Improved Racing Results: One Sailor’s Progress

Most sailors want improved racing results. That’s why SailZing was excited to note the progress of Devon Howe, MC sailor from Saratoga Lake Sailing Club, near Albany, NY. Devon attended Zenda U in March 2017, and then competed in the 2017 MC Midwinters at Lake Eustis, finishing 27th out of 63 boats. He went home with a plan, and came back to Eustis in February 2018 for the Train Wreck regatta to finish 9th out of 43 boats, with fairly consistent results in a very tough fleet.

SailZing asked Devon to share the key factors in his improvement.  Here is his response, in his own words:

Zenda U

The first thing I did was go to Zenda U.  The next thing is that I sailed as much as could practicing the things that I learned at Zenda U. I summarized my Zenda U experience and it was the catalyst that helped me move from mid-fleet to the next notch up.  Here is my summary:

I almost felt bad publishing this…because I want other sailors to go to Zenda U…and not just take my notes. But Eddie Cox  and Ted Keller made it so simple and clear.

Hike Hard

I realized that I have a competitive advantage being so tall [Devon is 6’10”] …but I had not literally  “leveraged” my advantage…until now. At Zenda U…they teach the basics…like HIKE, and HIKE some more…your counter-weight is what moves the boat forward…duh…but I never focused on this…until now. So I purchased a pair of “Hiking Overalls” (Zhik – Robert Scheidt Hikers)…they make hiking so much easier…I can hike longer and farther out from the boat.  I also have been doing sit-ups…and I build a small “hiking bench”…and the combination of these has given me a small edge that I needed to keep upwind speed with the “big boys.”

Pre-Race Preparation

I have also learned to read the weather pattern and wind direction forecast before the race…to see where the wind will likely shift to. So I only start on the favored side of the line…but always aware of where the wind will likely shift to…then be in the middle of the course so that I can get to the side with the favorable shift as soon as possible. Don’t get caught too far out of the center of the course…unless you see a big shift that looks like it will hold. This is what I did in the second race…I got a tight boat start that was highly favored, then tacked to port to be far on the right…and it paid-off….I was in second place for most of the race.  The “Windy” App showed right shifting winds all day.

Sail Controls

I also use many more sail controls in medium-heavy upwind legs. In the past I would set it and forget it.  Now I am focused on HIKING…then angle of heel…and control angle with sail trim, vang, outhaul, traveler, downhaul (cunningham).  I try to keep my sail as full as possible…while I see some competitors with outhaul fully on…I rarely have much of a fold…I like as much power as possible…I’d rather HIKE and be fully powered…then pull the sail outward only as necessary to reduce helm and heel. But always use the Main as the MAIN sail control upwind. I’m easing and sheeting in constantly to keep proper heel and maximize lifts. Some think that when you get a lift…you should turn upwind…I disagree…the quickest response is to ease your sail…this gives more speed which in turn give more apparent wind then you can slowly point to windward while sheeting in slowly to squeeze the pressure.

Head Out of the Boat

One the biggest difference in my sailing is that I’m looking upwind 70% of the time for the next breeze. In the past I was focused on sail trim and other boats…this was wrong…you have to stay in the breeze upwind or downwind…and focus intensely on this….that’s what makes the boat go….another duh moment.


Downwind I’m trying to surf like a Laser. Most of us have seen the crazy track that Laser sailors take downwind…in and out of waves…you can do a similar thing with MCs. But don’t bury the bow in the back of a big wave. You have to steer out of these situations…find a deep trench and ride it to gain speed, then steer downwind when you have speed and the wave flattens out.

Boat Handling

Boat handling…I’ve only tacked a few thousand times…but I still need practice to make it smooth. I use the behind the back pass EVERY TIME…even when I’m sailing out of the harbor. The practice makes your tacks smooth and efficient when your are in a pressure situation (around marks or starboard boats).

Planning Ahead

Planning mark roundings WAY AHEAD….I’ve gotten better at this. Get inside when you can and force others outside.


I learn something new every race…and I document what I learned so I can apply it next time. I got in some tacking duels that I lost…but I learned how to do better next time. I like sailing because it is like life…if you focus your energy on what’s important…you can make a positive change. The problem is that we all have too many things to focus our energies upon!

Devon Howe

Related Content:

2017 Zenda University MC-Scow Clinic
Three Fitness Measures of Winning Sailors – (emphasizes hiking)
Starting Strategy and Tactics: Where to Start
Upwind Boat Speed – SailZing Aha! Insights
Get Your Head out of the Boat!
Practice the Body Mechanics of Tacking to Improve Your Sailing

Sailors Helping Sailors

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