Sunday, March 26, 2006


Enough of this frivolity. An end to all this talk of rubber boots and sock burning, and pictures of upturned feet. What is it with the foot fetish this week anyway?

It's time to return to the serious discussion of how to turn Tillerman into a lean, mean racing machine.


Yes, I guess, I know that's impossible. So let's settle for making him just slightly meaner by the end of the year. OK?

OK. But quit referring to yourself in the third person. It's pretentious and annoying.


Where to start? Last Sunday, after racing we all gathered for the post-race skippers' meeting. Once the pizza had been consumed, the winner for the day, a very smart sailor, talked to the fleet about how he had sailed, and took questions on difficulties that other sailors had faced. There was a lot of discussion about how to set up the Laser for heavy air sailing and boat-handling techniques.

He also talked about how the left side of the course was favored because of a geographical shift from the land on that side of the course. Then one of the other sailors made a comment about how the direction of the waves was so different from the wind direction and this triggered a discussion of whether or not to ride the waves out to one side of the course.

Geographical shift? Wave direction? It dawned on me that these people had spotted things out on the racecourse that had gone totally over my head. (Actually the waves were literally going over my head several times during the afternoon but that's a different problem.) I had been concentrating so hard on trying to tame the beast and keep the boat upright in the rough conditions that I had been totally unaware of what the wind and the waves were doing.

This is not a new problem. I have often been surprised in the past when talking to the winner of a regatta or an experienced coach about how much these folk are aware of what is happening with wind and current and waves. They are thinking on a totally different level to me. They are not only processing information about what the conditions are now, they are also predicting what is going to happen next.

Why can't you do that?

Oh, I have plenty of excuses ...

First of all Sunday. In the second race I went out to the right of the course and beat the whole fleet to the windward mark. So what's all this nonsense about the left being favored?

Hmmm - thinking about it more it seem that on the very rare occasions when you have an outstanding first beat in this fleet it's because all the smart sailors went one way and you went the other way. Is this because you suddenly got smarter than all these hotshots? I don't think so. It's because you got lucky. The smart money bet one way -- you bet the other. Something weird happened to the wind in one race and you lucked out because you were blithely unaware of why the other side of the course was where you really should have been.
As Scott Adams at the Dilbert Blog would say, BOCTAOE.

So do you want to have only one amazingly astonishingly outstandingly excellent result per season; or a string of consistently good results race after race, week after week? If you want the latter you need to be aware of what the wind and the water are doing in the same way that the good sailors are. So what other excuses do you have?

Did I tell you that referring to yourself in the second person is also extremely irritating?

OK. I'll try to stop.

Another excuse is my eyesight. I wear bifocals. I have astigmatism. I have poor depth perception. I just don't see the wind on the water the same as these young guys.

Oh, quit your whining. Does it take good eyesight to pick up the direction of the waves you're sailing in? Do you need sharp eyes to see that the top ten sailors in every race (except that second race) came in to the windward mark from the left side of the course?

I suppose not. So here's another excuse. When the wind is over about 12 knots I have to concentrate so hard on keeping the boat moving and avoiding capsizes that I have no mental bandwidth left over to think about shifts and tides and stuff.

So your excuse is that your brain is too tiny to do two things at once?

Well ... not exactly. And there's no need to be rude.

OK, let me put it another way. Is there any reason why you couldn't spend a minute or two between races working out what is happening with the wind?

I guess not. By the way do you realize you're talking to yourself?

Sure. Anyway, if you want to raise your game up to the next level you're going to have to figure out a way to become more aware of weather and currents and waves. "Get your head out of the boat," as we coaches say. It's partly a skill but also a habit. You just need to get into better habits of observing these things.

Thanks Coach. So how do you suggest I do that?

Oh - you're on your own on that one. You're self-coached, remember?


Anonymous said...

I don't know if you are, but when you're not racing I think you should stop using telltales. At least that's one of the ways I got better at figuring out what the wind is doing; just feeling it on my face.

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the tip - good idea.

Litoralis said...

The best way I have used to figure out what is going on is to take some time before the first race (or each race if you have time) and sail upwind for at least a couple of minutes. You don't necessarily need to be sailing flat out the whole time because the whole point is to figure out what the wind is doing. For at least part of the time you should sail as if you are racing so you can make sure the boat is set up properly.
Even if you don't have enough time to sail upwind you should at least sail up a few boatlengths to windward of the startline to get in clear air, stand up in the boat and try to make some guesses about the wind, waves, current, etc. Make a plan of what you want to do on the first beat and try to stick to it (you can also make a similar plan right before each mark rounding for the next leg). If you keep track of what you are right about and what you missed you will soon be making better predictions.
Some things to look for:
- Puffs and the direction(s) they are moving. Where are they most prevalent?
- Current. How it will change during the race and how it varies across the course.
- Waves. Direction and size.
- Shifts. Persistent or oscillating. How long between shifts?
- Any geographic factors. Islands with wind shadows. Shorelines affecting wind and current strength or direction.

Anonymous said...

Cardinal martini had an interesting comment. I've come to laser sailing from a windsurfing background. On a windsurfer you don't have any instrumentation so you've got to rely on your senses to determine wind direction and such. You also learn to watch the water for puffs coming in your direction because if you don't see one and it hits you - you get slammed! A couple of times getting launched off the front of the board and your eyesight gets really good! A laser is such a sensitive boat and very much like a windsurfer - except your sitting down - most of the time anyway. I don't lok at my telltales much - mostly because it gives me 'trimmer's neck'. I definitely think that the more you can train your senses and not rely so much on compasses, windvains, etc, at least on course where you can see the marks, the better off you'll be. And I know it sounds corny but it's very cool to be 'one' with the boat. At least I think so

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