questions and answers

Ullman-Sails-David-Ullman-Credit-Chris-SmithFrom our Ask Ullman feature. You know you have a question for Dave Ullman, so send it in!

Q. Winning World Championships and Olympics has always been difficult. You have won multiple World Championships and have been coaching the US Olympic Team for a while, including the current women’s 470 Olympic team. What are the differences or the connections between the two?

A. Coaching is more difficult. Sailing is an instinctive sport and it’s hard to explain instincts to someone that may not naturally have them. As a coach you can teach technique. Things like course management, sail trim and sail handling, but to try and get someone to understand your philosophy of how to win a race is much more challenging. You can do it over time, but it takes a lot of time and doesn’t necessarily come easy.

Q. Given your experience coaching, if a team has limited resources and time, what would you focus on if you had only one day?

A. If I only have a day, the only thing we can get into is technique. Things like spinnaker drops, tacking, and gybing. I would take the team out on the water and videotape them doing all sorts of maneuvers, and then review the tape with the crew. We would discuss what went right and how things could be done better, and then have them go out and do it all again, videotaping them a second time. We would then review the video and match it against the earlier footage to see how they had improved. A crew can learn a lot from watching themselves on tape.

Q. Are there any mistakes that you see high-level sailors are more likely to make than casual racers?

A. High-level sailors make less mistakes than casual racers. The thing that sets them apart is that they are able to accept that they have made a mistake and immediately start to do something to correct it. Casual sailors will stick with their mistake hoping that things will get better, but that rarely happens.

Q. During the years before we had accurate instruments, one way to figure out which end of the start line was favored was to sail down the line from the committee boat to the pin with the mainsail just luffing. Then turn around and sail back to the committee boat keeping the main sheeted in the exact same place. On the way back if the mainsail was luffing even more, the committee-boat end was favored. If you had to ease the mainsail out to get it to luff, then the pin end was favored. Do you still use tricks like this that give you a gut feel, or do you rely totally on your instruments?

A. I rely entirely on my instruments and I count a compass as an instrument. Those old techniques worked when you needed them, but these days it’s so much easier with wind instruments. I always run the line before the start and get a bearing to decide which end is favored. And then it’s a matter of going head-to-wind to see if the wind is shifting. I usually go head-to-wind at 5 minutes before the start and then again with 2 minutes to go. That tells me where to start – not my gut.