The MC Scow class is thriving with top sailors, both amateur and professional, joining the class and willing to share their knowledge. Melges and the sailmakers provide excellent support. These developments make it easy to get tips from pro sailors and to improve your sailing. In this post, we’ll suggest ways to take advantage of these opportunities to improve. We’ll also share five tips from pro sailors we got at the 2021 MC Scow Train Wreck regatta that may help you solidify some boat speed and strategy fundamentals.
How to Get Tips from Pro Sailors
The sailmakers supporting the MC fleet (more than a half-dozen brands) are pushing themselves to improve their designs and sailing techniques. This provides the class with a great resource. You can access their knowledge in several ways.
Almost all of the sailmakers send a top sailor to sail at major events. They’re all willing to share, so don’t be afraid to approach them with questions, either at the regatta or via email or phone between events.
Social Media Posts
Most of the sailmakers have an active social media presence. Often, these platforms provide specific tips. It’s especially instructive when a top sailor posts a discussion of specifics about what he did well or poorly in a particular race. Make a habit of following these platforms.
There’s in-depth knowledge at the websites of the sailmakers, builders, the class associations, and similar. For example, the MCSA website has articles with tips from pro sailors. We’re also pleased to be one of the top sources for sailing learning. SailZing.com provides original content and also brings together knowledge from a wide variety of sources to make it easier to learn new skills.
The best opportunities to improve are interactive – at regattas, clinics, webinars, or group practice sessions.
- Go to regattas. This is by far the best learning tool, especially if your home fleet is small or lacks depth. Make it a point to talk to other sailors about their techniques or strategy.
- Attend a clinic or webinar. Here are some example opportunities:
- Melges Performance Sailboats conducts Zenda U annually.
- North Sails has become very active in the class. Besides doing extensive sail testing, they have scheduled a debrief webinar for the Friday following the 2021 Train Wreck.
- The MC Scow Association conducted regional clinics in 2019 and may continue doing these post-COVID.
- Dave Dellenbaugh conducts Speed and Smarts webinars regularly.
- Find a group of sailors and go out and practice together. If you see a group of top sailors practicing before the regatta, don’t hesitate to join. Make it a point to ask questions following the session.
Tips from Pro Sailors at the 2021 Train Wreck
Get locked in quickly
Allan Terhune, Jr. and Eric Doyle of North Sails conducted a sail testing and tuneup session before the regatta. They graciously allowed others, including your SailZing.com editor, to participate.
The first day was light air and we focused on upwind boat speed. Once we mastered the protocols for side-by-side testing, it became clear that some boats got out ahead quickly. Once the boats got moving and were in clear air, the differences were smaller.
In the debrief, we talked about the importance of getting locked in right away to avoid getting behind. This includes:
- Proper angle of heel (12-15 degrees in the MC. An inclinometer helps.)
- Constant angle of heel. The MC Scow boards are flat plates and stall easily. Changes in the angle of heel lead to stalling, especially in light air, when the water flow over the boards is slow.
- Just the right mainsheet tension to bend the mast slightly to reduce fullness without closing the leech. Light air may also require setting spreader sweep further aft to flatten the sail without too much mainsheet tension.
- Careful steering. Don’t luff the main and don’t stall the leeward sail telltales. No big rudder movements. Rest the tiller in your lap or on the deck if necessary.
In the first race, the right hand side paid off big on the second beat. This was especially painful for those of us that were more centered on the course. The good news is that four pros shed light on their decision making in this specific situation.
- Allan Terhune stayed right on the second beat and got a huge lead. I asked him about the decision, since I had initially gone right and then tacked away on a small header. His take was that, even though he didn’t see anything on the right when rounding the leeward mark, he expected the right to come back.
- Bill Draheim posted his lesson about this situation on his Facebook page. He pointed out that the forecast was for the gradient wind to go right, that the right hand side of the course was nearer the shore and might provide some starboard lifts, and that the cove on the right hand side past windward the mark could be expected to supply more wind. He suggests making a game plan based on factors like this and sticking to the plan.
- I asked Eddie Cox about his thinking, since he had been leading the race and lost some places when the right came in. Eddie always tries to manage risk by monitoring the fleet and the wind. Initially he went left on the second beat because it appeared to have more wind and the closest competitors were going left. Eventually he tacked back toward the center to minimize risk. He noticed Allan on the right and kept monitoring Allan’s progress. However, he didn’t see anything on the water that indicated the right was going to pay off, so he didn’t go hard right to stay in touch with Allan. In hindsight, he says he would have sailed the first part of the beat the same, but then should have paid more attention to Allan and other boats behind that were indicating a strong right favor.
- Mike Considine, of UK Sailmakers was also on the left, but has a different take. He noted that one sailor on the left found a way to get over to the right by finding a lane of better pressure. Others on the left or middle, like Mike and Eddie Cox, could not find enough pressure to get back right without sailing slow on a header. So, the lesson is to look for pressure to get back to the favored side.
In the 3rd race, those that started on the left were able sail on starboard for a minute or so, then tack and cross most of the fleet on port. This was for a combination of reasons: the pin end was slightly favored, the pin end was less crowded and allowed sailing in clear air, and a slight left shift came in after the start.
Bill Draheim discussed this specific situation in his Facebook post for the day. He points out that it’s easy to get complacent and not do the homework we need to do before the race: checking the wind often, checking the line set, thinking about a plan.
Heavy Air and Waves
In the North Sails tuning session, we discussed sailing in waves. See a clip from the debrief on the North Sails facebook page or below. Key points from the debrief:
- Do everything possible to prevent “hobby horsing,” when the boat pitches up fore and aft. Techniques include dropping traveler and footing to power through, potentially heeling the boat a little more to present a narrower bow to the waves.
- After the regatta (too late!), I also went back and re-read Matt Fisher’s article on sailing with a crew. Matt points out that with crew, you need to foot a few degrees lower than a single-handed sailor. The single handed sailor doesn’t have the weight to hold the boat down and foot, but with crew you can foot and achieve better VMG in waves despite sailing lower.
Light Air Downwind
Melges posted a debrief between Eddie Cox and Andy Burdick with great tips about light air sailing downwind. Andy made up a lot of ground in the last downwind leg of Race 1.
Here are his tips:
- Up in the lulls down in the puffs. Most sailors didn’t work their boats hard enough. Andy would get speed by reaching up in the light stuff, with sail trimmed halfway in. When pressure came, he sailed lower until the pressure in the sail diminished. Repeat this process.
- When using this technique, make sure you have enough board down (almost half way) so get forward movement, rather than sliding to leeward when hit by a puff. Andy pointed out that many sailors had their boards too far up.
Racing Strategy: ILYA Fast Forward Seminar with Roble/Shea sailing – more about pre-race strategy development.
The Drawbacks of Pinching – great article from Vaughan Harrison on why pinching is bad, especially in waves. Tips on how to recover from pinching.