Category Archives: Lasers


It’s Groundhog Day with another 3rd place write-up from me. Surely no frostbites today – sunburns were more likely. It was like a high school dance in winter with few participants appropriately dressed for the temperature, the venue not quite fit for purpose, yet everyone seemingly having a good time. We’re used to shifting winds on the Potomac, but today took it to a new level. It reminded me of Rumsfeld when he confidently said the WMDs were, “east, west, south and north somewhat.” Dan and Mike energetically boated around trying to have the marks in the right direction only to find that between the warning sound and the start not only might it change which end of the starting line was favorable, but which was the more logical windward mark. Big thanks to Dan and Mike for adding another great sailing day, and to Farley for delivering the attached results.

So, how does one do well on a day like today? Probably three key things: find the wind, tack on the shifts, and get a good start.  Finding the wind is about keeping your head up and looking on the water and other boats.  I did a lot of tacking today, and mastering the tacking is really important in these light winds. That is probably the biggest thing I’ll practice now that the series is over – efficient roll tacks. When starting in light wind, free wind matters. Starting close to too many other boats can be risky, and I tended to do better when I just found a fairly open spot on the line where I could start with some boat speed and no one stealing my wind.
This is it for the Frostbite series – it has been great fun! Restarting sailing this past fall has really been a bright spot for me during covid.  I’ll miss the regatta next weekend but look forward to many more fun races, practices, and dock chats in the spring.

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #15

Sunday was sunny, warmish, and probably the windiest frostbite day so far.  John and Greg laid out an Olympic triangle course, which provided for planing when the gusts coincided with the reach legs. Greg and John heroically tried to adjust the course to the changing winds and were, on average, successful. Big thanks to John and Greg for RCing and to Farley for the attached results.

The starts were exciting – it was often possible to sail the length of the line in less than 20 seconds, so it quickly got crowded.  I preferred shuttling between the pin and the boat and coming on port to find a good spot behind the RC boat about 35 seconds before the start.  That way I avoided getting stuck in a crowd … it worked sometimes. Having, for once, the current largely in the same direction as the wind also made the typical strategy of lingering on the line viable.

On the upwind leg, gusts often came along with 30-40 degree wind shifts. That meant we had to be on our toes … or more literally ready to quickly adjust the sheet, rudder, and body position. The first victim I witnessed was Jim G., who had to tack as Farley came on starboard right at the time of a big gust and wind shift, which landed Jim with a taste of the Potomac.

Downwind was fun as there was just enough wind for a bit of waves to form. That allowed for practicing both following the waves and using body movement and sheeting to control the boat with minimal rudder. Supposedly s-turns on the downwind leg are more efficient, but I still haven’t figured them out. During stronger gusts, the jibing could also get exciting.  At one point I was chasing Len for the first place he capsized right by the mark. I then managed to not only also capsize, but as I tried to climb around to the daggerboard I somehow tripped in a way that had me drop backward in the water hitting daggerboard on the way down before having my first taste of the Potomac. A far cry from the salty sea water I grew up with, but not as bad as feared. Glorious as my fail felt, had we had a weekly epic performance award, it would have probably gone to Tyler, who artfully lodged 8603 almost completely atop Celeste’s laser. Surely I missed many other exciting incidents – all in all, another beautiful Sunday on the Potomac.

Now, this is my 3rd 3rd place write-up, so I’d suggest we adjust to formula next season to include more authors.  Not just because I’m lazy, but also for literary diversity and because I’m curious about others’ experiences and ideas.

Finally, happy International Women’s Day – it is truly a joy to have you dedicated, fearless, fun, and lovely women both on the water and on the dock – you represent the best of what IWD stands for!

2020-2021 Laser Frostbit Series #15

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #14

Hi everybody,
Here’s my 3rd place writeup, starting with an overview of our skiff-maintenance lesson:
Skiff Stuff. Before we launched, Stew Harris gave a great lesson on proper skiff maintenance (Thanks, Stew!). For those of you unable to attend, here are some highlights:
  • FuelKeep the fuel tank above 1/2 full and ideally above 2/3 full. This prevents condensation, which prevents water in the fuel, which prevents the motor not working as what happened last week. There is no way to visually see water in the fuel; you know that watery fuel is likely the problem when the skiff won’t start. Thus, if it is your day and the fuel level is below 2/3 full (ish), go to the Shell station and fill up. There are gas tanks in the locker by the boat.
  • Cover. Be sure the cover is on tight so that water does not pool and does not end up in the boat.
  • Drain Plugs. There are three at the back of the boat. Make sure they are all in before launching.
  • Motor up! There is a switch on the throttle that raises and lowers the engine; the engine MUST be up during trailering because it might hit something, especially the parking bumper in the trailer spot.
  • Battery Switch. There is a switch in the big box at the back of the skiff that turns the battery on/off. This must be off at the end of the day.
Think that covers the main points, but if I forgot something, feel free to reply to this email so everyone knows.
Racing. HUGE kudos to Celeste and Jolie for being race committee and getting off five races on a cold and wet afternoon! Scores attached via Farley (Thanks, Farley!)
In terms of conditions, it was rather rainy with a light easterly breeze and a decent southern-flowing current. If you want to know what really worked well on Sunday, ask Steen – he won four of the five races!  Here are a few observations:
  • Head out of the boat (another reminder) – Sunday was one of those days when my position at any given point felt more tenuous than usual – if I was ahead, it could change easily, and if I was behind, especially at the first leeward rounding, there were often opportunities for catching up. Thus, it was a day that seemed to require a more than usual amount of paying attention to everything – other boats, how they were headed, the wind (which was patchy and not always easily visible on the water), and with the current, the location of the marks, especially the leeward mark. I didn’t do quite enough of this.
  • Starts. The day started with a boat-favored line, which made things a bit crowded at the starboard end. To make things even more challenging, the current kept the committee boat facing upriver and perpendicular to the direction of the wind which meant that it was easier than usual to snag the anchor line due to both the orientation of the committee boat and the direction and magnitude of the current. One race I got snagged on the anchor line (note to self!). In the later races, I had decent luck starting further down the generous line and catching what seemed to be more wind/more favorable shifts on the left side of the course.
  • Leeward Leg. Downwind legs tended to be very slow. Going high(ish) generally helped, but I had luck going a bit lower during some of the earlier races. Sometimes it was a regular downwind and sometimes it was more of a reach, even on the same leg! At one point I, like many others, had to approach close-hauled just to get to the leeward mark due to the wind mostly dying and having to battle the current. Fun times.

Additional comment. Thank you to those of you who were really good about yelling starboard and/or communicating about whether I could keep going or not. Let’s keep that communication up! Not just on windward legs, but noting overlaps (or not) at mark roundings too. It really helps.

Hope everyone has a good rest of their week! This Sunday is looking sunny, thankfully!  

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #9

So we had a forecast on sunday of 5-10 from the NW shifting to SW sometime after noon.  What with the lay of the land and the obnoxiousness of the front, we pretty much had both at the same time.  It never filled in fully from the SW, but we had consistent oscillations to the west all day, and that was also where the pressure was better. So staying west generally paid off.

For most of the starts the line was square at some point in the sequence, but we got a lot of last minute westerly shifts which favored the port end.  So I managed to get a couple really nice port tack starts.  The current was around, but it never seemed to be a big deal this weekend.

At the start and on the first beat, when I had clear air I did well, and when I did not, it was awful.  In the light conditions I found that disturbed air from boats to weather extend 6 or 8 boat lengths downwind.  I think I paid more attention to clear air than even to the shifts.  On the other hand, the shifts were big enough, and the course short enough, that tacking right away on the 10+ degree shifts made a big difference.

Finally, this was my best performance of the season, and I still placed third!  I am still figuring out the leeward legs and the last mark rounding clearly has it in for me.

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #9

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #7

Dear fellow frostbiters!

After a couple of rainy race days with temperatures in the low thirties and after disturbing events on Capitol, finishing the week on a sunny Potomac with a pleasant breeze and 24 other lasers was a nice change!  We welcomed two more talented SSA exiles, Dave and Scott – it is great to have you, and we hope you stay with us!  Laura and Tyler laid out a slightly longer up-down course than usual and a more spacious start line.  That proved helpful as the rising tide tended to push us early over the starting line. In spite of shifting wind force and direction and an additional incident I’ll come back to, they aptly pulled off 6 great races – big thanks to Tyler and Laura!
The winning strategy of the day seemed to be making good bets and relying on good luck. The current was strong and probably stronger to the east, but the defining bets seemed to be who found the wind gusts and predicted the shifts.  Predicting the wind shift directions was hard – except it tended to revert more or less to where it started – in spite of many wild changes, the course really didn’t need modification. Anticipating where the gusts would come was marginally less random – looking at the water upwind gave us good clues. With 6 races, there were many bets to be made.
Starting strategy was influenced by the incoming tide and shifting winds. It just doesn’t work hanging out on the starting line on starboard with the sail flapping when the current carries you over the line.  With the more generous starting line than usual, moving around and looking for a good spot to start worked better for me. Even starting on port tack worked for me once, but it is risky!
A broken mast just after the 2nd start added some drama to my own experience. The upper mast has a weak point where the rivets hold the sleeve in place. It also demonstrated the sportsmanship and comradery as many of you checked in on me, and Len (I think it was you, Len, I was a bit distracted) offered to lend me an upper mast. Tyler and Laura swiftly picked me up, carefully pulled me back to the marina, they made it back in time to clock in everyone else, and I just barely made it back for race 3.  I then noticed that my gooseneck was starting to crack on both sides, and I sailed the remaining races slightly terrified that I would need a second rescue, but one side stayed attached, and it proved another bet worth taking.  Many thanks to Laura, Tyler, and Len for their help!!
The day was perfectly capped by Aaron Boesenecker cooking up delicious Glühwein!  Other than having a boat that doesn’t fall apart, I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my Sunday.
As usual, with many thanks to Farley, the results are attached!

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #6

Hi everyone,

Greetings from 3rd place. First – a huge thank you to Brian and his son for manning the committee boat and making sure we got in six races on a cloudy, cold, and ultimately rainy afternoon. A sunny and mild afternoon is what most of us would likely prefer and this was definitely not that! Thank you for taking one for the team.
The theme of the day was pin-favored starts, wind shifting more and more left, and a constant ebb (south-flowing) tide, so much so that earlier in the afternoon it seemed the current was doing more on the leeward legs than the wind! As for courses, we did our usual windward/leewards, mostly twice around.
Starts. These conditions made starts a bit more interesting. It was hard, if not impossible, to get over the line on starboard near the pin end, so that meant trying to be sure to be in the front row to allow for a quick tack to port (if starting on starboard). I got lucky in the first race and was able to start on port by the pin and won the race – but it was risky. As for the other starts, I did a mix of starboard and port starts with varying degrees of success. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one who got in some good port starts! But again, risky (but also fun to try).
Mark roundings. At the windward mark due to the current and the wind, the starboard layline was quite high and it was a little tricky gauging when to tack to ensure a bit of a cushion, but not too much. I mostly avoided hitting the windward mark by being very careful, including watching the mark as I rounded and steering accordingly. But during the last race I did hit it – and the boat overlapped to windward of me hit it as well! That kind of day. At the leeward mark, it was more the opposite problem. It was hard to do a close rounding and easy to be several feet downwind if one turned at the usual time/rate as if there was no current. I found that I could start to turn a bit early because I was drifting down the river so fast and this sometimes helped me pick up a few boats.
Upwind strategy. It generally paid to stay left-ish, especially towards the end of the day. At one point, I lost quite a bit of ground staying on port too long after the leeward mark and not heading back to starboard for a bit earlier in the leg. During one of the earlier races though there was actually more wind going slightly right at the top of the leg and I caught up a good bit. During another race, almost the entire beat was one big close-hauled tack/reach which made the start (especially location) super important as it was hard to pass with nearly no tacking opportunities.
Controls. This wasn’t a day where I did a lot controls-wise. Upwind – outhaul was a bit closer than a hand’s width (and tighter when the wind picked up); cunningham loose at the starts for pointing and then snugged; vang just snugged (mostly). Downwind – outhaul quite loose; cunningham off; just a bit of vang. Also (re control of self) – keeping my weight forward (and remembering to do this) helped too.
Other observation. For me personally, yesterday was a reminder to keep my head out of the boat more. It can be easy to focus on boat speed, especially when it is cold and I just don’t want to turn my head! – but my best races are when I’m looking around a lot more to see who is where, where they are pointing, where the puffs are, etc. Always something to keep working on.  Related – thank you to those lovely folks who were good about yelling “starboard!” – I appreciated it!
Finally, it has been so awesome to have so many of us out there Sunday after Sunday. After spending many winters with a fair bit of travel, being able to sail regularly with you all has been a big silver lining of this pandemic. Looking forward to many more weeks of the season!
Scores via Farley attached (thank you, Farley!)
Hope everyone is having a good start to the week!

2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #5

Dear fellow frost biters,

December 20 proved yet another beautiful race day run by our two grownups, Jim and Jacob.  Short up-down courses and a short starting line provided abundant thrills and excitement in the first few races.  After a couple of general recalls, J&J released the pressure on us with a longer start line and an Olympic course that calmed the mark roundings.  A big thanks to J&J for an excellent set of varied races!

A few Annapolis exiles joined us again bringing new blood and adding to the vibrant racing. Thanks to whoever invited them and a warm welcome to our visitors and newcomers.

It seems tradition to reflect on sail trim.  Many of you already know I’m back on the water after more than a couple of decades as a landlubber, and my last few pre-landlubber years were in a 27 ft keelboat (h-boat) with very different trimming.  I think I’ve done well because of starts and other factors, so with weak confidence to advice on Laser trim, here’s what I was working on in the light wind.

Downwind: no cunningham, outhaul provided for a deep sail curve by the boom.  I trimmed the kicking strap to where there is just enough control of the leech/twist, and I sometimes tightened it during puffs.  I’m still trying to figure out how to sheet relative to the wind – a vane is on my list to Santa.

Upwind: clearly the combination of sheeting and the kicker is the key, no kicker is always too little, and with more wind, more is needed, but I haven’t figured out the balance.  I play with it a lot. I usually find myself sheeting more loosely than others. I use very little cunningham if at all, and the outhaul is trimmed with the sail ~4-5 inches from the boom and only marginal variation.

Starts: I felt I did very well starting on the port end of the line as close to the mark as possible. After the tide turned, I thought it was better to be farther east, where I think the current is stronger, but I’m not really sure. Especially after we got a bit more space on the start line, rather than waiting in a promising spot, keeping moving around with some boat speed before the start seemed to allow me to find a good spot and cross the line with some momentum.

All in all another great day in the series, and I look forward to more.  Until then, my best wishes for the holidays!

Thanks to Farley, the race results are attached

All in all another great day in the series, and I look forward to more.  Until then, best wishes for the holidays!


2020-2021 Laser Frostbite Series #4

I was afraid going into the last race yesterday that this might be my fate.

Well actually I was pretty pleased.

Arriving at the dock at 11, it looked the westerly breeze had nearly died. As we got out to the race course, the northerly shift arrived and started filling in. In the first 2 1/2 races, the right side was strongly favored. In the first three races I got out to the right early, and was at or near the front at the first mark each race.  The wind started shifting left in the middle of the third race and several boats who took the chance did well.

The wind shifted fairly strongly to the left at the end of the race, leaving the starting pin strongly favored. So I worked hard to get port tack starts for the last three races. In races 4 and 6 I missed the front hole, and had to cross some sterns. I was actually over early in race 4, and went around the pin, but was able to find a nice lane and clear air. In race 5, I was right on the line, and only “let” Tom pass me at the last leward mark. I still haven’t figured out how to do everything one needs to do down there.

Best thing on the day for me was being able to see where the wind was and get there.  Worst thing is still that leward mark rounding.

Thanks to Farley for doing RC solo.

John Van Voorhis

2020-2021 Laser Frostbit Series #4