Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Zen of Laser Practice

It always amazes me, after all the years I have been sailing a Laser, how many things I still have to learn and how many different nuances of technique there are.

Today I took my Laser down to the lake near my son's house in Massachusetts for a spot of solo practice. I did an hour of straight line sailing on beats, reaches and runs; and then another hour working on tacks and gybes, accelerating from a stop, bearing away, and so on.

As I spent time on each activity, I became aware of the tiny details of each technique and found myself trying slightly different methods to see which worked best. Even after all these years I discovered some new ways of sailing that I hadn't consciously tried before.

Ease, hike, trim. It was a puffy wind with some overpowering gusts at times. I focused on easing the sheet as each gust hit, (as well as depowering the rig with more vang and downhaul). But how to ease? Is it better to let the sheet run through my hand? Because then I have to use the tiller hand to grab the sheet near the block to sheet in. Or is it sufficient to ease simply by moving my sheet hand from near my chest in a hiked-out position towards the block? The latter seemed to be more efficient in today's conditions. Don't remember ever thinking about these two options before.

Easing the sheet in the tacks. At Cabarete our coach had encouraged us to roll tack by keeping the main sheeted during the first roll, and not to move the body backwards but just to let the boat roll naturally; then ease the sheet before flattening. This was a new variation to many of us including far better sailors than me. I worked on this method but found that above a certain wind strength it seemed "safer" to ease the sheet a tad earlier.

Setting the vang at starts. In practising some simulated starts I discovered that even with my present vang set-up it is quite practical to pull on the vang fully to the block-to-block position before starting the bear-away and acceleration for the start. I had always pulled in the vang in two stages, some before the start and then another pull after I was sailing close-hauled. How this opportunity has evaded my notice all these years I do not know. Plain stupidity or just an ingrained bad habit I suppose.

There were a few other things of a similar nature, but I'm sure you get the idea. These little tweaks to technique are something I would never discover in the course of normal racing. They are things that came from an afternoon of quiet concentration, focusing on the minute details of each procedure, thinking about what things could be changed to make it better, experimenting with different ways, and then trying to ingrain each slight improvement in the muscle memory.

I'm sure Zensekai would have a word for it.


Shopping City Chaplaincy said...

What about the idea of spotting the gust before it hits and hyking hard to give the boat a bit of windward heal? You might still have to ease the sheet but you gain over those who react to the gust. It does work, every gust you gain over those who react by letting out a handful of main.

Anonymous said...

How do you get the vang to exactly b2b tension before the start? Do you go b2b for a second and set the vang, or have you marked the sheet in some way, or perhaps you've done it so many times you just know?

Tillerman said...

I have marked the vang line so I know when it's exactly block-to-block.

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