National 125 Sailing Association

Jamie Thomson's Nationals Preparation Tips

Thanks to Jamie Thomson from Thomson Sails for these tips.

Nationals Preparation Tips Part 1

With the Nationals coming up in Melbourne this year, I have been asked if I could share my thoughts on preparing for and sailing in the regatta, should you be wanting to sail to your best potential.

There are two main aspects to be considered:
  • First, there is your boat, being the hull, rig and sails and the setting up of those that you do before any sailing takes place.
  • Secondly, there is getting said boat around the course as efficiently as possible. This involves trimming of the boat and sails, starting, strategy, both regatta and single race, and tactics.

That's a lot to cover, and we'll have to break it up a bit, but let's start with some easy wins first..

Most people see that the main aim of doing well in the race is achieved by going Fast.
But how? Where do you start?

Sometimes it is easier, and more obvious, to spot and eliminate the Slow spots!

What you need to do is analyse every aspect of your racing and see where you can eliminate those slow patches around the course, for it is this, as much as going fast that determines where you finish.

I'm sure you've all experienced going along boat for boat with one of the top boats, and then sooner or later, you find yourself behind, not so much because of speed, but because you put in a slow tack, or took the wrong tack, had a messy spinnaker hoist, broke something, you missed a big wind shift, negotiated some choppy waves poorly, or any of a myriad of other things.

So it's time for some introspection. Think back to last season, last seasons, the last races you've done. Think about where your slow spots happened. (even the best boats have their own slow spots). Go around the whole course in your head and think about where you could improve. Maybe you know where you were slow, but don't know why, or what to do about it. That's ok, just note it for now. Soon you should have a reasonable list of slow patches to eliminate, or lessen. Think how much further around the course you would have been had not those things happened!

There's going to be some things you can address on your boat, like when control systems don't work as they should, or even fail or break, rudders fall off, jib sheets come off, spaghetti in the cockpit. You can spend time when you're not sailing in trying to lessen or eliminate these sorts of problems and failures.

A priority is to prevent failures as much as possible.

Chief things to look at are:

  • Rigging wires. Any loose strands? Look rusty?
  • Attachments of the wires. Do they look sound and secure?
  • All mast fittings. Do they look sound and secure? Check rivets and screws to see there is no movement of the fitting. Do ropes and lines run freely through fittings? Is that halyard lock secure?
  • Are your mainsheet attachment points on the boom secure? Any cracks in the mast or boom?
  • Are your trap wires sound?
  • Similarly to the rig, check that all your fittings are secure and that lines run through them correctly and easily.
  • Do you have leaks? No need to carry around extra kilos of water.
  • Is the centrecase securely attached to the thwart and the floor?
  • Are your hiking straps secure?
  • Check your rudder gudgeons! The lower one especially is prone to failure as it takes most of the load. If you can run a long pin through both the top and bottom gudgeon it helps quite a lot.
  • There should be no play in the rudder fittings.
  • Check your rudder and centreboard for cracks, especially where they exit the rudder stock or hull. And while you're looking at the centreboard, how is it's condition? Any nicks, scratches or chips should be filled and faired. You really want good water flow over these vital foils.
  • Is your centrecase gasket in good nick? Do you even have one?

A major priority is to make sure your jib cleats work well, can be easily uncleated and cleated under load. They should be at the correct height and distance relative to the turning block. Too close and/or too high means it's hard to uncleat, just as too low and/or too far away means it is hard to cleat. You need to be able to easily adjust the jib sheet while you are sailing. Not only does it help with speed but can also save a capsize.

These are all easy wins, in that they help prevent lost time while racing just fixing stuff or coping with fittings that don't work, or major problems like a crew member falling out, or a catastrophe like a broken rudder or mast coming down.

Sometimes you can't always spot a failure point but you can improve your luck a lot by looking for these things before they occur.

Next time we're going to talk about how to address the slow spots that occur on the water.

Thomson Sails


Nationals Preparation Tips part 2

Before we get started this week, I need to just finish off Part 1 with important rig settings. This is so you will know you are at least stating in the correct setup and can then just concentrate on everything else.

Mast Rake.

We measure this preferably by rigging the boat with full rig tension on, and then leaning the boat over in it's side, and measuring from the bottom edge of the top black band on the mast to the inside corner where the transom meets the floor of the boat. This should be 6140mm, give or take 10mm.

Rig tension:

Tension on the side stays should be 180kg. ( You might need to find someone with a rig tension gauge to help you measure this). This is important. Too loose a rig will mean that your jib luff sags excessively in a breeze.  I would also advocate for your shrouds and forestay to be no less tan 3mm diameter to minimise stretch in the rig.


When you have hoisted your mainsail, before putting any vang or mainsheet tension on, the mast should be straight, both fore and aft and sideways. It can help to sight this by holding your mainsail halyard tight down to the gooseneck and sighting up it relative to the mainsail track in the mast.

If you have the mast bending forward in the middle, you need to adjust your spreaders so that the tips are further forward. The tension on the shrouds will then be pulling back more on the middle of the mast. Likewise, if the mast is bending backwards in the middle, you will need to adjust your spreader tips so that they are further aft.

If there is sideways bend, one shroud may be longer than the other. Lengthen or shorten one or the other until you get the mast straight sideways. Sideways bend hinders how high you can point and reduces power, so if you have side bend you may be slower on one tack than the other, or rather, faster on one tack than the other. Still, it is better to have it straight and consistent.

If you've had to adjust your rig tension of straightness, once you have done these, go back and check that the mast rake is still right.

Jib Height.

The jib needs to be at the correct height on the forestay so that it sheets correctly to the jib tracks. Start by drawing a short line at the clew that is part of a line that would extend from the clew eyelet to the bottom of the colour panel at the luff. When the jib is sheeted in for going to windward, the sheet should be a continuation of this line to get the right balance between tension on the leech and the foot.

If you find that your sheet doesn't line up properly, you will need to either raise or lower your jib on the forestay. ( this is assuming you have jib tracks going across the side tanks rather than along the side tanks, when you can simply slide the track lead fore and aft.. Athwartships tracks are better though by the way.)

Ideally, the foot of the jib will also be touching the back of the short decked area at the bow. If the jib is too high, air will be wanting to escape underneath the foot rather than flowing along the sail. If the sheet is lined up but you find the jib is not brushing the back of the decked area, then you need to move your jib tracks forward so that you will then be able to lower the jib.

OK! Once we've done all that, we can go sailing without needing to distract ourselves worrying if the rig is right or not, because we need to just focus on sailing.

With only 11 or so weeks to go before the Nationals start, we need to get the most value out of our sailing time, and that means practicing as much as racing. But fortunately you can do both at the same time.

I can't emphasize enough that Practice is the biggest thing you can do to improve your sailing.

And - practice efficiently and intelligently. After all, we only have limited time on the water.

Remember those slow patches that I asked you to think about last time? That's what we need to work on when we are out sailing.

Bad tack? Think about why they are bad. Lack of co-ordination by one or both of you, or the combination? Timing the turn, coming in off the wire, releasing the jib? Think your way through your own tacks and what you could do to make them smoother and more efficient. Discuss it together.

Think of what the ideal is. Full speed for as long as possible before you start turning, full speed as soon as possible after the tack. Everything needs to lead towards this ideal.

Go through this procedure for all your maneuvers or other slow spots that you have identified.

Don't worry if you're not at the 100% ideal level. Only superstar sailors with tens of thousands of hours of practice get close to the ideal. All we can do is get as far towards there as we can.


Just small improvements everywhere will end up making a big difference.

Always be trying to get the boat sailing fast again after any maneuver. Do the task, settle down, get the boat flat, sails trimmed, and up to speed again.

If you want to make these improvements as quickly and efficiently as possible, it means that you need to spend your time on the water wisely. It's not enough to just head out with enough time to make the start, or sit around waiting for the start, sail one tack beats, one gybe runs, and head straight in after the race.

You need to have thought about, and talked about what you want to work on and improve upon before you go out.

Head out earlier, or even for a morning session if you have the time. Stay out for another half an hour after the race finishes when everything is fresh in your mind about what happened during the race.

And if your time constraints are such that you can't manage those extra times, (and even if you can) make the most of your time on the race course.

Try to fit in ten tacks on each beat, fit in four or five gybes on the run.

Beat upwind while you are waiting for the start. Raise, gybe and lower your spinnaker, and as efficiently as you can.

And always, be thinking about getting the boat up to speed again as soon as possible after each slow spot.


We'll talk more about this 'straight line' speed aspect next time, but, to give you the basics to work on for now, you want to sail your boat flat, trim your sails so the telltales are flowing, and steer so that the jib luff telltales are flowing.


But while you're learning all that, you still can be developing a feel for boat speed, as it is something you can only learn from time on the water. The feel for your boat, when it is going slow or fast. This is what you need to concentrate on feeling for between all the maneuvers, when you are straight lining.

Feel is what really separates different crews. Feel means that you know exactly how hard the sheet should be pulling at you, how the boat should be riding over the waves, how the tiller feels, and what the water sounds like when the boat is “in the groove”.

Thomson Sails

  National 125 Association admin