Bill Brangiforte WOW: Random Thoughts on the 2010 Season

Posted November 01, 2010

On Frostbiting

Frostbiting is a great way to improve your skills. Karen Renzulli pointed out, after a close day of racing at Wequaquet, that it always seems like the frostbite fleet people end up at the top of the regattas. There is a reason for this, and I’m going discuss this throughout this article. (You will be sick of hearing me talk about this) The way to make the most out of frostbiting is to work on your weaknesses, and focus on doing the important things well, while you are out there, instead of thinking about results.

On Psychology

Concentrating on doing the important things well, instead of results is probably the single best way to improve your racing. I used to get nervous before big events, and ended up not focusing on the key components of the race. Doug Kaukeinen and I discussed this at the Masters. We both admitted to being nervous at the 2008 O’Days. As a result, neither of us sailed to our potential. I certainly wish I could do that event over!

No matter how much preparation (or lack of) you put in for a championship, once you are there, relax and enjoy the event. When I arrived at Mattituck, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to make it through the first day, but I was enjoying seeing old friends and was determined to have a good time no matter what. Having a relaxed mind frame seems to allow for better concentration, on the race course, and thus better results.

On the First Day of a Major Regatta

One of my biggest problems, in the past, has been having a bad first day and then being mentally out of the series after that. Someone said “You can’t win the regatta on the first day, but you can certainly can lose it” With this in mind, I set a goal of being in good shape (striking range of the leaders) while not taking too many chances. Here are 10 ways of doing this:

  1. Until you are sure there is an advantage to one side, start near the middle of the line. A line site is very helpful here. I have found that traditional line sites are not that useful in big fleets, because boats at the pin are often over early and block your site. A better approach is to site from the transom of the committee boat. This will give you a “safety site” and a good reference of where you are on the line, and when to pull the trigger.
  2. Always tack back after you gain on boats to weather. When their bows start to point towards you, tack and consolidate your gain. This especially true right after the start, but generally works for the rest of the race as well.
  3. Cross boats when you can.
  4. Don’t let a big pack of boats cross you- tack ahead and to leeward of them.
  5. When you find yourself heading close to a lay line, start looking for any excuse to get back towards the middle- any small header will do. I like to use more pressure, as it gets you back in faster.
  6. If you are heading towards the middle, don’t tack until the boats to leeward tack.
  7. Avoid the lay lines, but in big fleets, once you are close to the weather mark, try to over stand slightly. There are often big groups of slow moving boats pinching to get around the mark. By slightly overstanding, you can maintain your speed and make a fast transition to downwind.
  8. Downwind- avoid other boats and concentrate on going fast
  9. Give a lot of thought to leeward mark roundings. In big fleets, they are almost as important as starts
  10. In frostbite or college racing, they say “ keep your thirds”. This means anytime you are in the top three, sail defensively and protect your position. This is true in big fleets as well. If you are in the top 10 percent of the fleet, don’t take too many risks. Chances are, that 8th place on the first day will be really helpful going into the last day!

On Going Upwind

My speed in moderate conditions was really good this year, but in extreme conditions (really light and very windy) I am slow. Here are some thoughts on trying to improve in these conditions.

  1. In really light conditions- pressure is king. You need to be patient (I’m not) and really focus on finding and getting into breeze. Two of the best at this are Mark May and Paul Forester. They will stand up in their boats and focus all of their concentration on looking upwind and finding more pressure. I can’t count how many times I thought Mark was in trouble, only to see him cross the fleet in tons pressure. The only problem with this; you must be careful with rule 42. While standing up, stay very still or someone could accuse you of rocking.
  2. Heavy air is another story! I think the problem is that we just don’t get enough chance to sail in big breeze. I know my technique is bad. I would love to go to a clinic where some heavy air guys (P. J. or Eduardo) could coach us. The problem with this is that it is hard to plan a day when it is going to be windy. I think the key is aggressive depowering (upper body work), but until someone actually watches and critiques you, it is hard to be sure what you are doing wrong. No matter what, some time in the gym can’t hurt.

On Going Downwind

Just when I thought I was getting good at surfing waves, I got hosed by many of the juniors at the N.A.s with much better technique. There are many articles and videos on s-curving, but the best way to improve is to practice your top turns and bottom turns. Unfortunately, we don’t always have good waves around here to practice on. With a S.W. breeze, we do get waves at Barrington, even on the river, and it would be great to have this happen more in the winter.

Not only is Wave riding one of the most fun parts of sailing, but with good technique, the best way to make up a lot of ground. I hope we can practice this during the upcoming frostbite season.

In lighter conditions, again, pressure is king! I am constantly looking back at the breeze and sailing towards it. I tend to sail some crazy angles to get into better breeze. I actually think the sunfish likes to be sailed at hot angles in light air. You can go by the lee or broad reach if it takes you into more breeze. Be careful of sailing by the lee on port though- it is better to jibe and reach on starboard. If a pack of boats on one side of the course are coming on hard, they have more pressure and you want to get in front of them. Even if it seems that they will blanket you, I have learned from frostbiting, that this is still a high percentage move.

Ok- I did the dumbest thing I’ve done in a race in a long time. On the 5th race of the N.A.s., We were sailing a triangle (have not done much reaching lately). On the first reach, Mark May was 1st, I was 2nd and a very aggressive junior was third. He kept trying to pass us to windward, and Mark and I kept telling him to cool it, so we could stay ahead of the rest of the pack. He had no interest in listening to us old guys! After rounding the jibe mark, he immediately went high. Mark started yelling and went high with him to defend. I wanted no part of this and started to go low. At first it seemed to be working. What I didn’t realize was that the wind was going hard right. When I got to the bottom of the reach, I suddenly realized I couldn’t make the mark! I had to sail past it, and then tack to starboard just to get back to it! So, at this point, I’m heading upwind on starboard towards the mark, while hoards of boats are reaching towards it on port. My hails of starboard just got me lots of “WTF Bill”. The lesson here is – if the reach is tight, go high!

On Starting

The best sailing advice I read this year was a WOW from Peter Shope. He talked about how he has to fight basic laziness before the start. Instead of simply sailing back and forth before the start, keep your head into the game. Get line sites, keep checking the line, find the laylines for the boat and pin, check the current, keep looking upwind , to pick a side, etc. All of these things will greatly improve your chances for a good start, and get you into that all important first shift before most of the fleet.

I’m still not good at getting the boat up to speed after parking on the line, and this something I really want to work on while frostbiting. I do have some theories on this though.

  1. The boat would rather accelerate from a close reaching position than a close hauled position. So, if you can get the bow down in the seconds before the gun, then sheet in- it starts tracking faster.
  2. The longer the boat has been sitting (stalled), the harder it is to get it going again. Lately, I have been doing more port tack approaches, thus avoiding sitting on line for a long time.

This is something we should talk to Amanda about. She obviously must coach her kids on accelerating out of a start since their courses are so short. Andy is also very good at this and it is a big reason for his success at frostbiting. Whether it is a college race or a world championship, with mile long weather legs, being able to punch out at start is great skill to have.

ON RIGGING

After years of not using an outhaul, I’ve really taken a liking of my new outhaul system. It is a 6-1 system, led around the mast- back to the centerboard handle. With 7/64’’ spectron line and silicone spray, it has almost no friction and is easy to adjust anytime.

I like making marks, on the spars, for sail settings. This makes it easier to replicate settings that were fast on previous occasions.

Although I am a big fan of keeping weight and windage to a minimum, I now really like using 2 wind indicators; one at the top of the rig for downwind, and one on the lower part of upper spar for upwind. The lower one works with your telltales to help pick up small shifts. I think this combo has really improved my light air speed; just don’t fixate on it and forget to keep looking around.

I still like my floating tack Cunningham system, even if no one else does. The only problem with it is that it could use a little more range (Throw) for heavy air.

Although I haven’t used it yet, I really want to try the newest version of the Gust Adjust (another thing to work on this winter). Eric seems to have it mastered and will be glad to explain how to rig it, if you ask him.

ON BEING FORTUNATE

Despite coming down with tendonitis at the worlds, I was able to compete for the rest of the summer because all of the events were sailed in light to moderate conditions. One heavy air day at the N.A.s would have done me in.

The race committee at Mattituck sent us in on postponement one day because of incoming thunder storms. At the beach, as I lowered my sail, I found my halyard was hanging on by a thread at the mast cleat. I was thus able to change it out. It would never have made it through the afternoon races.

One of the races at the N. A.s, where I was behind my closest competitors was abandoned. Another one, where I was ahead of them, was shortened.

John S would have won the regionals at Wequaquet if he was not OCS in the third race.

I owe much to Gisele, my sister Rene and my mom for their unconditional support!

ON THE SUNFISH CLASS

It is such a joy, racing this boat. Not only do we have great masters to compete against, but now we have a strong contingent of juniors as well. I think half of the top ten at the N.A. s were juniors. Boy, are these kids good! Speaking of juniors, I think the best experience of the summer was working with the kids at Wequaquet. We need to do more of this (even if it means they will be beating us soon)! Most importantly, I truly think of the sunfish community as family and I hope to be doing this for a long time.

Bill



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