I visited my home club Frensham Pond Sailing Club last weekend and met up with some GP14 sailor. We got into a discussion about what would be the best things to learn in a training session which I have offered. We discussed
Though the winter I had sailed with a novice crew and rarely did we set a spinnaker but we managed to win races by a considerable margin. Following the discussion with my fellow competitors, I started to think about what makes the difference between a middle of the fleet sailor and one who wins a lot and therefor how to tailor the training.
Starting is important but one large difference I see is that I sail fast and free most of the time. I work on the principle that if I am going fast I can get to the next wind shift quicker than the next boat even if it means going slightly in the wrong direction. Pointing is good if you are sailing in a steady breeze but if the wind is shifty, it is not that important and pinching will definitely slow you down. The second difference I see is looking up the water to the shoreline to see what is going to happen next, even to the point of watching the reeds bending in the wind or sails of boats on the pontoon. I sailed a lot with a Lark class champion Julian Hereward in the 70"s and I asked him what he looked for. As well as the patterns of the wind on the water he looked for any clues described in the last sentence that might help unravel the mystery of the next puff of wind. My mission then was to replicate that behaviour and it has stayed with me since. Bear in mind I spent thousands of hours on the water in my youth so it became natural skill to spot the wind and develop a tactical plan to suit but you can develop this skill if you try.
If your IOM is balanced, sailing to windward, you can spend time looking up the water for the next shift.
On a pond those two tips can overcome many boat speed issues. Get the tactics right on a beat with good speed and you will look like a hero.