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Laylines & Getting Them Right.

Windward mark layline mistakes, unfortunately, are very common and can be extremely costly.

One of the most common things that sailors get wrong is getting to the layline too early. If you get to the layline too early, you can no longer play the shifts and you also lose tactical options.

More often than not it is really hard to judge laylines without a good visual reference and wind changes, dirty air, waves, or current are all outside factors that you need to take into account. 

Problems that can be created by getting to a layline too early:

  • A lift or increase in wind velocity causes you to overstand and sail extra distance.
  • Other boats that were below the layline may now be fetching the mark.
  • A header favours the boats inside the laylines, since they are closer to the shift.
  • In an approaching lull, you have fewer options to sail towards more pressure.
  • Boats not on the layline can tack on your air, leaving you with few options.

As you get about two-thirds of the way up each beat, work out your relative distance to the port and starboard laylines and consider your plan accordingly.

Are you a lot closer to one layline than the other? If so, make sure your strategy is sound. You must have a really good reason to keep going toward the closer layline so continue to evaluate all possibilities.

When considering tacking for the mark a simple test is that if you have to look back over your shoulder to see the mark, you’re probably on or past the layline.  

It is extremely important to know your boat’s tacking angle which is the difference in headings on each tack. 

Different conditions such as wind strength, sail trim, waves and dirty air will affect the tacking angle and in light air and the difference in light to heavy air could be as much as 30 degrees.

Learning your boats tacking angles comes from practising in various conditions and it does no harm to record these numbers on the boat for quick reference and to aid your memory in pressure situations.

Drawing tacking lines on the boat are one way of helping to call a tack.

Other boats are a great clue when judging laylines but just make sure that the boats you are referencing are trimmed on and sailing hard, they may have overlaid and are reaching down to the mark or they may have underlaid and are pinching to try to get up to it.

Even if you are very close to the layline there are a few reasons why you may delay your tack or you may even decide to tack early and they are:

  • There is a favourable shift coming.
  • There is more breeze coming as more breeze lifts you and decreases your tacking angle.
  • There are tactical reasons relating to other boats in your immediate vicinity.
  • There is an unfavourable shift coming.
  • You are heading into a lull.
  • There is no clear air on the layline.
  • If there is a big wave coming, perhaps delay until it passes as a tack right on it may stop the boat and cause you to underlay on the other tack.  

There are things you can do to practice judging laylines, but make sure you practice in varying conditions.

One drill I have found to be particularly useful is to use a fixed mark and tack at it from various distances with the aim of getting to it fully powered up, close-hauled and to pass within half a boat length.

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Headstay Sag and Why it Matters

Headstay sag affects everything from boat speed to pointing ability.

Sailboats with headstay sag often point higher and maintain boatspeed better in light-air conditions and one of the key methods to power up a sail is to induce sag in the forestay.

Dinghies obviously only have one jib and many sailboat classes limit the number of jibs that a boat may carry so the ability to be able to power up and down is very important in changing conditions.

When the headstay sags, it not only sags to leeward but also sags aft, which puts the luff closer to the leech, thereby adding depth to the jib. The key controls for manipulating headstay sag are shroud tension, mainsheet tension, and in some cases, headstay length.

In light air, the number one adjustment for headstay sag on boats with either deck-stepped and keel-stepped masts is varying the shroud tension. More tension effectively pulls the mast aft (assuming the chainplates are aft of the mast)

The other way to induce headstay sag is to minimize mainsheet tension. If the mast is stiff, trimming the mainsheet will quickly increase headstay tension and reduce sag. Ideally, in light and puffy conditions, when you ease the mainsheet in a lull, you’ll see the headstay sag to leeward, powering up the sail.

Easing off the rig isn’t the only way to increase headstay sag, chocking the mast at the partners, using a mast ram (if your class allows this) or moving the mast butt aft are other methods of achieving the desired sag.

When you sag the headstay, the maximum draft in your jib moves forward. To compensate and keep the draft aft, ease halyard tension, which also creates additional power. If you increase headstay sag but the halyard remains too tight, you’ll get a knuckle in the front of the sail and an entry that’s too deep, so you won’t gain the overall power you’re looking for.

A major effect of increased headstay sag is that it rotates the middle of the sail, changing the angle of attack causing the mid-luff of the sail to move to leeward as well as aft. At the same time, the mid-leech rotates slightly inboard, similar to the effect of weather-sheeting, which increases pointing ability.

With too much headstay sag the leech will rotate inboard too far, becoming extra sensitive to sheet tension and stalling too easily. Equally problematic, the entry angle becomes too extreme; when you bear off to rebuild speed, you have to sheet out too much to power up the sail.

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HOW TO BE EFFECTIVE – STEERING OFF THE WIND

On reaches and runs it is essential that the helmsman and trimmer communicate and co-ordinate their actions.

As the helmsman, you must also respond to input from the tactician and changing sailing conditions plus the trimmer’s input based on sheet load and boat speed. The problem here is that there may be conflicting voices advising the steerer thus unsettling his concentration.

Since your tactics won’t succeed without good trim, it makes sense that the tactician talks to the trimmer who then gives feedback to the helmsman so the trimmer is the only one who communicates with the helmsman.

Steering on Reaches –

  1. Light to Moderate Air

On a reach, the fastest way between two points is a straight line and you should plan the reaches with that in mind only varying this based on changes in the sailing conditions or tactics.

In fluctuating wind conditions, work up in the lulls and down in the puffs as necessary to maintain speed, while holding a good average course. The trimmer will indicate when the sheet load is light head up, and when the spinnaker sheet is fully loaded bear off. The amount of course change required depends on wind speed.

When you must head up to pass another boat or defend your position let the trimmer know before making an abrupt change of course, to ensure that the manoeuvre is successful.

2. Heavy air

In heavy air, the helmsman is at the mercy of the trimmers.

The vang, main sheet, and spinnaker sheet must be eased when the boat is overpowered or it will round up and broach but it is fast to carry as much power as you can as long as you can control it.

Carrying some weather helm is OK as long as the rudder doesn’t stall, leading to a round up, this is once again a time when communication between the helmsman and trimmer is essential.

Steering on Runs –

  1. Light air (3 to 9 knots)

In light winds, the best sailing angle is about 140° true wind angle (40° above dead downwind). The angle changes very little as the wind speed fluctuates, so don’t head up in the lulls and off in the puffs except for tactical reasons. The fastest way to the next mark is to tack downwind and keeping the apparent wind forward is fast. A word of caution here though, this is boat dependant so it pays to practice to find out what is true for your particular class or boat.

2. Moderate air (10 to 15 knots)

The optimum speed and sailing angle change dramatically with every change in wind speed. For every knot of wind the optimum course shifts five degrees. In ten knots of wind, the optimum angle is 140° true wind angle and fifteen knots a 165° true wind angle is fastest. Do your best to respond to every change in wind speed, driving off with the puffs and heading up in the lulls.

3. Heavy Air (over 15 knots)

Aim for the mark, sail fast and keep control using the waves to surf wherever possible. Use crew weight to balance the helm, avoid sailing dead downwind and trim the spinnaker directly in front of the boat. Crew weight should also be moved aft to promote planing and to avoid the bow burying.

The helmsman should be forceful to keep control but also be mindful that smooth is fast, jerking the helm creates drag and slows you down.

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Sailing Wind Velocity and it’s Importance

 

In all sailboat races, you must sail toward better pressure as more wind velocity almost always means more speed. 

On the course look for darker water as changes in wind velocity are a lot easier to see than changes in direction.

More wind creates more ripples on the water, and these appear darker because of how they reflect light.

Be careful though to consider variations in sunlight and clouds when assessing heading over to darker looking patches on the course.

Other boats around you are also a great source of information about velocity across the course and be sure to not only take into account their angle of heel but also their heading.

Changes in heading maybe a puff, lift or knock so continual observation should give you the answers you are looking for.

Generally, increases in wind velocity make more difference when the wind is light. An increase of a few knots in the wind when it is light may increase your boat speed by a knot or more whereas an increase of a couple of knots of windspeed in the higher wind ranges may see no increase in boat speed at all.

Once you have found yourself in better wind velocity, do your best to stay there and it may serve you better to stay in a puff longer by pinching up a little, footing off into it or tacking/gybing to stay in the puff longer.

Beware of velocity headers and when velocity changes it affects the wind you see and as an example, when you sail into a lull your apparent wind goes forward which feels as though you have been headed even though the wind direction stays the same.

The mistake a lot of sailors make is to tack on a velocity header and tack is not only slow in light air but you could well be sailing on a knock on the other tack.

When you experience a velocity header, change gears to keep your boat speed up and continually be on the lookout for the next puff or shift.

The amount of wind pressure also affects your ability to survive in another boat’s bad air. In light air, wind shadows are bigger and much more hurtful.

In heavy air, you can sail fairly close to leeward of another boat and go pretty much the same speed.

Wind pressure impacts what you do in different positions on the first beat.
Having more velocity means you will sail faster with narrower tacking angles, so you’ll get to a lay line sooner. In light air both tacks take more time, so you can afford to spend more time on the shorter tack.

A factor that can have a big effect on wind pressure is current. When you’re racing upwind, the choice is easy – head for the part of the course where there is stronger current flowing toward the wind or less current going with the wind.

This will not only help you make better progress over the bottom, but it will give you better wind pressure as well.  

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Common Myths of Competitive Sailing

 

MYTHS REGARDING CURRENT ACROSS THE COURSE

MYTH – Your apparent wind will be different on each tack. Since you sail faster over the bottom on the down current tack, you’ll feel more wind on that tack and this will affect sail trim and speed.

TRUTHThe apparent wind on both tacks is affected equally by the current, so you will feel the same wind and therefore need the same sail trim on each tack.

MYTH – You can improve VMG by pinching to get the current on
the leeward side of your bow.

TRUTH – It doesn’t matter where you are heading since the current only
pushes your boat in the direction it is moving. So pinching will be slower.

MYTH – On a beat, it’s always better to sail the up current tack first.

TRUTH – Current affects all boats equally, so as long as you don’t overstand the mark it doesn’t matter where you are. But if the up-current tack is much longer, it may be better to sail that tack first.

MYTH – If the starting line is square to the wind, it’s better to start at
the up current end.

TRUTH – All boats are being pushed in the same direction by the current, so it doesn’t matter where you start on the line (as far as current is concerned). 

MYTHS REGARDING STARTING

MYTH – If you are in the middle of the starting line and you turn up so your bow is pointing straight into the wind, the end of the line that is closer to your bow is the end that is favoured.

TRUTH – Going head to wind in the middle of the line will help you determine which end of the starting line is farther upwind, but that end is not necessarily ‘favoured.’ The favoured end of the starting line is the one that will get you to the windward mark sooner, taking into account a number of strategic and tactical factors including which end is farther upwind (and by how much).

MYTH – You should be more careful at the start when the race committee has signalled with flags that a starting penalty is in effect. Because of this, you should be more conservative as you approach the line.

TRUTH – Even when there is no special starting penalty in effect, the consequences of being over the starting line prematurely can be severe. You should not change your approach to the start just because one of these flags is displayed the rest of the fleet will be hanging back so your chances of a great start are much better.

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This Week a bit of Fun – Top 20 Sailing Superstitions

Because of the dangers faced by sailors and fishermen, there are countless superstitions around safety and luck on the sea. Some seem a little strange today. While most no longer apply, we’re guessing that some still linger in sailors’ minds.

20. Re-naming a boat
It is bad luck to change the name of the boat. If you do, you must have a de-naming ceremony and officially christen the boat again.

19.  Tattoos
When tattooing became popular at sea a rooster and a pig were often tattooed onto sailors’ feet. It was believed these animals would prevent the sailors from drowning by showing them the way to shore.

18.  Blood
It is unlucky to set off at the start of the fishing season without having first shed some blood in a fight or in an accident.

17.  Fishing nets
When setting fishing nets it is good luck to use an odd number 

16.  Caul
Having the caul of a new-born child on board a ship was meant to prevent anyone from drowning. This meant that cauls were often purchased by sailors before a voyage. (A caul is a harmless membrane that covers the face and head of a newborn baby. It is very rare).

15.  Hat overboard
Losing a hat overboard was an omen that the trip would be a long one.

14.  Eggshells
Eggshells had to be broken into tiny pieces once an egg was cracked open. This was meant to stop witches coming to the ship to sail in the pieces of shell.

13.  Personal grooming
Anyone aboard who trimmed their nails cut their hair or shaved their beard brought bad luck to the ship.

12. Feet
Flat-footed people were unlucky on board a ship and were also avoided by sailors before they boarded.

11. Women
Women were bad luck on board because they distracted the crew, which would anger the sea, causing treacherous conditions as revenge. However, conveniently for the male crew, naked women calmed the sea, which is why so many figureheads were women with bare breasts. 

10. Non-sailing days
It was bad luck to sail on Thursdays (God of Storms, Thor’s day) or Fridays (the day Jesus was executed), the first Monday in April (the day Cain killed Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), and 31 December (the day on which Judas Iscariot hanged himself).

9. Watch your mouth
Some words and sayings brought about bad luck on board, including “drowned”, “goodbye” and “good luck”. Things to do with the land were believed to be bad luck if mentioned, such as the church,  pigs, foxes, cats, and rabbits.

8. No whistling 
Whistling or singing into the wind was forbidden as it would “whistle up a storm”

7.  No farewell
It was bad luck for seafaring men’s wives to call out to them or wave goodbye once they stepped out the door to leave for a voyage.

6. Stirring tea
Stirring tea with a knife or fork would invite bad luck

5. Turning a loaf of bread upside down
Turning a loaf of bread upside down once it had been cut brings bad luck too. These two seem to be superstitions that existed on land as well as at sea!

4. Red-heads
Like flat-footed people, red-heads were believed to bring bad luck to a ship. If you met one before boarding, the only way to mitigate the bad luck was to speak to them before they could speak to you.

3. Salt
It was bad luck for one crewman to pass the salt pot to another directly. Presumably one could put it down and the other could pick it up.

2. Fishy
In order to encourage fish to be caught, Scottish fishermen would begin their fishing session by throwing one of the crew members overboard and then hauling him back on 

1. Bananas
No bananas on board. They were believed to be so unlucky they would cause the ship to be lost. Whole cargoes of bananas were especially frightening for sailors.

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Avoid Sailing Mistakes

An important ingredient to winning a yacht race is to make fewer mistakes than your fellow competitors.

Because of sailing’s complexities, even the best sailors will make mistakes but it is the avoidance of the major ones that are the most telling, minor mistakes will make a difference but should not be sweated over.

I have listed below things which will ensure that you avoid major mistakes. You need good planning, execution on the course and staying alert whilst racing to guarantee you avoid a disastrous result.

  • Read and absorb the sailing instructions before heading out and where possible carry a copy to refer to if time and circumstances allow.  If you are on a crewed boat have at least one other team member do the same. Write the most important or unique instructions on your boat with a Chinagraph pencil.
  • Constantly check the wind direction both before the race and during the event, this will help you to identify persistent or oscillating shifts and assist you to modify your strategy if necessary. Head out of the boat.
  • Constantly look around the course for differences in wind direction and strength. To head to the wrong side of the course in changing conditions because you were not constantly observing changes can be extremely costly.
  • Choose your lanes carefully to avoid sailing in dirty or disturbed air and tack or gybe away to stay clear.
  • Check current direction and strength and read tide tables to see if there is a likely change of direction and strength as the race wears on. What was correct on the first time round may, in fact, be very different the next time around.
  • Have a race plan before the start but be prepared to modify it if conditions or your position in the fleet changes, a constant re-evaluation may be necessary.
  • Sometimes even if you have rights in a mark rounding or crossing situation you may be better off not to force the issue. Avoid collisions, these could finish your day and by taking your right of way you could be pushed to the wrong side of the course. It is important to plan in each situation, this will avoid snap decisions which could end in disaster.
  • Don’t arrive at the course with minutes to spare, get out there early to settle the team and get their heads in the race. This also allows you to set the boat up for the prevailing conditions ensuring that you get off the line in as good a shape as possible. Having the setup wrong and the subsequent messing around to get it right will mean that you will probably not recover.
  • Don’t head out with an item of equipment that you haven’t used before. Try all new gear during training or two boat testing to evaluate its suitability or whether it is better than what you already have.
  • When rounding a mark, locate the next one as soon as you can. It makes little sense tactically, to blindly follow the fleet if you are behind and if you are in the lead, locating the next mark is fundamental in planning your strategy for the leg.

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Read Your Helm

What you feel in your tiller or wheel gives you an indication as to what is right or wrong with your sails and the balance of the boat.

What the helmsman feels is dictated by sail trim, centreboard position, mast rake, heel and crew weight placement. With excessive helm, the steerer is working against the boats natural course.

By eliminating excessive helm you decrease rudder drag and thus increase boat speed.

Sail Trim

The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail when pulled in moves the bow up towards the wind.

On a boat that is mainsail driven like a 505 or Etchells, you should focus more on the mainsail as it contributes the most to the helm and constant adjustment will affect the helm you experience.

The mainsail should not be cleated or at least the cleat should be placed in such a way that it is hard to engage and easy to uncleat.

Have a mark on the mainsheet as a reference so you can repeat a setting when you tack or adjust for an increase or decrease in wind velocity.

The same goes for marks on your vang, fine-tune and traveller so that you can replicate settings when powering up and de-powering.

Heel and Balance

In a dinghy the rule is, always sail the boat flat because if you don’t, the rudder becomes a brake and an easy way to find if the boat is flat is where the helm goes from windward to leeward helm.

One exception, especially in lighter winds is where you might want to generate a little windward helm to gain hydrodynamic lift off the blades and a slight amount of heel will generate that.

When sailing slightly heeled and you feel an increase in the helm, flatten the boat to re-instate neutral helm and reduce drag.

Centreboard Position

Obviously, not all boats are the same, but if you pull the board up, this moves the centre of lateral resistance back, thus reducing helm.

Most classes have tuning guides which give you those settings and the centreboard is integral to the helm balance so mark it so that you know exactly where to set it for a given wind range.

Don’t slavishly follow the tuning guides though, merely use them as a starting point, there is no substitute for two boat testing to find out what works best for you.

Knowing where to have the board set in all conditions and then fine-tuning it from there is really important and in many one-designs, the centreboard is integral to helm balance and as an example, when sailing in waves, you might need a little more board up to free up the helm to drive around the waves.

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Your Fitness and Sailing

 

Most people sail to enjoy it and reach a level of fitness that allows them to race each weekend.                                                                      

On the other hand, if you are trying to get to the top whether it be in a dinghy, one design keel-boat or ocean racer, the long hours that you spend on the water honing your skills will demand additional physical training.

Full time sailing can be an excellent way to improve your physical fitness but you should not rely on this alone.

Additional on land training not only provides variety but it also allows you to work on aspects of your fitness that you need in an intense racing situation that may not be gained from a full year of sailing.

Exercise ashore can be made interesting, enjoyable and helps you to avoid too much time on the water for the wrong reasons. Exercises can be developed to make your body adapt in a very much more controlled and efficient manner than you could ever hope for on the water.

Fitness is a relative term and the type and level of fitness will vary depending on the type of boat and sailing that you do and it is important to strike a balance between the fitness and all other aspects of your sailing.

Fitness encompasses stamina, speed and skill and the mix and relative importance of each is essential for you to ascertain which aspect you need to work on for your particular type of sailing.

Think about weightlifting, sprinting and sailing, what do you think the mix would be for each of these for the roles you need to fulfill on your boat?

As with most things to do with achieving greatness in any pursuit I recommend that you find a coach or fitness professional to write you a program so that you can achieve your desired results. They will able to watch your progress and make adjustments to the program if necessary.

There are plenty of ex-Olympians and high achieving sailors who have made a profession in this space and who are more than qualified to guide you to get to where you want to be.

I remember once asking Mike Holt, a multiple world champion in the highly competitive International 505 class, what was the main factor that made him stand out from many of the other high achieving sailors in that fleet.

His answer was “fitness”, he went on to qualify that statement by saying that at the end of any race I am able to sail my boat as hard  as any one else in the fleet was able to at the start”

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TIPS FROM SAILINGS GREATS

CORRECTION TO LAST WEEKS BLOG.

In my haste to send out my already late Blog, during the paring down to make the article short and easy to read I eliminated the essence of  “shifting Gears in a Lull” what should have been included follows in bold italics.

Bearing off to restore luff telltale flow in a lull is a bad habit. Frank Bethwaite recommends you consider trimming in and very slightly feathering down in a lull and unnecessary steering will slow you down. The boat will slow down due to the lull and moves the apparent wind back closer to its direction before the lull. If the lull persists, your final heading might be only a touch lower than your original heading. If you steer down initially, you will then need to steer up again as the apparent wind comes back to its original direction. 

   

Moose McClintock learned that twings down on a spinnaker sheet or guy is similar to applying vang tension on a mainsail; it closes the leech and stabilizes the kite. He taught this while sailing on Farr 40s with the kite up in big breeze and waves.

Jonathan McKee  The farther away the jib clew is from the lead, the more you have to move it to make a change. An Etchells jib clew almost touches its lead; therefore, small changes make a big difference. On the other hand, a Melges 20 jib clew and lead are much farther apart, so your range of jib-lead movement is greater from light to heavy air.

Dave Ullman explains that raking your mast forward will give you more power because the wind flows over your sails closer to a 90-degree angle. It also closes your leeches. Raking back generates more up-flow, from front to back, decreasing power.

It also twists the sails and effectively moves the jib lead aft (because your jib clew lowers toward the lead), which also decreases power.

Buddy Melges says to practice tacks and jibes because they can provide massive gains in short amounts of time especially if you are practising by yourself, spend a lot of time on both. 

Vince Brun’s lesson was that while sailing upwind in flat water you can pinch and get away with it because nothing is disturbing the flow over your sails and blades. But as the chop increases, you have to put the bow down to keep speed. The choppier it is, the lower you have to sail.

Chop throws the boat around and makes it pitch fore and aft, causing everything to easily stall, especially when you slam into waves. Make sure you ease your sails to increase the twist and decrease helm load this bow-down twisty mode is more forgiving and keeps the boat moving fast.

Skip Whyte, coach of the University of Rhode Island sailing team knows a lot about sailing dinghies. He preaches sitting upright with good posture so that you can better see the wind and the sails. When you need to scoot in, slide your butt and hips in first. Doing so keeps your head outboard, again helping visibility. Slouching in toward the boom is uncomfortable and less effective.

Ed Adams explains the importance of setting the foot of your jib — ideally, the majority of the foot — so that it kisses the deck. The seal formed between the sail and the deck forces wind aft rather than allowing it to escape underneath the sail. Capturing and accelerating the wind gives you increased power and lift.

Karl Anderson preaches the importance of delivering a positive message to the team, especially after a tough day, let them know the team is still in good shape and all is well. Make everyone feel like they’re still in the regatta. This goes a long way, especially if you are respected on the boat.

Larry Suter explained how, when the pin is favoured by 10 per cent, it takes about 10 per cent longer to get to the line compared to a square line from a given distance because your approach angle is more parallel to the line.

If the boat is favoured by 10 per cent, it takes about 10 per cent less time to reach the line from the same distance because you are sailing more directly at the line.

That’s why there are more on course sides and general recalls when the boat is favoured. It’s critical to factor in line bias when setting up for the start.

James Lyne, coach to many top teams, emphasizes the lifted tack. In an oscillating breeze, he says, if you sail a header out of the gate or off the starting line, you end up missing the first shift and often end up missing shifts later up the beat. As you sail a header early in the leg, you rapidly get near the layline.

If you get to the layline early in the beat you have painted yourself into the corner. Later up the leg, if you get headed, you don’t want to tack because you are already on an edge, with not much distance to sail the other way. You have a dilemma because you are still on the long tack, but you are also headed.

You end up sailing through a header or two later in the beat, compounding your losses. Those who sail the lifted tack more often are positioned in the middle of the course and don’t mind tacking on headers at the top of the beat.

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