October 30, 2012

Persistent Shifts - Examples

By Doug
As mentioned in a previous post, anticipating and using a persistent shift can have spectacular results. One of my favorite examples is at the end of the first beat in race 10 at the 1999 Laser Master World Championships. We were sailing at the north end of Port Phillip Bay just south of downtown Melbourne. With the offshore northerly, the water was flat and the entire fleet had good boat speed. As we approached the first mark, the wind had shifted to the left and the entire fleet was on a lift.

Here's how things looked. Green was Peter Sundeim (SWE), a good guy and good sailor. He rounded first and went on to easily win the race. Look at this diagram and try to guess who rounded a close forth and went on to finish second.

 Before I show you the answer, here are the risks of approaching a mark on port tack in a good fleet. ITA has some problems that will cost it several places.

So it's a good idea to get to the starboard tack layline soon in a good, tight fleet.

I've asked the question about who rounded fourth in clinics. Here are some of the answers:
  • Blue, because it just has to follow green.
  • Yellow, because it has pinned down the two boats to leeward and can tack when he wants to.
  • Grey because a good tack puts it on starboard, red on its hip must anticipate this and give way.
  • White, because it controls when most of the fleet can tack.

All of these answers make sense because it puts these boats safely on the layline.

I should explain that in this race, I was nowhere near the front row and was but back in the teens looking for a way to move up. The follow-the-leader-starboard-tack-layline option looked safe but was certainly not the way to move up. And rounding the first mark in the teens was not an option with Sundeim rounding in first place.

With the breeze shifting left, I decided that there was a good chance it was persistent for the remainder of the leg, so I approach from the left. My hope was that it would stay or continue to go left rather than shift back to the right, so I was the left-most boat on the inside of a big circle.

Approaching the mark, I remember looking through the window of my sail, seeing all the boats and thinking come on, come on, just hold for a few more seconds. And it did. Here's what I wrote in my journal that evening:

Approached the first mark on port with about 20 boats below and ahead. At the mark, got a slight lift with pressure and jammed in front of Schlachter. Rounded 4th, could have been 24th.

Phewwwww. Had the mark been further upwind, I would never have risked the port tack layline approach because the wind could have shifted back putting me in a position similar to ITA above. But with the windward leg ending, relying on the shift being persistent seemed worth the risk. One part planning and, yes, one part luck.

So, that's persistent shifts when they work. Here's the same scenario that turned out to be a what-was-I-thinking disaster.

In race 4 at Fred's awesome 2007 Easter Regatta, the fleet approached the first mark on a lift. Eric was leading in blue, and I'm green. We're inside most of the fleet, the wind is going left, and we're close to the mark. I said to myself, "This is going to be easy."

But before we got to the starboard tack layline, Eric bore off and crossed in front of me, as shown in the diagram. I thought, what's he doing? He just gave me the lead. I got greedy and continued.

Sure enough, we were close to shore and a big gust came off of it, along with about a 30 degree knock. We all tacked and I went from first to in the teens. You know, with all of the boats rounding and then on a screaming reach with Eric leading. And me still struggling to round the mark.

Two lessons learned: persistent shifts can be risky and you have to always look for clues for them not working, like a really good local sailor doing something unexpected. And secondly, never say to yourself, "This is going to be easy."

October 23, 2012


by Pam

What an unpleasant topic. In the US with the love/hate affair of Lance Armstrong, it seems to be in the paper daily. I'm a realist but I'm also an optimist. I don't want to believe he cheated but I realize he might have. So, I choose to believe that if he did, the last chapter in his life will undo everything because he'll live a long and healthy life and all his titles will be reinstated as he passes the age of 70 and as he passes age 80 people will be begging for his recipe and he will go on to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering how to extended people's lives and maintain their health well into their 100s. It might not happen, but it might. Cheater or not, I just can't get behind tearing someone down with such enthusiasm. A little hope for something good feels way better.

Doug and I have discussed the subject of cheating on several occasions. In general, I'm a little loose with rules. Doug is not. But we sail at different competency levels and for different reasons. I don't play to win. Doug does. I just want to enjoy the experience of the wind and water while staying fit and I'd like to be competitive but it isn't an essential for me. Doug wants to stay fit while matching up against the best competition he can find and he wants the playing field level. But, it's not. Lasers may be one design, but nature didn't make people one design. Some have natural advantages, disadvantages or a mixture of both. Doug was born with a couple of disadvantages, one of which he turned into an advantage and the other he doesn't make public. It is inspirational when someone overcomes a setback or disadvantage and climbs to the top. Role models are good. Tearing people down with allegations of cheating seems counterproductive. But, it happens.

In Laser sailing there is Doug's pet peeve of illegal kinetics. What is illegal in international sailing is legal in US college sailing. Having USA on a sail at an international event is often a Judge magnet. Many USA sailors get penalized at their first international event and very few win. Then there is Doug's newest concern. In the past few years, he's learned about the new tweaked out cheater blades being used.  He was told many of the top sailors are using them. They say there is a loophole in the rules and it's actually legal but no one talks openly about it. Isn't that sort of like if you can pass a drug test, it's legal? Then justifying it by saying everyone is doing it, so it's a level field? But what about those, like Doug, that aren't using tweaked blades? If you use them and beat him, did you really win? Especially, if it was only by seconds?

While following or breaking rules doesn’t really affect my overall performance, Doug plays by the rules and the finishes are often close. Little things do determine the winners. So, what do you do about cheating so that isn’t counterproductive? For me, a realistic optimist, I'd like to believe that just holding up a mirror every once in a while will make people think twice about their decisions and they will ultimately choose a level playing field.

After all, it’s only a game and in the end, the real winners are the folks still sailing well into their 70s and 80s. At that point, no one can dispute that you're a winner no matter what you did along the way. That's the game I'm playing to win.

October 10, 2012

Julian Bethwaite on Fast Handling

by Pam
With Julian outside Bethwaite Design - March 2012
So, I really wanted an answer to the question in my recent post, Fast Handling vs. Natural Handling, so I asked Doug if he would ask Julian Bethwaite if he could answer it. Of course, he could, and he did!

Julian Bethwaite is the son of Frank Bethwaite. In addition to working closely with his father, he is an extremely talented sailor, and an extremely talented designer. Pretty much all high performance dinghies can be traced back to one of Julian’s designs, in addition to the asymmetrical spinnaker, the upside down vang, and some trapeze thingy. I met him briefly, shook his hand, snapped a picture with him and was suitably impressed with how laid back and super cool he was. Then, we later saw him flying across Sydney Harbor testing out some new rigging on one of those numbered ‘er’ boats. I envy that man’s lifestyle. 

So, here’s the question I asked and the answer I received:

My Question:  Frank's work with the simulator helped him see the difference in fast vs. natural handling. How do you take the fast handling know how on a dinghy and transfer it to fast handling on a bigger boat? Specifically, how does a good dinghy sailor transfer fast handling knowledge to a bigger boat that far outweighs him and doesn't respond to his body movement, and, similarly, how do I apply it to a full rig Laser that outweighs me and doesn't respond to my body movement when the wind picks up?

Julian’s Answer:  Regarding the simulator, the fact you can have 1-2-3 people sailing the same course, under the same conditions and the same people do it consistently faster, and you also have print outs of their tiller movements, their sheet movements and their hiking responses or their preemptive moves, then with some deductive analysis that dad was so good at, the differences and the consistencies in those that do and those that do not, stand out and scream at you.

Then with a tad of taking a "natural" sailor and suggesting "fast" techniques and seeing if there was a corresponding increase in their simulator performance proves the point. As mentioned to get that to come across to on water performance had a few more hurdles to jump, but again, he got there.

Regarding reaction to a boat that may weigh many times more than the crew, like a yacht, I find the biggest issue is being preemptive and also getting the boat in balance. If you know what to look for and again, sailing simulator will teach you that, but so will a good coach, then getting any boat in balance will make it go so much better, dare I say automatic. Regarding yachts, a few years back I sailed on a boat called Occasional Course Language or OCL for short, it was a Farr 40 but designed for ocean passages. Consistently we found the boat had lots of weather helm, and we also found it was not quite stiff enough (taller Carbon mast may have done that).  So we went from a L keel to a T and added 500kgs [1100 lbs] plus we also extended the fin aft at the keel line maybe 300mm [approximately 1 ft]. Moved the CLR [center of lateral resistance] aft, helm went back to a appropriate windward helm, boat went 5 degrees higher and about 0.5 knots faster on average, it just did not slow down.

So long way about answering your question, but that, a) getting the boat in balance and b) being preemptive so seeing the gust coming, luffing before it hits, getting the traveler down before the gust, and then squeeze everything back on before bearing away which is all simulator learning, all makes a significant difference.

My Observations:  If I read between the lines, first, I think if Julian had sailed a C Scow, he’d probably redesign it.  And second, I believe he’s telling me I can learn to sail a full rig Laser in wind.  Not that I’ll be competitive against a big guy, but it should teach me plenty about balance and anticipation.  Doug thinks he can teach me those things so we’ll see how the winter goes.  Of course, it’s always possible that the first face full of freezing cold water will be the end of my sailing until summer.

October 07, 2012

Fast Handling vs. Natural Handling

by Pam
I’m trying to connect some dots but I’m missing the line that connects them.  Perhaps someone can help me.

Dot 1 - Frank Bethwaite’s theory of fast handling (leaders) versus natural handling (followers).  I’m sure my description is an oversimplification and doesn’t do justice to Frank’s work but here goes.  Essentially, few people have learned fast handling techniques (coordinated movements of body, sheet, tiller, etc.) and the majority of people sail with natural handling techniques (more tiller movement, less coordinated movements). Frank discovered this difference with his sailing simulator when he took a group of follower adults and in a matter of hours, had them sailing competitively with world champions (on the simulator).  However, when they hit the water, they were awful.  So he got on the boats with them and watched them sail, then took the helm and showed them what they were doing (natural handling) and then showed them how it should be done (fast handling).  Basically, they were sailing like the majority of sailors … uncoordinated movements of body, sheet, tiller, etc.  After he showed them the difference, a whole new world of sailing opened up to them and they went from the back of the fleet to the front and from not always enjoying sailing to loving it.  Page 321, Chapter 24 - A New Way of Thinking,Higher Performance Sailing.

Dot 2 - Doug and I were out one Wednesday evening double-handed on a Laser and we took turns at the helm.  I was handling the boat just fine, keeping it flat, reacting to the wind, but I wasn’t fast.  Doug handled the boat like it was an extension of his body.  I could feel, see and hear the difference the boat made as it went through the water and it was fast.  Now this is just observing straight line boat speed.  It isn’t possible for me to observe him through tacking and gybing because I’m too busy trying to squeeze my growing behind underneath the boom and vang.  But I’m sure there is a difference between the two of us in the maneuvers as well.

Okay, Dot 1 (Frank’s theory) and Dot 2 (Doug/Pam handling differences) connect perfectly.  But, here’s the thing.  I don’t weigh as much as Doug.  In fact, I don’t weigh as much as the boat so my body movements are negated once the wind is just a touch beyond light.  Frank says the best way to learn fast handling is to go out when it’s windy and have someone that knows fast handling go with you and observe, teach and show you the difference.  When Doug is on the boat in wind, I have control, when he’s off, I’m in survival mode.  Yeah, I know, sail a Radial or 4.7 but bear with me, I have another dot.

Dot 3 - Doug and Eddie recently competed in C Scows at the Championship of Champions.  Essentially, they sailed as well as I do … 17 out of 20.  Doug would call home and tell me how it went and I swear it was like listening to myself.  He had no “feel” for the boat and no matter what he did, he couldn’t find the “feel”.  Most of the settings on the boat were set and taped in place since the goal was to test helmsmanship.  They copied the things others were doing but they were still slower.  They tried something different every race and boats that won in the previous race suddenly became a pig with Doug at the helm.  He kept saying, I don’t get it and I can’t get a feel for this boat.  He wondered if they were too light being double handed because this boat is always sailed at a heel and they struggled to hike enough on the low side (light air series) to heel the boat. 

Dot 1 - fast handling vs. natural handling.  Dot 2 - I sail more with natural handling because the boat does not always respond to my weight movements so it’s hard to get a feel for the boat and coordinate movements and weight is one of the things I see Doug use the most for fast handling.  Dot 3 - Doug, who has excellent fast handling technique on dinghies could not get a feel for a boat that outweighs him and does not respond to his body movement.

So, what is the fast handling transition from small boat to big boat?  It can obviously be learned and perfected.  Is it coordinated movements with crew or does the skipper have to learn better natural handling technique and abandon trying to use fast handling technique or is it something else?

Now everyone, including Frank, has told me that I can’t be competitive in a full rig at my weight.  However, what is the transition from small boat to big boat and can I make it on a small boat to a small boat with a bigger sail?  After all, when I asked Frank if I could be competitive in a full rig, he didn’t respond with a flat out no.  He weighed the possibilities and talked about hull size, weight, sail size, physics, 18 footers being scaled to skipper size, and then very gently said probably not.  But Jeff Linton once told me that while I probably can’t be competitive in higher winds, I could certainly try to become a more competent sailor and stay on the course in windy conditions and then, through an entire series, the law of averages would give me a shot at being competitive in years when the wind is on the lighter side.  So, I’m back to the missing line to connect my dots.  Does anyone have an answer?
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