There is something about a good leeward mark rounding that I find incredibly satisfying. I suppose we all have these strange things about us, and now you know mine. I guess there are worse things I could be obsessed with.
When I did my first major championship, the Optimist Selection Trials in Weymouth in 1988, as a happy accident the event was recorded. My brother and I must have watched the video tens of times, and we knew the little bits of commentary off by heart. It's sad, I know, but we loved it.
At the time there was no YouTube, and if the sailing got any TV coverage at all it was 2 or 3 minutes of Olympics sailing every 4 years (and even that wasn't a given if Britain wasn't doing well). So any video footage was extremely valuable.
My favourite bit of the whole video was probably this leeward mark rounding by K-2640, sailed by Andrew Collenette:
I like it because it looks good - the boat seems to accelerate through the turn; there's no clumsiness of movement; you don't even notice the sail coming in, it's just in the right place the whole time, and when the rounding is completed the tell-tales are flying perfectly.
It's just very...well...satisfying.
Of course, my obsession with good leeward mark roundings means that I practice them more than almost anything else. If I've got 10 minutes before a race I'll probably find a buoy and round it, practising getting the upwind settings on quickly and accurately, focusing on the nice wide entry, working on my hand-over-hand sheeting, using some leeward heel to make the turn, and hiking the boat flat on the exit.
All this practice means that I am pretty good at leeward mark roundings. Not amazing, but pretty good. Good enough.
The problem, though, is that I shouldn't be practising them as much as I do. It's good to practice anything, but really I should be practising the things I'm less good at, like holding position on the line. It's not that I can't do it, just that I can't do it well enough, or, more importantly, consistently enough.
There are two quotes that always make me feel guilty about how I use my practice time. The first is from my old favourite, Eric Twiname:
"...you tend to like and enjoy what you are best at, and as you give more thought and practice to these things you are most likely to improve them. By working instead at what you like least and are worst at, you get a ... balanced approach (to your training)"
What Eric is trying to tell me is that I need to spend more time practising holding position on the line. The problem is that I find it so frustrating. I line up next to a buoy, and then spend the next few minutes hopping about the boat, pushing the tiller this way and pulling it that way, backing the sail and then trying to avoid the boom, nearly getting stuck in irons and inadvertently going backwards, and all the while the buoy gets further away, bobbing around peacefully whilst all this manic energy is being expended in an attempt not to move.
I just don't enjoy it. It's not very, you know, satisfying.
The other quote is:
"Don't practice till you get it right. Practice until you can't get it wrong"
I can't say I've done that with my leeward mark roundings, but I do know I haven't done it with a lot of other skills. When I do make a concerted effort to improve my holding position technique it does become easier, but I never practice enough that it feels natural. I must practice it more.
And, for those of you that feel about leeward mark roundings the way I feel about holding position practice, I say this:
Give it another go. When you get good at it it feels great.