Thursday, June 19, 2014


Not my knees

Does bare skin help you sail better?

A couple of weeks ago I joined some friends on Lake Massapaog for an afternoon of friendly Laser racing. It was typical lake wind conditions - lots of shifts and puffs and lulls with wind filling in from all sorts of unexpected directions. You really had to keep your head out of the boat (as they say) and be aware of what the wind was doing all over the course. It's hard to be consistent in those conditions, and I hadn't done any lake sailing for quite a long time, but I did surprisingly well in the races.

Contemplating afterwards why I was sailing well that day made me wonder if bare skin is the answer.

Every time I had sailed before this year I had been covered up in drysuit or wetsuit and long sleeved rash guard and spray top and gloves. About the only thing exposed to the elements was my face. But on that Saturday afternoon at Lake Massapoag I wore shorts and a short sleeved shirt. I had bare knees and bare arms. Not only did I feel so much more mobile in the boat by not being encumbered by all that cold weather gear, I could also feel the wind on my skin. Did that make me more sensitive to subtle changes in wind strength and direction?

I remember a story about Dennis Conner back in his America's Cup winning days that said he always shaved the back of his neck before every important race so he could feel changes in the wind better.

I also remember the only time I ever won one of the highly competitive Sunfish regattas on the SANJL (Sailing Association of North Jersey Lakes) circuit many years ago. It was a cool October day at Green Pond and almost everyone else in the fleet was in long wetsuits and drysuits. But I wore a shorty wetsuit and had bare knees. Is that why I won the regatta? Are my knees smarter than they look?

So what do you think?

Does bare skin help you sail better?


MYCSunfish Fleet said...

I'm not sure about bare skin making you faster, but if you show an excess of bare skin, it may make the other boats slower.

Tillerman said...

This is true MYCSunfish Fleet. Moderation in all things. I am not about to start exposing parts of my body which would frighten the other sailors.

Anonymous said...

The other day I sailed the night-shift in a 24 h regatta. There was only very weak thermal air movement on the lake, from land to lake, barely enough to keep the boat moving. The view of the wind vane at the top of the mast was blocked by the improvised masthead light. Therefore I relied entirely on feel rather than vision to tell wind direction. I found the face/cheeks gives you the best feel by far, however I could detect larger shift on my bare neck and arms also, depending on the angle. There may be some truth to quick skin.

Joe Rousé said...

It's a no brainer. Being exposed absolutely helps you feel the elements. When I sail, I wear a short sleeved rash guard and water shorts.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

Newport Beach (CA) is a lot warmer than my current racing venue. But, backin the days, I can remember racing against quite a few boats crewed with bikinis. (There ought to be a rule in RRS!)

But, in general where breezes aren't steady, bare skin is definitely an advantage.

O Docker said...

I think the final word on this must come from Joe Rousé.

Where could we find a better expert on the virtues of exposing bare skin?

Bruce Taylor said...

Absolutely, you've hit the nail on the head! This is why we were such awesome sailors in our youth. There were no hikers, wetsuits, booties, rashies, thermals etc. We sailed in board shorts and a T-shirt, no matter what the weather and were totally awesome.

Tillerman said...

Good points everyone. More bare skin is definitely more fun. Probably one reason I enjoy sailing at Bitter End YC and Minorca Sailing so much too. It's almost always shorts and T-shirt weather there.

laserista torpe said...

Sailing is a mental sport, first thing to sail fast is start thinking you are fast.

bonnie said...

I don't know about better but I do think one of the best paddles of the spring is the first one where I can actually leave the #*&%@in' drysuit at home!

bonnie said...

This winter was especially bad - usually the first couple of paddles wearing the thing are awkward and I just feel bound-up - and then I get used to it. With the weather being so awful this winter, there were all these long stretches of not being able to get out, so the getting-used-to phase happened again and again and again!

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