Tuesday, February 02, 2016

11 Lessons I Learned from Sailing with Fleet 413 on Sunday

On Sunday I went racing with the Newport Laser Frostbite Fleet also known as Fleet 413.

It was a beautiful day for sailing. Temperature about 50 degrees and a 15 knot SW breeze.

I would often describe those as perfect conditions for Laser sailing, but Sunday's races were a humbling experience for me.

A learning experience in all sorts of ways.

Lesson #1: Laser sailing is not like riding a bike. 

Riding a bike

You do forget how to do it (properly) if you don't do it for a while.

At least I do.

I hadn't been Laser sailing for six weeks and it felt like a strange and difficult thing to do.

At least at first.

Lesson #2: Get out to the course early.

I was at Sail Newport in plenty of time but somehow I frittered the time away and didn't take my boat down to the beach until about 15 minutes before the start. Then I spent some time helping some other people to launch. Then I launched my own boat only to discover that my evil sheet had wrapped itself around both the boom and the tiller extension in one of those triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knots, which it has a tendency to do at times. Then I capsized my boat trying to untangle the triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knot. Then I spent a few hours (or it felt like it) actually untying the triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knot. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'

Triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knot

As a result I only arrived at the start line just after the three minute signal for the first race and didn't have time to do all the things they tell you to do in the sailing books, like work out which was the favored side of the course and check out the start line bias and sail upwind for a while to check out the timing of the shifts and sail downwind for a while to check out how to play the waves.

Which is one reason I didn't do very well in the first race.

Or the second race.

Lesson #3: Buy a new sheet.

This sheet is old. This sheet is evil. Any sheet which will tie itself into a triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knot deserves everything it has coming.

 I love the smell of burning sheets in the morning

Lesson #4. I am terrible at starts.

I really should concentrate on making 2016 the year I finally get around to working out how get better at starts.

After about 35 years of Laser sailing, it's about time. Seriously!

I could even blog about it.

Not me in not one of the starts on Sunday

Lesson #5. I did learn the lesson from Dave Perry about how it's better to overstand the starboard tack layline in a large fleet than to risk tacking below the layline.

Dave Perry

Well...... maybe I did overdo it a bit. Maybe I occasionally overstood too far. Maybe occasionally I hit the layline too far from the mark.

That's OK. I can gradually work on being more aggressive about when I hit the layline and when I tack. But at least I won't be having any more nightmares about not laying the mark.

Lesson #6.  Steve Cockerill is right.  Sailing a Laser downwind in 15 knots IS like dancing with Anne Widdecombe.

Dancing with The Right Honourable Anne Widdecombe

But that's OK. Dancing with Anne can be fun in a masochistic kind of way. Once you get the feel for how she's going to react to your moves (or not) it can even be sort of satisfying.

At least I didn't capsize on the downwind legs on Sunday like certain people did. You may have sailed in all kinds of fancy big boats but, in a Laser, The Right Honourable Anne Widdecombe can still trip you up.

Lesson #7. I am not bad at leeward mark roundings.


I did it like they tell you in the books.

In a crowd, I avoided getting trapped on the outside of the pinwheel and slowed down and rounded just behind the transom of the inside boat which sometimes gave me a good lane, and if not at least I had freedom to tack.


And one time I saw a huge crowd in front of me going for the right hand gate mark (looking downwind) so I threw in a gybe and went for the left-hand gate mark and had clear air coming out of the mark and passed at least half a dozen boats on that leg.

But see Lesson #8.

Lesson #8. In a crowded fleet you need to approach the finish line on the starboard tack layline for the favored end of the finish line.

What was I thinking?

In what anyone could see would be a crowded finish I approached the finish line on starboard tack but shy of the layline for the port end of the line. As a result I had to tack on to port just a length or two short of the finish line. And it was a bad tack and I ended up in irons. And as I drifted backwards and desperately tried to get out irons, about ten boats passed me. Ugly!

Bad tack

Lesson #9. If I don't make any stupid mistakes I can easily finish in the middle of this fleet.

Apart from sucking at starts and a tendency to do stupid stuff, I have reasonable boat speed. I can hold my own downwind and (thanks to all that extra weight I put on over Christmas) I can sail faster upwind than the bottom half of the fleet in these conditions.

In the third race I did finish about mid-fleet.

I should have a goal to do at least as well as this in every race by the end of the season, and better if I can get good starts.

A goal

Lesson #10. When you don't sail for 6 weeks (and don't do much exercise of any kind in those weeks and eat too much over Christmas) you lose a lot of your fitness and stamina.

Too much Christmas dinner

After three races I had had enough. I was hiking hard on every beat and my back was feeling it.

Better to quit early than have another of those back problems which can put me out of sailing for many weeks.

Lesson #11. Sail against the best.

One of the lessons in Nick Craig's book, Helming To Win, is to "sail against the best." His advice is to "sail in fleets where the standard is high and above your own." Sailing against better sailors than yourself will sharpen you up. Observing and talking to top sailors is a great way to learn.

Sailing with Fleet 413 certainly qualifies.

I think I'll take a nap now.


SoxSail said...

You ought to come get in a double-handed boat some time, just to see how it works. My buddy is looking for crew this weekend at Courageous Sailing in Boston.

George A said...

I sail against better/smarter sailors each and every time I race! Don't need Nick's bloody book--just a quick look at the results will do, thank you very much!

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the offer SoxSail. You are probably right. I would learn some new things from sailing a double-handed boat. But living just up the road from Newport it's much more tempting to go down there to sail than to trek all the way into Boston.

Well said George. Believe it or not I do sometimes race against people who are about the same standard as me. In some ways it's more fun than getting pummeled every week by far better sailors than me. But I probably don't learn as much.

Skippy said...

Found this photo of Dave Perry talking on Tillerman tactics to us Weird Coast guys - I sent the link so you know I didn't doctor the white board.


Tillerman said...

Nice Skippy. I hear that Dave Perry is a big fan of Proper Course. He talks about it all the time.

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