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Sailing an IOM


"I feel the need, the need for speed" 


How often do you find your boat slowing because the wind has headed and that momentary delay in course correction, loses you speed and therefor your position on the race course.  To get in amongst the top sailors you have to practice and iron out any deficiencies in your sailing skills and be as sharp or sharper as the next competitor.  Personally, I can get to the front in opens but ranking events and nationals are still a challenge.  I cover preparation and tactics elsewhere but felt it important to cover sailing one of these boats fast.

When I was young and a dinghy sailor, I spent nearly all of my spare time practicing.  Gradually, I realised that I was beginning to develop a sixth sense for the wind and able to spend more time looking upwind to exploit the next wind pattern.   In addition, I always sailed the boat on auto pilot at top speed and manoeuvred smoothly, whatever the wind condition and however it shifted.  Sailing the boat became a subconscious action.  This is how we need to be as radio sailors to beat the best.  


One way to develop your skill is to match race a fellow competitor, ideally one who is slightly faster than you. Begin by tuning the boats so they are the fastest they can be and then match race aggressively.  Not only will it sharpen your concentration but highlight any weakness to work on in your sailing skills.

The start

Just before the start, your position on the line is determined by your ability to hold your boat as close to the wind with the sails flapping without stopping in irons or sagging off to leeward into the boat underneath you.  Watch the top sailors on the videos on this site and you will see how they do it.

Immediately after the start you will have a limited view of your boat.  This is where all your hard work on getting the boat balanced comes into play.  If you can let your boat sail itself it will go fast and adjust according to the wind.  If you can tack onto port to escape the fleet, do so and sail fast and free in clear air and water to get a nose in front of those around you.

With confidence comes an ability to assert your boats positioning on other competitors.  Over the year, I had days where my position on the start and the course was dictated to me by other boats.  As my confidence built I began to control the position of my boat in the fleet.  I learnt on the start that it was so important to be able to see the bow of your boat.  Lose your boat, lose the start.  Lose the start, lose the race.  I was the master of losing my boat on the start at my first nationals.

Speed upwind


When sailing downwind the wind is behind your boat so there is little you can do to sail it slow unless you decide to run by the lee and not get the wind filling effectively in your jib, more on that later. When you go upwind you have all the opportunities in the world to sail your boat slowly. Sail too high and your boat will stall. Sail to low and you will lose ground to leeward as well as stall the airflow round the sails.  If you listen to the boats on the water on a shifty day you may hear flapping sails when a boat gets a heading shift. Now if you get headed and the sails stay filling it will slow until you bear off. If the sails flap your boat will certainly slow if not stop.  If your boat is not balanced, you will always be adjusting course and that will make you slow.

Someone asked me in a club meet, why I was fast to windward (relative to the ones sailing). There is no secret, I just sail slightly freer and pay close attention to the tell tales and keep them parallel as much as I can. I rarely let the windward tell tale lift. Several times I had boats point up from underneath mine which is fine for a short time until the wind shifts. By sailing free and fast I have greater apparent wind and if the wind heads I respond quickly and if I can see the header on the water, I will bear away before it hits or tack to take advantage on the lift on the other tack.  On the subject of tacking try to tack slow.  On flat water you can tack in a smooth curve and maintain boat speed.  A sharp movement on the rudder will stop the boat dead.


To set the boat up to sail slightly free, the inside edge of the main boom should be about 10-15 mm from the centre of the mainsheet post and have the jib boom pointing just inside the shroud. The BG web site will give you precise settings (55-60mm for A rig from centre of mast to edge of the jib boom). I have a Britpop so the settings on your boat may vary if you have another design but they should be pretty similar to what I described. When I first start sailing IOM's I always sheeted the main boom in the centre and twisted the top so the top batten was parallel to the centreline of the boat, similar to a yacht, which looked great and was relatively fast but after I saw what the top sailors did I changed my setup. At the Nationals it was noticeable that Brad Gibson sailed lower than the other boats around him but he was always tracking faster.

Try the BG setup experimenting with easing more in a breeze and when you sail upwind, concentrate like crazy on the tell tales and stop that windward tell tale lifting. Fast and free upwind is a skill worth developing.

I have recently found a way on flat water to sail the same speed as everyone around me but have the boat point ever so slightly higher off the line.  I noticed that Olivier Cohen at the worlds appeared to be sailing with relatively tight leeches at the worlds in Croatia when sailing in light weather and I heard that he was able to point higher and sail as fast off each start.  When I set up my boat I pay particular attention to getting the main and jib leech just right for the conditions.  The tricky bit is to find the right relationship between mast ram, shroud tension, backstay and kicker.  Well worth investing time in the relationships between these variables.

Sailing downwind

It is hard to go wrong on a downwind leg on a windward leeward course, you let the sails go out as far as you can, goose-wing the jib and point at the next mark. Or is there more to it?


If you do not have some kind of wind indicator how do you know whether you are square downwind so here are some pointers as to what to look for to go fast.


It might sound obvious but get the wind directly down the centre line of the boat to ensure the main and jib operate effectively when goose-winged. Sometimes you see boats sail downwind with the jibs flapping meaning the boat is running by the lee or they are just sailing too high and loosing ground. Find a burgee or strip of ripstop nylon or something similar and watch that as a guide for the wind direction when you next race to guarantee you sail on the optimum gybe to the next mark.


Always be on the gybe that takes you closest to the mark unless you are hunting for a puff or trying to avoid a lull near a mark caused by a tree.  Avoid using the rudder at all costs.  It will only slow you down.


Watch the boats behind as they are the best indication of new wind coming from behind.


Focus on these techniques over the winter so you get the max out of your boat downwind.

"Fast is Fine but accuracy is everything" Wyatt Earp - He knew the secret and he never sailed an IOM.



When sailing at an event, I received some very helpful coaching from Darin Ballington after he acted as an observer in my seeding race.  He advised me that I was too aggressive in steering the boat, tacked too quickly and tried to point too high.  These actions were emphasised as I had got out of phase with the wind shifts and was getting a little frustrated but this is great advise for anyone.

There is no doubt that when you tack, bring the boat smoothly into and through the wind and come out fast and free before sheeting in again.  In fact when you do any manoeuvre, it pays to do it smoothly.  In my experience this comes with practice and hours on the water doing manoeuvre drills but boy does it pay off in extra boat speed


Other things to think about

Last but no least, a fit body leads to a sharp mind.  Competition racing days are long and require long periods of concentration.  Keep yourself fit over the winter with walking, gym, jogging, golf, whatever works for you.  There are hundred of apps and books to set you on your way.

Look at your results and potential

Put your perfomance and history into perspective.  The top sailors in IOMs have sailed them for multiple decades in all manner of radio classes, there are multiple world and national champions, Olympic, world and national championship winning dinghy sailors, top RYA coaches.  They are all beatable if you put the time and effort into optimising your boat and practising but manage your expectation. If you are new to the sport and have not sailed before, stick with club racing until you have the confidence to move on to opens and then try a ranking event or open which are great fun.   

When winter is setting in, get out and practice while the front runners are hibernating.  Boat speed will only get you so far but time on the water is essential to hone your skills.  Your efforts will be well rewarded.  

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