When I fail to win a sailboat race (which happens most of the time) I am usually confused as to why I failed. Was there one reason or many? Was it getting a bad start? Poor boat speed relative to the fleet? Wrong strategy? Etc. etc. etc. It seems hard to makes sense of what happened when you were flailing around in bad air in a crowd of sailors in the middle of the fleet.
But on the rare occasions that I win a race, it all seems much more simple. Usually it is because of one decision I made or one move that I executed that put me out in front. And sailing in front of the fleet is a hell of a lot easier than all that mid-fleet confusion.
Such was the case last night.
It turned out to be another superb evening for informal Laser racing in Bristol Harbor. The wind was patchy and fluky when we first launched but it eventually settled into a light but steady NW breeze and we completed six or so windward-leeward races. There were eleven boats out, the largest fleet that we've had so far on the Tuesdays I've attended.
Our usual fleet captain was not present so there was a bit of confusion as we all waited for someone else to take charge and decide on a course. Once the course was decided there was even more confusion about which of the no-wake markers was actually the windward mark.
"That one up there?"
"The third one."
"Third counting from where?"
"The one to the left of the other one."
"Which other one?"
And so on.
Eventually we got the racing going with a rabbit start and sort of allowed the leader of the first race to decide to choose which mark to round. Then after the race we all had a good argument as to which mark would have been better. After a couple of races everybody knew what the course was and we settled in for some good racing.
I was doing OK in the first couple of races, up in the top four or five as I recall, and was pretty pleased with that. My boat speed was good, partly thanks to all that practice in light air clinics with Kurt Taulbee in Florida I think.
The rabbit for the next race set off on her run and everyone screamed at her that they weren't ready so we did a restart. I notice that she didn't take as long an approach run as the rabbits in the earlier races, so I hovered near the leeward mark/ start buoy expecting her to do the same again. She did. I made a perfect start on her transom and when I looked back a few seconds later I saw that the rest of the fleet hadn't been quite so lucky. Or observant? Or as well prepared?
Anyway, I was leading off the start. I looked up the course and the wind looked stronger on the left so I worked that side of the course and was first at the windward mark. Did a perfectly acceptable rounding and bear away (something I've been practicing a bit lately) and sailed the run partly by the lee and partly on a broad reach aiming to keep good flow on the sail in the light air.
I was rabbit for the next race and so was over on the right side of the course by the time everyone had ducked me. I still rounded the windward mark with the leaders and finished around third or fourth.
The next race I tried for a start on the left again, soon after the rabbit rounded the buoy. Unfortunately so did three other sailors. I was pinned between two boats and gasping for air. As I wanted to go left I actually ducked behind the boat to leeward that was trying to pinch me off and bore off into clear air. Eventually everyone else tacked away and I went off to bang the left-hand corner. I had lots of pressure, and a slight lift as I cracked off a couple of degrees to round the windward mark in first place again.
My lead was big enough that nobody could catch me on the run. Two wins.
One of the the other sailors came up to me after racing and laughingly congratulated me on winning the evening. I wasn't so sure that was true as we don't keep score, but it was certainly my best Tuesday so far.
Sailboat racing is pretty simple really. Win the start. Sail where there is more wind. Don't screw up.
OK. I know it was only Tuesday night informal short course practice racing. I shouldn't get too cocky about it. But it has given me a boost of confidence after some pretty mediocre results on previous Tuesdays and at the Wickford Regatta a few weeks back. Especially as the sailors in this fleet are no pushovers. There are some people in this fleet who have achieved more in sailing than I can ever hope to. Any time I can finish in front of all of them - and twice - is a good day.
There's life in the old dog yet.