System Sailing 1.1 - The Boat

April 17, 2020

Everything about sailing can be viewed with numbers. All the numbers we discuss in System Sailing are filed in the left side of the brain. Once this data is applied and we use the right side of the brain, the learning process is completed. The goal with System Sailing is to improve your system with every race.

However, before you can put the sailing-with-numbers approach to work on the water, you need to make sure you have a solid foundation. The first three parts will help you take an organized and systematic approach to your boat, team, plans, and goals. We'll start with the boat. With proper care and maintenance and care of your boat, you can ensure your gear isn’t holding you back. With a solid foundation, your performance and experience on the water will be an accurate reflection of your skills and growth. It’s truly the key to success and enjoyment on the water.

Use the playbook, the video, and the below deep dive to create a plan for your foundation that works for your program and goals. And never hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.


The system starts with the boat. The decision to purchase a boat should break down to numbers. The numbers that should reflect your decision:

  • Number of other boats to race against
  • Size and weight of boat
  • Percentage of moisture 
  • Year and price
  • One design, boats locally, travel
  • Handicap, boats locally, travel, rating

Below the Waterline


You made the decision to buy the boat and now the goal is to make it perfect. The process for eliminating variables below the water line are:

  • Keel and rudder inline
  • Centerline of boat straight and sharp
  • Edges sharp *trailing edges under 1/8 inch square and sharp, over 3/16” 45degree angle, sharp
  • Fair keel and rudder with same shape on both sides
  • Fair bottom with hard and smooth finish

The effort you make below the waterline will make everything you do above look better. Spend the time to make a check list for the bottom and then once each item is complete, check it off your list. 

Deck & Hull


Now that everything below the waterline is perfect, move up the boat and polish the hull. Porosity and dirt are slow and produce drag on the hull. The interior needs to be open, clean and dry. I suggest a light color in the interior so dirt and mildew are more obvious. Once in the water, use a dehumidifier inside the boat to keep everything dry. The mast, boom, and shrouds all should be cleaned and polished to reduce any windage. Everything related to System Sailing has a check list. The complete list starts with the boat and now that the boat is checked off, we move to all the parts and pieces.



Depending on the boat there are a variety of instruments that will provide information, allowing you and the crew to make better decisions based on numbers. It’s better to have fewer instruments that are accurate rather than many inaccurate. The basic instruments are denoted below** along with a few extras:

  • Compass (gyro or GPS)**
  • Boat Speed (electronic or GPS)**
  • Wind Direction (Windex or electronic) TWD**
  • Wind Speed
  • True Wind Angle TWA
  • Heel & Trim (measure side to side and bow to stern)
  • Course over ground and course over water COG, COW
  • GPS position
  • Target Speed up & Target TWA down

Instruments enhance your system for sailing while providing information to make numerical decisions based on accuracy and past trends.


No two boats are exactly the same, and the sails should be custom for your particular boat and type of sailing. The priority should be the range of the sails and ultimately the shape. In System Sailing it is important to picture your sails upwind and then make numerical sense of the working shape.  

It is also extremely important to document the condition of your sails both on paper and by taking photos of the sails. Logging the amount of time you have used a particular sail will aid your sailmaker in recommending service work. Knowing what stage of life your sail is in will also teach you what common wear spots to look for. Taking photos of your sails on the boat helps document the sail shape over time, and if desired, makes a recut possible. The sail documentation should include pictures of:

  • Mainsail & Jib or Genoa
    • Picture Sail on board at 50%-foot focus on three draft stripes
      • Light-Medium-Heavy conditions
      • Cord depth
      • Draft position
      • Leech twist
  • Symmetrical & Asymmetrical Spinnaker
    • Picture Sail off boat
      • Miter depth
      • Miter length
      • Depth location

Your guide then would have a picture of all sails with numbers for different wind ranges. Below the picture on your guide, you should include sail settings with results. For more information on how to photograph sails or how to inspect your sails on your own, click here.

Running Rigging


Just as it is important to track the usage of your sails, you need to keep track of the age of your running rigging. The jib halyard must not stretch and with the new high modules fibers the halyards today have zero stretch. In System Sailing we need to eliminate all variables that cannot be measured and stretch is one.  No stretch areas are:

  • Jib halyard
  • Jib sheet
  • Jib inhaul
  • Jib leed adjuster
  • Main halyard
  • Runners
  • Main sheet
  • Outhaul

Mark your lines with liquid tape so you can reference the mark relative to a scale to record a setting.

Mark, Measure, Record and Communicate


The foundation of System Sailing is; mark, measure, record, evaluate and communicate.  In order to communicate with numbers there has to be a system for measuring all the components of sailing.  Once a marked line or item is measured and then recorded, the system at the end of the day can be evaluated.  All this information is then communicated with the team using your guide.  Each function of racing can be broken down using this system. More on that soon.

Stay tuned for System Sailing 1.2 - The Crew. Click here to get the playbook for System Sailing 1.1 - The Boat. If you're interested in learning more, please contact Wally Cross.

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The Discussion