Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Shark Attack

This frostbite racing season my main objective is to improve my starts. In the past, I have had a tendency to be too cautious at starts, hanging back for fear of being over the line in any race where I care about the results. The racing this summer in my home fleet did nothing to cure me of this fault. In a small fleet where I had better boatspeed than the other players I could do mediocre starts and still have a great chance to win almost every race.

So I'm going into the Sunday frostbite races with the attitude that I don't care about my overall results, I don't even care about being called OCS occasionally, but I will start every race in the front row in clear air with good speed. I am trying to break myself of the habit of being too cautious and build a new habit of being aggressive at starts. They say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. If I only race once a week, does that mean it will take 21 weeks of racing? We will see.

When I did the John Kolius racing clinic in Houston a couple of years ago, JK taught starting tactics by saying you basically have two choices. You can hold station on the line trying to stay in position just below the line while protecting the gap to leeward as best you can. Or you can be a "shark". A shark cruises along behind the line of boats holding station until he sees a good gap then scoots into the hole at the last minute. A shark can approach the hole on port tack in which case he has to tack into it. Or he can be a starboard tack shark. In the drills, JK had us practice all three options -- hold station, port tack shark and starboard tack shark.

On Sunday I decided I was going to be a starboard tack shark.

First start it works to perfection. Start cruising down the line with two minutes to go. Find a nice hole. Scoot into it at about fifteen seconds. Luff to slow a little but still have forward momentum. Have room to leeward to bear off. Sheet in and am going fast at the gun. Looking good. Too bad they call a general recall.

Race committee puts up the I flag meaning any boat over the line in the last minute before the start has to go round one end of the line to restart. What do I care? I'm here to practice being aggressive. I'm a shark.

Use the same approach that worked so well for the first start. Cruise down the line slowly on starboard. See a nice gap just below my friend D. Luff up below him and force him up a bit creating a nice big gap to leeward. Bear away just after the 10 second horn and am blasting over the boat to leeward. Sheet in and go. Looking great.

The race committee starts calling sail numbers of boats over the line. Damn. The last of three numbers called is mine. OK. Now I need to go back. Easier said than done. I have boats to the left and right. I have a bunch of second row starters astern. I can't bear away. I can't tack. If I slow down I will screw up the boats behind me. Eventually I see an opportunity, slow down a bit, tack and duck the boats to windward and head off to the right end of the line to round the committee boat and restart.

By the time I'm crossing the line for the second time the fleet is disappearing over the horizon. Oh well -- let's see how many tailenders I can pick off.

I pass one boat halfway up the beat. Pick off a bunch at the windward mark. Get out to one side of the run and cruise past a few more. A couple of boats capsize and let me pass them. Inside rounding at the leeward mark gains me a few more places.

Hike hard up the final beat. Coming towards the finish on starboard tack just below the layline for the port end of the line, I see one of my fellow grandmasters coming in on port tack. No way he can cross me. I start screaming, "Starboard". He keeps coming. What is he thinking? At the last minute we both throw crash tacks. Ha! Got him! It feels good to be mean and to take out a tough competitor. This aggressive behavior could become a habit very fast.

I didn't really care about being OCS. The way I look at it, it proves I'm trying. If the price of learning to make aggressive starts is one OCS per week then so be it.

After racing my friend D. commiserates with me. "That was a tough call," he says. "We were so close that it's amazing they called you but not me. You couldn't have been over by very much."

Thanks D. I needed that.


Litoralis said...

"I see one of my fellow grandmasters coming in on port tack. No way he can cross me. I start screaming, "Starboard". He keeps coming. What is he thinking? At the last minute we both throw crash tacks."

Did you protest him?

Litoralis said...

You could also try some squirrel starts.

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