Thursday, June 14, 2012

Trapezoid Courses

It's very common at major sailing regattas these days to have trapezoid courses. The above diagrams should make it clear what trapezoid courses are. If you don't even understand the diagrams then you will probably sympathize even more with the views expressed in the guest post below by Susie Pegel - a REAL Laser sailor.

Not too long ago, Torben Grael wrote a commentary saying that a lot of things invented in recent years "by some clever person" to change the ways things are done in modern sailboat racing, new course configurations, new ways of scoring races, etc. are essentially a bunch of B.S. They have not changed things for the better.

Being the old-school type of person I am, I had to agree with him. I think Torben currently has a daughter sailing women's 470 for Brazil, so I'm sure he is seeing the way things are run these days and comparing them to the way things used to be during his sailing campaigns.

The trapezoid is a classic example.

Whatever "clever person" (as Torben would say) invented the trapezoid
a) has never had to set a trapezoid
b) has never had to try to adjust a trapezoid
c) has never had to sail a trapezoid
d) has never had to score a race run on a trapezoid or
e) all of the above.

It takes a small army of people to set a trapezoid. If the wind shifts, it is impossible to adjust a trapezoid.

The trapezoid changes the nature of the sport and race itself, since you spend most of the race reaching and going downwind and very little time sailing upwind. I guess finishing at the top of the beat has become a thing of the past.

I can tell you from personal experience (Laser championships held in recent years at Hyannis and Buffalo) that the various "fleets" still get all tangled up together on the trapezoid, making the race almost impossible to score since you now have to untangle not only who beat who across the finish line, but what "fleet" they were in.

At Hyannis, at least the 4.7s were on a separate race course. But the Radials and full-rigs were on the same trapezoid, and I know from personal experience that one full-rig group ended up tangled up with another full-rig group.

At Buffalo, the full-rigs, Radials and 4.7s were all on the same trapezoid (the 4.7s had a shorter beat). I know from personal experience that one full-rig group ended up tangled up with another full-rig group.

Result: I think at both Hyannis and Buffalo the sailors were frustrated, the locals trying to run the regatta were frustrated, everyone was frustrated.

I think the Laser class should do a follow-up with the host club asking them what they think should be done to improve the running of a Laser class championship regatta. I'm sure they would have plenty of ideas based on their own experiences trying to do it.

Just having separate courses would improve the quality of the racing for the competitors and make life simpler for those trying to run the regatta.

Since we all seem to be into "surveys" these days, here is a unique idea: instead of surveying the people AT the Laser Masters Worlds what they like about it (which is probably everything otherwise they wouldn't be there), how about surveying people who AREN'T at the Laser Masters Worlds what they don't like about it that is keeping them from coming.

If the Laser Masters Worlds is in North America, I would like to see it made not as time-consuming as possible and not as expensive as possible so as many North American sailors as possible feel they can participate without going bankrupt in the process.

Just because "some clever person" invented all these ideas of how modern sailboat races should be run, doesn't mean they are good ideas. "Some clever person" also thought the stand-your-ground law was a good idea too. Some of these things need to be revisited and an honest assessment made of just how wonderful they are.

 --Susie Pegel


Anonymous said...

Not sure I recall Buffalo as such a mess, but I do recall Hyannis and point explicitly to our well-regarded PRO for not seeing things clearly. He had many opportunities to keep the fleets from crossing, and received suggestions from various sailors that were D-secs or better in the class hierarchy (and one lone shnook) on how to avoid these traps, and ignored virtually all of them.

That said, the trap itself has flaws but was meant to remedy the loss of reaching which resulted from the dominance of the sausage.

The real root of the problem is the sausage.

Tillerman said...

The sausage is indeed a bad thing.

Judith Krimski said...

Now don't go dissing sausages. They're almost as good as bacon. That said I agree with Susie although more courses would probably have the same effect of using lots of race staff. Since I didn't do either Hyannis or Buffalo and I've never been to a Masters I can't comment. I have decided not to do the big regattas this summer (BBR, Newport) because they are definitely time consuming, and expensive. Last year at BBR the lasers where put close to a mile+ out in the Bay (Tillerman is my witness). The wind was light on Friday and it took 2 hours to sail out. Granted race committees aren't in charge of the breeze but come on guys. There's way to do it right and ways to do it wrong. This season I will take my boat to smaller one-day events where the RC is small but they get it and you can actually see the windward mark from the starting line. They will set simple WL courses with an offset and an upwind finish in the middle. We'll all have great competition and a great time. Everyone will go home happy. The closest we'll get to sausages will be in a bun. YUMMY!

Tillerman said...

Good points Judith. Horses for courses. Or should that be courses for horses?

Comparing a major regatta like a Masters Worlds (with perhaps over 400 boats in 7 fleets) and your average local regatta is like comparing apples and oranges. Or should that be hamburgers and sausages?

In spite of the occasional problem with mixed fleets, the trapezoid (when run by a top-notch RC) is pretty good at keeping multiple fleets separated. It also gives a good mix of beating, reaching and running. And puts the finish line close to the start. All good things in my opinions. Almost as good as Lincolnshire pork sausages. Or Melton Mowbray pork pies.

It is true that it can be a challenge to re-align a trapezoid course if the wind shifts. But it can be done. As I recall at Master Worlds they have a mark boat at every mark. I assume that if they want to tilt the whole course, the PRO just gives the mark boats new GPS coordinates for each mark and it's probably done as fast as you can turn over a sausage.

I do share some of your feelings Judith about big and smaller regattas. The small events certainly have their plus points. But I try to see the positive side of long sails out to the course. My friend Eric and I had a wonderful two hour long man to man race out to the course on that day at BBR last year. If God gives you sausages then make hot dogs is what I always say.

kiwiyates said...

Got interested in Susie ranking and checked out the Worlds results back to the 70's. It is very interesting to see all the well known names (Bertrand, Baird etc) getting their "roots" in Lasers.I'm sure there are many other international there as well who I don't know, who are well know in their home countries too. Where would sailing be, without the Opti & the Laser???? Yes there are many good boats, but nothing so "fundamental" as these 2 boats - wish I had shares in the companies at the beginning.....

Tillerman said...

Oh yes, many of the "names" in sailing got their start in Lasers. Russell Coutts, Robert Scheidt, Torben Grael, Paul Cayard and Ben Ainslie are a few more who seem to be doing pretty well in other classes these days.

Although I think you could have made better investments than buying shares in the companies building Lasers in the early days. Maybe backing that young fellow Larry Ellison would have given you a better return? Nobody got as rich as Larry by building Lasers!

Anonymous said...

Jeff Zarwell ran trapezoid for j120, 105 and express37 fleets on SF Bay two weeks ago. He did a great job and it was a fun and interesting change from the standard windward-leewards. Personally, I like the option of he trapezoid and hope we have a few more in our regatta schedule in 2013.

mgandrew said...

A Trapezoid was tried at Thistle Mid Winters East two years ago and as I recall the talk at the end of the day was to ditch the concept.

BeachComber said...

If the wind is at or above the strength for marginal planing, the courses should be trapezoids or triangles. A lot of people think heavyweights suffer in light airs. That's not really true. But they do suffer in marginal planing conditions when the light and fit can get the boat planing, but the fat cannot. For lightweights, it's the justified reward for working harder than the heavies on the beat.

I guess what's good about trapezoids is that you get the speed of reaches and the tactics of the run.

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