Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Frostbiting - Week 3

Growing up in Hawaii I usually practiced out in the ocean and big swells, but many of the big regattas were in a large, protected bay on the other side of the island. For a long time it was tough for me to make the transition from wave sailing to flat water. This past Sunday reminded me of my youth, and how important it is to adjust one's technique to the conditions at hand.

The day started out cool and bumpy, with a 12 knot Southeasterly driving in chop on top of some big wave sets that were at a slight angle to the wind. Tide proved a major factor, with noticeable differences between to two sides of the course, and the wind got progressively lighter as the day wore on.

In such conditions I try to sail very powered up--it's easy to get intimidated and put too much vang on, which depowers the rig too much. Also, a loose downhaul prevents the top of the sail from twisting off. The boat is challenging to sail this way, requiring VERY hard hiking at the tops of waves (where the wind is strongest) and when bearing off while working through waves. Only when I am truly overpowered do I start dialing in vang, and then only enough to make the boat manageable.

This sail setup, combined with hard hiking and torquing the boat through the waves, helped me keep the boat flat and moving compared to others. It definitely wasn't a day to be heeling over and pinching like in our more customary flat water--those guys just slid sideways into my wake, slower and ultimately lower.

I misjudged the strong tide in the first two races and was forced over. Fortunately, was able to quickly find lanes to stay in touch by the top marks. Downwind I tried to immediately get clear air and waves, usually heading to the left looking downwind. Once I had some room to work, concentrated on taking the few BIG waves left, then working back right in lighter spots. As the breeze faded and current switched to flood, I stayed more middle and it seemed to work out.

Getting clear air, and especially waves, downwind was critical. In one race Grand Master Amnon Gitelson rounded the top mark 2 BL ahead while I had Mike Curtin right on my stern. I managed to hang onto clear air, but Mike flattened the waves enough that Amnon was able to scoot right away from the two of us, gaining an additional, insurmountable 5 BL to win the race--congrats Amnon!

Racing was tight out there, with only 8 points separating 2nd from 6th after 7 races. Curtin sailed an awesomely consistent day to end up 2nd, Britt Hughes was 4 points behind in 3rd, and there was a three-way tie for 4th, Gitelson's bullet allowing him to prevail over a rapidly improving Brad Thompson and Mark May. Good downwind speed helped me claim 1st in 6 of the 7 races for the overall win.

How often do we leave something broken or ill-working on our boats? I had an equipment issue, one that sprang up last week: the vang was jumping its upper shieve, which made any adjustment difficult. Should have taken care of it after sailing last week, but instead had to deal with a cranky boat all day. I had compromised upwind speed as a result, and in a deeper fleet would have lost many boats. Gotta keep whittling down those excuses to lose!

Sailing is one of those things that one can do when nothing else would be appealing. The day looked kinda yucky from the comfort of home, but racing was terrific and it wasn't bad temperature-wise when wearing proper clothing. I hope to see more of you out there in the ensuing weeks!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

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.

Other thoughts:
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.