Friday, August 17, 2012

Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart

At the Buzzards Bay Regatta a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I have evolved into a new way of thinking about racing in regattas.

Warning: there will be math. Well, at least a crappy chart.

The Tillerman Philosophy For Extracting Maximum Fun From Sailing In Laser Regattas depends on understanding The Five Stages Of Sailing A Regatta and the Tillerman Fun Factor.

Here are the Five Stages...

1. Adjustment. This is the first stage that we go through after starting to sail and it begins on the way out to the course. In this stage we are becoming familiar with the sailing conditions, the winds, the waves, the current, the shifts, the layout of the course, what the RC boats and marks look like, where the Mommy Boats are lurking etc. etc. Often at first it feels a little strange - whoah this chop is nasty - but after a while we get used to it and how to set our sail controls and how to sail the boat properly in these conditions. Ideally we complete this stage before the first race of the day, but sometimes we have to race a bit before we complete the Adjustment Stage.

2. Competence. In the second stage we have adjusted to the conditions on the course and are sailing well. We are feeling fit and are working hard but not getting tired. Physically and mentally we are at the top of our game (but so are all the other sailors.) We are enjoying the regatta and feeling good. Sometimes we stay in this stage right through every race in the regatta. This was often my experience when sailing Sunfish regattas on the SANJL circuit in New Jersey, for example.

3. Fatigue. After several hard Laser races on a windy day there is no denying that some of us older, unfit, overweight types are starting to feel a bit tired. Well, at least I do. The legs are aching, the arms are aching, the heart is racing. But it's a good kind of fatigue. We know that it's a sign that we are having a good workout and in a masochistic kind of way we actually enjoy it. We are still sailing pretty well even if every race feels a little harder than the previous one. After every race we grab something to drink and maybe some snack for a little more energy, and try to summon up the energy for "just one more race."

4. Exhaustion. On some days, especially the windier ones when the race committee insists on running 7 races, each one with 5 one mile beats or the like, we move beyond Fatigue to Exhaustion. Now we are too tired to sail properly. We don't have the energy to hike hard any more. Every beat feels like a long struggle as we bash into wave after wave after wave. We start to make stupid mistakes. We misjudge laylines. We do terrible mark roundings. Every tack and every gybe is an adventure. It's not really fun any more but something keeps us going. Maybe we think if we sail every race it will prove something. Maybe we will actually win a shiny little trophy. Maybe we will beat "that guy" who usually beats us.

5. Agony (or Ecstasy.) Sooner or later the exhaustion stage leads to a disaster. A capsize. Getting even more tired. More capsizes. Totally running out of energy. A collision with another boat. An injury. Something bad eventually will happen if we keep sailing after we are totally exhausted.

Or will it? On some very very rare occasions I have experienced a "sailor's high" at this point of the day. The exhaustion disappears and I seem to be sailing above my true (mediocre) ability. A Cannabinoid Moment. But I can never count on it. If that's what I'm seeking it would make more sense to smoke some pot.

So how much fun am I having at each of these stages? Let's plot it on a chart. ( I warned you there would be math.)

I warned you it would be a crappy chart.

The y-axis is a measure of how much fun or "not fun" we are having. The x-axis is time. And I have marked the stages we go through as the day progresses.

Through the first three stages we are doing fine. Having fun of +3 to +4.

But when we enter the Exhaustion Stage, the fun factor plummets and goes negative aka "Not Fun Any More."

Keep sailing and either things go really pear-shaped (-5 "Not Fun At All") or very rarely we experience the "sailors high" (+5 "Wow - This Is Good Shit.")


My new sailing philosophy is to quit for the day at the end of Stage 3 or the beginning of Stage 4. I will not keep sailing to the point where it's not fun any more.

There is a side benefit. In the first three stages I am sailing well. In stages 4 and 5 I am sailing badly. I would rather practice sailing well than sailing badly. If I practice sailing well I might improve. If I practice sailing badly my sailing skills will surely go downhill.

Of course another alternative would be to improve my fitness and stamina to the point where I'm still in stage 2 or stage 3 at the end of the day.

But that would require effort.

I think I'll take a nap now.


George A said...

If you get rid of the agony part then the remaining curve becomes "U" shaped. Any time I see data generate a "U" shaped curve I immediately know that a little of the activity/substance/lifestyle choice is positive but just a smidge beyond that point it becomes detrimental--like a graph plotting lifespan and drinks per day. I'm guessing that if you had some accurate metric besides how you think you feel, the curve probably starts to dip in the "fatigue" region rather than as late as "exhaustion"--same idea as by the time you're aware that you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.

Tweezerman said...

Did a post about the very same fun vs. rigor back in 2009. Came to the same conclusion but the wind strength of fun vs. rigor seems to be trending down as I get older.

Keep Reaching said...

I like the graph. But it could be interesting to see a graph based on the data as reported over a few beers during the post-race discussions.

Tillerman said...

The problem about post-race discussions over a few beers is that even the fit young guys who are winning the regatta and who have won the America's Cup and stuff like that before will tell you you that they were totally exhausted after doing all the races but they didn't quit early.

I know they are lying through their teeth.

They don't know what exhaustion is like I do.

I have a crappy chart to prove it.

They are just doing it to make me feel inferior.

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