I was watching the video of the 2011 ISAF Laser world championships (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fS6YYSYNcgM ) in which Tom Slingsby leads from start to finish in front of a home crowd and I was awestruck at how these guys control their beasts. Fluid, quick, decisive maneuvers – everything picture perfect – at least I guess it was perfect because what they do has nothing to do with how I go about the process.
Every detail, every gesture was an example of what I read about in the books, but even further. The part that really struck me was the downwind legs – constantly moving, carving, sheeting to take advantage of every ripple. As the commentator pointed out, Slingsby has a very dynamic style with a very wide groove, occasionally gybing to get the right course – and he is very, very fit. I was shaking my head, thinking how different it all is from the downwind legs I sail in which I hopefully get around the windward mark without major disaster, loosen the fittings if I remember, bring up the centerboard and move forward to bring the transom out of the water. Occasionally changing course a bit if I actually see a wave in time, trying to sail by the lee sometimes, etc. but no working the sheet at all and almost all steering with the rudder. Our course usually has smaller waves than those in the video, but still I would imagine that Slingsby and the others would be eking out every bit of value from even our little waves. The whole thing made me think of bicycle training wheels. Compared to those guys, I am sailing a Laser with training wheels which means that from a distance, one might think I am riding a real Laser, but in reality I am not even close to experiencing the real thing. On a bicycle with training wheels, you don’t risk falling over but you are totally denied the real feel of the experience. That is true of my level of Laser sailing - but on a Laser the training wheels exist only in my mind. While I may not attain the level of these guys or the Boat Whisperer (starting Laser sailing at age 63 is not an advantage), at least this video made me understand a bit what all that downwind stuff is about in the books, DVDs etc and I will start trying a bit more experimenting, although the training wheels are still pretty firmly in place.