Racing

Lessons from a North U Seminar

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“If we move the leads forward, we get a deeper foot and the sail takes on a bigger shape,” explained North U director Bill Gladstone as he shifted the virtual leads on a graphic of a sail, which was projected on a screen for a classroom of 80 racers. “But if we adjust the jib sheet, that can also provide depth. The lead and the sheet work together to create the desired shape.” He slid the virtual controls around, changing the shape and draft of the virtual sail, and we racers nodded our heads. We were attending a North U seminar on sail trim hosted by MIT on a Sunday in March. It was still too cold for us New England folk to get in the water, but attending the seminar did its part to whet our appetite for the fast-approaching racing season.

During the first half of the day, Gladstone discussed upwind boathandling and boatspeed. He suggested that while minor adjustments to the sails may only add marginal improvements in performance – a boatlength here, a five-second lead there – they can really add up. Each lesson was accompanied with photos, interactive graphics and videos that Gladstone has collected from a lifetime of sailing, coaching and lecturing.

During the lunch break, we got a chance to catch up with Gladstone over the nice boxed lunch included with the course. It didn't take long to learn that he is a man brimming with knowledge. Gladstone has been teaching sailing through various mediums for most of this life, perfecting his version of this specific curriculum for decades. He now travels the world giving seminars to racers looking to improve their boat’s performance, and he makes the most of his time in the classroom.

I would recommend this course for racers with a decent amount of experience looking to deepen their understanding and tweak their skills. Gladstone fits a lot of information into a short day, and he tends to get technical quickly, so a base knowledge of racing is a must. I also recommend attending the course with a crew that you may race with in the future. I was there with the crew of Synergy, a Beneteau First 40.7 based in Canton, and we were glad to have attended the course together. This way, when we’re racing to Nantucket and referencing Gladstone’s mainsail theories in the middle of a tactical decision, we’ll all be on the same page. We also found that no matter our position on Synergy, from tactics to trim, Gladstone addressed something that applied specifically to us.

In the afternoon the topics shifted to downwind tactics. Again, the material was well organized with helpful photo sequences and videos to illustrate Gladstone’s lessons.

By the time we left that evening, our minds were fully saturated with information and strategy. After all, we’d covered everything from the physics of lift to the details of an end-over-end spinnaker gybe in one eight-hour session. Just when I started to worry I would forget it all, though, I popped in a complimentary North U DVD and there was Gladstone’s voice, narrating me through the course all over again. The control buttons on the screen allowed me to skip or re-learn lessons to my liking, and the DVD is mine to watch over and over again. Just one more reminder that this North U course was time and money well spent. Now we’ll have to see how effectively we put these lessons to work once racing season heats up.

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