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Lessons from a Legend
In the world of sailing coaches, few names garner as much respect and admiration as Dave Ullman. Coach Adam was lucky enough to serve as Dave’s assistant at the recent Etchells World Championship. The real pleasure for me came in Dave’s daily briefings and debriefs during. Every day, there was at least one little nugget...

StFYC Junior Member Chloe Holder was invited to sail with Jim Cunningham aboard “Lifted”. Sandwiched on the rail between Jeff Madrigali and Mark Ivey, she got a taste of high-end racing tactics, strategy and sail trim. She helped her team to a fourth-place finish!

Lessons From a Legend

By Adam Copuz-Lahne, Head Sailing Coach

In the world of sailing coaches, few names garner as much respect and admiration as Dave Ullman. I was lucky enough to serve as Dave’s assistant at the recent Etchells World Championship, hosted by SFYC and sailed on the Berkeley Circle. Not a terribly glamorous role, I was in charge of driving the Protector, taking current and wind readings and providing support to the three boats that Dave was coaching. The real pleasure for me came in Dave’s daily briefings and debriefs. Every day, there was at least one little nugget—something I had never heard before, or a different way of explaining something, or something that I find myself telling my junior sailors regularly, that immediately went into my notes. From these I have culled a few that I think are applicable to most fleets and sailors.

Catching a wave downwind is great, but jumping the next one is much better. Each wave you jump is a gain over a boat that doesn’t jump it and gets stuck in the trough. In some conditions the best you can hope for is to catch a wave and ride it as long as possible before it passes you by, in which case this is the goal of the run. But with a little more wind, or different wave shape or angle, it may be possible to power over the top of the wave crest in front of you and get ripping down the face. You may need to sail a little higher to generate the power and speed to jump the next wave. You may have to sail extra distance laterally. But, you will be moving down the course faster, and when you gybe back, you will realize the gains.

Do your homework and use every tool available. Each day Dave made a packet for each boat that included printouts showing strength and direction for wind and current, tide charts and wind forecast, gathered from a variety of free ad paid sources. This started on the first day of training, allowing us to judge the accuracy of the forecasts and make adjustments where we saw variation.

Watch your laylines. Sailing upwind, we saw many boats overstand the port layline, sailing up to 40 extra boatlengths and coming into the mark in precarious situations. There were major gains to be had by tacking 90% of the way to port layline, holding a good lane and not sailing extra distance. Downwind, the flood current caused quite a few boats to end up below their layline, having to heat back up near the bottom of the run and sail above their optimum VMG.

Avoid the cone of death. With such a small delta between first and last in our 51-boat fleet, the first leeward gate rounding was very congested. All these boats converging into a tiny area causes the wind and the water to be very disturbed. Whichever gate mark you chose, you needed to go straight for at least a minute before you could think about tacking. Failure to do so led to huge losses, as tacking early would put you straight into the worst piece of water on the race course.

Work hard off the wind. Dave pushed our sailors to be more kinetic in the boat, pumping as much as legally possible and using their weight to help steer. The difference downwind often came down to crew choreography—timing of the pumps and coordination of body weight. 

While the group entered the regatta with the goal of claiming the World Championship, in the end it was just out of reach. Our boats ended in 4th, 7th, and 31st. Thanks to Dave, and the teams Lifted (Jim Cunningham, Jeff Madrigali, Chloe Holder, Mark Ivey), Viva (Don Jesberg, Bill Hardesty, Andrea Cabito, Robbie Dean) and Elizabeth (Tom Caruthers, Chris Busch, Ben Lamb) for letting me be part of the squad.

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