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.

November 21, 2014

Differences at the Front of the Fleet

By Doug
Pam wrote a post about how the rules are used differently at the front of the fleet vs. middle and back, and many including Abe and Paul made some good points. 

Here are a few examples.

At Hyères, I sometimes found myself well back in the fleet. When on port and a starboard tack boat was approaching, without exception the other boat would call "starboard" as he should.

On the second day, the breeze was a little lighter and I was leading after the windward/leeward. Right behind me was Peter Vessella (USA) who is really good in these conditions. I took the right gate and he thankfully followed. We were well ahead but I chose not to put on a tight cover because I wanted to beat him with boatspeed and by playing the shifts, rather than by just sitting on him.

We stayed close but sailed our own race, playing the shifts differently at times. Half way up the beat, we were on port and I could see Peter 10 meters away in my window. He then edged ahead and I could not see him. A few seconds later, I heard him say, "Go ahead Doug and cross."

This caught me by surprise because I did not know that he had pulled even and that he had tacked. Not seeing where he was, I instinctively bore off and ducked him saying, "Sorry, I heard you too late."

Here's how the front of the fleet is different:
  1. Peter knew we were on a collision course and that I did not know that he had tacked. Some middle-of-the-fleet sailors use this to their advantage. Peter did not.
  2. He wanted to go left while I was going right, and this was more important than using his starboard-tack right-of-way. To beat me, he was prepared to bear off and let me cross rather than risk having me tack and mess with him.
  3. I apologized for not being able to take his offer to cross and stay ahead of him.

This moment was how Peter unintentionally took the lead to win the race. While I hate missing out on a bullet at a Worlds, it's a pleasure to compete with good, gentlemanly sailors at the front of the fleet who use the rules differently.

A rookie at the front of the fleet:

The 1996 Master Worlds were in Cape Town and there were about 120 boats on the line (this was before they split the fleets). I had never won a race at a Worlds and was surprised to be leading in the race on the second day. Defending champ Keith Wilkins (GBR) was right behind. So what did I do? I sat on him for the entire race and boy did he make me pay! We seemed to sail through every header and dead patch. I managed to hold on and win what was, until then, the best race of my life, while Keith threw out the 2nd and won the regatta.

The huge mistakes I made were not working together to stretch out and not learning from Keith by letting him sail his own race. This taught me so much that it changed the way I sail and was the main reason for my win in Chile the next year.

And the punishment for not working with a world champion? Being totally forgotten. Pam and I had supper with Keith and Linda in Hyères and were reminiscing about the good old days. I told Keith about this race in Cape Town and how much it meant to me. I then asked him if he remembered it. He said "no."

Another rookie at the front of the fleet:

When leading around the bottom mark, you can use your advantage to point high and force other boats to tack into traffic, which would slow them down.

Triple World Champ Glenn Bourke (AUS) would not do this. When in the lead, he would invite the boats behind to follow him to the right. Sure he could mess with them but he chose not to. The reason was that he wanted to keep the leaders together as long as possible so he didn't have to worry about who to cover. To make going right look more attractive, he would even foot a little so that others might think "wow, I'm pointing really well, I'll keep on going."

Starting the second beat in the first race at Hyères, Roberto Bini (ITA) was leading just in front of me, had rounded close to the mark, and was pointing high. Roberto had excellent speed and I wanted to tack twice to stay with him going right but in clear air. As soon as I tacked, he tacked and match raced me for most of the beat as I tried to break free. Sure enough, the right paid and several boats passed us.

As Keith Wilkins taught me, there is a fine art to staying ahead of a leader while letting him or her sail their own race and having them teach you along the way. Roberto should have used his excellent speed to lead me and others off to the right. And I should have cut my losses earlier and footed to get clear air to be able to sail my own race.

The bad news is that that we should have finished 1 and 2 instead of the 3 and 7 that we got. The good news is that Roberto is a great guy and we have become good friends and will hopefully share many more experiences as the years go by. 

As you transition from the middle of the fleet to the front, there is a shift in the way the rules are used and applied. It may look to some like team racing but it's actually very tactical by delaying the head to head competition until the end of the race.

Leaders at the back of a fleet:

In Hyères, in the final race that determined the championship, the front of the GM standard gold fleet sailed into the back of the GM standard silver fleet. The leaders in the gold fleet were in a close competition to win the championship and they suddenly had to contend with the back of the silver fleet. How quickly the leaders were able to transition from a front of the fleet mentality to a back of the fleet mentality, ultimately determined the winner. Anyone who was there can tell you what that sounded like.

So as you move through the fleet, back to front or front to back, it's important to be aware of the nuances in tactics and how the rules are applied in different parts of the fleet.

November 19, 2014

World Journals

by Pam 
I have put Doug's world journals back up on the blog but the current one will always remain private until three to six months after the event. 

Doug is keeping an email list of those who would like to receive his daily journals during the events. 

When we were in Australia, we stopped in to see Mark Bethwaite and he had so many cubes they were stacked several high and covered multiple shelves and most were three chevrons. When I stacked up Doug's cubes to take a picture, it reminded me of Mark's shevles and made me laugh. 

I'm proud of Doug and what he's accomplished and glad he's willing to share and let others learn from his mistakes.

Was it Eleanor Roosevelt or someone else that said ... "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself."

November 15, 2014

The Big Reveal - Poland Syndrome

by Pam
Fasten your seatbelts because I'm going to reveal Doug's biggest, deepest, darkest secret … he has Poland Syndrome. Dave (from Houston) go ahead and hit the delete key unless you've always wondered why Doug's shirts fit funny, why he's been walking with a limp for several years, and why he's faster on one tack than the other.

Poland Syndrome (PS) is a rare birth defect with varying degrees of severity and didn't even have a name until 1962 (when Doug was 12). This blog post does a great job of explaining it and showing pictures which are very similar to Doug. Doug has a mild case in that he is only missing his entire left pectoral muscle (sternal and clavicular head), has a smaller and weaker left arm and has mildly limited left arm rotation. Think about that for a second … how many things do you do when sailing that requires the use of your pectoral muscle? Pulling in the main, pulling on and releasing every sail control, steering, getting on the centerboard to right a capsized boat, launching a dolly, stepping the mast, loading and unloading a boat from a trailer. It's a fairly comprehensive list.

Having PS has meant that Doug has a lifetime of experience in accepting that he is physically incapable of doing some things in the same way as others and must therefore think outside the box and look for ways to adapt and overcome. Since Doug is a two time Laser Masters' World Champion and the only US sailor to have ever won both a Master and Grand Master World Championship, I'd say that he's adapted and overcome quite well. Hopefully, that statement will come off as encouraging to those with this condition and not as bragging.

I'm writing about this for a few reasons. First, and foremost, I’m seeking input for a specific issue from anyone in the medical field or with personal experience with this condition. Secondly, it's to provide a means of reaching out and connecting with others with this condition who, like Doug, have only recently learned the name of what they have and why they are different.

From my research, it appears that most people hide this condition and have never been officially diagnosed. Throughout Doug's lifetime, until several years ago, most doctors have simply looked at his chest and said 'well how about that' completely stumped as to what they were seeing. Doug learned the name of this when I started doing research and then he confirmed it with his doctor when he had his left rotator cuff issue a couple of years ago.

Three notable athletes with this syndrome, two of which, have the rarer left pectoral muscle missing as opposed to the more common right, are: 1) French boxing, Olympic silver and bronze medalist, Jérôme Thomas; 2) Spanish Formula 1, two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso; and 3) American golfer, PGA Tour winner, Bryce Molder. I've seen pictures on the Internet of Jérôme and Fernando without their shirts and it appears they have some muscle tissue (clavicular head) which Doug does not have.

I first learned about this shortly after meeting Doug when he was trying to encourage me in sailing. I'm fairly petite and was convinced that I was not strong enough to sail a Laser (I'd only tried a full rig) so he challenged me to an arm wrestling match with my strongest left arm. With a small effort, I beat him and was convinced he let me win only to learn that he had not. That's just how weak his left arm is. So, for all those sailors over the years who have come to his aid when they noticed him struggling to step a mast in a breeze, lift a boat onto a trailer, drag his dolly out of the water after a windy series, get back on the docks after falling in the water, or right a capsized boat … he genuinely needed and appreciated the helping hand.

After Hyères, and watching Doug struggle in those conditions … and after he had lost 30 pounds a few years ago when doing the food combining I had suggested ... and after he has been unable to put any weight back on for years now, I felt compelled to take matters into my own hands. Armed with the knowledge from one college weight lifting class, my trusty book, "Strong Women Stay Young" and my nifty Internet research skills, I've taken on the task of becoming his personal trainer. After all, very few doctors or trainers know anything about PS and its limitations, so why not jump in and see what I can do.

This is where I need input (ideas, personal experience, anatomy knowledge, etc.). My goal is to add about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle primarily to Doug's upper body in time for the Worlds in Canada in June 2015 (don't laugh). Because he has always been lopsided, he has avoided doing any upper body exercises except for arm strength because he didn't want to emphasize the lopsidedness. So, my task is to figure out which muscles are there and build the heck out of them and, so far, they're building pretty fast since he's never worked them before.

I started with measurements of everything and an evaluation of physical movement. Doug is 64 years old and never knew he had limited rotation of his left arm until I had him go through the motions (without weights) of two lifts using proper form. Sure enough, the left side has restricted movement. I'm not going to post pictures of Doug without his shirt but this image is very similar to what Doug looks like with his arm raised. I'm most concerned about that stringy tendon looking thing that connects his arm to his body. That part is exactly like what Doug has.

In two weeks, using only two slow lifting exercises targeted for his shoulders and back with 10 and 15 pound weights, we've improved his posture, added 1 inch to his chest measurement and 3 inches to his shoulder/chest circumference measurement. Clearly, building muscle isn't going to be a problem despite his age but doing it slowly and without injury is going to be the challenge.

Ideas anyone?

Rotator Cuffs

By Doug
With only one exception, every time I've injured myself sailing has been when I've skipped my stretching routine, so I do this religiously. For me's it's cheap insurance. 

I discovered the one injury exception when I had trouble with one stretch - the one where I bend over, grab my hands behind my back, and then try to lift them over my head. It's a yoga move I've done for 20 years and this one time there was a sharp pain in my left shoulder. An MRI showed a partial tear in my rotator cuff. 

The strange thing about this injury is that you may not feel it at the time but it's very painful later. I had a pretty good idea of how I tore it. Rounding a bottom mark in a breeze, I'd pull on the vang and cunningham by leaning back as hard as I could and I'm sure I just pulled it out of the socket.

I've heard from fellow Laser sailors who have had surgery to repair the tear and without exception they have all talked about the pain and the long recovery time. Sailing a Laser in a breeze has a lot to do with pain management, so when a world-class Laser sailor talks about pain, it must hurt.

I was scheduled for surgery at the end of 2013 but cancelled it with the hope that there was a better solution. Sure enough, Pam found a series of exercises that looked promising.

The first step was using ice initially and the second was heat and massage to increase the blood circulation. For this, I used an industrial-strength vibrator every day for months. The next step was really basic exercises that were trivial compared to regular sailing, so I did not bother. But there was another reason - my shoulder no longer hurt.

A word of caution: I'm not a doctor, I only had a partial tear, and this is what has worked for me. I share this with you because I avoided the pain and lengthy recovery time of surgery and was able to sail in a breeze at Hyères without incident. Here are the other steps I use to protect my shoulders.
  • I've increased the purchase on my cunningham to 10:1 so that it's much easier get it tight.
  • When I pull on a control, I pull with my arm muscles flexed and not just by leaning back.
  • A exercise I did for years was tricep dips. These are apparently really hard on my rotator cuffs, so I don't do them any more.

Death Roll

by Rob Sykes (AUS)

Many thanks to Rob for his contribution in a comment that deserves to be a post.

A bit off topic, but helping sailors. I promised I would send this data to Doug (not sure if Pam was present at the time). I have just returned from Hyeres and was reminded of my promise by a photo on Thom Touw showing a master death rolling and doing it incorrectly.

Neither of these film clips were posed or acted.

Death roll

This is about 12 knots, Note position of rudder (central) and how Mitch is holding the main sheet. Nice and fast.

Mitch starts an up turn to get speed to catch a wave. You see him sheet in and accelerate. Almost immediately he bears away to take advantage and jump to the next wave. He dumps the sheet but does not bear away enough so the boat begins a death roll.

He moves to lee trying to bring the boat upright, but sheets out (now the boat wants to bear away more) instead of sheeting in. He also pulls the rudder so as to luff up. This action tips the hull over to windward even more and he goes in.

He might well have saved the capsize by sheeting in instead of out during the death roll and also bearing away violently.  Saving a death roll. Running, rudder central (good) but the main sheet from the block. This is not as fast as Mitch. (He is very very much faster than me, particularly downwind).

Here the scenario of an up turn followed fast by a down turn is the same. The wind was a bit heavier (15 knots). I was under sheeted anyway as the stopper knot on the main sheet made the boom go out too far.

The up turn is ok, you see the boat accelerate. Immediately I dump sheet to do the down turn, but because the stopper knot is in the wrong place, the boom goes too far and the boat starts to go over to windward. Because I have the main sheet from the block, as I move to leeward, I tighten the main sheet (good) and note how the helm is in bear away mode, not luff up. The boat is not responding so I push the rudder hard and the boat comes upright. If I had pulled the rudder, I would have gone in. See how the water flows into the cockpit.


Think of the boat half over to windward. The rudder blade is only just in the water. If you pull the rudder, lift the transom up and twist the boat and increase the tipping motion of the death roll. If you push the rudder, you sink the transom and twist the boat decreasing the tipping motion of the death roll.

You may have to play the movie at super slow or single frame to see the sheeting and rudder positions.

Thanks to Steve Cockerill for showing me how to do it.

October 26, 2014

Open-Handed Regattas

by Pam
Everyone is familiar with the term single-handed or double-handed but what about open-handed? The SIs at the recent Laser Masters Worlds specifically denoted that a sailor in the water shall raise an arm with a closed fist if he does not require assistance and raise an arm with an open hand if he does require assistance. When playing a game of cards for the first time, it isn't uncommon to play with all cards on the table, facing up for all to see.

Hence, my newly created term, "open-handed regattas." I think every fleet should have an open-handed regatta at least once or twice a year.

Doug and I recently sailed in a regatta that was more like a clinic. There were 17 short races and only one person running the regatta and she had a few simple instructions. She would be coaching people as they sailed past her. There would be no yelling or protesting or we'd have to kiss and make up afterwards. Finally, we were to help those that needed it.

Those instructions, however, did not eliminate the competition element of things. Indeed, I kept getting repeatedly rolled by a sailor going downwind. No matter what I did, this sailor always rolled me going downwind, got inside rights, and finished just ahead of me. It didn't feel good. When I asked a question once that the sailor clearly knew, there was a grin and a shoulder shrug but no reply. Finally, Doug got frustrated with watching, so when I rounded right behind him once and we turned downwind, he talked me through taking his air and getting inside rights. Even though I've watched his downwind videos and have even been at the helm when he was sitting right next to me having me play what felt like a game of chicken with another boat's stern, I still did not learn the fine art of passing someone downwind. So, he sat there acting like me, a sitting duck, not defending, and talked me through the process. He said the next step is learning how to defend. It was such a wonderful way to learn. Everyone should be so lucky.

The next race, I had boats ahead of me on the downwind leg and decided to try rolling the nearest boat and getting inside rights. Worked like a charm, then I rounded slow and tight and forced the sailor wide. But afterwards, I didn't like the way it felt. That sailor usually places behind me at regattas and it almost felt like I was picking on him. Afterwards, I told him I had just learned that from Doug but it felt like a shitty thing to do. He agreed that it was indeed kind of shitty but then he saw my discomfort and added that it was shitty in the same way that jumping a man when playing checkers was shitty … it's the way the game is played.

When Doug plays with people at the front of the fleet, they all know the typical tactics and have similar success with execution. They know how to attack, how to defend, when to do it,  when to expect it and when to ignore it. It's a more evenly matched game.

At the middle and back of the fleet, it is far from an evenly matched game. It can be a little cut throat with folks tacking on you and doing things that don't make good tactical sense but seem purely personal (i.e. at least I'm going to beat YOU). You see some get intimidated because they don't know the rules or they haven't learned certain techniques and strategies. It sometimes feels hostile to me and I find it objectionable. If I rolled someone over and over using the same technique, I'm more likely to take the time to tell them what I'm doing and why it's working and when I learn how to defend, talk them through what they need to do to defend. Otherwise, it isn't a fairly matched game. There is no satisfaction or accomplishment in beating someone who is at a disadvantage.

When a front of the fleet person starts late, makes a mistake or otherwise has to sail through the fleet (back to front), they usually try to do so without disturbing or creating hardship for those that aren't in their league. Listening to two front of the fleeters at the recent words describe their experience of having to sail through a fleet was satisfying because they found it just as objectionable as me. Confirmation for me that It's not the way it's meant to be.

In comments of earlier posts about rules, people expressed concern about what is being communicated to newer sailors with respect to the importance of rule observance. This really seems silly to me because every person has their own moral compass. I follow rules based on my own moral compass combined with what has been passed to me from observing Doug and others.

Intentionally cheating, failing to do circles when you knowingly break a rule, protesting people on technicalities that don't affect the results, picking on someone with less skill and/or failing to volunteer to help someone all come from a place of a win at all costs attitude and I want no part of it.

Conversely, attempting to obey the rules, taking penalties when you've knowingly broken a rule, not picking on those that are not of your skill or knowledge level, not protesting others for minor and technical infractions and voluntarily helping those that you can every chance they will let you all comes from a place of wanting safe, fair, fun competition.

I will always prefer talking to someone over protesting them. One is playing with an open hand and the other is holding on a little too tightly. It is my own personal opinion that rigidity in mind extends to rigidity in body. Years ago, when I ended up having back surgery and my active life came to a screeching halt, I had plenty of time for reflection and looked for both physical and emotional triggers for my body's failure. One of the things I had noted was a tendency to dig in on issues, with a breaking instead of bending attitude and I sort of vowed try to retain a healthier "in the big scheme of things" perspective. 

Rule observance is less important to me than people observance. Some people are not nice and I stay away from them, some are trying to learn and I feel compelled to give them room or help if I can, some are more knowledgeable and skilled and I try (often without success) to stay out of their way, and a few are actually on my level and I enjoy the back and forth friendly competition as we trade places beating each other and continuing to communicate about what we've learned. 

Everyone should have the privilege of sailing with those more knowledgeable than themselves and being talked through various techniques and strategies on the race course with no holding back of information. It's a win-win. Good for those learning, good for those teaching, increases communication, brings up the knowledge and skill level, and builds friendships. How do you think the concept of an open-handed regatta would be received in your area? 

October 22, 2014

Altered Foils - Are They Legal?

by Pam
A favorite saying that I learned from a friend of mine is, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." Since our readership seems to be up and there is no shortage of opinions, perhaps now is a good time to shine a little sun on the subject of altered foils.

Laser Class Rule 14(c) Surface refinishing of the centreboard is permitted provided the original shape, thickness and characteristics are not altered.

The first time Doug heard about the subject of altered foils was a few years ago from a Masters sailor (sailor 1) who had them and named about a half a dozen sailors who also had them. Doug was told that many of the top level Masters sailors use them and 'if you want to win, you have to use them too.' Then sailor 1 explained that there was a loophole in the rules that allowed for alteration without specifically breaking the rules. And even though it's supposedly "legal" no one talks about it. There is a template for measuring in at the Worlds that is a rectangular slot with equal thickness and the centerboard has to fit in the slot. This controls the maximum thickness of the board but not the placement of the thickness (up, down, forward, back). Doug's theory is that the alteration is a movement of the thickness but he doesn't know for sure.

The entire subject made Doug uncomfortable. First, because of the people named (at the very top) and second because it didn't sound legal and he didn't want to believe that he had to use them in order to be competitive. Doug never considered using them but would keep an eye out for signs that others were indeed using them.

At the recent Masters Worlds, the subject came up again. This time another sailor (sailor 2) gave another list of specific names, some of which were in Doug's fleet and one of which, (sailor 3), Doug knew beyond a shadow of a doubt would never use them. But then sailor 2 went on to give specifics about what was done and how to tell them apart from regular blades. How they are fatter and some may be slightly weighted at the bottom to the point that they don't float like other foils, how they are more rounded here and bull-nosed there. He said those who have them don't have to hike as hard. 

This prompted Doug to talk to sailor 3 who would have been sailing right next to one of those that had been specifically named by both sailor 1 and sailor 2 and asked if he noticed anything when they were side by side. Sailor 3 said the other guy seemed to have a more relaxed style and didn't seem to be working as hard as he was in order to go the same speed. Sailor 3 hadn't heard about altered foils and he didn't seem to really care. He had noticed a consistency problem in manufacturing and some boards were generally thicker than others and when selecting stock foils, he advised choosing the thicker ones. Same thing with centerboard trucks, some where narrower which is also better.

Having a little time on my hands at the Worlds, I went on a reconnaissance mission, covertly taking pictures of the foils of one of the sailors named that was in Doug's fleet. Later I zoomed in on the pictures. They looked like charter blades to me. Although that sailor was doing quite well, he wasn't on the podium and he seemed to be working just as hard as Doug. Then I skimmed through my photos and checked the tops of the centerboards of a few of those named that would have flown to the event and could tell who appeared to have brought their own blades and who was using charter blades.

In the meantime, Doug chatted with two class officers on the topic. Both were surprised to hear of the issue and both named the US person most people used to finish foils but they hadn't heard about alterations of any sort. Both encouraged Doug to talk to the class measurer about changing the measuring process to eliminate any doubt about alternations. One of the officers did ask rhetorically why anyone would bring their own blades and risk damage when they were getting perfectly new ones with the charter. Good question. 

So far there is one admission of use, some casual mention of others' use, one potential observance of use, but mostly, just unsubstantiated claims. I suggested Doug order a set to see if they really do make a difference because there is simply no other way to know. He refuses to do so. I told him they could be for me since I already work harder than everyone else to stay on the course and I don't ever win anything on a Laser. He still refuses.

What would you do with this information? a) Nothing, it's irrelevant; b) investigate it quietly; c) investigate it loudly; d) order a set and join the crowd; e) sail your own race and forget about it; or f) other? Doug tried a and b and has opted for e.

Tag … you're it.
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