The wonderful thing about sailing is that, even after racing for 25 years, I am still finding new ways to lose races. They say that we learn from our mistakes so it's exceptionally rewarding to be having so many learning experiences from which I can improve my performance in such a multitude of diverse areas. Yeah right!
Sunday was an outstanding educational adventure. After discovering 10 different ways to screw up a start and learning of something else that can go wrong at a windward mark rounding, I managed to devise two totally novel methods of dropping about ten places in a race in as many seconds ...
I have mentioned before that racing in a large fleet on small courses creates huge crowds of boats at starts, finishes and mark roundings. And that one of the key skills in such situations is to be able to think ahead and anticipate what the herd is going to do. It sounds easy but on Sunday a combination of a 3-week layoff with no racing and perhaps the cold affecting my brain caused me to make a couple of massive mental errors.
First goof. I'm coming down the right side of the run. There's a leeward gate and I'm thinking of rounding the right-hand mark (looking downwind). I'm determined to sail the run in clear air and be on the inside at the mark so I'm to the right of most boats around me. So far so good. There's a woman sailor in the fleet who's about the same standard as me and she's even further out to the right. The old testosterone kicks in and starts telling the brain, "What's going on buddy? You're getting beat by a girl! Gotta do something. Where's your male pride?" So I luff up a bit and try and get to the right of her. After a while she concedes defeat and heads back to the middle of the course. Ha. No girlie's going to beat me today. I gybe on to port and start my approach to the mark.
The leaders of the fleet are now rounding the right hand gate mark. Yikes. Looks like there's been a big shift (to the right looking upwind). They're heading up the beat on a much higher angle than I had anticipated. So now there's a gazillion boats beating on starboard tack in a continuous line. A line that I have to cross to get to the correct side of the mark. And they all have right of way over me. I have nowhere to go. Nothing to do except wait until the line clears. This happens after only twenty or so boats go by. Including, of course, the aforementioned female sailor whose brain has not been affected by the freezing temperature or testosterone poisoning and who is now about ten places ahead of me.
Goof number two. Our frostbite fleet has changed the way we set up the finish lines this year. We used to have a combined start/ finish line about a third of the way up the beat. This works well except that with a large fleet the line was much longer than needed for finishes. And, more importantly, the RC had to wait for every boat to finish a race before they could readjust the angle of the start line for the next race. So this year we are setting up a short finish line to starboard of the committee boat. This generally works well but does create one new tactical situation that I accidentally discovered on Sunday.
I have a good race and am coming in to the finish on port tack at the port (RC boat) end of the line. So far so good. I've been having a tussle all race with one of my fellow grandmaster sailors and we rounded the last mark close together. But he went out to the right side of the final beat and looks to be approaching the starboard (pin) end of the line on starboard tack. Looks like I'm ahead of him and I squeeze past the committee boat on port tack, get my bow across the line and they call my number.
Then I hear my aged friend screaming starboard as he heads straight at me from the other end of the line. Now if this was a normal finish line with a small buoy at the port end I would tack and be out of his way in no time. But there's a very solid, very large committee boat to my left; not to mention an anchor line beyond that. Once again I am trapped with nowhere to go. I can't tack. I luff a bit but that doesn't achieve much. He screams, "Protest!" OK. OK. No need to sound so pleased about it.
My brain is still a bit frozen so I try to remember the rules. Can he protest me if I've actually finished? I'm pretty sure he can. Definition of Racing says that I'm still racing until I've cleared the finish line and marks which I clearly haven't done yet. Big sigh. Another major mental blunder. Drift back. Clear the line. Do penalty turn. Watch ten boats go by in the process. Cross the finish line. Hear the race officer call my number. Did he have to add that sarcastic "again" after my number?
Aaahhh. Education. Can't beat it.