Friday, April 5, 2013

Unlearning bad old habits

According to wind statistics, April is the windiest month on Cape Cod, so perhaps it is not a big surprise that I got to sail 4 days in a row. A couple of days included some SUP sailing - Monday at Dowses Beach in Osterville because I started early, and Wednesday in Skaket because I was late and arrived after the wind had dropped. My timing was also off a bit on Tuesday, where I went for speed at the Kennedy Slicks in Hyannis Port. The wind had been above 30 mph for 3 hours, but dropped just as I got onto the water. I got a couple of speed runs in, but then had to call it a day.

Yesterday was another fun day, with winds around 20 mph. I sailed in Kalmus for almost 3 hours, and Nina joined me for part of that time. Wind and waves invited some chop hop practice:
I love the way the water catches the sun in the pictures above and below:
The bottom picture shows the main thing I was working on yesterday - hand positions during the sail flip in the jibe. I can jibe decently when everything is lined up right. But there are tons of things that will make me loose speed in my jibes, or fall: too much chop; other sailors or distractions near me; getting tired after sailing for an hour or two; too much time since the last ABK camp; and many other things. I think the real problem is that I jibed for a couple of decades without decent instruction. Some windsurfers like Hardie or Tom can learn on their own and develop a nice style, but I don't belong to that group. I have been doing things wrong for too long, building bad "muscle memories" that I fall back to whenever I start to get tired, distracted, ...

Every time I look at GoPro footage, I see myself making the same mistakes over and over again. In jibes, that includes:
  1. Placing the back foot so that it points to much towards the edge (instead of placing it parallel to the front strap, pointing more towards the front).
  2. Pulling myself up to the sail with bent arms.
  3. Not oversheeting (hard to do if both arms are bent).
  4. Not moving the hand towards the mast when flipping the sail.
  5. Looking down at the board or sail, instead of out of the turn.
There are other things I do wrong sometimes, but the things listed above I do wrong almost every time. Trying to remember all of them mid-jibe simply does not work for me - if I think of one, I certainly will forget the other four. So for yesterday's session, I decided to concentrate on just one thing - moving the hand on the boom towards the mast before flipping the sail. The idea is to do this so often and consistently that it becomes automatic. So when I then move on to the next thing on the list, I'm hopefully doing one at least that one thing right, without having to think about it.

In yesterday's session, I jibed about 50 times. It took about 10 jibes before I remembered what I wanted to work on, but after that, I did move my hand towards the mast in most jibes. On the water, I was quite amazed how much of a difference that made. Compared to leaving the hand near the front harness lines, as I had mostly done before, it's much easier to control the rig, and to move it towards the front during and after the flip. On the GoPro footage, I saw that I still did do the three other things wrong during most jibes, so it's no surprise that I lost a lot of speed in most of the jibes. Still, getting going again after the jibes was definitely much easier with the better hand positioning. That said, I did notice that my hand movements often were too small - I moved the hand maybe halfway towards the mast, instead of sliding it all the way towards the front end of the boom.

Some curious reader might ask why I started with the fourth step on my list of common mistakes rather than with the first one. The reason is simple: if I do everything right at the start of the jibe, so that I can oversheet nicely with a straight front arm, I'll often carry enough speed into the turn that the jibe is ok even if I do not slide the hand towards the mast. That takes away the motivation to keep improving - and therefore just re-enforces bad habits. In boom cam footage from light wind SUP sailing, I noticed that I had the same mistake of not sliding the hand; a SUP is stable enough that "little" mistakes are easy to overlook. 

For the next session, the goal will be to focus getting rid of bad habits #2 and #3 (under the assumption that #3 is mostly a consequence of #2). At the start of the jibe, my front arm is often reasonably straight, and I do let the sail pull me into an upright position. The next step would be to push the sail out of my line of sight with a (mostly) straight front arm; but instead, I often open the sail up a bit (and too early), which leads to the dreaded "bent arms, ass out" stance. The motto will be "sail, get out of my way!". I have done this on occasion, mostly after being told to do so during ABK camps. It will be interesting to see if I can get this to "stick" by concentrating on it a few dozen times in a row. Considering that a typical sailing year with 100+ sessions includes many thousands of jibes, I may need a few "single-focus" corrective sessions to unlearn each bad habit. 

1 comment:

  1. thanks for such a sincere post!

    what I found interesting and useful - during complicated moves - you can't remember those long names of what you need to do. So it's better for me to use that Guy Cribb's short terms. And sometimes those terms sound so strange and cool that you can't get them off of your head :) Like sliding your arm to the mast is called 'Boom-shaka' :)) Please check his dvd Intuition Jibe or something. It helped me to remember main steps/details. Or to look where you're going on the exit of jibe - VISION!!! :)))