Monday, September 15, 2014


When I started sailing in England I belonged to a sailing club on a lake only a few miles from my home. I sailed there pretty much every weekend. It was fun. It was what hooked me on sailing.

Yes, I know those aren't Lasers. But that is the right lake.

Then some friends at the club invited me to go and race with them at some other clubs nearby. We called these events "open meetings" in the UK. Once I even drove about 50 miles to an open meeting and raced a sailor who had just won the European Laser Championship. But most of my sailing was at the local lake.

When I moved to America there was a sailing club on the lake just across the road from my house. My sons and I sailed there pretty much every weekend in the summer. They sailed Sunfish at the club so we sailed Sunfish too.

I still had a Laser so occasionally I would travel to the Jersey shore, or Lake Hopatcong, or Marsh Creek in Pennsylvania to compete in Lasers. They call these events "regattas" in the US. I went to the Laser US Nationals in New Jersey in 1990. But I never drove more than two or three hours to a regatta.

Them I got the travel bug. I had heard about events like the midwinter regattas in Florida (for Sunfish and Lasers) and the Sunfish North Americans and the Sunfish Worlds. So some winters I drove to Florida. And then I started flying overseas to regattas and went to the Sunfish Worlds in the Dominican Republic and in Colombia. It was exciting going to new countries and experiencing their culture and their food and meeting other sailors from other countries.

And then I realized I could go to Laser Masters Worlds and went to England and Mexico and Spain (twice) and Australia. Tillerwoman always came with me on these trips, and after I had retired we took the opportunity to tack on some extra weeks and explore the countries hosting these regattas.

Random photo to illustrate foreign culture
Not Australia

When we moved to Rhode Island I discovered there were so many regattas locally that I didn't need to drive very far to sail in them. I didn't even have a regular club to sail at in the summer. It was all regattas. And lots of practice days on the bays locally, sometimes on my own and sometimes with friends. There was frostbiting in the winter too when I felt like it.

In the last few years, I haven't felt much like driving hundreds of miles or flying thousands of mile to sail when I can have just as much fun sailing locally.

Recently I have occasionally sailed with a couple of Laser fleets that are each about an hour's drive away from my home. It reminds me of the days when I started sailing. Small fleets. Short courses. Minimal waiting around between races. Everybody knows everybody. Not too serious. Just half a dozen or so Laser dudes having fun sailing round a sausage.

A sausage

On Sunday I sailed with the Duxbury Laser fleet. We had about 10 or 12 knots of breeze from the north. We did 7 or 8 windward-leeward races and had some good close races and all came off the water thinking we had just had about as much fun in two hours as it is possible to have in a Laser.

Some of my friends drove 8 hours to Rochester to sail in the Laser Masters US Nationals. They had fun too. But there was no wind in Rochester on Sunday so there were no races that day.

Some sailors will drive 3,000 miles to a regatta. Sometimes they have more of an adventure on the the drive than they do at the regatta. Check out Carol Cronin's Deer in the Headlight:Better Lucky than Good for example.

Interesting map of the likelihood of hitting a deer 
with your car in the next year in the US by state.

I seem to have lost much of my passion for travel to sailing events these day. I feel like I'm returning to my roots.

Am I getting old?

Or getting young?

Maybe one day I'll get the travel bug again and jet off to New Zealand or Argentina for a Laser Masters Worlds? Or maybe not.

Wait. I forgot. I just booked a trip to go sailing in the Mediterranean in a few weeks.

Just ignore everything I just said.

Like you usually do.

Me sailing in the Mediterranean in a few weeks
If I get young again

Enough about me?

Do you have the travel bug?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

RS Aero Tidbits

Thanks to the author of the Reaching Broadly blog for posting a summary of a French Review of the RS Aero.

It's from the French sailing magazine Bateaux, and as far as I can tell the original article is only available if you fork out 5 Euros for access. I'm sure Keep Reaching has captured the main points so if you are interested in the RS Aero, check out his article.

I see there's also another French review of the RS Aero at but I didn't learn a lot there I didn't know already.

Closer to home, I understand that the first two RS Aeros will be arriving in the US at the end of this month in time for the Annapolis Boat Show on Oct 9-13, which I guess will serve as the official US launch of the boat. Another eight boats should be delivered to the East Coast distributor in October so we should be able to have some demos around here soon.

In other good news, Minorca Sailing now has an RS Aero so I may well have my first opportunity to sail an Aero there on what has become our annual pilgrimage to Menorca in the early fall.

Just think, we could be holding the first RS Aero races in the Western Hemisphere some time in November! Perhaps we could even call it a regatta and award an orange coffee pot to the winner?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Exciting News from Canada

Exciting news from Canada this week. (How often do you read that?)

The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announced that underwater archaeologists have discovered one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846.

And if you have no idea what the Franklin Expedition was all about then go to the link above or watch the video below.

Collision Avoidance and Offset Marks

Many of you have probably already seen this video of a port-starboard collision at the recent E-Scow Nationals, but I haven't sen much discussion about it online. So here's my take on the situation and what we can learn from it and how such situations might be avoided in future.

As always, all opinions are my own and may be ill-informed, confused, or even downright wrong. So feel to disagree and abuse me in the comments if you are so inclined.

So what do we have here?

A large fleet.

A crowded windward mark rounding.

Boats on starboard bearing away on to a run and raising their spinnakers, while port tackers further down the fleet are still racing upwind towards the windward mark and are crossing the path of the starboard tack boats.

And one of the port tackers collides with a starboard tacker.

It's one of the most dangerous parts of the race course. Everyone knows that port should give way to starboard in this situation, but it's complicated by the facts that the starboard tackers are changing course and the the crew of the starboard tackers are probably busier than they are at any other time on the race course. It's bad enough on the Laser... sheeting out, pulling up the board, releasing the outhaul, maybe resetting the vang if you released it too much at the windward mark, catching the first wave… and I suspect it's even worse on a boat with a spinnaker. So sometimes the starboard tacker doesn't have their eyes out of the boat enough, and the port tacker may see the starboard tacker but isn't sure exactly when she is going to turn and how sharply. I've seen a similar incident in a Laser fleet which put the starboard tack sailor in the hospital.

So what can be done to avoid these collisions?

Options for the sailors

Under Rule 10, the obligation is clearly on the port tackers to keep clear. What options do they have? Slow down, head up, bear away, or tack I suppose.

Bearing way is certainly an option but you had better do it soon enough to be able to pass cleanly ahead of the starboard tacker. The port tack boat in the video tried to bear away but was too late. Tacking wouldn't usually be necessary or even advisable so close to the lay line. Slowing down or heading up are the best possibilities I suppose for avoiding one starboard tacker. But what if there is a whole parade of starboard tackers, as there is in this incident? Do you luff up and wait for them all to pass? You might wait for the whole fleet. Or do you choose a likely looking gap and go for it? It can be a tough choice.

The real lesson is that port tackers should really anticipate this situation and not put themselves in the situation of having to cross a crowd of starboard tackers bearing away to the downwind leg so close to the mark. It's a bit like the old joke about a tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions to Dublin. The Irishman replies, "Well sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here."

And the starboard tack boats are not entirely immune from the responsibility to avoid a collision. Rule 16.1 says, "When a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear." So if a starboard tack boat wishing to bear away sees a port tacker approaching, sailing in a straight line course that would cross to leeward of the starboard tacker if she maintained her course, the latter can't just bear away in front of the port tacker and immediately claim right of way under Rule 10. She has to give the port tacker room to keep clear.

Not that I'm saying that the starboard tacker in this incident changed course in such a way that she infringed Rule 16. But if the port tacker were so minded she could certainly argue a case under Rule 16 in the protest room.

It is interesting that the two starboard tack boats rounding the mark after the one involved in the collision chose to sail high to avoid another port tacker rather than bearing away in front of it. That may have been for strategic reasons (wanting to sail on that side of the downwind leg) but it was probably also smart tactics to avoid any risk of getting tangled up with the port tacker.

Options for the race committee

OK. So I hope we can all agree that having a bunch of port tack close-hauled boats sailing into a bunch of starboard tack boats trying to bear away and raise spinnakers is a situation fraught with risks of collision. The classic race management solution to avoid this problem is to lay an offset mark to define a short reaching leg for the boats after the rounding the windward mark. Then when they do round the offset mark and start to bear away they will be several boat lengths to windward of the port tack lay line and so when the the boats going downwind meet the port tackers they will be settled on their downwind course and not trying to make dramatic changes of course.

It's a good idea and it has its merits. But there is an offset mark in this incident. And still the port tackers are tangling with the starboard tackers as they are bearing away to start the downwind leg.

So what went wrong? Why are the port tackers so close to the offset mark?

Let's be generous and assume that the race committee placed the offset mark correctly (although that doesn't always happen.) Maybe the port tackers overstood the layline? Or perhaps there was a big left shift late in the race? Whatever the reason, this offset mark clearly isn't preventing the problem it was designed to solve.

I have heard talk this year of a different race management solution. Instead of the conventional offset mark defining a short reaching leg, place a mark a few boat lengths directly downwind from the windward mark with the idea that port tackers on the beat must pass it to leeward. (Not sure exactly what language you would use in the SIs to achieve this. No boat on the windward leg may cross the line between the windward mark and the offset mark?)

It sounds as if this variation of the offset mark would achieve the aim of keeping boats approaching on the port tack layline away from boats in the process of rounding the mark and bearing away, as the port tack layline would essentially be the layline to this new "offset" mark.

Has anybody heard of a race committee trying this option? Any experience or views on how well it would work?

And now over to you. Have you been involved in situations like this? Have you seen, or been involved in, similar collisions? What is your plan when you are the starboard tacker or the port tacker? Do we need any changes in the Rules to help make this part of the race course more safe? Are there other things race management can do?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mad Dogs and Englishmen...

Only the English would hold an annual cricket match on a sandbank, that is usually submerged, in the middle of a stretch of water three miles wide that also is a major shipping channel.

The Bursledon Blogger has the full story at Way on Down.

More pictures here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

ISA Downwind Clinic - the Inside Scoop

Back in July I wrote a post fantasizing about the perfect way to do Laser Downwind Training and wondering if the Downwind Clinic at the International Sailing Academy in Mexico might be that perfect solution.

Then last month, Canadian Laser Master sailor David Elliot emailed me asking for help in planning the 2015 East Coast Road Trip for the RCMST (Real Canadian Masters Sailing Team) and in a subsequent email conversation he mentioned that he had been to the ISA downwind clinic last year and he agreed to give me an email interview for this blog about it.

Let me first of all explain why some of my questions might seem a little negative. It was only because I am already sold on all the benefits of this clinic, how much I would learn, how much fun the downwind sailing every day would be. I wanted to probe with David some of the things that might not be so obvious.

How was the upwind tow? How long was it and were you sitting in your Lasers all the way? That sounds like the most uncomfortable part of the whole process — although I guess it's better than sailing all the way. 

You have identified the downside of the downwind clinic. The tow was approx 50 minutes each day in our lasers, most often bum on the cockpit floor. There were 5 lasers towed by each motorboat as I recall. Mostly it was fine but sometimes uncomfortable. 

On the positive side, it is a beautful location and attractive shoreline. Significant amount of sea life. We stopped to watch whales on several occasions during tows.

Was it basically the same format every day or did you have different drills or work on different techniques each day? 

Generally the format started with a basic approach to carved turns and built each day on what had been taught, if not learned or perfected, the day before. Different drills were used but there was certainly some repetition. The repitition was offset by the variety of wind and wave conditions. What seemed pretty easy in 5knots was not so easy in 10knots.

What were the winds like? The website seems to promise light winds at the start of the run and building as you go, which sounds ideal. But did you get that every day? What were the maximum wind speed and wave heights? 

The wind was pretty much as promised. We started the tow around 10.30 though that depended a bit on the weather forecast I think it was light — a couple of knots or less — every time we started downwind. The wind built during the time we took to get back. Typically it was blowing 15 to 18 knots, with occasional higher gusts, by the time we finished. 

The wave heights varied. There is not the same kind of swell as there is in Cabarete. The waves are shorter but still very surfable. Height was flat to a foot to three or four feet or so. Sometimes the current would cause some choppy areas. 

There may have been one or two days when the wind was late, and I think one day when the wind was lighter, but it was surprisingly consistent — which is not always the case there. I have been to ISA several times, mostly earlier (late February), but from what I have been told and experienced, the wind gets more consistent and stronger in April and May.

How long were you on the water each day?

About 50 minutes to go upwind and then we spent over 3 hours sailing downwind, with stops for coaching, water, and to collect those trying too hard and who had mishaps - as we all did. But the water was warm! About 4 hours in total, I think. 

Was there a lot of individual feedback? On the water as well as video? 

Yes. Vaughn is pretty even handed with attention — recognizing that there may be 10 to 12 sailors. He is the only coach. A lot of video and good briefing and debriefing. He also has a stack of video of national team guys for comparison or teaching. Vaughn is an excellent Laser sailor in his own right and he is not afraid to get in the boat and demo a point. 

And, although it is only Mexican beer and it is in a bottle, the first one coming off the water to the eating place, offered with an ice cold flannel is, well, delicious, as is the food that quickly follows. 

Temperatures were in the high 20s or low 30s. A thin rash guard top and minimal bottoms were sufficient on virtually every day. 

I never thought I would be able to sail downwind with "knees up" but I do now.


Sounds like this is something to add to my bucket list.

Thanks to Dave for the interview.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Pocono Pirates

Last week for Throwback Thursday we had a photo quiz. I knew it was of the winners at a Sailing Association of North Jersey Lakes (SANJL) Junior Regatta but it took a bit of detective work by some of my smart readers to help me remember the names of all the sailors and even the year of the regatta. Turns out it was 1996.

This week Tillerwoman and I have been rummaging among the shoeboxes of old photos in the basement and we managed to unearth some photos of an even earlier SANJL Junior Regatta... in 1992.

This event was at Deer Lake which is a tiny puddle of a lake, a few miles north of Mountain Lakes in New Jersey, the town where we lived from 1989 to 2007.  When I moved there, my sons and I brought with us from England one Laser and two Optimists and we sailed them for a while in the Open Fleet at Mountain Lakes Sailing Association, but over time we all realized that most of the action at MLSA was in Sunfish and so all three of us took up Sunfish sailing.

SANJL is an organization that runs four senior regattas a year at various lakes around North Jersey, and (in those days) one Junior Regatta a year. In 1992, my friend Steve Manson encouraged a number of Mountain Lakes kids, including my sons, to come to the SANJL Junior Regatta at Deer Lake. As I recall, Steve lent my elder son his own boat but I don't remember whether all seven or eight Mountain Lakes kids who appear in my photos of that day were actually racing or whether some were just there to spectate and cheer on their friends.

So here is a photo of the racing action. Yes, the winds were pretty light. And that's me in the green polo shirt and sunglasses working on how to sit with bad posture and eventually trigger many episodes of lower back pain in later years. It was a typical day of North Jersey Sunfish racing except for one thing. This was a date which will live in infamy and the old salts still talk in incredulous tones of how it went down.

The first unusual thing was that, along with the usual contingent of parents with kids, a TEAM of kids showed up from Pennsylvania. With a COACH. And a trailer full of SIX Sunfish. From the next frigging state. It was unheard of.

But the day started in good spirits and everyone was cool and all the kids were having fun. After a few races it became apparent that the winner of the day was either going to be Tiller Extension #1 or one particular kid from the TEAM with a COACH from frigging PENNSYLVANIA. It was probably all going to be decided by which of the two sailed the best in the final race (although I don't recall the actually points situation.)

Anyway the kids were all drifting around in their boats on the other side of the lake in the final race. It was hard to see what was really going on but it looked to me as if Tiller Extension #1 was buried in the middle of the fleet and was not well positioned to win the regatta.

And then it happened. One of the kids from the TEAM with a COACH from frigging PENNSYLVANIA (not the one who had a chance to win) dove off his boat, swam across to the boat of Tiller Extension #1, got hold of that boat's mast and capsized it!!!!   OMG! WTF! Did that really just happen? We couldn't believe our eyes. (Did we even know what OMG and WTF meant in 1992?)

After Tiller Extension #1 had righted his boat he was so far back in the fleet that he had no chance to win the regatta and it looked like the winner would be the kid from the TEAM with a COACH from frigging PENNSYLVANIA (not the one who perpetrated the pirate attack to help his friend.)

But my friend Steve came to the rescue. Tiller Extension #1 wouldn't have known what to do on his own and in those days I don't think I would have known either. I wasn't party to the hearing but apparently Steve let them have it with Rule 2 and Rule 69.2c and Rule 62.1d or words to that effect and Tiller Extension #1 was awarded average points for that race which was enough for him to win the regatta.

Which is why I now have this photo of him holding the ginormous SANJL Junior Trophy as the 1992 SANJL Junior Champion.

Tiller Extension #2 is the little kid to the champions' right looking at the trophy and his big brother with admiring eyes and thinking, "I'm going to win that DAMN GINORMOUS THING myself one day!" (And he did.)

Is it my imagination or is #2 also holding a trophy in his left hand? Maybe he was first Midget (as we politically incorrectly used to call even more junior juniors in those days.)

Anyway the COACH of the TEAM from frigging PENNSYLVANIA did come over and apologize to us but I don't believe that the kid who launched the pirate attack did. Maybe he learned his lesson. It's entirely possible that his team-mate might have won the regatta if the race had been allowed to take its course. I hope the coach used the incident to teach his kids some lessons about sportsmanship.

I continued to be involved with the SANJL Junior Regattas for over a dozen years as a parent, a coach (yes, I really did take a TEAM from frigging MOUNTAIN LAKES to these regattas in later years) and a regatta organizer. But I never again saw an incident of such bad sportsmanship ever again. Kids who sail are basically good kids and a pleasure to work with. At least that's been my experience.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


A major part of sailboat racing is learning how to manage risk.

How to play the odds.

When to take a risk to make a large gain.

And when to play it safe to avoid making a huge loss.

I'm not usually very good at this aspect of the game. I think I'm usually too conservative on the race course and don't take risks when I should. One aspect of my game that I think I usually play too safe is the windward mark rounding. My usual modus operandi is to approach the starboard tack layline six to ten lengths from the mark, find a gap in the parade of boats on the lay line, sail through it and tack. I hardly ever come on in port on the layine or within three boat lengths of the mark, and hardly ever try to tack below starboard tackers and risk not laying the mark.

But on Sunday it was different.

I was racing with the Duxbury Laser fleet again and the winds were forecast to be 15 gusting 25 but I don't think it ever actually was that strong.

I was still suffering from some lower back pain from the previous Sunday so I determined that I would race for an hour or so and then call it a day. Didn't want to overdo it.

As a result I didn't care too much about the results, so I had a mindset that I was prepared to take some risks. Roll the dice and see what happened.

The boat end of the start line was favored and I knew some of the sailors in this fleet would be fighting each other for the position next to the boat. I chose to play it safe at the starts and get a position a little further down the line with room to accelerate that was away from the mayhem at the RC boat.

As a result I was usually on the left of the leaders going up the beat. Sometimes sailing a bit faster than them (mantra: bow down) but not fast enough that I could tack and safely cross them all until they tacked. On the shortish course that often meant I was close to the port tack lay line before I could tack.

Normally this would be where I would start to panic and start looking for gaps in the starboard tack parade and bearing off to find such a gap and giving up way too many boats in the process of trying to make a safe windward mark rounding.

But on Sunday it was different. Some times I came in the port tack layline and managed to tack cleanly in front of the approaching starboard tackers. Some times I was further away from the port tack lay line and I chanced it tacking under a starboard tacker. Risks I would never normally take. It worked out every time and I rounded the mark in the lead, or in the leading pack every time.

Hey. Maybe I should try this more often?

I had good speed upwind and downwind. My leeward mark roundings weren't too shabby either. After four races my scores were 1,2,1,1.


In line with my plan of only sailing for an hour or so, I decided to call it a day. Some wag later asked me if I had got tired of winning.

Not at all. But I chose not to risk hurting my back again by sailing for too long.

It's all about managing risk.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Athletes in all sorts of sports believe in using mantras. But are mantras any help in sailing?

What is a mantra? An inspirational phrase that helps with your performance. Something to help keep the mind focused on what is important while you are competing.

Many runners use mantras. There is an excellent Runners' World article about it - The Magic of Mantras. It reminds us that a good mantra should be "short, positive, instructive, and full of action words."

But mantras are very personal. Different strokes for different folks. And even in a sport as apparently simple as running, a runner may use different mantras in different stages of the race and for different purposes.

Some examples of mantras from that article I linked…

To remind you to start out easy in a long race - "Pass no one."

To help you stay focused and forget how long a marathon really is - "One mile at a time." I could never have completed my marathons or half marathons without using this one.

To help you focus on good running form  - "Lighter, softer, faster, relaxer." Hey, they don't even have to be real words as long as they work for you.

Some sailors use mantras too. Christine Neville wrote about it in one of her posts about racing at CORK a couple of weeks ago. She felt she had been thinking too much about getting away from other boats to find clear air, so on this day she used mantras like "keep it simple" and "go as fast and direct as you can."

I really need a mantra to help me when I'm sailing a long windy beat to take my mind off my aching quad muscles and keep me focused on hiking hard and keeping good hiking form and sailing fast. I wonder what would work?

"It's meant to hurt." Maybe not. Too negative. A mantra should take your mind off the pain and adversity and keep you in a positive frame of mind.

"Tougher than the rest." Not true - but it would probably work.

"Grind them down. One at a time." Ha! I like this one. Just focus on sailing faster than the boat next to me until I have him in my bad air and he is forced to tack away. Children can be so cruel at my age.

But sailing is such a complex sport. We need different mantras for different wind conditions and different points of sail and different strategic and tactical situations and to avoid different mental traps.

"Keep your head out of the boat." is a very useful mantra of course.

And something like "Keep calm. Forget it. Carry on." is a good one for dealing with the aftermath of all the things that can go bad on the race course including capsizes, collisions with buoys, collisions with other boats, collisions with bridges, falling out of the boat, being pulled out of the boat by another sailor's sheet around your neck, chopping your finger off etc. etc.

What about you?

Do you have some favorite sailing mantras?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to Train for the Laser Masters Worlds in Hyères

I was in a very gay mood on Sunday.

OK. OK. I realize that it's pretty much impossible to use the word "gay" in a sentence like that these days without being totally misunderstood. But once upon a time "gay" was a very useful word in the English language with the meaning of "happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant."

So let's start again.

I was feeling happily excited, merry, keenly alive and exuberant on Sunday.

I went racing with the Duxbury Laser fleet. There were eight Lasers racing. The fleet was close. The race courses were perfect. The weather was perfect. Everyone was having a good time.

Between races one sailor sailed across to me and said something along the lines of, "What a great day to be alive. I don't mind looking at all these transoms on the race course. It's just good to be out here." I totally agreed.

I haven't raced much this summer on account of some lower back pain after the Newport Regatta but it was fun to be at it again. Several of my friends have been training hard this summer for the Laser Masters Worlds at Hyères in France in October and two of them were there on Sunday. They were both sailing really well. Smooth. Fast. Smart. Their hard work is really paying off.

On the other hand, my results weren't anything to write home about. In my best races I was third or fourth, I think. I'm not going to write home about the other races.

As I said, I was in a gay mood. (See above for translation.)

I was feeling a bit French too. (No translation needed.)

French Laser sailor from Hyères...

So while we were racing, I was shouting random phrases in my bad schoolboy French at my two friends who are going to the Worlds to acclimate them to what it will be like sailing in France.

"Cette fille est très rapide!"

"Maintenez votre cours!"

"Chambre à la marque!"

"Étoile ennuyée!"

"Trichez la maison de soins infirmiers. Mourrez sur votre Laser!"

And from time to time I would break into a rousing verse or two of La Marseillaise, for the same reason.

Oh, I was in a very gay mood. (See above for translation.)

After sailing, one of the other mid-fleet sailors came up to me and starting launching in to some explanation as to why he had been sailing so badly. I was tempted to join in with a litany of my own excuses, as I usually would have done. But I was in too good a mood for that so I replied…

"I'm just happy to see my friends sailing so well."

And I was.

Bonus points for anyone who can complete a limerick that starts with the line…

There was a French sailor from Hyères..

Helpful hint: Hyères rhymes with "sea air."