Sunday, November 4, 2018

Racing Lessons

One of the great things about racing is that it shows us where we need to improve. Sometimes, these are things that are not obvious during the typical back-and-forth sailing, but the prospect of more races in the future can motivate us to improve. In races that are mostly beam reach or slightly downwind, like the recent ECWF Hatteras races, jibes are very important. Here's a list of what to learn:
  1. Jibe dry on any equipment you may use in racing.
  2. Jibe dry in chop, with distractions, and at any spot - not just in nice flat water where nobody is near.
  3. Learn to adjust the radius in the middle of the jibe to avoid obstacles.
  4. Get back to full speed quickly after a jibe.
  5. Plane through jibes.
  6. Pick your jibe path so your competitors end up behind you.
Most of these points seem quite self-explanatory, perhaps even obvious. If you fall in a jibe, you'll loose a lot of ground. If you usually jibe dry, but never jibe around people or jibe marks, the distractions and extra chop may make you fall. If you're in the middle of the pack, you often have to adjust your jibe radius because a sailor in front of you crashes or comes to a dead stop. 

However, I had never realized the importance of #4 - getting back to full speed quickly after a jibe. I had often worked on #5, planing through a jibe. But whenever I come off the plane in a jibe, I'd usually take my time and wait for the next gust or swell to push me back up on a plane. On the second day of the ECWF races, when we had planing conditions for four races, I learned the error of my lazy ways ... 12 times in a row (in 4 races with 3 jibe marks). On the straights, I had at least similar, and often better, speed than the two guys (Andy and Keith) who finished ahead of me in most races. In the jibes, I came off the plane most of the time, but so did Keith. But it took me about 25 seconds to get back up to full speed, much longer than Keith, so he usually gained at least 100 meters at every jibe mark. 

I'm pretty sure Keith does not train much for races, so why did he get going so much faster? Perhaps the reason is that he usually sails in waves, which I (almost) never do. Wave sailing at Hatteras often includes a lot of slogging and pumping practice - be it to catch a wave, or to get enough speed to make it over the shore break. Lazy sailors get pummeled and don't catch waves! Nor do they get to beat wave sailors in races :-(.

Point #5, planing through jibes, is really just a logical consequence of #4. However, chances that you'll plane through a jibe in racing are always lower than in free sailing, since the jibe mark dictates where you jibe; other sailors create chop and may disturb the wind; and the jibe radius is often chosen to keep others at bay, or to sneak around them, which can make it hard to plane through the jibe. Even PWA slalom pros often don't plane through jibes! But you can always see them pump like crazy to get back up to speed.

The last point about picking your path is how Andy managed to win 2 of the 4 races, despite being on slower gear. Andy was usually third at the first jibe mark, but always had the highest approach, which allowed him to see where both Keith and I were jibing. He could then come in between and end up before us. At that point, it did not matter much if he planed through the jibe or not, since he blocking us. This approach requires quite a bit of experience, confidence, and skills - perhaps more experience than can be gained by attending one or two race events per year. Some of the top level slalom sailors now train slalom on Tenerife, with up to 20 races per day, often for several weeks in a row - that can amount to hundreds of training races! So I'll put this one on the back burner for now, and concentrate on regaining speed after a jibe. 

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