Category Archives: Frostbite

2015/2016 Frostbite Series #8

Sunday, 1/10/16 was 55 degrees and sunny – an excellent day for racing on (and in) the Potomac. The wind was SSW 15+ knots with gusts in the very high 20s. The tide was ebbing pretty hard most of the day. Adam and Jamie, along with their lovely supervisors, ran four first-rate W2 races for 15 boats.

The random gusts that pumped down the course all day provided much entertainment. It was fun trying to harness them downwind and equally fun watching and participating in the mass capsize events. After one capsize I sat on the hull for a while and delighted in the spectacle of a fleet running downwind in way more wind than it needed. There were a lot of strong wind veins that played downwind – if you looked for and got under them. I found staying on starboard tack downwind and sailing by-the-lee to be the most stable. There were instances when I was fighting the wind with the sheet and the rudder to keep the bow from being blown down wind. In the lulls I worked to the east and tried to ride waves. I had expected decent size waves given the opposing tide and wind but was disappointed. Locking into the cockpit with the legs was beneficial when the breeze was on.

There were relatively few boats OCS given that the current was pushing the boats upwind at the start. I worked hard, with moderate success, to leave enough room for acceleration. On 3 of the starts it was under 5 seconds before I pulled the trigger in order to allow for the breeze and current.

The upwind tactical challenge for me was finding a good port lift to take to the airport side of the course. The wind shifts were short lived and I had trouble getting underneath any lift. My sense was that they were just moving too fast. Occasionally I was able to sail upwind in a vein to avoid the relative lulls. I avoided cleating the mainsheet, playing the well vanged main and working the rudder to keep the boat flat and moving in the unstable wind conditions. James and Eric were very careful to cover their closest competitor to stay in similar wind.

My boat handling killed me all day long. The self-inflicted errors that resulted in 2 capsizes included; not clearing the sheet of tangles before rounding the top mark, and over-tightening the vang before the leeward rounding then sticking the boom in the water. Basic heavy air tacking technique also cost me points. I was struggling to come out of the tacks lower than in moderate breeze and build speed before sheeting the main.

By 3:30 the wind had clocked around to WNW with some nice 35+ gusts, we were glad to be on our asphalt beach; telling lies and watching the airplanes fight the cross winds to get back on the ground.

-Len Guenther

2015_2016 PRSA Laser Frostbite Series 8

2016 Hangover Regatta

If you grow up sailing on a small creek, as I did, you are no stranger to shifty winds, land bends, dead spots and downdrafts. While the Potomac is a far cry wider and wilder than Beaver Dam Creek in Point Pleasant, N.J., it was no less fickle wind-wise on New Year’s Day for the Potomac River Sailing Association Hangover Regatta, which saw a very tight fleet of 30 boats, scrambling through an oscillating breeze that seemed to switch on and off at will.

All in all, conditions were, in my opinion at least, near ideal for a frostbite regatta (though many including me, were wishing the unseasonably warm weather of the week before had stuck around for a day longer) with a nice 8-knot breeze ushering the fleet out of the marina and past the runway of Reagan International Airport  and quickly building into fresher, sustained gusts.

As many of you may know, I usually sail on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk with the Hampton Roads Sailing posse.  Four of us, Charlie Brewer, Britt Drake, Grant Simmons and myself schlepped it up I-95 for the regatta and by the time I arrived at 10 a.m. Charlie and Britt had built a nice little firepit with some of the river driftwood down by the boat hoists and were keeping their hands warm by the crackling fire. The out-of-towners drew a bit of amusement, but at least it took the chill off.

And it was brisk: The weather station at Reagan International Airport recorded a mean temperature for the day of 37 degrees with a maximum in the partly sunny afternoon of 47 degrees. Winds were generally SSW at about 8 mph with a maximum recorded wind speed of 21 mph and a few gusts up to 24. (There were a fair number of upturned hulls during the day for those caught out by the blasts. I got caught trying to sail deep by the lee when one of those gusts caught me. My scramble up the deck was too late, but I didn’t get wet, so I am not counting it as an actual capsize even though I brought some souvenir Potomac River bottom mud home on the head of my sail.) Charlie said he got dipped twice, once going upwind when a gust came at him behind the sail. “normally you can just hang on and it will switch back and lift you up,” Charlie said. But not that time, apparently. I spent a lot of time looking ahead (upwind) and behind (downwind) to try to read the gusts from the angles and heal of other boats. It served me pretty well as I was able to prepare for a few major onslaughts of wind before they got to me.

Race Committee Chair Nabeel Alsalam set a perfect windward-leeward course with a leeward gate and a short-leg upwind finish. Races were run twice around the course and, given the conditions, lasted about 30 minutes each. A total of five races were run and the scoring included a throw-out. Starts were run in three minute sequences with a whistle countdown, so if you are like me and sail without a watch, you were not at any significant disadvantage. (We run with three minute starts down in Norfolk, too, and it seems to be a lot better for dinghy racing, even with bigger fleets. How hard is it to choose a spot on the line and set up in a Laser, after all. And less time to get cold. If the line length is about 30 seconds, two minutes is plenty of time to run a check and commit to a strategy, I think.)

Despite the very shifty gusts, the line was very square all day, with a slight committee boat bias. This was balanced out by a slightly favored left side of the course which seemed to pay off with a bit more pressure and for those boats that went deep enough into the corner, a huge lift to the windward mark along the western shore of the river.

And that seemed to be the challenge of the day: how to tap into the shifts and very localized pressure zones. Upwind, the pressure seemed to emerge from the right, but the better lifts seemed to favor the left. A key was not to get caught in the middle too early on the course.

In the first race, both Charlie and I joined the massive fight for a spot near the committee boat and got caught up in the air sponge of sails losing whatever advantage might have been gained by the line bias and losing options to tack out in the throng of boats. After seeing the left-side boats cash in, we both found ourselves switching plans, moving down to the center of the line below the scrum and able to blast out with a clean lane. This seemed to pay off in several races as the lift back to the mark seemed to be greater the deeper out you got.

Regatta winner Charlie Brewer had another idea which twice paid dividends for him (and burned him once, too.) He ducked the entire fleet on one start to go out far to the right to try to get to the pressure lines first. He was out nearly by his lonesome and it wasn’t looking good for awhile, until he came zooming into the top mark clear ahead of the fleet with only (I believe) Eric Peterson nearby. I have seen Charlie do this before in Norfolk and his thinking is, (correct me if I am wrong, Charlie) if you are in clear air and sailing fast rather than mixing it up in the crowd you are likely to do well. The shifty conditions certainly helped that strategy. If you were attentive to the breeze you could climb the ladder pretty fast. If not, there were a lot of snakes around.

Toward the end of the day, the river current began to sweep out along the eastern shore and played an interesting role at the bottom mark. Logic seemed to dictate that if you sailed to the left (going downwind) the outgoing tide would sweep you into the gates. But that led to a more direct downwind angle which actually turned out to be slower. (In my experience on the course) Those sailing deeper to the right, sailed hotter angles at the bottom and often got a little lift of speed near the gates that squirted them forward. It worked for me, anyway, once I cottoned on. The big key downwind, I found, was just to look aft for the pressure lines on the water and try to position in front of them well ahead of their arrival. Then, work the waves and gusts building speed ahead of the waves and soaking down once the pressure is full on.

Thanks again to Potomac River Sailing Association for hosting this event and inviting your friends from the south up to take part. It was a great time and the after-race brew and chew was a lot of fun. Hope to see you next year.

Robert Suhay

2016 Hangover Regatta

Regatta Photos (courtesy of Jim Lane)

2015/2016 Laser Frostbite #7

It was a great Sunday with very pleasant weather; mid-forties, sunny and a light breeze. Ideal for the lighter weights among us. The turnout (24) was excellent, especially considering that, only two days ago, we had the Hangover Regatta with thirty boats on the water. And it was great to see some ‘old’ warriors on the water once again (Chris, Nabeel).

This write-up isn’t really about wind shifts, favored ends, technique, and all that. Rather, I would like to give some encouragement to the many newbies in our fleet. Hurrah for them! Perhaps your finishes are a bit disappointing to you right now, but just wait. As an example, I joined the Frostbiters ten years ago. I had sailed and raced a bit in a Sunfish. But I was not a natural and had no college sailing experience, having started sailing in my late twenties. Once I joined the PRSA Laser fleet, my main goal was not to finish last, survive my dunkings in the dirty water, and not hit other boats. Even with those modest goals, I wasn’t very successful with many bottom-of-the-fleet finishes over the years. I made notes of my mistakes (many), hoping to improve. It took a long time, but this past Sunday I was lucky; got good starts in races 2 and 4 and held on to get decent finishes. And I didn’t foul or hit anybody! So, my advice to the fleet newbies is to hang in there and practice as much as possible. Don’t forget the spring and fall seasons and even in the summer you may have a good outing or two. You will get to the top of the fleet sooner than you think!

With respect to the actual racing, Todd Blekicki and Lindsey Bach (thanks for great committee work) set a longer than usual windward/leeward course. With the wind from the South, we went a long way towards the I-495 bridge and then downwind towards the airport. Finally a short upwind leg with a finish on the other side of the RC boat (classy!). ‘Once around’ took about 25 min for the first three races. The fourth race was trying because the wind had dropped to almost nothing; the magnetic tape on my (home-made) wind vane barely moved. But once we finally got close to the leeward mark, the wind changed to NW and my tape showed some action again. I rounded the mark, but was told that I had finished; surprise! Good decision though, because it was almost 3 PM and the course would have to be reset for a fifth race.

PS: Congratulations to Jamie Moran for winning the day.

Jacob (175892)

2015_2016 PRSA Laser Frostbite Series 7

2015/2016 Frostbite Series #6


Today turned out to be a nice day.  Temperatures were close to 70 and the wind was 10 to 20 our of the south.  We had 9 boats make it out to the course and we ran 6 races all olympic courses that were running about 15 minutes each.

I think that there were a couple of important things sailing today with the top one being don’t capsize (though I think everyone did this at least once).  With the wind, the best way to sail fast was keeping the boat flat.  For the last 2 races, the wind built and the wind clocked left slightly.  When the wind shifted, the second leg of the triangle was definitely faster to sail by the lee.  You could tell this by watching Eric’s speed.  I chose not to do this however because of the shiftiness of the gusts and heaviness of the wind.  My opinion is that it was safer to not sail by the lee today on that leg.  Eric had one chicken gybe at the mark after doing this because of the puff that he was currently in.  The other important thing today was checking for stuff on your blades.  With all the rain there were a ton of leaves in the river and the blades were constantly building up.

The other important thing today was coming off the start line (as always).  With the brevity of the races though I think that starting well and keeping the boat flat and fast were about 90% of the racing.

Look forward to seeing everyone out next weekend or on the 1st.


2015_2016 PRSA Laser Frostbite Series 6

2015/2016 Laser Frostbite #5

PRSA Lasers,
Another pleasant Sunday on the Potomac. About 28 boats showed up which made for some interesting starts and mark roundings.  The wind (or lack thereof at 12:30) started south-southwest and as predicted, built slightly and went south during the 3rd race. In the 4th and 5th races, the wind oscillated between the south and south-southwest.
The RC set the course in the same spot as last weekend, just east of the marina. When everyone got out there, RC started us out with a kinetics practice race before the wind filled in, with just a windward mark and a downwind finish. In the extremely light air, this was a great time to practice roll tacking and gybing.
The Start: In races 1 and 2 (both windward-leeward 2x around), wind was light but manageable.  The boat was about a boat length high of the pin, which caused some congestion at the boat. I found that starting in the middle was just as effective because I could get off the line with speed and clear air. Fowl tide caused a sizeable line sag in the middle, also contributing to the opportunity for clear air at the start. Race 3 was pretty similar, but I got a little too anxious and was over early. The start line for race 4 was more square; clear air again was the key. For the 5th start, the wind had gone more south, making the pin more favored.
Upwind: My controls (outhaul, cunningham, and vang) for the whole day were pretty loose. There were 3 things I tried to focus on that translated into boat speed: 1) clear air—This is so important in a 28 boat fleet, 2) tell tails—I tried to always have both tell tales flowing back, no pinching! 3) heel—in the lightest air, a bit of leeward heel kept the boat moving, while in the relatively stronger breeze, keeping the boat flat worked. Playing the shifts was important as the afternoon went on. Most of the afternoon, there was enough breeze to almost two block the mainsheet and in the puffs (if you can call them puffs) I would two block to get an extra lift. One side of the course didn’t pay off consistently from race to race. Some legs I went right, others left. Focusing on boat speed, using the 3 points above, really made the big difference.
Downwind: The fleet’s tendency is to work its way left, to protect the inside overlap. In light air, I have found that sailing a straighter line, close to the rhumb line, can be quicker. This worked in most downwind legs (last week and this week), as many racers sailed extra distance to the left. However, this strategy only works if you can create separation with the boats behind you. 3 points for boat speed downwind: 1) clear air—a little more difficult downwind but if you can create a little bit of separation from the boats behind you, clear air goes a long way, 2) sailing by the lee—typical sailing by the lee worked: windward heel, center board up, and sitting forward of the cockpit, 3) mainsail trim—I don’t let the main out past 90 degrees because this causes some wind to spill out of the top, though this is an area for debate. Also, as the wind built through the afternoon, I added just enough vang so that the leech (the leading edge when sailing by the lee) was tight and could catch the breeze.
Mark Roundings: Tide was big factor today. The flood was strong so over standing upwind worked. On the leeward roundings, if you were clear of other boats, a wide and tight rounding mitigated some of the tide. If you rounded with other boats, the tide generally pushed everyone low of the mark, leaving the door open for boats behind. As we discussed in the debrief, communication leading into the 3-boat length circle needs to be more prevalent. If you are entitled to room at the mark, let the boats around you know. If you are not entitled to room, slow down so that you don’t get pin-wheeled, you might get an opportunity to gain a boat or two if they get swept past the mark by the tide.
Thank you to the Race Committee for running 5 fun races and dealing with the light conditions. Thank you Eric for bringing the TV and DVD player to the debrief. Looking forward to watching The Boat Whisperer!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

2015/2016 Laser Frostbite #4

Hello Everyone,

Thanks to Keith  and Magda for running our races last week. Keith found a good spot for us to sail in, just out in the river due East from WSM, and a little north of our regular ‘power plant’ spot.

The wind was roughly out of the south, but also somewhat shifty. As I was one of the first boats to get out in the river before the races, I probably should have been trying to figure out if the MD or the VA side had better wind, but I was not really paying attention. Lesson learned: I guess if you get out early you should try to figure these things out. The tide was running out all day and was significant (low tide at 4 PM that day).

We only raced two races, as the wind died almost completely by the end of the second race. For the first race, I estimate we had about 4 kts steady. The second race was maybe between 4 and 1 kt. I’ll just sum up information for both races together below:

I set up my outhaul so that at max draft, my sail was about 3” from the boom, my cunningham was completely off, and my vang was left pretty much untouched and was on maybe about 1/3. Before each race, I raised my centerboard to clear any grasses, and I also checked my rudder as it too would pick up twigs.  Also, on downwind legs I tended to raise the c/b all the way once to clear it.  If you pick up stuff on your rudder, you will feel it in a slight vibration of the tiller. Any plant life stuck to your blades will really slow you down, so be vigilant.  I thought the start line was pretty square so I set up to start in the middle of the line which gives me more options. At the last 15 seconds or so before the start, I keep up boat speed so that if someone comes in and attempts to get on my lee side, I can sail down hard and prevent him/her from getting that overlap. I was surprised at how much room I had in the middle of the start line for both races. So coming off the start line I felt like I had good speed. From that point, (as was taught to me from Erich Hesse) it is vitally important that you focus on speed and getting those first few feet out in front of everyone else. (In other words, this is not the time to take a break.) This is the time to really focus all your attention on sailing as fast as you can to get in clear air. Now, as this was a light air day, and my body weight is lower than most, I had a big advantage, and I knew if I could just not make any mistakes, I’d come out ok, as was the case. On heavier air days, I usually way behind the heavier people.

Upwind, I just look for which side I thought the wind was stronger, and I kept in mind that as the current was going south, the laylines for the windward mark would be shifted a boatlength or so to the north. So I tacked onto the starboard layline a bit earlier than if there had been no current. This put me right at the windward mark and I did not end up sailing any extra distance. As for mainsheet,  mostly I had about 8” between the traveler and aft boom blocks, but when the wind really died, I let it out even more in an attempt to keep the boatspeed up.

Downwind, I just looked behind me and tried not to sail in dirty air from the boats behind me. Oddly, I was still able to pretty much sail the rhumb line and still get pretty clean air. The boats ahead of me tended to go way left to protect anyone from getting an inside overlap on them prior to the downwind mark, so I let them go left and just kept to the rhumb line.  Remember as the current was going south, to give the downwind mark extra room or else you’d be swept into it by the current.

In both downwind and upwind sailing, I tried my best to keep my weight very far forward in the boat, even at some times sitting ahead of the centerboard. Maybe that is too extreme, I don’t know.

Hope I have not left anything out. First time for me in 8 years to do the 3rd place write up.

2015_2016 PRSA Laser Frostbite Series 4

2015/2016 Laser Frostbite Series #2

The forecast was fairly accurate with some rain before racing and overcast the rest of the day and moderate winds at 9 and below.  It made for a good day to race on the river.  Jim Graham, pro for the day, said not to dawdle on shore as he was going to start races at 12:30 when 6 boats were on the line.  Good decision.  I dawdled and heard the 3 minute gun when I was 3.5minutes from the committee boat. Being late, I started at the pin and headed right as everyone else had gone way left.  The wind seemed to be a little stronger on the right most of the day and in the first race I played right and caught a few boats.   I just sailed on the lifts and puffs as they came in most cases was further right than the majority of the fleet.  Downwind was  slow and I kept left while some competitors went right and caught more wind.  I tried to minimize my usual mistakes, didn’t foul anyone, made clean if not fast rounding’s and didn’t get into squabbles with other lasers.

During the races I sailed on my own and didn’t pay particular attention to the rest of the fleet. This helped me keep focus but was a mistake in the 3rd race when 2 boats caught me 40 yards from the finish.  In that race I fell behind but got a burst of air on the right and hiked out of the first time and reached into the mark as I had overstood.

Lessons learned:  be on time, minimize mistakes, good starts, clear air.  As we get more lasers racing the hardest part seems to be getting the lasers docked and up the ramp.  Thanks everyone for helping each other !!  And good race committee work as well !!

For more details here is Cary Comer’s observations.  Welcome back Cary !

According to the powers that be, I may have come in third place…or, I may have come in close enough such that a few shaved points may have bestowed this responsibility upon me.  Regardless of how it came to be, here’s my take on today.  Given this was my first time out in about a year, I was mostly focused on two basic things: stay dry; and, come home in one piece (those that know me are aware that these are both challenging).

Today was generally a damp, light day.  Winds were consistently between 5 and 8mph from the north.  We sailed out in the river, almost due east of the ramps.  There was no traffic on the river aside from the steady flow of aircraft landing at DCA.  The current was moving pretty fast as high tide was at 10:30.  Jim and Nic got off four races before calling the day as some weather threatened from the north.

Starts were relatively straight-forward today, as there was plenty of space on the line, the ends were relatively square and there was not much fighting over positioning.  I really wanted to have clear air and stay out of the current heading upwind, so tended to mind my own business and focused on starting down by the pin.  It was important to keep a hole to leeward to allow for acceleration in the last five seconds before the gun, which I was moderately successful in keeping for two of the four starts.  Over the course of the day with the breeze tending to fill more so on the right, the pin didn’t really pay off much, so by the last race, I started right at the boat.

Going upwind, clear air seemed critical–when I didn’t have a clean angle, I would tack out and come back when I had a better lane.  For a couple of the beats, the breeze would shift way off to the right allowing us to sail way above the mark at times, but you had to stay aware to make sure your trim was right as the breeze bounced around.  Another interesting thing about the beats was the windward mark rounding–given the current and the light breeze, it was easy to get caught pinching up to the mark and losing speed particularly as things got congested.  I saw a few people coming in from the left have to tack out at the last minute to avoid this bottleneck.  Lastly, with the breeze shifting, I got greedy trying to cross someone on starboard as I was getting headed, and ended up fouling him.  That was a blessing in disguise: I did my turns, went back out to the left for some clear air, and made out much better than I had been prior to the foul.

Downwind was a different story, as this was not a strength for me today.  I’d like to blame the Thanksgiving over-eating for my dragging performance there, but it’s probably more a combination of bad decision-making, poor boat-handling, and being heavier than I once was.  I tried a number of different approaches like heading to the boat-side of the leg to ride the current (which didn’t pay off) as well as sailing by the lee whenever I could (also didn’t pay off).  All the while, I wasn’t really looking upwind enough to see the puffs and how others were setting up, and this cost me a lot of time in all races.

Leeward mark roundings were a great opportunity to make up distance today, as the short races allowed for a lot of congestion here.  The current was pulling people way south of the mark as they made their way through their turns, so starting my turn wide and early helped me stay tight to the mark and gave me speed coming out of the rounding.  More times than not, I was able to sneak inside of a boat or two, as well as have a better angle coming into the beat and some clear air to work with.

Thanks to all for a fun afternoon–I hope to see everyone out there again soon.  Maybe even next Sunday–I may surprise you.

2015-2016 PRSA Laser Frostbite Series 2

Laser Frostbite Series #15

Great day on the water. I had a lot of fun and it seemed like most people did too. The wind was good, 8-12 by my estimate, and it was titanic status with icebergs all over the course.

Seemed like the left payed well but I was able to make gains going right too.

Tried to keep the boat as powered as I could and didn’t feel the need to depower except for at the end when I was tired. If you’re not on the heavier side, I think depowering was needed. But don’t forget to start with some power in the sail off the line and be adjusting in the lulls. I also adjusted the sail controls for the reach and downwind right before the weather mark. This helped get up to speed faster and get ahead if I was with someone at the rounding.

I tried the straight downwind strategy and bigger broad reaches. Each had its advantage. I didn’t like the reach approach when I had to sail very high to induce the plane. I think I just sailed too much extra distance and vmg went to those sailing on dead downwind heading.

See everyone next week. Let’s hope for even more wind!

2014-2015 Laser Frostbite Series 15

2014-2015 Laser Frostbite Series Totals

Laser Frostbite Series #11

There was perfect weather today but not much wind. The track never went over 5 knots and at some points the graph drops to zero. On the water the wind was light and oscillating but the race committee did a good job setting up the course for the conditions. We always had enough water to sail in thanks in part to a high tide. Sailing on the lagoon I only noticed current when we finally sailed in by the docks as the tide flowed out through the channel.

Continue reading Laser Frostbite Series #11

Laser Frostbite Series #10

The forecast was for 5mph wind, increasing to 7-8mph, however this did not hold as the wind died out during the second race.
During the first leg of the first race, Len was first to catch a big shift and took off on everyone.  The rest of us battled it out for 2nd.
The second race was very light wind with increasing current.  Everyone needed to be patient and those with good light wind boat speed finished well.
The third race was a windward – leward once around, with wind only on the west side of the course.  Adam had a great start at the boat end, then tacked into the wind.  However, he got stuck in a hole and others caught up.
We finished the day with a great parking lot birthday party for Kevin, who is approaching Grand Master status on the Laser Masters tour.
On days like this, I try to:
  • keep the boat moving – at the start and by not pinching upwind
  • actively look around to figure out where the wind is
  • keep my weight forward – upwind and downwind
  • roll tack
Thanks to Dan and Nich for doing RC!