Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Learning to Love Light Air

The last couple of weeks of lake sailing in New Jersey have been in light, fluky, patchy winds. Some of my sailing buddies are getting grumpy and are grumbling about the conditions. But, much to my own surprise, I'm actually enjoying the very different challenges of racing in the light stuff. It's as if a light bulb has gone on in my head and I finally "get it". Actually I think the bulb used to be on a few years ago but the circuit was blown by a knottage overload and someone just replaced the fuse.

Perhaps it started when I saw my son's positive attitude to racing in light airs at the Laser regatta a couple of weeks ago. Whatever the reason I went to Wednesday night Sunfish racing last week with a determination to enjoy myself whatever the winds might be. I went out to the course area an hour or so before racing started and checked out the winds. No doubt there was more wind on the left side of the course near the more open part of the reservoir.

So in the first race I pulled off a good start near the pin end of the line and worked the left side of the course. It worked! At the windward mark I was in third place (in a fleet of eighteen boats) just behind the two best sailors in the fleet, Doug and Scott. I hung with them downwind and went out to the left again on the final beat.

Now let's see. What Would Dave Do? I'm now out on the left side with most of the competition to my right. Only Charlie seems to be going further left and he's no threat. Dave would say Evaluate Risk -- if you're happy with your position now is the time to consolidate. So I head back over to the right side, crossing Doug and just ducking Scott. What did Dave say about the finish? Oh yes, make Gains at the Finish if you are close to other boats by finishing on starboard tack. I tack on to starboard. Scott has to tack beneath me. Doug has to tack below him. Ha! I have them pinned -- they can't tack for the line. Just need to sail until I can lay the finish line and I will win my first race in this series this season. Oops - what's this? Here comes good old Charlie on port tack crossing all of us. I guess he rolled the dice, banged the corner and beat us all. Oh well, second is not too shabby in this fleet.

Laser sailing on Sunday was also in light patchy winds with huge holes. In the second race I was leading at the first windward mark but on the reach the wind died and shifted ninety degrees and the whole fleet caught up with me. I was in last place at the leeward mark.

OK, let's see what I can make of this. Do a roll tack and stand up in the process, taking a good look upwind. Hmm - I see a little puff on the left side of the course. Do another tack and try and get in front of it. Yes, definitely extra pressure and I start to gain. Stand up again. I see a wind line over on the right. Tack and start working over there. Oh yes, this is better, now I'm moving. At the windward mark I'm back in first place with a solid lead and hold on to it to the finish.

OK. I admit it. I only wrote about the best races each day. There were other times when I made the wrong choices and saw nearly the whole fleet pass me by heading for the side of the course where I was "sure" there was no wind.

But that's the beauty of light air sailing. It's mainly a mental game rather than a physical one. But also a game of chance. I suppose playing poker might be a near analogy. You have some information to predict what the chances of certain outcomes will be; and you know something about the psychology of your opposition. But your information is incomplete. All you can do is assess the probabilities, make your bet and see what cards turn up.

Maybe that other Tillerman blog could teach me something after all.


OG said...

Nice work Tillerman!
I personally think that if any of your international readers were to come up against you on a start line that they should be afraid... very very afraid... you are more than likely to roll that dice and "pull a Homer" and embarrass the lot of us!
Can't wait to hear about the next race!

Anonymous said...

I used to view light air sailing as more of a crapshoot than anything else... then I started to notice that the same people always ended up in the top of the fleet. It's a test of a different kind of skill... good job though..

Tim said...

Good work Tillerman!

mummified said...

How can you write about sailing when there are black puddings in danger of being violated at any moment ? Where should I send massive cash donations to - to save the black puddings from a terrible fate ?

Fred said...

It is never too late...to love the light air sailing.... and I really appreciate the way you described your races. I am not in the mood to wirte about mine as I catched a flu.

Yesterday you caught me with your text and the comments. Made me think a lot.

Carol Anne said...

Light air is a mind game that I like to play. Zorro beat me last time, but I'm going to get him some day.

Adrift At Sea said...


Beautiful description of your sailing, even if the coverage is a bit biased in your favor. LOL. When I sailed on dinghies, I couldn't read the water well enough to take advantage of light air puffs...so I stopped racing... besides my twin used to trounce me all the time. :D


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