Saturday, October 06, 2012


I love pursuit races.

At my first sailing club, at Taplow Lake near Slough in England, all of the regular weekly racing was pursuit racing. We had four fleets, Toppers, Miracles, Enterprises and Lasers, I think they were. We would start racing at intervals determined by the boats' Portsmouth Yardstick handicaps, slowest fleet first. Then we would race a zig-zag course around the fixed buoys scattered around the lake, which was usually so complicated that you would have to write the course on the back of your hand to remember it.  HP BP DS JP CS AS LP or something like that. After a certain fixed time, in theory if everyone had sailed perfectly to their handicaps, all the boats should have been at the same spot. Of course they never were so the boat in front was the winner, and so on down all the boats in the club.

The Lasers were the fastest fleet so we started last. I always thought that was an extra handicap because you can waste a lot of time trying to overtake half a dozen Enterprises, say, on short legs of the course, while the lead Topper (who started first) was sailing in clear air way ahead of everybody. This was one of the first excuses I ever devised in a long career spanning over thirty years of thinking up excuses for not winning sailboat races.

So pursuit racing is not perfectly fair but it is fun.

At my second club at Rutland Water, we had more one-design fleet racing but, as I recall, we had at least one pursuit race for all the dinghies and catamarans once a month. I vividly remember racing in those pursuit races against the future Olympic silver medallist John Merricks when he was just a kid in a 420. But he was a damn fast kid in a 420 even then.

At my sailing club in New Jersey, Hunterdon Sailing Club, we had a pursuit race called the Little Brown Jug which was held on the July 4 weekend and was raced on a long course covering as much of Spruce Run Reservoir as was practical. It was always a lot of fun. I do remember hurling insults at the club curmudgeon as I overtook him in the Little Brown Jug one year.

The last three times I have been at Minorca Sailing they have held a pursuit race on the Friday morning, typically the last opportunity to sail for all the guests leaving on the main flight back to the UK later that day. Last year I almost won the pursuit race on the last day of our vacation but was passed near the end of the race by some ringer I hadn't seen all week in an RS200 (I think) who turned out to have won the UK Nationals in Larks several times.

On Friday this week, I had another shot. The course was a square box- a beat, a starboard tack reach, a run, and a port tack reach. The wind was Force 3 to 4. The length of the race would be about 1 hour 35 minutes for Lasers; obviously longer for slow boats and shorter for fast boats. We started at our designated times in a Le Mans style start running from a start line on the beach to our boats held ready for us by instructors in the shallow water.

The Laser 4.7s went first. Then several minutes later a sole Laser Radial. Then a Laser 2000 helmed by the mother of one of the instructors. Then a few seconds later, me in a Laser full rig. The RS100s were scheduled to start several minutes after me.

I passed the Laser 2000 before the first mark of the course. So far so good.

The RS100s started shortly before I completed my first lap. In theory they were faster than me but I actually passed them on the next lap, establishing a lead of over a lap on them which held for the rest of the race.

The next boat to catch was the Laser Radial. I finally reeled him in on the top reach on one lap, overtaking him to windward.

That left only the two Laser 4.7s being sailed by female sailors from my class for the week. I caught one about half way through the morning, but only seemed to be gaining slowly on the other one. She had a lead of over two legs of the course on me when I started and she seemed to be maintaining a healthy lead for most of the race. I gained a bit on every beat, and on reaches when the conditions were such that the full rig would plane and the smaller 4.7 rig wouldn't.

Eventually I passed her near the top of the beat on the 6th or 7th or 8th lap. Really. I lost count. It was about ten minutes before the end of the race, so I just had to stay ahead of all the boats for that time to win.

I did.

Children can be so cruel at my age.

I think I'll take a nap now.


JP said...

Question for you to think about over the victory cold beer. You're a pretty good Laser sailor, someone who sails at least 43 times most years (for some reason that number stuck in my head).

How did your coach get to be better than that so that he or she could give you advice? What's the route to being paid to tell people how to sail better?

Tillerman said...

Hmmm. Good question.

Well, first of all, incredible as it may sound, I used to paid to tell people how to sail better. I spent 3 years as the head instructor of a junior sailing program in New Jersey including coaching two racing classes. I am a fully qualified US Sailing Level 2 Coach so I even have a qualification that says I know how to tell people how to sail better. In the US, the route to teaching people how to sail better is to get that qualification and then con some sailing organization to hire you. I got hired because the commodore of the club specifically wanted a mature adult rather than a teenager to run his program and I was recommended by a mutual friend. Sometimes it's more about who you know than what you know.

Second of all, I have a couple of friends who are high school sailing coaches who are therefore also paid to tell people how to sail better. They are about the same standard as Laser sailors as I am.

Third of all, the coaches here are all kids around 18-21 years old. Some of them are damn good sailors. Sometimes they put their reputations on the line and join in the races with the clients. Sometimes they get beaten. But not often.

Where am I going with this comment? I guess the point is that all coaches are not necessarily much better than me. Even if many are.

The real question is how does anybody get to much better than me, as many are too?

If I knew the answer to that question, I would stop asking questions like this.

JP said...

Do you really need a coach - if someone would video you doing a race would that be enough?

And the kids you mentioned, how did they get that job? Did they sail since, like, before they could walk & were junior county champion or something? Or did they simply get an instructor licence and apply to Sunsail (or who ever)

Tillerman said...

Do you really need a coach? Yes and no. There's a certain value in doing all the drills and practice routines without a coach, but a good coach can demonstrate and teach certain skills and draw attention to flaws in your technique that you may not even be aware of. Watching yourself racing on video you might spot some things to improve but a coach would probably see others.

Most of the young instructors here have been sailing a long time and I assume that many or all of them must have done the RYA equivalent of the US Sailing instructor and coach courses that I took a few years back. Some of the top instructors here work as sailing coaches back in the UK too.

Sunsail????? Wash your mouth out with soap JP. This is not Sunsail. This is Minorca Sailing.

O Docker said...

"...the commodore of the club specifically wanted a mature adult..."

How did you convince him of that?

Anonymous said...

Thought you might be interested that at least one of the coaches at Minorca Sailing this year is a Kielder Water member and instructor.

He has literally been sailing forever and at 19 was a qualified Senior Instructor as well as winning Young Sailor of the year in the past. The competition to get a job at Minorca Sailing is insane and without this sort of level of knowledge (and experience) you don't have a look in.

He was back earlier this year, and all in all this travel log and everything he has told us about just makes me want to re-mortgage my house and spend a week there!

Tillerman said...

I knew someone would ask that.

It was before I started blogging so my immaturity and failure to grow up was not as widely known as it is now. And anyone looking at me would think I am at least 70 so that worked in my favor, I guess.

Tillerman said...

You really should Victoria. It's well worth the money. And a lot less expensive if you can come out of season. We should plan to come the same time as each other next year and then you and Tillerwoman can knit together when you are not sailing. Tillerwoman is knitting right now as I blog.

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