As a number of friends and sailors in my circle of acquaintances more and more start talking about maybe participating in a regatta, my own interest in this subject grows as well. Right after the big media hype on the 2018 version of a big single handed race around the Island of Fyn called “Silverrudder”, that was dominating yachting magazines here in Germany and Europe in the past weeks (all available starting slots had been booked within a matter of hours) I decided to begin working on a series of articles on regattas and racing-mode in sailing. I am lucky that pro-sailor Tim Kroeger agreed to be the interview partner of my first article on “Getting started”.

I am meeting Tim at Hamburg´s dignified NRV yacht club

I got to know Tim Kroeger during my research on the Nord Stream Race, which used to be the longest non-stop race in the Baltic Sea until they switched rules and style of this regatta this year. Tim sailed this race a couple of times and won it as well. He is an “old salt” to say the least when it comes to racing: Whitbread Round the World 93/94 & 97/98, America´s Cup in 2003 with LE DEFI AREVA and in 2007 with Team Shosholoza, Nord Stream Race onboard Swan60 One-Designs and Kieler Woche onboard the Oman-Sail Trimaran. Tim is a well known pro with thousands of miles in racing mode: I am happy having the chance to meet him at Hamburg´s dignified yacht club NRV where he was giving me 7 hot hints for yacht racing Newbies.

#1 – Finding a good Racing Crew

Lars Reisberg | NO FRILLS “Tim, so good to meet you again as I remember very vividly our last encounter with each other, talking about the “Nord Stream Race” (read the article here). Today it´s about Amateur racing in sailing and my first question would be: How do I find a good crew for my boat in the first place?”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, there´s not much difference to pro-sailing when it comes to the crew. A racing skipper wants to have competent people on the in the various positions covering all areas of competence. Hence, you need a helmsman, a tactician, a navigator and of course trimmers for the sails plus guys that can execute all manoeuvres flawless. It´s as un-emotional as this.” “Which qualities should my racing crew of the future comprise?”

Tim Kroeger: “You need to have people who are able to drive the yacht in a safe & fast manner, that´s the first and foremost thing. A regatta is not a leisure cruise, it´s hard work, sometimes hectic and you need to have people who can stay focused on the main goal of the whole thing. To get those people, you – as a whole, as one crew – should at first think of what is the common goal? What do you want to achieve in taking part in a regatta? Is it just to have a good time, is it to learn how things are going in a race or is it to win the game? All crew members should together should form a common vision: What is our goal?”

Tim as part of the SHOSHOLOZA crew at the America´s Cup “How do I find my competent crew anyway?”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, I guess you know some sailors in your vicinity. Or you look for them in your marina, in your sailing club. I think, the main thing is not where to find them but how to solve this puzzle of casting a crew that is both technically competent and socially compatible. Social competence and – as I said – the fact that all agree on one defined collective goal is for me the most  important objective. This will protect you from misunderstandings and therefore from making mistakes before casting off. This is key! Because, if you have such a crew, a mutual understanding for each other, respect and hence motivation – winning will come your way easier.”

#2 – How a Racing Yacht Crew works “You mentioned the positions on a racing yacht. Can you go into more detail here? Which positions do we have and what are the main responsibilities here?”

Tim Kroeger: “All in all there are three main – let´s call it – hubs aboard a racing yacht. First there is the “craftmanship”. That´s the people who manage the sheets & halyards and work the grinders. They are mainly situated on the bow and in the cockpit, working the sails, hoisting and getting down Gennakers and alike. Secondly we have the “Speed Team”. Here we have the people who are essentially creating the boatspeed. That´s the sail trimmers, for each sail at least one dedicated person and the helmsman. I would describe the trimmers as the “throttle” of the boat and the helmsman as the one who´s responsibility is to drive the boat at optimum level at all times.” “And the third hub may be …”

Tim Kroeger: “… the “Afterguard” as I like to call it. That´s the tactician and the strategist. The differentiation between both is simple: The tactician is making decisions pushed by judging immediate and proximate factors like close infights, action-packed situations like the start of a race and alike. He is always looking around the boat to get the overview of the direct factors which are happening right now. Whereas the strategist is mainly involved in long-term decisions like wind development, the shifts, on the racecourse, currents and the overall picture of the race and the longterm positioning of the boat. He is planning well ahead and adjusting the race strategy according to the ever-changing factors. The third member of the Afterguard is the navigator of course. ”

A determined & competent crew is the most important factor “For me personally the most interesting job …”

Tim Kroeger: “They all are interesting in their own right. Concerning the navigator, he is the one who is collecting all available data: That will be the current data of the boat like heading, winddirection and windangles for the next course or leg, speed and other performance related data. He provides that data to the tactician and the strategist that they are able to decide on the next move of the boat. He is developing drawing conclusions and offers those to the two others. The navigator makes also sure that the boat is not leaving the playing field, he is checking on the laylines to the next mark and makes sure you are not racing a longer course than necessary. Of course, having all three as separated persons depends very much on the size of the boat or yacht and the format of the regatta. On smaller boats it might be possible to comprise all three in one single person. The main thing about the Afterguard is that each of them has their own area of competence but only if all three are working interconnected they can make the best decisions.” “Which applies also for all of them three competence centers as well, doesn´t it?”

Tim Kroeger: “Absolutely! All three, the workforce if you want to call them, the speed team and the afterguard are equally set in a very flat hierarchy. They have to work together, coordinate their actions and have a deep understanding for each other´s jobs and operations in order to keep the boat running smooth.” “But where is the skipper in your scheme?”

Tim Kroeger: “You see, there is none in this concept. Especially in Germany the position of the skipper is – from my point of view – highly overrated and exaggerated. In pro-racing the skipper is a mere technical term for somebody who is legally responsible. But he is not “the Captain” or the great person who decides. As I pointed out, in pro-racing you have these three specialized areas working very close together in a flat hierarchy. Nobody needs to boss them around because everybody knows exactly what to do at their specific job. The only order there need is a call for timing at the beginning of a manoeuvre – and that is given by the afterguard.   That’s why it is so important that your crew is sworn in on a common goal: If the goal is set and the positions are sorted out, the boat will sail on top level if everybody does what they are supposed to do. There is no need for a master next to god who cracks the whip – like in the old days on the tallships .”

#3 – Quick Start-Training your Rookie-Crew “So, let´s assume I have found my crew and we are determined for a goal. How is a “Quick Start Training” organized when we have just a couple of days left to the start?”

Tim Kroeger: “The first thing here is a certain level of basic body fitness I would say. A yacht race comes with high demands both mentally and physically. So your crew needs to be in good shape to be able to have maximum physical strength available throughout the whole race. Next would be a complete check of the boat´s material like sheets, controllines, sails, mast and rigging, the boats hull, keel, rudder and alike. But the main focus should be tuning the instruments …” “Why ist that?”

Tim Kroeger: “Because the electronics – if you have them onboard – give you the opportunity to race the boat on a level of maximum performance. The data collected needs to be flawless, therefore the instruments need to be calibrated to the maximum accuracy. The prime figure is the boatspeed – the speed through the water needs to be checked and verified by adjusting the instruments before you start racing or even sailing. The calibration of the winddata is the next move – it correlates with the boatspeed. If my boatspeed reads wrong, my Truewind-angles are all wrong and I can’t reflect on my basic performance data. So, proper boat speed calibration is key!” “Can you go into more detail here, please?”

Tim Kroeger: “First, let´s recall the objective of racing a yacht. The prime objective is to race the boat at a maximum percentage of the possible performance. That is the main goal. Maximum performance. What is maximum performance based on? How is it determined? Maximum speed is determined by true wind speed – TWS – the wind angle the boat is sailing on – AWA and TWA – and the target speed. For the first two figures you need …” “… to have accurately set equipment to showing these data …”

Tim Kroeger: “… exactly! For the latter, the target speed, an amateur crew would need to have the polar diagrams of their yachts. In pro-sailing we have very, very accurate data constantly adjusted by real-time data overwriting existing and thus putting out very accurate target speeds. On club-level racing you would have a polar diagram or even better a proper list showing the theoretically possible target speeds for a specific wind angle and wind speed. It does not sound much, but that is a pretty good start.”

Technical skills are crucial “I get your point now: In comparing the target speed, which is provided by the polar, my crew gets a picture of what the maximum speed of the boat in this current situation would be?”

Tim Kroeger: “Correct! If you have a reference set you can begin to work on accelerating the boat to this target speed and drive the boat at this very speed. Without this reference, you would not be able to realize the performance you are getting out of the boat at this very moment – at night this can become race deciding as well in a situation when the competitor is not in sight – like in offshore racing.” “That´s brilliant!”

Tim Kroeger: “This is how it is done, yes. So training your crew would basically mean to get a quick fix of the new target speed after every course adjustment or change of wind-angle or wind-speeds and try to get as fast to the designated target speed put out by the polar.Keeping the target is the prime objective! The focus of the Speed Loop, Helmsman and Trimmer, is always to sail the boat at maximum performance. It becomes natural and you will know the numbers by heart. If conditions are changing they have to adjust and if the conditions become difficult, because of the wave patten, it is vital to keep the boatspeed as close as possible to the required targets.” “What about manoeuvres?”

Tim Kroeger: “Yes, of course. You will train your crew to tack and gybe as smooth as possible, to hoist and drop sails as fast and as safe as possible. The helmsman will train to steer precise as possible in every manoeuvre, so that the trimmers can trim the sails accordingly, like getting to a certain angle out of a tack or a gybe with maximum speed. This will smooth out every move and help to keep the boat at maximum performance – again – it will enable you to reach your goal: Accelerate the boat as quick as possible up to target and drive it constantly close to this very speed. Remember: Everybody, no matter which position he has, orientate oneself at these two figures, target speed and actual boatspeed. You should train this very hard and repeatedly because that´s a different kind of sailing compared to cruising and will be possibly new for your crew. In addition it helps as well, that the guys that are not trimming or working in the cockpit in a manoeuvre use their body weight to help accelerate the boat – that depends of course on the size of the boat but it has a massive effect on performance.”

The “craftsmen” enjoying some minutes off-duty. “That´s a lot for a rookie crew though …”

Tim Kroeger: “It is indeed. But if you want to do it the right way, that´s the path to follow. There is a very helpful thing we call “Playbook”. That´s something I put a big empathize on, because it helps so much. In a playbook you would write down for each and every job or position what this certain crew member is going to do in every manoeuvre, divided up in three phases preparation – execution – stabilization and that stands for every hoist, drop, gybe or tack. What his responsibilities are, what his specific job is and how exactly he is doing this. The clever thing about a playbook is not just knowing your job – it is rather knowing what the person right next to you is doing in this specific phase of the manoeuvre. This gives a deep understanding on how a manoeuvre unfolds and how it is executed in a perfect manor. It´s really worth creating such a playbook specifically for your boat and giving it to the crew as a good night read.” “I understand. Mutual understanding for what the others do. Another step towards flat hierarchy aboard.”

Tim Kroeger: “Absolutely. Another thing could be – if possible – to have a practice run against a similar boat that is training out on the water maybe before the same regatta and is even a competitor in that series. In a direct comparison you can train your crew and also get more data on target speeds and your performance regarding acceleration and maximum speeds. Last but not least – is practicing the start. This is where most can be won and most can be lost of course …” “… that is why the next article of this series will deal with the start exclusively …”

Tim Kroeger: “But let me add one thing here: You should try a “time on distance” exercise. See, a start situation in yachting is different to, let´s say, Formula one. In a race car you are standing still and will start to accelerate upon green light appears. In a boat race, that´s different: You try to hit the starting line at maximum speed in the spot you want to be at the gun. That means, training “time on distance” to be able to decide when to accelerate to max speed at any distance and any time to the starting line. That is the fine art of the start because the conditions at a start are ever changing and it’s a very fluid situation. Again, here you see as well how important the perfect match of all three hubs is indeed and how important it is that they are completely interconnected!”

#4 – Planning your Regatta: Race Strategy “After training my crew and accommodate with the boat, let´s talk a bit about race strategy. How can I plan the regatta like a pro?”

Tim Kroeger: “First of all there is no recipe here because it depends on the regatta itself. You will have a different planning phase for, let´s say, a transatlantic or round the world race than for a short one-day round-the-buoys regatta. But mainly, there are some steps you can take in every race. First of all it won´t be a waste of time to walk along the jetty or check the entry list to take a look at your competition. Also, it´s not bad to have somebody watch their training – to do a bit of reconnaissance work. Through this you may be able to separate “severe” contenders from “fun crews”. But this is highly controversial since a walk through the harbour simply cannot deliver real insights, but sometimes you may be able to make a rough differentiation between the other participants.” “If I can mark – let´s say – those boats and crews who seem to be real amateurs …”

Tim Kroeger: “… you can try to steer clear of their boats in the first place. On the other hand you may detect a boat or a crew training very hard and making quite an impression. These are the ones to look out for too.”

Tim is passionate about sailing: Explaining tactics with Cappucchino-cups, biros and his two hands. “What about the weather?”

Tim Kroeger: “I would first take a look at the regatta course or the sailing area where the race takes place. Because you should be able to determine local phenomena like cape effects, currents or other specialities before looking at the weather. You may draw very important conclusions from looking at your race track to be. Let´s say, if it´s a costal race you may mark shoal areas or areas with strong currents. When you are sailing in a tidal area, it´s important to calculate the tides in advance for given points, in order to get a picture of currents to be expected and areas to avoid. That´s the first thing I would do. Check the charts, talk to locals and familiarize with the venue.” “Then it´s the weather, I guess?”

Tim Kroeger: “Of course. Try to get as many sources as possible. Don´t go for the most favourable forecast, don´t go for the least one. Try to get a good overview. If strong winds are expected, the crew should be aware that the small sails should lie on top of the sailstack inside the boat, vice versa if lighter breeze is forecasted. Brief the crew on the data so that they get a picture of where they are sailing and in which conditions. In longer races you would do a briefing the evening before with an update in the morning to get everyone in the groove” “Is there a common strategy?”

Tim Kroeger: “No, I am afraid not because regatta racing is a very dynamic and constantly changing thing. That´s the exciting part of it – every plan needs to be constantly scrutinized and updated. Even if that means that afterwards the plan is completely changed for good. Concerning an overall strategy I would advise crews to prefer starting with what you know for sure and approach the race in smaller steps. Don´t try to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Try to make small hitch here and a tiny hinge there. It´s the sum of these small bits that will make the difference. Besides, if one small step does not work, it shouldn´t make the whole strategy crumble – that´s quite the opposite if you are betting on this one big thing. If this isn´t going to work, mostly, your race is over.”

#5 – Regatta Tactics Overview “So, if I get you right, the strategy is one thing – tactics is another?”

Tim Kroeger: “Yes. As I said, the strategist looks quite some time ahead and plans the general approach. Tactics is what the current circumstances force upon you and determine your immediate on the water-decisions. Tactics is also something that is imposed on you by your opponents – no matter what the weather is or the current state of the tides may be. Tactics is happening right here, right now and right beside your boat.” “Is there a rule of thumb or something?”

Tim Kroeger: “Again, as this is a fluid ever-changing situation, no. But generally speaking, mostly your aim as a tactician would be something I call “cut your losses”. That means that you should always try to get out of a certain situation with the least damage to your strategy and your current performance in the racing field. So even if something isn´t going quite well – don´t give up! Try to circumvent a situation and, as said, cut your losses. It´s the small steps that mostly win. If you want to keep the left side for example and one boat tacks on you, try to tack clear and tack back at the next opportunity to keep going left” “You are advising to getting out the big tools?”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, at least not at the beginning of a race. Trying the big hit is mostly done – also in pro-racing – either if anything else failed and one is doomed anyway. Then it might be appropriate to try a crazy stunt and draw a last big card. But that’s the often the last straw. I would rather prefer to suggest taking small steps and always stay focused, don´t lose your aim and try to stick to your path. This should be your principal approach.” “What about the start?”

Tim Kroeger: “That´s simple but difficult at the same time: You would try to work out a position in the field that allows you to have some room to leeward for immediate acceleration by at the same time taking leeward room from your opponents to weather – so you want to be close to the guy on your weather hip to give him a hard time. But be aware: Space to leeward opens up gaps which invite other boats to fill that void by barging in and play the same game with you, you try to throw at the other guy above you. Again, timing is crucial here. But again – tactical decisions are a product of constantly re-assesing all options of the immediate surrounding. A good tactician will “see” the gap and the developing opportunities.”

#6 – The Principal Phases of a Yacht Race “But there are some principal phases of a race, aren´t there?”

Tim Kroeger: “Yes, there are. That´s an important issue. First there is, as we already talked about, the pre-start phase. That´s the minutes to the start when everybody tries to work out a favourable position. During this very early – but very important phase you can crucially influence the outcome of the first upwind leg.” “Then comes the start?”

Tim Kroeger: “More or less, yes. After the pre-start phase it´s the last moments before the actual start when all boats accelerate towards the starting line. The battle for the most favourable starting position is on and – as I was pointing out earlier – the crews will focus on judging their time-distance-skill, with the result to be at maximum boat on the starting line itself when the gun goes.” “Sounds like a big brawl.”

Staying focused on one common goal.

Tim Kroeger: “Yes, it’s full on! It’s about who has the right of way, how can I position myself to establish leeward room for me without offering a gap to my contenders. That´s the magic moments of helmsman and  tactician working in unison.” “By the way, what means right of way in racing? Is that based on whoever has the wind from the starboard side or more complex than that?”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, the rules are complex and if we are talking about racing around buoys that´s a bit tricky. Imagine a circle in a three-boat-length-distance around the buoy. The rule has it that who enters the circle first and has the inside spot to the buoy, must given space to round the mark by the other boats. It’s pretty complex because the right of way is based on if you are clear ahead or clear astern or if you overlap with the boat ahead. If there is an overlap the inside boat has the right. Markroundings are tricky and complex and it’s important to know and understand the position you are in and the rights and duties that come with it. Racing without knowledge of the rules will make it very hard  – for you and for the guys racing against you.” “I guess during a race there is no standard procedure?”

Tim Kroeger: “More or less. It depends on your position within the fleet. If you are in the back amongst the crowd, you have to try something to get to a better position. But in the middle or at the backend of the fleet you can also end up in serious dogfights due to the eagerness of the competition…” “… not in the front?”

Tim Kroeger: “No, not necessarily. That´s because in the front the crews are very keen to preserve a good result in this particular race. The idea is to open the gap to the fleet if you are amongst the, let’s say, three top boats in this race.  It’s not advisable to apply massive pressure on the boat in front of you – the result could be crazy defense manoeuvres like luffing you on a downwind run. Definitely you will both lose – this is what you have to avoid. Stay close to the boat in front of you, match it and wait for the moment to make the breakpoint. Sometimes you have to keep as well the overall points in mind . There could be a situation, were you do not have to win a race in order to win the regatta. It may be perfectly suitable to come in second or third in this particular race.” “You do not want to risk anything.”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, you have to balance it between pushing the competition and taking too much risk! I have been in very difficult races when, for example, the overall result was up to two boats. No matter which result they will have in the fleet, as long as they will be in front of the other. So, these two boats will very likely take off from the rest of the fleet to the extreme, with the only intention in mind to stay in front of the other. But you have to be careful, the rules have just changed for this year and you are not allowed to race the other boat to the back of the fleet… It’s a fine line here. At the front of the fleet – I´m talking pro-yachting now – it is more balanced and predictable. There are sometimes some gentlemen agreements in place, based on common sense to minimize the risk on loosing to the fleet. But as I also pointed out, in a hopeless situation it is not even wise to get the crowbar out and trying something radical – that’s often happening in the back. It’s better to keep your eyes open and try the small steps by staying close to the competition.”

#7 – Ready for the Race? What to do before the Start “Tim, last question: Crew is ready, trained a lot, everybody knows what to do. The last day before the start. What´s a good rookie skipper and his crew doing now?”

Tim Kroeger: “Well, that is pretty straightforward. Every crewmember checks the equipment for his or her job or position. Everything is checked very, very thoroughly. You do not want to lose or abandon a race because of a minor little thing that broke or a part of the equipment that got forgotten ashore. Tactician and navigator gets the latest weather forecasts and try to assess their strategy and tactical ideas.”

Tim Kroeger: “Then of course a crewmember that is appointed to, most probably the person in charge, very likely the skipper will have to do some paperwork and administrative stuff, like crewlists, safety list – handed to the race organisation. Finally you want have all boxes ticked to be able to start into the race with a deep sense of confidence. And then, as a final and last thing, it´s the crew briefing.” “What would this be looking like?”

Tim Kroeger: “It will be a detailed lookout on the race and the race course based on the latest forecast. It is mainly done by the navigator, who has the best insights on the expected conditions. He will highlight the specialities of the course, for example capes, currents or shallow spots. Is the briefing held just before the start, the navigator should be able to point out the compass heading and the truewindangles for the various legs of a coastal course for example. The crew will get an idea on the sails to be used on which leg of the course. For the start of the race the choice of sails is most important. The trimmers should know their sails and pick the right one for the given conditions.” “And then …?”

Tim Kroeger: “… then we’re off – fully focused and concentrated.”

Says Tim, looks at me with his bright and conquering smile as if we are going to cast off for the Fastnet any minute. Thanks so much, Tim Kroeger, for answering fairly detailed to my somewhat basic questions! I guess, this may help the rookie skipper to forge a crew for his boat and to build a competent racing-squad. I personally got a deeper insight into racing and, dear reader, if you have more questions than answers at this point, that´s perfectly okay since I am working on two more interviews with pro-sailors on racing – stay tuned. Thanks Tim again!

Tim Kroeger is not just a pro sailor but also a great lecturer and coach. He is a fine speaker and can provide for a big variety of team building-coachings. Check out his website, maybe his big treasure of experience can help you too?


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