I discovered during the Buzzards Bay Regatta last weekend that I am now able to pass other sailors on runs. No big deal you might say, but it's a new experience for me. For many years my thought at the top of a downwind leg was, "I hope I don't lose too many places on this leg." Whereas now it's, "Let's see how many places I can gain on this leg."
I guess I'm finally beginning to get the hang of catching rides on waves in a Laser downwind. Perhaps it's because, after sailing most of my life on inland lakes (ripples not waves), I have done more sailing in big bumps on the sea in the last year than ever before.
I suppose I first became aware of the possibility that I don't totally suck downwind a couple of weeks ago at the district championships when, after my brilliantly successful first beat strategy in the Blind Squirrel race, I was able to stay ahead of two of the best sailors in the fleet downwind. (OK I got passed by a couple of lightweights but you can't beat physics.)
At BBR on the second day, after rounding the windward mark, I would sail radically to one side of the course, make sure I had clear air and then work the waves. One thing I hadn't realized until recently was that if you are fast on a run you don't just pass boats one by one; you pass them in groups. Magic.
Of course if your first beat is so bad that you round the windward mark with the tailenders it's a bit easier to look like a hero on the run. And there's not much point in passing ten boats in ten minutes on a run if you let someone else gain a late inside overlap at the leeward mark and end up losing the same ten places in ten seconds. But hey, I learned from that mistake in the first race on day 2 and turned in three solid top twenty finishes (which is good for me) in the next three races.
I'm sure there is still huge room for improvement. But it's good to discover that at least there is some improvement as a result of all the sailing I have been doing this year.
On the other hand, maybe I was just faster because of my new rudder? Hmmm.