Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Hidden Law of the Universe

I wrote a couple of weeks ago in Blind Squirrel about how, through superior powers of observation, deep meteorological understanding and outstanding reasoning abilities, I chose the right side of the race course on the first beat and was first sailor to the windward mark against tough competition in a race in our district championship.

This weekend at the Buzzards Bay Regatta I paid the price for that success.

Let's think about this logically. On any given beat, there are three possibilities...
  1. it doesn't matter which side of the course you choose
  2. it does matter and it's pretty obvious which is the correct side
  3. it does matter but it's not clear which side is better.
OK. Now ignore the first category and concentrate on just the second and third categories. If they are all category 3 then just by chance you should make the right guess 50% of the time. Factor in some category 2 races, then isn't it obvious that, statistically speaking, the chance of any reasonably competent sailor choosing the favored side of the course must be more than 50%?



This weekend I demonstrated to my own satisfaction that the normal laws of logic and statistics don't apply to this issue. There is some hidden law of the universe that roughly speaking says, "For every beat where Tillerman chooses the correct side of the beat, he must pay for it by choosing the wrong side N times, where N=(1 + George Bush's age - Tillerman's age + number of years since Tillerman read a book by Stuart Walker + number of glasses of wine consumed by Tillerman on previous evening). N cannot be less than 3 and could be well over 10.

For example...

On Day 1 of BBR, the wind was swinging around at the start of the day. The race committee tried a start while the wind was in the west and it swung way to the south so they had to postpone the start. It stayed southish for a while, and we got one light air race in.

Then it went west again. Oh no, now it's south-west. No wait. There's a north-westerly coming in. Eventually we got a start off with the wind sorta kinda westerly. I didn't have a great first beat and run so at the start of the second and final beat I had a choice. Right or left. Most of the fleet went left. I figured that, given the earlier push by the north-westerly the wind was just as likely to swing right. And I figured I wouldn't pass many boats by going left so I went right.

Right was wrong. Left was right. Duh. N=1 and counting.

On Day 3 the pattern was similar. Wind swinging all over the place. Two postponed starts. Eventually we got away in a westerly. I had a decent start in clear air about a third of the way down the line from committee boat.

Ahah, I thought. At least I can learn from my own mistakes. This is like race 2 of day 1. The secret of success is to bang the left corner in expectation of the shift to the south-west. Halfway up the beat I look over my shoulder and see that two boats who tacked on to port out of a start at the committee boat are now about half a mile to windward of me. And everyone who started right of me is way ahead of me too. Huge righty. N=2 and counting.

(Actually that race was abandoned but the hidden law of the universe didn't know that was going to happen.)

In race 2 on Day 3, a similar thing happened. The wind had settled in to a consistent direction and a few smart souls like me, blessed with superior wind intuition, hit the left side of the beat. Man, that was a good choice. We were gaining bigtime on the dumb shits that went right and by the top third of the beat it looked like we had gained several hundred yards on them. But then a huge righty came in and the lucky fools on the starboard tack layline were reaching in to the mark. Some of them were actually planing to the windward mark! While we brave band of sailors on the left were struggling to the mark on a massive header in spite of our higher intelligence and advanced decision-making abilities.

N=3 and counting.

See what I mean? I am cursed by the hidden law of the universe. How many more races must go wrong before I get it right again?


Tim said...

funny thing, something similar happened to me last weekend. On our particular stretch of water when the wind is in the SW it pays to go right if the tide is coming in, left if its going out. This worked for the first race (tide coming in) but I lost out to those who stuck in the tide (going out) on the last race. The only reason I can think of is a big shift or more pressure.

mj said...

In any of those beats, were you trying to sail the long tack first?

Tillerman said...

Good question mj. It's generally good advice to sail the long tack first. As far as I can recall, for the three races concerned the answer to your question is no, yes and both tacks were the same length initially.

mj said...

I've been choosing the wrong side alot lately myself. There are usually just too many variables. It seems to me you were taking far too many risks at this regatta - banging corners and taking that flyer. In your Race 2, Day 3 scenario, imagine if you had tacked to port sooner (avoiding the left corner) and accidentally hit that right shift. You may have been one of the first boats to the weather mark, ahead of the boats that overstood on the starboard layline. What's interesting is that doing so probably didn't seem like a good idea at time - when you were celebrating your (temporary) lead on the left side. I would most likely have done the same...

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