January 26, 2015

Reaching Tricks

By Doug

Green has just rounded the windward mark in first place and red is just behind, and there are lots of others following. Red heads up, sails faster, and tries to pass green. One of two things will most likely happen:
  • Green says, "hey, let's head straight for the mark and get ahead of these others." Meaning, let's make sure we come first and second, and we'll decide who wins later (another example of how the game is played at the front of the fleet). Consider yourself lucky if you hear this on the race course.
  • Green defends against red by also heading up. 
The first example is a rare treat because it means that green is experienced and is good at percentage sailing. This post is about the more common second example.

Would you rather be green or red?

I prefer being in red's position because green almost always defends by also heading up, so at the end of the reach it has to bear off to head for the mark. The more green defends by heading up, the better red will be at the end of the leg. This is how I won a national championship last year in another class.

In this case, green was being sailed by a very experienced, very fast, multiple national championWe were tied in the standings and a pass would give me a 2-point gain on him (which turned out to be the winning margin for the championship).

Even though greed was well ahead, it defended by also going so high that we were almost on a run as we approached the mark. This gave me the advantage, the pass, and the win.

So if red has the advantage, how does green defend?

If there are waves, the one best one at catching them will most likely win. But what if it's flat water or the boats have the same speed? This is when it gets really tactical. Green winning depends on two things:
  • keeping track of the apparent wind, and
  • playing the different changes in the wind pressure that can be seen on the water.
Let's go back to the moment when green has make the decision.

If green bears off, it immediately slows down while red is picking up speed.

Looking at the wind shadows, green is already in trouble because of its lost speed plus less wind.

Trying to escape by bearing off more just slows green down more.

Advantage red, which gets and easy pass. But green bearing off is actually a winning move if done properly:
  • Green can use the technique described in this post to determine exactly where the apparent wind is coming from. It's not coming straight down the course but has shifted forward.
  • But this is still dangerous. For this to work, green still needs a little more speed.
  • To get this, green waits for a little more pressure that can be seen ahead on the water.
  • With the pressure, green and red both speed up and the apparent wind shifts further forward.
  • If green bears off slightly now, it has a little more room to work with before it's affected by red's shadow.
  • Bearing off in pressure has another advantage. Because green is going more with the wind, the pressure will last slightly longer, so green gets more time in the pressure. Some call this "stretching" the puff.
  • If the red starts to roll green, green heads up to even the speed, shift the apparent wind a little forward, and hold its position.
  • Each time green has a little extra pressure, it bears off slightly again.
  • While this is happening, red might have its hands full from boats right behind it, and red may have to head up just to defend against them. Advantage green.
  • It's tricky, but if done properly green can get low enough so that red's wind shadow is minimal and green can sail its own race.
If green is able to sail lower it gets more separation, clearer air, and more speed.

At the end of the reach, green is in a great position because:
  • it's on a closer reach and going faster,
  • it has clear air because its apparent wind is way forward, and
  • it has all of the rights against the red boats because its the leeward boat at the mark.
The key to this working is knowing and feeling where the apparent wind is coming from and using the slight differences in the wind pressure. It's tricky and something that we all get wrong occasionally, even at the national championship level.

January 14, 2015

Sailing the the Middle of the Fleet - Dirty Air

By Doug
Another question from Pam: how can I tell if I'm in dirty air? It's a simple question with a simple answer - the wind creates waves, so look at the direction of the waves to see where the wind is coming from.

The waves are coming straight towards us, so we must be looking directly into the wind. So white is creating dirty air for green, right?

Actually, the answer is no. In fact, green is in clear air and can easily hold this position. The reason is because both boats are moving, so what we call the apparent wind actually shifts forward. The faster the boats go, the more the wind shifts.

Here's the position of a boat sailing in dirty air.

And looking at the wind shadow, you want to be in green and not red.

So, what we see can be very misleading.

Here's a trick to accurately know where the apparent wind is and if you're in dirty air:
  • Look at the breeze and feel it on your face.
  • Now, close your eyes and move your head back and forth slowly. The sensation of pressure on your face will move slightly from side to side.
  • If the wind is light and you don't feel any difference, splash some water on both of your cheeks and move your head back and forth again to feel a slight change in the temperature.
  • When the pressure or temperature you feel on both sides of your face is the same, open your eyes. You're now looking directly upwind.
  • If you're looking directly at a boat, then you're in its dirty air. The closer it is, the more it will affect you. To get into clean air, tack or bear off.
When you get good at this, you'll also be able to feel when you're in dirty air because your boat will feel different, sort of like when a car is misfiring and not running smoothly. Sailing is similar because you'll feel the turbulence of the dirty air from the boat to windward of you.

So there you have it - rely on what you feel and not not what you see.

January 01, 2015

2014 - Those Who Inspired Me

By Doug

I keep reading that people who appreciate things live longer, happier lives so since 2000 I've kept an appreciation journal. It's pretty simple - every day you write down 5 things that you appreciate, but there's a catch because you cannot write the same thing twice. This makes you more aware of what there is to appreciate. Most days are pretty easy - a smile from a cashier, an unexpected call from an old friend, synchronized traffic lights in rush hour, a plumber showing up on time, etc. But some days are much tougher and I find myself struggling to think of just one good thing. These are, of course, the days when an appreciation journal does the most good.

So, here are some of the people that I appreciate who inspired me.

Wild Oats has just won the Sydney to Hobart Race a record eighth time. This year it was different because of Comanche, a brand new super-maxi from Jim Clarke skippered by Ken Read. These are amazing boats as you can see as they start. So, what's it like to sail a super-maxi and what does this have to do with Lasers? Vanessa Dudley (AUS, GM winner at the Oman Worlds and kicker of my butt) sails a super-maxi and has just completed her 19th Sydney to Hobart. How impressive is that!

It always amazes me how the cream rises to the top. The Hyères Master Worlds had a record turnout with amazing competition, but Mark Bethwaite (AUS) and Keith Wilkins (GBR) won again bringing their combined total to an astonishing 21 World Championships. While they're both Great Grand Masters, Mark sailed a full rig while Keith sailed a radial. I'll be joining them as a GGM in a year and will have to choose which one to compete with. Either way, it will be competition at its best.

Brett Beyer (AUS) gets a special mention. I watched him in Oman coaching sailors at the Senior Worlds and then practiced with him for the Master Worlds. Just before our competition started, he got a call from home telling him that his dad was very ill. I was with Brett and his immediate reaction was to go home to be with family. Twenty minutes later a second call came telling him that his dad had passed away. Brett was on the next flight back to Sydney. Family first, no Worlds. With his busy schedule, he had little time to practice for Hyères, but again, the cream rose to the top. In the largest and most competitive fleet, he still won with an astonishing 9 bullets to win his 9th Worlds (you can see how he sails in these conditions in the right column and also here). Would he have won in Oman? I have no doubt, but family comes first.

In my Grand Master fleet, Andy Roy (CAN) should have won but in the last race he did not transition from rules at the front of the fleet as we sailed into the back of another fleet. I too have lost a World Championship by a single point and hope that I had the grace that Andy had in Hyères.

Every class needs an Ellen Burks. In this part of the world, she's known as the Sunfish Mama and is personally responsible for promoting the Sunfish class, a great Texas circuit, getting juniors into the class, and great after-sailing sessions. Back surgery prevented her from sailing this year but did not stop her from supporting all of the events. I wish we had a Laser Mama for our class.

We have blog readers in 150 countries and over 2,000 locations. The top cities are London, Sydney, Auckland, San Francisco, and Melbourne. Some of our readers may remember an anonymous comment that accused me of cheating in Hyères when he/she read my worlds journal. I like to share what I learn and comments like this remind me of the Chinese saying "when you open a window for fresh air, a few flies will come in." So I choose to appreciate all of the comments we receive both public and private. And then there was Pam.

I love Pam as a stand-up-when-others-sit-down kind of person. She addressed this anonymous comment, spent days researching the rules, and she contacted the ILCA, ISAF, US Sailing, and two judges. The people who did get back told her there was nothing illegal in my actions, but Pam is still trying to get a clarification on the various rules that seem ambiguous. This will help us all. Pam also designed the Team USA shirts, took great pictures and videos in Hyères, supports me, has helped me as I regain my vision, found a way for me to recover from a torn rotator cuff without surgery (shared here), and has done all she can to support Bruce Kirby.

I'm inspired by Bruce Kirby for designing our favorite boat, but most of all, at the age of 85, for continuing to fight for his rights. 

RRS 43.1 - Clothing Weight

by Pam
As a follow up to one of our most commented on series of posts:

Hypothetical Facts

Case 1:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that has been specifically designed to allow for the insertion of lead weights and weights are inserted, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 7.5 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which was strategically calculated to be just below the 8 kg limit imposed by RRS 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 2:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that is heavy when wet solely for the purpose of adding weight, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 7 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which is well below the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 3:
Sailor A wears an additional shirt that is heavy when wet for the primary purpose of warmth with the added benefit that it also adds additional weight, however, the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 4 kg, as measured according to Appendix H, which is well below the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Case 4:
Sailor A, due to financial limitations, wears technical sailing gear that is old and outdated and made of heavier materials, therefore the total weight of Sailor A's clothing is 8.5 kg as measured according to Appendix H, which is in violation of the 8 kg limit imposed by 43.1(b). Is Sailor A in violation of 43.1(a)?

Applicable Rules

RRS Rule 43.1(a)
Competitors shall not wear or carry clothing or equipment for the purpose of increasing their weight.

RRS Rule 43.1(b)
Furthermore, a competitor’s clothing and equipment shall not weigh more than 8 kilograms, excluding a hiking or trapeze harness and clothing (including footwear) worn only below the knee. Class rules or sailing instructions may specify a lower weight or a higher weight up to 10 kilograms. Class rules may include footwear and other clothing worn below the knee within that weight. A hiking or trapeze harness shall have positive buoyancy and shall not weigh more than 2 kilograms, except that class rules may specify a higher weight up to 4 kilograms. Weights shall be determined as required by Appendix H.


Opinion of a US Sailing Judge:
Cases 2, 3 - Legal
Case 1, 4 - illegal

Opinion of senior Laser Class Representative:
Cases 1, 2 - DSQ
Case 3 - Legal
Case 4 - was not presented for opinion

Interpretation by ILCA, ISAF and US Sailing:
No response


I attempted to find an official interpretation of RRS 43.1(a) and (b) by going both up and down the chain of command and learned the following.  Individual members of US Sailing and ISAF are not entitled to ask for an interpretation of the rules. ISAF will only acknowledge an International Judge or a national authority on such matters. US Sailing (a national authority) will only acknowledge a club or organization on such matters. A US Sailing Judge can apply the rules, as he/she understands them, to a protest situation but cannot provide an official interpretation of the RRS (only the Appeals Committee can do that).

I asked a senior Laser Class representative to submit the hypotheticals, on our behalf, to US Sailing's Appeals Committee (RRS 70.4) and the request was refused, saying this was a non-issue and there were more important things for the class to be focused on.  I begged and pleaded and even threatened to sign up for the 4.7 Worlds in Canada and test out each hypothetical each day and encourage someone to protest me so I could appeal and get an official interpretation. The representative didn't budge.  Non-issue … move on. 

Since neither the US Sailing Judge nor the Laser Class official can render an official interpretation of Rule 43.1, I have not named them since I felt they gave me their opinion merely as a courtesy and not in an official capacity. 

However, the Laser Class representative is presumably entitled to some official capacity regarding Doug's issue in Hyeres and I am of the opinion that I was told to quit wasting the time of the Laser Class on this non-issue. Doug will not seek to withdraw from the two races (one of which was dropped anyway) where he wore an extra shirt for warmth that was also heavy when wet. Specifically, because he would see it as a nuisance to do so and also because he feels he's been told by a Laser Class representative that it's a non-issue. 

Rooster Sailing has an interesting write-up about the changes to the rules over time regarding the weight of a Laser sailor's clothing and the challenges of staying within the weight limit and also staying warm:

I am unsatisfied with the answers I received and will probably continue to seek an official interpretation but it appears this is going to take some time and effort. I challenge anyone with the time and desire, to press your class or club officials to seek an official interpretation from your national authority and then from ISAF on the hypotheticals above. I didn't want to stop at receiving the answer I wanted, but rather when I received the official answer, so one day (or year) I will update this post. 

December 15, 2014

When to Tack Revisited

By Doug
Another talk with Pam and another post. She made a comment that I really wish was correct - about me being good at knowing where to go when sailing upwind. My reaction was boy, I wish that was true.

Many of the international people who I sail against have forgotten more than I will ever know, but this is usually competing in open-water conditions. Because we live in Dallas, I'm much more comfortable on lakes. So with that in mind, here's everything I know about where to go when sailing upwind.

There are a bewildering array of options. To make it more simple, I break them into the Three C's:
  1. Sailing the course - where's the weather mark? What's the fastest way to get there? The answer is usually on the tack that takes me most directly to the mark.
  2. Sailing the competition - what are they doing? If I want to go one way and they're going another, what should I do?
  3. Sailing the conditions - what's the wind doing? What pressure can I see on the water? What's my compass saying, knowing that it tells lies close to the weather mark?
A middle-of-the-fleet sailor might interpret this to be "take the tack closest to the mark, watch the leaders, and tack on knocks." This actually works well ... if we have decent speed and want to stay in the middle of the fleet. And this is end of the post if we're happy with that result.

Moving up in the fleet

But there are lots of things that we can do to improve this. And the best way to manage this is knowing when to tack.

A windward leg is like a chess board tilted 45 degrees. What I find interesting is that a leg that is 1 mile long is also 1 mile wide, so 2 boats banging opposite corners will be up to 1 mile apart! And the conditions for these boats can be very different!

And just like in a game of chess, there are a near-infinite number of choices: bang a corner, play the middle left or right, watch for and try to protect the inside of the next shift, try connect the dots that we see on the water, cover the boat that we want to beat, wait for a Zen moment, etc.

When I was talking with Pam, I kept saying things like "it depends" and "yes, but but keep and eye on such and such." The reason is because it's a combination of sailing the course, the competition, and the conditions. This is where it gets really interesting because the best combination changes as we move up the leg. It's a constant balancing act of where to sail, what are others doing, and what can we see.

In deciding how much relative importance to put on each option, we'll use this diagram where the bottom is the bottom of the windward leg, the top is the top of the leg, and for each part of the leg we have the the relative importance of course in orange, the competition in white, and the conditions in blue:

The bottom of the course has all three options and they're more or less equal. As we move up the course, where we can sail gets more and more limited. As we approach the windward mark, the course and conditions become irrelevant because we have no options other than heading for the mark, so sailing the competition is the most important option.

So, here's a typical windward leg: when we start (or round the bottom mark), we want to be on the tack that takes us closest to the weather mark (orange), but we want to also keep an eye on our competition (white). And if there’s obviously more wind on one side, then we want to head for it (blue). We have many ways to adjust our options:
  1. If there is no obvious side favored, we go with the competition.
  2. If the left has more wind and starboard tack is closer to the mark, but the competition is going right, we go middle left but keep our eye on the right.
  3. If the course is square and the fleet splits evenly but there is more wind on the right, we go right but keep our eye on the left.
The way we adjust these options is by tacking so we have to continuously decide between not tacking, tacking to head towards the other side of the course, or tacking twice to stay with someone who is giving us dirty air.

Things change as we approach the top of the course as the competition converges to round the mark. It ends up being almost all tactical to keep our air clear as long as possible, to have right-of-way, deciding if it makes sense risking getting greedy at the mark, determining how crowded the layline is likely to be, remembering to get inside the last shift which is always persistent, etc. We have to focus less on the course and conditions as it becomes more and more important to focus on our competition.

So, we now have a basic idea of the relative importance of the options determining when to tack. But as in all great plans, things fall apart when the battle begins, and being able to adjust the relative importance of the course, the competition, and the conditions will make us all better sailors. Here are 6 examples.

1 - Sailing with competition we know is smarter. At the 1997 Master Worlds in Chile, I was up against Mark Bethwaite (now with 8 world championship wins) and Keith Wilkins (now with 13 world championship wins). My strategy to beat these sailors was custom-tailored for these Worlds because I knew that both of these sailors had forgotten more about sailing the course and reading the conditions than I will ever know. So, this was my strategy:

I focused almost all of my attention on where my competition went and then covered them without interfering (as I leaned in Cape Town) so they could teach me. Beating these two world-class sailors was dependent entirely on watching for the little mistakes that everyone makes. For this reason, at world championships I often rely on others to decide when to tack and which side of the course to play.

2 - Sailing with poor vision. Winning my second Laser worlds in Korea was different because Mark and Keith were not there, the current favored staying close to shore on the left side of the course, and I was on my way to being legally blind and could not see the conditions such as the marks and wind patterns on the water. So, my strategy was more about protecting the left side and staying with the competition:

Another important factor is that world championships are held in open water where the wind tends to be steady, so the observed conditions are less important.

3 - When we're 100% sure we know what we're doing (very rare): You may never get to see as amazing an example like this: multiple Olympic and world champion Paul Foerster match-racing at the Pam Am Games which was sailed in J/22's.

In very light conditions, Paul started right on top of his competition and was pulling away when the gun went off. In match racing, we only have to beat the one boat and there was no way this other boat could catch and pass such a skilled sailor. So, what did Paul do? 

He immediately tacked away, went hard right, and won the race by several minutes. Paul read something on the water or in the clouds that made him sure of the conditions so that the course and competition were not important. Very few people in the world have enough skill and confidence to do this.

4 - Adjusting for the first windward leg: Most fleets go left on the first beat, so the course is not as important as boat speed and staying with the competition. But we still want to protect the right if the conditions there are better:

5 - Adjusting for the second and third windward legs: On these, the fleet tends to go right, so the course and conditions are more balanced. But this is not always the case. In one race, I led going into the second beat and the two boats behind me followed going right. No surprises here. Covering the competition is how we protect a lead:

6 - Changing strategies in the middle of a leg: But in that race, the wind shifted more to the right and I wanted to tack, partly because others had tacked and were in a better breeze, and partly because sailing on a big knock was feeling less and less worthwhile than covering the boats immediately behind me. But tacking would have meant not covering and giving my closest competition the separation they would need to catch their own shift or more pressure. So I waited a very long 30 seconds and then decided to tack. Here’s what this leg felt like:

The longer I waited, the less important the closest competition was as the conditions and course options increased in importance and eventually outweighed the feelings of needing to cover. Thankfully, the-leader-must-know-what-he's-doing-mentality worked and the two right behind me tacked to follow. Had they continued going right, they could have found their own right shift or pressure and won the race.

There are many other situations that can be shown with many similar diagrams, and these might be a useful tool for chalk talks after racing.

The key is feeling how much relative importance to put on each of the course, the competition, and the conditions we see on the water. And knowing that in sailboat racing, these options change from race to race and even within the leg of a race.

We have to constantly look around, assess what is happening, and be prepared to tack at any time.

December 08, 2014

Seeing the Big Picture

By Doug

Here's a great site to see the wind patterns in any part of the world. At this moment in the picture, the teams in the Volvo Ocean Race are completing the Cape Town to Abu Dhabi leg and are heading into a stronger northeasterly. Great stuff!

December 05, 2014

O Canada!

by Pam
The Laser Open and Masters' Worlds will be in Canada in June 2015. Doug is always sharing little "did you knows" about Canada. Did I know that the only war Canada fought on their home soil was against the US ... and they won? Did I know that Canada is the second largest country in the world and has more lakes than the rest of the world's lakes combined? Did I know that the red stripes on the Canadian flag were originally proposed to be blue because they represent the Atlantic and Pacific oceans? And on and on it goes. Canadians are proud and humble and oddly polite creatures. 

If you want to see a glimpse of the hospitality that awaits you ... where else in the world but Canada, can you go to a hockey game where the fans finish singing he other team's national anthem (word for word) when the sound cuts off. Doug got all choked up when it saw this. You can take the man out of Canada but you can never take the Canadian out of the man. 

For those that want to be prepared to return the gesture ... 

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

December 03, 2014

Leave It To the Aussies ...

by Pam
Doug and I were tossing around ideas for the team shirts for the Masters' Worlds in Canada and wondered …

US or USA - which is proper?
United States or United States of America

Hmmm ... United States of America. There are lots of theories as to the origins of the name "America" but it appears its first use on a printed map (America's Birth Certificate) was in 1507 and the map was of present day Brazil. When the United States of America was first named in 1776 replacing the name the United Colonies, there were only 13 colonies occupying a small portion of the northeast portion of present day US.

How does the term "American" come to mean a citizen of the United States? Why am I an American and not a USican? Why aren't Canadians and Brazilians also Americans?  Technically, they are, aren't they? It's not like the US even occupies the largest portion of North America, let alone America. How can the the citizens of the US essentially claim ownership of the entire continent by just declaring that they are Americans?

In consulting my USA passport, I discovered that nowhere am I called an "American" … on one page I am a "citizen/national of the United States" and under "Nationality" it says "United States of America." However, on Doug's Canada passport, under "Nationality" is says "Canadian/Canadiennne." 

I think the Aussies nailed it. I spent a few days on the Race Committee finish line boat at the Brisbane Masters' Worlds and thoroughly enjoyed everyone on board. I can't remember what I said or did but I jokingly earned the name 'Damn American.' In hindsight, I realize that in the minds of many, that pretty accurately narrows it down to a US citizen.

November 29, 2014

Ten Reasons for Having a Compass

By Doug
I was recently offered a ride on a Snipe with my friend Cam and jumped at the chance because it's always fun trying something new.

We were sailing on a small Dallas lake that I know well, but felt lost because Cam's compass was not working.

I suggested that he consider getting one but he prefers using a shore reference to see when the wind shifts. I did a really lousy job explaining why there's a better way because it's not just one thing but rather a bunch of little things.

Here are ten:

  1. Using a shore reference is not very accurate unless you're in the middle of the boat. Which means hardly ever.
  2. Your shore reference changes each time you tack.
  3. The wind can change as you're tacking, especially on a lake.
  4. A shore reference like 'those trees that all look the same' may not tell you much.
  5. If you sail in a different location, your favorite shore references are gone.
  6. Looking at your shore references encourage looking forward, not around you.
  7. Tactical compasses are easy to read - there's no math involved.
  8. Compasses are good for getting a game plan before the race and then knowing if it's working during the race.
  9. You can switch between your shore reference and compass reading.
  10. You may not want to tack when you're headed. This is so important that I wrote an entire post on when not to tack.
If you add up all of these subtle points, you get one big point: learning how to use a compass will make you a better sailor.
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