Thurs May 1
I have a confession to make.
I've never really mastered a basic Laser sailing skill that's covered in all the beginner handbooks, and that kids usually pick up almost straight away when learning to sail... I've never really got the hang of using the toe-strap to hike when I'm reaching.
In my defense let me give you my pathetic list of excuses as to how I've managed to sail and race a Laser since Reagan's first term without this essential skill in my armory...
First of all I'm fairly tall and fairly heavy (as Laser sailors go) and all the sailing clubs to which I have belonged have been inland lake clubs with relatively light winds. So usually I have been able to keep the boat flat when reaching by planting my butt on the side deck, or worst case hooking my toes under the grab-rail on the far side of the cockpit. In other words I am too fat.
Secondly, the standard advice for sailing a reach using the toe-strap is to rig an adjustable strap so you can tighten it for reaching from the looser position you need when beating. I've experimented with this but have always found it too fiddly, too much of a hassle to mess about trying to pull one bit of string at the back of the cockpit before a reach and another part of the same bit of string at the back of the cockpit after the reach along with all the other bits of string at the front of the cockpit that have to be pulled or released at the same time. Yes, in other words as well as being too fat I am also too lazy to bother with setting the toe-strap properly when nine times out of ten I don't really need to use it on a reach anyway.
Ah but what about the one time out of ten I do need to hike using the toe-strap on a reach? Whenever the wind is over 20 knots say and/or the reach is tighter than a beam reach, then I really need to hike properly. But I can't. Because either my toe-strap is too loose (see above under too lazy) or even if it is tight I have never sailed that way enough to be effective at it (see above under too fat.)
Oh, I forgot. There's a third reason. Most race committees at Laser regattas in North America seem to set windward-leeward courses. So we hardly ever need to reach anyway. But at the Masters Worlds we sail trapezoid courses with long reaches, and sometimes it is windy enough to hike, and on those races I lost gazillions of places on the reaches... not to mention being overtaken by suicidal Aussies intent on wiping us both out as in How Many Times I Have Fallen.
So I've decided it's time to fix this problem. On Thursday I went for a practice off Bristol Highlands just south of Rumstick Point. It was blowing 18-20 knots. I had an adjustable toe-strap rigged so I used it and practiced reaching using the toe-strap all afternoon.
- it's not all that hard
- but the art of keeping the boat balanced using body, sheet and tiller is a bit different from the same skill on a beat
- when reaching into the waves they often break in your face
- the water is still very cold especially when a wave breaks in your face every five seconds
- if you have your mouth open when a wave breaks in your face you will swallow some water
- the water tastes salty when you swallow it
- cold water down your neck is very invigorating
- nobody else in Rhode Island is yet out playing in small boats on this part of the bay on a Thursday afternoon
- it was slightly stupid to be out on my own but I survived
- confession is good for the soul
- socks are good for the sole too.