September 27, 2012

US Championship of Champions

by Pam
This week Doug, and his crew, Eddie Lockey, are competing in the Championship of Champions.  Doug and Eddie are both Butterfly and Laser sailors but it was Doug's Butterfly National Championship win that allowed them to qualify to apply to sail in the CoC. 

The event is being sailed in C-Scows and neither Doug or Eddie have ever sailed a C-Scow before.  It's a big Butterfly with a sail about 3 times the size of a Butterfly.  They are now equipped with their black and yellow copy of C-Scows for Dummies and getting ready for the practice race today before competing for the next 3 days.   While I hope that they do well every helmsman on the course won a national championship last year so they have their work cut out for them.

September 25, 2012

District 15 FWBC Circuit Stop

by Pam

Fort Worth Boat Club is an awesome venue.  Great facilities, food, people, race committee, and racing.  Almost every time I sail keel boats in Fort Worth, it’s blowing … and I mean blowing stink.  Some circuit events seem to always be scheduled on a weekend that provides the highest degree of excitement and memories.  I still fondly remember the 2010 J/24 circuit stop.  And while, I wasn’t at the 2012 J/24 circuit stop, the picture on the left is worth a thousand words.  That’s my old skipper, Kelly Holmes, in the photo.  I can only imagine what happened.  

So, at the Laser circuit stop this past weekend … well ... it wasn’t like that.  Not even a little bit.  Just a tiny hint of a whisper of wind and only 7 competitors.  

At the skipper’s meeting, since day two promised even less wind, they asked the competitors if they wanted to make it a one day regatta.  One of the sailors from Doug’s favorite Dallas fleet said that if he was within striking distance of Doug at the end of Saturday that he wanted to sail on Sunday.  Doug responded that the guy was asking a rhetorical question.  It was a one day regatta.

Updated circuit standings

Brett Beyer Coaching

by Pam
Most people have already seen this but it's still cool to watch.  Here's the caption on the video on YouTube: "Training off Hayling Island, 15-20 kts in big seas!  Big thanks to Brett Beyer for the video!"

September 22, 2012

Frank Bethwaite, Brett Beyer and Doug

by Pam
AUS lifted inside, CYP ahead outside

Doug writes his posts primarily for me and nothing gets posted until I understand what he is saying and in his efforts to simplify things for me, he learns too.  I started this blog because I thought people might enjoy learning along with us.

Recently, Doug wrote Angles: Better Than Boatspeed which drew some comments from an Olympic sailor who did not agree.  Doug recently asked Brett Beyer offline about his thoughts on the post.  Brett didn’t agree with some aspects of Doug’s post and supplemented that there was another factor to consider, TIME (before laylines, knocks, etc.).  Brett would not have tacked if he were CYP.  He felt CYP's only option was to wait for the inside lift to fizzle and for the wind to shift back (knock) where CYP would then be able to tack into a more favorable position.  I must admit I didn’t totally understand his comments after working so hard to understand Doug’s post.  But since Doug’s time with Frank Bethwaite is still a significant influence on his sailing and since Brett knew and worked with Frank as well, and even wrote the chapter on Laser trim and handling in Frank’s last book, Fast Handling Techniques, which will be available later this year, I decided to go back to the source.

First, I pulled out Doug’s copy of Frank’s latest book, Higher Performance Sailing which directed me to chapters 10, 11, and 12 of High Performance Sailing with respect to persistent shifts.  And there, in Doug’s book with the inscription from Frank ‘With pleasant memories of shared dreams,’ I turned to a heavily highlighted Chapter 11 with terms like angles, percentage sailing, fleet sailing [round-the-buoy racing], minimum-time sailing [ocean racing], defensive sailing, etc.  Some familiar terms.  It’s official, Doug has reached that age where he’s learned so much, he’s forgotten from whom he learned it.  He couldn't recall Frank mentioning angles or percentage sailing.

On page 131 of HPS1, Frank explains that knowing when to tack is easy if your mind holds a correct image of the wind.  He describes the 'direct method' of accurately sensing the wind which he says is particularly effective in unsteady winds:

The rule is, ‘if a boat on the same tack, either ahead or behind, is pointing significantly higher than you are, or a boat on the other tack is pointing lower than expected, you must be in a header, so tack.’  The great advantage of this method is that the present pattern in your area is continuously revealed, and as well, the direction of the mean wind is constantly revealed and corrected.  Use this method, always, when you are in close company, and never forget to keep looking over your shoulder, at the boats behind, particularly when you are in the lead.

Hmmm… this sounds like the basis of Doug’s angles post.  When close to another boat, you are either lifted or headed relative to the other boat.  Doug has taken that to mean that when near another boat, he is judging his lifts and headers by the other boat and not the course or compass and he tacks accordingly.  While Brett acknowledged AUS was lifted and making a relative gain, he indicated CYP might also be lifted and tacking would negate that.  But Frank’s statement indicates that the angle to the other boat is telling you what the wind is in your area.  Now I’m confused.

But wait, it gets better.  Then we move on to additional statements in HPS1:

The technique above, slightly extended, is what fleet sailing is all about. 

When you are sailing in conditions in which there is no regular pattern this technique can be further extended to become ‘percentage sailing’.

If in these conditions you elect, instead to 'minimum-time' sail, and let the backs and veers run their course and tack on the nodes, you may well sail a shorter path to the mark and finish further ahead.  This is the technique of the ocean racer.  But if you are sailing around the buoys and do not have the luxury of being able to wait forever for the next back or veer, and the wind direction does not behave as you expect, you may well finish further behind.

Skill in percentage sailing the fleet is no defense against minimum-time sailing, split fleets, nor on downwind legs.

Percentage sailing will fail as soon as the wind shifts become regular.

And then, I was totally lost.  Doug’s concepts are simple for me to follow.  Brett, no doubt, is a better sailor and coach than Doug.  But, Brett is like a finely tuned racing machine.  Put him on a small, shifty lake like Doug normally sails on and he might never have room to get out of third gear.  So, maybe Doug knows a trick or two about light and shifty that Brett does not.  Wasn’t Weymouth on the shifty side?  Now Brett did say that he thought the angles were more significant in winds over 15 knots.  But, Doug thinks angles are more significant in light, shifty winds.  Frank did say “unsteady” winds but does that mean strong gusty winds or light shifty winds.  Somewhere between the three of them is the answer, but I’m not equipped to sort it out. My gut feeling is that 50% of the time Doug would be right and 50% of the time Brett would be right ... or maybe I'm 100% wrong.

September 18, 2012

Persistent Shifts

By Doug
Mark Bethwaite (AUS) won FD trials for the 1972 Munich Olympics and his father, Frank, was the team's meteorologist.  Rodney Pattisson (GBR) ending up winning the FD gold medal and Frank's amazing notes and graphs showed how Rodney used persistent wind shifts to win.

First a definition: a persistent wind shift is when the wind shifts one way and does not come back. If you sail with a compass or by staying on a lift, you end up going in a big circle. This is "sailing the course" at its worse, and we've all done it. It's tricky because we only realize it's a problem at the top of the beat when we have to come into the mark on a huge knock.

What Pattisson did was take an early header and then have the lift take him up to the mark. The gains were only at the end of the leg if the persistent shift continued. A brilliant and gutsy move, and worthy of a gold medal.

It's gutsy because if the shift is not persistent Pattisson is completely out of phase and loses to everyone who stays in phase.

The shifts at Kiel were slow and, with Olympic medals at stake, Frank was amazed by how Pattisson accurately predicted when and by how much these shifts were persistent.

When you think about it, their likelihood is a function of the length of a windward leg and the speed of a boat. An opti sailing a two-mile leg will have lots of shifts back and forth, while an AC 72 sailing off St. Francis Yacht Club will probably have a part of just one persistent shift. So, it's not surprising that this phenomena was first noted in FD races where the boats are really fast.

Lasers are much slower, so persistent shifts should not be as much of a factor. This leads me to ask you a question. Think of your last 100 windward legs ... how many had a persistent shift? Most people guess between 0 and 10. One brave person told me 20.

It's a trick question because, in IMHO, the correct answer is 100. You see, the last shift at the top of each windward leg is persistent. Why? Because you round the mark before the shifting back and forth has a chance to continue.

This is why we have to ignore our compass and our gut stay-on-a-lift instincts at the top of each windward leg. If the wind is shifting back and forth and we're within one cycle, we have to remember to take a header if it will get us inside the final lift to the mark.  This is especially important on short windward legs.

When this works, it can be spectacular. When it does not, it's an I-can't-believe-I-made-that-bonehead-mistake moment. An example of this working can be seen at the bottom of this post.

September 16, 2012

Percentage Sailing

by Pam
Tillerman recently wrote about Sailing and Luck on his Proper Course blog.  His post was thought provoking but the comments were even better.  I never knew sailors could be so profound and philosophical.  My favorite comment was “luck is when preparation meets opportunity” by PeconicPuffin.
Doug is one of the luckiest people I know, both on and off the water.  He has a Forest Gump kind of luck that has consistently put him in the right places at the right times.  I’ve watched and asked questions trying to figure out how the heck he gets so lucky.  What is he doing that is different from me?
There is luck on the race course and luck in life.
His sailing success isn’t luck.  It’s preparation.  Many factors are random in sailing and many are predictable.  In the same way that if you always cross a street without looking while at a section that has no light, your chances of being hit by a car, eventually, are about 100% (it is a street with cars after all).  But if you look both ways and time your crossing, you decrease the odds to almost 0% of being hit by a car.  That’s how Doug sails. 
For every move there is a counter move.  He has enough experience that in almost every situation he finds himself in, he has worked out a technique or tactic that increases his odds of being successful.  During a race, he consistently makes decisions that increase his odds of success while less experienced sailors are sailing at the whim of 50/50 odds and with each setback the odds of being able to make up the distance they’ve lost goes down.  He calls it percentage sailing. 
His recent post on sailing angles contained a rather harsh observation about some Olympic sailors (it was actually meant to be directed at their coaches).  In Doug’s world of percentage sailing, not tacking under certain conditions is the equivalent of a sailor not knowing the difference in port and starboard.  I don’t know if he’s right or wrong.  He simply sails by a different set of rules than most people and those rules increase his odds all around the course.  It doesn’t mean he’ll always win but it usually puts him consistently at the front of the fleet.  He’s making his own luck by playing the odds. 
Doug’s success in life is a whole different matter and I must admit I’m still puzzled.  Several years ago, Doug was to go on a sailing vacation with a friend, Brad, and at the last minute Doug cancelled and Brad went alone.  One evening, Brad’s boat was boarded by pirates, he was robbed, shot twice and left for dead.  Brad is alive and well and has been walking around for years with two bullets still in him, one near his brain and one near his lung.  Brad’s luck in surviving that situation will make you believe in miracles.  But what about Doug’s luck in simply not being there? 
How many people do you know who buy a one way ticket to Australia when they are 20, have their wallet stolen at the airport and on arrival, have no money, no place to stay, no job, no friends, etc. and within two weeks have an apartment, a job at HP and are sailing with Frank Bethwaite.  That’s not normal.  But that kind of thing happens over and over with Doug.
Now, here’s the deal.  It’s not that bad things don’t happen to him.  They do.  But Doug doesn’t see it as bad luck.  It is simply a step that takes him from A to B.  And that, I believe is the answer.  He doesn’t focus on the bad and doesn’t even see it as bad.  Somehow, I think that simple shift in attitude, makes him more prepared to recognize and take advantage of opportunities.  He’s making his own luck by playing the odds.
And Brad … he sort of did the same thing.  Being shot was a step and as he lay there dying below deck, he decided he’d rather die looking at the stars and dragged himself up on deck.  Each decision he made after that was another step that lead to more opportunities and increased his odds of survival.  Climbing into the tender, making his way to a nearby island, being found and taken to a nearby yacht with a doctor on board, being taken to a medical facility, and flown home on a private jet by his employer.  He holds no hard feelings toward the guys who shot him and he’d vacation there again … just, this time, he would choose to anchor in a spot that isn’t quite so remote and quiet.  Better odds.

Life is random … but is it possible to play the odds and tip the scales in your favor and make it a little less random?

September 07, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Sailing Fast - Angles: Better than Boatspeed

By Doug
Laser Cheat Sheet. Half way up the first beat of the Laser medal race I made the comment that this was the "key moment in the race." Pavlos Kontides (CYP) was not going to beat Tom Slingsby (AUS) by the required 7 places to win the gold medal, so it was just a race to see who would beat who in front of the large crowd. The boats were even with CYP in the controlling right position (because tacking would have given him the right of way). And then this happened.

AUS got the dreaded (or wonderful) "inside lift" and the advantage immediately reversed so that when CYP tacked, AUS could cross and then tack on top of CYP. The race was over.

During the inside lift, AUS gained about one boat length on CYP every 5 seconds. No one has this speed advantage, not even Tom Slingsby, and is why I believe that sailing angles are more important than boat speed.

CYP did have a defense but did not use it - he could have immediately tacked and the inside lift advantage that AUS had would have been negated, plus CYP would have maintained his right-hand starboard tack control.

This happens time and time again with all sailors and was really obvious from the excellent aerial coverage at the Olympics. Here are some more examples from the women's match racing.

For me, the amazing thing about these photos is that no one on the outside boat is aware of what is going on. Absolutely amazing!

Now, I can understand how it's hard for a Laser sailor to keep looking around to spot this, but when there is a crew on board, then someone has to keep track of the other boat(s) to windward. Not doing so is a huge waste of boat speed, training, sponsorship, time away from family, and everything else that prepares Olympic athletes.

In each case, the outside boat must tack to negate this disadvantage, and if the inside boat also tacks, the inside advantage switches to the other boat for as long as this temporary breeze stays the same.

So, let's review: if someone told you how you could gain one boat length on your competition every five seconds, would you be interested? What could you possibly do to have such boat speed? The answer is never with boat speed – it’s just not possible in one-design classes. The answer is in something that few people understand – what I refer to as sailing angles.

Here, two boats are going to windward in a steady breeze. Neither has an advantage and either can go in any direction without gaining or losing.
Steady wind, and rare!
The good news is that in these conditions boat speed is the best way to gain, so you can go out and buy a new sail and polish your blades. The bad news is that the wind is never like this on the race course. So, before you spend any more money, spend some time understanding how these angles change.

In a race, one of two things happens. If the wind is spreading out and the boats are on starboard, the one on the left gains as shown by the color of the lines. All other things being equal, the one on the right must tack immediately and the one on the left must hope that he or she does not. If right delays tacking for just 5 seconds, it will lose 1 boat length. If the boats are on port, the one on the right gains and the one on the left must tack.
Wind is spreading out, common in puffs.
The key to sailing angles is sailing with your head out of the boat – looking around to watch the angles of the boats around you because they constantly change. This is important in match racing, and also how you can pick a specific person who you want to beat, something that I wrote about here. The best of the best have amazing boat speed, and this is one of the few  ways to beat them if that's your game plan:
Two campers are walking through the forest when they suddenly encounter a grizzly bear. The bear rears up on his hind legs and lets out a terrifying roar. Both campers are frozen in their tracks.

The first camper whispers, "I'm sure glad I wore my running shoes today."

"It doesn't matter what kind of shoes you're wearing, you're not gonna outrun that bear," replies the second.

"I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you."

In sailing, I don’t have to hit every shift perfectly – if you're my target, I just have to beat you!
Sailing angles is how you can do this. If my game plan is beating a specific person, I’m much more interested in getting the angles right than where I am on the course or what my compass says. In fact, the very best sailors I get to compete against do not even own a compass. Sailing angles tell you what the wind is doing to your boat as well as everyone that you’re sailing with. No compass can do this.
Of course, the other thing that happens is the wind may be converging. For me, this does not make sense but it happens all the time and is what creates the inside lift. If the boats are on starboard, the one on the left loses as shown by the color of the lines. All other things being equal, the one on the left must tack. If the boats are on port, the one on the left gains and the one on the right must tack.
Wind is converging - strange, but happens all the time.
This is a scenario that is fairly common after rounding a leeward mark, where the inside boat gets the inside lift.
Red has his head inside the boat...
The lead boat has to keep looking over his or her shoulder and must tack if the inside boat is on a lift. In spite of this, very good sailors will focus on boat speed and not look around to see what’s really happening to their lead.
...and pays the price.
These diagrams show the boats side-by-side for illustration purposes, but sailing angles work for all boats at all times. In this next example, the boat in the lead on starboard should hope that the boat behind on the left does not tack. If it does, the lead boat should only cover with the understanding that it will lose until the angles improve.
Sailing angles work in any combination.

One way for the lead boat to ensure this is less of a factor is to sail directly to windward of the boat that it is targeting to ensure they both get the same wind with the understanding that the angles may sometimes be different as the boats sail into wind shifts. This favors the boat that is behind because it can force the lead boat to sail into headers for a few seconds per shift. The way that the lead boat defends against this is to tack on the shifts and hope that the boat behind does the same. The way that the boat behind defends against this is to sail into the header and hope to get some separation and its own angles.

Sailing angles are more important when the wind strength is less than 10 knots because the shifts and resulting angles are more pronounced.

To benefit from these sailing angles, you have to learn to tack quickly and to sail with your head out of the boat. The best way to do this is by sailing at night to enhance your feeling of the boat. A good daytime drill is to watch something upwind and be able to tack several times without taking your eyes off this object.

For me, there are three ways to sail upwind: by the course, by the wind patterns that you have, and by the competition. Sailing angles is purely by the competition. During any windward leg, the importance of these three strategies changes and it all boils down to one thing - when to tack. What works for me will be in another post. 

This is an update of original post on Butterfly Fleet 20 blog

September 04, 2012

Shifts, Lakes and Compasses

By Doug
I don't like to use my compass for a bunch of reasons. It tells me lies, like where not to go in a persistent shift. It keeps me perfectly in phase as I sail right past the mark. And it makes me sail with my head in the boat ensuring that I miss everything that's going on outside the boat. It's no wonder that some of the best Laser sailors in the world don't even own a compass.

But in some cases, a compass can be invaluable. At the recent Austin YC Centerboad Regatta, mine decided to work really well. The fleet was good and had lots of speed, but picking the shifts was everything. Many of these articles start with Pam asking, "How did you do that?" So, here's how I used my compass to win 7 of the 8 races.

I use an aging Silva compass because it's easy to read and the numbers are simple - there is very little math required and it has arrows on the side that tell you which way is lifted. I start at the committee boat close hauled and sail upwind getting a reading. This is repeated until the range of shifts are clear. In this case on Lake Travis, the wind went right to 9.0 and then left to 11.5, with 10.5 being where it stayed most of the time. With a Silva compass, each 1.0 is worth almost 20 degrees, so the wind was shifting almost 50 degrees. That's is a lot, even for lake sailing! 

Starboard tack, neutral - this is the number everything else is based on.

Starboard tack, numbers are down (see arrow), I'm on a lift... good.

Starboard tack, numbers are up, I'm on a knock... think about tacking.

Here are the same readings on port tack. For some reason, port tack numbers on this compass are 10 below starboard. For example, 0.5 on port tack is 10.5 on starboard.

Port tack, neutral - this is the number everything else is based on.

Port tack, numbers are up (see arrow), I'm on a lift.... good.

Port tack, numbers are down, I'm on a knock... think about tacking.
When I spent time with Frank Bethwaite, he taught me about how to measure the timing between these shifts, how this time would decrease when going upwind, and how they would increase going downwind. This works for open water sailing where the shifts can be steady, but I have trouble making this work on lakes where the shifts are more random.  Just keep this in mind if you're in open water.

So, come along for a ride in a typical race at AYC this past weekend. If the wind is to the left 11.0 or more (starboard, knocked), we'll start near the pin (favored end) on a knock and try to tack ASAP.  If the wind is to the right, 10.0 or less (starboard, lifted), we'll start at the committee boat (favored end) on a lift so that we can tack when needed. Most of the time, the compass is 10.5 where the direction is neutral, so we still start at the boat and keep our options open.

With 2 minutes to go, we're close-hauled near the committee boat to get a reading of the wind, also noting if there are any velocity changes coming down the lake that would override our preference of starting on a lift. Here's our reading.

Big knock, pin favored, will need to tack ASAP.
We get ready to head down the line and check again with 1 minute to go. It's gone to 10.5 neutral and may continue to shift to the right.

Change of plan, head for the committee boat end.
We start at the boat and go left with the fleet below us. A slight knock means we may have to tack while a lift is good. We keep going waiting for things to develop. I do not have a good feeling for what is next, so we stay with the fleet until our first knock.

Want to tack ASAP.
But there's a dark patch up ahead so we sail through the knock as others tack and pass behind us. The increased pressure brings a bigger knock, which is normal on small lakes. We're ready for the puff and tack right away, and now enjoy a larger lift than the boats below us.

Life is good - we keep lifting.
With the wind shifting back and forth we can expect a knock, plus most of the fleet is below us going right. It's good percentage sailing to stay on port as long as possible to consolidate.

Sure enough, after a few minutes, we start to get the expected knock.

We're sailing into a knock.
Most people tack on this knock and pass behind us. But the compass tells us that we're only neutral, just half way through the knock (remember we tacked onto a lift). Another thing that Frank taught me is to not tack here because we want to be inside the next shift, so we hold on for the knock to fully develop.

We're fully into the knock.
Now we tack and are again inside the right shift, like being on the inside of a circle. The speed of the fleet is about the same but is beginning to spread out because of the extra distance that some are sailing. 

As we get close to the mark, our compass goes from being our friend to our enemy. We do not want to be sailing in a circle with the mark at the center because there's a good chance that the next knock will not come in time (the last shift is always persistent), and we'll lose many places if we tack and come in on a huge knock. So we ignore our compass and sail on the knock so that when we tack the lift takes us up to the mark while others sail a big old circle around it.

Here's what our first leg has looked like.

So, the compass is our overall strategy - like a coach making real-time suggestions, but they're only suggestions to think about. There are always other things to consider, like where's the next puff likely to come from? Where's the mark? How far away is the mark? What's my nearest competitor doing? What's the fleet doing? And in Austin, where's Fred  (he loves to bang the corners).

The really cool thing that I love about lake sailing is that all of these factors are constantly changing, and a compass helps put them into perspective.

Glance at it, consider it, and learn from it. But remember to keep your head out of the boat or else your compass will just be a big distraction.

September 03, 2012

Austin Centerboard Regatta

by Pam
3 Amigos from SSC - Sebastien, Lindy, James - where's Dave?

This was the 5th circuit stop for Laser District 15.  Unlike the Dallas/Fort Worth area where there are about a dozen sailing clubs to choose from, in Austin there is only one, Austin Yacht Club.  AYC is a racing club and the sailors and racing do not disappoint.  The event was dirt cheap at $25.00 with all extras being al la carte.  The race committee did an excellent job with limited space since the water is way down.  8 to 9 races, three minute start sequences, short start lines, 30 to 40 minute courses and wind between 8 to 15 with shifts up to 90 degrees.  Texas style sailing!

There were about 50+ boats sailing in 4 fleets: Lasers, Flying Juniors, multi-hulls and Portsmouth.  A picture of the Portsmouth start line looked like the Avengers with the odd mixture of boats with their special powers … Moth, Contender, International Canoe, etc.  There were about 14 Lasers sailing and although some of Austin’s better Lasers sailors were on the course, they were sailing with their kids on other boats but the infamous Fred was on the Laser course and in fine form.  A group from Dallas and Houston traveled to the regatta and provided good competition.  It appears the Laser circuit is somewhat rebounding after a few years of dismal attendance when everyone stopped traveling. 

Doug won in the Lasers with 7 firsts and threw out a 3.  Claude from AYC was second and James from SSC was third.  

It's always interesting to me how much Doug learns about his competition while racing. Although he was out front for many races, there were a couple of times when he flubbed the start and was DFL off the start line and had to come through the fleet.  His take on the competition:  The fleet had lots of speed but inexperience with the shifts and as a result the fleet spread out up to seven minutes whereas at the first mark they were all quite close.  Even the diehard sailor at the back of the fleet has speed but needs more experience on where to go.  Few people had consistent finishes which Doug attributes to not catching shifts.  So, even though Scott Young says don’t use a compass on a lake (and he usually beats Doug), Doug attributed doing well this weekend to using a compass, so I’ve asked Doug to explain his odd way of using a compass.  After all, Scott has these super powers and can smell a wind change and Doug is a mere mortal like the rest of us and has to use tools.  
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