It is truly incredible the number of projects we have worked on where the sailors do not know how to recognise headers and lifts. When we ask them what happened to the wind during a training run, they can get it very wrong, and when we ask them what happened during a race, their impression is often at odds with reality, and completely wrong.
In this blog we give the method where any sailor or coach can see exactly what is going on with wind direction on the course, and the reasons why we, as coaches, can determine whether you as sailors are correct. We all use the same observations!
For those people who get it wrong, it sometimes feels like we’re saying “you’ve got a 50/50 chance of being correct, and you’re wrong AGAIN!! Here’s how we remedy that situation.
So let’s look now at how we address the identification of shifts. In the picture below the wind has gone right, so there are four boats on the left side of the picture sailing in racing wind direction. The blue dot is the sailors head, the solid curved shapes the sails on the boats and the dotted lines show the angle of your field of vision as the right shift takes place.
Assuming sailors sail on their telltales – and the better the fleet the more likely it will be to happen – everyone can see windshifts, even from a coachboat a long way distant, as the amount of the sail you can see from a relatively fixed point (that is your boat, or a coach boat) will change on the shift. So in the diagram above you can clearly see that the four boats on the left are sailing in formation, and you (the blue dot) can line up on all the sails and create a field of vision so you know the size of each sail. The one with the dotted line is just an example, and indeed generally you take more notice of the guys sailing in totally clean air – the dotted line field of vision works wherever the boat is. On the right of the picture the same four boats have entered a right shift. Now the sailor can see “more” (a wider angle) of the sail behind him, and less of the one in front.
This is the fundamental and easy way of spotting shifts. Using this method you can see what’s happening on the other side of the course, or if you are behind you can see the boats ahead hitting shifts and plan accordingly. This is one of the easiest and most data giving methods which can enable you to make decisions based on observations rather than guesswork.
So why do we use a compass? The answer is to judge patterns and sizes of shifts, and create more decision making data. We can also tell on the start line which is the lifted tack, and make decisions accordingly.
There are other ways of spotting shifts, such as land transits or transits on marks. However the sail method is absolutely essential to nail when racing, and gives you a huge and unfair advantage over those people who don’t practise observation skills. At Toplevel Sailing we make sure that our clients know all the tricks, and that the tricks are kept as simple as possible. The rest of the decision making data falls into place after we master the crude and effective methods!