Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Me and Mister Fast

The second day of the Newport Regatta on Sunday was a bit windier than Saturday. I'm no good at estimating wind speeds in knots but according to John Skrzypiec the wind started out at "18kts with gusts to 22kts", and increased to 25 kts by the time of the last race. Perfect for fat boys, or even just slightly overweight Laser sailors like me.

I was determined to approach the day with a new attitude. Be on the front row in every start. Hike like hell all the way upwind. Pump like the devil all the way downwind. Give no quarter at the mark roundings. Fight for every place right up to the finish line.

It didn't work out quite as I had planned...

Starts. What's wrong with my starts this weekend? I never seem to jump off the line in the front row. I'm sure the problem is all in my head. In the last few seconds before the gun I always become convinced that some boat close to me is way over the line and so I don't go up with him. Then the gun goes and he is not called OCS and I am gassed.

On Sunday I try to break out of this habit and finally succeed in the third race. I pull off a front row start near the favored end and I'm looking down the line at other Laser bows all lined up with mine and a decent gap to leeward. Must hold this mental image. This is how it's supposed to look. Hold the image. Visualize this outcome in future starts. Maybe that will work.

But wait, it gets better. I'm holding my lane nicely for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds... And then the boat to leeward starts to fall into the disturbed air of the boat to leeward of him, who in turn is getting gassed by the boat to leeward of him. Oh joy. This is looking good.

First Beat. I have as much power in the rig as I can handle and am hiking my little socks off. I'm laying it all on the line in every race. My quads are screaming but I don't care. I'm hanging in there with sailors who have been way ahead of me all weekend. I can still do it.

Windward mark roundings. I'm getting better at judging my entry to the starboard tack layline. Avoiding being in the starboard tack parade too early. Not overstanding.

Downwind. We are sailing a triangular course all weekend but the two reaches are so broad they are effectively two runs. I'm still getting rolled downwind and losing a few places on each downwind leg. It seems that one particular guy, let's call him Mr. Fast, is passing me on the second downwind leg in every race. God knows why. (Note to self, must ask god why.)

Final beat. This is where I stick it to Mr. Fast. I'm tired of being passed by him on every run. I'm gonna grind him down in the beat to the finish.

In the first race I catch Mr. Fast shortly before the finish and tack to starboard, slightly ahead and to leeward of him, but not a really tight lee-bow situation. Hmmm. We're approaching the finish. The starboard end of the finish line is favored. Will he tack for it? I look over my shoulder. He doesn't tack as we hit the layline. Hmmm. Can I cross him? Not sure. It will be close. Time slows down. I look towards the pin end of the finish line. I'm not laying the pin. Neither is he. I look over my shoulder again. Dare I tack? I see his plan. He's going to keep sailing towards the pin and force me past the pin-end layline, then tack and cross the line ahead of me. Damn you Mr. Fast. Time slows down even more. He shouts something like, "You have to work for it!" Decision time is rapidly approaching. I'm almost at the pin-end layline. I decide to go for it. Tack on to port. Mr. Fast is behind my sail. Any second now either there will be an almighty crunch or.... Then he shouts, "You got it. Well done!" and his bow appears a couple of inches behind my transom. Tillerman 1 - Mr. Fast 0.

In the second race on Sunday I beat Mr. Fast by a few places. Tillerman 2 - Mr. Fast 0.

In the third race we are close approaching the finish line again. On port tack I cross behind Mr. Fast and tack on to starboard, to windward and a boatlength or two behind him. Effectively the reverse situation of race one. I grind it out and am soon seeing him through my sail window. I tack for the starboard end of the line and not only beat Mr. Fast but achieve my best result of the weekend. Almost mid-fleet mediocrity. Nevertheless the score for Sunday is Tillerman 3 - Mr. Fast 0.

After three races I am exhausted. There's nothing left in the tank. I've sailed my best, holding nothing back, and am feeling much better about my sailing than I was yesterday. So I call it a day and skip the last race.

Yes, racing is not just about winning. I know there are lots of rewards from racing that are nothing to do with the scores. I respect sailors like Steve Manson who is able to report that the greatest moment in his sailing career was when the "other guy" passed him right at the finish line.
And I would agree that it's shortsighted to focus on beating one other sailor. But, at the end of the day, it is a competition and I, for one, enjoy racing partly because I am competitive by nature and I still get a buzz when it's me executing that perfect tack just before the finish to cross and beat the other guy.

One other bonus of the weekend. After the racing was over I was chatting with that guy. I complimented him on how speedy he was downwind and asked him how he was doing it. He passed on a tip on downwind technique that he had learned from one of the Laser sailing gods, something that I had not heard before.

Hmmm. Another way that I may be able to improve. The delusion continues.


Anonymous said...

So are you going to tell us what his tip is??? You're killing me!

Anonymous said...

Lol. I was 99% certain that the first comment of this nature would be from "derek". He is usually the first to ask when I leave a hint that I might actually know something about sailing that he doesn't. But I suspect he is trying to win the Sunfish North Americans this morning.

Am I going to tell what the tip is? Maybe. You see there are several possibilities...

a) it was only a tease by me to see if I could trigger a response from "derek"

b) "that guy" just made up something to get rid of me

c) the tip only works for laser sailing gods

e) I'm saving it up for a future post on a day when I can't think of anything else to write about

f) the real answer was (d).

g) this whole blog is a work of fiction by a 13-year-old girl from Tussaloosoo, Kansas.

Anonymous said...

As I'm sure you are aware, there are a lot of us Laser sailors looking for the 1 last piece of the speed puzzle.

The more I race, the more I realize there is not just 1 answer, it's a whole list of things that some just do naturally and the rest of us watch from behind.

On the other hand, if you've got that one trick, you have to let your loyal readers know.

Anonymous said...

Is the tip .... Eat less!

Anonymous said...

Eat less, drink more beer?

No that wasn't the tip from the Laser sailing god. But I like it.

Fred said...

I am not a keen Laser sailor, only doing it once or twice a year in the local regatta. I can almost guess my placing before we start the race which is mentally not good. But from sailing other boats, I think that I have some habits (wrong moves) which I am not getting rid off due to not asking the "right guy". You are on a good way. Get rid of the habit of "being passed" downwind, no matter what it is. Maybe only sitting 10cm too far back or in front. Your post gave me something to think about and I will start working on my foiling jibes from a new perspective. Thanks for the trigger.
smooth sailing!

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