February 24, 2013

2013 Florida Masters Week - Nontraditional Words of Wisdom

by Pam

It’s been a couple of weeks since Doug returned from a less than stellar performance at the Florida Masters (finishes of 31/60, 5/55, 11/58).  Although, he should be writing this, he didn’t feel that he did well enough to share anything of value so he posted interviews with the winners of the three events.  Then came Tillerman’s timely post about whether Words of Wisdom are really just crap and then I knew I had to write about the little tidbits I learned from Doug that I think have more value than the traditional words of wisdom.

However, Sunday evening before Doug arrived back from Florida, I up and decided I didn’t like my job … long story short … before Doug arrived home the next morning, I had received and accepted a new job offer, quit my old job on the way out of the office that evening and started the new job the following morning. Afterward, I kept repeating to Doug that ‘I just quit my job,’ half surprised and half shocked.  You see, it was sort of a Doug thing to do and is also one of my takeaways from his Florida experience.  Flexibility and seizing opportunities before they pass.  Two weeks later, all that has fallen into place at the new job has been virtually perfect, except I’m a little short of time, but I digress.

We all make stupid mistakes - don’t quit!

Each day, Doug called home to tell me of his progress.  Needless to say, at the first event, with him being DNC for 3 races, I was a little worried he might not be okay and I’m glad I didn’t know that someone was pulled from the course and taken to the hospital with chest pains.  When Doug called, I was relieved he was okay, but then asked what any sailing spouse would ask, ‘WTF?‘ 

He had a ready explanation that went on for several minutes which essentially translated to, ‘I was stupid, then I was stupid again, and then I was even stupider.’  Yet at the end of that event, Doug’s finishes were 6, 3, 6, 62, 62, 62 and he placed mid-fleet where he did as well or better than many people who sailed every race to earn their place. 

The winner of the 1st event, John MacCausland, had a race where he started just above Doug but Doug had his bow out by about 2 feet so Doug got away, the boat above John rolled him and John had to tack and in doing so, ducked a guy, missed, hit him, had to do circles and then found himself so far back that he was having to count from the back instead of the front to see where he was.  He was only able to claw his way back to 21st.  His finishes were 6, 21, 4, 3, 3, 4.  Two mistakes and he would not have been the winner of the event. Andy Roy, who won the next two events, had finishes of 8, 3, 10, 18, 29, 9 for a 7th place. 

My takeaway words of wisdom is that those at the front of the fleet, regardless of the circumstances, don’t quit mentally.  They rely on their experience to recover a decent finish from their stupidity.  Perhaps a key is practicing enough to not only minimize mistakes but gain experience in recovering from them.

Andy Roy’s regatta wins of the next two events were with finishes of 21, 2, 3, 1, 5, 2, 3, 2 and 1, 3, 2, respectively.  Another winner with a 21 early on in the regatta and a ‘it’s not over until it’s over attitude’.  But then I hear from Doug that before the start of one of the races at the second event, Andy Roy accidently lassoed Doug with his mainsheet on the start line, Doug tipped, and while Doug was frantically trying to save the feather at the top of his mast because it was a handmade gift from Frank Bethwaite, Andy was repeatedly saying, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’  Now, I find comfort in this story because right there in that moment, there is no difference in me and the regatta winner.  I too often practice being a nuisance, out of control and other random bafoonery.

Enlightenment from training partners

There is much to be learned from the observations of a skilled sailor.

Between regattas Doug did some turning with David Hiebert with regatta finishes of 4, 6, 14.  David observed that they had the same speed but then something would happen and Doug would jump ahead for a few seconds and then they’d be back to the same speed again and Doug would maintain his lead.  David’s observation was that Doug was ‘switching gears’ and transitioning and responding to the wind changes faster.  Doug spent years sailing at night so that he responds to the feel of the wind and not the visuals available during the day.  Faster transitions would seem to be a natural result so that doesn’t come as a surprise but he didn’t realize it was noticeable.  This didn’t come as a surprise to me.  Doug is always sailing.  We walk the dog every night and mid sentence, Doug calls the wind change.  He’s always aware.  Sitting in the doctor’s office looking at a picture with sailboats, a beach, waves, and a flag and Doug is looking to see where the wind is coming from only to say the artist isn’t a sailor because the flags and sails say the wind is coming from opposite directions. 

Peter Vesella, at the 2nd event, mentioned to Doug that he was really good in these conditions (light) and that he sometimes sailed higher and faster than other people.  Doug asked Peter to elaborate on what he saw Doug doing and Peter said that he was sailing the boat really flat and sometimes healed to windward and that at times, he just jumps ahead.  Peter noted the same thing last year.  Doug has spent some time learning to sail by feel in light conditions and learning what he calls ‘pressing’ where he heels to windward, traps the wind, and makes subtle weight shifts (steering changes) that actually generate speed.  I’ve even learned to do it better than Doug but that skill doesn’t make it to the race course for me. 

At the last event, Doug was disappointed with the fact that it seemed like he’d forgotten how to sail and Andy Roy asked him what he expected since lives in Dallas and doesn’t sail in these conditions.  Andy is exactly right.  This is Doug’s major weakness and biggest concern.  And it’s the reason he drove all the way from Dallas to Florida to compete in Florida Masters Week. 

Not to mention the reason I gave up my car for a week so that Doug could safely drive to Florida, while I got to spend the week driving around town in his 20+ year old BMW.  It looks like hell, half the windows don’t work, it’s rock, paper, scissors on whether the heat or air conditioning will work, and as I drive down the road alarm bells continually go off telling me about the various things that aren’t working.  And yet when I step on the accelerator, that sucker hits 60 mph before I can get out of 2nd gear and even though every time I turn the key, I say’ ‘don’t start, don’t start, don’t start’ the danged old fossil starts every time.  The car is very much like its owner, you can’t judge its performance by its looks, but I digress again.


So Doug headed to Florida without a plan.  He didn’t know when he was going to sleep or where and just stayed loose and flexible.  It’s that seat of the pants, flexibility in life and on the water that has taken him to some interesting places.  For the second half of the trip he was rewarded with some very comfortable accommodations.  I received a call between the second and third event from Jack Swenson’s daughter asking me if Doug can spend the night with her ... the last regatta is for the Jack Swenson Memorial Trophy.  How on earth did he manage that?  Then Doug tells me some random trivia about how Jack tried to convince Peter Seidenberg to call his ‘dolly’ a ‘molly’ after Jack’s wife.  I have no idea how Doug manages to stumble into history and learn such interesting trivia except that he seems to stay flexible and opportunities find him both on and off the water. 

So, I threw caution to the wind and quit my job and landed in situation I couldn't have planned any better. 

February 17, 2013

Another Laser Tipping Point

By Doug 

After the Master Midwinters, I was talking with Dick Tillman about the upcoming Midweek Madness and Florida Masters and he said, "This will be my last Laser event." I asked, "You mean this week?" And he answered, "No, these Midwinters."

This was a piece of sailing history I did not want to hear.

Dick has been a sailing icon since winning the first three North American Championships, from 1971 to 1973. Ten years later he won the North American Masters, and in 2002 won the Great Grand Master Worlds. Is seemed like Dick would sail forever but, at the age of 76, he's retiring from the Laser.

This is a reminder to all of us that the Laser can be a brutal boat to sail and that we will all reach a point where it ceases do to good and starts to do harm, and it's time to move on to other challenges. I've had the privilege of sailing against Dick on many occasions in many countries. He represents everything good about our sport and will be missed at Laser regattas. He's a classy guy and his book, of course, is a classic.

February 12, 2013

2013 Master Madness

By Doug
To remain competitive, I like to rest for several months over the winter. The year starts with three back-to-back events in Florida. We had a great turnout and some great sailing. The winners were clearly in better shape and a lot faster than me. Here's how the best of the best won in each of these events.

Master Midwinters East: flat water, light and shifty!

Midweek Madness: flat water, medium, patchy!

Florida Masters: windy, waves, like being in a big washing machine. On the first day, an experienced swimmer tragically drowned in the rip tide trying to save two young girls. The second day was windier and the race committee decided to cancel the racing.

February 04, 2013

Frank Bethwaite's New Book is Now Available

Fast Handling Technique

Laser Master Midwinters East - Day 2 & 3

By Doug
Day 2 was one of the strangest days on and off the water. It had everything from great racing to rumors that I was in the hospital with a heart attack.

The first 2 races were ideal - a tight line, clean starts, good shifty breeze, and close sailing. Some good sailors got caught on some of the shifts, but the leaders generally had good finishes. I would have had a 3 and 4 except for losing 2 boats on the final run. My downwind speed is still a problem in certain conditions.

After the second race, I noticed that my downhaul was set up for heavy air (both up and down on the same side of the boom) so I undid the vang, pulled off the boom, readjusted the lines, and then put the boom back on... when a gust hit. The boom slipped out of my hand, hit the deck, and the plastic insert at the forward end of the boom came out and went overboard. So, I'm a mile from shore with the next race about to start, and with a major problem.

Note to self #1: it it's not broken, don't fix it. Duh.

Feeling rather stupid but creative, I stuck the end of the boom over the gooseneck and pulled on the vang hoping that it would hold. But it looked really bad. So, I headed for the nearest support boat and asked if they had a radio, showed them the problem, and asked them if they could bring another boom from the beach. The said they would and started talking on the radio. I headed for the starting line and actually got a decent start, and rounded the first mark about 10th.

The problems started on the run because the mast would not rotate easily with the boom. Like, it was just hanging there. At the bottom mark, I had room on an unsuspecting fellow and warned him that things could explode, so he kindly gave me a wide berth. Sure enough, things did fall apart shortly afterwards and I retired from the race.

I tried to chase the original support boat but he was heading upwind, so I sailed down to another support boat and asked where my boom was. The fellow called on the radio, talked with someone, and then told me that "it was denied." Realizing that I was very confused, he pointed to the committee boat. So I sailed over where the PRO told me that they could not spare any support boats and that my request "had been refused."

Note to self #2: when you ask for help, get an acknowledgement.

I thanked the PRO and told him that I had retired from the race and sailed back to the beach to get another boom. I missed the next race and missed out on the final race by about 10 minutes. After watching it for a few minutes I headed back to the beach, where I left the boat rigged (the hose for rinsing off the salt was not working), had a shower, and filled out a form requesting redress for the 2 races I had missed.

Redress can be given to a competitor through an error or omission by the race committee. It turns out that the original support boat was immediately told that help was being refused, but this was not passed on to me. Had I known, I would have headed straight for shore, got a replacement, and only missed the one race.

Note to race committees: you have the right to accept or refuse a request for help. But you also owe it to the competitor to give them a timely answer.

After 30 minutes of deliberation, my request for redress was refused on the grounds that support boats are there for safety reasons and not to help competitors (this in spite of the fact that they were handing out water, keeping extra gear for people, etc.) So instead of being in 3rd place, I thanked them for their time and left the room in 31st place.

Looking back, I realize that it might have been possible to fix the problem on the water with lots of duct tape, but did not think to ask.

Note to self #3: remember duct tape can repair just about anything.

Pam refers to these bonehead mistakes as a way that I prepare for the Worlds. I'll be glad to get all of these out of the way!

The good news is people kept bumping into me looking surprised and happy to see me. You see, another competitor had chest pains and was quickly taken to hospital. When people got back to the beach, they saw my unrigged Laser and assumed that it was me.

So instead of spending the night in hospital I watched a great Super Bowl game with friends. Life is good.

Update: on the final day, not enough wind for sailing, John MacCausland sailed really well and has won.

February 02, 2013

Laser Master Midwinters East - Day 1

By Doug
Why I couldn't find Pam's Subaru
The Laser Master Midwinters East is being hosted at Charlotte Harbor in Florida. This is a beautiful spot that has some really good weather for those who are unable to sail in the winter. We're sailing in a protected bay that feels more like a lake than open water. Here's the first day's report.

Race 1: the wind was coming from the east about 8-12 with typical offshore shifts. The line was long with the pin favored. Being far from race hardened, I decided to start 2/3 of the way down the line so the experts could fight it out at the pin. This was my first race in 10 weeks and I felt rusty.

The fleet got away going left. Peter Shope won the pin, tacked, and crossed the fleet. I wanted to tack but could not. In fact, the boat on my hip almost rolled me before he tacked away. I followed with the 4 leaders on port below and ahead. After a few minutes, they tacked on a header and crossed just in front of me. I had the feeling that the right would pay so kept going right on port. When near the layline, tacked in good pressure, having moved up into 2nd. And then it happened - the dreaded 20 degree header all the way into the mark. Ouch. Was really fortunate to round 8th. On the run, there were about 10 boats right behind me so decided to jibe to get in clear air. But the left (looking downwind) had less pressure and I lost to those behind me, rounding the left gate in the mid teens. Having committed to the right side (looking upwind) went hard right in good pressure. Rounded 7th just behind Andy Roy. The 6 boats just ahead were lined up side-by-side. Buzzy Heausler and Peter Shope somehow got more pressure and finished 1, 2. James Liebl (former Master Radial World Champ) finished 3, while I passed Andy to finish 6th. Lots of rust but this was an OK race.

The wind was dying as the sea breeze tried to fill in, so I switched to my light-air mainsheet and took off my hiking pants.

Race 2: the pin was even more favored and crowded. Decided to start 100 feet from it and tacked on the gun. And was launched, in pressure, and in phase... when they called for a late general recall. Darn!!!

The next start was under a black flag and Andy Roy tried something I have always wanted to try - a port tack start in the middle of the line taking advantage of the lag with the black flag. In fact, because of the way the wind bends around all of the sails, Andy was actually sailing on a lift on port tack. On the gun, Andy hardened up and I tacked. We were about 50 feet apart on port and almost immediately I got a big inside lift. Two minutes later, I tacked on a header and crossed the fleet while Andy was deep. Watched one of the leaders sitting on the deck moving really fast... from rocking, Told him to cool it which he did. John MacCausland and one other had great speed and passed me before the mark. And then the wind died. At the bottom mark, what little wind we had shifted further west and the race was abandoned, so we headed in. Had been in 4th position.

But there's more! After a very long sail back to the club, I put my Laser on the dolly while still in the water and then went to get my shoes. When I came back, I noticed the plug was not in. So, someone is messing with me or I'm a dumbass for sailing the entire day without plug. Wait, no, we have to be positive. So, some kind person helped me by taking my plug out... or I sailed the entire day brilliantly without a plug, with my weight so far forward that I only took on a few quarts of water. I think I prefer this second version.
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