Saturday, June 22, 2013

Slow Progress

Today we had our race further out, in more open water than we normally sail in.  We had wind against tide and so the waves were also more than we usually have. It was an excellent learning experience for most of us.

I intentionally set myself the goal of doing things deliberately and in no haste and while I finished in the bottom half of the fleet, I did not capsize once (a number of boats did capsize) and I handled the waves well. Not well in the sense of using them to gain speed - although I had several exhilarating surfs downwind - but well in the sense of keeping my cool and not letting fear/panic take over at any point.  I gybed successfully, even remembering to try to gybe coming down waves because the apparent wind is less.  One key was to sheet well in before starting the gybe.

So, all in all a good day - confidence restored. Now I need to learn better how to beat into waves. I was going too straight, having too many waves crash into me, slowing me considerably and filling up the cockpit to boot.  I need to learn how to bear off and come up in time with them better.  

I also experimented with footing a bit and that seemed to help. I was having trouble overtaking another boat until I tried footing and it worked well - I was crashing less into waves and easily caught up and then passed him.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grande Parade

The Grande Parade du la Semaine du Golfe took place last month in southern Brittany and it was, as always, a grand event. I was planning to go and participate with my yacht, but pesky work plans scuttled that.  Maybe next year.

Each year there are over a thousand boats of all sorts and sizes - tall ships, classic boats, modern boats - taking part in the weeklong event. The culmination is in the Grande Parade with most of the boats going through the opening to the Golfe du Morbihan while thousands of spectators watch.  As you can see in these videos, the boats have very little sail up, but are really zipping along due to the tide, which is not surprising since the tides are over 2.5 meters and go through the opening to the Golfe which is less than one kilometer across - which means that the tides can be as strong as 9 knots.  Obviously the Parade is timed so it coincides with the incoming tide.

Video 1

Video 2

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mental Attitude

Today was the final day of the Laser clinic with Kostas Trigonis and I came away impressed with how honest and insightful he is. And I am not referring to his knowledge of sailing, although needless to say he knows sailing extremely well.

I am referring to his constant harping on how important is attitude, determination, not worrying about mistakes, etc.  I admit that when I first heard this message I was a bit impatient, thinking he should just shorten this obligatory inspirational fillip and get right into technique.

I was wrong.

No one can teach you if you are not really willing to learn - and that comes down to attitude, putting aside fear of mistakes, putting aside giving up, knowing when to push and when not to.  As he said several times, out on the race course you cannot hide.  Maybe in our day jobs we can get by with things and cover up a lot, but not sailing a race.

Today was windier than previous days - around 14 - 15 knots. Our group of eight sailors had 3 experienced ones and 5 including me, who, while not really beginners, were not in their league.  And this windier day showed very clearly, as Kostas pointed it out very graphically with examples and videos - that the main problem with our second group was, not so much a lack of technique, as behavioral/attitude issues.  For instance, one of our group gave up far too easily at the first obstacle. Another one - me - got too upset at the first mistake and, instead of putting it quickly behind, let it poison the rest of the session, preventing learning.

One common mistake today in the higher winds (although fortunately I didn't do it) was to leave the boom too far out on downwind. The further out the boom is, the more course change is required to get the wind behind it to gybe it over - if it is too far out, the boat will be on a broad reach the other way before the boom comes over and when it does in windy conditions, it is likely to push the boat around from the broad reach into a capsize. However, if the boom is trimmed into 45 degrees before starting the gybe, then very little course change will bring the boom over and stability can be maintained.

The higher wind and one part of the course with some strong current did increase the fatigue factor. As Kostas pointed out, fatigue is an enemy of learning - when fatigue sets in the body reverts too easily to old bad, ingrained habits.  He said if you are practicing and you succeed at a particular maneuver, do it at most 3 times and then stop doing it. Otherwise you risk doing it badly eventually and then you are left with the feeling that you are a lousy sailor.

On the one hand I was frustrated today with several capsizes and not having been able to master such winds.  But, although I don't like to admit it, I am convinced that the errors were, indeed, mostly mental. I did several decent gybes but capsized on others. Clearly I had the technique for some but others failed - the only explanation can be the mental attitude on those.  In fact, after the race, the fellow sailor manning the Committee Boat told me he very clearly saw me hesitate during a gybe just before capsizing - something Kostas had clearly warned about - once you start a gybe, do not hesitate, but continue through it.

During the debrief with Kostas after, I told him that I had listened to his remarks on the first day about mental attitude but didn't really understand them until today.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Simple Things

Today was the second day of the Laser clinic with Kostas Trigonis.

Again, he stressed again how important attitude and mental elements are. Interestingly he said he never had a coach himself and he regrets it - it would have made things easier to become a world champion. But not having a coach meant he succeeded by driving himself and by making many mistakes and correcting them.

At the end of the day, I came away with several things.

First, I understood how to correct the placement of my feet in tacking and gybing.  We first viewed Jon Emmett's video on tacking and gybing and Kostas stopped it and showed each step and what was happening.

For me, he pointed out that on both tacking and gybing I had my feet together in the middle of the cockpit, which means I simply ducked my head and crossed over, with very little maneuverability or power. Kostas explained that the first thing to do for either a tack or gybe before crossing over is to separate your feet, with the back foot at the back of the cockpit and the front foot at the front, and turn the forward shoulder slightly away, with the body slightly leaning forward. Your feet then help you push yourself over as the roll brings the opposite side of the boat up.

I also realised in gybing that I was not letting the boat do the work.  The first step is to sheet in as the turn starts, then lean back slightly to hike to leeward to continue the turn and bring the boat up and allow gravity to help the boom come over as the mainsheet is hanging down (as seen in the screen shot from the Jon Emmett video), making only a slight jerk necessary to avoid lassoing the transom.  As Kostas repeated to me at the end of the day, the most important thing for me in the gybe is to feel the rhythm and be more relaxed about it.

We had a number of short races and in one of them I did well - because before it began I said to myself, this time I don't care about speed or winning, I just want to make as few mistakes as possible and do everything slowly and evenly.  Kostas said this to us many times - that winning, even for world-class sailors, is simply about minimising mistakes.  I had read/heard this before but rarely do I really remember it.  This time, I slowed down, making every maneuver slow and not rushed.  And it worked.  But in the next race I was unfortunately back to my old ways and capsized. Oh well.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Outside the Box

Today was the first of a 3 day Laser clinic at our Club with Kostas Trigonis, a world champion Tornado sailor and ex-Olympian 470 sailor and the cousin of one of our members.

We had seven of us on the water and today we did a number of drills - sausages, upwind-downwind races and 3 mark races - all over very short courses with Kostas taking a video of much of it.  There is a  wide variety of skills in the group but we had a lot of fun and were thoroughly tired after about 2 1/2 hours - the summer heat is beginning now and today was about 41. That drains energy.

In the debrief after with the videos, the mark roundings were shown to be a very common problem - not going wide and coming out close. As Kostas said, if you are on a bicycle or in a car and you want to turn left you first go a bit right and then turn.  Why did the marks have such a magnetic power, pulling everyone close?  Another common mistake - during the mark roundings, many of us (I plead guilty) had a tendency to be looking down in to the cockpit at the sheet, hiking strap, the mainsheet block, water bottle or whatever was so interesting there - instead of doing the obvious and natural thing that you do when you are turning on a bicycle or in a car - looking where you are going.  

He talked about staying in the box of the laylines, of course, but he had an interesting example where going outside a bit could be clever.  He gave the example of a port tacker headed for the upwind mark with a starboard tacker coming his way. If the port tacker is right on the lay line and has to duck the starboard tacker, then he falls behind. If however the port tacker is slightly above the layline he can bear off a bit as the starboard tacker approaches and give him a false angle. Very often inexperienced sailors will fall for this and think that the port tacker is on the layline headed for the mark, and will tack.  Then the port tacker may well be able to come up to the layline and reach the mark before the other who will have to tack twice.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stopper Knot

The Laser is a physical boat - what else would you expect from an Olympic class?

But that does mean that an aging body has issues to contend with and at our race yesterday mine contended.

It was our Monthly Mug which is one 90 minute race and we had great wind (16+ knots) and a tide that was one of the stronger ones I have experienced here. Even though it was with the wind it managed to create various swirling, choppy patches with the added bonus of wind holes -  a real washing machine at places.

Rigging up, I pushed hard on the top part of the mast to get it into the bottom part and my hand  slipped and cut a couple of fingers - not an auspicious beginning.

But never mind - I had a good start.  Doug's recent advice about getting into clean air quickly was fresh in my mind and concentrated on that.  I headed for the pin end and was alone there, finding plenty of clean air. I tacked onto port after a couple of minutes and easily crossed ahead of several starboard boats that started close to the Committee Boat. I was third to the windward mark and doing OK. Then downwind across the channel.  I had a new Rooster sail and it had a fold all along the luff when going downwind with all the controls were off. I put on a bit of vang and that got rid of the fold but I am not sure it helped the overall shape.  After the race I asked our bosun about it and he said that the Rooster sails are very stiff in the beginning and with a bit of use the problem should disappear.

Still doing OK and then on a routine gybe I capsized for no particularly good reason. Oh well, I thought, just get it back up and carry on.

Nope - as I started to right it, expecting it to swing into the wind as usual, the boom remained horizontal and would not move.  Something amiss. As it came up more, I saw that the stopper knot in the mainsheet had come loose and the sheet had come entirely out of everything up to the boom becket and had wrapped itself in such a way that the boom was now held almost amidships.  I realised I could not right the boat with the boom swinging free which meant it would certainly blow over again.  Luckily our RIB was not far away and I motioned for him to come over. While he helped a bit, I spent the next 15 minutes or so in a very frustrating time of undoing the mainsheet and re-rigging it in the boat on its side. Having to undo knots in the sheet a couple of times. And thinking to myself, I am getting too old for the crap.  Or some such nonsense.

Finally things were resolved and the pack was coming by after having gone around a couple of marks. I joined them and just sailed the rest of the course for fun and practice with a DNF.

Afterward I was tired and sore. Of course I expected that since I had not sailed or been to the gym for over 2 weeks. But I was wondering if the Laser (or any physical dinghy) is still the boat for me. There are so many things to like about dinghies but it is also a fact that their physicality will become increasingly a potential source of frustration.  Of course most of that frustration would be the result of attitude - like thinking I am competing with athletic sailors 40 to 20 years younger - which is certainly not an intelligent thing to do. And certainly part of a vain wish to rebel against getting older.

But also while a Laser represents a very pure form of sailing right in the midst of the elements, its single sail simplicity also leaves a gap. I enjoy working with headsails and spis.  I may start doing some 2 handed dinghies along with the Laser.

And triple checking that my stopper knots are tight.
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