Photo by Roberto Alvarez courtesy of caribwind.com
At the four-day clinic prior to the Caribbean Laser Midwinters in Cabarete, Dominican Republic earlier this month, the coach running the clinic, Brett Davis, did a superb job in teaching us and running drills that focused on many aspects of Laser sailing including boat-handling, upwind and downwind boat-speed in waves, tactics, starts, nutrition, physical fitness and even yoga. He answered all our questions and was more than willing to pass on his considerable knowledge about the sport.
But after a couple of days, one of the students on the clinic started to gently chide Brett. "I wish that just for once you would give us a straight answer instead of saying, 'It depends,' every time we ask a question."
I could see this guy's point. The discussions at the clinic had often gone something like this...
Student: So Brett, when I get a bad start what should I do? Should I tack and take a few transoms and get over to the right side of the course in clear air? Or Should I keep going to the left?
Brett: Well, it all depends on whether you think the left side of the course is favored.
Student: So Brett, when I'm beating in waves, where is the best place to tack?
Brett: Well I like to tack in the troughs. But what do you do T? (addressing young hotshot sailor).
T: I try and tack going up a wave so that the crest of the wave helps to turn my bow.
Brett: Well I guess it depends on the sort of waves you are sailing in.
Student (after long discussion on S-curving downwind): So Brett should we ride the waves by the lee as long as we can and then head up on to a broad reach? Or should we do lots of tighter S-curves?
Brett: Well, it all depends on the waves...
Of course Brett was right. And the student teasing him was being a bit naive expecting black and white answers to some of these question about more advanced aspects of Lasering technique. When you're just learning to sail things are more definite. Sit here in the boat. Hold the tiller this way. Look that way. Heel the boat this much. But when it gets to technique in waves there is no right and wrong method that works all the time. You have to develop a feel for the waves and learn by trial and error what works in different conditions. And different sailors do have different styles.
Brett answered the challenge to his "It depends" comments directly by telling us that we shouldn't expect to be able to get definite answers to questions about technique for sailing in waves. He said you can't learn this stuff that way. You can't, for example, learn downwind technique in waves by thinking about it; you just have to sail hundreds of miles in a Laser downwind in waves until you develop a feel for it.
I'm sure he's right. Anybody want to volunteer to drive a coach boat for me while I do some downwind sailing off the New Jersey shore next month? No? Can't blame you.