Friday, April 29, 2005

Run Rabbit Run

On Thursday at the Rick White Sailing Seminar we did one drill - Run Rabbit Run - almost all day. Each sailor in turn, the "rabbit", was given a pre-determined lead at the start of a race - the stronger the sailor the shorter the lead. Then it was the rabbit's job to try and protect his lead all the way around the windward-leeward-windward race course using tactics to stay between his strongest opposition and the next mark. All the other boats in the fleet just tried to pass the rabbit if they could.

The guest instructor on the course, Brad Funk, sailed in his Laser behind each rabbit to give him or her advice on boat handling and on tactics too, if asked. Brad is ranked the #1 Laser sailor on the US Sailing Team which means he is currently the favorite to win the US Spot in the Laser class for the 2008 Olympics. To say he is in a different league to us weekend warriors attending the seminar is an extreme understatement. Meanwhile Rick was in his motor boat videoing the rabbit's sailing. The videotape would be reviewed by the class after sailing.

So the rabbit is the focus of attention for that race and I had mixed feelings about adopting that role. But I hoped Brad would be able to give me some tips and that I might also learn something from watching a close-up video of my sailing style. My turn to be rabbit came in the middle of the afternoon.

Brad sailed up to me before the start of one race and said in his polite way, "Is it OK if I work with you in this race?"

"Sure!" I replied. "How much of a start should I take?"

"What do you think?"

"10 seconds?"

"OK. I think I'll just race you".

What does he mean? Just race me? Isn't he supposed to be going slow and giving me advice? Who does he think I am?

Still it is flattering to be treated as an equal though we both knew that, in truth, our abilities are far from equal. So I start the race 10 seconds early with Brad on my tail and we head for the favored left side of the course. When I tack back to cover the fleet, one of the other students, Jim, crosses in front of me.

"Jim got a good shift. You'll have to hike harder if you want to catch him", Brad suggests.

So I hike harder. Just my toes under the hiking strap. Body flat out. Hope it looks good on the video. And it works. I arrive at the windward mark in first place. Ease the sail controls before the mark. Smooth rounding. Raise the daggerboard. This is going to look good on video. Bear away to sail by the lee and catch a wave. Geeze - I'm sailing waves downwind with Brad Funk and it's all going to be on video.....

WHAM. Before I know what hits me, the boat rolls over and capsizes to windward. A classic Laser "death roll". And I'm swimming. The rest of the fleet sails past. Where is that damn video camera?

Oh well. My only capsize of the whole week and it happens when I'm "on stage". I laugh at myself, right the boat and then I just try and copy Brad's superfast downwind style as the other Lasers disappear into the distance.

As the seminar notes say, "It doesn't matter if you win or lose. The important question is: Did you learn something?"

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