Monday, October 24, 2011

Knees Up

As I was saying before I got diverted to blogging about half marathon running and fantasizing about big wave sailing that never happened, I spent two weeks at Minorca Sailing last month and had only got as far as telling you about the third day there.

On the fourth day, our regular instructor in the Advanced Laser Class, Tom, was back on the job and we were joined by a couple of renegade students from the Advanced Asymmetric Class. The forecast was for Beaufort 5 and 6 gusting to 7, which in terms more familiar to knotty sailors is 17-27 knots gusting to 33.

Woo hoo! What did I just say? 33 knots? OMG!

Tom gave us a briefing about heavy air technique, most of which I knew before but had never been very good at executing. He also spent more time explaining something he had mentioned two days previously: how to sit in the boat when sailing downwind.

Anyone not interested in reading 3,000 words about how to sit in a Laser may want to skip to the end of this post for the food section...

I thought I knew how to sit in a Laser, but apparently not. For many years my downwind technique has been to have my back calf tucked under the toestrap, my back knee on the floor of the cockpit jammed against the leeward cockpit wall and my front knee alongside the daggerboard (at least in light winds.) I held the tiller extension so it ran along my forearm. This always felt very stable and locked-in.

But apparently that is all wrong. Kurt Taulbee at SailFit a few years back tried to encourage me to keep my weight on the soles of my feet but I never really got the the hang of that. It felt terribly unstable.

Now Tom returned to the thankless task of teaching Tillerman how to sit properly in the boat. Tom described it as the "knees up" style, but that's pretty much the same as what Kurt was saying. Feet on the cockpit floor =  knees up...

(I never knew Petula Clark and Noel Harrison were Laser sailors.)

Tom had another twist on downwind technique. He recommended putting the tiller extension down on the leeward deck and holding it there, so that you are not waggling the rudder about so much as in the extension-under-the-arm style. And he was big on sitting sideways in the boat, rather than facing diagonally forwards as I used to. His logic for this is that you need to be frequently looking back when sailing downwind because that's where the wind is coming from. And it's much easier to look back if you are facing sideways than if you are twisted around facing forwards. As Sam Chapin would say LASERS LOOK BACK.

All very logical, but did I want to experiment with a different style in 33 knots? So I took the easy way out and asked to sail a Radial rig (as did the rest of the class.) We sailed up and down and back and forth all over the bay and gybed and tacked in the heaviest wind of the holiday and I did sail with my knees up and I didn't capsize. Tom was right - of course - it is easier to balance the boat and avoid the dreaded death roll when you have your weight over your feet. Holding the tiller extension on the deck felt strange at first but I could see how it avoided unnecessary rudder movement. And I did look back.

In the afternoon racing I won both races using the knees up style (in a full rig Laser.)

After lying down for an hour or two to demonstrate my amazing willpower not to do too much, Tillerwoman and I walked in to the local village of Fornells where I enjoyed a plate of assorted grill fish washed down with some local wine. Mmmm. And so to bed...


Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I have had far less experience in Lasers than you. I can recall few rules of thumb:
(1) Sit forward in light airs.
(2) When going DDW in 15 knots or more (a) keep the tiller extension (as opposed to the boat) under the sail and (b) never look back.
(3) It's sometime useful to deliberately capsize in drifting wind in order to (a) dampen the sail (greater hanging shape) and (b) free up your masthead wind guide, but never hang on to your mast as you go if you have a history of dislocating your shoulder.
(4) Bring along beer that floats.
(5) (forgotten)...

Tillerman said...

Great tips Doc. Especially #5.

Wavedancer said...

And here I was getting my knees all blistered up (the floor of a Laser cockpit is like sandpaper) by doing this downwind thing all WRONG.

Thanks Tillerman and Tom!

Baydog said...

A) Don't comment because it's way beyond your everyday sailing circumstances.

B) Fake it and comment like you understand what the hell Tillerman is talking about.

C) skip to the end of this post for the food section...(assorted grill fish washed down with some local wine).

C, and that's my final answer.

Sam Chapin said...

I will have to pay attention to where my feet are now. In the past I did the knee down thing regularly but now I think I am paying more attention to sail trim, the boats behind and looking for the wind streaks. When the wind is up, I am just as far back in the cockpit as I can get. Nice to have the "mommy boats" around to tell you what you are doing... Good job!

O Docker said...

Baydog, he could say oo oo oo
As if everybody here would know
What he was talking about
I mean everybody here would know exactly
What he was talking about
Talking about diamonds

People say he's crazy
He's got diamonds on the soles of his shoes
Well that's one way to lose
Those downwind blues
Diamonds on the soles of his shoes

'Cause With all his weight on his feet
and the antiskid pattern
on the cockpit sole
Ta Na Na
Ta Na Na Na
That would sure put

Diamonds on the soles of his shoes
Diamonds on the soles of his shoes
Diamonds on the soles of his shoes

yarg said...

I always thought the knee down position was a better expression of fear caused by little or no control of the boat. I already know how to death roll in the knee down position. Now I will have to learn it all over again.

Tillerman said...

Exactly yarg. That's the beauty of being told to change your sailing style. For a while you will sail much worse than you do in your current style, but after a season or two of practice at the new style (Tom confessed it took him a whole winter and lots of swimming to learn this one) you finally arrive at the stage of only being as bad a sailor as you were originally.

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