Sunday, November 23, 2014

That Boat Has a Blog

Tillerwoman and I went for a walk in Warren RI this afternoon. There were some Sunfish racing on the Warren River.

Tillerwoman said she hadn't seen so many Sunfish together since we left Mountain Lakes in New Jersey in 2007. There must have been about 20 of them.

We strolled around Warren and watched the little boats racing up and down, up and down the Warren River.

Wait. I know that boat. That boat has a blog.

That boat on the right. The one with the blue and yellow sail. She has a blog. Sunfish 3929.

Wow. That's like seeing a member of the royal family.

I spotted blogging royalty.

In Warren RI.

Who would have thunk it?

Friday, November 21, 2014

R.I.P Old Friend

 For many years I was "the guy in the green hat."

Then for a few more years I was in my flowery hat phase. For part of that time I was in my flowery hatted bearded marxist phase.

In the last few years I have been "the guy in the orange hat."

It's true. Once I find a sailing hat that fits well, I tend to wear it all the time, year after year, until I lose it or it falls to pieces. I have been wearing my orange hat for…

… sailing with friends in Rhode Island...

….sailing with my granddaughter in Massachusetts...

…breaking Laser masts in the BVI…

…training in Florida...

…and hanging out in beach bars with friends in the Dominican Republic.

A lot of good times and happy memories.

That orange hat has had a long and fulfilling life.

But all good things must come to an end.

On our sailing trip to Menorca last month I noticed that my orange hat was falling to pieces.

It was time to arrange for it to be put to rest.

I've had this hat a long time.

As you can see it commemorated the East End Laser Series. As in East End of Long Island. I never sailed in the East End Laser Series. The hat was given to me by a friend who used to organize the East End Series. Maybe he still does. I guess he must have had some hats left over that year.

And so I had to say a sad goodbye to my orange hat in Menorca.

I did contemplate giving it a Viking funeral but, in the end, I threw it out in the trash.

So now it is rotting away in a landfill in Menorca.

Or perhaps it was incinerated and its ashes are blowing away in the Mediterranean breeze.

Either way I like to think it's a fitting end.

So now I have to choose a new hat for sailing from my vast selection of sailing caps.

Something I will proud to wear for at least 5 or 6 years.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

RS Aero - Capsize Recovery Videos

As a follow-up to my own post about RS Aero - Capsize Recovery here are a couple of videos posted by Peter Barton on YouTube. Peter is, I believe, the class association manager for the recently formed RS Aero Class.

In the first video a young sailor of about 60 kilos does a capsize recovery on an Aero that has turned turtle. He first tries to right the boat with the mast coming up to windward of the boat and it blows over on top of him, which is not unusual even in a Laser. He then swims around to the daggerboard, being careful to maintain contact with the boat all the way. On his second attempt to right the boat he briefly loses contact with the boat but does manage to swim after it and catch it before it drifts too far away. He succeeds in righting the boat on his third attempt. The grab rail nearest to him was used to help him pull himself into a position where he could grab the hiking strap and pull himself in. Nice job!

In the second video, the whole recovery goes much more smoothly.  This sailor also looks to be a lot lighter than me and the boat does heel towards him as he pulls himself into the boat. But with his lower weight and a little bit of pressure in the mainsail he succeeds in climbing into the boat amidships, a feat that I never managed in my three attempts.

My take-away from these videos is that entering over the side of the boat in a capsize recovery looks to be easier for lighter sailors than it was for me. But I suspect that with some more time to experiment and practice, especially at positioning the boat across the wind and sheeting in the sail to provide some force to counteract act my weight, I might be able to do as well as these two youngsters.

It also reinforces my suggestion that potential Aero buyers should spend some time practicing capsize recoveries to make sure that they can find a technique that works for their size, strength and agility.

Thanks to Peter Barton for posting these videos and also to "jimmy kneewrecker" for bringing them to my attention on the Dinghy Anarchy RS Aero thread.

Update: There is a more detailed blow by blow of these capsize recoveries (and a third one) at the RS Aero Forum.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

RS Aero - Capsize Recovery

On Tuesday of our second week at Minorca Sailing I sailed the RS Aero with a 9 rig specifically to test out capsize recovery. I had heard that a number of people who had sailed the Aero in Minorca had had trouble getting back from the water into the boat from the side. And I had also heard from one sailor that the Aero had blown away from him faster than he could swim.

I took out the boat at lunchtime. Minorca Sailing don't have a rescue boat out on the water at that time of day, just one instructor on the shore keeping an eye out for mariners in distress. So I left instructions that I wanted to do some deliberate capsizes and recoveries and that I didn't need any rescuing unless I was in the water for at least 10 minutes.

It was about 6-8 knots with the occasional gust of 12 so I sailed around for a while and did some ugly tacks and gybes trying to capsize it but the damn thing wouldn't go over. In the end I forced it into a deliberate broach. As the mast hit the water I tried to do a dry capsize but got my foot caught in something as I tried to climb up to the high side, so I dropped into the water thinking that I needed to test what happens if I did fall out of the boat anyway, because even if I did manage to learn how to do a dry capsize I can't guarantee I won't ever end up in the water.

I swam round to the daggerboard and pulled the boat upright. That part seemed a little easier than a Laser. (Important note - the Aero at Minorca Sailing had a mast head float fitted (as do pretty much all the boats there except Lasers) so I wasn't able to test the tendency of the boat to turn turtle or not.

As I was warned by one of the instructors, it was not easy for a heavy person like me to get in over the side of the boat. This pre-production boat did not have grab rails so the only thing to grab was the hiking strap and every time I tried to pull my weight into the boat using that the boat capsized again on top of me. I tried and failed three times. Please note that I weigh 190lbs but have never had this problem before with Lasers or Sunfish.

As I was swimming around the boat to the daggerboard one time I momentarily lost contact with the boat and it started being blown downwind away from me. The boat was on it side and the boom was high in the air so the sail was helping to push it downwind too. I think the only thing that saved me was that the masthead float was acting like a sea anchor and by swimming hard I managed to catch the float and then work my way down the mast to the boat itself. Without that float I don't think I would ever have been able to catch the boat, and this was only in lightish winds. Goodness knows how fast the boat would sail away on its own in 20 knots. I guess this is one of the consequences of the boat being so light.

After three failed attempts to get in over the side of the boat I decided to try Plan B - climb in over the transom. This wasn't as easy as it might have been because although the Aero looks like an open transom boat it isn't really. It has those funny little honeycomb contraptions that hold the drain flaps so you have to pull yourself in over one of those. But by grabbing the back of the hiking strap and pulling hard I managed to drag myself in over one of the honeycomb gizmos. I was worrying I might break the honeycomb gizmo or detach it from the hull. I didn't do any damage this time (but more on this design feature in a later post.)

Rear view of RS Aero showing 
the "honeycomb contraptions" which support the drain flaps 

So I didn't cheat the nursing home this time, but I think my inability to get in over the side of the boat and the speed with which the boat blew away from me in even light winds are serious questions I need to consider before deciding whether to buy one.

Bottom line is that I strongly recommend that anyone having a demo in an Aero should try out capsize recoveries. Maybe you will have a better experience than I did. Sailors who are lighter than me or more agile than me may not have the same problem. Also I understand that the production boats have grab rails so that may make re-entering the boat somewhat easier.

Photo from RS Sailing Facebook page 
showing grab rail on production RS Aero

Monday, November 03, 2014

Alternate Ending

I woke up in bed last night with a panic attack. I had just had this totally freaky dream.

Tillerwoman wondered what the hell was going on.

I dreamed I was employed as resident blogger at this amazing sailing center on a beautiful Caribbean island… and I was also the cook. It was like Minorca Sailing - only better - and not over 3,000 miles away.

Tillerwoman laughed at the idea that I could cook anything.

And there was this little sailing instructor who used the B-word a lot and would always be saying things like, "Yay B-word Musto Skiff!" and "Yay B-word Sea Sail today!"

Tillerwoman tried to calm me down.

But I couldn't stop talking about my dream… "And I had this 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display and a WordPress blog and I wore an orange hat..."

Tillerwoman wasn't impressed.

But I kept going. "I haven't told you the best stuff yet… I was paid a gazillion dollars to be the resident blogger at this place and I had millions of readers and I just killed it…"

"And I lived with this tall beautiful blonde sailing instructor…"

Tillerwoman totally lost it. "Keep dreaming pal."

It was the darndest thing.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Soccer in the Rain

There's a bit of a storm hitting southern New England this weekend. As I write on Saturday, the temperature is in the 40s, it's raining steadily and there's a northerly wind of about 20mph. Tomorrow the winds are supposed to increase to 25mph gusting to 40, and there might be snow. The manly men of the Newport Laser frostbite fleet have even postponed the famous Fat Boys Regatta because of the weather.

We were thinking of going to watch our 6-year-old grandson, Aidan, play his last soccer game of the season in Foxboro, Massachusetts today. But Tillerwoman and I decided that standing around on a muddy field in the rain and wind and cold wouldn't be much fun. So we wimped out.

But the game went on…


This boy has British blood in his veins.

So do I. But I am old and he is young.

Friday, October 31, 2014

RS Aero - Impressions in Stronger Winds

On the Friday at the end of our first week in Minorca, I wanted to sail the RS Aero in the morning but I discovered that another sailor had already put his name down to use it in the weekly pursuit race. So I took out a Laser and sailed around watching the pursuit race. After a while I realized that the Aero had left the race so I went back to the beach to see what was going on. It turned out that the hiking strap had broken, pulled out of the screws at the front. The staff were busy repairing it and I was told I could take the Aero out in the afternoon, once the sealant around the screws had dried.

So I went and had some lunch, and took out the Aero (with a slightly shorter hiking strap) in the afternoon in about 17-21 knots. That was the reading on the wind meter on the beach. It might have been more in the middle of the bay.

What a blast! I realized I had been doing it all wrong going upwind. The other windy day I sailed I couldn't really hike the boat flat but today I put on maximum vang and cunningham and I could sail it flat.  It was just as much hard work as a Laser in these conditions though - hiking as hard as I could, playing the sheet all the time to try and keep the boat flat and driving fast.

I found I could hike at the front of the cockpit without waves coming over the bow (which is quite high.)  I did manage to go into irons a couple of times going through tacks in these conditions until I realized it's just like a Laser - you do need to make sure you steer it firmly through the tack without being too tentative and make sure you get your weight across smartly and get it driving on the other tack.

On Tuesday in the RS Aero 7 in somewhat more moderate wind, the gunwales were deflecting all the spray on the reach and beat, but on this day I was getting a lot of spray in the face. Thank goodness for that. I don't really feel like I've had a good sail unless I've taken a couple of waves over my head and come back with my face caked with salt.

I got some great rides on waves on reaches, and downwind I was faster than the waves. The bow was lifting right out of the water on reaches when I got my weight back. Gybing was easy. I realized the boat hadn't capsized once in three outings and that I might have to do a deliberate capsize one day if I wanted to test out capsize recovery.

After three tests of the Aero with different rigs in a wide variety of conditions I was coming to a couple of conclusions about the Aero…

1. The boat's design does eliminate many of the frustrations that some people have with the Laser - such as catching the sheet around the transom, low boom, auto bailer ineffective at low speeds etc.

2. On the other hand, it is ultimately a very similar experience to sailing a Laser. It is what it is - a 13ft hiking, planing single-hander. The lighter weight of the Aero does make it more exciting on reaches, but I wasn't seeing a huge difference in the overall experience on beats and runs.

I was actually starting to wonder whether I really needed a (slightly) better mousetrap as well as my existing mousetrap.

Coming soon... Tillerman tests out capsize recovery on the Aero. Other sailors' experiences with the Aero at Minorca Sailing. What I like and don't like about the Aero design. Ruminations on robustness.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

RS Aero - Impressions in Light Winds

On Wednesday of my first week at Minorca Sailing, I took the RS Aero 9 out for a test sail in winds of about 6-8 knots. Here are my impressions of that experience, based on an email I wrote to some friends that evening...

Sailing the RS Aero 9 in lighter winds felt quite tame compared to my first sail in stronger winds with the 7 rig. I was glad I was in the 9 rig. The 7 would have been kind of boring I think. The experience was probably similar to sailing a full rig Laser in similar conditions. Sorry to report the Aero does not have a magic trick of planing in 6 knots - at least not with a 190lb crew. 
Played around with various downwind sitting positions. 
Did some roll tacks and roll gybes. I think you need to be a bit more gentle with those than with a Laser but it comes naturally to control the flatten in a manner that isn't too aggressive.  
There is definitely a big difference in speed between sailing close-hauled and cracking off 10 degrees or so, even in light conditions. Not sure what is best VMG. I actually spent most of the afternoon sailing quite low, but a Minorca Sailing instructor later told me that he always sails the Aero as high as he can.

 Minorca Sailing instructor explaining VMG

Summing up the experience I think that if this had been my one and only demo in the Aero I would have ended up thinking that it's a perfectly fine boat but that it didn't offer anything special compared to a Laser. Whereas yesterday in stronger winds I was constantly thinking about how much fun it was. I guess that's a message to other people contemplating purchasing an Aero - make sure you sail it in some different wind conditions before you decide.

My Grandfather's Eyes - Throwback Thursday

I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died a few years before I was born. And I realized a couple of months ago that, not only did I know very little about him, I didn't even have any photographs of him. So when we visited my sister in England earlier this month, we went through some of the old family photos that she had, and she kindly gave me a couple of photos of our grandfather.

There he is, in his army uniform. I knew he had been a professional soldier and had served in South Africa and India and World War 1, but knew very little else about his military career.

When I examined the reverse side of the photo, I realized it was actually a postcard. The stamp and the postmark (if it ever had them) had been removed. But the card was addressed to my grandfather's mother. The only other writing on it was his name and service number, the message "With love to all" and the two German words…

gefangenenlager Gardelegen

It didn't take long to discover that "gefangenenlager" is the German word for "prisoner of war camp" and Gardelegen is a town in Germany which was the site for a camp for British POWs. If I had ever been told by my parents that my grandfather was a POW in Germany, I had long since forgotten it.

I was intrigued to find out more so started looking around at various online records. It turns out that the International Committee of the Red Cross has an excellent archive of records of prisoners of the First World War and I was quickly able to find a scanned image of a handwritten record card with my grandfather's name, various reference numbers and in the top right hand corner the date 31-10-14.

31st October 1914. 100 years ago tomorrow. I wondered what the date signified. The date this record was created? The date he was captured?

I searched further records on the same database and found entries for my grandfather in a couple of ledgers of prisoners, and these confirmed he was indeed held at Gardelegen and that he had been captured at Ypres on 31-10-14. It also recorded that he had been wounded in his left leg.

Then I hit the jackpot. I managed to find the records for him in the British Army WW1 Pensions Records Database. It had page after page of information about him from the day he enlisted in 1900 (one month after his 18th birthday) until the day he was demobilized in May 1919. Among other things it confirmed the ICRC records of his being captured at the end of October 1914 because he was officially reported as "wounded and missing" on 1 November 1914 and officially reported as a prisoner of war on 25 January 1915. What a worrying three months that must have been for his family.

I wondered if I could find out any more about the fighting in which he was captured so I went to the Wikipedia entry for the First Battle of Ypres which raged from October 19 to November 22 1914. The only entry for my grandfather's regiment (The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment) was for the fierce fighting on the Wytschaete–Messines line on 31 October 1914. When the 1st Battalion of the Lincolns were committed to the battle it is recorded they lost 30% of their strength. It seems almost certain that it was in this battle that my grandfather was wounded and captured.

Mud and muck at the First Battle of Ypres, October 1914

My eye casually scanned the reports on the battle as it continued that day and a name caught my eye. A very familiar name.

A couple of French divisions had been rushed in to reinforce the British, and the Germans brought in two more divisions including the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. And earning the Iron Cross (Second Class) on that day, for rescuing a man under fire, was a lance-corporal in the Bavarian Regiment called Adolf Hitler.

Holy cow. My grandfather fought in the same battle on the same day in the same part of the front as Adolf Hitler. 100 years ago tomorrow.

There were a lot more details about my grandfather in all those records I found including his height (5ft 5 and 9/10 inches) and weight (133 pounds) on the day he enlisted in 1900.

And the fact that he had blue eyes.

I never knew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RS Aero - First Impressions

After my adventure in the Laser Radial on my first Tuesday morning at Minorca Sailing, I had my first sail in an RS Aero in the afternoon, using the 7 rig in about 10-14 knots. Below are my random first impressions of the boat on that day, a lot of it quoted from an email I wrote to a couple of friends back home immediately after the experience…

The RS Aero felt initially a little unfamiliar but I soon got the hang of it and it wasn't long before it felt like a boat I had been sailing for years. As expected it was a lot of fun on reaches. I tried various reaching angles and it seemed to be easy to get planing on all of them. I can imagine that some recreational sailors will buy an RS Aero just for the pleasure of reaching back and forth as many kite sailors and windsurfers seem to do. At least to my inexperienced eye that's what a lot of them seem to be doing most of the time. 
Upwind it was a delight how the narrow bow sliced through the chop. At least in these winds, the gunwales were deflecting all the spray away from my face and body on both reaches and beats. I didn't seem to be able to apply enough cunningham to depower the sail for upwind sailing but it was easy to apply enough vang to achieve the desired effect. The hiking position was very comfortable. Oh god. I'm starting to value "comfort" as a desirable feature in a single-handed dinghy. I must be getting old.   
Tacks and gybes were no problem. Tacking from close-hauled to close-hauled was straightforward. Another sailor here who took out an Aero earlier in the day reported that it was hard to tack from reach to reach (without getting it going fast on a close-hauled course first) because the boat lacked sufficient momentum to get through the tack. I didn't try that personally. 
I had heard that it felt "uncomfortable" when sailing downwind. My experience was that it's not exactly uncomfortable, just a bit of an unfamiliar position. I found a position that I think I could maintain indefinitely which locked me into the boat and enabled me to balance it easily.
Actually they had to drag me off the water today because some other sailor wanted to try the boat, otherwise I would have been out even longer than the 1 hour 40 minutes or so that I was.  
I was very comfortable in the 7 rig in these winds. Felt more like a Laser Radial than a Full Rig in terms of how much effort was required. Suspect I will want a 9 rig in lighter winds and hope to get a chance to test that out soon.

More reports to come on two more test sails with the 9 and 7 rigs in different wind conditions, a capsize recovery evaluation, what I heard about the Aero from other sailors and instructors, and some of my own comments on various aspects of the hardware and boat design.

Watch this space.