May 03, 2012

Wednesday Night Lessons - 2

by Pam
We arrived at the lake planning to sail two boats but my boat became disabled upon rigging. I won’t say what happened but I didn’t do it. So, we sailed double-handed again and I got to see an up close demonstration of boat handling that still has me in awe.

First, I worked on steering upwind and downwind, trying to use less helm and get back to feeling the boat. Doug would lay on the bow looking at the sky and could feel when I did something right or wrong with the gradual progression toward getting better.

Then Doug took the helm. The boat is like his avatar. He grabs the main sheet, tiller and connects his butt to the deck and there is this transformation where the boat becomes an extension of his body. He showed me windward heel, trapping the wind and using it to squirt forward. He did this thing over and over and described every step as he did it. I could see it, feel it and even hear the acceleration of the boat. He’d say ‘the guy next to me didn’t do this and I just gained a boat length.’ I saw what he did but can’t even fully describe it. He’s completely tuned into the wind and the boat and it’s a multi-coordinated movement of weight, helm and sail adjustment and the boat just digs in, grabs and wind and water and takes off. Just an amazing feeling. If I could sail a boat like that I’d be out there all the time.

Then the light went on. I’ve been scanning portions of Frank Bethwaite’s book, Higher Performance Sailing where he is talking about the difference in a sailor that simply relies on the helm and steers the boat versus one that uses coordinated movements. The difference is exactly what Doug and I experience when we sail at the same regattas. One of us is at the middle or back of the fleet and the other is at the front. And according to Frank’s experiments, that will never change until I learn to coordinate my movements. I definitely want to learn more about the sailing simulator Frank has developed that can take an absolute beginner and after 90 minutes a week for 5 weeks, have them sailing with the coordinated movements and speed of world champions and they never develop bad habits or intimidation of heavy wind. Surely, I read that wrong ... or why wouldn’t everyone want to learn to sail that way.

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