Monday, November 30, 2009

Use It Or Lose It

On Saturday I ran in a 5k road race which, in keeping with the season, was named Trot Off Your Turkey. In my case it would have been more accurately titled Trot Off Your Turkey, Apple Pie, Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, Take-Away Chinese, Fish and Chips, and Way Too Much Alcohol. We did have a good time at Thanksgiving.

I used to run 5k and 10k races quite regularly. When I looked back in my diaries (see anal-retentive) I discovered that I hadn't run a 5k since 2001. Wow. That's a long time. In the meantime I took a year off running with a knee injury in 2002 and 2003, conceived the crazy idea that I could run marathons in 2004, actually ran marathons in 2005, 2006 and 2007, did a lot of sailing in 2008, and didn't do much of anything in 2009. How the years fly by when you're having fun.

So I wasn't all that surprised to discover that my 5k time is now slower than it was in 2001. A lot slower. About 2 minutes per mile slower. But it was fun. And I think I will start running 5k and 10k and 5 mile races again.

Use it or lose it.

On Sunday I sailed my Laser in the frostbite fleet in Newport. It was sunny. It was windy enough to hike and plane and ride some waves downwind.

I used to do frostbite racing quite regularly. When I looked back in my diaries (see anal-retentive) I discovered that I hadn't sailed a frostbite series since the winter of 2005/6. Wow. That's a long time. In the meantime I took off a year in 2006/7 because we were moving house, in 2007/8 I went to Australia for the Laser Masters Worlds, and in the winter of 2008/9 I didn't do much of anything. How the years fly by when you're having fun.

So I wasn't all that surprised to discover that I totally suck at the kind of large fleet, short course racing that is typical of frostbiting. My starts, my mark-roundings, my boat-handling, my tactics, my layline judgment, my decision-making all totally sucked. On the other hand I did stay upright, I did have some good battles with other bottom-half-of-fleeters, and it was fun. I think I will start frostbiting again every weekend I can.

Use it or lose it.

However... the beautiful Tillerwoman and I are off to the Caribbean later this week.
There will be sun. There will be rum. There will be sailing. There will be kayaking. There will be swimming and snorkeling. There may even be windsurfing and stand up paddle boarding. I'll probably do a bit of running. I will definitely do some Laser racing.

Use it or lose it.

Today I am quite tired.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Love and Sailing: Two More Posts Today

The entries for our Love and Sailing group writing project keep rolling in...

It's always good to receive a submission from a relatively new blogger, and this one's a real doozy. Setting the Record Straight or Capt. Puffy Pants Eats Crow is a tale about one of those "learning experiences" which seems to get more embellished every time it is told. For some reason Captain Puffy does gloss over the details of exactly what went wrong after he took the helm, so I would love to hear Honey Bunny's side of the story too.

And The Skipper of the Starboard Racing Vessel tell us that "Sailing Reminds Me Why it's Good to Be an Old Married Couple". She tells us that "sailing brings out the arguing, which will later be followed by the apologizing and the making-up. Oh, the making-up." I think all married couples would agree with her on that one. We also learn that there is something irresistible to her about "the smell of sun-warmed skin, sunscreen, and gel coat, on a handsome sailor." Hmmm. I never knew the the smell of gel coat on a man was an aphrodisiac. I must try it some time.

Keep them coming. The competition remains open until Tuesday. Don't forget we have a fantastic awesome stupendous prize for the best story this month. Full details on how to participate - including the prize - at Love and Sailing.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Love and Sailing: Another Three Posts

Three more stories for our Love and Sailing group writing project...

Norm has contributed Sailing - The Best Thing That Ever Happened, a touching tale about how his romance and sailing relationship with Joan progressed from Thistle racing in Connecticut - "one day she told me that one of the main reasons she was attracted to me was that I was a sailor"; to cruising the San Juan Islands in a C&C 35 with their daughters; to Star racing with Joan on Budd Inlet - "for me it was as much about being on the water sailing with her as it was racing"; to buying a Catalina 36 - "we made a vow that the boat was just for the two of us and we would never sail it without the other." I think this is the first time Norm has participated in one of our group writing project. I hope it's not the last.

The Things We Do For Love
is the love story of the Bursledon Blogger and Erica, of how she agreed to sail across the Atlantic and back with him even though she had never sailed more than 50 miles before, and of how their love blossomed on the voyage.

And Pat tells the tale of what he bought his wife for Valentine's Day, and in the comments she says the gift was Much Better than Chocolate or Flowers.

There's still time for you to write a post on this theme. Perhaps one of these three stories or the ones here and here will inspire you. Full details of how to participate - including the amazing prize that the best entry will win - at Love and Sailing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Love and Sailing: Three More Entries

When I challenged you to write about Love and Sailing for this month's group writing project, I suppose I should have realized that this would be a tough one for some of you. There could be all sorts of reasons why you might not rush to tell the world about "how your love life and your sailing life interact."

Captain JP teased us for a while with a post about "skinny dipping and comfy bunks" and something else that was "rather steamy" but ultimately The "Love and Sailing" non post is about his choice not to reveal anything about this side of his life. That's OK. I respect his decision.

But then the following day he posted a tale of a couple sailing together in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers... with a surprise twist in the end. It's fiction... I think.

Adam Turinas seems to have had no qualms about taking on the challenge that I originally set with an excellent account of how he and his wife Alice share a passion for sailing, and the roles that sailing has played in their relationship: "
It helped form the bond in the beginning, fixed the cracks later and now is creating a new foundation." Check it out at Danger Will Robinson!

(I did warn you that I would rename your posts if you all chose "Love and Sailing" as the titles.)

There's still plenty of time for you to write a post on this theme. What can you do with it? Will you tell us something about your real life like Adam did? Or make up a fictional tale? Or tell us about someone you know? Maybe you will invent some whole new way to treat the topic? Full details of how to participate - including the amazing prize that the best entry will win - at Love and Sailing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

World's Smallest Schooner?

None of my many hundreds of highly knowledgeable and attentive readers seem to have picked up on what I thought was a glaring error of nautical terminology in Sunday's post which included the lyrics to Mr. Kenny Chesney's song "The Life".

Mr. Chesney claims that he met a gentleman called José who had a "12 foot Schooner".

Hmmm. I'm no expert on boats but according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong) a schooner is "a type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being shorter or the same height as the rear masts."

A 12 foot boat with at least two masts and fore-and-aft sails? Seems unlikely to me.

Was Mr. Chesney just groping for a word that sorta kinda rhymes with "cooler"?

Or do Mexican fisherman really use 12 foot boats with two masts? Or is the word "schooner" used to describe some other kind of boat in Playa del Carmen?

So how small could a schooner be? What is the world's smallest schooner?

According to the The Google (which contains all the knowledge in the universe) this photo on Flickr may be of the world's smallest schooner.

How long is that? 30 foot including the bowsprit? Certainly more than 12 foot. I haven't been able to discover any more information about this boat. Can anyone help? Or does anyone know of an even smaller schooner?

What about this boat?

I stumbled upon this picture on 70.8% yesterday, in a post in which Thomas Armstrong reviews A VOYAGE OF PLEASURE: the Log of Bernard Gilboy’s Transpacific Cruise in the Boat, “Pacific” 1882-1883. Armstrong describes the Pacific as an 18 foot schooner.

Hmmm. At first I was going to argue whether this strange looking craft (with only one mast apparently) was really a schooner, but then I read the text of the post and learned that Gilby was capsized by a wave 90 days out of San Francisco and that in this accident he lost "a mast". He subsequently contrived a jury rig which is shown in the "lead photograph" in the book. So now I'm confused. Is the drawing on the cover of the boat as built, or of the jury rig? Did the boat have one or two masts originally? And if only one, was it really a schooner? I have no compunction about challenging Mr. Chesney's nautical credentials but am very reluctant to second guess Mr. Armstrong on such a subject.

Can someone please help me to find a way out of this fog?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sail With a Friend

It's not that I'm paranoid, but there really are people out there trying to read my mind...

First of all it was the Wizard of Berkeley twice trying to guess the subjects of my group writing projects before I announced them...

Now the Old Man of Lake Eustis has attempted to guess the subject of the final instalment of my series on How Not to Die on Your Laser.

And the spooky thing is that both of them did accurately read my mind! Am I that predictable? Or do these two old geezers have supernatural powers?

So, yes, the fifth of Tillerman's Tips on How Not to Die on Your Laser is Sail With a Friend.

What? What's that he said? Tillerman said you should always sail in company, sail with other Lasers, sail with a friend? Is this the same Tillerman who actually boasted in Anti-Social Bastard that he sailed 50 times on his own last year? The same Tillerman who wrote posts about sailing alone early in the season on the Sakonnet River such as So Where the Bloody Hell Are You? and who also wrote about sailing alone in the dark days of December in posts such as Paint it Black? What a hypocrite.

You are right. I am a hypocrite. But it is true that if you want to play it really safe you should never go off Lasering on the sea on your own. Shit happens. Bad shit sometimes happens. Here are just a few of the things that could happen when you go Lasering. If any one of these things happened while you are on your own a mile from shore you might never get home...
  • injure yourself
  • break the mast
  • break the boom
  • break the rudder
  • break the mast-step
  • break the gooseneck
  • rip a fitting off the boom
  • have a heart-attack or a stroke
  • get run over by a ferry or powerboat
  • fall off the boat and lose contact with it
  • hit a rock and knock a huge hole in the hull...
OK. There's probably many more things I could list but that's scared me enough for now.

My son and I had a conversation about sailing a Laser alone on the day that the two of us went for a blast in the waves at the mouth of the Sakonnet River. I wrote about it in Fat Boy and Little Man.

"So is it really any safer with two of us? If one of us breaks a mast or a boom, say, in waves and wind like this, there's no way that the other one is going to be able to tow the damaged boat back to shore."

"True. We may have to abandon the broken boat. But with one good Laser we can make sure that the two of us make it alive back to the beach."


And that's the point. If you are sailing with at least one other friend in a Laser, he can help you in all sorts of ways. If you get separated from your boat, he can pick you up and sail you back to it. (Been there, done that.) If your boat breaks he can perhaps help you do some kind of jury-rig repair. Worst case, he can pick you up and take you back to safety even if you have to abandon your boat.

So, yes, it's a good rule never to sail alone.

Is that going to stop me from sailing alone? No. Absolutely not. I discovered last year that some of the most rewarding experiences on the water come from solitary sails. And there are things you can do to make sailing on your own somewhat less risky...

Oh no! I feel another series coming on. Tillerman's Top X Tips on How to Stay Safe When Sailing Alone on Your Laser.

Watch this space.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wouldn't That Be The Life?

It was early one morning

Playa del Carmen
That’s when I first met José.
He had a 12 foot Schooner
A 3 foot cooler
Full of the catch of the day
And he was wrinkled from grinning
From all of the sun he had been in.
He was barefoot, cerveza in hand.
He said, “Gracias Señor," when I paid him too much for
All of the snapper he had.
Now I told him, "My friend it ain’t nothing,"
In the best broken Spanish I knew.
I said, "I make a good living
Back home where I’m from."
He smiled and said, "Amigo, me too."

He said, "I fish and I play my guitar
I laugh at the bar with my friends
I go home to my wife
I pray every night
I can do it all over again."

Somewhere over Texas
I thought of my Lexus
And all the stuff I work so hard for
And all the things that I’ve gathered
From climbing that ladder
Didn’t make much sense anymore.
They say my nest egg ain’t ready to hatch yet.
They keep holding my feet to the fire.
They call it paying the price
So that one day in life
I’ll have what I need to retire

And just fish
And play my guitar
And laugh at the bar with my friends
And go home to my wife
And pray every night
I can do it all over again.

And to think that I thought for a while there
That I had it made

When the truth is I’m really just dying
To live like José

And just fish
Play my guitar
Laugh at the bar with my friends
Go home to my wife
Pray every night
I can do it all over again.

Wouldn’t that be the life?
Wouldn’t that be the life?

Love and Sailing: First Three Entries

I am frequently amazed by the inventiveness and creativity of the readers of this blog...

When I suggested Love and Sailing as a topic for another group writing project, I expected that I would see stories along the lines of the book that inspired the subject, The Motion of the Ocean, real life confessions of how sailing has impacted your relationships with your significant others and/or vice versa.

To be sure, O Docker in his premature contribution Who Do You Trust? did follow this model.

But Joe Rouse went off in a completely direction with Con La Vela He Encontrado El Amor Verdadero! which includes a very helpful link for lonely single sailors in our community.

And Carol Anne gave us A spat which she says is, "Purely fiction. Purely. Well, almost purely." Hmmm. Is it a dream? A fantasy? Or can you read between the lines of other posts in Carol Anne's blog to find the seeds of inspiration for this delightfully titillating bodice ripper?

So now it's your turn. What can you do with this topic? Full details of how to participate at Love and Sailing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Make Sure You Can Get Back in the Boat

It's time for #4 in Tillerman's Top Five Tips For Making Sure You Don't Die on Your Laser. In case you've forgotten, the first three tips were...
Tip #4 is Make Sure You Can Get Back in the Boat.

Actually for any boat that can capsize, like a Laser, the tip should really read Make Sure You Can Do a Capsize Recovery AND Get Back in the Boat but today I'm going to provide a public service for sailors of all kinds of boats, big and small, by having a bit of a rant on the general issue of getting back in the boat.

Start of rant...

As I am sure you recall, the incident that triggered me to start writing this series of posts was when Thorsten Cook fell off his boat during the Star North Americans. One of the factors that contributed to the seriousness of the situation was that, although Mr. Cook's crew did manage to sail the boat back to him, the two of them were unable to get him back into the boat.

How often do we hear of stories like this? Sometimes it's the classic "man and wife go for a day cruise in their yacht... man falls overboard... wife either cannot sail the boat back to man on her own or even if she does they cannot get him back on board." (Sorry to sound sexist but it's usually that way round.) It happened on the waters right in front of my house a year or two ago in weather conditions that weren't at all extreme. The husband fell overboard. The wife was unable to recover him. She called out the Coastguard but he drowned and his body was washed up in front of our favorite local restaurant a few days later.

I'm sorry but I can't understand the mentality of people who go sailing without any kind of clue as to how they are going to get back on board if they fall off. I know it's not as easy
on many kinds of boat as it would be on a Laser but I think you should have a plan for getting back on board... and practice it.

There's a great Yachting Magazine article on this issue, Man Overboard, which discusses what equipment to use to retrieve a crew member in the water, and why a swim platform is worse than useless in anything except calm conditions.

And, while I'm ranting, let me have a go at those sailing schools that purport to teach "man overboard" drills. A few years ago, my son and I did one of those fully certificated Bareboat Chartering Level courses with intensive three-hour emphasis on man-overboard recovery. We had a lot of fun learning how to turn a 40-foot yacht around in wind and waves and find our way back to the "man" in the water. Except it wasn't a man. It was a life jacket which we picked up with a boat hook. The instructor didn't even explain to us how one of us could magically pluck a 200 lb real person out of the water in heavy seas.

So do yourself a favor. Think it through. Worst case. If the most experienced member of your crew goes overboard, how will the rest of the crew (your wife, your kids, whatever) recover him or her? Then practice it. Make Sure You Can Get Back in the Boat.

End of rant...

So is this an issue on a little boat like a Laser or a Sunfish? It can be.

In my experience there are three reasons why a sailor of a small single-handed dinghy may be unable to do a capsize recovery and/or get back in the boat.
  1. The sailor is too light to do a capsize recovery. It takes a certain minimum weight of person on the daggerboard to right any given capsized boat. If the sailor (usually a child) is too light to achieve this they will not be able to do a capsize recovery. Simple physics. I've lost count of the times I've had to jump in the water and help some kid who has got themselves into this situation. That's one of the reasons why, when I was teaching sailing, I usually had the kids do capsize recoveries relatively early in the syllabus. I'm sorry but if you're too light for the boat, then find a more suitable boat.

  2. The sailor does not have the arm strength to pull themselves up on to the daggerboard to do a capsize recovery. Sorry to sound sexist again, but it's usually women who have this problem.

  3. The sailor is too heavy to be able to pull themselves on to the daggerboard and/or into the boat. I guess this is really the inverse of #2 but I have seen overweight people of all ages and both sexes who have had this problem. I remember one friend, a Sunfish sailor, who capsized during racing one day. He was unable to climb back into his own boat. When the safety boat, a small whaler, came over to help him he was unable to climb into that and the crew of the rescue boat couldn't pull him in either. There was much discussion afterwards as to what kind of rope tricks might have been employed to get this dude back into his own boat or the safety boat.
So you don't think this is an issue when you are racing and there are some rescue boats around? Well, I hope you are right. But, as happened with that incident at the Star North Americans, there may be all kinds of reasons why a safety boat may not be immediately aware of your predicament or may be too busy attending to other sailors to reach you quickly. Please take some responsibility and make sure that you can look after yourself if the boat capsizes or you fall off the boat.

Speaking for myself, I am not yet so old, so weak, or so fat that I can't usually do a capsize recovery and scramble back into my Laser. But I do confess that each such event does drain some of my strength and energy away. There have been some windy race days when, after doing way too many capsizes, my arms became so tired that I felt that I wouldn't have had the strength left to do even one more recovery. That's when it's time to head for the beach, the showers and the bar. You can always win the race to the bar!

Comments please. Want to pass on any tips or techniques for getting back in the boat? Are you sure you can do it on your boat?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Love and Sailing

Your challenge for this month's group writing project is to write a story on the topic of Love and Sailing. The idea is to tell your readers something about how your love life and your sailing life interact. (You do have both a love life and a sailing life, I hope? If you don't, I guess you could always write a fictional story on this theme.) You don't have to have a blog of your own to enter. And there will be a prize for the best entry!

I was inspired to choose this subject after writing my review of Janna Cawrse Esarey's book the Motion of the Ocean in which Janna writes about how she and her new husband Graeme came to terms with each other's strengths and weaknesses and forged a strong marriage while sailing across the Pacific on their honeymoon. They drove each other crazy in many ways but love conquered all in the end.

I suspect all of us with a passion for sailing have tales to tell of how our sailing has impacted our relationship with our significant other, or vice versa. Perhaps, like Janna and Graeme, you worked out how to love, live and sail together on a long voyage with your loved one. Or maybe sailing introduced you to the love of your life. Or sadly tore you apart from them. Perhaps you and your beloved fight like cats and dogs every time you go sailing together. Or it could be that you fell for someone who hates sailing and have had to adapt your sailing lifestyle to cope with that. We all have different tales to tell. Write about wherever love and sailing come together (or don't) in your life.

Over on the west coast of our great nation there is a wizard who can read my mind. O Docker actually entered this competition two weeks before I announced it, with a story about how he learned to build his wife's confidence in his sailing skills: Who Do You Trust? an excellent example of the Love and Sailing genre.

So now it's your turn. Here
is how to participate...

1. Write a post on the theme Love and Sailing (or Love and Some Other Kind of Boating if you prefer) on your blog. Please publish it before Tuesday December 1st.

2. Let me know about your post by sending an email to including a link to your post. If you don't have a blog of your own just email me your article and I will post it here.

3. Oh, do me a favor... please choose some title other than Love and Sailing for your post; I don't want to have to link to 20+ stories all with the same title. (If you don't select a unique title, I reserve the right to choose a new title for your post and you may not like my choice!)

4. Please put a link to this post in yours.

5. I will post here two links to your post. Every day or so I will write a post listing any new entries in the project. Then at the end of the project I will publish the complete list of Love and Sailing stories.

6. I will then allow a period for all my readers to comment on the Love and Sailing stories, and at the end of that I will choose a winner who will receive... a copy of Janna's book on our theme:
the Motion of the Ocean, 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife.

Look forward to hearing from you...

It's Pottery Wednesday

The UPS guy always drives by our house as the sun is setting. Most days he just swings around the circle at the end of the cul-de-sac in front of our house and doesn't stop. I'm never quite sure whether he does this because he wants to turn round, or because he absolutely needs to see one our spectacular bay sunsets at the end of his working day. Maybe both.

But yesterday evening the UPS guy stopped at our house. And he delivered a beautiful gift for me from Antolin Rivera, the sailing potter. Antolin has been leaving comments here for a while; he was the author of that moving entry Hanging in our Less is More group writing project; and he sent me the Night Race picture.

Antolin's gift is a mug which he made himself. It is decorated with a scene of sand, dunes, wave, wind... and there are two small sailboats and a running man. How appropriate for me! What a wonderful gift.

Thank you my friend.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two Amazing Facts About The Racing Rules Of Sailing That You Could Have Learned From Reading Sailing Blogs Last Week

For all you Racing Rules Wonks, here are two amazing facts about the Racing Rules of Sailing that you may not know...
  1. The Rules don't specify exactly where the starting line is. It's up to the whim of the Race Committee. And often they don't tell you what they've decided.

  2. The Rules allow a boat you are following closely to force you into committing a foul by quickly slowing down so that you hit its transom.
Let's take those one at a time...

1. The Rules don't specify exactly where the starting line is. It's up to the whim of the Race Committee. And often they don't tell you what they've decided.

Photo: College Singlehanded Nationals 2009 shamelessly stolen from

What's that you say? The starting line is always defined in the Sailing Instructions.

You are right. But often the SI's say something like "the starting line will be between a staff with an orange flag on the committee boat and an orange pin buoy". But what if the pin buoy is a 5-foot wide tetrahedron? Does the start line run through the back, the center, or the front of that buoy? Because if you think it's the front and the race committee are sighting the back, then every time you "win the pin" you are going to be called OCS.

Think it can't happen at a serious, major championship?

Think again. It did happen. At the US collegiate single-handed national championships no less. Check out Andrew Campbell's account at The Starting Line - Can you show me where it is? Is it even there? And read the comments which pretty well beat the subject to death. But I'm sure the creative commenters of this blog will find something new to say...

2. The Rules allow a boat you are following closely to force you into committing a foul by quickly slowing down so that you hit its transom.

Photo: Laser Masters Worlds 2009 - shamelessly stolen from

Most of us have some vague idea that the Racing Rules help prevent collisions by not allowing a boat to take a sudden action which causes a collision, or that if a boat does take such an action then it will be the one penalized.

There is Rule 15 which says that if a boat takes some action to acquire right of way she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear.

And there is Rule 16 which says if a right-of-way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to clear.

But if you think about it, neither of these Rules apply to a situation where two boats on the same tack are sailing along with the trailing boat's bow a few inches behind the leading boat's transom. When the leading boat eases sheets and slows down she is not changing course so Rule 16 doesn't apply. And the action of slowing down does not make the lead boat acquire right of way (she already had it.) So Rule 15 doesn't apply. So when you plow into the back of the sneaky guy that eased his sheets, it's you, the boat that's clear astern, that has broken Rule 12.

Ahah, you say. What about Rule 14: A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible? Surely the boat clear ahead that slowed down thereby causing contact has infringed Rule 14?

Well, yes. But Rule 14 also says that a right-of-way boat shall not be penalized under this rule unless there is damage or injury. And, in most cases, a little bow to transom bump between two boats sailing at almost the same speed is not going to cause any damage. So our sneaky sheet-easer gets off scot-free and you in the following boat have to do penalty turns!

It doesn't seem fair to me but that's how the Rules work according to International Judge Jos Spijkerman. The issue first came up in a question I posed in the comments to a very similar situation Rapid Response Match Race Call 2009-10. Jos answered my question and discussed this example and some similar ones in Non-Actions?

What do you think? Would you pull this trick in a race if another boat was following close to your transom? Would you feel good about it? How about if someone did it to you?

I suspect your reaction to this post will depend on whether you are a SNOP or an RRF. Which are you?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Where You Can Learn to Sail in a Laser

Ooops. I screwed up again.

A few weeks ago I wrote in Where Can I Learn to Sail in a Laser? that I didn't know of any sailing schools that teach total beginners in Lasers.


I should have know that Sailfit in Clearwater, Florida (which I have attended twice) does teach beginners in Lasers.
Because I had attended a couple of clinics there to work on refining my racing skills I had somehow got the idea that that was all they do. But it says perfectly clearly on their website, "We are very pleased to continue to teach Laser sailors from beginner through advanced." (My emphasis.)

Kurt Taulbee, the guy who runs Sailfit, wrote an email to me at the weekend to point out to me the error of my ways...

I have had several clients with no Laser experience come to Clearwater to learn how to sail. I have boats for them to use during the lessons. I show them how to rig their boat and give them pictures of the rigging. I show them how to launch their boat and then I sail alongside them in my own boat. I tell them to steer left or right to help them feel the flow over the sail. I show them how to sit in the boat and hold the tiller properly. I show them how to sheet the sail in properly. Then tacking and jibing, etc. This method works quite well. If they capsize and can’t bring it back up I jump in and help them. If it is windy we downsize the sail to radial or 4.7. I have also had a bunch of beginner sailors attend our seminars. Even if they can’t do all the drills they progress very well over the seminar and understand what they need to practice.

Anyway, SAILFIT does provide instruction for sailors that are just starting out.

To make things worse when I found Kurt's email early yesterday morning and hastily dashed off an email to apologize for my oversight I called him "Karl". In mitigation I will say that I had just got out of bed, was somewhat bleery-eyed, and was still waiting for my first cup of coffee of the day to brew.

Anyway. I strongly recommend that you should check out Sailfit if you want some superb instruction on how to sail a Laser whatever your level of experience. I wrote about my time there this year at Sailfit Revisited.

Sorry Karl. I mean Kurt.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bar Graph

Top 20 zip codes with the most alcohol drinking places in 2005

Never let it be said that I am unresponsive to my readers. O Docker asked for a bar graph less than 30 minutes ago so here is a bar graph which graphs bars.

Hmmm. Is it any coincidence that most of the places on this list are also great sailing towns?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Update: I spoke too soon. There is clearly more than one guy in that little crack...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Your Chance to Help Plan the 2010 Laser US Nationals

I received an interesting email yesterday...

Dear Tillerman:

As a way of introduction, I am going to be the PRO at the Laser Nationals at Milwaukee next August.

We are neck deep into the long range planning for the event and the first question is should there be three or four days of racing? The ILCA has replied, "do what ever you think is right." (or pretty close to that.) A fair answer but a bit vague.

Someone had a novel thought, should we ask our customers??

Since you have an established forum for such things, may I hijack your agenda and ask for feedback?

Wow. I am honored that this guy, John Strassman, should think of my blog as a good place to seek feedback from his "customers" at the Laser Nationals next year. Although I have a fair number of Laser sailor readers, and no doubt a handful who are considering going to the Nationals, many of my readers are not Laser sailors and have other reasons for stopping by here. But I'm glad to help...

John continues with some more questions...

Since we are having the Standard, Radial and 4.7's, would the 4.7's feel slighted if we had a separate (but still real swell) race course. This would allow us to (hopefully) minimize the delays waiting for the previous start to clear the course.

Additionally, if we are anticipating to have have multiple starts (split fleets) for both the Standard and Radial fleets, what if we stagger the start times from day to day, for example:

day 1
1100 warning first division Standard rig with second division soon thereafter on full trap course. Max two races for day
1330 warning first division Radial with second division ASAP - up to three races

day 2
1100 warning first division Radial with second division soon thereafter. Max two races
1330 warning Standard rigs with second division ASAP - up to three races

and so on.

The problem is that with a little luck, a RC can run two divisions on a trap pretty much continually. Three starts will cause some delays to occur in order to clear the race course and four starts can quickly devolve into a furball of many impatient competitors sailing by the signal boat shooting daggers with their eyes while pounding on their air tanks.

We are assuming we are going to have a qualifying series going into a gold and silver series - again, any feedback?

We are seeking to have a great event at which the competitors will have great racing with a minimal amount of stress.

Any comments would be welcome.

So if you have any views on these issues please fire away in the comments. It would probably help John if you tell him if (a) you are a Laser sailor and (b) you are thinking of sailing in the US Nationals next year. I know that some non-Laser-sailing readers of this blog have strong experience in such areas as regatta organization and race management so, even if you are not a Laser sailor, please feel free to offer advice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Change We Can Believe In?

Is this the most important sailing innovation since the Ollie Box? I'm not saying it is or it isn't. But isn't it fascinating that I am the only one asking this question? Why don't they want you to know the answer? The paradigm of trusting the wisdom of the original designer is over. It is over to these people. And this is what the real battle is all about. Those with power, those with money and those with influence will influence you to buy things that you don't necessarily want. And they are selecting the winners and the losers. I got news. I got news for you. Unless you want to sell your soul to the devil, in this system you will be a loser. I didn't think a bad tree could bear good fruit. I didn't know a good tree could bear bad fruit or bad trees bear good fruit. I didn't think that was possible. I've read that some place in some big thick book. And, you know, it is a straight and narrow path to success, and when you run down that road, there are so many little branches that you could run off on that doesn't seem like it would make any difference, but it will. And if you know what those roads are that you don't want to go down, when somebody is saying, "Go down this road, quick, quick, quick, quick, quick! We've got to go down this road," you'll know in advance and so you won't be panicked and you are like, "No, thanks, I know what goes down that road." And it is amazing to me how freeing it is in many ways to mentally prepare for the worst. I'm sorry, I just love my boat and I fear for it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

... with pottery stuff too...

This spectacular bowl, part of the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is made of earthenware covered with an opaque tin glaze and painted in lustre, a metallic pigment. It is decorated with a ship that has the arms of Portugal on its sail, and it may well have been commissioned by a Portuguese maritime merchant. It was long presumed that this bowl came from the famous lustre potteries around Valencia on the east coast of Spain. They were active from around 1300, when this region was under Christian rule, although the techniques employed (notably the tin glaze and lustre decoration) were of Islamic origin. It is thought that these techniques were introduced to Valencia by potters from Málaga, a port on the south coast of Spain that remained in Muslim hands until 1487.

In 1983 scientific analysis of the clay body of the bowl showed that it contained schistose inclusions characteristic of the wares from Málaga itself. The bowl, which can be dated to the mid 15th century, therefore demonstrates that the lustre workshops of Málaga were still producing ceramics of outstanding quality during the last decades of their existence. It stands at the end of one great tradition and at the beginning of another.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Congratulations to the 300,000th visitor to this blog (or at least the 300,000th since I turned sitemeter on.) He or she checked in from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil at 3:15pm their time today and left a couple of minutes later to read that story about John Lennon's sailing adventure. If you would like to identify yourself I will buy you a caipirinha next time I am in Rio.

Breaking news: The mystery 300,000th visitor just sent me an email. He usually sails Snipes and Solings, and doesn't live in Rio but about 400 km north which is where the Brazilian Laser Nationals will be in January.

Hmmm.... January, Lasers, sunshine, wind, Brazil, caipirinhas... tempting.

Three Laser Sailors

As I missed sailing this weekend due to being stricken by the terrible, debilitating disease known as a Man Cold, I have had to get my Laser sailing fix by reading about the exploits of others. Thankfully there are many Laser sailing blogs out there. Here are my three favorite posts of the week...

B.J. Porter is an experience big boat sailor but has recently bought himself a Laser and, on Saturday, he started frostbiting at his local club the other side of the bay from me in Rhode Island. Sounds like he had a blast, performed better in the races than he expected, and described the experience as "The most fun an adult can have wearing a hermetically sealed rubber suit." Check out his account at Blind Squirrels...or.

B.J. Burrows (what is it with this BJ thing) is a 16-year-old living in the Bahamas just making the transition from Sunfish to Lasers. Last Thursday was his first Laser training session with a local coach in which it sounds as if B.J. learned a lot about how to sail a Laser downwind in 15 knots. His summary of the day: "I have never had so much thrill or excitement while sailing in a Sunfish as I had today in the Laser." Read all about it at Welcome to Laser Sailing...

Meanwhile at the other end of the Laser sailing skill spectrum, 2012 Olympic hopeful Clay Johnson is Training in Clearwater. I am never sure whether to be inspired or to abandon all hope when I read how hard the guys at the top of the class are working. Clay is training in Florida with some of the top Laser sailors from other countries, in what sound like perfect conditions - 89 degrees and 15 knots.

Each day we either go to the gym or bike in the morning, followed by a long session on the water in the afternoon.

The past two days we've done 15+ mile downwinds to John's Pass. We start by sailing out the inlet, work on downwinds to John's Pass, sail in the inlet, derig in our boats, and tow up the inner-coastal back to the sailing center. It makes for a pretty long and tiring day...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Night Race

Antolin left a comment on my post about (almost) giving up sailing in which, among other things, he said...

another tack (one that I use often) is to sail just because sailing is such an extraordinary experience... last Thursday night we had the last Thursday night race of the season... so I rigged a glow stick on the sail's head atop the mast and went racing...but the sunset was so, the moon was so, the tangerine tinge on the water due to the lovely sunset, the sound of dolphins... the whole evening was magical...

Today he sent me this photo taken that evening.

For once I am lost for words.

Friday, November 06, 2009

John Lennon: Family Man, Sailor

John Lennon's Watching the Wheels seems like an especially appropriate Song for the Day in the light of yesterday's post. Lennon wrote this song to answer those who were mystified by his withdrawal from his musical career from 1975-1980 in order to enjoy family life with his wife Yoko Ono and their son Sean.

It's not widely known that John fulfilled a lifelong ambition by learning how to sail in early 1980 and that in June of that year,
accompanied by a small crew, he sailed a 43-foot sloop from Newport to Bermuda. There is a fascinating account of the voyage at Whatever gets you through the storm. Apparently the passage inspired John to come out of his five year retirement from the music business. Once in Bermuda, he started writing songs for a new album Double Fantasy, which he recorded with Yoko and which was released in November 1980.

Three weeks later, on 8 December 1980, John Lennon was murdered.

The morals of this story (uh oh, I feel another list coming on) are...

  1. People say I'm crazy.

  2. It's good to put family first.

  3. I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.

  4. If you have a sailing ambition, do it now. Next year may be too late.

  5. When you take a break from the activity that defines your identity you can take it to a whole different place when you return to it.

  6. Sailing can change your life.

  7. I just had to let it go.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

10 Reasons Why I (Almost) Gave Up Sailing This Year

I (almost) gave up sailing this year.

I probably haven't sailed a dozen times since the beginning of the year. I didn't sail in a "real" race once between 2 Nov 2008 and 1 Nov 2009. This is terrible.

There was a time when I raced on at least 30 weekends every year. Plus some major regattas like a North Americans or CORK in the summer. Plus a major regatta somewhere warm in the off-season like a Sunfish Worlds or a Laser Master Worlds or a Midwinters. In 2008 I sailed on 94 days.

I wasn't just a casual sailor. I was a fanatical racing sailor. So what happened?

I have no idea. But here are some reasons that might go some way to explaining why I (almost) gave up sailing this year.

1. Family. My two grandchildren are fascinating little people. I am the only grandfather they have. I barely remember my own grandfathers; one died before I was born and the single memory I have of the other is of being taken to see him in his bed, probably during his final illness. I want my own grandkids to have better memories of me than that. More than that, I treasure every moment I can spend enjoying their company and watching them change and grow. They came to see us almost every weekend this summer and it always seemed the right choice to play with them rather than to go sailing.

And yet, there were lots of other days when I could have gone sailing but didn't...

2. No BHAG. The last couple of years I have set myself Big Hairy Audacious Goals for my sailing. In 2007 it was to finish in the top half of the Laser Masters World Championship. (I did it.) In 2008 it was to sail on at least 100 days. (I failed.) In 2009 I didn't have a BHAG to drive me.

But if that's the only reason I sail it's pretty pathetic, isn't it?

3. Burnout. As I mentioned in 2008 I sailed on 94 days in my failed attempt to sail on 100 days in the year. It was fun. It motivated me to sail more and I had some fabulous days on the water. Was it too much? Am I burnt out from too much sailing last year? Maybe.

But surely that can't explain why I (almost) gave up sailing altogether?

4. Community. If I think back to many of the years when I sailed a lot it was partly because I was part of a club, a community, and part of the motivation to sail was to go and have fun with all my friends at the club and to hang out with them afterwards over beer and pizza or whatever. I haven't really established the same strong links to the local sailing community since moving to Rhode Island.

This is entirely my own fault. I need to fix it.

5. One bad experience. Can one bad experience of sailing turn you sour on the sport? You wouldn't think so. But I think my racing on the first day of frostbiting last winter did dull my appetite for racing for a while. Pretty much everything went wrong that day. The wind was nasty and shifty and gusty and chopped-up with vicious slam-dunk headers. There was a huge turnout of sailors on a short course so the start line was too crowded, the mark roundings were too crowded and there was way too much bad-tempered shouting as we played bumper-boats. I tried to make the best of it and write it off as a learning experience but I think it planted a seed deep in my mind that keeps reminding me that racing isn't always fun; sometimes it's just plain frustrating and annoying.

But surely all the hundreds of memories of good days on the race-course would outweigh that one bad day? You would think so.

6. Paralysis by analysis. I have way too much information about the weather. I can see the wind on the bay from my window. I can check multiple websites for real-time wind information and weather forecasts. Uh oh - it's gusting 35 knots at Conimicut Light. Uh oh - the wind is dying in Bristol. Uh oh - the wind in Newport is forecast to die away this afternoon. Too many days I convinced myself that it wasn't a good day for sailing today. So I didn't sail.

7. Too much time. This will sound nuts, I know. But back in the day when I worked for a living I only had certain days I could sail. If I had planned to go frostbiting in Connecticut on Sunday, I went. Never mind if the weather forecast called for rain or snow or no wind or too much wind, I went anyway. It would probably be the only chance I had to sail that week so I went.

Now I'm retired I can sail almost any day I want. So I look at the weather and think maybe tomorrow will be a better day for sailing. But we all know the problem with tomorrow: it never comes.

Yes, I told you it would sound nuts. But I'm just trying to be honest about what went wrong this year.

8. I'm getting old. It's true. Now I'm in my 60's I don't have the same appetite for sailing on days when it's blowing over 30 knots or the temperature is under 30 degrees F. I don't have the same stamina I used to. It takes me longer to recover from a day of vigorous exercise than it used to.

But even so, if that explains why I skipped some days of frostbiting, it doesn't explain why I skipped every day after the first week. It doesn't explain why I hardly sailed all summer.

9. I'm a wimp. Probably

10. All of the above. I think the truth of the matter is that one of these reasons by itself wouldn't have been enough to (almost) turn me off sailing this year. Sailing is part of my identity. None of these things, by themselves, could destroy my love of sailing.

But cumulatively, taken together, I think these factors did (almost) cause me to give up sailing this year.

That's a scary thought.

But recognizing the problem is the first step in fixing it.

I need to fix it.

Any advice?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Laser Sailing Blogger of the Week

Those of you who hang out at Sailing Anarchy may know B.J. Porter. His SA profile says he has made 19200 posts in the forums there! Can that be right?

He also has a blog, Sail Evenstar, where he mainly writes about working on the teak on something called a "1997 Hallberg-Rassy 53" whatever that is. But he has recently bought a real boat, a Laser, and has been learning to sail it which is why he is this week's Laser Sailing Blogger of the Week for his post Humility Lessons. Please do click over to his blog and give him some encouragement.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Windward Mark Rounding

When rounding the windward mark, steer by heeling to windward and moving your weight aft. Ideally you should execute the turn without using any tiller movement.

What? Is that Tillerman actually getting something right on Day 1 of the Newport Laser frostbiting season? Well, judging by the telltales he should have eased the sheet more, but even so it's not too bad for an old geezer.

OK. Now all you armchair critics can pile in and tell me what else I am doing wrong.

The Meaning of Wife

I don't usually like books about ocean cruising. All that guff about the wonderful weeks they spent in the doldrums admiring the thirty seven different shades of green of the ocean; or boasting about how the author went up the mast in fifty knots of wind in the Southern Ocean to fix the lower spritbuckle yardfickle that had got tangled with the toplifting shroudbobbin. It does nothing for me.

Thankfully, Janna Cawrse Esarey's new book isn't really about ocean cruising.

Sure, it's about how Janna decided she wanted to sail around the world after hearing Crosby, Stills & Nash's Southern Cross as a fifteen-year-old, and how she used to use "I'm going to sail around the world one day" as a pickup line for boys. And how she almost made her wish come true when she married a chap called Graeme, who knew a thing or two about boats having come from a family of commercial fishermen, and how Graeme and Janna sailed across the Pacific for their honeymoon.

Janna's book is titled.... wait for it.... the Motion of the Ocean, 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife. (The book is a little longer than the title but not by a lot.)

OK, so Janna and Graeme sailed across the Pacific, and Janna wrote this book about the experience. But the book is not really about sailing. It's about The Relationship. Or, more specifically, Janna's ever-changing view of the state of her marriage with Graeme (starting on the first page with what an "asshole" she thinks he is) as they spend the first months of their marriage cooped up together on a 35 foot boat which is incidentally cruising across the Pacific.

It's at this point in the review where I expect most of my male readers will write off this book as being purely for the chicks. Please don't. First of all, Janna's search for the "Meaning of Wife" is hugely entertaining - even for guys; and secondly, her book will give you new insights into the mystery that is woman (and we could all use some help on that topic.)

So let me introduce our major characters...

Graeme, as I mentioned, grew up with boats and the sea and knows his shit. He has been doing some high-powered corporate stuff where he is renowned as a firefighter, a problem-solver, which is just as well because he is the one that has to solve every minor crisis that our intrepid cruising couple encounters along the way. He is smart, brave, calm, competent, hard-working, and level-headed, and according to Janna "knows her body - her angles and lines, her moans and her hums." (I think we all know what she is talking about here.) In other words, Graeme is just the sort of person you would want to cross an ocean with, not to mention also having all the qualities of a perfect husband (or so you would imagine.)

Janna, on the other hand is a slow learner when it comes to sailing, and is frankly not interested much in acquiring many of the skills that are relevant to crossing an ocean on a small sailboat. Janna writes about how many cruising couples have a division of labor on the boat based on Blue and Pink tasks...

The Blue tasks are all the traditional male things like "engines, electronics, the mechanics of in-mast furlers et cetera." Janna admits that she knows nothing about this stuff, cares nothing about it, and has difficulty learning about it. OK. I guess Graeme can handle that side of thing. He does.

The Pink tasks are traditional female things like cooking, dishes and laundry. Janna confesses that she sucks at cooking, doesn't find any joy or stimulation in most Pink tasks, and as a truly liberated woman avoids Thinking Pink because it "reinforces the stereotype that woman cannot understand engines, electronics, the mechanics of in-mast furlers et cetera." Hmmm. I guess Graeme will have to handle a lot of the Pink stuff too. He does.

Can you see why there might be some tension in this relationship? Wait, it gets worse.

The saintly Graeme is super-efficient and is always actually doing stuff that is useful and necessary on the boat. "He oils and caulks and fills and empties and cuts and connects and tightens and loosens and gaskets and scrapes and solders and screws and maintains and repairs and installs and diagrams and consults and buys." And what does Janna do while Graeme is busy doing useful stuff? She might plait her hair; she might find an Internet cafe and email her girlfriends; she might stick wedding photos in an album. Hmmm.

Can you see why these two might have an occasional disagreement? Wait, it gets worse.

You see Janna is a thinker, an over-thinker actually, a worrier. She is forever questioning the status of the marriage. Have they lost the spark? Are they having enough sex? Is he The One? How do you even know when you've found The One? Should they be having more exotic sex? Is the relationship drifting? Was it a good idea to schedule sex for 3pm every day? And so on. And so on. Asking herself and her long-suffering husband questions like, "When we fall in love with someone is it with their best self? Or their whole self?" Yes sir, women really do think like this.

So while Graeme is steering around typhoons and avoiding pirates and rescuing Janna from rabid dogs, Janna is having all these thoughts about the "Meaning of Wife" and capturing them on her laptop for our future entertainment. Gentlemen, I suspect that what Janna has written about Graeme in this book is much the same thing that all our wives and girlfriends say about us when they get together on a girls night out and spend hours telling each other what assholes their male partners are. Which is why this is such an excellent handbook into the mysterious workings of the female mind.

For example...

  • What does it mean if you forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed? (Not that I ever would of course.) In her mind, it means you don't find her attractive any more. Didn't know that, did you?

  • Why does she always take at least half an hour to get ready when you want to go ashore? She's giving you time to read a book and brush your teeth. Didn't know that either did you? I'm telling you, the book is full of gems like this. Dental hygiene is the key to success with women.

Other things you might not know...

  • When you pee over the side of the boat she is imagining how she is going to fail to rescue you after you fall overboard. This is a sign of how much she loves you.

  • Women are secretly envious of our ability to pee over the side. When women sailors get together they discuss how a woman can learn to pee standing up. Sometimes they even demonstrate to each other how to do it. Apparently they think this is a turn-on for their husbands. Didn't know that did you?

There's much much more in this field guide for men to the female psyche or "what she is really thinking when she gives you that strange look." Every man should buy a copy of this book. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you a better husband or boyfriend. It will remind you to brush your teeth and change your underwear. Seriously.

As I mentioned before, Graeme is as close to being a saint as any dude you will meet in real life. Early on in the book when Janna is having one of her periodic woman-to-man discussions with him about, "How do I know if you are The One?" and "How do you know if love will last? Like forever?" Graeme speaks the truest words of wisdom about marriage in the whole book...

You have to make it the One every day. Through blood, sweat, and tears, laughter, hope, and faith. You don't know (if it will last). You DO. You do the things that will make your relationship good today. And the next day you do it again. And again. And again. The goal isn't simply to have a marriage that lasts. The goal is to create something wonderful, together, every day for the rest of our lives.

You will have to read the whole book to discover whether or not Janna really takes this message to heart, and what shape their marriage was in after their trans-Pacific adventure. Along the way you will learn how Janna found out that "it's not the size of the ship that matters, it's the motion of the ocean." (I think we all know what she is talking about here.)

Oh. And there are some good bits about sailing too.

Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of this book.

Monday, November 02, 2009


Anal-retentive people (such as me) like to-do lists. Writing lists make us feel organized and in control of our lives. Anal-retentive people love feeling in control.

On Monday last week I made a list of my Fitness Goals for Winter 2009/10.

On Tuesday I changed one of the items on my list of fitness goals to make it easier and made a list of 7 Places I Want to Travel to This Winter.

On Wednesday I made a list of 13 Things to Fix on my Boat and a list of 4 Sailing Goals for Winter 2009/10 and a list of 9 Ideas for Future Blog Posts. Wow. Three lists in one day. What a productive day!

I spent most of Thursday playing with my grandkids. Didn't write a single list all day. Felt like a real slacker.

On Friday I went for a long run by the side of the bay. Sure it felt great to be running again after a layoff of several weeks with a back injury and a cough. But I didn't write any lists at all. Two days in a row without writing a single list! Not good!

On Saturday I checked over my boat and trailer to make sure everything was in good order for sailing on Sunday, and collected together all my cold weather sailing gear. I was so distracted with these tasks that I completely forgot to write any lists! Can you believe it? Three days now without writing a list! I'm starting to suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

On Sunday it was the first day of the frostbite season and I went Laser racing. When I arrived home there was a spectacular sunset. Tillerwoman cooked us a delicious dinner and then the Yankees beat the Phillies in game 4 of the World Series. It would have been a perfect day except that I didn't write a single list all day! I felt like a miserable failure. What is the matter with me?

Today I am determined to get back on track with my list writing. No more wasting time with trivial stuff like sailing and having fun with my grandkids. So I crossed 4 things off my list of
13 Things to Fix on my Boat and then I wrote a List of Lists That I Will Write This Week and then I made a List Of All The Lists I Wrote In The Last 8 Days and wrote this blog post. Anal-retentive people get really excited about lists of lists.

Aaah. That feels better.

How about you? Written any good lists lately?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunset Over Mount Hope Bridge

When I arrived home from sailing today there was a spectacular sunset. Mount Hope Bridge connects Aquidneck Island (aka Rhode Island) to the mainland at Bristol. For 40 years it was the longest suspension bridge in New England.

I love this place.