First Day of Frostbiting Season – What Did I Learn?

Last Saturday was the first day of sailing in the 2018-2019 frostbiting season at Bristol YC. Six RS Aeros and five Lasers came out for an afternoon of racing in a gusty, shifty westerly wind which was quite vigorous for the first few races.

I decided to sail my 7 rig which I haven’t done much this year. It felt very strange after so much time with the 9 rig, but I was glad I made that decision – at least in those first few crazy races. I didn’t have a very positive attitude at first – probably a combination of the cold, unfamiliarity with the frisky wind conditions, and feeling clumsy sailing in my drysuit for the first time since last winter.

But I got more enthusiastic as the afternoon progressed and had a lot of fun. I surprised myself by having the stamina to complete all eight races. Maybe I am fitter than I thought I was? And I didn’t capsize at all – although that may have been a result of sailing very defensively  which didn’t contribute to very good finish positions.


My starts were mediocre when they weren’t disastrous. (See Don’t Do Stupid Shit.) I won’t say any more about starts as I haven’t really worked out in my head yet what I need to do differently. Probably worth a separate post by itself when I have figured it out.


I probably lost most ground on my competition on the upwind legs than anywhere else. I wasn’t coping well with the gusts and was often heeling a lot. Sure, I know that I need to “Ease, Hike, Trim” in every gust but I wasn’t doing it very effectively and couldn’t figure out why. Then while browsing on my old blog earlier this week, I did come across a post from 2011 with this nugget of advice on what I was doing wrong and how to fix it.

The second day of my Advanced Laser Course at Minorca Sailing was all about upwind sailing. Tom, the instructor, gave me a lot of tips on upwind technique of which the most important, I think, was to hold the sheet with my sheet hand in front of my chest (close to the tiller hand.) With the hand this high, and arm bent, it is then relatively easy to ease the sheet in the gust by straightening the arm. If you sail with the hand closer to the block, the only way to ease the sheet is to let go of it, which is somewhat lacking in control and may end in disaster. See  Lasers Lift Weights.


See what I mean? This dude is doing it right.



Rounding the Windward Mark
I did learn some things about how to improve my windward mark roundings by watching two of my fellow competitors who were close to me at the mark.

There was one sailor who rounded just behind me and immediately blew by me me to leeward as I had my head down fiddling with sail controls and trying to get the sheet out from under my feet. She just executed the rounding so perfectly and was set up properly for the run way before me, which reminded me of all the things I was doing wrong. Again, these were pretty basic things which I had been taught before but which I had just forgotten or had gotten lazy about doing properly.

Tidy up the sheet before the rounding so it won’t be under my feet when I want to sheet out.

Let the downhaul off before the mark so I’m not fiddling with it afterwards.

Let off the vang completely (having previously tied a knot in the vang line so it is set exactly right for the run.)

Use windward heel to steer the boat around the mark and sheet out quickly and smoothly so that I am fully sheeted out as soon as I have completed the turn.  The Minorca Sailing instructor mentioned above also told me that an effective way to sheet out quickly  is to lift the sheet hand over the head and then quickly dump several feet of sheet at once by dropping that hand to the mainsheet ratchet block. See Hand Up Lasers.


Later in the day I was rounding the windward mark just ahead of another sailor who had the sense to check the wind around and upwind of the mark before he rounded. He immediately headed over to the left side of the course because he saw a puff coming and was several boat lengths ahead of me before I noticed what was going on.

Keep my eyes open. Check the wind before rounding to decide which side of the run to sail. And if I don’t see the wind, at least keep my eyes on the other sailors to see which side is fastest.


Of course, these things aren’t really “what I learned.” I knew all this stuff. Or at least I used to know all this stuff. Whether because of bad memory or brain freeze on the day, I just wasn’t executing properly. Maybe writing these notes here will jog my memory and help me to do better next Saturday.

“We will see what will happens.”



1 comment

  • Full disclosure – the photo at the top of the post was not taken in Bristol last weekend. It is just a random winter scene to get you in the mood for a post about frostbiting.

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