Learning from the Best

There are lots of ways of learning from the best sailors, and it is worth developing a few simple skills to get the most out of these opportunities

What the Experts Say

Eric Twiname - Sail, Race and Win
If you can see - really see - what people who always beat you do, you are part of the way towards doing the same yourself.

Buddy Melges - Sailing Smart
One easy way to learn what works is to take a close look at ... the leaders in the fleet.

Doug Peckover - Improper Course
All you need to do is pick your personal coach and watch and learn as he/she unknowingly teaches you everything they know.

Videos for Learning from the Best

This video has some sound advice for getting the most out of the books you read

Getting videos of top sailors from your class is a great way to learn from the best. Here are a couple from the most popular classes, but if you want more videos of your class then go to the specific class page here (if it isn't there yet then it should be there soon):

Laser - following Robert Scheidt upwind and downwind:

Sunfish - on board with Bill Brangiforte:

You can learn even more from Bill Brangiforte, and also Andy David, by reading their "Words of Wisdom". Find a list at the bottom of this section on Sunfish sailing

Books with information on Learning from the Best

Sail, Race and Win - Eric Twiname, page 34

Sailing Smart - Buddy Melges, page 60

Websites and online articles for Learning from the Best

In this excellent piece Doug Peckover talks about learning from the top sailors you race against, and describes some of the common pitfalls and best practices.

What We Learned...

The first thing we learned is that there are many ways to learn from the best sailors. You can:

  • Read their books (or watch their DVDs)
  • Read their blogs
  • Ask them questions
  • Copy them on the water
  • Watch them (or rather study them) on YouTube
  • Sail with them

Learning from books and DVDs

Ok, so we all know how to learn from books and DVDs - we all did it at school. One thing that did come up, though, was the importance of taking notes. I had got out of the habit of note taking unless I was actually studying something (for an exam, for example), so I would read sailing books and rely on my memory. A big thing I learned (or was reminded of, to be honest) was that taking notes is much more effective if you want the information to stay in your memory.

Learning from blogs

Effective learning from blogs relates to the point above (learning from books) and the point below (asking questions). Firstly, you should take notes; Secondly, take the opportunity to ask questions. Bloggers love questions as they want to engage with their readers, so if you're unsure about something then ask.

Asking top sailors

One of the many great things about sailing is that we get to race against, and chat to, the very best sailors in the world. And people tend to love talking about the things that they are good at. So ask the best sailors that you race against to look at their boats. Ask them if you can measure their boats, or if they can tell you what settings they use (not all sailors will do this, but most will at least tell you their settings - mast rake, rig tension, etc. - especially if you're not an immediate threat to them in competition). Ask them for advice about a particular issue you have - its better to try to be specific if you can, as it is far easier to help someone with a specific problem than it is to try and cover a huge topic. Especially when you're probably enjoying a post-race pint.

 Copy top sailors on the water

As I mention here, this is trickier than most people think. It falls into two categories, in my opinion:

    1. How they set up their boat This relates to trying to replicate the flying shape of their sails. The easiest perspective for judging sail shape tends to be directly behind the boat, with the rudder lined up with the mast. Try to use key indicators to understand their sail shape. Look at the angle of the battens; look at how much (if any) of the leeward side of the sail can you see from this angle; when they pinch, look at where the luff of the sail first 'goes' (i.e. how far up the luff does the sail back?); etc.
    2. Their sailing technique Copying someone doesn't mean following someone. You can still analyse their technique if they are behind you or beside you. But make sure you have clear wind, and make sure you aren't interfering with them because they'll sail differently if you are affecting their choices too much. Look at where they go on the course and think about why they have made those choices (and also think about whether they were the right choices - even the best sailors get it wrong sometimes). Look at where they sit in the boat, and how much that changes; look at how they use their body-weight, and why (to get through waves, because of changes in the breeze, etc.); look at how they use the rudder, and how much, to get through waves or chop; look at their sheeting - how much do they adjust the sheet, and why; and so on...

The best way to get the most out of copying a top sailor is to choose one or two aspects of your sailing that you want to improve, and focus on how the top sailors do these things. Watch them, and then talk to them about it too - there's always things that are difficult to see, but that, once explained, can be used to improve.

Watching top sailors on YouTube

We're lucky to be living in an age where there is so much footage of sailing available. I'm a big fan of watching clips of the best sailors in the world and trying to use that as a means of developing technique. Much as with copying the best sailors that you race against, watching top sailors on YouTube is a great chance to see the very best performing specific skills - and you can rewind and watch over and over again. You can also look at how they set their boats up, and replicate it for yourself.

Sailing with the best

You should jump at any chance you get to sail with a good sailor. You'll learn loads, and it is a great chance to see how they do things and when they do things. And you have them cornered, so you can ask them as many questions as you want and they've no escape. Perfect.

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