Monday, June 30, 2014
Most dinghy sailors don't like chop. You are cruising along all fat dumb and happy on a light wind day on relatively flat water and all of a sudden you hit some nasty short waves stirred up by some thoughtless dude in a powerboat who has been blasting around on your race course. Your bow slams into the chop, the boat almost stops, and by the time you have got the boat moving again your competitor on the other side of the course has gained several boat lengths on you.
That describes the conditions where we were racing on Saturday at Duxbury. The wind hardly ever got above 5 knots and, because it is now summer, all the yahoos from Duxbury were out on the water zooming around in their motorboats. So there was quite a lot of motorboat chop. But only in certain places. Over most of the course the water was flat.
Usually on a day like that I would start whining and complaining and probably give up racing early. But, for some unknown reason, I was in a more positive and constructive frame of mind on Saturday.
Hmmm, I thought to myself. There's chop. That's interesting. What can I do about it? If I can find a way to sail through it without getting slowed down too much (and my competitors don't) than I can make some gains.
So I experimented.
When I saw myself heading towards some chop I moved back in the boat a little if I was sitting right up by the centerboard (as one does in light airs.) And I heeled the boat to leeward as the chop approached. Both of these seemed to lessen the impact of the chop. And flattening the boat again after getting through the chop gave me an extra bit of acceleration too.
The other thing I did was if I was approaching some chop on the beat where I would be hitting the waves head-on and there was no good strategic or tactical reason not to tack, I would tack. I either avoided the chop altogether or took it on the side of the boat which was no real problem.
It seemed to work. I won three races, and had two seconds and a third. Not a bad day at the office.
Of course it probably wasn't all to do with the chop. When we were talking after the races one of my friends complimented me on my finishes and said he couldn't understand why I was faster in light air when I was so much heavier than him. (I think he means I'm fat.) I gave him a spiel about my momentum theory - that heavy people do well in light airs in Lasers because their extra weight gives the boat more momentum to keep going through the lulls (and maybe the chop.) He seemed to buy it.
But when I told the guy who had won the other three races about my momentum theory, he dismissed it out of hand. (He was lighter than me and faster if anything.) It's all about having the skills to keep the boat moving, he explained. Nothing to do with momentum.
Whatever the reason. Chop, momentum or skill, my finishes were 2,1,3,1,2,1. I'll take it.
Or maybe I was just lucky?
Does anybody have any other suggestions about what to do with chop?