Tuesday, February 05, 2013
I have been writing on this blog for almost eight years now about how bad I am at Laser sailing but how, in spite off all the evidence, I still have this delusion that I will find a way to become smarter and faster at Laser sailing.
I have almost convinced myself that it really is a delusion.
And then one day something amazing happens.
And I start to wonder if I might actually have it in me to become a semi-respectable almost good Laser sailor.
Sunday was one of those days...
For most of the week the forecast for Newport was looking crappy with very light breeze and snow. But, as so often happens, the forecast was wrong; the snow was no more than a few flurries overnight, the sun was shining and we had a shifty northwesterly in the 6-9 knot range.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I never have high expectations of doing well at Newport. There are some seriously good sailors in this fleet. I approach frostbiting with the mindset that it is a chance to have a bit of fun and to get some practice in the winter months so that I am not too rusty when Spring comes around.
In that spirit I chose to try out some different starting approaches in the first three races. In the first race I got up in the front row pretty early and did my best to protect my space and get a "bow out" start. That worked OK but I couldn't hold my lane for long and soon had to tack for clear air. In the second race I cruised along behind the line on starboard tack with about a minute to go looking for a suitable gap in the line of boats, and in the third race I tried doing the same thing on port. Neither approach was very successful.
OK. Lesson learned. Set up on the line in plenty of time.
I was around 20th or in the high teens (out of 27 boats) in those three races. Not terrible, but not all that good either.
It seemed that the wind had been dying all afternoon. Before the fourth race I stood up in the boat and looked up the course. Most of the smart sailors had been heading left (towards the Fort Adams shore) all afternoon but it looked to me like the wind was very patchy and light over there now, whereas there seemed to be a consistent stronger breeze on the right side of the course. So I set up to start at the boat. Several other people had the same idea and I ended up following another sailor's transom off the line. But I was right next to the committee boat and I immediately tacked on to port.
I concentrated on going fast for a minute or so, and when I looked around I could see that I was easily leading the boats going right, and that the boats heading left did look to be going more slowly than us. So I kept going.
A bit later I looked over to the left again and it still looked lighter over there, so I kept going.
After a while I got a bit of a header so I tacked. It looked like I might cross everyone on the left so I kept going.
I stayed on starboard until I had crossed everyone on the left side of the course, then tacked for the mark and rounded in first place!
How did that happen?
At that moment, if were a praying man I would have probably offered up a prayer to my God along the lines of, "OK. Thanks very much God. But if it be Your plan to wipe me out one day with a massive heart attack while I am sailing my Laser, then can You please just do it now? It's never going to get any better than this."
But I'm not. So I didn't. And She didn't.
Of course it was all downhill from there. The guy who rounded the windward mark in second place caught up with me on the run. He went for the lefthand mark at the leeward gate so I went to the right one. Somehow I didn't do a great job on the final beat. I thought I was in good shape for at least a third place finish but ended up scoring a fifth. Oh well! Not too shabby.
In the fifth race I tried the same trick. Actually won the boat end of the start line and went right again. Didn't work out so well and rounded the windward mark in sixth place, which on any other day I would have been ecstatic about. This time I somehow manage to hold on to sixth around the rest of the course and finish in that position.
In the final race I was starting to get a bit tired and didn't sail so well and could only manage to finish in 12th place, which on any other day I would have been pretty chuffed about (as we say in Real English.) And 12th out of 27 was how I finished overall for the day, listed among company that I don't often share.
So was I lucky in that fourth race?
You bet I was.
I was lucky that I trusted the judgment of my own eyes about what the wind was doing and didn't follow the conventional wisdom of heading for the land when the wind is in this direction. Sometimes a little local knowledge (or even a lot of local knowledge) can be a dangerous thing.
I was lucky that the wind stayed stronger on the right and weaker on the left.
I was lucky that I found a nice juicy header at just the right time to cross the fleet.
I was lucky that nothing on my boat broke. (It's amazing how often something does break just when I'm having an extraordinarily good race.)
I was lucky that I didn't do anything clumsy or stupid like falling out of the boat or knocking myself out on the boom while tacking.
I was lucky that my sheet didn't tie itself just before the windward mark into one of those triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knots, which it has a tendency to do at times.
I checked out the wind. I formulated a strategy. I executed the strategy. Isn't that what you are supposed to do?
So was it all luck?
Might I actually be not too bad at Laser sailing after all?
"The work goes on, the flaws endure, but the hope still lives and the delusion shall never die."