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Junior Practical Secrets

The following is  TOP SECRET .  Do not share this with anyone - for your eyes only.  Here are some secrets on how to up your game and get extra credit points by impressing your tester during your Junior Practical:
  1. If instructed to go to a particular destination (ie. the dock, a buoy) head upwind of it a bit and verbally explain to your tester why you are heading say 10 degrees upwind of it.  Say something to the effect, "Heading toward the dock.  I am going to keep my course about 10 degrees up wind of it.  I'm doing this because we will have some leeway, but also because we want some spare potential energy to maneuver.  When you drive somewhere in your car, you don't completely deplete the tank during the course of the drive.  You have lots of gasoline left over.  In sailing, wind energy is your gasoline.  I'm going to stay well upwind of it because I want lots of extra gas in my tank.  That gives me more options when we approach the dock, and also provides me with spare potential momentum to use for an abort if necessary".
  2. Your tester is trying to envision whether you are ready to safely command a crew.  During the test, don't try to do everything on the boat yourself.   Don't be shy about asking your crew and/or your tester to do tasks for you.  You win points for effectively communicating and coordinating your crew during the different maneuvers.  For example, in the tight circles clearly communicate what you want the crew to be doing with the jib.  If you're coming in too fast in a docking, utilize the crew to push the boom out for you.  When you're doing the man overboard, don't pick up the man over board yourself - instead explain early that the crew is to pick up the man overboard on the windward side, and verbally reassure them that you will counterweight to the opposite side.  Essentially, bend over backwards (and be unusually vigilant at employing everyone in the boat) to 'over-demonstrate' that you have the ability and confidence to manage your crew. 
  3. Beat your tester to verbally calling out all obstacles.  If you are getting close to the rocks, don't let your tester be the first one to vocalize that.  Say really early, "We are approaching the rocks - 50 yards.  We'll be tacking in about 30 seconds".   Call out all windsurfers and other boats you see around you, "Windsurfer in the water at 1 o'clock, 200 feet.  Heading down."  Imagine you are being paid $1 for every obstacle you call out.  Imagine you are being paid $2 for every change in course that you call out.  It should be a continual spewing of information.  A lot of it will be repetitive and redundant - when that happens, your doing it right.  This alone will dazzle you're tester by displaying above-average situational awareness.
  4. Cut the small talk when it counts.  In flying its called a "sterile cockpit".   Re-read #3 again.  If you are chatting away about your last vacation, and while going into a story about some amazing creme brulee' you had, you fail to call out nearby obstacles - that looks really bad.  Don't let the small talk over step your verbalization, or get in the way of other crew member's verbalizations.  In commercial airplanes, during certain activities such as taking off or landing, the FAA has a regulation called the sterile cockpit that mandates that the cockpit crew only speak of matters pertinent to the operation of the plane.  This is especially true when doing sailing maneuvers.  If you are doing a man-over-board, don't ask a question unrelated to the maneuver at hand while the man-over-board slips farther and farther away off your stern.  And if you're heading into dock, don't talk about where your going to eat dinner - be speaking, but only about what's about to happen.  Impress your tester by maintaining a sterile cockpit during maneuvers and keeping the boat's verbalizations pertinent.
  5. Make your life easier.  On the dock before the test, impress your tester by suggesting you reef.  A lot of the test is about judgement - if you suggest the reef - you haven't even gotten in the boat and you are already impressing your tester by showing conservative reasoning. This test is not about performance.  At no time do we gauge your velocity.  Remove power from your sail and make your life easier - reef
  6. When docking, start your prep checklist early.  Docking has a bunch of prep work: you need to brief your crew on your intended approach, you need to request your crew furl the jib, you let the mainsheet out all the way in a controlled fashion, ask someone to go forward to stand at the fore deck, they need to free the bow-line, then have the bow-line coiled neatly in hand, and since we frequently have newbies they should have some time to acclimate to being on the fore deck.  Do not do this prep work in a rushed fashion.  Impress your instructor with how far away you are when you begin this process.  If you are already too close, suggest tacking away and heading upwind to do these prep tasks.  Be the first one to say its time to do these prep tasks.  If your instructor is the first one to mention furling the jib, then you lose major points.  To make sure you're first to say it, start this process farther off than you think you need to. 
  7. When sailing on any given course, focus like a laser on something on land and keep that heading.  Stay on the same exact course until you or your tester verbalize otherwise (ie. "heading down", "ready to tack", etc).  A good trick is to find an object on land and keep your bow directly underneath it.  Hone in on that perfectly straight course dynamically compensating for waves, wind shifts, gusts, weight shifts in the boat, and so forth.  Irregardless of what's happening around you, impress your tester by maintaining that straight course until its communicated otherwise.

In football, I hear there's a move called a head-fake.  You send your head in one direction to throw off the opposing lineman, while your body goes the other.

Notice that items #1, #2, #3, #4, #6, #7 all involve communication.  Only #5 is related to the technical aspects of sailing.  

The big head-fake with the Junior practical is that its more about communication and judgment, than sailing skill.  Virginia Luchetti, who is one of our highly respected club leaders, once told me that 90% of the Junior practical is communication and judgment.

If someone doesn't know how to do a man-over-board, I can teach them how to do it in about a half an hour.  But if the communication skills which the above items would demonstrate are not present, that's a much longer process to instill in someone.  

Its ironic that communication actually counts for more than the execution of some simple maneuvers.  I've seen people capsize numerous times and still pass the test because they were excellent at the communication and judgment items listed above.  I've also seen people fail who executed the maneuvers fine, but didn't exhibit fluid communication or conservative judgment.

Now the biggest head fake of all - those items above should always be done, even if you're not doing a Junior practical.  Once you get your Junior, wow your crew every time by doing nailing #1 through #7 above, and setting the bar nice and high for good seamanship :-)