Phantom Shifts & Whacky Chop: c420 MidWinter’s


I just completed my drive (yes, drive-Crazy, I know) back to Colorado. I had lots of time to think about a debrief from the Club420 MidWinter’s Regatta in Jensen Beach, Florida. This event for me holds a special place in my heart. The USSCMC being my home club, it’s first iteration which was an RV on cinder blocks and a few boat racks where me and all my siblings learned to sail boats, fast forward to the year 2000 when the current venue hosted the Mistral class Olympic Trials, where I defeatedly finished 9th. The point is, I’ve shed lots of blood, sweat, and tears into those waters and love sailing there.

This year’s event was incredible. Good breeze, solid racing, and a stacked deck of players. Here are the stats are: 206 competitors racing as teams of two sailors in 103 boats representing 4 countries and 17 states. One of those states being Colorado, from whence I brought 4 sailors. Booyah!

A very challenging and competitive fleet, which we knew going into it and great breeze. I did a lot of work forecasting for this event, so I feel the need to share what I saw on the race course and get a bit technical in this post.


Lots of big wind shifts due to several factors: gradient, thermals, cloud cover, geographical shifts. I think we all can agree that the outer loop’s left was a pot of gold for many people. And Sunday when the sun came out the righty midway up the first beat proved favorable for many boats. What’s the takeaway from all this?

Forecasting can be a tough thing to count on. But knowing what characteristics to look for, i.e. when the land heats up expect the breeze to shift (seabreeze) or the effects of a windward shoreline  (bends the breeze left from creating lower pressure as wind slows from resistance over land), will help you hedge your bets.

Preparation is a big factor in the equation for success. I spend a lot of time researching the forecast every night so I can share in the morning’s brief. There’s a saying ( I forget by who) that the sailor who wins the event has already done so before the race even starts. What does that mean? It means that your game-day performance directly relates to the amount of preparation you’ve put into your equipment, training, forecast, experience, and the list goes on. Preparation equals success.



Other Environmental Factors: I heard from a lot of people that the chop was a challenge. I would say that compared to Orange Bowl and the way Biscayne Bay gets on a breezy weekend afternoon (boat wake that makes the inside of a washing  machine look placid), the Indian River was very flat- with much smaller, tighter chop- especially on the left side of the course beneath the island on the last day.

How do you get more proficient and efficient sailing in chop? Spend more time practicing in choppy and open water, duh? Seriously, we hear stories all the time about Olympic class skiers who grew up practicing on icey hills in New England. During practice we need to make life harder for ourselves. This will set the challenge to overcome moving and turbulent water, to find stability in the boat,and  work toward better boat handling and overall VMG.


The starting line was jam-packed. Very short, not a lot of space to find your spot. Coaches have waxed poetica reinforcing the importance of starts. I just read a Scuttlebutt blurb from Quantum Sail’s David Flynn says “you don’t have to win the start” (check it out.) While that may be true in some cases (especially non/sub-planing conditions) and crossing beneath the fleet and setting up to windward of the fleet may be okay in some situations, when it’s breeze on you’re left in the dust unless you can get off the line. So, how to increase the rate of improvement to be ready for the ballet dance of tight boat handling ?

Rudderless sailing! practice will help a lot. Steering with your body weight and sails allows the boat to make large adjustments without forcing the skipper to use the rudder too much. I like to say, “The rudder is nothing more than a brake,” and when you don’t have momentum forward, like when you’re holding a spot on the line, all you do is slide sideways and downwind with every turn of that sluggish blade.


Every year I complete this event with a slew of new notes. It is such a motivating event for me, to come away with new techniques to experiment with. I truly hope all the sailors have the same feeling.Great job by the athletes who joined me from Key Biscayne YC, Lauderdale YC, Balboa YC and Community Sailing of Colorado. I was very proud to bring 4 sailors from Colorado to this event and our Colorado group performed above and beyond expected. They all can be very proud of their performance. My goals coming into this event were for each of them to progress as sailors, gain more comfort and confidence in the boat, and experience a side of sailing that is new and challenging. Goals met.



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