On the fourth day, our regular instructor in the Advanced Laser Class, Tom, was back on the job and we were joined by a couple of renegade students from the Advanced Asymmetric Class. The forecast was for Beaufort 5 and 6 gusting to 7, which in terms more familiar to knotty sailors is 17-27 knots gusting to 33.
Woo hoo! What did I just say? 33 knots? OMG!
Tom gave us a briefing about heavy air technique, most of which I knew before but had never been very good at executing. He also spent more time explaining something he had mentioned two days previously: how to sit in the boat when sailing downwind.
Anyone not interested in reading 3,000 words about how to sit in a Laser may want to skip to the end of this post for the food section...
I thought I knew how to sit in a Laser, but apparently not. For many years my downwind technique has been to have my back calf tucked under the toestrap, my back knee on the floor of the cockpit jammed against the leeward cockpit wall and my front knee alongside the daggerboard (at least in light winds.) I held the tiller extension so it ran along my forearm. This always felt very stable and locked-in.
But apparently that is all wrong. Kurt Taulbee at SailFit a few years back tried to encourage me to keep my weight on the soles of my feet but I never really got the the hang of that. It felt terribly unstable.
Now Tom returned to the thankless task of teaching Tillerman how to sit properly in the boat. Tom described it as the "knees up" style, but that's pretty much the same as what Kurt was saying. Feet on the cockpit floor = knees up...
(I never knew Petula Clark and Noel Harrison were Laser sailors.)
Tom had another twist on downwind technique. He recommended putting the tiller extension down on the leeward deck and holding it there, so that you are not waggling the rudder about so much as in the extension-under-the-arm style. And he was big on sitting sideways in the boat, rather than facing diagonally forwards as I used to. His logic for this is that you need to be frequently looking back when sailing downwind because that's where the wind is coming from. And it's much easier to look back if you are facing sideways than if you are twisted around facing forwards. As Sam Chapin would say LASERS LOOK BACK.
All very logical, but did I want to experiment with a different style in 33 knots? So I took the easy way out and asked to sail a Radial rig (as did the rest of the class.) We sailed up and down and back and forth all over the bay and gybed and tacked in the heaviest wind of the holiday and I did sail with my knees up and I didn't capsize. Tom was right - of course - it is easier to balance the boat and avoid the dreaded death roll when you have your weight over your feet. Holding the tiller extension on the deck felt strange at first but I could see how it avoided unnecessary rudder movement. And I did look back.
In the afternoon racing I won both races using the knees up style (in a full rig Laser.)
After lying down for an hour or two to demonstrate my amazing willpower not to do too much, Tillerwoman and I walked in to the local village of Fornells where I enjoyed a plate of assorted grill fish washed down with some local wine. Mmmm. And so to bed...