First day of frostbiting at Cedar Point YC was this past, glorious Sunday, with 50+ degrees, sunny skies and flukey winds settling down to a phasing offshore breeze up to 8 knots. Was my first time in the boat (ANY boat) since December. Felt great to be on the water again!
When I've been away for awhile I find my body is more sensitive to inputs and forces on the boat. Sailing downwind to the racing area, I was very aware of leeway when sailing by-the-lee with too little board down (a COMMON error in Lasering), and force on the rig sailing downwind. Could definitely feel the transition point between sailing too far by-the-lee (with attendant decrease in rig loading) and optimum VMG sailing.
This latter point came in handy during the races. My first few starts weren't impressive, but I gained it all back and more on the runs. Was amazed to see others, in puffs, continue to sail way by-the-lee (BTL)!
Sailing BTL is, by definition, going across the flow of wind. To my mind, this takes one out of a puff sooner than riding dead downwind (DDW) with it. Inevitably on a slow boat like a Laser (vs. a Moth, for example), the puff passes by. If one sailed BTL in that puff, one would be way off to the side of the course, having sailed extra distance and now being forced to sail back toward the middle (even if that was not strategically or tactically advantageous).
When I get hit by a puff, I head the boat UP to DDW. This keeps me riding with the puff as long as possible. When the puff passes, one can either head up or go by-the-lee to hunt down the next puff, or maintain speed. The basic philosphy: if bearing off or heading up won't result in a compensating increase in speed, stick the bow to the mark whenever possible.
This technique is especially effective in phasing breeze, where, just like on a beat, working the "middle" playing the shifts makes sense. Head off to the side to get to the puff, ride it back to the middle, then prepare for the next shift on the other side by either heading up or sailing BTL. Speed is consistently high, going in the right direction, and you magically appear to know where all the shifts are!
Your mileage may vary, but using this technique this weekend I gained at least 10, and sometimes 20+, boatlengths on a single, short run--pretty compelling results.
I really must become more dilligent about starts. For me it's so much fun working through the fleet that I've gotten lazy about the opening game. As the fleet has gotten better this has exposed me to poor finishes. It also does me no good when sailing at big events. So: fewer comebacks and more bullets are the goal!
Patience is a virtue. Later in the day there were fewer, longer shifts, so one had to choose durable lanes that would last for the duration.
Attention to detail. While fewer shifts were present, we still had small velocity changes (from 5-8 knots and back). I gained on others when paying strict attention to boat heel: not allowing ANY extra when velocity increased, and not allowing heel to windward in lulls. On one, 1.5 minute port-tack session, moved forward two BL and to windward 1.5 BL on a guy directly ahead of me at the leeward mark without adjusting mainsheet at ALL, just by better heel management compared to him.
Sailing one's own race. At one point I had my major competitor breathing down my neck. He practices, is fit and smart. My instinctive reaction was to cover him like a wet blanket, but his tacks are better than mine these days and I was losing. Instead, I just took a breath, looked up the course, and noticed a band of breeze toward the middle of the course. I let him off to my right, got into the pressure and pulled away to a 30 second lead. It's liberating to make one's own observations and decisions! Collect data, interpret, THEN act.
This day was relatively light and steady, but I still depended too much on my mainsheet deck cleats. Arms would've been wiped out on a windy day. Time to hit the gym!
Tried the new centerboard stopper thing, and it's nice. No more need to have huge amounts of shockcord tension to keep board in place.
I felt "fat" with all my clothes on. Fitness plays a role here (mine is atrocious), but some guys were commenting about form-fitting, warm tops they had and liked. Will have to investigate these vs. the current spray top over layers.