Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Sail for gold

Its not about the end result! Well, sort of. Sailing out of Weymouth is not the most pleasant of experiences when you're used to an open bay within easy reach of a sheltered beach. The long delays between races and the long sail out/back each day certainly challenged my enthusiasm and reminded me of the reasons I stopped sailing back in 2003.

However, I was there to get some race tuning in and I certainly did. My results weren't anything to write home about but it was still an extremely useful exercise. I was yellow flagged for sculling on my first start and immediately approached the jury boat for an explanation. I learnt that sculling could only be performed to get the bow down from head to wind to close hauled or to get the bow through the wind onto a new tack. Sculling on both sides to maintain position was not allowed. So, the week from that point forward was all about changing my technique which was all useful practice for the worlds (even if it meant not getting a single sniff of clear air all week).

During racing, I worked myself into the top half of the fleet in about 3 of the 6 qualifying races and failed to convert any of those positions into results. Whether it be rustiness, poor decision making, poor speed or a just plain bad luck, it highlighted that I had some potential even if it was too late to make silver fleet. Having missed the cut then proceeding to collect a black flag in the first race on thursday, I decided I'd had enough of waiting around and sailed for home. Normally, I would have seen that as defeatist but I looked at it as lessons learnt and 7 days of top quality days in the boat. I was in need of a rest! I had friday off before sailing in my beloved Beer regatta and then spent the next week trying to loosen off my leags in time for Pre-worlds training at hayling.

I'm still feeling positive about my progress but there's nothing like getting a thorough whipping on the Laser circuit to bring you down to earth with a thud and focus the mind on the game in hand.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A whole month since my last post!

Its been quite a while since my last post. Up until now, most of my posts refer to club racing conditions so that everyone can relate to what I have to say. Seen as I haven't been club sailing much lately, I don't have a lot to say on that front. I shall be sailing again on Thursday and Sunday.

In the mean time, I thought I could just bring this post up to date with how preparations for the worlds have been going. An old sailing friend once said to me after I had suffered an appalling worlds in America that 'you cant do a worlds without doing a full months worth of sailing before hand'. So, about 3 weeks ago now I started sailing about 5-6 days a week on top of my usual fitness regime. Most of these sessions lasted between 2 and 3 hours and were based out of Beer with Mr Cornish. Most sessions consisted of at least an hours worth of sailing round 2 marks to sharpen up my mark roundings. The most critical part of this is to make sure every type of approach and exit is covered and all controls are adjusted every time. This encourages the 'autopilot' type execution of these manouvres. The rest of the time was spent doing boat speed work on all points of sail. In hiking conditions. Upwind speed runs typically lasted 20 mins to replicate the length of a worlds beat. These sessions proved very successful and led into the next step.

I turned up at Weymouth to start training for Sail for Gold on the Thursday before it was due to start. By this time I had aleady sailed on 8 out of the last 10 days with 4 days since my last break. With Ben unable to get out, I had arranged to sail with A very good laser helm by the name of Mark Powell. He was keen to get some big days in so we hit the water wfor 4 hours on each of thurday and Friday and then a further 3 on Saturday. It was pretty breezy and lots of the competitors from around the world were now on the water to start their own prep for S4G. It had been a while since I'd sailed against this standard of opposition but it was the best type of training you can have. Typically a long windward leeward would be set with one boat getting everyone away in a gate start. 60 odd boats of fairly even speed don't tend to get seperated by much over medium distances so crowded windward marks and impossible runs were the norm. This was exactly what I'd been hoping for and gave me a good indication of where I was.

I was fractionally off the boat speed pace upwind but it was good enough to round most windward marks around (but mostly below) half way. This represented a huge boost for me but unfortunately my lack of pace down the run made it hard to hold my position. over the 3 days I found my racing was improving and the hour long upwind sail home in the fresh southwesterlies were really giving my legs a serious test. Especially against Mark 'I will out hike you at all costs' Powell. I'd forgotten what it was like to walk down stairs after big Laser sessions and I will freely admit that I was basicly in pieces. However, with 2 and a bit weeks solid training under my belt. I felt like things were going in the right direction and was sort of looking forward to S4G with some optimism.

Next time.... How did it Go?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Sail Settings.

What a great session. Getting the pies in obviously helped me a great deal as I seemed to be going pretty quick. I don't always mention my sail settings but I think it's worth mentioning today. Upwind I was fully depowered. Cunningham cringle down on the gooseneck, kicker pulled on as much as I could manage (bent like a banana). The only place I left any shape in the sail was in the foot. I left a minimal curve instead of flattening it right off. I do that to retain a little power low down on the sail where it has less effect to help me get through the chop. Off wind I let it all off and had marginally more kicker on for the reaches than for the run.

You've now set the boat up to go quick, but how? Being quick in windy conditions is largely down to maintaining constant heal. Doing this is important as it allows the foils to work at their most efficient and reduces the amount of unnecessary steering (which acts as a break). There are two reasons why sailing in waves makes this harder to do. On top of the wave the rig is higher and so is exposed to the full force of the breeze. When in the trough the rig is slightly shetered and the pressure is reduced. The second reason is that water flows from the top of the wave to the trough on both sides of the crest. This current pushes you slightly to windward (giving you more pressure) on the back of the wave and pushes you to leeward (giving you less pressure) on the front of the wave. This gives a cyclic variation of pressure in the rig.

So the technique goes as thus. Approach wave, steer up into wave to get past adverse current on the face of the wave, sheet in and maybe lean in slightly for a rest. As boat gets to crest, bear away slightly. let the sheet out a foot or two and lean out to allow for the extra pressure. Sheet in and head up as next wave approaches and so on. Remember tht there will be flat spots when you don't need to sheet out as much and you ca n control the pressure with steering and hiking. Part of being quick is recognising the times when you need to use the skills. Also, every now and again some extra chops come along to disrupt your cycle. Use the 'Long haul' techniques for punching through these whilst sailing free (footing, sheeting out) before getting back into rythmn. Makes sense?

The sheeting technique will only work if you have loads of kicker on! If you don't have it on, the boom pops up as well as out when you sheet out from the block to block position. This straightens the mast and powers the rig up rather than releasing the pressure, the complete opposite of what you want to achieve. If you don't like tacking with loads of kicker on, let it off before the tack then pull it back on afterwards to avoid the dreaded 'irons'.

Following on from Rons rule 42 response. Here's my subtle tips for getting that bit extra out of the boat. When approaching big waves. Instead of just leaning out more over the crest, incorporate a rapid aft movement of your shoulders with a drive forward through your hips. This helps punch the boat over the wave and delivers an instant pulse of force through the rig to counteract the increase in power.

A similar technique can be applied with each 'jab' of a tiller in the chop technique. All questions welcome.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Got to post something!

It's nice to be away on holiday with Nat and the kids. Bit gutted to be missing
out on the good forecast for Thursday. I hope you all have a cracker. Thought
I should mention Sundays racing. Nice to get out and try it even if the breeze wasn't
up to much. As for my performance, it was mildly better than Englands and I
missed out a mark. So, I add it to a growing list of errors currently afflicting my sailing.
It only came to light whilst chewing the fat afterwards over a cup of tea. At which point
I'd signed off and no-one had noticed! Self policing at it's best ensured I subsequently retired.
What a disaster? 3 race day and all. Anyway, how to go fast round a track when the wind
Keep your bearings as the wind swings and sail the proper course!!!!

Friday, 25 June 2010


Last nights race was certainly a bit of a challenge. Looking upwind before the start, I was completely torn. It looked as if there was more breeze on the left (presumably as it was outside the lee of the cliff) but the forecast had the breeze tracking right through 90 at some point in the next 2 hours. As it turned out the adverse tide made it difficult to make the left pay.

There were still shifts and holes to negotiate so simply plumping for the right hand corner didn't work either. In short, a very difficult breeze to read consistently well. Ron deservedly took the PH and LH bullets. Having a big rig helps but the breeze last night levelled the playing field and rewarded better directional decisions more than speed. I don't believe anyone got it nailed on last night. Perhaps Ron got 75% of the decisions right and the rest of us were between 60 and 70%. The last decision I made was to go right of Andy on the last beat. Based purely on the angle Ron was sailing further up the course. As the attacking boat I had to split from Andy to gain some leverage and then its all down to 'pot luck' and being a bit spawny as there were never any certainties last night. In the end the difference between Any and I was he got it right early and I got it right late. Its a cruel sport!

The only other thought I had about last night was my mindset. When I'm not doing as well as I want to be, I have to really focus on keeping myself 'together' in the boat. Its really easy to start making rash decisions and taking too many big risks. It also gets me fidgety in the boat which is not fast. Being quick in the light is about being smooth so stopping myself 'pumping and rolling' more than usual is also key. Trying to maintain a certain calmness allows me to think more about the breeze and the decisions.

To this end, I wonder what peoples thoughts are on what rule 42 allows. I generally sail right on the edge of whats permissable. Having only suffered 3 yellow flags in 14 years of laser sailing, I think I rarely step over the mark. Comments welcome unless they're libelous!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Long haul.

Sorry for my late postings lately. I'm just running a bit behind time. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the water on Sunday. I picked up on the fact that people didn't particularly get on with starboard tack so here are my thoughts.

Going out on starboard took us right across the main rip of wind over tide and was providing some quite steep chop at times. Being quick was down to choosing the flatter spots in which to sail high and trying to anticipate the bigger chops. Once I saw that a bigger chop was upon me....

The Approach - I induced a little more leeward heel by steering a slightly lower course without dropping any sheet and leaning in a touch (if there's not enough breeze to induce heel). This gives the boat shape a bit more 'rocker' (curve) and reduces the slamming effect whilst also allowing the majority of water that comes over the bow to slip off the deck before filling you up. It also powers the rig up so be careful not to overcook it!

During - My steering becomes quite aggressive. A sharp stab of the tiller away from me as the bow approaches the chop prevents the bow being 'knocked down' on successive chops and therefore helps maintain height in your lane. Its a bit like trying to get the bow to 'punch' through the chop. I combine this with some body movement which involves rolling the shoulders aft at the same time as thrusting your hips forward (ie on starboard, hips right / shoulders left). This drives the boat forward and flicks the leech to give the boat some extra pace into the chop and also helps lever the bow up a bit. Complete this movement in a cycle (always returning to your standard hiking position) for every nasty chop until the 'set' passes.

After - Having gone through a bad 'set' of chops I would then sail higher again by squeezing the boat flat with extra hiking power before reducing my body movement and steering. Conserving energy in the flat bits is vital if you want to be quick in the choppier bits. Its also very hard work! The key to it all is anticipation.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Breeze on.

Another good race last night in a strong North Easterly. Congratulations to Jamie for edging me out despite the extra 4 kilos of rust he was carrying. Perhaps he should turn out for windy stuff more often eh?! It was a thoroughly engaging race. The general principles for getting round in good shape included massive amounts of kicker in the windy bits and sailing free to keep the boat moving on the beat. Offwind, Just trying to line yourself up with the breeze. The other factor was a very high work rate. I think its the most tired I've been after a single race in a long while!

Looking back at the race highlighted a few things to me. Firstly, the importance of staying in touch (engaging the boat ahead). Wherever you are in the fleet, being close to a boat in front inevitably applies pressure. Seen as I'm used to showing a clean set of heels to the fleet, having to constantly defend a narrow lead prevented me from dedicating my efforts to my own race. It had a surprising effect on my ability to be a smooth operator in the boat too. Rushed tacks, dropped sheets, hasty decisions and poor anticipation were just some of the areas under attack, all becasuse the pressure was on. All of which shows that staying close enough for long enough as an attacker can really unravel your opponent. Boo

Secondly, always try to sail the longest tack first on a one sided beat..... Unless sailing at Beer in a North Easterly! In which case do the shortest bit first and then utilise random 20 degree lifts like Jamie. Ha Ha ;-)

Finally, always let out the frustration immediately after the race in order to pacify yourself! Must do better next time.