I am an asymmetric sailor.
No, wait. If you say you are an asymmetric sailor when you are at Minorca Sailing people will assume you are one of those crazy dudes who sails all those boats with asymmetric spinnakers like the RS Vareo and RS100 and RS200 and RS400 and RS500 and RS800 and Musto Skiff.
Actually, some years at Minorca Sailing I did sail some of those boats. But I mean I am an asymmetric sailor in a different sense. My sailing skills are asymmetric. My skills are different on port and starboard tacks.
It shouldn't be so. The Laser is an (almost) perfectly symmetric boat. How you sail it one tack should be an exact mirror image of how you sail it on the other tack. (At least to my simple mind it seems like it should. Or am I missing something?)
But I discovered on our first Monday at Minorca Sailing this year that I am more asymmetric than I thought I was.
The morning session in the Advanced Laser Class was about downwind sailing. One of the drills we did was to tether our tillers and sail the boats without use of tiller at all. We had to bear away from a beam reach to sailing downwind; and then head up and bear away at will; transition from sailing a very broad reach to sailing by the lee and back again; and then gybe the boat.
It was all going perfectly well when I was on starboard tack. I could do everything I was supposed to do using the sheet, the vang and the heel of the boat. Of course, the point of the whole exercise was to teach us to sail downwind without using the rudder to force the boat to turn.
But on port tack I was awful. I couldn't make the boat do what I wanted to do. In the end I ended up doing an ugly death roll and capsize. I am an asymmetric sailor.
I rationalized that when I am racing I spend most of my time downwind on starboard tack unless there's a very good strategic reason to be on port. I think most Laser sailors do. So I have developed the skills of using my body weight to steer the boat on starboard, but my brain is not wired to do the same thing on port because it has hardly any practice at doing so.
This got me thinking. Are any of my other sailing skills asymmetric? I am naturally right-handed so am I better at steering with the tiller on port tack when my right hand is on the tiller? Do I do port to starboard tacks better than starboard to port tacks? Ditto for gybes?
I have no idea, but I do seem to recall some years ago realizing that I was kicking the sheet around the cockpit when tacking one way but not the other way. I had to slow things down and work out what I was doing with my feet differently when tacking opposite ways.
Then I looked at my sailing gloves (which were new at the start of the holiday.)
Do you see what I see? The forefinger of the right hand is starting to wear out faster than the forefinger of the left hand. I must hold the sheet more tightly with the right hand.
Oh geeze. I really am an asymmetric sailor.
Then I started wondering about other sports. Are they inherently asymmetric or do participants in those sports have to be concerned about being asymmetric in their skills when they shouldn't be?
What about rowing? If you are rowing with one oar, in an eight for example, it is essentially asymmetric. Do top rowers end up specialize in always rowing on the same side of the boat? If you row an eight, are you always a bow side or stroke side rower? But what if you have two oars? Don't the handles overlap? Does one hand always go on top? Inquiring minds demand to know. Well one inquiring mind does.
And how about kayakers? From my naive perspective that looks like a sport that should be perfectly symmetric. Or is it? Aren't you twisting the paddle to feather the blade in opposite directions from each side? Do kayakers have a problem in making sure that their strokes in each side are of equal strength? And what about when they start doing all those fancy rolls? Does each kayaker have a preference for doing rolls from left to right or right to left? Or do they train to be ambidextrous?
And then there's ice skating? All that spinning round and round? Are skaters asymmetric? Is each individual better at either clockwise or anti-clockwise spins?
Baseball and cricket of course are inherently asymmetric. In fact a whole part of the management of a baseball team is working out how to use your left-handed and right-handed players to match up best against the other team's left-handed and right-handed players.
Soccer players are usually better kickers with one foot aren't they? Or are they? Do they train to have equal skills with each foot? Does "ambidextrous" apply to feet, or is there some other word for it?
In fact the more I think about it, it's an issue that in some way or other must affect almost every sport. We often naturally have skills that are different on each side of our bodies and, depending on the sport, we have to work to capitalize on that or minimize it.
What about you?
Are you asymmetric?
How does it affect your favorite sporting activity?
Bonus points for anyone who can tell me ways in which the Laser actually isn't perfectly symmetrical!