Sunday, September 30, 2012

Lluvia Caliente

Tillerwoman and I arrived at Minorca Sailing somewhat later than planned on Friday night.

A lot later.

Apparently the captain in charge of driving our airplane from England to Spain felt it was part of his duties to walk around outside our airplane before driving us to Menorca and while he was having his little stroll he discovered an itsy-bitsy hydraulic leak that he felt obliged to report to his engineering department who, in turn, decided that they really had to take one of the aeroplane's engine to pieces and instal a new hydraulic pump just to make sure that we didn't all fall out of the sky while driving to Menorca, or something like that.

Just as well really I suppose.

On the first evening, Minorca Sailing normally organize a welcome dinner for the new guests. Unfortunately we were pretty late for our own welcome party, and all the guests from the previous week who were staying over a second week and who were freeloading by coming to our welcome party had already finished our welcome dinner and several bottles of wine and gin and other assorted distilled drinks by the look of them.

We walked into the party and recognized a few familiar faces from last year and greeted them like long-lost friends.

Like one does.

That's when things started to go pear-shaped.

One lady at the party had been telling everyone that last year at about this time there was a really good Laser sailor at Minorca Sailing. She had been telling everyone how super-fast he was. I was a bit confused at first because I couldn't remember any really good super-fast Laser sailors from last year.

Then I discovered that she was talking about me!

And then she told everyone else that she had been talking about me!

Why do people do this to me?

I don't want to live up to a reputation. I want to live down to a reputation.

Why don't these people read my blog and understand what a seriously bad, slow, clumsy, mediocre Laser sailor I really am?

Anyway we had a beer or two and caught up with some old friends and chatted to some new people and met the instructor for the Advanced Laser Course that I wanted to do, and when we felt sufficiently mellowed out we staggered sleepily off to bed.

On Saturday morning it was blowing dogs off chains, so our instructor gave us a lesson about roll tacks and roll gybes.


Then we sailed up and down Fornells Bay tacking and gybing on command although they were more like survival tacks and gybes than roll tacks and gybes, but it was all good, and better than being back in Rhode Island and mowing the lawn.

In the afternoon for the racing, the wind was much lighter.

But there were a lot of rain showers. Although it was warm rain.

And there were lots of holes in the wind. Although they were warm holes.

And there were huge shifts that turned reaches into beats and beats into reaches. Although they were warm shifts. 

And so ended the first day at Minorca Sailing in 2012.

After a hot drink with something alcoholic in it and a hot shower and a bit of stretching and a bit of a nap, it was off with Tillerwoman for a second welcome party on the beach, and then to Ca Na Marga for stuffed sardines, and pizza with anchovies and tuna and shrimps, and a bottle of white Spanish plonk.

Life is good.

I think I'll take a nap now.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Which way are we looking?

This quiz is a lot easier than the one I posted on Saturday. I suspect that several of my readers from the UK have sailed these waters and will get it right immediately.

Oops. That's a clue.

So the questions are...

1. What are we looking at?

2. Which way are we looking?

3. Where was the photo taken from?

4. What did Tillerwoman and I have for lunch?

5. Where is the nearest phone box that isn't a phone box?

I Have a Dream

Although I am not a cruising sailor, I do occasionally read some cruising blogs. Blogs about people who have left their everyday jobs and homes and gone cruising across an ocean or even around the world. Some of them are quite entertaining and interesting, even to a humble Laser sailor like myself.

Sooner or later, most of these cruising bloggers seem moved to write what I have come to know as the "dream post." This is all about how their cruise is about "following their dream" and how their "dream" involves breaking away from what people expected of them like having a job, buying a house, having kids etc. etc. etc.

Now don't get me wrong. I have no problem if people want to go off yachting for a few years, or even their whole lives. But these posts often seem to have a tone of moral superiority as if the writers' choices to go off sailing are somehow more daring, more adventurous, more virtuous, more worthwhile than what other folk choose to do with their lives.

I do find that tone a little irritating.

Now, I am not in the least bit jealous of these "dreamers." I have tried sailing on those kinds of boats on which you live and cook and poop, and have discovered that I don't enjoy it as much as sailing my Laser. It's just not my thing. Not that one kind of sailing is better than any other. Each to their own.

So why do these "dreamers" have to make such a big deal about how wonderful they are for following their "dreams?" Who are they trying to convince? Me or themselves?

But wait. It gets worse.

Some of these dreamers recognize that sailing around the world is not everybody's cup of tea, but they still seem to think that everyone ought to have an ambitious dream and that they should be making preparations to follow that dream. They get angry at readers who say that the are unable to follow their own dreams. They lecture readers how important  dreams are and challenge us all to think of crazy things that will change our lives. They want to inspire us. They seem to want us to be just like them.


We are all different.

Some people seem to need a big hairy wild-ass goal to feel complete.

Others don't.

Isn't it enough to enjoy life as it comes?

What's wrong with taking time each day to smell the roses and appreciate the blessings of the lives we have?

Why shouldn't someone be happy cultivating her own garden instead of ploughing a furrow across an ocean?

What's the matter if some of us want to live each day as if it were our last, without having some grand dream of how we want to make our life somehow different ten years from now?

Why can't I have a dream simply to be the best Granddad I can be?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The Piddle

Tillerwoman and I are spending a few days staying up the Piddle River valley in the English county of Dorset.

Today we drove down to Weymouth, home of the Olympic sailing events in 2012, and headed over to the Nothe Fort, which I had read on some blog or other is the best place to watch the sailing. We arrived in plenty of time to snag an excellent viewing spot on the grassy bank overlooking the area where the medal races are held.

Place where crazy Aussie and Kiwi and Irish fans 
cheer on their Olympic sailors - honestly

We settled down and waited for the arrival of all those enthusiastic Aussie and Kiwi and Irish sailing fans I had heard about.

There weren't any boats out sailing yet, but the winds were light so I assumed they were holding the fleets under a postponement flag over at the National Sailing Centre.

Not a very interesting photo of the medal races
 at the 2012 Olympics in Weymouth

As we waited for the action I wondered which classes' medal races we would see today. (I had neglected to check the schedule on the Google.)  I hoped we would see some exciting action - perhaps one of those classes where there were 3 or 4 boats in with a chance of the gold medal, or perhaps one where one sailor had to match race one other to clinch the gold.

We waited for quite a long time.

Still no boats.

No other crazy sailing fans either.


After a while Tillerwoman got bored of not watching sailing and demanded to be taken to a local oyster bar for lunch.

Perhaps we came on the wrong day?

Did I miss the boat again?

Oh Piddle!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is this?

What is this?


1. This is Tillerman's blog.

2. So this is probably a trick question.

3. Your first reaction is probably wrong.

4. Look more closely. There are signs for the skilled natural navigator.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Llandegfedd and Plebs and a Flanker

Llandegfedd Sailing Club is my kind of place.

It's a dinghy sailing club based in a rural environment on a reservoir.

It's entirely run by volunteers and has no paid staff.

They have Lasers and Solos and a bunch of asymmetric spinnaker boats including RS100s and RS Vareos.

Exactly my kind of place.

Llandegfedd Reservoir is in South Wales, not far from the mystery location in Saturday's quiz post. In fact, Llandegfedd Sailing Club would have been a good answer to question #3 in the quiz.

Over 40 years ago I used to live and work quite close to Lllandegfedd. In fact, if the sailing bug had bit me about 10 years earlier than it did, I would probably have joined Llandegfedd Sailing Club. And if my career had not pulled me away from this beautiful corner of the world, I might be quite happily sailing there still.

Today, being in the area, I decided to check out Llandegfedd Sailing Club and also visit the places I lived and worked all those years ago.

But first a diversion...

One of the pleasures of traveling back to my home country, the UK, from where I live now in the US, is to catch up on the local news, and especially to marvel at the differences between the political systems in the two countries, the political issues that are important, the political news...

The hot issue in political news this week in the UK is what some guy on a bicycle said to two police officers. The guy on the bike was the Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, a senior member of the British government. The police officers were guarding the gates to Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives and works. Their duty is to protect people like Mr. Mitchell and his boss. Apparently Mr. Mitchell asked the police officers to open the main gates to Downing Street so he could cycle through them, but the officers declined and politely asked him to walk his bike through the smaller pedestrian gate. At which point Mr Mitchell apparently was very rude to the police officers (one of whom was a woman) and used some very naughty words and called the officers some very bad names and generally tried to impress the officers with what a very, very, important person Mr. Mitchell was, and what very, very, insignificant people the police officers were.

This would never happen in America.

First of all, I don't think Timothy Geithner or Hillary Clinton or even Nancy Pelosi jump on their bikes and pedal over to the White House when Barack invites them for a little chat.

Secondly, all police officers in America carry guns and probably have other devices secreted about their persons like tasers and stuff which are quite capable of causing you extreme pain or even death.  Personally I am always very polite to American policemen.

In any case, the British police officers did not shoot Mr. Mitchell or even give him a few well-deserved zaps with a taser, but simply wrote down in their notebooks what he had said and reported it to their superiors. Mr. Mitchell has been denying and spinning and non-apologizing and half-non-apologizing ever since.

Anyway, back to the main story. (You will see the point of the diversion shortly.) 

This morning Tillerwoman and I set off down the back lanes of Monmouthshire to find Llandegfedd Sailing Club. Eventually we found the reservoir and the entrance to the sailing club, but before we could drive very far down the drive to the club we were waved down by a man in a uniform which said he was a Chief Ranger for Welsh Water.

I explained that we were exploring the area and that we would like to see the sailing club, but he said it was closed and the road to it was private anyway.

At this point, if I were a self-important entitled prat like Andrew Mitchell I would have said something like, "Best you learn your fucking place. You don't run this fucking reservoir. Don't you know who I am? I am the best sailing blogger on the planet and you're a fucking pleb!" or words to that effect.

Instead I politely thanked him and went on my way.

Tillerwoman and I then spent a pleasant hour or two exploring the places where I lived and worked BT (Before Tillerwoman.) Sadly everywhere looks older and smaller than I remember it. Older I can understand. But why are buildings smaller than I remember them? Have I been living in America too long?

Then it was off for lunch at a pub I remember from the old days. (Although of course it's smaller now.)

Tillerwoman had potato and leek soup to show some respect for the Welsh.

I had a ploughman's lunch which thankfully came with Branston Pickle and three different kinds of cheese and no sign of that bloody strip of crispy pancetta that seems to be thrown into any kind of British cooking these days.

All washed down with a pint of Rite Flanker.

Apparently Rite Flanker is the "unofficial beer of rugby" which seemed appropriate as Tillerwoman and I were both wearing rugby shirts and we were quite close to the home of Pontypool Rugby Football Club.

I think Rite Flanker might also be rhyming slang.

Perhaps a name appropriate for Mr Andrew Mitchell?

Where Was Tillerman?

My very wise readers have almost worked out all of the answers to Saturday's natural navigation quiz, so let me come clean and give you the exact answer to the location of Saturday's photo.

Tillerwoman and I were at our niece's wedding at a country house wedding venue and conference center called Caer Lllan (marked A on the map) in the county of Monmouthshire in Wales. As you can see, it was a beautiful sunny day and the view to the SW was magnificent.

I was a little confused at first as to where we were looking, even though I know this area quite well. But having seen the topographical map now, I think the distant ridge must be the hills to the west of Cwmbran. This theory was confirmed by our observation of the lights of a large town in front of the ridge after dusk.

Anyone know where the best sailing clubs in this area are?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grandmaster Quiz

1. What is wrong with this picture?

2. What is that thing in the bottom right hand corner of the picture?

3. What move does white make next that leads to checkmate in 57 moves?

4. How old was the winning player?

5. If you knew that this picture was taken at the same place on the same day as the photo in yesterday's post, would that be of any help whatsoever in answering the questions in either post?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Which way are we looking?

This is one of those quizzes, like the ones you find on the Natural Navigator blog. It's amazing how much information someone skilled in natural navigation can deduce from one photo.

1. Which way are we looking?

2. Where was the photo taken?

3. Where is the nearest sailing club?

4. What was I drinking when I took this photo?

5. What will I eat later that includes crispy bacon?

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Am The Entertainer

Pam over at Improper Course kicked off her post about Percentage Sailing by saying, "Tillerman recently wrote about Sailing and Luck on his Proper Course blog. His post was thought provoking but the comments were even better."

Oh yes.

The comments on Proper Course are better than the posts.

I know that.

Pam followed up her remark in the comments to her post by telling me, "You have some very wise followers. But your writing is always entertaining."

Thanks Pam.

Now I know my role in life.

I write a blog for "very wise" followers.

But me,  I'm not wise.

I am the entertainer.

Today I am your champion. 
I may have won your hearts. 
But I know the game, 
You will forget my name, 
And I won't be here In another year, 
If I don't stay on the charts.

You may now leave some very wise comments...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Yay! I Love Pain!

I have said before here, only half jokingly, that Laser sailing is mainly about pain.

It's certainly true that the ability to hike hard, even when your quads are screaming at you to stop, is key to upwind performance in medium to strong winds. A very famous Laser sailor once told me that if it hurts it means you are hiking properly. If it doesn't hurt you're not hiking hard enough.

Our sport is not unique in that respect. Runners and cyclists and rowers all take pride in their ability to push through the pain barrier.

Anna Railton who writes a blog called Something about rowing...? is a rower and a cyclist. A very good rower in fact. She was a member of the Cambridge women's crew that beat Oxford in the Women's Boat Race this year. A lot of her posts explore the subject of pain, often with hilarious cartoons of her competing while saying things to herself like "Suffer Harder," and "Oh Jesus Fucking Christ why will this not end?" and "FUCK YOUUUUUUUU LEGS." That's exactly the kind of things I feel like saying to myself when racing a long hard beat in a Laser race.

Captain JP left a sly comment on Anna's last post of this ilk saying...
Congrats! (and go Cambridge) but hmmmm.... I'm seeing a link between rowing and cycling and its pain. On a completely unconnected note, have you read "Fifty shades of grey"?

Fifty Shades of Grey, for those who have been living under a rock for the last few months, is a novel that is very popular among women of a certain age. As Wikipedia puts it
Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2011 erotic novel by British author E. L. James... It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM).


What is JP implying? That Anna's passion for sports that require enduring some element of pain to succeed is in some way derived from the pleasure that masochists gain from subjecting themselves to pain?

Heavy stuff. Is he saying that all runners and rowers and cyclists - and Laser sailors - are masochists at heart?

Do you need to enjoy the pain in some way in order to be able to tolerate it?

Anna wrote a post called Rowing: The Rules which she had adapted from a similar set of rules for cycling and which I, in turn, plagiarized to create Laser Sailing: The Rules.

All three versions glorify the idea that being a participant in each sport is all about being a badass who can tough it out and endure the pain longer and harder than the competition. Some of the rules in the Laser Sailing version, for example, are...

#4 You sail a Laser because you like pain. The sooner you appreciate this fact, the happier you'll be.

#5 Harden The Fuck Up. You should not need telling again. 

#33 Display your Laser sailing injuries with pride. 

I'm confused about all this. Am I supposed to enjoy pain? Learn to ignore it? Embrace it? Or just swear at my fucking legs?

In line with long-standing tradition on this blog, I think I would rather follow the maxim: If in doubt, make fun of it.

There is a very funny Twitter account called Fifty Sheds of Grey which is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey. It's described as Erotica for the not-too-modern male. Most of the tweets start off making you think you are in a scene from Fifty Shades of Grey but end up making you realize that this is just a tweet by some not-too-modern bloke with a grey shed.

Here are some of my favorites....

Each firm stroke was bringing me closer and closer to that moment of relief and satisfaction. Soon my shed would be completely weatherproof.

'Don't hold back,' she cried, as I tied her to the chair, 'I want to feel real pain.' 'Alright,' I said, putting on my Best of Top Gear DVD.

'I'm so wet,' she purred, squirming, 'You know what to do . .' I certainly did - I went straight to B&Q and got a dehumidifier for the shed.

'You're making me so hot,' she breathed. 'I know,' I said, 'Maybe the shed wasn't the best place for a barbecue.'

After that weekend in the shed, I never saw her again. She wasn't looking for a relationship - she was just DIY-curious.

Where was I? Where am I?

Oh yes. Laser sailing and pain.

Funny how blog posts end up sometimes.

Cartoon originally from Anna Railton's blog post Rowing: The Rules

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tower Trapezing

What I Use

I love reading sailing blogs.

You can learn so much about all sorts of different boats and different kinds of sailing.

Racing tips. Maintenance advice. What equipment to buy. Where to sail. How to improve your sailing skills.

The list is endless.

Just when you think you have seen everything, someone comes up with a new piece of sailing advice. Today on World Tour Stories, Taru educates us on the ten essential beauty products that you simply must have with you on the boat, darling -  What I use.

This is why I read sailing blogs.

I never knew before that I ought to carry some Kiehl's Epidermal Re-Texturizing Micro-Dermabrasion Creme with me when I go Laser sailing.

Nobody ever told me that using Estée Lauder's Hydrationist Maximum Moisture Creme would make me a better sailor.

And how come I have been sailing for 30 years and never discovered before the amazing benefits of Chanel Soleil tan de Chanel, which apparently is "a four facette bronzing powder for nighttime." I never even knew what a facette was or why I needed four. (Actually I still don't know.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you Taru.

How do I look?

You're Fired!

It had to happen.

When the best group of athletes you can assemble fails dismally, what else can you do? Fire the coach.

And so that's what has just happened to the head coach of the US Olympic Sailing Team who failed to win a single medal at this year's Olympic Games.

A statement from US Sailing this week, makes it clear that Kenneth Andreasen (High Performance Director/ Head Coach) is toast, gone... fired.

And buried in the corporate boiler-plate that always accompanies such announcements is a clue to what this might mean for the future direction of US Olympic sailing.

After careful consideration, it is clear that we need to take a new direction on the performance side of the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Program. That direction will include a sharper focus on the performance development of sailors and classes, boatspeed, and being a technically superior team.

Ouch. Boatspeed! You ain't going to win many Olympic sailing medals without boatspeed for sure.

The statement goes on...
Kenneth has been committed and dedicated to U.S. Olympic Sailing. He deserves credit for, among other things, his emphasis on class teamwork and fitness, positives in our program that we will continue to build on.


Andreasan was the one with the emphasis on "class teamwork" and "fitness" was he?

These two planks of the program have certainly been well publicized in US Sailing press releases and individual sailors' blog in the last few years. Boot camps in the Rockies. Lots of team building exercises. Training together as a team.

I have to say I've had my doubts about the focus on these two issues - especially if they were at the expense of other important stuff. Like being technically superior. Or boatspeed.

Don't get me wrong, fitness is certainly important in all the Olympic classes. At my mediocre level, getting fitter is probably the best thing I could do to improve my sailing performance. But beyond a certain level I suspect there is a law of diminishing returns for elite sailors. Once you can hike or trapeze all day at maximum effort, what do you really gain by being able to bench press another 10 lbs or run 100 yards a tenth of a second faster?

The emphasis on "class teamwork" has troubled me even more. Sure it must be helpful and even reassuring for Olympic hopefuls to have the support of fellow team members. But is there a downside too? Don't Olympic sailors need to be totally single-minded and ruthless in the pursuit of first a place at the Olympics and then an Olympic medal? Aren't the other team members actually your competition when you are trying to win Olympic selection? If you are the best sailor in the US in your class, do you really want to train with the other team members trying to knock you off your perch?  Won't you do better by training with the top sailors from other nations?

Of course I am no expert on these matters. But when did this ever stop me from opining on any topic on this blog?

But don't take my word for it. Read this post - The US Sailing Team - Does One Size Fit All? by John Bertrand (who is an Olympic sailing medallist himself and a highly respected coach.) Bertrand's post is about a talented young Finn sailor, Luke Lawrence, who made the US Sailing Development Team but became frustrated at the lack of coaching support he was receiving.

Luke was not satisfied with his results after his first two World Cup regattas. Luke, being the newbie in the four-boat team, was frustrated with the lack of on-the-water support he was receiving and how he was being treated by the coach. At times he was hard pressed to get access to the coach boat to get food and water, let alone access to Andreasen for post-race observations, because the priority was Zach Railey and Brian Boyd, the number one and two US team sailors. Luke, as a committed, motivated sailor, needed Andreasen's knowledge and experience, but simply wasn't getting it.

So Luke hired John Bertrand as his personal coach to supplement the support he was receiving from the US Sailing coaches. And then he was accused by the US Sailing powers-that-be of not being a team player and effectively banned from the team! Read the full post. Bertrand has some insightful observations on the relative merits of team and individual coaching, and what has made sailors from other nations (GBR - yeah!) so good, and even on why Zach Railey's performance was not up to his expectations under this US Sailing "team" philosophy.

I wish US Sailing well in their search for a new Head Coach and in developing an improved focus for the Olympic program in the next 4 years.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Swinging Back

My attitude to Laser sailing seems to swing from one extreme to another.

I have been at one end of the swing for most of this year. My feeling about sailing, as reflected in many of my blog posts, has been, "I'm only doing this for fun. If I'm not having any fun on the race course any more, I will quit for the day. Race results don't matter." I really haven't raced much this summer, partly because I've been easing back into it (very) slowly after my back injury early in the year. I didn't get around to completing a whole day of races at a regatta until the weekend before last.

At the other extreme I see myself as a committed, hard-core racing sailor. I train hard. I sail lots of regattas. I take pride in toughing it out to the bitter end of every day's racing no matter how tired I am or how much it hurts. When I do this I sometimes actually win something. I set goals like "Sail my Laser 100 days this year" or "Finish in the top half of the fleet at the Masters Worlds." Sometimes I even achieve one of those goals.

I summed up my "only in it for the fun" approach in a post last month Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart.

I'm beginning to think that that post was a huge mistake.

I think my pendulum is starting to swing back to the other extreme.

It happened at the New England Laser Masters the weekend before last.

At that regatta I remembered that there is more than one way to have fun.

I realized that I am not ready yet to settle for coming nearly last in a regatta because I can't be bothered to sail all the races.

I've seen my friends this year working hard and hanging tough at regattas and sailing every race and placing well in the fleet and even winning awards sometimes, and I admit I've envied them.

I could be like them again.

I've begun to think that the Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart post was total bullshit. There was a lot of pseudo-science and psycho-babble in that post.

I am not that sailor.

I want to get back to being the sailor who wrote Cannabinoid Moment four years ago. The sailor who stubbornly sailed the final race of the regatta even though he was tired and aching. The sailor who was surprised to feel sharper, more competent, more focused, more in control than he ever had while racing before.

I want that feeling back.

Some of you know that I have run a few marathons in my time. Well, three actually. Marathons are long. Marathons are hard. Two of the three were very hard for me. But I finished them. And I still feel a glow of pride from having done so,

This year I have been like a runner who doesn't train properly for a marathon, and who starts to feel really tired at the 15 mile mark and who collapses in agony at the 20 mile mark, and who gives up. He didn't run a marathon. He doesn't have much to be proud about.

I am not that runner.

The pendulum is swinging back to the other extreme.

Hold on tight.

It's going to be a wild ride.

Gale Warning

Megan Gale

There is a Gale Warning for Narragansett Bay this afternoon and night. 

I think I'll give Tuesday evening sailing a miss this week.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I Don't Want a Powerboat


Last Tuesday evening hardly anyone wanted to sailing in Bristol because all the usual suspects were getting ready to go off and compete in the US Laser Masters or the Snipe Women's Worlds or the Farr 40 Worlds or similar really serious regattas for really serious sailors. They are all barking mad as far as I am concerned. In any case, the weather forecast was for crappy wind. Officially.

So I went out over to Bristol on my own on Wednesday afternoon instead.

The weather was superb.

The wind was blowing from the SW at 10-15 knots.

There were waves.

It was sunny.

Perfect weather for Lasering.

So I blasted around on my own for an hour or so, having fun, getting wet, singing crazy songs, just playing, being a kid again.

I hiked hard going upwind for a while and when my legs felt tired I close-reached upwind instead, bouncing off the tops of the waves, having a blast.

A blast

When I had gone far enough upwind I went zig-zagging all over the harbor, broad reaching, riding the waves, trying to gybe without losing too much speed, shouting, "Woo Hoo!" every now and again, just having fun.

There were hardly any other boats out on what was a beautiful early fall afternoon. It's after Labor Day. Everyone around here knows you can't go boating after Labor Day.

They must be nuts.


This was the reason I took early retirement - to go sailing on days like this.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mr. Bush or Miss 43?

Dear Reader, I need your help with a most important decisions that I will need to take shortly...

Regular readers of my blog may have noticed that I have been keeping track of the number of days I have sailed my Laser this year with a graphic over there on the right in the sidebar. Click on the graphic and you will be taken to a page which lists all my daily sails with links to posts about them.

For example after 18 days sailing, I was using this image...

For 21 we had this one....

And #23 was this gentleman. Who else?

From 26 onwards I have been somewhat unimaginative, using photos of US presidents from #26 Theodore Roosevelt...

... all the way up to #39 Jimmy Carter which is on display as I write this post.

Some time in the next few weeks we will reach the landmark 43rd sail of the year. This always seems to excite some of my male readers ever since I first started reporting my days of sailing in this way back in 2008, although I can't imagine why 43 is such an exciting number to so many people.

The big decision is whether I should carry on the patriotic tradition of displaying the portraits of former US Presidents, in which case we would have a picture of... let me see... oh yes, Mr. George Walker Bush who was the 43rd President of the United States and served in this capacity from 2001 to 2009.

Or should I be boring and display the same tired old photo that I have been using for my 43rd sail every year that I have been counting my daily sails since 2008?

I don't suppose you even remember it. 

Here it is...

So please help me decide.

Mr. Bush or Miss 43?

New England Laser Masters 2012 - Day 2

After the challenging conditions of Day 1 of the 2012 New England Laser Masters, the second day was a total contrast. When I arrived at Third Beach there was very little wind and a light rain was falling. But the powers-that-be assured me that there was enough wind to race and we would be starting on time.

Sure enough there was enough wind - about Force 2 on the Tillefort Scale - and we did race. The wind was from the north but there were still large swells rolling in from the south.

A couple of swells

It reminded me to some extent of that day in 2005 which I wrote about at Sex in Prison, although this time the sex wasn't anything as like as good - or as bad - as then.

The windward mark was set fairly close to the Middletown shore so there were some "interesting" shifts and holes in the wind on the top half of the beat. There was also quite a difference in the size of the swells from top to bottom of the course, with the leeward gate being much more exposed to the swells rolling up the Sakonnet than the windward mark was. And sailing the swells upwind and downwind there was certainly a significant difference in wind strength between the crests and troughs. On top of this the tide was coming in (running upwind) all the time we were racing.

This whole combination posed all kinds of questions. Was the right or left side of the beat favored? Should you go left to get a lift off the shore or go right to gain some benefit from the current and perhaps more wind? Was it better to sail in the flatter water or the lumpier stuff upwind? Could you actually ride the waves on either tack upwind? Going downwind did you go faster on the flatter water or the swells? What was the best technique for using the waves downwind? Should you steer on them? Should you trim the sail differently for crests and troughs? Was the tide much different on each side of the course?

Good questions. Never did really figure it all out but it certainly made you think.

My results were typically mediocre, although I had my moments. At times I was up with the regatta leaders, although perhaps it would be more honest to say that at times they were back with me. I started off badly and peaked in the middle of the day with my best result being a 20th (out of about 40 boats.) As the day went on my finishes got worse. Mental laziness on my part probably.

I was just about thinking that I was nearing the maximum crest of the Tillerman Fun Factor on the Sailing Philosophy Crappy Chart when the PRO announced the last race of the day, so I did actually sail all five races. 

Come to think of it this was the first day I had sailed all the races at a regatta since I injured my back in May. Woo hoo! Some kind of achievement I guess. I've had a very light summer of regatta sailing, not wanting to aggravate the back problem any more, but it felt good to chalk up this minor sign of progress back to relative normality. That is if you consider being a fanatical Laser sailor to be normal.

After sailing there was pizza and awards and lots of raffle prizes. 

I "won" a croakie and a rigging knife. 

Hey, that knife might save my life one day.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Should I Buy a Sunfish or a Laser?

Someone called Khangaroo recently left a comment on my 2007 post Ten Reasons Why Sunfish Are Better Than Lasers.

I recently got the chance to sail a sunfish and it was great fun. So this weekend in Seattle I have the chance to purchase either a sunfish or laser. I have read tons of articles and forums and am still tossed between the two. It sounds like the laser will be more difficult to rig and has a steeper learning curve than the sunfish, but in the longer run I might be rewarded with more skills acquired from sailing a laser that I could potentially use on bigger sail boats. Is this an accurate assessment? Which one should I purchase?


I have noticed that that post still gets quite a lot of hits. I think several Sunfish sites have linked to it. So let me say first of all that the post was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Everything in the post is true. (Well, no less true than most of the nonsense on this blog.)  And many of the virtues of the Sunfish that I praised will be why some people prefer it. But personally I still prefer the Laser.

As to the specific questions raised by Khangaroo.

1. The Laser really isn't difficult to rig. But it perhaps does take a few minutes more than a Sunfish. Personally I don't consider that a huge reason for choosing one boat or the other.

2. Does the Laser have a steeper learning curve? Maybe. If you are a total beginner you will probably capsize more in a Laser initially than you would in a Sunfish. Especially downwind in heavy air. If that bothers you then you might prefer the Sunfish.

3. Will you be rewarded with more skills from sailing a Laser that you could potentially use on larger boats? I doubt it.  The Laser is a bit more physical to sail but the actual sailing skills required to master both boats are pretty similar.

So should you buy a Laser or a Sunfish?

One factor that could be very important if you want to race is whether there are established racing fleets for each boat in your area and whether there is an established regatta circuit for that boat. When I moved to northern inland New Jersey in 1989, for example, I discovered that that area was a hotbed of Sunfish racing but that there was hardly any organized Laser racing close to home. So, although I already owned a Laser, I took up Sunfish sailing too. And I see that an earlier commenter from Seattle on the 10 Reasons post was already bemoaning the fact that there was no reasonably competitive Sunfish fleet in that area.

Another factor is what I might loosely term "respect." If you are a young person looking to catch the eye of college sailing coaches, for example, you will probably have more success by chalking up some impressive results sailing the Laser. Sadly, and mistakenly in my view, a lot of coaches still look down on the Sunfish as not a "real" racing boat.

On the other hand, if you don't want to race (or even if you do) then try both boats and see which one you find to be more fun.

At the end of the day, we do this crazy sport for fun, don't we?

Monday, September 10, 2012

New England Laser Masters 2012 - Day 1


This weekend I sailed in my favorite event, the New England Laser Masters.

There are all sorts of reasons why I enjoy this regatta so much..

It's sailed out of Third Beach Newport (not actually in Newport) one of the Top 9 Sailing Destinations on the Planet.

It's a great chance to meet up with old sailing friends and make some new ones.They have a draw for all sorts of goodies from sponsors. More than one goodie per competitor. There was even a practice sail up for grabs this year.

The prizes are embroidered towels. Much better than plaques or silver cups. I even won a towel for Second Grandmaster once. I am the only man in the world who dries his man parts with a towel that is embroidered with the words "Second Grandmaster N.E. Laser Masters 2008."

But it's really all about the sailing, right?

On Saturday the wind was honking out of the south and there were huge swells rolling in from Rhode Island Sound. Classic Third Beach conditions. Several sailors chose to race with the smaller Radial rigs. I haven't bought a Radial rig yet. Some days I regret that decision.

The first race was one of those old-fashioned "Olympic" courses, or "triangle-sausage" as we used to call them in England. I couldn't see the windward mark from the start line. Probably not because the RC had put it over the horizon. More likely because of my poor eyesight. Or the waves. But maybe not.

I must admit I didn't work very hard on the first beat. I had that poor attitude that I wrote about in What I Learned From Running Marathons - "Take it easy. It's going to be a long day. Pace yourself. Don't go all out too early."

Good strategy for running marathons. Bad strategy for racing the best masters sailors in New England. As a result I arrived at the windward mark (not quite over the horizon) with the tail-enders. Which means there were almost 40 boats in front of me.

But the first reach was superb. I was catching rides on waves all the way to the gybe mark and passing a gazillion boats. Well, to be truthful, at least a few other tail-enders. Woo hoo!

I gybed without capsizing. Woo hoo!

The second reach was miserable. I couldn't surf on any waves and most of the boats I had passed on the first reach were passing me.

Why? I glanced at the rudder. Uh oh. Weed! I cleated the sheet and reached over the transom to clear the weed. I always feel that it's a little risky to sail a Laser on a screaming reach for too long while leaning over the back of the boat with your head in the weeds (almost literally.) So I try not to do it too long.

I pulled up the daggerboard and dropped it down again to clear any weeds off that.

Still I was going slow and I could feel on the tiller that there was still something on the rudder. I cleated the sheet again and went over the transom to clear more weeds off. Did I say weeds? This time it felt like there was a small tree hooked on the rudder.

By the time I reached the leeward mark I was with the tail-enders again.

I was still slow up the second beat. I glanced under the boat at the daggerboard. More frigging weed! I pulled up the daggerboard. Again. I wasn't much faster.

The run was fun but I didn't gain much distance on the boats around me. Shit!

I rounded the leeward mark. I was angry. This is not me. I know I don't deserve to be at the front of this fleet but I don't deserve to be almost last either.

I switched gears. I hiked harder and put the bow down. Aaaaah. Yes, I remember now. This is how you are supposed to sail a Laser in 15 knots. I passed the two boats closest to me. I looked back occasionally and saw the sad little faces of their skippers disappearing further into the distance. Children can be so cruel at my age.

I crossed the finish line ahead of about 5 boats. Not good. But better than DFL.

I resolved to do better in the second race, a simple one-lap windward leeward. The wind had picked up a bit more. I did a bit better than the first race on the beat but the run was the highlight of the weekend. Crazy downhill ride. Catching waves. Overtaking waves. I was in the zone. Focused on the waves around me. Pumping.  Carving back and forth to find the best rides. Boats around me were capsizing. Boats in front of me were capsizing. Boats behind me were capsizing.  Woo hoo! Children of my age can be so cruel.

I finished in the high 20's in that race.

But I was knackered as we say in real English.

I started the third race. But I wasn't having fun. So I quit part way up the beat, in line with my new philosophy as outlined in Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart, to sail until I reach the end of the Fatigue Phase and before entering the Exhaustion Phase.

I sailed over to the committee boat to tell them I was going in.

The race officer asked me if I wanted a beer "for the ride."

I laughed and declined. I haven't yet worked out how to drink beer while sailing a Laser on a broad reach in 15-20 knots.

There were 4 more races. The tide turned so that it was running against the wind. More people quit before the end. The guy who ultimately won the regatta reported that his legs felt like "Jell-O" at the end of Saturday's racing. I don't think that that is necessarily a good feeling.

Coming soon. A post on day 2. And a rambling post on what I learned about myself at this regatta.

Life is good.

I think I'll take a nap now.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Sailing Widow



I did tell you I am going to sail on Saturday and Sunday this weekend... didn't I?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

3 Best Laser Sailing Blogs on the Planet

I follow quite a few blogs by other Laser sailors.

One thing I have noticed is that I don't learn a lot from reading the blogs of the top Olympic campaigners from various countries. Usually they just report on where they are training and how they do in regattas, but they don't spend much time giving tips and explaining techniques to mere mortals like me.

Of course Laser sailing blogs by total beginners aren't usually much better in that respect. Scary as it seems, some people know even less about Laser sailing than me.

Maybe what would be really good would be to have an average sailor talking to a top sailor and asking the questions that we average sailors need to have answered?

Luckily there are a couple of blogs like that....

1. Improper Course is written by Doug and Pam. Doug is one of the best Laser Master sailors on the planet. Pam, his wife, says she is "just a girl who is still learning how to sail." Actually Doug does seem motivated to pass on some of his Laser sailing knowledge on the blog, but it does also seem to be true that Pam encourages Doug to do this and suggests topics for him to write about.

This week was a good example. Doug scored a convincing win in the Austin Centerboard Regatta. In her post about it Pam discussed that one of the reasons that Doug did so well was that he was using a compass to spot the shifts. So she asked Doug to write a post about that. And he did. Shifts, Lakes and Compasses is one of the best things I have ever read on this subject.

2. Center of Effort is written by Judith. I'm sure she won't mind my saying that, although she is an experienced sailor in all kinds of boats, she is not up there in the stratosphere with the Olympic campaigners. But lately she has teamed up with Clay Johnson, the 2011 Laser North American Champion and certainly a close contender for the US spot in Lasers at the Olympic this year. Judith has been interviewing Clay about various aspects of Laser sailing technique which has produced some superbly helpful blog posts about such topics as downwind sailing in light air and tactics and techniques for footing. Great stuff!

This week I came across another very educational Laser sailing blog that caused me to rethink my views about the value of reading a blog by a relative beginner...

3. 100 Races is written by Nick. I'll let Nick explain his experience and what his blog is about in his own words....

In April 2012 at age 60, I bought my first racing Laser. The plan - to start racing on Sydney harbour in Spring 2012. In the meantime I have to get fit and learn how to sail the boat. The goal to enjoy 100 race days between now and 2016.

OK. Nick is about the same age as me. He sounds like he's even more fanatical than I am about Laser sailing. And it also sounds as if he's a relative newcomer to Laser racing. But he has invested the time to scour the Interwebs and to collect an amazing range of articles and videos about Laser sailing tip and techniques, most of them organized under the tabs at the top of his blog. Shit, some of them are even from my blog, but most of them are written by, or are about, far better sailors than me.  Just for starters, check out some great tips from Rob Crane and Steve Cockerill about light air beating and this 20 minute video tutorial on roll tacks.

Right now, for someone like me who is still suffering from the delusion that it is not too late to learn how to sail my Laser smarter and faster, these three blogs are undoubtedly the 3 Best Laser Sailing Blogs on the Planet.

I think I'll go and study some blogs now.

Mount Hope Bay Sunset

The Tillercottage looks out over Mount Hope Bay, the north-eastern arm of Narragansett Bay.

On Wednesday evenings in the summer we can usually watch the yachts of Tiverton Yacht Club racing on the bay.

Last night there were no boats on the bay. Apparently summer is over. At least for some sailors.

But there was a fairly decent sunset.

Earlier in the day Tillerwoman and I had been babysitting our 2-year-old grandson Owen while his parents were at work.

Before putting him down for his afternoon nap, I "read" to him from a picture book which had all kinds of vehicles in it.

Diggers and firetrucks and motorcycles and garbage trucks. Stuff all little boys love.

There were also some boats. A racing yacht. A trawler. A tugboat.

I talked to Owen about each boat and what it was used for, and ended each description by saying, "And when you are at Granddad's house you can see boats like that on Mount Hope Bay."

Before I had finished he was sleepily repeating, "Mount Hope Bay. Mount Hope Bay."

I always think it's a big breakthrough when each of the grandkids learns to add "Mount Hope Bay" to his or her vocabulary.

Then I sang Wheels on the Bus and rubbed his back as Owen drifted off to sleep to dream of tugboats and trawlers and racing yachts.

Life is good.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sailing and Luck

How large a role does luck play in sailboat racing?

Are some people luckier than others?

What should you do about bad luck?

How do you deal with good luck?

What is "luck" anyway?

A very good sailor once told me many years ago that, "Good sailors make their own luck."

That's a variation on another quote about luck: "The harder I work the luckier I get."

The thought has been credited to everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Gary Player.

What the hell does it mean anyway?

Surely, luck is just a away of talking about unpredictability.

The outcome of most sporting events, especially a sailboat race, is usually unpredictable. If you could always predict the finishing order of every race, the sport would be very boring.

In sailing there are so many factors, wind shifts, lulls, stupidity of other competitors, stupidity of race committee, container ship steaming through the fleet (don't laugh - it really happened in the Olympics a few years ago) that you can never really predict how your race will turn out.

So, if something unpredictable happens that makes someone finish lower than they think they deserve, they call it bad luck.

But surprisingly when someone does better than they usually do, they can almost alway explain what brilliant choices they made to achieve the result and how well deserved it was. They rarely credit good luck.

So does your luck really improve, the harder you practice? Can good sailors make their own luck?

Of course not.

If you work hard and improve your skills and your boat tuning, you are just making it more likely that you will finish nearer the front of the fleet.

But there is still unpredictability. Some idiot may still crash into you on the start line. A rogue wave may push you into hitting a race mark. And where there is unpredictability there is "luck." Bad and good.

So how should you think about luck?

At one extreme, attributing the outcome of every race to bad or good luck is pointless. Much better to think about what you learned from the race and what skills you need to work on in order to improve. If every race is purely a game of chance then you might as well sit on the shore and toss dice to determine who should take the trophies home.

At the other extreme, should you resist blaming the outcome of a race on luck at all? Some athletes cling to the idea that nothing should be left to chance. They want to be in control of everything.  But then what do they do when something totally unpredictable does ruin their race? How do they explain it?

So what to do?

Go out, have fun, do your best, see what happens.

It's only a game.

So just play.


When I Grow Up...

Monday, September 03, 2012

Building a Catamaran

Today is American Labor Day which celebrates the contributions of workers.

What better way to mark it than to watch some boat building.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


Looking for Mermaids

Marmite - Superfood

They said I was crazy.

Just because I have been extolling the many benefits of Marmite on this blog.

But they said Copernicus was crazy when he said the earth isn't the center of the universe.

And they said Einstein was crazy when he said that everything is relative.

And they said Uncle Ernest was crazy when he ran naked down the main road with flowers in his hair.

No, wait. Uncle Ernest really was crazy.

But I'm not.

At last, science has proved conclusively that Marmite is a superfood.

According to this article in the Daily Telegraph (which is renowned for its truthiness) a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation discovered that high doses of vitamin B3 -- one of Marmite's main ingredients -- produce neutrophilis, a white blood cell that fights bacteria and increases the immune system's ability to fight infection up to 1,000 times.

1,000 times!

Who doesn't want some of that?

I rest my case.

I think I'll have some Marmite now.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


Our family vacation on Cape Cod last month was wonderful... except for one thing. 

I discovered that there is a subversive in the family. Someone who either doesn't know or doesn't care that I am the leader of the campaign to erase the scourge of the foul-tasting "snack" called Uncrustables from the face of the earth.

Doesn't she read my blog?

Isn't she aware that I exposed the diabolical Uncrustables plot back in 2007?

Yes, dear reader. It's hard to believe but one day I opened the fridge at our vacation home and found inside.....



Yes, apparently one of my daughters-in-law had sneaked some Uncrustables into the refrigerator without my permission. What was she thinking?

Wait. It gets worse.

She feeds them to my grandson.

And he appears to like them!!!!!!

Owen eating vile-tasting "snack" 
made by the evil Smuckers empire

Where did I go wrong?