Thursday, October 05, 2006

Consistently Closing the Gap

I recently commented that we did better in overall standings last year and that I was not going to get hung up on standings because it was a big year for change. I felt that we had improved all around. Our spinnaker sets, jibes and tacks were all better, smoother and faster. The overall stats did not make sense. I thought to myself that this is only our first full year of racing.

Last year we only started the in the Summer series. We spent the spring series doing drills and getting the crew up to speed enough to race. I finally saw that the club site had updated the race results so I could finally see where we stood in the frostbite series. We felt like they were all good races. Our finishes were excellent and well ahead of the usual pack.

So I went back to last season Summer series and looked at our corrected time gap from the leader in all the races, then grabbed the numbers from all the series this year. Much to my surprise I discovered a great trend. We have been consistently reducing the leader gap (corrected elapsed time) since our initial race in the summer series last year. We are at the point now where we have reduced the gap by 300%. PHRF stats are very hard to measure anything concrete but the overall trend is hard to ignore. I can honestly say we are improving quickly.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Hardest Part Is Letting Go

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it is that makes the boat a team and what it needs to do that. The first season my primary role on the boat was teacher. A 100% new crew had to be taught the absolute basics. We shadowed the fleet in the spring series of year one and practiced launching the spinnaker and tacking. We started out by colour coded ropes. "pull the blue and white one", and graduated to proper names until everyone was comfortable. Dockside drills and dry runs for gybing were pretty much a given on race night. Shifting and alternating roles to see who was best suited for which position, and then re-educating.

In season two things were much better. Focus was now on boat handling, rules and strategies. A large part of my time was still spent explaining my decisions to crew in the hopes they would understand the bigger picture of the overall race. This is a difficult task to do while racing.

The hardest part...but essential part...this year has been letting go of control. Passing decision making on to the crew. Letting the tactician decide on a game plan, letting the trimmer decide how much to let it out, Bow person getting us up to the line and in position at the start. I did not always agree with some of the decisions (as the crew may not have always agreed with mine when I insisted) but the key is that they need to make those decisions. In order for the crew to grow as a team it is imperative that they make those calls and decisions.

It is hard to let go of that control feeling. I am a perfectionist at heart and like to have things done my own way but I feel a good skipper needs to build a level of trust on the boat. I want a crew that gels, communicates and acts like one unit. They can't do that if I hold them back.

Next year I want to really push for the micro teams to start making all the decisions. Tactics team at start with bow leading the way, tactics team for strategy, trim team for boatspeed. Off-season meetings will be spent working on these systems trying to refine them.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Seek Professional Help

The topic of getting a professional on-board next year was discussed a number of times and I think we are about ready to have someone aboard to help evaluate overall performance and formulate our overall weaknesses, and strengths which will give us a starting point to designing a solid practice regimen.

The crew is serious and committed to improve and be competitive in the next level. And I believe we can as a boat and crew achieve this. I think Priorities for the next little while (off-season strategy) will be the following:

  • develop a crew goal list: establish what each crew member wants to get out of their time on the boat. Be clear and make sure we all understand what priorities we each have, where we want to be and what we want to learn. How much we want to practice, how committed we are, how much time we can devote. We should develop a 3 year plan and briefly set some goals as to how many regattas and which we want to try and do. What system of measurement we want to choose to help track our goals over the years.

  • Clearly Define Crew Roles: Sit down and write down who does what when and stick to those roles. Now that we have a fixed crew it will be easier to assign positions and responsibilities. I am more confident and willing to parse out duties such as Crew Chief and Regatta Coordinator now as well as other tasks that were pretty time consuming on my part.

  • Off-Season Strategy: Define our strategy for off-season. Look at meeting times and places and establish agenda. Make a list of material we can review to keep up to speed and help develop practice sessions.

  • Define Short Term Objectives: This will include what physical things still need to be done to the deck layout. Discuss options for changing these items and co-ordinate timing for spring to have them accomplished. Plan our early spring training regimen.

This list is a starting point. Will build on it and further develop it as we go. Came across this interesting post regarding advice for new person trying to put together a boat. Some excellent info and comments here. Worth a read.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Season Finale

Going into today I was very optimistic that we would have a very good race considering our last two efforts were stellar. From the stand point of crew and working together, it was stellar. From a technical standpoint it was far from our best race. While sailing out to the line with the main up I felt I was fighting the boat. The winds were projected at 15 knots, I played conservative and had the crew tune for 6-9 knots. I just checked the actual numbers and the average wind speed over the course of the race was about 4.9 knots. This confirms my suspicion that we were overtuned. When I got to the dock this morning the winds were just picking up and a big cell was moving in. I thought the forecast was spot on for what I was seeing.

From a tactic point of view there were a few situations we should have played better today and cost us quite a bit of time. Unfortunately it was one of those situations that once we realized the problem it was too late and very hard to get out of it. We had a boat leebow us at one point on the upwind leg and our immediate response should have been tack away. I footed off to gain speed and avoid shadow but the boat stuck with us as the wind changed. By the time it was critical for us to tack away we could not, so we had to ride it out. At the mark rounding we clearly had overlap at the two boat circle but the boat to leeward did not agree and it took quite a bit of shouting for bouy room to convince the boat ahead to give us room. We finally squeezed in around the pin just shy of having to tack to avoid hitting the pin.

On the downwind we were caught in a bit of a hole until the weather decided to settle. Once it did we again were caught in shadow from other boats. I made the decision to gybe away for clean air and we broke free. We managed to get to the leeward mark roughly at the same point as the boat that failed to give us bouy room. They were slightly ahead of us and putting their jib up in preparation for the gybe around the mark. We raised our jib but did not drop the spinnaker yet. We gambled and it payed off. We managed to squeak around the mark quicker then they did and with clean air made a break for the finish line.

Overall we did not place high in the finishing order but it was a good race. The crew worked very good together. It is very apparent that they are really finding their groove!

My sincerest thanks this year to the crew of Gray Jay. It has been a pleasure sailing this season with you all and I am looking very forward to the next season. Next year is our year as a crew and boat.

Thank you.

The Skip.