February 27, 2014

Radial or Full Rig - Part 3

by Pam
So what happens if you are a light weight sailor but, for whatever reason, you end up sailing the full rig? Can you be competitive? Can you even sail the bigger rig in a breeze?

In Doug's case, the answer is yes and yes but maybe the top three in a breeze might be too hopeful … maybe not … time will tell. He can definitely hold his own downwind and even gain, but upwind, he's going to be overpowered and hiking for all he's worth. He'll have to be fitter than his competition.

In my case, I had the unfortunate experience of being in a full rig in too much wind and the answer was no and no. Doug had sailed by me between races as the breeze built and had me pull on the controls as tight as possible. Flatten and torture the sail but let the main out upwind and hike like mad. I made it upwind but going downwind was terrifying and ultimately it was the downwind that blew me off the course. Competitive wasn't possible at my weight, survival upwind was possible but downwind was my undoing.

I kept looking for answers and kept asking questions and eventually had the opportunity to ask Jeff Linton, Frank Bethwaite, and Julian Bethwaite. They all had answers.

Jeff Linton was referring to me sailing a Sunfish in a breeze. He essentially said that I should get really good in the light stuff and learn to survive in the heavy stuff and stay on the course and let the law of averages work in my favor. If the series was more light than heavy, I've got a shot at being competitive. But I had to learn to survive in the heavy stuff and stay on the course.

Frank Bethwaite said that I really wouldn't be competitive (top of the fleet) but surviving and staying on the course was possible and he'd written about it extensively:

"Some years ago I coached several mature and experienced sailors on the 59er, and I was astonished to find that so many of them were unaware of the steer-for-balance principle. More accurately, most thought they knew what it meant--and that they would be able to use it naturally, if and when it became necessary. But when faced with real speed and a sudden gust they turned the boat the wrong way and simply "lost it."

Only a handful of experienced sailors know how to control a sailboat at speed and get peak performance while doing so. Most top sailors believe they know what steer-for-balance is, and they believe they can do it. But when put to the test, they don't know and they cannot do it."

The article goes on to recommend training techniques to learn the steer for balance technique which would make staying on the course and surviving much more likely.

Julian Bethwaite essentially said the same thing as his Dad, keep the boat under the sails and you'll stay upright. There is an interview of a somewhat legendary episode in which he proves it's possible to do just that:

… with rival groups looking to put out the message that it wasn’t possible to sail the boat [the 49er] in more than a Force 3 (7-10 knots) …

… Bethwaite took the boat out for a spot of singlehanded sailing. Albeit he set off upwind in just 4 knots of wind, not particularly challenging – until the [Guarda] Ora started rolling down the lake and left Bethwaite with a 15-knot sleigh ride back down to Torbole.

At this point Bethwaite, a former 18-foot skiff world champion, had a decision to make. Do the sensible thing and drop the sails while he waited for a tow back to shore, or charge back downwind in too much wind with too much sail area. In his words it was “No guts, no glory!” and he hoisted the gennaker for a rapid return to the sailing club. He even gybed the boat, survived it and then dropped the gennaker and rounded up immaculately, right in front of a crowd of dignitaries that included the ISAF President of the time, Paul Henderson, and the Kings of Greece and Norway. Bethwaite admits that if he had tried it again it might not have worked out so well, but his singlehanded escapade was yet another piece of the jigsaw that slotted nicely into place and saw the 49er go on to win the Garda trials comfortably. 

Paul Henderson stepped in and said the 49er was definitely in [the Olympics], and so asked ISAF Council to vote one of the incumbent classes out.

So, while I'm never going to be Julian Bethwaite, it's still nice hear and see an example of just how possible it is to sail downwind with too much sail and too much wind and survive, gybe and thrive. When it warms up a bit, I believe I'm going to take Frank's advice this year and spend some time crashing the boat and learning the steer for balance technique.

As Doug learns to be competitive at a lighter weight, I have a feeling that he'll naturally find a few techniques that might compensate for being lighter than his competition, besides being fitter than everyone else. When I first met him, I was sailing a Butterfly against mostly men as I was learning to sail. I'd match their sail trim and point with them and they'd leave me behind. Doug stepped in and pointed out the obvious. I didn't have the weight to trim and point the same way they did. Since I was hiking much earlier than they were, I could start feathering into the wind instead of footing and low and behold, I had the same speed but was pointing significantly higher. Win, win! It worked so well I had to actually start paying attention to the course board before the start instead of just following the leader all the time.

Stay tuned for Doug's adventures and see what he learns this year. 

February 25, 2014

Radial or Full Rig - Part 2

by Doug
My first Radial event was the 1992 NA's which was held at a local club. I finished 2nd behind former World Champion Peter Katcha, but there was very little wind and I did not learn much. Besides that one event, I sailed full-rigs exclusively from 1976 to 2012.

Living on lakes and sailing at night, I developed a good feel for light to medium winds. At the 1993 open Midwinters, there were 180 boats and I finished 5th at the age of 42 which was encouraging. And at the open 120 boat CORK Regatta later that year I was told by another competitor that I had "the fastest straight line boatspeed" in medium winds. So medium conditions in a full-rig was definitely my comfort zone, and I continued to focus on this.

So, why change to a Radial for the 2012 Master Worlds in Brisbane?
There were four reasons:
  • Weight: I weighed 185 lbs (83 kg) when I won the 1997 Master Worlds and 180 lbs (81 kg) when I won the 2006 Grand Master Worlds. In 2012 I was struggling to get up to 170 lbs (77 kg).
  • Forced rig change: With only a few more years before turning 65, I decided it was time to start learning how to sail a Radial.
  • Forecast: Brisbane gets windy.
  • Hubris: A race at the Worlds will not start under 5 knots, so light-air speed is irrelevant. My comfort zone in medium conditions led me to believe that heavy-air should be my focus for improvement, so I decided it was better to be a little heavy in a Radial than light in a full-rig.
Before the Brisbane Master Worlds, the 2012 Open NA's were in Houston and I wanted the competition. With only 16 boats registered in the full-rigs, I decided to sail in the 46-boat Radial fleet. It had rock stars like World Champion Erika Reineke. My upwind speed in a breeze was getting better and I led at the first mark 3 times.

The 2012 Master Australian Championships was held just before the Master Worlds. The middle day had winds gusting over 25 knots and I led at the first mark in all three races. At the following Brisbane Worlds, I rounded first 4 times and second 3 times. So, speed in a breeze was getting good.

Now, I know that downwind speed is also important, but being at or near the front at the first mark is, in my opinion, crucial to success in a good fleet. And living in Dallas with no competition makes it really hard to develop good downwind speed (which is why I arrive early at Worlds to get used to the wave conditions).

The forecast for Oman was medium conditions, and Pam kept suggesting that I switch to a full rig. But there were two health issues that tipped the balance for me: a torn rotator cuff and a torn retina just before leaving for Oman - I just did not feel safe sailing a full rig if it got really windy.

So, here's how I approached the Oman Master Worlds:
  • Light conditions meant no sailing.
  • Medium conditions was my comfort zone.
  • Windy conditions was my focus for improvement.
As it turned out (ignoring the medical factors), I made one huge mistake. As I wrote in this blog, I do not know of any single person who is the fastest in all conditions, so it's best to perfect your own conditions and then be reasonably competitive in the others. For Oman, I assumed that my medium speed was good and my weakness would be windy conditions.

Unfortunately, my good medium conditions speed in a full-rig did not translate into speed in a Radial. And those were the only conditions that we got in Oman.

None of the full-rig techniques that I'd developed over the years worked in the Radial, and my upwind speed was very average. Things that power a full-rig feel empty in a Radial, and ways to get more lift out of the centerboard just do not work. We're talking very fine adjustments for very slight changes, but that's what is needed in a Worlds fleet. A lack of boatspeed at a Worlds event makes for a very long week.

So, what's next? Thanks to Mark Bethwaite's lobbing efforts, it looks like the Great Grand Masters may have a full-rig option, so I'm looking forward to staying competitive in a full-rig rather than starting over again in a Radial.

I might be able to get to 175 lbs (79kg) and still be competitive in windy conditions (like Peter Shope) but isn't staying fit one of the benefits of sailing a Laser? It's certainly the best incentive that I know of.

February 23, 2014

Radial or Full Rig - Part 1

by Pam
We had a reader who noted Doug's recent decision to never sail a Radial again after getting chicked at the Laser Master Worlds in Oman and asked if Doug would elaborate on the reasons for his decision. Short answer (and I suspect the real answer) is that women don't sail full rigs at the Worlds so he'll never get chicked again. Long answer is more complicated but was also decided by the experience in Oman.

Weight and Rig

Lots of people have written about the recommended weights for the various rig sizes and there are differing opinions. Even Performance Sailcraft Australia and Laser Performance have differing recommendations on their websites.

PSA Brochure65+ kg
143+ lbs
55-65 kg
121-143 lbs
35-55 kg
77-121 lbs
PSA Pathway70+ kg
154+ lbs
65-74 kg
143-163 lbs
55-65 kg
121-143 lbs
LP73-86 kg
160-190 lbs
55-72 kg
121-159 lbs
45-54 kg
100-120 lbs

Decision for Local Fleet Sailing

Doug and I sail at opposite ends of the experience spectrum. He wants to win at the highest level and I just want to use the Laser as a training tool for other boats and to stay fit. Even though we sail at different levels and for different reasons, we often make the same decision for the same reason. From the below average to the highly experienced sailor, regardless of weight, the decision will always come down to the constant: what people in your fleet are sailing vs. the variable: what you can handle comfortably. And what you can handle comfortably will vary depending on the weather at the venues where you sail.

Even though Doug is quite competitive in a full rig, he'd lost enough weight that he had decided to switch to the Radial at World events so that he would be more competitive. However, he still only sailed a full rig for local fleet sailing. In fact, since 2012 he's only sailed a Radial in 4 regattas (2012 US Laser Nationals - 7th out of 46; 2012 Australian Master Nationals - 3rd out of 27; 2012 Brisbane Master Worlds - 4th out of 26; 2013 Oman Master Worlds - 4th out of 23). We both agree he made a mistake in choice of rig in Oman but there were health variables that made it the smarter decision but he also learned some very important lessons which is the basis for returning to a full rig only and he'll elaborate on that in Radial or Full Rig - Part 2

There aren't many (usually any) masters aged women in my district that sail a Laser. Being a light sailor, I should be in a Radial or even a 4.7 but when I do sail a Laser it is almost always in a full rig simply because I would rather start with and compete against people my own age rather than kids (they rarely mix the fleets in our district). I have a better shot at beating a master sailor in a full rig than a kid in a Radial or 4.7. If the wind is light, I have a really good shot at beating a few guys my own age but if the wind is heavy I only have a slim shot at not being blown off the course. In reality, I sail a full rig in light to medium winds and then become a spectator in heavier winds. I could certainly switch to a Radial in heavier winds but that puts me with the kids and I'm not fit enough to go head to head with a kid in wind and certainly don't want to be reminded that I'm no longer a kid. So my experience in a Laser in heavy winds is usually double handed with Doug, which is kind of cool because if I'm tired, he hikes while I drive, and I get one on one coaching and it's a blast.

So, bottom line, whatever rig is best for you will likely get trumped by whatever rig the bulk of the fleet is sailing. If you are fortunate enough to have good fleets for both rigs, then go for the rig that is the most fun (you'll stay with the sport longer).

Decision for World Level Sailing

Below are Doug's weights, rigs, and finishes at various World/National venues after he started keeping track of his weight:

2013Oman Master WorldsLightRadial168 lbs / 76 kg4th
2012Brisbane Master WorldsMediumRadial172 lbs / 78 kg4th
2012Brisbane AU Master NationalsWindyRadial172 lbs / 78 kg3rd
2012Houston US NationalsMixedRadial168 lbs / 76 kg7th
2010Halifax Master WorldsWindyStandard168 lbs / 76 kg6th
2008Sydney Master WorldsMediumStandard190 lbs / 86 kg12th
2007Spain Master WorldsMediumStandard186 lbs / 85 kg9th
2006Korea Master WorldsMixedStandard180 lbs / 81 kg1st
2001Ireland Master WorldsMediumStandard183 lbs / 83 kg8th
2000Cancun Master WorldsMediumStandard183 lbs / 83 kg3rd
1999Melbourne Master WorldsHonkingStandard182 lbs / 82 kg3rd
1998Gorge Master World GamesHonkingStandard182 lbs / 82 kg2nd
1997Chile Master WorldsMixedStandard185 lbs / 83 kg1st

Doug has what I would call a very intimate relationship with the full rig but the Radial is an absolute stranger.  He has sailed a full rig thousands of times in just about every condition possible and he knows what subtle boat handling changes to make as the conditions change. He takes advantage of changes that last only seconds and might only move him a few seconds ahead but those add up at the finish line. When it comes to the Radial, he can't feel the boat at all. The subtle things that work in the full rig just don't work in the Radial. At the Brisbane Master Worlds, he was a half a leg ahead in the Radial fleet at one point and still pulling away.  He couldn't repeat that again if he tried because he didn't know what he was doing and why it was working. I had already challenged him on whether he really knew how to sail a Radial since he didn't sail it regularly. There may or may not be a variety of subtle changes that he can make in the Radial that add up at the finish line but without much experience, he's just a very good sailor in a rig he doesn't know. He'll do well but probably won't beat someone with more experience in that rig. In Oman, he watched Vanessa (who constantly smiled back at him) and he matched what he saw her doing and she just kept smiling back at him and going faster.

In Part 2, we'll hear Doug's reasons for changing to a Radial and back to a full rig … so that he'll never get chicked at a Worlds again.

February 17, 2014

2014 Master Midwinter's

By Doug
Congratulations to Peter Shope who won by beating Scott Ferguson on a tiebreak. Between them, they won 6 of the 8 races sailed. Here's one reason why I could not attend:

If you look closely, you'll see a bunny now lives under my boat. Hopefully, she'll move before Fred's Easter Regatta.

February 11, 2014

2013 - Those Who Inspired Me

By Doug
Last year I wrote a post about those who inspired me in 2012.  I'm a little late but here are some of the people I found really inspirational in 2013. At the top of my list is Vanessa Dudley who beat me and won a Laser Master Worlds in Oman. She is an awesome sailor and person. And how cool was it for her to show Omani women that they can compete with and even beat the men!

Pam:  Doug said that Mark Bethwaite was helping him fold his sail after the Worlds were over and Doug told Mark he was helping him do something very special.  Mark asked what and Doug said 'this is the last time I'll ever fold a Radial sail.' This inspired Mark because he's looking forward to beating Doug too.

Of course, there was watching Robert Scheidt in Oman win his 9th Worlds. When I first arrived early on the second day, I saw him having breakfast with someone who was attending his first Worlds and was a little shell-shocked by the competitive fleet. Robert is always there to help anyone he can and is an awesome ambassador for our sport.

Another sailor competing in his first Worlds was Blake from Reaching Broadly. It is always great to see new people coming into the sport, especially as a Great Grand Master.  By competing, he also helped establish the first ever Great Grand Master full rig fleet, paving the way for me to follow in his footsteps, as I will no longer be sailing a Radial.

At the beginning of the year I had the pleasure of sailing with John MacCausland when he won the Laser Master Midwinters. He went on to win the Star Worlds. A Masters sailor winning the open Star Worlds. Inspirational!

I was in Canada for the Canadian Masters in the summer and dropped in to see family. I'm inspired by my kid brother, Brian, on the right who had a stroke 5 years ago and still has no feeling on the right side of his body. He has had to relearn how to talk and even walk. This would discourage many people but Brian sees the world very differently - every single day is a gift. A good reminder.

We lost some good US Laser sailors like Bob Saltmarsh and John Bentley, both from the New England area. Both were true gentlemen and made North American Laser sailing incredible fun.  They will both be missed. 

I'm inspired by the entire Kiwi AC team. Needing just one more victory, they were more than a kilometer ahead of Oracle in race 13 when the time ran out. We can all learn from their competitive spirit and grace.

I'm inspired by Bruce Kirby and all he continues to try to do for the Laser class despite those who have seemingly forgotten his contributions. If it was not for Bruce, none of the fun and adventures in this blog would ever have taken place.

Here in Dallas, Roger Hansen is an 80-something fellow who still sails single-handed boats. I want to be just like him when I grow up.

I'm most inspired by our readers who leave comments, make suggestions, ask questions, challenge and disagree with me.  All of this makes me a better sailor and brings me even more enjoyment from the thing I love.

Speaking of loves, I'm an constantly inspired by Pam who supports my sailing while at the same time challenging and making me prove everything I think I know.  

February 02, 2014

Sailing Angles Revisited

By Doug
I subscribe to the online Sail-World newsletter and it had a video of a race from the 18ft Skiff Nationals sailed on Sydney Harbor on January 19, 2014.

Most of the skiff videos focus on these flying machines screaming downwind and they're certainly fun to watch. This race was in a more gentle breeze and I watched it because it brought back great memories of living in Sydney in my 20's. If you're a sailor, there is no place on earth like Sydney Harbor.

The windward mark was tucked away in Watson's Bay so the conditions were quite tricky. Here are the two leaders who we'll call red and grey.

Red and grey are even.
And then something happened that was a repeat of what I saw with the excellent coverage at the London Olympics. I wrote a post about how it was amazing to watch some of the world's best sailors make what to me looked like a really basic mistake: if the boat you're trying to beat gets an inside lift, not tacking immediately is a mistake.

There were lots of comments - some agreeing but most disagreeing - including one from a Laser sailor who was actually competing (he disagreed). Pam even wrote another post that got even more comments that disagreed, none of which I found convincing.

So the inside skiff red gets the inside lift we were all commenting on.

Grey keeps going straight, red gets the inside lift.
I wrote that I would have tacked immediately for a bunch of reasons that included a header on one tack (relative to the other boat) is a lift on the other tack, needing to stay in contact with the other boat, etc.

But a lot of comments to my post said that grey should just keep going and things will even up, grey will 'foot to the next header,' tack, and regain any loss, etc.

Grey does not tack.
Grey either does not see this or decides to keep going.
The changes in these angles don't last long and sure enough, grey gets the same lift within a minute.

Now the wind direction is the same.
In my opinion, it's way too late for grey to tack. So what happens?

Grey tacks.
For me, the result is predictable. Grey hoping for a big header to catch red is rolling the dice with very poor odds. I did not see it in work at the Olympics and it certainly did not work here.

Red is waaaaay ahead.
As they approach the windward mark, red has a solid lead over grey.

Grey "puts it in the bank" by covering.
In my opinion, someone on grey should have kept track of red, seen the inside lift, and immediately called for a tack. Grey would have been a lot closer or even in the lead. But grey did not, and tacking a minute too late cost it a minute at the first mark.

No amount of boatspeed could have given red this lead so quickly. For me in these conditions, angles are better than boatspeed.

Pam:  Doug's recent detached retina and having oil still in his dominant eye has made his vision back to what it has been most of his life. As a result, I've noticed something interesting. Unlike the rest of us, he doesn't have the same variety of 3-D visual inputs. He operates in a stripped down 2-D world where he has developed strategies (rules of thumb) based upon very limited visual input. To him decisions are black and white and simple. To others, it might seems as if he's missing numerous nuances. 
I look at the above pictures and think about all the visual inputs that aren't captured that he isn't taking into consideration but whether it's live or a picture, his visual input is the same and his decisions are without doubt. I do have to wonder whether the 2-D simplicity has an advantage more often than not.  It's rather hard to test that but his observations are certainly worth noting. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...