Looking at my feet
Before heading off on my vacation in the BVI last month, I downloaded a copy of Nick Craig's book Helming to Win to my Kindle. After reading Damian's review of this book on his excellent sailing blog The Final Beat, I was eagerly anticipating learning some new tricks to improve my sailing.
I think I read most of the book while sitting on airplanes and/or sitting in airports while waiting to sit on airplanes.
I guess there was also a bit of time for reading too while I was at the Bitter End Yacht Club i.e. when I was not actually sailing or kayaking or eating or drinking or walking back and forth between our "tree house for grown-ups" and the places for drinking and eating, and the places for sailing and kayaking and other good stuff.
Tree house for grown-ups
Place for sailing and kayaking and other good stuff
Place for eating
Place for drinking
Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. Nick Craig's book.
There's a lot of good advice in it, but one thing that caught my attention early in the book was the chapter on Where to Look when Racing. Nick says there are 5 modes (places to look.)
1. Your feet
2. The telltales on your sail
3. The water
4. Spotting the next few shifts
5. The big picture
Of course there are times when you need to use each one of these modes - yes, even mode 1 - but generally speaking, as you become a better sailor, you should be spending most of the times in modes 4 and 5, with modes 1, 2 and 3 coming instinctively. Your boat handling should be slick enough without having to look at your feet, you should be able to sail fast without staring hypnotically at the telltales all the time, and a fleeting glance should let you know what the wind will do in the immediate future.
This is certainly an area in which I could improve. I think I spend way too much time looking at my telltales to focus on boat speed (mode 2.) I might occasionally look upwind to see if a gust or a lull is coming (mode 3.)
As for spotting the next few shifts, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have been able to do that. No, wait that's an exaggeration. I can remember only one single time in my whole racing career when I was in mode 4.
As for mode 5. The big picture is usually that most of the fleet are way ahead of me. What help is it to focus on that?
Turn out I was wrong. I am not even in mode 2 a lot of the time.
Here is a picture of me racing with the Newport Laser frostbite fleet on the Sunday before Christmas.
It looks like I am in the process of rounding a leeward mark and still sheeting in.
Am I looking up the course to see where the stronger wind might be?
Am I trying to see where the next shift - or even better, the next few shifts - are coming from?
Am I checking out the big picture of what the sailors ahead of me are doing?
No. I am not.
I am looking down at something in the boat.
Not my feet perhaps. But there's nothing on my foredeck that's going to give me any useful information for the next leg of the course.
I am sailing in mode 1! Ugh!
One thing I learned from this photo is that I need an external view - a coach, a video, a photo - to remind me from time to time what I am doing wrong when I am sailing.
Maybe this year I will finally get around to buying a GoPro camera and videoing my own practice sessions.
As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by just watching."
And you can learn a lot by reading this book...