A lot of people spend the winter away from sailing altogether - and it can sometimes be a useful way to recharge your enthusiasm for sailing. But for most it can be an enforced break, and starting again in the spring can mean taking time to get back up to speed.
If you want to hit the ground running in the new season, here are 10 things you can do that will help.
You're not going to thank me for this suggestion. SailX is dangerous - it is highly addictive and frustrating. And also quite brilliant fun.
Of course, being a computer game, or simulator, or whatever these things are called, it has its differences from real sailing. If you're anything like me, you'll spend the first while playing it like you would sail, but that doesn't always lead to the best results. You need to treat it as a version of sailing, and adapt your strategies to suit the game.
But it can help you improve your sailing in real life. There are numerous (and I mean numerous) rules situations, so it can be a really good way of improving your knowledge of this area. Some protests are pretty mad (like this one - you'll need to log in to see the replay of the incident) and would hopefully never come up on a real racecourse, but the majority are very helpful in understanding the finer details of the racing rules of sailing.
It also helps you to get used to developing a starting and a race strategy, as it tends to reward sailors who are good at planning ahead, playing the odds well, and taking advantage of small details. And because of the different viewing options you can get good at looking ahead and spotting likely advantages or problems and acting to get the best from situations.
It can be an enjoyable way to pass the winter months if you can't get out on the water.
Most of us know we could be fitter, and that being fitter would help our results. The winter is a great time to get a head start on the sailing season - you are much more likely to hit the ground running if you're in good physical shape.
Tailor your fitness program to your needs - there's no need to be in the gym every day if you only want to do well at club level. And you're far less likely to stay motivated if you're doing a lot more work than you want or need to.
Find something you enjoy doing that keeps you fit, and do it as much as is enjoyable.
The best thing about sailing books is that you can tap in to the minds of some of the best sailors to have raced dinghies. Paul Elvstrom, Ben Ainslie, Rodney Pattisson, John Bertrand - these guys have all written books about sailing - from general guides to autobiographies to specific skills or areas.
Not only will you learn a lot - how can you fail to learn when you're listening to the best in the business? - but it can be very motivating. You tend to be much more keen to get back to sailing when you've got a bunch of new ideas that you want to try out, and it can be much easier to go for that run or bike ride or Pilates class if you've been reading about how a bunch of Aussies won the America's Cup.
And it is an enjoyable way to spend the evening too.
I'm not great at keeping notes on my sailing, but it is something I aim to get better at. I do do it a little, and the template I use can be found on this page, but I should really do it every time I sail. I'm going to get a waterproof notebook (something like this) to do use to make notes after a sail, and then write them up quickly at home.
Well, that's my plan anyway.
But writing this blog and website does help. Because I'm always thinking about what I've learned from my sailing, and relating what I read and hear to my sailing, I often remember old lessons that I'd half-forgotten. And that's why making notes and then reading through them can be so helpful.
Having to re-learn old lessons slows the learning curve a lot, but by reading through notes from previous seasons you can avoid making the same mistakes all over again in the coming one.
I have established in previous posts that I'm not great at boat maintenance. It's just not one of my main skills. But I still use the off-season to fix up my boat - even if it is just replacing wearing ropes, or cleaning and sanding the bottom of the boat.
One guy I know (a very good sailor) recommended drying out the inside of my Laser - he reckons it would make it significantly lighter. Apparently you warm the boat with a heater (being very careful not to overheat it as it will get damaged), and use a vacuum cleaner set to blow (rather than suck) to blow air into the bung-hole in the transom. You have to make the pipe blowing into the transom smaller than the bung-hole, so that the air and moisture can get out and also, presumably, so you don't literally blow your Laser up.
I've never got round to doing it so I can't recommend it yet (and I strongly suggest if you are going to do it that you seek the advice of an expert and don't take my description as adequate). But, if it works, it can apparently really speed up an old boat.
Frostbiting is fun. It may not look like fun if you've never done it, but it is.
If you haven't tried frostbiting and there is somewhere near you that runs a series then you should give it a go. What's the worst that can happen? The fact is that if you wear the right gear the cold isn't much of an issue, and you get to race against some of the most fun opponents out there. And unexpectedly good things can happen to you. It can even inspire you to poetry (although that's not necessarily a good thing).
Give it a go - you won't regret it. (Unless you're this person - I don't think I can convince you).
I've written about mental rehearsal before (here and here), so I won't go into any detail. Suffice to say that it is free, easy to learn, fun to do, and it can help improve your sailing skills. What's not to love?
To some extent this ties in with mental rehearsal. Watching top sailors perform well is a great opportunity to learn. Not only can you see their boat set-up, their hiking position, their sail trim and boat trim, their tactical decisions, their hiking style, and so on and so on, but you can also use all these techniques as a visual model to improve your own racing. You can click on the class you sail here, and there should be some videos that you'll find helpful (if the class you sail isn't here then come back soon - we're adding to the section all the time)
It is also a good opportunity to watch videos like the one below on racing tactics:
It is certainly a good excuse to waste a few hours on YouTube, if nothing else.
I'm slowly but surely adding content to the site to help improve all aspects of your sailing. Have a browse through the different sections to see - there's bound to be something here to help you. And if you're unsure where to start, you could always begin with goal-setting - it should help clarify what aspects of your sailing you should work on to give you the biggest gains on the racecourse.
One thing that will benefit any sailor is having some quality practice time. This can be on your own or with a friend or friends - just make sure that you have a plan for your time. Going out for a sail is nice, and any sailing will benefit your performance, but quality practice means knowing what you want to get out of the session and doing specific exercises that will help you to achieve that.
And if you want to practice with other sailors then pick up the phone and organise it. Chances are that others want to improve their sailing too, and they'll be grateful that you're taking the trouble to organise it.