I blame summer.
I seem to have been neglecting this blog lately. I've been sailing five times since my last post about actual sailing and I haven't written a post about any of those five sailing days yet (as opposed to writing about cramp and posting some Swedish beefcake for the ladies). I blame summer.
Anyway, returning to the real subject of this blog, my continual struggle to keep on Laser sailing in the face of the depredations of old age, in particular, the dreaded death grip cramps... about a week after my dismal failure at the Atlantic Coast Masters on account of the aforementioned death grip cramp, I went sailing on Monday to test out the theory advanced by the wise old man of Lake Eustis, Sam Chapin, namely that I was holding the sheet way too tight and that that was the principal cause of my dreaded death grip cramp.
I launched from Independence Park in Bristol and did the loop around Hog Island and back. With 10-15 knots from the south that meant starting off with a beat of about 3 miles, so I had plenty of time to test out the Chapin Theory.
What I learned...
1. I have two different ways of holding the sheet. One is with the line coming up between my hand and fingers and then locked beneath my thumb. The other way is with the sheet wrapped around my hand. I think I read somewhere that wrapping the sheet around the hand is considered very bad form and extremely wimpy in some macho Laser sailing circles, but hey I'm not a macho Laser sailing circle.
2. With my sheet coming up through my hand, I discovered that I could relax my fingers almost entirely and that only a light grip with my thumb was sufficient to do the job of holding the sheet. The ratchet block really does do the job!
3. With my sheet wrapped around my hand, I don't grip the sheet very tightly but I do then have a tendency to pull the sheet very taut and put a lot of strain on the muscles in my forearm, which I am pretty sure is where the cramp starts.
4. I have a fault when hiking hard of using the sheet to support a lot of my weight. This also puts a lot of strain on the forearm. By concentrating on supporting my weight with my legs and my feet under the toe-strap I can relax the tension in my arm.
5. I noticed that when I transfer my sheet to my tiller hand (to adjust sail controls with my front hand) I naturally hold the sheet in a light grip between one finger and the tiller. Duh! If that's all it needs then I don't need to be straining like crazy when I hold the sheet in my front hand!
So I sailed my long beat, practicing holding the sheet with minimum hand tension and minimum forearm tension, and supporting my weight with my legs not with my arm, and I concluded that the wise old man of Lake Eustis really is a Wise Old Man.