Mcnay Racing

Performance Sailing


Princess Sofia Trophy, Palma de Mallorca, Spain – Olympic Class World Cup Event #3

On Saturday Dave Hughes and I finished the regatta with a win in the medal race and 7th overall in the 470 Class. The wind was remarkably good for the week of training and also the week of racing. We sailed most of our day in a fantastic 12 – 20 knots of wind. And, of course, we could not escape the classic 5-8 knot Palma Spring thermal sea breeze, in which we raced several times.

Finishing reach in big breeze

Finishing reach in big breeze

When we arrived in Palma, things started slowly and certainly with a little frustration. Overseas flights can take it out of a person and both of us felt weak from travel. Dave toughed out the flu to stick with our on the water preparation plans.

On top of this something was wrong with our rig tuning in this 470. We were using all the same equipment we raced with in the Miami World Cup event: the same mast, shrouds, spreaders, luff wire, and puller. Yet, we could not match the rig tuning with what we used on the boat in Miami. We spent days in strong wind without enough bend on the mast. But, each day we made incremental improvements: extra filing on the spreaders for extra range, more tension, and shorter spreaders (for more bend under vang). By the end of the event, we were in a tolerable range and our speed showed.

Our conclusion was that the boat geometry of the boat (chain plates relative to mast butt) must be different. So, we have a bunch of measurements to bring back home and check out our USA boat.

This event was a good test because most of the top international teams were racing. It confirmed our thoughts for what we need to work on and there was significant progress on our boat speed around the course.

Our next 470 event is a long distance in the future. However, I have some exciting coaching and keelboat racing lined up. At the end of next week, I head to Long Beach, CA to be among a group of coaches and youth sailors for the CISA advanced racing clinic – a great learning opportunity for the sailors and coaches!

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Melges 20’s at Bacardi Race Week Miami

ImageFifty-one boats registered in the M20 class at Bacardi Race Week in Miami. Once again, Thomas Barrows and I sailed with Camille. We had a great time on our boat and with the team of Andy, Mikee, and Greg. Thanks for the fun event on and off the water!

Miami can be a great place to sail. It has its challenges, but also has its patterns. One of the classic Miami weather patterns is rightward shifting breeze, but the left pays! The beats that the right works are when the wind takes a real step right. Otherwise, there will be more stable pressure left. We raced six of our seven races in 50-80 degrees true wind in the course area South West of Key Biscayne in the middle of the bay. In 5 of 6 first beats, a good start going left and tacking on the first lefty was best. In 3 of 6 first beats, a forced ejection to the right turned out OK. But, only if the boat was sailing fast and clear the whole time. In general, the righties were shorter lived than the lefties, so you had to take them when they came.

My take-away was that in a pin biased line, you had to start pin third. In square to boat biased, the middle of the line was best. Bottom line: good execution at the start made the beat much simpler.

Complete results here.

My next event will be the Princess Sofia Trophy in the 470, April 1-6.

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Etchells Midwinter Championship 2013

This weekend, I raced the Etchells Midwinter Championships aboard KGB. Most of the event was sailed in great conditions. On Saturday we had four races in 10-22 kts. It was a tiring job to re-trim the jib after every tack in the shifty NW wind and very challenging on tactics too! Thanks Senet and Jay for making the regatta possible.

Marco Oguenda Photo Credit

Marco Oguenda Photo Credit

The big lessons for this event were sailing less distance and timing of the first tack. Once in medium air, Etchells don’t go significantly faster with more pressure, so in big shifts (20 degrees or more), sailing lifted is the most important. With such big shifts – often unpredictable – you had to be ready to call a tight tack immediately off the line if a shift came.

We placed 15th of 60, which helped KGB round out the 2013 Jaguar series in 5th place.

Next up for me is the final event of the Melges 20 Miami Series. Racing starts tomorrow.

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Melges 20 Miami Winter Series Event #2

We just wrapped up the second event of the Melges 20 Miami Winter Circuit. I was calling tactics and trimming main on Odin with Camille at the helm and fellow Yale sailor Thomas Barrows was trimming jib and spinnaker. Thomas and I have team raced with each other a lot, but we have never raced on the same boat before. It reminded me how much there is to learn from other talented sailors and the best way to learn from each other is to race together.

One of the things I appreciate about the M20 fleet is everyone’s willingness to share knowledge.  Certainly in the Olympic 470 fleet, you do not find this level of openness. On Saturday after racing, there was a fleet debrief. Andy Burdick moderated a panel of helms and crew from several top teams on the day. While there weren’t many surprises, it was nice to hear from different voices to confirm what we were thinking.

Photo Credit Joy Dunigan at

Photo Credit Joy Dunigan at

Here were some thoughts from the panelists:

-As soon as the mainsheet is eased the primary shrouds need to be slid aft (tensioned) to keep headstay tension, so jib stays flat enough and rig remains stable.

-Plays the lowers based on vang tension. As the wind increases, vang harder and slide the lower shroud cars aft (tension). Also, crank on the diamonds. The overall effect is a flat mainsail up high with some depth down low and twist is controlled by vang. This is a good heavy air shape.

-Downwind in lazy plane or full plane conditions, steer to angle of heel. Heel should always be between 0 and 5 degrees. If at 0 degrees heel, head up, if at 5 degrees heel head down. In lulls, the crew moves forward and inboard over the motor, which will keep a little heel and allow boat to keep speed on lower angle. It prevents helmsman from diving up unnecessarily. In Marginal planning at 8.5 kts hull speed, heading up is good when you can hit 9.5-10kts of speed, but 9kts and high angle will not be VMG.

-When making your final approach to the line and watching your Velocitek, there should always be more meters to the starting line than seconds to the start. No need to worry about a boat with their jib up, they will rip by with a lot of momentum and not be an issue later.

Results are Here.

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Key West Race Week 2013: Downwind Tactics in the Melges 24

Until this year, I was a Key West Race Week virgin, so it was great to be on board with the veteran Melges 24 helm Argyle Campbell and crew Charlie Enright, Charlie Smythe, and Dave Hughes. I enjoyed fitting into the fabric of the team and finding places where I could help. Upwind, my job was mostly as a big picture eye. Then when we turned downwind, I was counting down puffs, calling their duration for mode choice, and looking at the big picture of where the next pressure was coming from, ahead or behind.


Photo credit Leighton O’Connor

Upwind tactics are fairly similar between classes of keelboat, but off the breeze you see can big differences in tactics based on boat performance. The Melges 24 is very exciting because it has ranges of planning and sails wide angles, so it covers a lot of lateral distance and gives big chances for gains or loses.

At the end of the week, I looked back on my notes at the plays we made downwind. While each leg was a little different, there were several ways to sail the leg that resulted in consistent gains or minimal loses.

Heading into the windward mark it is very important to determine what kind of run it will be: pressure, angle, traffic, or no obvious move. Before getting to the windward mark, you need to decide if you want to gybe set, straight set with early gybe, or straight set with long starboard. In the first two cases, you will want to round tight on the offset so no one can block you from gybing. In the last case, you may remain in the high lane for early gains, then soak later in the run when it is closer to gybe time.

1)   The highest percentage play is a straight set. Sail 70% on starboard. Gybe before the pack and, then make the gate choice when upwind of both gates. When making the gate choice look at these factors in roughly this order: 2nd upwind strategy, last pressure downwind, upwind gate, traffic, and minimal maneuvers.

2)   “Jump gybe”: straight set, but you think the right hand pressure will be slightly better, so you want to beat the pack to a gybe to have freedom of mode on port and let the puffs carry you over the other boats. In this play, you are closely watching the boats in front and you will gybe as they do.

3)   Only gybe set if it is obviously a gainer. The gybe set is risky for two reasons. First, you know will lose on the set because this move is slow and you will be under upwind traffic. Second, you will be going the opposite way as most of the pack, so you could lose big if gybe setting was the wrong play.

4)   In big breeze, plan for minimum boat handling, clear lanes, and no sharp turns at the gate. E.g. If you like the left, then you straight set, sail 80%, gybe, then try call a right hand turn layline from a short distance away.

Hope this helps you think about tactics next time you go skiff or Melges class sailing. Full results available here.


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Regatta Win in the 470 at Miami OCR

The Miami Olympic Classes Regatta has been a regular event on my schedule for years. Graham Biehl and I have sailed 470’s in this event eight years in a row and had a great time together. This year, Dave Hughes and I teamed up. We put in some preparation with coach Morgan Reeser. While I feel experienced in the 470 class – sailing in two Olympic games – I am always surprised at how much I don’t know. Sailing with Dave and Morgan helped open me to some areas I had not explored recently.

The event turned out to be mostly medium wind, with one heavy air day and one light wind day. The fleet was smaller than it has been in years, but the men sailed combined with the women and were scored together, so we had close races in all conditions.

The first half of the event, we were neck-on-neck for the lead. After day one, we were two points ahead of the top Austrian team (ISAF World ranking #2). Then after day two we were tied. The tie continued after day 3. On the fourth day, we sailed in light and shifty winds. We missed early shifts on the first beat, but pulled together some decisions over the race and finished with a 1, 2 on the day. We gained 10 points on the Austrians that day. In such a small fleet, points are hard to come by. We held onto our lead through the medal and ended with a regatta win!

ISAF SAILING WORLD CUP, MiamiWe would like to thank our friends and family for their support leading up to and during this event. Sperry Topsider helped make this possible for us in a number of ways, including with their very comfortable, grippy, and supple Sea Sock booty. Also, thanks to the whole US Sailing Team Sperry Topsider.

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The Sophmore Event: Tactical notes from Etchells Jaguar Series #2

Often in a new class, the first event can go quite well and then, in the second event, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the details of the boat.

I was in the position of tactician and main trimmer aboard an Etchells at the second Jaguar Series event in Miami. This weekend we were fortunate to have enough wind to complete five races series. The wind started at NE on Saturday morning and by Sunday afternoon was SSE. Although the wind was trending right, the left was often good. This is a classic Miami situation.

While we were confronted with many variables from tuning to evolving technique, it was most important to keep things simple, so here are a few simple lessons from the weekend.

1)   In unstable light air, you can be lifted in the middle, but people on edges will usually beat you because of more pressure.

2)   Don’t follow the forecast too closely. The forecast predicted a max right of 150, but we saw 160. And, it took a long time to shift back into the forecasted range, so always remember to race in the wind you have at that moment.

3)   Know what type of race you are sailing. Race four began in a steady breeze. We needed to switch from playing the edges for extra pressure to playing clean lanes. We made the mistake of seeking extra pressure on a port lane, which would have been good in the unstable wind from the previous races – but the wind became stable. As it was, the boats that tacked early on neutral headings were well in front of us because they had clear lanes for more of the beat.

My next event is Miami OCR in the 470. I am excited to be back in my Olympic class for an event, but disappointed to be missing the Etchells Jaguar Series event #3, which, unfortunately, conflicts with Miami OCR. Good luck to the Zhen team in their next event!

Event website.

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Big Waves and Big Breeze – Lessons from the Ocean


Photo Credit to Romain Bonnaud

At the 2012 Olympics, Weymouth, England put us to the test with ocean waves and big breeze. There were two exposed courses where a side swell wrapped around Portland and wind driven chop had a few miles of fetch to build up. In our three years training in Weymouth and three years in the ocean off Miami Beach, we learned a lot about how to make a boat go fast in chaotic (and big!) seas.

Technique is the most important variable. Bad tuning will make your life much more difficult, but the biggest difference in speed comes from how you steer, use your sails, and your weight.

Stable is fast. Keep the boat at the same angle of heel. Usually, a couple of degrees to leeward is good. At the crest of each wave you can be a touch flatter so the extra pressure does not round you up. Avoid too much ‘S-curve’ steering over the wave as this can slow the boat. Mostly, use  an ease on the mainsail and extra hike to handle the power on the wave tops.

Boat balance is key. The boat will be loading and unloading a lot. When the pressure comes on, it needs to transfer to forward force and not to heading up and stalling (from too much heel and too tight mainsail). The boat should want to point a little, but not round up.

Steering and sail trim need to work together. When you bear away you must ease the main and when you head up you must trim. This is one of the single most important techniques to master as you change course in waves.

Hope this helps. Please comment if you have any thoughts or questions.

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Battling the Pack at the Etchells Piana Cup

Photo Credit to Marco Oquendo/imagesbymarco

Photo Credit to Marco Oquendo/imagesbymarco

Last weekend, I raced in a light wind series on the Etchells at the first event of the 2013 Jaguar Series in Miami, Fl. This was our first Etchells regatta together as a team. I was calling tactics and trimming main. The regatta turned out to be excellent practice for racing in the middle of the fleet.

All day, the starting was reasonably square with 5-8 knots of wind. We chose to start boat third, which also allowed for an easy exit in case the start did not go well.

One of our best beats came after a start where a boat fouled us and left us head to wind. Immediately after the start, our goal was to find clear air, so we tacked to port early and waited until we could have a long clear starboard tack lane through the middle. We knew we needed to tack at a time when others were not thinking to tack and also hopefully on a lift, so we had a window of time within which we could tack. We got a very small right shift – not big enough for the boats in front of us to want it – and we tacked to starboard. We were able to sail all way through the middle of the course in clear air. Then we tacked onto port to leeward of the early group (2nd row) coming from the left, and then we tacked two more times at the top before a short starboard mark approach. We had passed 20 boats by the first mark.

When in the pack, you often have to make a compromise between sailing in the favored region of the course (shift or pressure) and sailing in clear air. In light air, the Etchells tacks are very slowly and does not do well with a boat on its leebow, so we made most first beat decisions based on having long lasting clear air lanes. With this in mind, we were able to work back from some challenging early race positions.

These are some lessons on first beats from the weekend:

1)   In fairly steady wind, prioritize clear lanes over wind shifts, though if you can have both that is best.

2)   Minimize tacks. Anticipate what the boats in front of you will do, so you can maximize time between your tacks. Do not take a perfect lane if a boat in front of you will also want it.

3)   To sail in clear air when mid-fleet, you will usually have to choose whether you sail on the inside or outside of your pack – sometimes it’s necessary to find a thin lane in the middle of the pack, but in this case, often your mode will be dictated, so you would not want to spend too long here. Early in the beat being outside of your pack is OK, but towards the middle of the beat you will have to cross over to the inside (middle of course), or you will forever be tacked on and forced to a corner in dirty air.

Once the fleet opens up on the 2nd beat, there will be freedom to sail where you want, so you should prioritize wind shifts and the favored side of the beat.

Full results here.

Our next Jaguar series event is Jan 5-6. Stay tuned for more lessons from racing in the Etchells fleet.