Thursday, January 31, 2008

Losing It

Sat 12 Jan

The second day of the Caribbean Laser Midwinters Regatta at Cabarete promises to be the best day of the week so far, for several reasons...

  1. We are racing outside the reef.
  2. There is wind.
  3. The wind is increasing during the day.
  4. There are waves.
  5. It's not raining.
Unfortunately my race performance doesn't live up to the potential of the day.

I do OK in the first two races. Just OK. Not great.

The third race I guess it is blowing about 20 knots with the current running against the wind. The swell is coming from the left side of the course looking upwind but there is also a lot of chaotic chop on top of the waves.

I do OK on the upwind leg. Just OK. Not great.

Then on the downwind leg I capsize. I am sailing a more-or-less direct line for the leeward mark and one of the waves coming from the side rolls me to windward. I'm not the only one to capsize but I think my response to it is probably the worst in the fleet.

I do a fairly slow capsize recovery. Make sure I turn the bow into the wind first so I won't do one of those capsize recoveries with the rig lying to windward of the hull which is a recipe for letting the wind capsize the boat again before you can get into the cockpit.

OK. I'm back in the boat. Let's start sailing again. But somehow I've lost the ability to steer the boat aggressively down the waves. I sail fifty yards or so and death roll again. Another slow recovery. This time partly because I'm getting a bit tired.

Back in the boat again. Rest of fleet is way downwind near the leeward mark. Sail off tentatively in that general direction. Big mistake. Wham. A third death roll. This is starting to irritate me.

Do a very very slow third capsize recovery. Hmmm. Now I'm about half a leg behind the next boat. I seem to have lost all ability to sail downwind properly. I'm getting more tired. Time to call it a day. This is probably the last race of the day anyway. There's a regatta dinner planned for tonight and I'm sure the race committee won't want us to be late for the party.

I sail back to the beach feeling dejected and angry at myself. Why can't I just snap back after a capsize? Almost everybody capsized at least once. It's no big deal. Why do I lose all confidence in my ability to handle the waves and then start sailing in a way that just invites more capsizes.

I get back to the beach and that guy, my nemesis, the sailor I am always trying to beat is there before me. He has some totally unbelievable tale of being involved in a hassle with another boat at the leeward mark, getting into irons, capsizing, being dragged underwater for a hundred yards, having his nose and ears pumped full of seawater so he's totally deaf and totally drowned... or some such cock-and-bull story. I don't believe a word of it.

It's obvious to me that we both have the same issue. We capsized. We lost it. Two old farts who should know better.

Oh well. It's good to know I'm not the only one.


  1. Need more time practicing in waves. Terrigal here I come.

  2. When waves are coming from the quarter and threatening to capsize me I should probably bear off and ride those waves downwind and then come back up on a (more stable) broad reach.

  3. Fitness matters. I knew I wasn't fit enough coming into this regatta, and this is how it shows.

  4. Maybe it's time to consider a Radial Rig. At Masters regattas we are allowed to switch between Standard and the smaller Radial rigs from day to day. One of my friends (about my weight) sailed a Radial Rig the whole regatta and had a whole lot of fun. The current Great Grandmaster World Champion sailed a Radial rig one day in this regatta. I've been doing the macho "I don't need a Radial" thing for years now. Maybe it's time to recognize my limitations and use a rig I can handle on the windier days? At the very least I could use it for practice on very windy days when otherwise I probably wouldn't go out on my own.

  5. I need to find a way to adjust my mental attitude to capsizes on runs. Bounce back. Do a fast recovery. Sail on aggressively. Get back in the game. I used to do this. Why have I lost it?

  6. Fitness matters.


At the regatta dinner we shared a table with a sailor whose partner seemed to be an expert masseuse. During the evening she progressed around the table giving each sailor (and some of their wives) a shoulder and back rub. We all laughed as she commented on how she perceived each sailor's tenseness or otherwise. "Oh, you're really soft." "You're so tense."

When she came to me she announced that I was basically a very relaxed person who "looks after himself" whatever that means. Did she mean I keep myself in shape (which isn't true)? Or did she mean I am basically selfish (probably true but not great patter for a social occasion)?

Then she claimed to discover one point of tension in my right shoulder that was symbolic of some problem or worry. She kept kneading away at my shoulder and crying, "Let it out. Let it out." I tried to enter into the spirit of the moment and mentally "let it go", but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be letting go of.

I wonder what it can be?


Anonymous said...

Just a bad day in Paradise. I have those a LOT, except I am not in Paradise.

Liam McLennan said...

Sounds freakily similar to my regatta performance last Saturday. Repeated capsizes downwind until the safety boat came over and said, "ah... are you going back in now?". Good times!

Pat said...

Okay, now I feel better about the dead motor, the broken topping lift that vanished into the mast, and our abysmal light-air performance downwind last Saturday. At least we were dry!

Anonymous said...

I think that is a common trend. Ever since I started sailing the Laser it has seemed like one crash in breezy conditions downwind leads to more crashes. I have never been able to understand it. Is it fatigue? Is it a result of losing confidence in yourself and your boat handling?

It is probably a combination of factors and is definitely one of the most frustrating things. I feel your pain.

Anonymous said...

I feel compelled to share my secret.. You are not respecting the boat! No.. I meant the boat! I too, like many masters, was a frequent subscriber of the multi-capsizer till I finally figured this out. Here is my simple routine and it has worked like a charm. Right the boat and climb back in. Once in, start your stern conversation with your boat. But be sure to take your time and speak your peace. Take as much time as it takes. Proclaim that "ejecting you" was not in your pre-race plan in any form.. plus the enormous amount of energy you just spent on this untimely crash was badly needed to be competitively around the track. Use your best Australian accent if you feel the boat will understands you better in it's native tough. Then and only then, and only after you have fully collected yourself.. Announce your intention (aloud) that you are rejoining the race! And you will be a relentless force to be reckon with! Call it what you want.. unplanned timeout, getting throw off the horse, pitting during the green.. The most common site in laser sailing is too see the rushed laser sailor jump back into the boat in big breeze.. then TRY to take off fast and aggressive only to get rejected even quicker then the first crash. The key is to come out of the block after your "aquatic setback" calm, collected, razor focused and supremely confident (and over-sheeted). I havn't double flipped in a long time (in a big race) since I started this post flip verbal ritual with my boat. We have an understanding how.. See you Australia. USA Master

Fred said...

Great post Tillerman and what a great answer from Ano. Been there, done it...and always looking for improvements. A pity, I cannot turn this into another lesson as we are in soft water winter mode right now. Sailing not possible. Will print it out and put it on the mirror for the spring sessions.

Tillerman said...

Wow. What great feedback. I'm so glad I wrote this post.

Thanks to derek and liam for letting me know I am not alone with this problem.

And double thanks to the anonymous master sailor. I certainly need some way to adjust my mental attitude after a death roll in heavy air. This method might just work so I'll try it. Especially the bit about the Australian accent!

Anonymous said...

Have you ever sailed a Radial? They are great fun in a breeze (not so much fun in light air) if you're used to a fullrig. The stablilty downwind is nice and the handling upwind is beautiful.
Still, there are limits. The second race day of last year's Caribbean Midwinters I was in a Radial and still completely incapable of bearing off at the windward mark without wiping out. You remember that day. 30kt gusts and 10 foot breakers at the windward mark. I sat on the beach a lot.

It BETTER blow in Terrigal. Safe travels! Hope your gear makes it.

Tillerman said...

No, I've never sailed a Radial but I am seriously tempted to get one. On those 30 knot days I'd rather go out in a Radial and have fun all day, than sailing in a full rig, struggling, doing too many capsizes and giving up early.

The problem with Cabarete this year was that on the second and third days the wind built steadily during the day. Our GGM friend said after Day 2 that he'd wished he'd sailed a Radial, especially in that third racee. SO he sailed a Radial on Day 3 but the wind never got as strong so he said he felt underpowered all day.

There's a bit of a similar issue in Sunfish with the Jens rig (something else I always avoided). I remember one crazy windy day at a Sunfish NAs at Hyannis when the the only people without Jens rigs were me and a certain (fairly meaty) former world champion. The wind died down a bit for the second race and some of the heavier sailors were regretting having a Jens.

Of course in a Sunfish you can in theory put in and take out a Jens rig while you're on the water. But it's probably not best to attempt it in 20 knots and big waves when you're a mile or two offshore, if you've never done it before.

Tillerman said...

Oh and thanks for the best wishes for my gear arriving in Australia. I've taken all the precautions I can think of... maybe I'll write another paranoia post on the topic!

Anonymous said...

Allow me to offer advice on one aspect of your post - slow recoveries from deathrolls.

I suffer from this malady. Best solution = "California roll".

Get the sail in the water, swim under /around to the board (to leeward), grab it as the boat starts to right, and hang on as it capsizes to leeward. Surprisingly, you might not even get your head wet! Right boat as usual.

Save a LOT of time and wasted effort, especially in windy/wavy conditions.

And good luck down under!

Anonymous said...

That switching rigs thing and racing together we can do now in Masters events adds a whole new dimension to racing. Last year at Cabarete I felt I had an advantage over fullrigs* upwind and at the gybe mark but was at a disadvantage downwind and in the lulls, of which there were quite a few the first day. (Cabarete lull-it's only blowing 15 knots right now)

*that is, those being sailed by my peers. I had NO advantage whatsoever over certain champions from Portugal we were racing against

What exactly is a Jens rig anyways? I haven't raced Sunfish so I am without much of a clue.

Tillerman said...

A Jens rig is a way of rigging the Sunfish sail so that the halyard is attached to the upper spar lower down. This puts more of the relatively flexible upper spar above the attachment point to the mast and so the rig depowers more readily.

It's basically the Sunfish equivalent of a Radial rig (except it's a lot cheaper as all you need is a short piece of line.)

Anonymous said...

You listed six lessons learned, but fitness only made it two of those times. And only as high on the list as #3. If this were my list, fitness would be on it three times: #1, #2, and #4 or #5.

I struggle to get my carcass back in my Megabyte* after capsizing her. And even though I am no expert, I cannot help but think that (much) improved fitness will make me more agile on those crazy downwind legs, reducing the times I end up in the water, and reducing the time I spend in the water when I do end up there.

(* think of her as a Laser for fat guys--and she has almost exactly the same tendency to death roll as the Laser)

I saw a discussion at about becoming a better Laser sailor. The best answer I saw (and it was one of many of a common theme) was for original author to buy a set of barbells and use them.

It is nice to know I am not the only sailor who feels disappointment at not being able to keep the pointy thing out of the water. Great post!

Tillerman said...

I totally agree Joe. I also think that physical fitness improves confidence and mental attitude, so that you retain the ability to sail well after a capsize or two.

Anonymous said...

Its all about confidence. You can get confidence from being in shape, sailing alot, or trying a new boat out. All these give you confidence that will improve your game. Im not talking about cockiness, im talking about self confidence and that you trust yourself and your abilities to do what you want them to. I have a confidence problem too and it is the worst problem you can have. It seems to me like you need to be more confident in heavy air conditions and try to sail as often as you can in those extreme conditions. Also your mental game may be off which is your attitude and some other psychological bullshit. I suggest meditating and doing yoga for that. It makes you feel better too. Good luck in Terrigal!

Anonymous said...

Thanks dylan. Your advice to sail a lot in heavy air to build up my confidence in those conditions is good. Fundamentally that's why I planned the Cabarete and Terrigal trips.

I suspect I'll revisit this whole issue of mental attitude and confidence again before long...

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