Sunday, June 26, 2011

We're Off to See the Buzzard

Saturday morning last weekend I was up bright and early and all excited about sailing my first real regatta in nine months, the long-awaited Atlantic Coast Laser Masters at New Bedford YC. Ate a healthy breakfast and packed some healthy snacks and a healthy sports drink and some healthy bottles of water and hitched up the boat and was cruising down I-195 chilling out to James Taylor and singing along and feeling all relaxed and at peace with the world.

Arrived at the boat club and met up with all the usual suspects and chit-chatted away, in between unpacking and rigging the boat, about the usual stuff like how we all hate Mommy Boats, and I harassed some of the Tuesday night sailors from last year about how they are not sailing on Tuesday nights yet, and I compared notes about sailing in Cabarete and who is going to San Francisco and who is sailing where in the next few weeks, and drank a couple of bottles of healthy water and we were all wishing for wind and hoping for a classic day of sailing on the natural amphitheater of Buzzards Bay.

The check-in and registration was so efficient that if you blinked you missed it, and the PRO dude at the skippers' meeting was just about as good as they come, very professional but excellent at communicating with the fleet and asking for feedback on what we wanted. He said Saturday was likely to be the best weather with Sunday definitely iffy, so he was going to aim to get in as many races on Saturday as he could and we were all cool with that.

So we sailed out of Padanaram Harbor and as soon as we passed the breakwater the wind picked up to a delicious hiking breeze and the game was on. We raced twice-around windward-leeward courses with a short reach from the gate to the finish. I was doing much as usual, meaning crap starts but fast at times and decent mark roundings and having fun duking it out with aforementioned usual suspects. Finished in the first two races in the mid 20's in a 40 boat fleet which is not great but also not bad considering I am fat and unfit and haven't raced against real Laser sailors for nine months.

Then in race 3 I was cruising down the line on starboard tack about 30 seconds before the start and saw a nice gap with a sailor to leeward who wasn't a multiple masters world champion or North American champion or Olympic medalist etc. etc. like some of the rocks stars in this fleet, and I reached in to the gap at speed and timed it perfectly and blew right over the aforementioned non-rock-star and the gun went off and there was no X-flag and when I looked around 15 seconds after the start my bow was half a boat length in front of the front line of boats and I was in clear air and gaining on all the boats around me and life was good. I had nice lanes going all the way up the beat and was all excited and thinking that the old fart hasn't totally lost it yet.

Just before the windward mark I felt some cramping in the fingers of my left hand but I rounded the mark in the top ten and was able to find some clear air on the right of the leading bunch downwind and was feeling pretty cocky about things. I took the glove off my left hand and flexed my fingers and after a while they seemed OK so I went back to concentrating on the waves and was a-pumping and a-S-curving my way down the run with the best of them and having fun. I remembered some blog post by Captain Judy I had read about leeward mark roundings and was clear ahead of the boats at the right-hand gate mark and did a good rounding and was in fourth place in clear air for the second beat. Woo hoo!

My left hand on the tiller felt a bit stiff but I was going well and looking back at all the good guys eating bad air in my wake and enjoying every minute of it. After a while it seemed like a good idea to tack on to port to cover the fleet, so I did. Ouch! As soon as my left hand took hold of the sheet it seized up in an agonizing cramp. The fingers of my left hand were locked into the palm of that hand. Well, I suppose I could have sailed the beat like that if it didn't hurt so much. I used my right hand to try and open the fingers of my left hand but it didn't work. I had to stop and use all my strength to unlock the death grip of my left hand but it still kept doing its cramp thing. I tried to work out the problem by pressing my hand on the deck. Eventually I was able to sail back to the RC boat and tell them I was retiring from that race.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

I had a healthy drink of water. I watched the fleet finish.

I started the fourth race but as soon as we went off the start line the cramps in both hands started again. I retired... again. I headed back to the club.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

The wind held all afternoon and it was just perfect Buzzards Bay sailing weather and they got in five races, only two of which I had finished,

Damn! Damn! Damn!

The PRO dude was right. Sunday's winds were dodgy. A light offshore wind with crazy shifts that led to numerous postponements and recalled starts and one abandoned race. We only got one race in.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

Another regatta in which I only finished half the races. Is this the beginning of the end? I've seen it happen to other guys. They start skipping races at regattas and then one year they're not there any more.

No! No! No! I refuse to believe it. I'm not ready to hang up my hiking boots yet.

I just need to fix this cramp problem. But how?


JP said...

Getting old sucks :(

Cramp can be horrid - I get it every now and then in my lower legs, and use crampex or something like that which does seem to help.

Chris Partridge said...

Take up rowing (cures all ills).

Pandabonium said...


I'm not a doctor and don't play one on the internet, but look into:

More Magnesium. Less calcium.

Tillerman said...

Thanks for the advice guys. My fellow Laser Master sailors at the regatta also offered various solutions. I also have some ideas of my own on how to avoid the problem. I won't comment on each suggestion individually but will write a post some time in the next few days on the topic and what options I'm going to try.

In the meantime, all advice and suggestions will be gratefully received.

O Docker said...

I'm a docker, not a doctor, but there's a good set of articles here that seem to suggest you are getting old, are tired and fatigued, and not getting enough hydration, sodium, or potassium.

If it's any consolation, I am also much more prone to muscle cramps than I used to be. But that probably has something to do with not exercising nearly as much as I used to.

From my bike riding days, I remember that bananas and water were they keys to staving off the dreaded cramps, so maybe whoever wrote those articles knows what they're talking about.

Start every regatta with a healthy breakfast of salty pretzels, bananas, and water instead of bangers and mash.

And work on getting younger.

my2fish said...

tillerman, that sucks. I used to get those death-grip locked hands cramps after working a 10 to 12-hour day of laying sod (landscaping) back in high school. it surprises me to hear you're getting them at sailing, as I would think your hands would be used to the rigors of sailing.

consult with the non-doctors giving doctorly advice above, and get that cramping fixed! tough to have such a great start to the 3rd race, and then have to bow out of the rest.

good luck.

Sam Chapin said...

After eating the bananas and taking the minerals, do you think you have a death grip on tiller (left hand at the start)or maybe on the3 sheet. Try practice with concentrating on letting the ratchet block hold the sheet after you get it pulled in and just a light grip in the tiller (boat flat and sheet out if you can't keep it flat). Come aqnd sail with us is Eustis Fl-- the wind usually is a lot lighter.

Fred said...

If you read some Mothblogs, Ibuprofen should be an answer but I am not willing to start taking them yet. Magnesium against the cramping, sometimes two, are doing it for me.

And yes. It starts with tinkering too much, forgetting an important part at home and thus being late on the start line. Next comes leaving out (DNC) some races, than not appearing at all. This is what we have to fight against to stay in the game and not becoming a couch potato.

Fight the nursing home...go racing!

EscapeVelocity said...

How are you holding your sheet? I have a tendency for some reason to hold the sheet with my left hand palm down as though it were a rein, putting a lot of pressure on my little finger, which is not as strong as all that.

Anonymous said...

Healthy water? What the hell is healthy water - scotch? Leave your HFCS at home - it will kill you everytime.

Need more fruit like banana's and beer.

John in PDX

Tillerman said...

Bananas and beer! That's a breakfast for champions.

Anonymous said...

No, Jack Daniels on cornflakes is the breakfast of champions.

Steve in Baltimore

Tillerman said...

I love the way that, when I wrote about my many deficiencies as a sailor, all my blogging friends are ready with helpful suggestions. Must try that cornflakes with Jack Daniels tip tomorrow.

AusSurgeon said...

Your cramping symptoms suggest tenosynovitis of flexor muscles of forearm, the tendons of which go down into the hand to operate the fingers, or carpal tunnel syndrome, though atypical for this. I suggest consulting a hand surgeon; U need examination.
Australian Surgeon

Noodle said...

Virtual salling is not nearly as good as real salling, but cramps are extremely rare.

harrymvt said...

Quinine. G&T's were invented for a reason!

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