Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Sam Blouin on Zoning In

Sam Blouin
Age: 23
College: Hobart and William Smith (Geneva, NY)
Career Highlights:
- Finalist - ICSA College Sailor of the Year (2012)
- ICSA All-American (2012)
- ICSA Atlantic Coast Championship – 1st place, A Division (2011)
- Thompson Trophy  – 1st place, A Division (2012)
- Danmark Trophy – 1st place, A Division (2011)
- ICSA Co-ed National Championship – 5th place, A Division (2012)
- ICSA Team Racing Championship – 3rd place (2012)
- ICSA Co-ed National Championship – 2nd place, Team (2011)

I refer to “Zoning In” as the technique used to focus on feeling what a boat needs to achieve the best boat speed possible.  Often times it is easy to get carried away with what is happening around you in the middle of a race instead of paying attention to what is happening inside of your boat.  Remember, your boat is what needs your full attention, and you should not waste any of that attention on your competitors.  When I was coaching junior racing this summer, I told my kids that they need to treat their boat like a girlfriend or boyfriend.  In other words, you have to give it all of your attention.  Otherwise, it may get jealous, and you will have problems.  As silly as it sounds, this is an easy solution to a problem that can affect any of us.  If we focus more on whether or not we are going to win a crossing situation that is 100 seconds away, or if our competition on the other side of the course is getting lifted, then we are not focused on the most important factor in our control: our own boat speed.

In my mind, boat speed is the most important factor at stake at all times.  If I am not paying attention to my boat speed, then I am not moving as fast as possible.  This is a serious problem, as boat speed is always my number one ally on the water.  It gets me out of tough situations, puts me in the front of races, and helps me win regattas.

The technique I use to properly channel my focus toward my boat speed is called “zoning in” (at least that is what I call it).  This technique involves picking out a spot or two on the boat where I can focus my eyes in order to tap into the feel of the boat.  This “feel” I refer to is essentially balancing the flow over the foils with the pressure in the sails. This yields a fast boat with effective height.  When you obtain this feel, the end result is a balanced helm, allowing you to make subtle adjustments to your sail trim and body position in order to stay locked into the narrow groove where you are syncing the pressure on the sails with the pressure on the blades.  In other words, you are matching up your sail trim with the proper amount of heel needed to get the boat driving smoothly through the water.  Typically your boat is sailed flat, or with no more than five degrees of heel to leeward.

 For me to fully “zone in”, I pick a spot on the boat where I can focus my eyes.  This way my body maintains its balance within its position in the boat.  I like to compare this to balancing on a ball or standing on one leg.  If you stare at one spot your body will maintain its balance.  However, if you alter your gaze, you will start to wobble and lose your balance.  When this happens, your body can quickly fall out of touch with the boat’s rhythm as it moves through the water.  When you pick this spot, you should choose a point on the boat or the sails.  Otherwise you may miss the subtle visual changes that occur to the boat’s heel or the sail’s shape and lose some boat speed.  Dinghies are very responsive to subtleties in where you sit or how you trim your sail.  Thus, the most seemingly minor adjustments can make all the difference in terms of speed.

Here are some quick tips on adjusting this technique to different boats:

Singlehanded Boats: When sailing a singlehanded boat, I find that I zone in best by focusing my eyes on the tip of the bow or the bottom half of the sail’s luff.  This way my focus is forward in the boat in case I need to quickly eye the fleet or look for a shift moving down the course.

Doublehanded Boats: When sailing doublehanded or larger boats, I always focus on the leach of the main sail or the upper tell tales on the jib's luff (typically my eyes move occasionally from one to the other).  I also make sure to communicate effectively with my crews regarding fleet management and shifts so that I do not mismanage my strategy or tactics.

By focusing my eyes on these spots in the boat, I eliminate my temptation to look around and get carried away with everything happening around me.  Instead, I focus on the largest factor within my control: making the boat go fast.  This prevents me from nervously eyeing a boat windward or leeward, and losing to them because I was not focused on the basics.  Obviously, it is much easier to do this in a doublehanded boat where you have a second pair of eyes to keep watch on the fleet and the water.  You are always racing the boats around you, but, ultimately, the only boat you can control is your own.  By focusing my eyes on a few spots on the boat I can “zone in” effectively to my own boat and create that extra bit of boat speed that will set me apart from the fleet.

Sam Blouin

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