needed a lot of critique, along with many other things. 

We got our first 49er going into our Junior year of high school which was great. Our plan was to start campaigning as hard as we could right away. This meant a lot of things needed to change for us, we needed to change our bodies to sail a much bigger boat. We wanted to jump into the game as quick as we could and the only way we could do that is by getting to work. During the fall our schedule would be pretty busy. We would go to school from 7am-2:30Pm Finn and I would meet at the boat every day at 3:15 so we could get sailing by 4pm and be back to shore by 6pm. Finn and I then would go home and eat a lot of food (high calorie and protein) then go meet our trainer who we work out with from 7-8pm. Our main focus in the gym was high intensity heavy weight training, we were trying to bulk up. Finn was 150lbs in the 29er and I was about 155lbs. Working out with our trainer + sailing every day shot Finn up to 175lbs and me 170lbs in about 6 weeks. On the weekends we would do 3-4 hour sessions with no time in the gym. We stuck with this schedule the whole school year, we noticed that we were improving very quickly.

This summer, we knew we were going to do two Europe trips so we figured we would change our training up a little bit to steepen the learning curve and increase productivity. Finn and I would wake up at 6:15am go to our trainer from 7-8am we would sail our 49er everyday from 10am-12pm, we would then sit for lunch until 1pm then go coach our local X-Boat race team until 4pm. After 4pm we would race whatever class was doing races that night. A lot of the classes that Lake Geneva has we think correlate to what we do on the 49er race course as the go about the same speed. We would race Melges 14’s, E-Scows, A-Scows, Melges 24’s, whatever we could get our hands on. This was an everyday thing and on the weekends we would focus on doing 3-4 hour 49er training sessions. 

Most of the training we did was by ourselves so we mainly focused on boat handling and starting drills. We also had to set our own marks. Most of the time we would go out and set a big Isosceles triangle with our marks. We would work on pre start maneuvers, figure 8s, time and distance starts, accelerations, footwork, then at the very end we would most likely do a short course racecourse session, basically run short course in the big wind until your crew wants to puke. When we started feeling comfortable with our footwork in a certain condition (including sea state and wind) we would run short course drills, to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We still have a lot we can work on boat handling wise, but we are confident we can keep the boat upright in most conditions. 

The best advise I can give to anyone that is transitioning from the 29er to the 49er is to find a really good coach, who knows the exact footwork for each maneuver and learn that first. You don't wont to be sailing the boat everyday for a year doing tacks and gybes the wrong way because it will become a problem at some point and the earlier you learn it the faster you will learn it. 

Written By Harry Melges