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? 


  1. Great post.

    I think one of the wonderful thing about Laser sailors is how much they are prepared to help each other. I've sailed in the past year with a world champion and with regular back of the fleet sailors like myself. They have all been prepared to share with me what they are doing differently from me and to help me when I ask for it. Yesterday was no exception. I wasn't having great results but when I talked to a couple of my friends in the fleet I picked up some great tips when they explained what they had been doing. In fact I may have to write a blog post about it.

    You are also right that a few people are not nice. And some are downright creepy. But I try to be nice to them too. Maybe I can cure them with kindness!

  2. I completely agree - as a relative newcomer to the Laser world, I have been amazed and really pleased with this open and helpful attitude, which extends from our little club up through the Masters with ex-Olympians. Not to say that there are no jerks at all, but very few. And I am even thinking of one fellow that I thought was a jerk at my first Masters in Oman, but who turned out to be a very nice fellow in Hyères once I got to know him a bit.

  3. 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 sheet but does not bear away enough so the boat begins a death

    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 undersheeted 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.



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