Monday, November 14, 2005


Racing on Sunday was about as good as it gets. Almost 60 Lasers. 10-12 knots. Sunshine. 60 degrees. OK -- about as good as it gets in New England in November.

Racing short courses in such a large fleet it seems like you are always sailing near other boats.

No, it's worse than that -- you are always sailing in a huge swarm of other boats some of whom are barely in control and some of whom will do totally unpredictable things. You are always looking out for boats to the left, boats to the right, boats astern, boats crossing you, boats ducking you, boats on your wind...and "WTF ...where did he suddenly appear from?"

In such a fleet you get great practice at starts and mark roundings. On Sunday, for reasons unknown I was doing killer starts. Every time I was in the front row, nice gap to leeward, accelerating perfectly in the last few seconds, and off like a bullet at the gun in clear air.

Well, apart from that one occasion when four of us decided to go for that perfect position next to the committee boat. But we won't talk about that. There was a general recall anyway.

My leeward and gybe mark roundings were better than usual too. I kept repeating the mantra, "Do not be on the outside of the pinwheel." Seemed to work.

But my approaches to the windward mark in every race were total disasters. I must have lost five boats every time (and those were the good races). Tacking below the layline. Tacking too far above the layline. Having to duck huge packs of boats. Every error in the book, I made it. At least twice.

But the most catastrophic was the at the end of the first beat in race one.

I get a nice start about a third of the line away from the pin which was favored. Pretty soon the guys who started left of me start crossing me so I hang on for a bit waiting for a clear lane. By the time I tack I'm pretty much on the port tack layline. Hey -- I know that was the first mistake but I'm still getting back into this big fleet, short course stuff. OK?

So there I am motoring at a nice speed down the layline wondering what I'm going to do when I get to the mark. Of course all the hotshots in the fleet are coming into the mark on starboard by the time I arrive. So I have two choices.

Do a crash tack underneath them right at the mark. Percentage of success -- close to zero.

Duck a few boats and try and find a gap in that parade that I can pass through, tack a little high of the starboard tack layline, and cruise over all the guys that are not quite laying the line, are luffing, praying, stopping, getting hung up on the mark, cursing, going backwards......You get the picture. It's like that in every race. Percentage of success -- a lot more than zero.

So I start bearing off looking for a gap. Five boats. Ten boats. Fifteen. There's just a solid wall of fiberglass. Ahah. There's a likely gap. Not very big but doable. I'm just squeezing through the gap when I realize that my mainsheet is caught around the bow of the boat I'm crossing. Uh oh. Not good. Luckily he quickly extricates himself so I've only lost another five boats by the time I'm free.

I tack on to starboard above the crowd and notice that my sheet is now hooked around the corner of my transom. For those who don't know the Laser this is one of the quirky design features of the boat that you learn to love. (Only kidding). Beginners in the boat always ask how to prevent getting their sheet hooked and, although there are some techniques that minimize the chances of avoiding it, the real answer to how you prevent it totally is, "You don't."

Anyway, although continuing to sail with sheet hooked round transom is the fastest way to make the beast capsize, and although it only takes a second to lean back and flick the sheet off, I decide on a better plan. "I have to do a 360 anyway for fouling the other boat so it will just free itself when I gybe." (Our sailing instructions call for a 360 instead of a 720 in frostbite racing).

So smugly congratulating myself on my smartness I round the mark and stay high in order to find a quiet spot to do my 360. I figure this should be easy as the next leg is a run and everyone else will be bearing away. Unfortunately some other guy is sailing even higher than me and has a slight windward overlap. I tell him I'm "just going over here to do a 360", but he persists in following me. Of course as windward boat he has to stay clear but he really wants to bear away and go down the run. More boats pass us while we sort out this little confusion.

So eventually I have enough room to do a turn. I gybe. I look back. Now the sheet is hooked around both corners of the transom. What? That's impossible. I've never done that before in 25 years of Lasering. So I lean back and sort out the mess while a few more boats round the mark. Do the tack to complete my 360 and bear away for the run.

I don't believe it. Now I'm in DFL apart from some kid in a Radial. There are almost 60 boats in front of us. How did that happen just because of one stupid mistake?

Well let's see how many boats I can pass. There are waves that are just big enough to surf so I start pumping on each wave and catch some nice rides. I get out to the side of the fleet and keep pumping. Pass a few boats. Round the right hand leeward mark on the inside and pass a few more. Hike hard for the final beat. Finish around 40th.

Oh well -- it can only get better after this. Can't it?


Anonymous said...

Why do you only have to do a 360 when hitting another boat in the frostbite series? I'm doing the frostbite at my club and we still have to do a 720 if we hit another boat.

Claire (England)

Tillerman said...

Claire - the sailing instructions for our frostbite series specifically change the normal racing rules to substitute a 360 for a 720.

I guess the reason is that with short courses a 720 is seen as too big a penalty.

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