Tuesday, September 02, 2014


A major part of sailboat racing is learning how to manage risk.

How to play the odds.

When to take a risk to make a large gain.

And when to play it safe to avoid making a huge loss.

I'm not usually very good at this aspect of the game. I think I'm usually too conservative on the race course and don't take risks when I should. One aspect of my game that I think I usually play too safe is the windward mark rounding. My usual modus operandi is to approach the starboard tack layline six to ten lengths from the mark, find a gap in the parade of boats on the lay line, sail through it and tack. I hardly ever come on in port on the layine or within three boat lengths of the mark, and hardly ever try to tack below starboard tackers and risk not laying the mark.

But on Sunday it was different.

I was racing with the Duxbury Laser fleet again and the winds were forecast to be 15 gusting 25 but I don't think it ever actually was that strong.

I was still suffering from some lower back pain from the previous Sunday so I determined that I would race for an hour or so and then call it a day. Didn't want to overdo it.

As a result I didn't care too much about the results, so I had a mindset that I was prepared to take some risks. Roll the dice and see what happened.

The boat end of the start line was favored and I knew some of the sailors in this fleet would be fighting each other for the position next to the boat. I chose to play it safe at the starts and get a position a little further down the line with room to accelerate that was away from the mayhem at the RC boat.

As a result I was usually on the left of the leaders going up the beat. Sometimes sailing a bit faster than them (mantra: bow down) but not fast enough that I could tack and safely cross them all until they tacked. On the shortish course that often meant I was close to the port tack lay line before I could tack.

Normally this would be where I would start to panic and start looking for gaps in the starboard tack parade and bearing off to find such a gap and giving up way too many boats in the process of trying to make a safe windward mark rounding.

But on Sunday it was different. Some times I came in the port tack layline and managed to tack cleanly in front of the approaching starboard tackers. Some times I was further away from the port tack lay line and I chanced it tacking under a starboard tacker. Risks I would never normally take. It worked out every time and I rounded the mark in the lead, or in the leading pack every time.

Hey. Maybe I should try this more often?

I had good speed upwind and downwind. My leeward mark roundings weren't too shabby either. After four races my scores were 1,2,1,1.


In line with my plan of only sailing for an hour or so, I decided to call it a day. Some wag later asked me if I had got tired of winning.

Not at all. But I chose not to risk hurting my back again by sailing for too long.

It's all about managing risk.


Keep Reaching said...

Congratulations - very impressive.

I suspect that taking a bit more risk and accepting the possibility that it might not pay off also means you will be more relaxed mentally about things - which should lead to fewer mistakes.

Tillerman said...

I think that trying new things in these small fleet races will give me more confidence to do the same things at regattas when sailing against much tougher competition. And perhaps improve my judgement as to when a risky move is likely to work and when it's not.

Anonymous said...

4 races in an hour or so!? Impressive.

Could we have a Tillerman list of what to do during that long, boring time between races at a regatta (mommy boats excluded) which sometimes extends to an hour in itself?


Tillerman said...

That's one reason I like the racing at Duxbury, R1. Lots of short races with minimum amount of time waiting between races. Short races are fun because even if you screw up you are only thrashing around at the back of the fleet for a few minutes and then the slate is clean and it's a brand new race. And you get lots of opportunities to try out crazy different moves at starts and mark roundings!

That's a good suggestion for a blog post though. I will give it some thought.

Tillerman said...

And who are these people who leave anonymous comments on my blog but still sign their comment with a cryptic signature?

For a while there was R.

And now there is R1.

Are R and R1 the same person?

Or are there two Rs and R1 is trying to make a point that he or she was the first R?

If so maybe The Other R should start signing his or her posts as R2 or TOR?

It's all so confusing.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I thought I was unique in being R, but then another R posted one day (I'm almost sure it wasn't me). So I think there may have been at least 2 Rs. So, I thought I'd turn myself into R1. Maybe I have a split personality. The other one may post as R2 now, though there's a danger he has a friend called C3PO. We can ask him if he posts.

It would make more sense to get some sort of account I suppose. But then I'd feel the need to come up with something clever for a name, and there I would struggle...but I'll try.

R1 (previously R but not the other R, and lacking inspiration)

Mr. Know-it-all aka Tillerman said...

You don't need to have an "account" to leave a comment with a name. Just select the Name/URL option from the "Comment as:" pull-down menu, enter a name and leave the URL blank. Just like I am going to do for this comment.

R1 said...

They didn't teach us that during my computer science degree. Clever. Mind you they'd only just invented www in those days, and you could still get a Laser in colour.

(I will try to get some imagination working but until then....)

Tillerman said...

Wow. When I started working in IT, Tim Berners-Lee was 15 years old, W3 was still 18 years in the future, and the Laser was the brand new boat that all the cool kids wanted to sail.

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