Sunday, November 30, 2014

Words of Wisdom for the off Week

This week's guest blogger, Amanda Callahan

This week we have no racing, but we do have a guest blogger.  Amanda Callahan has shared some of her insights into racing at Barrington (and racing in general).  Originally this was posted to the Barrington email list, but it is too good not so share, and Amanda has graciously allowed us to report her words of wisdom here.

Amanda Callahan's Words of Wisdom

Usually, frostbiting in Barrington is less about good starts and boat speed than it is about playing the shifts and positioning yourself well against the boats around you. But yesterday was a welcome anomaly. First, you could hardly call the weather “frostbite-worthy” with temps in the mid to high 50s – it was beautiful! Secondly, the 5-8 knots of southerly breeze was fairly straight forward, and boat speed seemed to play a bigger role. And as an added bonus, the current was going with us on the way out and the way in!

StartsOn the short course, starts can make or break a race! (Having said that, I had 2 really bad starts – see the bullets for more on those.)
In the first 3 or 4 races, the current was pushing you upwind at more than a knot; it was key to sail downwind for a while before the start so you didn't end up too close to the line or OCS. My race strategy was to ride the elevator of favorable current on the left hand side of the course, but I didn't think I needed to be at the pin in order to execute that plan.  Knowing that I wanted to go left meant that I needed to hold a lane going that way, and my ability to do that would be dictated by my approach to the start. From leeward of the line, I could see where clumps of boats were forming and tried to avoid those clusters.
I completely failed at that in the 3rd race and was sandwiched between Alan Silk to windward and ?? to leeward. I was squirted out the back really quickly and forced to tack on to port early – not part of my plan. The only good thing that came from that is that I was able to find a clean lane after I ducked the rest of fleet on port and patiently tried to pick off boats throughout the rest of the race.

As the afternoon wore on and the current started to switch, the pin end of the line became massively favored to the point where it became difficult to fetch the pin on starboard. In the last two races, the breeze had also gone left by about 20 degrees or more and you could fetch the windward mark from the pin end. Given those conditions, it is critical that you're able to tack immediately after the start, but being at the pin, or pin-most boat, in that situation is a high risk maneuver. The reward is high for the ONE boat who nails the execution (and usually there is only one boat to make it out of the fray). But for the rest of the boats battling it out at the pin, several usually don't make the layline, and are forced to bail out. There is usually a lot of congestion and locking rails with others usually isn’t fast (see example above). The port-tackers who typically set up outside the port layline see success only at the mercy of the starboard-tackers – in other words as a port-tacker, you really don’t control your destiny. A better approach would be to start near the favored end with some room on your windward hip, so you can tack out and not foul the boats who are slow on the uptake.

In the second to last race, I set up on the pin 3rd of the line, above the line, thinking the current was going to bring me down. At the time when I committed to it, most people were still at the boat and struggling to get up to the pin, so it seemed like a good idea. It was a risky approach that depended on boats not being able to get up to the pin 1/3rd. I swooped down to the line in the last 10 seconds because the current had not quite done the job I thought it would do, and as a result ended up closer to the pin than I would have liked. (Scott Greenbaum called it either “assertive” or “aggressive”). Andy David was the pin-most boat, and luckily we were all able to tack out and get on the long tack to the mark. More on that…
Before the last race, I went off the line on port and actually thought you could fetch the WM from the midline. That would have been the conservative approach. But no – sometimes I don’t listen to myself. I found myself at the pin 1/3rd again, though I did set up on the line, rather than above it. But I ended up rafted with Scott Greenbaum who was one of the aforementioned port-tackers.
Missed opportunity - After Andy and I tacked on to port in the second to last race, I was able to sneak up into his lane and pinch him off. Rather than sit in dirty air for the rest of the beat, he did a quick hitch out and back, losing very little on the rest of the leaders. In the last race, I was stuck behind the leaders in a lane that was horrible. Normally, I think staying on the long tack is the right thing to do, but in this case, I was slowly losing the pack to leeward who were sailing in cleaner lanes, and was continuing to get rolled by the train on boats on my hip. In hindsight, I think I should have taken a clearing tack early, and gotten myself on the train high to put me in better touch with the front of the pack. – As I mentioned at the start, if that race had been a one-lapper, I would have been hosed, but thankfully, it was the long sail in and I was able to make up some distance.

The Run 
After the first race, where I sailed almost a straight line to the leeward mark and nervously watched as a big pack of boats gybed to the west side of the Barrington River, Ken Charles asked me, “How did you know that was going to work?” I replied, “I didn’t!” When I rounded the windward mark in first, I thought the breeze looked uniform across the course, and the distance needed to sail out of the adverse current seemed significant to me. So I pointed the bow at the mark and hoped for the best. It worked out for me and I was able to maintain the lead because we might have had some more pressure than those in the current relief. Sometimes you don’t have all the answers!

Boat Speed 
I believe many in the top of the fleet had a similar game plan or strategy for the first beat. I think I had pretty decent speed which allowed me to get to the windward mark at or near the top. Since the North Americans in mid-summer, I’ve been sailing strictly with a version of Forrester rig (I’ve completely abandoned a main halyard) and I’ve been working on developing my boat speed with that system. I think it is working for me, but I don’t think that system will work for everyone. At the recent Worlds, we asked David Mendleblatt, who is on the small side (~145lbs), but is fast in all conditions how he rigged his boat. He had 4 different halyard positions marked on his top boom.
I’ve posted a video about his rig in two parts on YouTube
Part 1:

Part 2: )

There is also a good video about the Gust Adjust, posted by Greg Gust himself: Perhaps that system will be the right system for someone.

When I first started sailing sunfish a few years ago, I was a set it and forget it kind of sailor because the Jens rig was too complicated for me and was very difficult to adjust on the water. These newer rigging systems are a lot more user friendly. Give one a try!

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