Whilst the rest of the western world was either at church, eating chocolate or cooking lamb, I snuck out to the dinghy club for my own sort of glutinous worship for a thoroughly enjoyable Easter Sunday blast around the cans. It was a terrific set-up being all-in with about 35 dinghies of every shade available on the start line and a triangular course of multiple laps to sort the wheat from the chaff. The first mark, uptide, downwind, 300 yards from the line was a nightmare of a raft up session and by leg two, I looked up and saw another Laser almost out of sight such was the tidal advantage of getting round that mark on an inside berth. “What am I doing wrong?”
But one of the permeations that sticks in my craw by dint of watching enough top-flight racing is that the good ones, the Slingsby’s, the Spithill’s, the Outteridge’s et al, all have a mantra about limiting their losses and staying in the hunt. I had an Easter epiphany of sorts – “what can I do to take just one boatlength back?” was what I was thinking and so the climb back started. Three laps in and I got lucky. The Laser ahead rafted and wallowed in a hole downwind and I caught a gust. I rode that luck like an inveterate gambler in Macao. I was all-in on the craps table.
Fifty boatlengths became one and it was game on. At the next upwind I got ahead. Then I got overtaken downwind, blanketed by some rapidly light, fast accelerating RS Aeros. Then came the final upwind, four or five lengths back and I employed that fanning technique, bouncing my lower body and crikey I could point to the moon. Right at the death at the top mark, I got the layline spot on and bore away two boatlengths up with a fast reach to the finish. Giving it everything I crossed ahead. It was a good day.
Coming ashore, I stopped and caught my breath. I was exhausted but pretty happy with my ‘never-give-up’ back from the dead performance. Boy do I love sailing when it’s like that. What a super feeling. The sun was out, the water felt warmer, the club was buzzing. I had the big rig up and felt good with it. Last Wednesday was a distant, faded memory – a possible erasion, a probable build of the character and now I can’t wait to get back down there for more. You know what I’m saying, right?
And what’s more, I learned a lot. What’s that phrase about old dogs and new tricks, well this old dog found speed aplenty at my fingertips with the kicker, cunningham and outhaul. What a difference making rapid adjustments as the wind raised and died. It was the speed button and on a Laser 7 rig, it’s the difference between slow and fast. The fanning technique that I’ve watched the good ones do on YouTube is absolutely killing on the lower torso but my, how it’s effective. And roll-tacking even in breeze is a jolt forward along with far more aggressive mainsheet control both upwind and down. I was really trying.
What got me thinking though was a friend who told me that Ben Ainslie won the gold in Sydney at 79kg. I’m 83kg, smaller in height and have always felt a bit light for the full rig Laser but I guess it’s all down to kinetics and leverage. The harder you work, the better it goes. Sit back for half a leg and you’re toast.
Ben could win in breeze through superior technique and that exercises my mind. I watch those videos relentlessly and it’s pretty impressive to see that technique in action. It looks easy. Watch Scheidt, Goodison, Slingsby or Ainslie sailing a Laser and it’s like they are a moulded part of the boat but it’s a tense agreement. In fact they look quite antsy. There’s a lot of flicking and kicking, ooching and rocking. They look almost angry with the damned thing, like they’re taming a wilded horse that has ambitions for the bronco. Knowing what I know, they are very good at this game.
And downwind, the speed that this generation found through the aggressive surf and seek and ‘by the lee be damned’ method is heart-stopping stuff at the Corinthian level. You are so on a knife edge and to my eye it looks and feels wrong but goodness me, it’s fast. I get it. I wish I didn’t have to if truth be told…the capsizes are coming for sure.
But it’s great to be back on the water and wonderful to be in the swing of things so early in the season. Laser sailing in your fifties is life-affirmingly good, honest, fun. Soul-destroying at times. Completely exhausting (muscles are aching that I didn’t even know that I had) but when it happens and it comes together, it’s joyous.
Love this sport. Hope you had a cracking Easter wherever you are…