At the seminar one day, while I was sailing upwind in a moderate breeze on relatively flat water, Kurt told me that my outhaul was too loose.
Being an arrogant bastard and stubborn with it too, I chose to argue with Kurt in spite of the fact that he is one of the top Laser coaches in the world and I am one of the slowest Laser master sailors in the world. Or I suppose you could look at it more charitably and say that I asked my coach some follow-up questions so that I could better understand his teaching.
"But I'm a big guy and I feel like I need a lot of power in the sail. Surely I need to power up the sail so that I can hike aa hard as possible while still sailing flat. That must be the fastest way to sail... isn't it?"
"Not necessarily. You have to consider drag as well. Tighten your outhaul and you will have less drag."
"But then I wouldn't need to hike so much."
"Try it. You might find you have to hike harder."
So I tried tightening the outhaul and sure enough I had less power and I wasn't hiking hard and I was going slower.
"Put the bow down. Sail slightly more off the wind."
I footed off slightly and the boat accelerated. I did have to hike harder. It felt fast. It felt totally different to the way I had sailed the boat for the last 25 years. Aaah. So that's how it's supposed to feel.
So I tried Kurt's advice when I was sailing with my son on Saturday. He set up just to windward of me and we headed off in the general direction of Barrington on a long port tack beat. He was sailing with a loose foot to his sail and I had much less draft in my sail and I was sailing a few degrees lower as per the advice from Mr. Taulbee. Sure enough every time I glanced over my shoulder my son was gaining distance to windward on me. Hmmm. This doesn't seem to be working.
But once I had settled into the groove sailing in this unfamiliar way I also started to gain distance ahead of him as the gap between our tracks widened. It was hard to tell whether in my position ahead and to leeward I was actually gaining on him. Would I cross him if I tacked? But then we sailed into a nice juicy header, I tacked, and crossed him by a good margin.
So what does that prove? It certainly doesn't prove that I was making better VMG upwind than him, but I guess it does validate the conventional wisdom that in an oscillating breeze you should foot to the next header. Ahead and leeward is the place to be to take advantage of those shifts.
We headed downwind and, after he had showed off his death roll recovery technique a couple of times, we headed back upwind but on starboard tack this time. Same experiment. Same result.
So I have learned a new way to sail upwind in hiking conditions. Thanks Kurt. Something to practice and try out in races until I have it perfect.
And I discovered in my random ramblings around the Interwebs that two other Laser sailors have gone through the same learning process this year...
Mike Matan from Cedar Point YC spent a couple of weekends this spring training with Kurt in Clearwater, and promptly went back to the CPYC frostbite fleet and won the day. In his Winner's Chalk Talk he told the fleet how he did it. It's all to do with that tighter outhaul and putting the bow down. As Mike said, "You may think, as I did, that you already do this but I guarantee you’ll find at the clinic you don’t do it anywhere near enough."
Then a few weeks ago Stuart Streuli wrote a review in Sailing World of the Velocitek Speedpuck a neat little GPS speedo and compass for small boats. He tested out the Speedpuck sailing a Laser with the Newport frostbite fleet. He soon discovered that there's not much time for staring at a speedo in short-course college-style courses. But then he made a discovery...
OK. I'm convinced. If Kurt Taulbee, Ed Adams and Mike Matan say it's so, it must be so.
Afterwards, however, I decided to see if I could glean something useful from the data. By monitoring the speed as I changed outhaul tension, I discovered that, in the moderate breeze and flat water, sailing with a tighter outhaul than I usually do was about a tenth of a knot faster. I later confirmed this observation with fleet maestro Ed Adams, a former Laser Masters world champion. In those conditions, he said, minimizing drag can be more important than creating power. The tricky part, he added, is that the boat doesn't feel as good with the outhaul pulled tighter, which can lead you to deduce that in fact more draft is better. The Speedpuck, however, showed me the truth. Next time I find myself in those conditions, I'll know what to do.