A Healthy Obsession

When I thought for a moment about blowing off work to practice more jibes I realized I'd become obsessed. Editor's Letter from our June 2012 issue.

Sailing World

editjune12

For the first time in ages I laid awake in bed. I was visualizing my body movements, my hand and foot placement, as I crossed form one wing to the other of the RS100 on loan to me for the summer. I was trying to understand why, in nearly every jibe, I was coming out too hot with the main over-trimmed and the kite loaded up, and then ultimately capsizing. What was I doing wrong? And what did I do right in that one jibe I nailed? Sleep refused to come as these questions and many others relating to the technique and boat setup percolated in my head. While driving to work the following morning I found myself in a daze, visualizing again, and when I thought for a moment about blowing off work to practice more jibes I realized I’d become obsessed. That I’d been able to jump into this tippy 14-foot dinghy with a spinnaker and “figure it out” was an itch I couldn’t ignore. I was determined, and exited, to get it right.

Learning how best to sail a new boat is intoxicating. It takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to obsess over a long list of new and different details. It's this obsession with improving that defines us as racing sailors. It's manifested in each of us – from the America's Cup crews learning how to sail cats with wings to the junior sailor laboring over the perfect bowline, or a pro-am crew trying to figure out how not to shrimp the kite on their new high-tech 38-footer (see "Getting Up to Speed, Quickly" from our June 2012 issue).

We fuss over our boats and our equipment to the kilogram. We study our results, our racing venues, and our competition. We make spreadsheets, polar diagrams, and colorful sail crossover charts with absurd precision. We own micrometers, tension gauges, measuring tapes, Sharpies, and waterproof notepads. We sit through daylong seminars, hire coaches and pros, and now we mount waterproof video cameras onboard our boats so we can dissect our maneuvers one frame at a time. We do it all in the pursuit of one simple thing: eliminating excuses.

It’s a wholesome preoccupation, though, worth many a sleepless night, because the effort we put is proportional to our success – whether on the scoreboard or in our heads. For me, executing a string of high-speed tacks and jibes without capsizing came after thinking through the minutia of the maneuvers, watching GoPro footage every morning at breakfast, and many hours of practice. In doing so, I discovered that some of my Laser habits were doing me in. For example, on the Laser I trim the mainsheet to prevent it from catching on the transom corner during the jibe, but doing so on the RS100 causes the main to be over-trimmed coming out of the jibe and the exit angle too high. I now know to ease the mainsheet instead, to reduce the initial weather roll (another Laser habit), pull the main across a fraction before jibing the spinnaker, and to aggressively rock the boat down, trim the kite, and accelerate off on a plane.

What’s more important than the success of my jibes, however, is the immediate confidence I gained as a result. I no longer shy away from jibing when the big black puff hits. I seek them out and jibe at high speed like I’m supposed to. It’s an awesome feeling to get it right, one that I can happily lay in bed at night and replay over and over again.

Dave Reed, editor@sailingworld.com