Campaign 101 Part 2: Your Attributes

This is the second part of a six-part series written by Dave Dellenbaugh. It is the backbone of what we do here at Clever Pig. You might want to start at the beginning with Part 1: Getting Started. If you just can’t wait for all six parts, you may download the entire series as a PDF.

Self Evaluation

Before heading into any new phase of your sailing career, it’s smart to do a bit of self-reflection. By evaluating your strengths and weaknesses, it’s much easier to identify the path you must take to achieve your goal. Here’s a good story about how this concept applied at a particular regatta, written by David Dellenbaugh and reprinted from Speed & Smarts newsletter.

Lumpy-GravyEvaluate Your Strengths & Weaknesses

Every once in a while I do something especially careless on the race course and create unnecessary problems for myself. A good example happened during a recent one-design regatta. The weather end of the starting line was favored, and the wind was predicted to shift to the right. So most of the 69-boat fleet decided to start near the committee boat. Not surprisingly, we had many general recalls.

After getting caught in some tight jam-ups during these starts, I had a “great” idea. Why not come in a little late at the committee boat? That way we wouldn’t have to fight the crowd, we didn’t risk being over early, and we’d be able to tack immediately for the favored side of the course. It seemed so logical.

Unfortunately, as we lined up for the next start, it became clear that we were in big trouble. About a dozen boats, who had the same idea I did, were redefining the concept of barging. Half of these got peeled off on the wrong side of the committee boat and came back for a second try; the other half were luffing, dead in the water, at the committee boat’s transom. There was no place to go.

When the gun sounded, we were stuck head to wind, waiting for the traffic jam to clear out. When we finally crossed the line, the front-row starters were crossing well ahead. It wasn’t a pretty picture. And, of course, there was no general recall this time. As we sailed up the first beat, I kept flashing back to our bad start. Wasn’t there something we could have done to avoid this problem? Of course there was!

Several weeks before the regatta, I had sat down and made a list of my own sailing strengths and weaknesses. I did this primarily because I had never before sailed with my two other crewmembers. I figured if I told them all my weaknesses, they could cover those areas. Similarly, if I shared my strongest points, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about those.

I did a very simple exercise: I drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper (it was actually a page in my sailing notebook); on the left side I wrote the heading “Strengths,” and on the right side I put “Weaknesses” (you could be more positive by calling it “Opportunities for improvement”). Then I made two lists as follows:

My Strengths

A strength is something at which you are particularly good. On my list, strengths included such diverse things as match racing, starting in the middle of the line, playing oscillating shifts, and good eyesight for seeing marks. Any skill you have that might help you get around the race course faster than your competition should go on this list.

Listing your strengths is a good way to build, or re-affirm, your own confidence in yourself. It also gives you a useful catalog of your strategic and tactical weapons. Your goal should be to sail each race in a way that allows you to take maximum advantage of your strengths.

strengths-weaknesses-notebookFor example, in the last race of the regatta after my bad start, we had to beat one other boat to win. Since I’ve had a lot of match racing experience, that tactic was part of our game plan. We didn’t have to use it, but we were ready in case.

My Weaknesses

A weakness is any area of the game where you feel you have a competitive disadvantage. I know, for example, that I’m not very good at going all the way into a persistent shift. I also keep my head in the boat too much, and I get frustrated in very light or fluky wind.

In hindsight, it’s clear to me that almost every problem situation I get into is somehow related to one or more of my weak areas. Identifying these weaknesses is therefore a necessary first step in avoiding future problems.

Making a list of strengths and weaknesses is just the beginning. Once you’ve got your list, here are some things you can do to maximize its usefulness:

  1. Read the list before every regatta. Reviewing your strengths will help make you confident and get you psyched up for achieving your potential. Reminding yourself of your weaknesses will help you develop a learning attitude, which is so important to have while racing.
  2. Share your list with the other people in your boat, especially if you are sailing with new people. Your team will function more efficiently if everyone can “play to” their strengths and get support in their areas of weakness. I usually tell my crew, for example, that I am good in tight, tactical situations involving the rules, and they let me handle those situations. I also tell them I don’t always look around enough, so they make sure to keep their heads out of the boat and tell me what’s happening.
  3. Make a plan for how you can add to your list of strengths and reduce your list of weaknesses. One of the best things I’ve done in the past is sail with people who are strongest in the areas where I am weakest. Remember, your goal should not always be to avoid your weaknesses while racing. The best way to get rid of them is to attack them head on, and a good time for this is during races that don’t count so much. If you have trouble starting at the leeward end, for example, get in there and fight it out. As they say, practice makes perfect.
  4. After each regatta, make any necessary changes to your list. In theory, making a list of strengths and weaknesses should have prevented the disastrous start I described earlier. Unfortunately, I made two mistakes. First, I didn’t spend enough time thinking about and going over that list with my crew before the regatta.

Second, I never told them that occasionally I do impulsive, off-the-wall things like coming in late at the committee boat. As one of them later said, “If I’d known you were planning that, I never would have let you do it.” He probably would have suggested that we start nearer the middle of the line, giving up a bit of distance for a more conservative, clear-air start.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. We finally got clear air and sailed a very good first beat. Because some of the leaders overstood the windward mark, we managed to round about eighth. From there we used our good crew work and consistent speed to claw our way back to second at the finish. We recovered well from our embarrassing start, but I definitely made the race a lot harder than it had to be.



in·teg·ri·ty: noun– the firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values: synonym: honesty


In order to build a successful campaign, and to be successful in the sport over time, it is essential that you earn the respect of your teammates, competitors, race officials and supporters (financial and otherwise). There are just too many aspects of being successful for any one person to be able to do it on their own. We all need help and support from many others in a wide variety of ways, from financial assistance, to logistics such as travel, food and accommodation, to preparing our equipment, to tuning and training partners, and even to getting a break here and there on the race course.

Earning respect comes by acting with integrity at all times. And there are many ways sailors do and don’t act with integrity. This area of CleverPig is dedicated to underscoring the importance of acting with integrity, and to sharing examples of how sailors do and don’t do it. Acting with integrity is a choice each person is capable of making, and the sailors who make that choice will experience the rewards it will bring.

“You haven’t won the race if, in winning the race, you have lost the respect of your competitors.” 

– Paul Elvstrom, 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist

Other great quotes about integrity:

  • “A good reputation is the most important piece of equipment in your sailing bag”
  • “It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation; it takes a moment to ruin it”
  • “Your reputation arrives at an event long before you do; and never leaves.”


Here are some excellent pieces that go deeper into the issue of Integrity in the sport, and how to be a successful competitor who people respect.

Physical Training

Basic Importance of Physical Fitness For Sailors

Tiger Woods is a perfect example of somebody embracing physical exercise and showing how, apart from his incredible natural talents, working out can be beneficial to a sport, especially one that doesn’t have a long history of cross training. Sailing is very similar. Most sailors have relied on being in pretty good shape, having excellent abilities on the water and not worrying too much about an exercise regime. The times have changed in the last ten years or so. Most Colleges have a weight lifting/cardiovascular program in which all sailors are required to attend. Olympic Campaigns immediately budget for a gym or trainer, and The Americas Cup teams have not only a trainer but a therapist, chiropractor, nutritionist and a host of other health and wellness services. Opti kids are getting the idea about fitness as well. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing their role models setting the example.

WeightlifterSo why is it important and beneficial to be exercising if you sail? Some answers are simple, some will take time to appreciate yet can matter the most.

Depending on what type of boat you sail, various requirements will be placed on your body. Three to Five days of racing along with heavy air and plenty of sunshine will be very taxing and you will need to be in shape. The last thing you need is to loose a race simply because you bonked out before the other guy or couldn’t hike as long…

With single handed and double handed dinghy racing, most sailors realize that a strong core, quadriceps and arms are essential along with a healthy dose of endurance. A program needs to be created to target those muscles as well as developing the overall athlete. Use of a Bosu and stability ball can assist in the process along with other basic tools such as a hiking bench and standard exercises like wall sits. The concern must not only be your strength but what kind of recovery is available after severe exertion.

Positions on a big boat can be broken down from Bowman to Pit, Grinder, Trimmer, Helmsman etc and workouts can be tailored to key on various muscle groups which will be taxed the most. Bowman for example will need to focus on exercises that are similar to that of a gymnast or rock climber. Circuit training, agility and balance are all incorporated as well as emphasizing a steady cardiovascular program.

Injury prevention and management is yet another reason to be involved in an exercise routine. Accidents can and will happen and tweaks in the body are sometimes unavoidable. We need to keep moving. Organizing a smart rehab program will be the best thing though at times even the greatest athletes may need to simply rest.

AC45 World Series VeniceOne issue is clarity of thought. Terry Hutchinson, Americas Cup tactician, finds that training helps with decision making and stress management. Considering that he is a four time all-American and two time college sailor of the year, he understands how staying sharp, regardless of sailing ability, can make or break the outcome of a race at any level of competition. Anna Tunnicliffe realizes that the harder you train in a controlled environment like a gym, when race time comes, all will be in check and the only worry will be showing up on time, game face on and ready to sail.

I just returned from CISA (California International Sailing Association), where they held daily sailing fitness clinics. It was very well received by the 120 Jr program sailors and coaches. Dean Brenner, Past Chairman of the US Sailing’s Olympic sailing committee, gave a presentation and stated first and foremost that being in shape is the #1 focus within a solid campaign. Regardless of the boat that you are sailing, a foundation of health and fitness is mandatory and needs to be planned, budgeted and executed.

harry-legumThe key points in planning the training should revolve around periodization, a yearly view of training that focuses on races, strength training vs. base line training, cardiovascular, nutrition and all else in between. One aspect of the training is exercising on the road. Never forget to add this into the regime. It can be  accomplished and done in a way that progress is maintained and at the very least, going backwards is avoided.

Harry Legum

With over twenty years experience in physical fitness and coaching, Harry Legum is the founder of Annapolis Sailing Fitness – the first sailing-specific fitness studio in the US. Legum has designed and delivered hands-on physical fitness training for junior-level, high school, college, Olympic and Americas Cup competitors.

For more about Harry and Annapolis Sailing Fitness, go to AnnapolisSailingFitness.com.


Sports Psychology

The psychological component in sailboat racing may be more important than in almost any other sport. That’s because sailing is such a mental game. You need intense concentration for hours at a time, and you have to make thousands of decisions in every race. Then there are all the pressures of competing against other sailors and trying to win.

If you get excessively nervous, fold under pressure, don’t get along well with people, or have trouble absorbing lots of input all at once, success will be difficult. This applies to racing around the buoys as well as managing your campaign. Here are some resource articles on sports psychology for sailing that may help you “keep it together” when the going gets rough.