Saturday, May 14, 2005

Crossing the Line

Sometimes you don't know where a line is unless you cross it occasionally.

For example, If you are working hard and getting straight A's at school, you won't know how little work you can get away with until you slack off and get some B's.

Or, if you always arrive for work early you won't know how late you could come and still not get noticed by your boss until you push the limits and incur her displeasure occasionally.

That's basically my problem with starting sailboat races. I'm so concerned not to be over the start line that I hardly ever get close enough to it to get a good feel of where it really is. (For non-sailors mystified by this problem, just remember that the start line of a sailing race is an imaginary line on the water between two moored objects which most of the time you can't see when you really need to because of all the other idiots milling around in boats that are in your way. And if you don't start on the line then you will almost certainly have a terrible race).

So my solution is to push the limits in our Wednesday night series. I will be on the line - and even over it a few times - until I get a better feel for how to be just on it.

First race it worked like a dream. The pin end of the line and the left side of the course were favored, and there was a crowd at the pin. I parked a couple of boat lengths to windward of the crowd, reached into the hole at 5 seconds to go and was off in clear air. One of the crowd was over early and most of the rest were gasping for air. Hit the first shift, tacked and led at the windward mark and all round the course. Wow. Is this what I have been missing all these years? Can it really be this easy? How do you spell hubris?

Tried the same approach in the second race. But the boats to leeward of me were closer. I reached over them at the start anyway and was off. Ha!!. Of course I was OCS. The race committee called me over. In returning I fouled one of the other starters. Did a 720. Restarted. The rest of the fleet was already halfway up the beat. Oh well. At least I'm in clear air. Sailed fast and just managed to catch the fleet and ended up second to last. Didn't really mind as I'm resigned to at least one OCS a week while I'm improving my starts.

Last race the wind was swinging right and the extra pressure on the left had disappeared. Got on the line early and luffed by the committee boat. Had a nice hole to accelerate into and was off in clear air. As expected the wind continued to shift right and I was first at the windward mark. This time my luck didn't last as the wind died halfway up the final beat and a couple of boats who had hit the right corner were able to reach into the finish in the light airs and pass me.

All in all a worthwhile experiment and one I shall continue all season. Two great starts and one disastrous one. If I cared about my series scores the end-result wouldn't be much better than my usual string of OK-ish to mediocre starts. (Our scoring system doesn't allow any throwout scores). But that's not the point. I am even proud of my OCS - it shows I am really pushing the line. I think this is going to work.

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