Monday, July 10, 2006

Sailor's Edge

Paul Foerster, 470 Olympic gold medalist in Athens, won the Sunfish North Americans in Texas last month.

The other week, after Wednesday night Sunfish sailing, it was my pleasure to sit next to a former North American Sunfish champion. Very former. Let's call my friend Dave. Just as well because that's his real name too. Dave won the NAs over 40 years ago and is still sailing Sunfish and winning regattas.

That I was sitting next to a national sailing champion for beer and pizza is not too surprising. This Wednesday night fleet that races a weird little boat design that's over 50 years old on an obscure lake in New Jersey includes at least four former national champions in various classes, a couple of former Olympic campaigners, plus two guys who can regularly beat the lot of them in Sunfish. If I break the top eight in this fleet I know I'm having a good night.

But I digress. As I mentioned, Dave has been sailing and winning in the same class for over 40 years. He was telling me a tale about winning a regatta recently at a club that had a perpetual trophy - one of those where they engrave the names of the winners on plaques on the trophy. Well, it was noticed that someone with the same name as Dave had won the trophy back in the 1960s. Dave, whose sense of humor is even more droll than mine, had convinced the regatta organizers that the winner back then was his father. Of course it was really him.

Anyway, after a few stories like this I thought that Dave was the perfect person to answer "The Question". This is the question that has been bugging me after reading all these boating blogs for the past year or two. You see I'm a bit like Dave. Not in being a champion, but in sticking with the same boat, in my case the Laser, for decade after decade. I only sail the Sunfish because that's what they sail in North Jersey lakes and when in Rome...

But you guys who write blogs have started me thinking. Dangerous stuff thought. You see you sound like you're having so much fun doing different kinds of boating from the stuff that I do. Dan is taking out friends for rides on his trimaran on Buzzards Bay, Bob has been sailing a Beneteau from Bermuda to New York, Orkun has been match racing a J24 with a multi-national crew and Michael has been "tripping the Gaspe" in his kayak. So I keep having these thoughts that I should try different sorts of watery activity, cruising or day-sailing or racing keelboats or sea kayaking. So many choices.

So I asked Dave the question. "In all the years you've been racing Sunfish, have you never been tempted to try some other kinds of sailing?"

He thought for a few seconds and then asked me in a puzzled tone as if the question had never occurred to him, "Why?"

"Well, I've been thinking it might be fun to sail bigger boats or go cruising or maybe even kayaking. None of us are getting any younger. It seems a good idea to try as many options as we can while we're still fit enough to do them."

Dave looked troubled and pondered this for a few more seconds. "I suppose you could. But just remember, you'll lose your edge."

Dave has an edge racing his Sunfish for sure. I'm not sure I have an edge. What is an "edge" anyway? What do you think? Do we become better racing sailors by sticking to one class for decades; or do we develop more as sailors by sailing different boats? Comments please.

12 comments:

Adrift At Sea said...

I think different kinds of sailing take different mindsets...as do different boats. I don't have a racer's mindset...so I don't race...although I do volunteer to be human ballast every once in a while. :D

hydroceano said...

that would be like asking Hemingway to write fan blogs about Buffy the Vampire...don't quit something your good at and you love just because others are doing it...

EVK4 said...

I find sailing fun. Could be a race, a daysail, a drifter, doesn't really matter.

Maybe train yourself to look at other types of sailing as a different sport/activity so you don't get any external influences into your lasering.

Have you ever seen this thread ( http://www.sailinganarchy.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=37055&st=0&#entry793483 )? Despite the obnoxious title, it's a pretty cool turboing of a Laser.

EVK4 said...

Here's a URL you can read:

http://tinyurl.com/gx7bn

Zen said...

Since I have not sailed a lot of other sail boats I can not give you answer based on that. However I will switch to Kung Fu to relate. We train with several different weapons to know different "feels" and energy of it is apllied. However there is "one" weapon that becomes you. Though you play with others there is one that is yours. Depending on much you toy with the other main gets better if you do not abandon it. You do not give it up you just expand your experiences and it sometime makes you better, because SOME things which are to that other weapon's experience and therefore new can be adapted to raise your main weapon skill level.

Or another way, Doing Tai Chi, helps improve one's Shaolin style.

However...

they must be kept as seperate minds

Cross training can be effective to understand weak and strong points of another style.
All is not Yang or Yin, both contain elements of the other. To understand one better, the other must be experienced.

Sorry, sometimes I get off on a tangent.

Theblonde said...

So is he talking about the 'buzz' or the thrill of competition? Maybe he feels that he would not be competitive enough with any other size/type of boat, certainly there ain't no racing in cruising. I reckon he'd still find the experience of a different boat would enhance his already vast knowledge of how to play with the wind to best advantage, regardless of the boat. Yeah, the edge would always be there, that's the challenge.

OG said...

Variety is the spice of life.

Pat said...

The sailors I admire most can quickly come to an understanding with just about any old boat and are jacks-of-all-trades with a lot of self-reliance and tricks, who can enjoys themselves in dinghies and yachts, on a race course and rafted up in a quiet cove, on a quiet day or in a half gale, in a big gathering or solo, figuring out a clever way to make a repair, or a nifty way to improve performance or comfort, and who are generous and unselfish in sharing their knowledge and love of sailing and spreading joy on the water.

Litoralis said...

I don't think "losing your edge" is an issue for most sailors. The new skills and insights gained from sailing a different boat (or even kayaking) would likely outweigh any loss of "edge" in your main boat of choice.
I have definitely learned alot of things about controlling sail shape by sailing the Star that I use when adjusting the sail controls on the Laser. The tactical and boat handling skills I learned from sailing FJs, 420s, Larks etc. on short courses in college are really helpful.

Adrift At Sea said...

Zen and Litoralis both make excellent points about how using a different skill set for a different boat, may translate back to some improvements or better understanding of the skill set you use for your Laser.

Sometimes our skills improve when we force ourselves to do something very different. I do try to sail on as many different types of boats as I can, as I like to see how they are different.

The skills emphasized on a racing dinghy, like a Laser, are very different from those required for a larger monohull, like a J/105, which are different from those used on a folding trimaran like my Telstar 28. Also, the purpose of each boat can be quite different.

I've never met a die-hard Laser sailor who didn't have either a drysuit or a wetsuit, at least in New England. On my boat, you'd actually have to work to get soaked. Then again, Laser sailors probably expect to capsize every once in a while—most trimaran sailor probably do not.

Anonymous said...

Dave's edge must be all the telltales on his sail. It would simply be too hard to put those on another boat....

Anonymous said...

Dave...Hmmmm ... remember here is a guy who has told people he put all his sail ties on a continuous line so he can adjust the distance the sail is from the spars on the fly - very droll indeed

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