Sun 6 Jan
I was somewhat apprehensive about the first day of the pre-Midwinters Regatta Laser clinic in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. I hadn't sailed for many weeks. Indeed I think I had only had one day of practice on the water since the Laser Masters Worlds in October. Three months with hardly any sailing! I was bound to be rusty.
Add in a back injury that had stopped me exercising for several weeks after the Worlds, then a couple of miserable man colds, and worse than usual early winter sloth... and I was more overweight and less fit than I had been for years. The conditions on Friday and Saturday had been similar to last year's regatta, big waves and crazy winds. By Sunday, the first day of the clinic, the winds had moderated to around 15 knots but the waves were still big enough that it was impossible to sail through the gap in the reef. Was I in any shape to tackle a repeat of last year's fiasco?
After we had rigged our boats the group of ten or eleven students met for the on-the-shore briefing. Coach Rulo took us through a lesson on sailing upwind in waves. It was apparent right away that this guy is a seriously good teacher of sailing skills. It's not that I hadn't heard about upwind technique in a Laser before. I've even written the occasional blog post about it such as Poetry in Motion. But Rulo had a way of explaining the sequence of movements that made it all clearer than it had ever seemed to me before. For instance, several time he drew diagrams of waves and marked on the diagrams exactly when to start easing the sheet to bear off, or when to torque the body to help the boat head up the wave and to avoid crashing into the next wave. Looking back it's exactly the same technique as Ed Adams was describing in that article I quoted in the above link, but Rulo's explanation was easier to understand and remember.
Then it was out on the water for some windward-leeward drills and races of various types to allow Rulo to assess our boat-handling skills, upwind, downwind, tacking and gybing. There was one drill I hadn't seen before, what Rulo called a "points" race and I came to know as the never-ending race. It was basically a windward-leeward race for an indeterminate number of laps. The leader at each mark (after the first) had to do a 360 and the race kept going until someone had done five 360's. Luckily there were a couple of sailors at the clinic who were significantly better than the rest of us so that one or other of them would be able to regain the lead at five marks before we had sailed the mathematically possible twenty seven laps or so.
I needn't have worried too much about being out of form. I caught a few rides on waves and did a few gybes to warm up before the drills started, and all of a sudden the memories of how much fun this place was last year came flooding back. I was able to hang in there around the middle of the fleet for most of the drills and occasionally was doing even better.
However, the thing that I found most gratifying about the day was that Rulo would come up behind me in his motor boat while I was sailing in the drills and give me detailed feedback on faults in my technique and how to improve. I've done a number of other sailing clinics before but I don't think I've ever had quite so much good, relevant, detailed, personal feedback before. Then there was also a comprehensive group feedback session after sailing, with video shots from the on-the-water session, that reinforced and expanded what I had learned during the day. Quite a learning experience.
1. Exactly when to torque on the waves.
2. I need to work the upper body more in these conditions.
3. I should hike hard before swapping sheet and tiller hands after a tack. (I'd developed this lazy style of doing the handswap while crossing the boat and Rulo said it delays me from hiking the boat flat and accelerating out of the tack properly.)
4. The optimum path for steering when gybing at a leeward mark. I don't think anyone had ever properly explained this to me before and my former abysmal technique was quite obvious on some of the video feedback.
5 If you don't exercise for three months and then go on a serious training session in big waves you are going to ache in every part of your body afterwards. Ouch. Thank God for the bottle of painkiller labeled Ron in the hotel room refrigerator.