Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Sound of One Foot Clapping

Wed Apr 16

I think I'm becoming addicted to solo practice...

The last few days of practicing my Laser sailing by myself (literally by myself as most of the time there weren't any other boaters of any kind in sight) have reminded me that solo practice has a unique benefit. You can work on the minutiae of your sailing technique in a way that you never do when you are trying to beat your competitors in a race, and which can you never do quite so obsessively when training with a group because the coach or the group is always moving on to some other drill.

Case in point: on Wednesday I focused relentlessly on what I'm doing with my front foot in medium air tacks...

You will recall that Rulo in Cabarete had pointed out a flaw in my tacking technique in that I needed to hike out hard after the tack before swapping tiller and sheet hands. I've been concentrating on doing that the last few months and, in spite of the can't-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks syndrome a.k.a. it's-hard-for-old-farts-like-me-to-break-the-habits-of-a-lifetime, I'm getting better at this aspect of tacking.

So after a warm-up with a long beat and a long run on Wednesday I resolved to tack every 30 seconds or so on the next beat. First of all I concentrated on the back foot technique. When exactly to lift it over the toestrap so it goes under the strap as I tack? Early so that I am hiking with one leg for a couple of seconds before the tack? Or just as I initiate the tack? Either way I also worked on eliminating another bad habit that Kurt had pointed out in Florida: my tendency to move inboard a couple of inches before starting the tack.

Once I had ironed out the wrinkles in the back foot technique over twenty or so tacks it was time to work on the front foot. In particular to work on the I Can Tie Knots With My Feet syndrome that I have written about before...

You see it's finally dawned on me after 25 years of Laser sailing why it is that I'm always getting the sheet in a tangle in the bottom of the cockpit. In that earlier post I told you than I'm a front-endian... I try and keep my sheet tidily arranged at the front of the cockpit. But it always seems to work it's way back to the middle of the cockpit where it can tangle itself around my feet during tacks, get trapped under my feet when I'm trying to bear away at a crowded windward mark rounding, or just generally work its magical trick of tying itself in knots.

And why is the sheet not staying at the front of the cockpit? When I started concentrating with Zen-like focus on my front foot during tacks the answer was obvious. Because on at least half the tacks my front foot was coming down off the hiking strap on to a pile of sheet and then as I crossed the boat that foot was turning and sliding and pushing the sheet towards the back of the cockpit.


Or rather... Duh!

How could I have been so stupid?

So just a minor correction. Instead of a swivel and a slide with my front foot I changed to do a little push-off against the front of the cockpit, a one-legged jump even, as I crossed the boat and neatly caught the hiking strap with my new front foot, and smartly assumed the hiking position. Result: a smoother, swifter move across the boat and no more kicking the sheet around.

I think I'm becoming addicted to solo practice.

What shall I work on next?


Litoralis said...

How about figuring out exactly how much to ease the sheet during the tack in various wind conditions?

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

Yeees! That's great tacking practice you're getting in there, for sure! It's amazing what we actually see when we take the time to stop and watch what we actually do, isn't it? Great stuff - I'm really happy for you.

But yeah... one of the main reasons I haven't been out since Xmas is simply because there's no one else around out on the water.

Call me a coward, I don't mind! lol

But yeah... I'm a social sailor, so having no-one else to interact with socially on the shore or water aint such an inviting prospect for me blah blah blah.

Mal :)

Pat said...

Solo practice can be useful, but what would really be interesting would be solo races. Just think ... the gun goes off as you cross the line and you ARE the fleet. No pesky folks tacking on you or covering your air, just a sprint to the line in peace and quiet.

Orang Puti said...

As a "new" older Laser sailor I read this and saw so many parallels with what I've been trying to achieve in the last couple of weeks on the water.

I can especially relate to the heap of rope on the cockpit floor that not only tangled, but also got caught around my feet as I tacked, with sometimes disastrous results! I'm a converted front-endian now as well, with a lesser mess to deal with!

Anonymous said...

How about keeping the pile of sheet aft in the cockpit?

I try to lead the sheet to leeward, then up between my front foot and the block, then to a small pile on the deck in front of me. Often this pile slide into the cockpit, but that "bight" is still the slack for my tacks. The pile is (hopefully) aft and away from my feet when tacking.

Tillerman said...

Brian, I knew someone would raise this sooner or later. As I've written before, there seem to be two schools of thought among Laser sailors - front or back for the pile of sheet.

I did try being a back-endian after Brad Funk recommended it to me at a clinic some years ago, but found it even more problematic. For some reason I got into all sorts of trouble dealing with the part of the sheet running from the pile at the back of the cockpit to the block at the front. I guess it's probably one of these things that you just need to practice.

The "slack on the foredeck" trick also works for front-endians and is definitely worth having before tacks and bearing away.

bonnie said...

Sounds an awful lot like what sea kayakers do at those goofy pool sessions we all get addicted to over the winter.

Rolling, analyzing, repeating, breaking it down, drilling various parts of the process, obsessing over what head, hands, body & boat are doing that makes something work beautifully on one side, but feel awkward on the otherside -

It's like yoga-in-a-boat, you end up just so concentrated on what you're doing, whatever day-to-day worries you may have, you just aren't worrying about for a little while.

Great stuff.

Nice post.

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