Thursday, April 29, 2010

When things go wrong.... Routine saves the day!

After the first two days of racing at the Olympic Games Tim and I were sitting in 13th place. Not exactly where we were planning on being. We had had some minor issues in the last couple of months of preparation, but in the last two training camps we had shown excellent boat speed and felt comfortable in our racing strategies. We had raced surprisingly well in all practice regattas on the Olympic waters and were considered serious medal contenders.
What went wrong? And more importantly how were we going to turn it around?
Well, apart from the normal Olympic jitters, on day one we also had encountered REALLY light airs, combined with strong current and way nasty chop on race course 1. This threw us a bit of a curve ball, which resulted in some early mistakes and bad finishes. This then resulted in us taking higher risks in order to try to undo some of these first mishaps. It seemed like we were caught in a vicious cycle...
So how did we get out of it again? Well, as boring as it might sound, it was pretty simple.
Tim and I had established pretty stubborn routines, which allowed us to focus on what really matters and not get too distracted. The Olympic Games Regatta must be the most intense competition that any sailor will ever race in. Believe me, I know, I sailed in three Olympic Games. What keeps you on track are your routines.
It starts with how and when you get up, what you eat for breakfast, how you rig your boat, the girls you flirt with in the boat park, how you do your pre-start routines, debriefs between the races etc. all the way until climb back in to bed and turn the light off.
I like to make the analogy with your routines being your life line through the day (or even through out the whole event). The stronger your routines, the more sturdier and grippy that life line will be. Now in smaller, less important events, you rely less on that line, because there are less things that can get you off course. There's less crazy stuff happening around you, there's less pressure etc. So you allow yourself also to sway further away from it. At the Games however things are pretty nuts. There are so many opportunities that distract you, so many people that want to hear from you, so many all-you-can-eat free buffets (and yes, there are parties too!), so you better make sure that life line is solid and within reach when things start going south.
On the third day of racing Tim, our coach Skip and myself met up outside the breakfast hall and discussed our approach of the day. We went through the weather forecast, what the tide was expected to do, what we would look out for. We discussed what kind of information we needed from Skip.
Basically we just went through our routines. Yes, it's boring I know...
That day we raced three races on race course 2. We won every race. We didn't do anything crazy or different. We just stuck to our routines. Except that I almost jumped out of the boat after the finish of the last race! Listen here to an Interview with Stuart Streuli from Sailing World (about 2 minutes in to the pod-cast).
The next day we had another stellar day with a 3rd, 8th and a 4th and this put us back in medal contention for the last day. (And the last day is a whole story on its own...)
photo credit by ??
So how you can you apply this to your sailing? Well the same way as we did. Figure out what works for you and your team. Routines give people confidence and puts them in the right spot from where they can perform at their best, over and over again. Remember, in sailing you're looking for continuity, not just a bulls eye every few regattas.

If you'd like to read more about what happened at the Games feel free to check out our old Blog that Tim wrote. You can find it here

A typical Qingdao practice day with fog and a lot of bent knees..... Note the curved tiller extensions that Tim designed. The upward curve allows for the boat to heel more without them touching the water and creating drag. And yes, such things did keep us up at night...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Time to Man-Up bro!

A couple of weeks ago I was sailing the 29er Mid-Winters (great debrief by Willie Mcbride) here in San Diego, crewing for JP Barnes, who is a Junior at San Diego Yacht Club and also a member at  South Western Yacht Club. JP and I have sailed together in the past, so both of us feel pretty comfortable with each other. We were doing quite well in the regatta, showing good upwind and downwind speed, some decent tactical decisions, but we just couldn’t get off the starting line. It seemed like we’d find a good spot and things were looking just fine until about T minus 20 secs and then things would go pear shaped.
Starting is one of the most intense moments of a race and mostly in the hands of the skipper. Usually you can determine immediately if the boat next to you is either a wolf  or a lamb (with various degrees of skill). I was determined to help JP turn from a lamb into a wolf and do it wolf style from now on. Ouhhhh, ouhhh, ouhhhhhhh!!!! (one of my most favorite Super Bowl ads, by the way)
On the starting line I like to have a lamb to leeward and a more or less sophisticated wolf to windward. The lamb will not push the line too hard and you can (usually) count on the skilled wolf not to jump the gun too early and keep his windward boat in check…. If everything works out right, you roll the lamb after 30 secs (opening a great gap to leeward) and pinch off the wolf after another minute or so (yes, I know, I’m being overly optimistic here…).
So how do you man-up? I haven’t really seen any good advice on this subject, but interestingly enough, it’s what usually makes the difference between average sailors and really good racers, especially for teenagers that are going through adolescence.
Here are my two cents on this subject.
  • Some of us are born to be wolfs and some others need to work to be one. A wolf has a palpable aura of confidence surrounding him (or her) and you must learn to impose this aura on others (like on the starting line) and marking your territory with it.
  • Practice obviously goes a long way. The more you practice, the more confidence you have to pull it off.
  • Don’t let yourself get pushed around. Wolfs like to probe others to see how much resistance they will encounter. If you meet another wolf, don’t let him mark you as a submissive wolf - do not be his bitch. Push back, instead, and he'll think twice the next time.
  • Make a distinct decision that you are going to be a wolf. Do you want to be eaten or do you want to eat? Tell yourself this as you’re getting ready to race.
Also, on a side note, being a wolf doesn’t mean being an arrogant SOB who doesn’t respect the rules. Don’t be that boat…

JP and I kept working on being a wolf on the starting line and he absolutely nailed it in the last start! I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed with our great start as suddenly we launched into the lead and I didn’t know what to do with it (tough problem to have, I know).
So the next time you’re on the starting line ask yourself if you want to be a wolf or a lamb. Believe me, being a wolf is much more fun AND you get the girl at the end of the day.
Oh, by the way, this should be obvious, but I’m not making any gender related distinction here. And if you do have a problem with the way this article is written, well then, you may as well just keep being a lamb.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Confirmation Bias... How it affects our tactical decisions on the race course

Due to school work and other sailing engagements I won't be able to attend the moth regatta this weekend in Long Beach. I'm quite bummed about it, but you can't have it all...
Nevertheless I would like to share some thoughts in regards to how we tend to warp our tactical decisions on the race course.
In Business School we have all sorts of communication and leadership classes and I have actually been able to apply quite a few learnings to my own personal sailing. Today I would like to look a bit closer at what the experts call Confirmation Bias.
Experience has shown that it's human nature that once we have taken a certain decision we selectively look for reasons, signs etc, to further justify whatever bogus conclusion we have come up with. The same applies to sailing. I'm sure that all  of you "tacticians" out there have come up with great tactical plans before the start and spent the rest of the race looking for signs that would fall in line with it. Instead you should have probably looked for signs that would negate it.

At this year's Key West Race Week I once again had the pleasure to do tactics on board the Melges 24 "Blu Moon", a program which is run by Franco Rossini from Switzerland and has Flavio Favini on the helm. From a tactical standpoint I actually felt this was one of my best regattas so far. Having just studied the effects of Confirmation Bias in Business School I told my team that during this regatta I would come up with a plan before the start (as pretty much we always do), but would then focus mainly on signs that would contradict whatever I had just come up with. I felt this really helped me to counter effect the confirmation bias and left me more open minded on what was happening during the race.

At the end we finished a VERY close second behind UkaUka racing from Italy, when it came down to the last 100 meters before the finishing line. Nevertheless a great regatta and lots of good new ideas.

So, next time you go racing and make a plan before the start, maybe start focusing on signs (changes in wind strength, clouds, small wind shifts etc) that would negate your grand master plan. This way you might actually notice that your magical plan is about to go down the drain.... Good Luck!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

3rd and final day of racing, Charleston Race Week 2010

"Pressure is on gentlemen..."
After a 13th place in the first race of the day, things weren't looking as bright anymore. Especialy since our main competition (Joel Ronning, sailing with Bill Hardesty) had just scored a 1st! Conditions were the most challenging today out of the three days of racing we experienced. Our course was set up so it was influenced by the outflow of different bodies of water, which generated all sorts of local currents, most of which I identified wrongly in the first race.
We knew that we needed to finish no worse than 7th in any of the two races if Ronning won both of the races. So for the second race I opted for a more conservative approach. Again a great start by Michael put us in the front row in the first upwind leg and we rounded in 3rd, just ahead of Ronning. On the downwind we matched his gybes and pulled a way a bit. Then on the second upwind we positioned ourselves just ahead of them, just so they could live and would think twice about tacking. I really like this move, as usually that boat will end up loosing several boat lengths as they think they are doing o.k., but in reality they are slowly loosing ground. During this second upwind leg more favorable current was developing on the left side of the course and the fleet once again condensed at the windward mark. Again downwind we played it safe, but a knot in the kite halyard made things interesting in the douse! Once we had everything sorted out we got our heads back in the game and realized just in time how well the left was playing out, again.
A couple of boats passed us and we were suddenly in 8th place half way up the beat, but still ahead of Ronning. We continued to play the current well for the second half of the last beat and were able to reel some boats in to finish 4th. That gave us a total of 20 points and the overall win. Joel Ronning ended up second and Robert Wilber in 3rd.

So far I have had good luck in Charleston. Last year I did tactics for Scott Nixon and we won the Melges 24 event and this time it's the Melges 20. What will it be next year?
Charleston has done it again. Great, challenging racing, southern hospitality and awesome weather...

Now it's back to school for me for a couple of days and then off to Long Beach for my 2nd Moth Regatta (which will surely again be a humbling experience).
We'll have some awesome sailors, including Charlie and Jonathan McKee and a guy called Bora Gulari his blog (I heard he's pretty good) sailing.

Full results of Charleston Race Week can be found here

Chris out

Saturday, April 10, 2010

2nd day of racing, Charleston Race Week 2010

"Good mode Michael, we're a touch faster and higher than the boats around us. Bad set of waves coming, let's make sure we get through them with plenty of speed. Niiiiice... O.k. let's get back into our mode again, jib in and a touch higher..."
Dan and Michael had to hear a lot of that today on our boat. Luckily, they don't mind me speaking too much. Again we had pretty good boatspeed upwind and were great downwind. Our upwind boatspeed came mainly from everyone on board being focused on sailing the boat high without loosing too much speed and immediately getting the bow down with the appropriate ease on main and jib sheet in order to power up again. Settings are important but proper trim and steering are way more important in the kind of chop we had today in Charleston Harbor.
Our results were almost flawless and apart from the 2nd place in the third race we scored only bullets! Needlessly to say Michael was pretty pleased with our sailing. Our team has found a good mix of cohesion, respect for each others jobs and effective communication. Hopefully we can keep it up tomorrow (two more races left).

Our starts today were another key ingredient to being able to play with the heavy hitters. Feeling confident with our upwind speed we looked for low-density areas to start in. For every start we took transits, which allowed us to hit the line with speed and confidence. I like to take two transits. The first one I call "safe" and is about 2 - 3 boat lengths behind the actual line. The second is "on the line". This allows you to get a good idea on how fast you're approaching the line and if you need to make any adjustments in acceleration.

Time to go check out the pool...
Chris out
Results: here

Friday, April 9, 2010

1st day of racing, Charleston Race Week 2010

Today marked my first day of racing on the Melges 20 and I had an absolute blast! I'm sailing together with Michael Kiss (who hails from Macatawa Yacht Club) and Dan Morris (scow sailor from Minnesota). Today's conditions let us capitalize on our lst two days of practice. The breeze was up most of the day and peaked at around 22 knots during the 3rd race. Our race scores were a 4th, 3rd, and two 2nds, so we're pretty happy with our performance so far.
We have 14 Melges 20 in our fleet and there are some impressive teams on the line. Jeff Ecklund (sailing with Harry Melges), Joel Ronning (sailing with Billy Hardesty), Mary Anne Ward (sailing with Sam Rogers), Scott Weakly (sailing with Mike Wolf), Robert Wilbur (sailing with Andy Burdick) to name a few. The boats are pretty challenging to sail upwind and require a super focused helmsman and a vigilant jib trimmer, that keeps track of the puffs and continously works the jib sheet. Both Michael and Dan did a great job on their part and allowed us to round the 1st windward mark in good shape (except when we were OCS and had to turn back or when I underestimated the current relief close to shore). But where our team truly showed their potential was downwind. Dan's 49er experience combined with good helming let us literally smoke other boats on every downwind leg. The boats are so twitchy and they really reward good instant kite trimming and appropriate helming.
There are a couple of lessons I take away from today's sailing:
1. Don't underestimate the current relief
2. Vang off, main in on downwinds
3. Trim the jib pretty hard upwind in flat water (until main is backwinding)
4. Trust your team mates to do their jobs, and focus on your own job

So far Charleston has lived up to the expectations with great competition, good breeze and a relaxing shore atmosphere.

Looking forward to some more exciting racing tomorrow
Chris out