Thursday, October 30, 2014

Light Air Heel

When I was at an RYA training center (note that I spell the word correctly) this summer, I was told by one of their dinghy racing instructors that on beats in light winds it is good to heel the boat about 5 to 10 degrees to leeward which should allow you to point slightly higher. Most of the Laser books say much the same and a quick Google search shows it seems to be the standard advice.

Since then I have tried it several times, but frankly have not noticed much of any difference.  Of course this could be faulty technique.  At the Masters I didn't notice any of the good sailors trying it on light wind days.  Recently in our Club races we had light winds and I tried it and thought maybe it was helping me point just a bit higher but I was not sure. 

Does it really make much of a difference ? If so, is it only because of less wetted surface and perhaps helping the sail to keep some shape or does it do something else also?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hyères Report 2

For me the real value of the Laser Masters is about the people and even though I have been to only one other Masters, it was nice seeing many of the people from last time and renewing acquaintances.   In particular, I saw Doug from Improper Course and this time he had Pam along who is a delight.   I also spent some time with my buddy Neil from Australia who had visibly lost weight from last year – which he attributes to a lady friend who has him on a very healthy diet.  And, frankly after seeing Neil race this year, I think she also has been adding some vitamins and other goodies.  I made some new friends – a South African living in Qatar, an Australian dentist, John the UK journalist in Australia, and a couple of Greeks.  And the same little group of Great Grand Masters in Standards has mostly the same people as last year. Mark Bethwaite has been, as usual, a perfect gentleman, welcoming me with a kind word at each race.  Although frankly, after battling the waves in 20 knots for several days, I think a few of us will be in Radials next time.  Or maybe just forgo any dieting for a year or so and try to come better equipped weight-wise.

I am also starting to discover the culture of the Masters.  Some of the sailors have a wealth of experience – typically starting at a young age and competing for many years.  Some have done keelboat sailing and return to dinghies for the purity and fun and friendship of it all.  Others are just club sailors who love the sport and come when they can.  As a newcomer to the entire sailing scene, I am very lucky to be able to participate in an event like this and it is very encouraging to be welcomed into this group and included without any sign of being looked down as a newcomer.  People are generous with tips and suggestions and even though often they are discussing past Laser events they have attended with many of the same people, there is no sense of exclusivity or snobbery.  I heard an interesting comment from one of the people involved in events and he said there was a huge difference between the Open competition with all the stars, many of whom are prima donnas and want everything perfect on their boat, and the Masters where everyone is laid back. 

I had an interesting discussion with a Dutch woman who explained that she and her husband had both been Olympic sailing hopefuls and had worked very hard but had never realized their dream. Now their children are very much into sailing and pursuing their own dreams – and not knowing what to do about university/career.  And their parents don’t really know what to tell them.   They don’t want to push them either way.   There is no right answer.

Back to the racing, it was a survival day for me.  And I did survive which I was glad to do. Lots of hard work trying to learn how to cope with the waves and more than one capsize.  But a great learning experience and confidence builder.  I got a bit more aggressive on the starts – which luckily for us is a very long line with plenty of room to start gaining speed with about 30 seconds to go.  But, even with a decent start, it is a bit disheartening to stay more or less even with the stars for a minute or two and then see them turn on the engines and pull away effortlessly – well, I know they are putting a lot of effort into it, but just watching them keeping their boat flat in these conditions, with small tiller movements going around breaking waves, it sure looks effortless. And it is not just weight – Bethwaite can’t weigh more than me.

Finally, we had a moving event today involving Jean-Michel, one of the organisers in Oman and who is helping in Hyères with the boats. He is always available with a big grin and very pleasant. He grew up in the area and his father was very active for many years in regattas and became a judge. However, because he never learned English he could never be part of the Jury for a Laser event, much to his regret.  His father passed away a day or so ago and Jean-Michel had a box of roses near the check-in station and asked any sailor who wished to take a rose and throw it on the water in memory of his father.  I did so.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hyères Report

I am in Hyères at the Master Worlds 2014. 

On arrival I was very happy to re-experience the Mediterranean atmosphere.  I have always had a weakness for the Mediterranean and seeing the landscape and smelling the particular Mediterranean odors was very nice.

Hyères is nice little town and, like all of France outside Paris, has a laidback attitude.  It is also fun hearing the Provençal Midi accent which has a real charm – and reminds you that you are no longer in Paris, Dorothy.

Getting the charter boat and checking in went OK, although at measurement I was informed that the little plastic tips on 2 of my battens were not official Laser tips and had to be changed.  I duly did that, but what on earth can tips on battens have to do with ensuring a fair one-design race?

The first race day was a non-event for the Radials, including the Great Grand Masters Standard fleet which also sails with the Radials.  We spent most of the day watching the AP flag and finally a bit after 3PM, most of the fleets were sent out.

The GGM Standard fleet went to the Radial course area and were started first. We got off in winds around 10 knots and went up to the windward mark, around the offset mark and back down to the leeward gate. We rounded the leeward gate and the wind was noticeably dying.  About a third the way toward the windward mark, the Race Committee called it quits and sent every one home.   The Standard fleet (except us) was more fortunate and obviously in better wind – they got in 4 races.  

The next day we got in only one race and it was relatively light winds.  I came in next to last but it was close with a couple of my buddies.  Then I made my first stupid mistake - in my rush I forgot to take my bracelet off the check in board. A ten percent penalty bumped me down to last. Oh well.

Then, things changed (not the results but the weather).  Yesterday, it was raining heavily in the morning and we finally got on the water in the afternoon with the wind at least 20 Knots and waves to match.  Although I understand this is normal for a lot of my Aussie friends, I am definitely not used to those conditions and, in addition, being in a Standard, I suffered battling against the waves upwind.  But the downwind and especially the reach was a screaming joyride.    In terms of lessons learned – stay away from the marks in high winds.  I  got too close to the offset mark and a wave pushed me too close and my boom grazed it. So, I did my 360 with a tack, then a gybe and then a capsize.  Not a way to win.

Similar conditions today, without the rain.  The wind was a bit less but still a struggle for me.  In the second race I was getting tired and paying less attention. A surf with the boom too far out turned into a death roll/capsize.  I righted the boat and it immediately went over again. I got it back up and realized the problem – my vang had come out of the slot.  So, after lots of fussing around with it I managed to get head to wind long enough to get in quickly.  Now I know why some people put tape or a bit or cord over that. 

Anyhow, it has been quite a learning experience for me with the wind and waves bigger than what I am used to.  But, in addition to the hard work upwind, there is also a lot of fun – those reaches and surfs are amazing when they are in the groove.  They remind me why I like the little Laser so much - screaming along on a reach and catching a wave to boot - hard to feel more exhilaration that that.
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