Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Flaws Endure

Last Sunday was another superb day for Laser frostbiting in Newport, RI. Pretty much the same conditions as I wrote about last week in Positively Balmy. 7-10 knots of wind from ESE and 40 F temperature. The only real difference was that we had about a dozen more boats out racing. You really have to worry about the future of sailing when we can get "only" 35 boats out Lasering in January in Rhode Island.

Oh, and the other difference was that the race committee laid the course slightly further north than last week so the (windward-leeward) course was a little longer, and the windward mark, instead of being in front of that mansion used by those New York yachting types, was closer to the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.

Miss Ida Lewis (that's her in the picture out for a Sunday afternoon row in pretty typical conditions for Newport Harbor in the summer) was the lighthouse keeper on Lime Rock in Newport back in the 19th century, but she became famous for driving the rescue boat for the Newport Frostbite Fleet way back when. No, that can't be right, but she did become famous for rescuing other people who did stupid things in Newport Harbor like some boys who capsized their boat by climbing the mast, and some drunken shepherds who jumped into the water to save a sheep. (And you thought Laser frostbite sailors were nuts.) Anyway Miss Ida saved at least 18 lives, and maybe more, and had a yacht club named after her and that's where they put our windward mark on Sunday.

Where was I? Where am I? Oh, yes. Laser racing last Sunday.

As I said conditions were similar to the previous week. My starts were perhaps a little better. I'm becoming more confident to fight for a position in the front row. More confident, but not necessarily more competent. But I know the theory, and my performance will improve with practice. (I hope.)

The left side of the beat was favored again but I tended to play the odds by working the shifts in the middle of the course in most races rather than trying to drag race with all the hotshots out in Left Cornersville.

I usually went right (looking downwind) on the runs and found more pressure out there and passed some boats and set myself up for the inside position at the right-hand gate mark. I tried the left side once and it was a disaster.

My leeward mark roundings were good except for the one race where there was a windshift just before I reached the mark and all the people rounding the mark ahead of me started heading straight for me and I did a panic gybe and my sheet caught round the transom and I turned back to unhook it and.... aaaaarrghh.... I'd rather not talk about it.

I think I did better on the final beats than last week. Went left for the pressure. Was not quite as incompetent as last week at managing the tactics at the finish but there's still room for improvement there.

But it's the approach to the windward mark on the first beat that is still mystifying me. I just don't seem to be able to work out when to hit the starboard tack layline, when to tack on it, and how to optimize my chance of rounding the mark in good shape after that. As one of my fellow sailors commented to me after racing, the problem in these conditions is that everyone's speed is pretty much the same so we all arrive at the windward mark together.

Approach too close to the port tack layline and your only option is to tack below a wall of starboard tackers and probably fail to lay the mark. Enter the starboard tack parade too early and everyone else will tack in front of you and give you bad air and you'll probably still fail to lay the mark. Split the difference and approach the starboard tack layline a few boatlengths before the mark and you may find a gap so you can tack in clear air above the "parade"; or you may have to tack below a starboard tacker and risk not laying the mark again. I'm sure it's all about gaining more experience and learning to see situations developing and being able to make snap judgments on when to go for the layline and when to duck some boats and when to tack below them and when to tack out of trouble early. But for now it's the weakest part of my game.

One of the pleasures of sailing with the many talented sailors in the Newport Laser Fleet is the opportunity to watch how they sail and to learn from them. Approaching the dreaded starboard tack layline and seeing Ed Adams crossing my bow sailing high and fast with his traveler blocks pulled higher than usual, just like he wrote in that Sailing World article many years ago. Following Steve Kirkpatrick down the right side of the run several times and seeing when he chose to gybe for the gate mark and how well he managed the traffic at the mark. It's all a "learning experience."

So now I've sailed the first three weeks of the season and am starting to get a handle on where I stand in the "pecking order". Better than I expected. I've had my share of top ten finishes in races, and my overall result each week has been around 12th or 13th. Not too shabby in a 35 boat fleet with the depth of talent that this fleet has.

And I've only just started. Next thing is to work on my weaknesses and start clawing my way up the fleet. Yeah right! As a certain well-known and recently deceased sailor almost said, "The race goes on, the flaws endure, the fantasy still lives, and the delusion shall never die."


PeconicPuffin said...

"I just don't seem to be able to work out when to hit the starboard tack layline, when to tack on it, and how to optimize my chance of rounding the mark in good shape after that."

I hate when that happens.

Me, when I race I just follow one of the good guys around the course, unless and until an overwhelmingly obvious opportunity conks me on the head.

TK said...

I suggest the thing to do is to anticipate arriving at the mark in or behind the log jam, (sounds like quite regularly in your frostbite group), and then overstand the layline by a good two boatlengths.
As my teammate likes to say, "let's leave a little more meat on the bone."
It is great fun to see the pinchers all drag the crowd to a halt at the mark as you crack off to a nice beam reach and sail swiftly over the whole group.
This decision is made within pretty close proximity to the mark, say 4 or 5 boatlengths - it won't work to come in all the way from cornersville overstood.
But as you sense the piggy pile is coming, take one more hitch to port and give yourself those extra boatlengths to work with.

Best of luck!

Tillerman said...

I'm sure you're right TK. I did manage to follow your advice in 1 of the 6 races and it worked like a dream.

Part of my problem is that I am not very good at judging laylines even in the absence of heavy traffic, so sometimes I think I've got "more meat on the bone" and I really haven't.

Then another issue is to recognize that I'm too low and take the decision to bail out with a port tack hitch before I'm prevented from doing so by boats on my weather hip.

And a third problem is reacting properly when some idiot port tacker crashes into boats ahead of me on the SB layline. I have to remember to tack out of trouble immediately when I see the pile-up developing rather than be the 4th or 5th boat in the crash. Sure I can yell, "Protest" as hard as I like but it doesn't change the fact that it isn't much help when you are tangled up with 4 other boats drifting sideways.

Sam Chapin said...

Clear lane at the start, hit the shifts, keep sailing FAST, let the guys behind you fight around the mark. Are you still having FUN?

Tillerman said...

Yes Sam, I'm having lots of fun, thanks.

And yes, of course you are right, it's a lot easier to race if you win the start, sail faster than your opposition, stay in front of the fleet in clear air, and extend your lead around the course. There have been days like that in my life, but not in this fleet.

MJ (Harvey) said...

Sounds like fun stuff. Has your Sailx training had any effect on your results in this series?

Tillerman said...

Great question Harvey.

I think Sailx is a superb tactical trainer. In particular the regattas (when there is usually a turnout of 30-40 players) are great at simulating the crowded windward mark roundings I talked about in this post. Exactly the same issues and problemns (and solutions) occur.

In Sailx I can experiment with different ways to deal with the problems of being trapped too low by a solid wall of fiberglass (well pixels actually) such as (a) crash through the melee anyway and do a penalty turn, (b) luff and wait, (c) gybe around and find a hole etc. etc. Of course what I really need to practice is not getting into the windward mark logjam in the first place and Sailx is a good way to work on that too.

O Docker said...

You should prepare yourself for the possibility that this is as good as you're going to do and that, for the rest of the season, you might be working yourself down through the fleet.

You probably won't catch the best guys. The guys in the middle are as determined as you are or they wouldn't be out sailing in the cold. And the guys at the bottom will probably be improving faster than you.

If you quit now, you'd be retiring in the top half of the fleet.

Just saying.

Tillerman said...

O Docker, have you been reading my mind again? There's a little voice in the back of my head that has been whispering to me exactly what you just wrote. But I'm not listening.

I fear you will never understand the fevered deluded mind of the mid-fleet racing sailor. But read my blog for another five years and you might gain a little insight into our disease.

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