Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Andrew's Feet

Andrew wants to know where to put his feet. Specifically Andrew wants to know where to put his feet when sailing a Laser downwind. He has asked this question at least twice in comments on this blog over the last few weeks. So I guess I should try and answer him. It's only polite to respond to readers' questions.

However... it always amazes me when readers of this blog ask me for sailing advice. Anyone who has read Proper Course for any time will know that I am a clumsy, uncoordinated sailor with bad technique who has found more ways to grab defeat from the jaws of victory than anyone else in the history of Laser sailing.

To be fair to Andrew, I did mention in Sailfit Revisited that, during the clinic in March with Kurt Taulbee, I had learned that I "need to change what I do with my feet when sailing downwind." So Andrew isn't really asking me where to put his feet. He is trying to find out where Kurt would tell him to put his feet. Fair enough.

So, leaving aside for a minute that I might quite possibly have misinterpreted what Kurt taught us, or remembered it incorrectly, or be unable to explain it properly, I will now do my best to tell Andrew where to put his feet when sailing downwind...

First of all let me explain how I sail a Laser downwind now (which apparently is wrong.) In any decent breeze I hook my back leg around the hiking strap (thigh over, calf under) and jamb my lower leg across the cockpit. I have my front knee on the windward side of the centerboard and my butt on the windward deck. So I am supported mainly on the knees and sides of both legs. In stronger winds I move my weight back in the cockpit but essentially maintain the same style of spreading my weight between both knees. Although I know now that this is not perfect style, in my defense let me say
  • it feels stable

  • I can shift weight side to side and front to back to balance the boat and in respond to changes in conditions (up to a point)

  • when I gybe, my aft leg (front leg on new tack) is already under the strap and so I can hike hard on the new tack if necessary

  • I've been doing it for years so it feels right.

Bur Kurt Taulbee taught that when sailing downwind in breeze you should keep your weight on your feet. His logic was that if you have your weight on the soles of your feet it is easier to balance the boat, to use boat trim to steer, and to be able to recover from the start of a death roll.

And to answer Andrew's question, where to put his feet when doing this... Kurt says he puts his back foot over the strap (but doesn't wrap his leg under the strap as I do) and then the front foot is on the windward side of the boat with the
front knee pointing forwards. Or there is an alternative style (which Kurt called "goofy") where the front foot is on the leeward side of the boat.

At least that's what my notes say. As I said before it's entirely possible
that I might have misinterpreted what Kurt told us, or that I can't read my own writing, or that I've confused myself and you in trying to explain it. Take it for what it's worth.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert Laser sailor. I am slightly deaf. My handwriting is awful. I get confused easily.

Anybody else want any sailing advice from a total duffer (me not Kurt) that may be totally wrong and/or impossible to understand?


Robdoc said...

I had the good fortune to go on a course led by Paul Goodison last September - what he does (from my notes) is put the back foot in the windward rear corner of the cockpit (either under the strap in light winds, or over the strap in stronger winds) and the front foot braced up against the front leeward corner. This enables him to slide backwards and forwards with legs braced against opposite corners. Try it!

Tillerman said...

Thanks Robdoc. That sounds like the "goofy" technique that Kurt mentioned. Still, Goodison has an Olympic medal so perhaps it's not so goofy after all.

Andrew said...

I've been hooking my back leg under the strap too, but maybe that accounts for a number of windward swims in the very cold water here in Holland this winter.
I'll try the 'Kurt' method -regular and 'goofy' - tomorrow evening, thank you.
Now I have to think of something
new to pester you with :)

tillerman said...

Looking forward to hearing how you got on Andrew.

Andrew said...

Well, call me Goofy.
Felt strange at first lifting my front foot over the toestrap, but it works - at least it does for me. 15 to 20 knots yesterday evening and I kept the sail above the boat all the time.
That's got my feet sorted out - what's next?

Robdoc said...

Andrew, I think you should have your front foot under the strap, and in the front leeward corner. If you have it over the strap (as well as the back leg) you will be in trouble if you heal to windward, I would think.

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