Saturday, December 31, 2005

Tillerman's Top Twenty Stories of 2005

Not long after starting this blog I wrote Where do flies go in the winter? which talks about the joys of winter sailing in New Jersey. In April I went to the Rick White Sailing Seminar in the Florida Keys and wrote Run Rabbit Run about one of my typically pathetic attempts to sail well when it really mattered. Then on the way back from Florida I sailed in the Laser US Nationals where I learned something about my Heavy Air Fear.

I don't often write profiles of my fellow sailors but in May a new member showed up at our club and everyone was asking "Who is that guy?" At other times it's the little incidental things that catch my attention which is why I was inspired to write about nipple rings and a sailor's vanity about his hats.

I find it hard to explain why I have such a passion for sailing but I made an attempt in Sailors' High.
The thrill of competition is part of the attraction; at our Laser District Championships I really got hyped up about a one on one battle with a French sailor in England Expects. And of course the friendship of other sailors is one reason we all enjoy sailing; I tried to capture the feeling of this community of sailors in Conversations.

Volunteering to work on race committee is all part of the sport. It's not always fun or easy but it is rewarding work as I describe in Perfectionist. As well as participating in racing and race committee I have other roles in the sport. As Laser fleet captain at our club, I occasionally had to deal with sensitive interpersonal and ethical issues affecting the fleet as in The F Word and Bad Taste. And in the summer I worked four days a week as a sailing instructor. One of my young students summed up, better than I ever could, why we love sailing in Spectacular.

I can't help laughing at my own bad luck at racing. Even when I do well something like a Broken Gooseneck will conspire to rob me of victory. But most of the time I only have myself to blame such as in Duck or Dead Squirrel.
In spite of my overall clumsiness and stupidity at this sport, once in a blue moon it all comes together and I have a good day as I did at The Regatta.

This is mainly a sailing blog but occasionally I write about my former life of work and my running; both made an appearance in Fruit of the Loom. This time of year (winter) it's all about frostbiting; and New Year's Day will see me back sailing again amidst the snow and ice as excitement mounts for the start of another year of sailing and blogging.

Friday, December 30, 2005

100 Things About Me

1. I'm always late into any trend. This 100 Things meme started in 2002 or perhaps earlier.
2. I can trace my ancestors back to the 16th century when they were farmers in the English county of Rutland.
3. I used to be Laser fleet captain at Rutland Sailing Club.
4. My grandmother was married in India - but not to my grandfather.
5. Three of my grandparents worked for the London and North-Eastern Railway company.
6. I hate brussel sprouts.
7. One of my uncles was a champion swimmer.
8. I learned to kayak in the Boy Scouts.
9. I went to the same high school as Isaac Newton. They thought he was dumb and I was smart. (They were wrong.)
10. When I was a kid, a friend and I made a pipe bomb and exploded it. (I told you they were wrong.)

11. I also went to the same high school as Margaret Thatcher. It is a school for girls. I am not a girl.
12. At school I taught myself Russian for fun.
13. The college I attended was built 50 years before Columbus sailed to America.
14. At college I taught myself to program for fun.
15. I met my future wife at a fancy dress party.
16. I do believe in love at first sight.
17. In retrospect Russian and programming weren't that much fun.
18. I have only played my guitar in public once, when I won first prize in a classical guitar competition.
19. My 21st birthday present from my parents was a camera which I later dropped of a cliff.
20. I will play for gumbo.

21. I programmed the Y2K bug.
22. I didn't learn to sail until I was in my 30s.
23. I have skied on three continents.
24. I have never broken a bone in my body.
25. I have never broken a bone in anyone else's body.
26. I have broken a Laser mast and a Laser boom.
27. I once gave a speech in Brussels that was simultaneously translated into several languages.
28. I learned to sail on the Spanish island of Menorca.
29. I bought my sons' first Optimist from a man who had won a silver medal for sailing at the Olympics.
30. My wife has won every race in which she has sailed.

31. I sailed in the Sunfish World Championships in the Dominican Republic.
32. During the free rum night at a Sunfish North Americans I was elected to the Sunfish class board of directors without my knowledge.
33. I hate meetings but I like rum.
34. I once tried to test my own IQ but I was off the scale.
35. I always forget to put the toilet seat down.
36. I was once on the race committee at a Laser North American Championship.
37. Briefs. Not boxers.
38. I ran my first marathon at the age of 56.
39. I used to own a house that was over 300 years old and that previously belonged to David Niven's mother-in-law.
40. I am not allowed to donate blood in the United States because they think I might have mad cow disease.

41. I sailed in the Laser Masters Worlds in Cadiz, Spain.
42. I don't feel that my marriage is threatened by Elton John.
43. I started a junior Sunfish series.
44. When I retired after 30 years service with a stuffy, old-fashioned corporation I gave a speech at my retirement party on the theme of "Good times and riches and sonofabitches" while wearing a parrothead hat.
45. I started a Laser fleet.
46. My favorite animal is a llama.
47. I founded an annual Laser regatta.
48. I don't floss.
49. I have never owned a boat longer than 14 feet.
50. My boomerang won't come back.

51. I spent 3 summers teaching kids to sail Sunfish.
52. I have eaten swan, crocodile, snake and emu.
53. I spent 3 summers teaching kids to sail Optimists.
54. There's a guy in Canada with the same name as me who makes sculptures out of used car parts.
55. I am a US Sailing Level 2 Coach.
56. I have owned orange, white, blue, green and teal boats but never owned a yellow boat.
57. My sister is a Quaker.
58. At one stage I owned 6 boats at the same time.
59. I sailed in the Sunfish Worlds in Colombia.
60. I once tried to learn Spanish but I can't roll my r's.

61. I sailed in the Laser Masters Worlds in Cancun, Mexico.
62. I used to grind my teeth in my sleep. Now I do it when I'm awake.
63. I used to write a sailing column for a local newspaper.
64. I hate broccoli.
65. I drink white wine, red wine, beer, whisky, rum and brandy.
66. I prefer climbing a mountain to walking a city street.
67. My favorite spectator sport is baseball.
68. My Myers Briggs personality type is INTJ.
69. I am bad at small talk.
70. I've always wanted to learn how to spell Connecticut.

71. I don't like the taste of gin.
72. I like fruitcake.
73. I think that the drinking age should be 16 and that the driving age should be 21.
74. I have seen the Great Wall of China.
75. My favorite amendment is the First.
76. The Fourth is cool too.
77. My favorite TV show is West Wing (series 1 to 4).
78. I always eat all the food on my plate.
79. I like my car to be neat but my desk is untidy.
80. I am not obsessive (much).

81. I have the same birthday as George Walker Bush.
82. I have never owned a pet.
83. I've lived in the same house for 16 years and feel like it's time to move.
84. People say I look like my father.
85. I read and eat very fast.
86. I run and sail very slowly.
87. I hate Halloween.
88. I cannot sing.
89. There is a sign over my desk that says "I'd rather be sailing".
90. Don't blame me, I didn't vote for him.

91. Bad things happen to people that are mean to me.
92. I once won an award for rifle shooting.
93. I used to be very shy but I've mostly got over that. Now I'm just antisocial.
94. People think I'm arrogant. I'm not. I'm just smarter than you.
95. My wife says I'm more mellow than I used to be. It's not difficult.
96. I have a very strong sense of direction.
97. I hate asking for directions.
98. I wore a tie on Xmas day for the first time in over a year.
99. I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, "Cheat the Nursing Home. Die on your Laser."
100. I have discovered that one of the greatest joys in life is to see your grandchild's first smile.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Boxing Day

Forget the Sydney-Hobart Race.

These kids in England were having more fun than the Aussie millionaires on the day after Xmas with their home-made model yachts at the Setley Cup Model Boat Race.

Full details on the Yachts and Yachting website.

Blog Design Mistakes (continued)

Continuing yesterday's post about The Top Ten Blog Design Mistakes and how this blog measures up to these standards ...

Mistake #4 in Jakob Nielsen's view is "Links Don't Say Where They Go" like this one and this and somewhere else. I see his point. As he says, "Life is too short to click on an unknown." I hope I don't do this too often, though I probably am guilty of the occasional obscure link. I promise to do better in 2006. (Hope you liked my very accurate description of my link to yesterday's post in my opening sentence, Dr Nielsen?)

Mistake #5 is "Classic Hits are Buried". Nielsen recommends that the reader of a blog should have some "easy way to navigate to pieces with lasting value for readers outside your fan base". Ha ha. That assumes that the blogger in question has written something of "lasting value" and not just several years worth of self-obsessed drivel. This a highly dubious proposition for many blogs.

For example, what would be the classic hits in Change is Good which is simply an account of the loose change that the guy picks up off the ground? He's been doing it since 1998 and has been blogging about it since September 2003. Classic Hits? Would it be the post about the day he found a Canadian penny, or one of his fascinating This Day in Change Quest History posts or perhaps the day last week when he was "batting for the cycle with three quarters, four dimes, one nickel and twenty-six pennies."

But seriously folks, maybe our friend Jakob has a point here. From the sitemeter stats I see I do get a fair amount of hits from new readers every day and some of them do stay and poke around a few pages for a while. I think I can find a way to provide them with easy access to a range of posts that will give them a good sample of what I write and allow them to decide whether they ever want to come back.

Sin #6 is "The Calendar is the Only Navigation" in which the dear doctor pleads for sensible use of categories, a feature not supported by Blogger. Not much I can do about that without manually preparing some kind of index to the blog, but that doesn't sound like much fun. Any suggestions?

Indictment #7 is "Irregular Publishing Frequency". Nielsen recommends establishing a regular publishing frequency and sticking to it. On the other hand he says you shouldn't post when you have nothing to say. I know he's right. The blogs I check every day are those where I know I am going to see something new every day. In this blog I am trying to post something of interest every weekday at least. But it's tough. Sometimes I run out of new sailing topics and end up blogging about blogging. (Like now.) Or running. Or my new grandaughter. (Can I show you some pictures?)

And there tucked away at #8 on Dr Nielsen's list is "Mixing Topics". Ahah. The heart of the matter. Whether to write about anything and everything that a blogger finds of interest in his or her daily life. Or stick to some specialized niche such as "coins I found behind the vending machine in the office". Defining the focus of this blog more clearly is something I want to do. And it's a subject for another post on another day ...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Top Ten Blog Design Mistakes

Almost the end of the year, so time for some reflection and rethinking of my blog. It's almost 11 months since I started the beast so it's a good time to take a step back and examine what I'm doing right, what I'm doing wrong and what needs to change.

As a first step I took a look at Weblog Usability: The Top Ten Design Mistakes by Jakob Nielsen. Yikes. I'm in bad shape. On this scale I'm absolutely positively 100% guilty as charged on four felony indictments and kinda sorta strongly suspected of committing three more crimes; but I can definitely see reasonable doubt on two charges and hope I can be acquitted on a technicality on one count. Where's Mark Geragos when I need him?

OK. First the technicality. Nielsen's mistake #9 is "Forgetting you are writing for your future boss". I see his point. Some of the stuff in blogs would be highly embarrassing if dredged up from the Internet archives in five or ten years by a potential hiring manager. Need to watch out for politically incorrect language etc. Oops. Yesterday I used the B word to describe a female character in a novel. Try explaining that to some corporate human resources feminazi at an interview. Oops. There I go again. The technicality is that I am retired and don't plan to need a future boss. If I do work at all it's likely to be as a temporary sailing instructor or something similar and (a) since when was colorful language a disqualifier for sailing jobs and (b) what chance is there that your average yacht club is going to do that intensive a background search? Not guilty your honor.

Then we have mistake #10: Having a Domain Name Owned by a Weblog Service. OK. I have to plead guilty on this one. But why is this such a big deal? Nielsen appears to have two objections. Firstly he says that using a free weblog service like Blogger means that someone else "owns your destiny on the Internet" and then goes on to paint a scary future of degraded service quality and various "user-repelling advertising techniques" that the weblog service owner might impose on you. OK Jakob, life is full of risks, but I'll live with this one. Nielsen's second reason for disdaining the use of a domain name such as is that it is "the mark of a naive beginner who shouldn't be taken too seriously", the equivalent of having an email address. Hey Jakob, enough with the cyber snobbery. And by the way, please don't take me seriously, whatever you do. Geeze this is a blog, not the New York Times. (And lately a lot of folk aren't taking the Times all that seriously either.)

Then my lawyer will quickly move for dismissal of the first two charges, No Author Biography and No Author Photo. OK, the bio may me brief and the photo may be fuzzy but they are there. They may not be all that effective in building trust and credibility which is why Nielsen thinks they are important. But I hope that they provide some kind of image of a real person behind the words.

And now the jury must consider charge #3, Nondescript Posting Titles. According to Nielsen, "Users must be able to grasp the gist of an article by reading its headline. Avoid cute or humorous headlines that make no sense out of context." Ohoh. I'm in deep doodoo on this one. From Where do flies go in the winter? to More Dead Squirrels I am the captain of cute, the numero uno of nonsense when it comes to post titles. I thought it added to the humor of the post but apparently it's a no-no. But please note Doctor Nielsen, I have reformed; see the very informative (and boring) title of this post. But can I be relied upon not to backslide into my old ways?

Enough for one day. Court is in recess. Tomorrow the jury considers the most serious charges.

Monday, December 26, 2005


My younger son gave me the "Boat Whisperer" for Xmas - two DVDs of Laser sailing instruction, although I haven't had a chance to study them in detail yet. (If Grandad sits in the corner staring intently at his laptop computer with headphones on his head, looking like a 1950s radio ham, he is not exactly contributing to the family's enjoyment of the Xmas spirit.) But, on initial examination, they appear to be a pair of excellent training videos presented by someone who is not only a champion sailor but is also an articulate teacher, Steve Cockerill of Rooster Sailing fame.

But Steve, why oh why did you choose that cheesy title? You admit on the video that Boat Whisperer is a reference to horse whisperers, those gifted people who know how to make horses do what they don't want to do. But for me, the title will always remind me of the book and movie of that name.

Prior to this year, I had managed to avoid the "Horse Whisperer". (Always thought novels about horses were for girls.) And as for movies with no action and a past-his-sell-by-date pretty boy like Eastwood or Redford playing some laconic dude who for mysterious reasons totally unrelated to his non-existent personality is incredibly attractive to a lonely middle-aged woman ... Pardon me while I throw up.

But for our long drive to Florida in April to attend the Rick White Sailing Seminar, my wife and I decided to grab some audio books to while away the long hours in the car. So I picked up some tapes from the library and threw in one chick flick tape to balance out the five male oriented spy and action novel tapes that I borrowed for myself. That's the kind of guy I am!

For anyone in the western world who hasn't yet succumbed to the megahype around the Horse Whisperer phenom, the plot is basically about a spoilt teenage New York City little princess who causes terrible injuries to herself and her horse in a riding accident, after which she is dragged to Marlboro country by her tightly wound over ambitious mother who is trying to persuade some cowboy equine Zen master with a talent for dobbin lingo to cure the, by now, totally psychotic horse. The mother is a self-absorbed bitch, the kid is a whining brat and the horse is just asking for a massive dose of sodium pentobarbital. Yee-haw.

OK - I won't reveal the rest of the plot except to say that it fills up six whole cassette tapes and not a hell of a lot actually happens. I-95 never seemed to be quite so long before.

In spite of the title, I do plan to study the DVDs in depth; I am hoping they will help with my ambition in 2006 finally to master sailing in waves. That is if I can ever get the discs back from son #1 who is currently behaving antisocially by ignoring the rest of the family while he stares intently at Boat Whisperer on his laptop, headphones jammed on his head looking like a 50s radio ham ...

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Excitement Mounts

The excitement is mounting. Only nine days to go until the yachting world's premier event, the regatta of the year, the big one ...

No, I'm not talking about the Sydney to Hobart Race, the next leg of the Volvo Ocean circus or whatever "act" is planned next in the endless America's Cup merry-go-round. We are talking about the 24th Annual Hangover Bowl at Cedar Point YC in Westport, Connecticut. Forget about your Melges 24's and your IACC yachts, your professional drivers and your over-coached kiddie sailors. According to the Notice of Race this event is only for "Laser sailors with pale face, haggard eyes, shuffling walk". With the first start at noon on New Year's Day it's pretty certain that I'll qualify.

And don't worry about any of those fancy handicapping rules, IRC, Americap, PHRF or whatever. The Hangover Bowl evens up the chances for everyone by using the WICB system, That is the Winner (of each race) Immediately Chugs a Beverage from the RC boat. It's amazing how quickly the alcohol works through the bloodstream to the brain when exercising in cold weather. I defy anyone to win more than 3 races under these rules.

And the Hangover Bowl doesn't have any of those pretentious European sponsors such as Louis Vuitton, Volvo or Rolex. You know they only sponsor sailing events because their corporate PR departments think it's the best way to persuade us rich American yachties to forget our natural prejudice against Euro-trash trinkets. Who, except an ex-hippie eco-nut, needs some over-priced solid metal box heavy with headlights and crumple zones plastered with stickers saying "Visualize World Peace" and "McGovern for President"? And why pay $3000 for a clunky yellow metal watch even if it is waterproof to 30,000 feet and will tell you the time accurate to a thousandth of a second in 27 timezones when you can buy one that looks just as good for $25 on any street corner in Manhattan?

No, the Hangover Bowl is sponsored, quite appropriately, by Depot Liquor - purveyor of fine products appreciated by every red-blooded American sailor such as Scotch whisky, Caribbean rum and Swedish vodka. As you may have guessed Depot Liquor donate the major prizes for this regatta which is why it is always contested so fiercely.

And forget about your studying your highbrow tactics and strategy books. They won't help you at all in the Hangover Bowl. Gary Jobson has never written on the best approach to starting the "Windward/Leeward or Leeward/Windward Race" where every sailor in the fleet has the choice on whether to cross the (same) start line going upwind or downwind. And you'll never find any advice in Stuart Walker's collected works on strategic options for the infamous "Come within Chug" race where, on the first downwind leg, you have to sail close enough to the committee boat to catch a beverage, drink the beverage, and deposit the empty can back in the committee boat on your way back upwind. (While 30 other hung over Laser sailors are simultaneously attempting the same feat.)

And these are only two of the diabolically ingenious races born
from the fertile imaginations of the (equally hung over) race committee in previous years. God only knows what they will dream up this year.

So, all you New England sailors, recover your wetsuit from wherever you dumped it at the end of last season. (Your nose will guide you.) Find someone to lend you a Laser. (Hey, there are over 185,000 of them out there somewhere and at least 184,970 of their owners are too chicken to attempt yachting's ultimate challenge.) And set your alarm clock.

The 2006 sailing season starts in 8 days and 22 hours. Be there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Regatta Images

For those of you without access to Google Earth, here are some screenshots of the regatta on San Francisco Bay that I wrote about yesterday.

First just to orient you to the location, here is a view from about 17,000 ft. Berkeley Yacht Harbor is on the right of the picture and the yachts in question are the little dots
just to the north-east of the compass rose, about two and a half miles from the harbor entrance.

Zooming in to 2800 ft, here is a closer view of the race. There seem to be at least two different classes of boat.

From closer in, and a different angle. The boats in the center of the picture appear to be rounding a gybe mark. But where are the boats on the left going?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sailing Regatta on Google Earth

Ever since I first discovered Google Earth I've been wondering whether it shows, anywhere in the world, a regatta actually in progress. Last night I found a post on the Google Earth Community with a placemark that is believed to be a regatta on San Francisco Bay. Check it out. If you don't have Google Earth you can download it here.

But can anyone provide any more details as to what we are actually looking at here? Class of boat? Event? What the course is? Is it actually a race in progress? I know at least one of my regular readers sails this area. Comments please.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Xmas Day Racing Fix

If you are one of those sailors who are always complaining that our sport doesn't get enough media coverage, then I have a Xmas present for you. will be providing three hours of live streaming audio coverage on the web of the start of the Sydney Hobart Race. The broadcast will run from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm Eastern Summer Time (Australia) on December 26th. If my calculations at time and are correct, this translates to 7:30pm EDT on December 25th in the Eastern US.

So give the kids their presents on Xmas morning, cook and eat your Xmas dinner in plenty of time, then gather the family around the computer for an evening of sailing entertainment.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Santa Speedo Run

Most of my family think I'm crazy for running a marathon. But it could be worse. These guys ran around Boston Common wearing Speedos and Santa Hats on Saturday.

Now that's crazy.

More info and pictures at Santa Speedo Run.

Tear Down That Wall

After a week of posting stories about my incompetence, stupidity and bad luck as a sailor, please allow me to indulge myself in a post of shameless self-congratulation.

On Saturday I ran 28 miles and I felt great. This was the final long run of my marathon race preparation program for the Disney World Marathon on January 8. What I'm really excited about is that, once and for all, I have proved to myself that the fabled "wall" experienced by marathon runners can be avoided. I know. I did it.

Sara Latta has a good description of hitting the wall.

"The Wall." It evades easy definition, but to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of obscenity, you know it when you see it — or rather, hit it. It usually happens around mile 20, give or take a couple of miles. Your pace slows, sometimes considerably. Some runners say that it feels as though their legs had been filled with lead quail shot, like the stomach of Mark Twain'’s unfortunate jumping frog of Calaveras County. Others can'’t feel their feet at all. Thought processes become a little fuzzy. ("“Mile 22, again? I thought I just passed mile 22!"”) Muscle coordination goes out the window, and self-doubt casts a deep shadow over the soul.

For those interested, Latta's article goes on to discuss the various physiological and psychological explanations for the wall. I certainly know that it's real. I experienced it in my first running of the Disney World Marathon this year and also in my previous long training run of 26 miles.

The advice from the
experts on how to avoid the wall is simple. Don't run too fast at the start of the marathon. And do long runs in training.

Last year the longest run I did in training was 20 miles. This year I have done 20, 23, 26, and now 28, mile training runs. The body does adapt. It's really not surprising that, if your longest training run is 20 miles, and then you go out and try and run as fast as you can in a marathon your body is going to run out of energy at ... duh, 20 miles maybe?

And on Saturday I started the run really reeeallly sloooooowwwlllllly. I was running on a course of 4 miles. So every 4 miles I was back at my car where I could take a drink and eat a snack. I recorded the times it took me to run each 4 miles. And I was able to achieve a slow, consistent increase in pace over the whole 28 miles. Every 4 mile split was faster than the previous one.

For the first 20 miles I felt like I was holding back. Never pushing the pace. Telling myself, "Relax. Hold Back. Take it easy." I was thinking I wanted to arrive at the 20 mile mark with something left in the tank. Then, after 20 miles, I allowed myself to stretch out and increase the pace. I ran the last 4 miles about 2 minutes per mile faster than the first 4 miles. I imagined myself running the last couple of miles through Epcot, seeing the crowds, passing other runners, powering across the finish line ...
Man if felt good!

So I've busted the myth. I've proved to myself that I can train my body to store enough glycogen in my muscles to give me the ability to run well past 20 miles. And I've learned how to pace myself to save enough energy for those last 6.2 miles.

I just hope I can achieve the same on race day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

More Dumb Mistakes

The wonderful thing about sailing is that, even after racing for 25 years, I am still finding new ways to lose races. They say that we learn from our mistakes so it's exceptionally rewarding to be having so many learning experiences from which I can improve my performance in such a multitude of diverse areas. Yeah right!

Sunday was an outstanding educational adventure. After discovering 10 different ways to screw up a start and learning of something else that can go wrong at a windward mark rounding, I managed to devise two totally novel methods of dropping about ten places in a race in as many seconds ...

I have mentioned before that racing in a large fleet on small courses creates huge crowds of boats at starts, finishes and mark roundings. And that one of the key skills in such situations is to be able to think ahead and anticipate what the herd is going to do. It sounds easy but on Sunday a combination of a 3-week layoff with no racing and perhaps the cold affecting my brain caused me to make a couple of massive mental errors.

First goof. I'm coming down the right side of the run. There's a leeward gate and I'm thinking of rounding the right-hand mark (looking downwind). I'm determined to sail the run in clear air and be on the inside at the mark so I'm to the right of most boats around me. So far so good. There's a woman sailor in the fleet who's about the same standard as me and she's even further out to the right. The old testosterone kicks in and starts telling the brain, "What's going on buddy? You're getting beat by a girl! Gotta do something. Where's your male pride?" So I luff up a bit and try and get to the right of her. After a while she concedes defeat and heads back to the middle of the course. Ha. No girlie's going to beat me today. I gybe on to port and start my approach to the mark.

The leaders of the fleet are now rounding the right hand gate mark. Yikes. Looks like there's been a big shift (to the right looking upwind). They're heading up the beat on a much higher angle than I had anticipated. So now there's a gazillion boats beating on starboard tack in a continuous line. A line that I have to cross to get to the correct side of the mark. And they all have right of way over me. I have nowhere to go. Nothing to do except wait until the line clears. This happens after only twenty or so boats go by. Including, of course, the aforementioned female sailor whose brain has not been affected by the freezing temperature or testosterone poisoning and who is now about ten places ahead of me.

Goof number two. Our frostbite fleet has changed the way we set up the finish lines this year. We used to have a combined start/ finish line about a third of the way up the beat. This works well except that with a large fleet the line was much longer than needed for finishes. And, more importantly, the RC had to wait for every boat to finish a race before they could readjust the angle of the start line for the next race. So this year we are setting up a short finish line to starboard of the committee boat. This generally works well but does create one new tactical situation that I accidentally discovered on Sunday.

I have a good race and am coming in to the finish on port tack at the port (RC boat) end of the line. So far so good. I've been having a tussle all race with one of my fellow grandmaster sailors and we rounded the last mark close together. But he went out to the right side of the final beat and looks to be approaching the starboard (pin) end of the line on starboard tack. Looks like I'm ahead of him and I squeeze past the committee boat on port tack, get my bow across the line and they call my number.

Then I hear my aged friend screaming starboard as he heads straight at me from the other end of the line. Now if this was a normal finish line with a small buoy at the port end I would tack and be out of his way in no time. But there's a very solid, very large committee boat to my left; not to mention an anchor line beyond that. Once again I am trapped with nowhere to go. I can't tack. I luff a bit but that doesn't achieve much. He screams, "Protest!" OK. OK. No need to sound so pleased about it.

My brain is still a bit frozen so I try to remember the rules. Can he protest me if I've actually finished? I'm pretty sure he can. Definition of Racing says that I'm still racing until I've cleared the finish line and marks which I clearly haven't done yet. Big sigh. Another major mental blunder. Drift back. Clear the line. Do penalty turn. Watch ten boats go by in the process. Cross the finish line. Hear the race officer call my number. Did he have to add that sarcastic "again" after my number?

Aaahhh. Education. Can't beat it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Dead Squirrels

Thanks to Sailing Anarchy for this photo taken shortly after the start of a race at the Melges 24 Worlds. Looks like a few of the boats were trying for that elusive squirrel start.

The boat on port tack USA 551 looks to have pulled off a great start at the boat end of the line. But there are three other boats milling around to starboard of the committee boat that totally mistimed it. Good to see that even the professionals can screw up the way I do. Occasionally.

Photo credit Tim Wilkes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

River Rat

Check out RiverRat. It's an attempt by a group of MIT students to build a "lightweight, robust, real-time, tracking system for up to 30 boats". The idea is to make college sailboat racing more interesting for spectators and also to allow for post-race analysis.

The system seems like a small-scale version of Virtual Spectator as now being applied to the Volvo Ocean Race. But it's not clear from this website what actually happened to the project. The team built some prototypes and did some testing but after that the record, at least on their website, peters out.

Now if we had this system for Laser frostbiting I could really see all the different ways I screwed up on Sunday!

Curses! Foiled Again

So there I am working my way nicely up the right side of the course. Managed to pull off the perfect squirrel start, tacked on to port and have a nice clear lane with nobody to leeward. I can foot off as fast as I want until I hit the first shift about three-quarters of the way up the beat. I tack back on to starboard and life is good.

There's a crowd of boats close to the port tack layline but I'm crossing almost all the boats in the middle of the course. I keep looking upwind to check out the position of the windward mark. A few boats manage to cross me but I'm definitely going to be in the top five at the mark.

About fifteen boatlengths shy of the port tack layline I tack back on to port for my final approach. There are some boats coming in from the right that look like they've overstood a tad, so I tack on to the starboard tack layline a bit below them.

Hmmm. Maybe I'm just a little below the layline? No worries. Keep sailing fast and I'll be able to shoot the mark. The boats that overstood are reaching in to the mark and are now ahead of me and to windward. I can still lay the mark. It's going to be tight but I can make it.

OK. Here we go. Just about to luff up and round the mark. Wham. The idiot ahead and to windward has capsized and his mast is now completely blocking my path around the buoy. I have nowhere to go and have to gybe below the mark and head back down the line of starboard tackers to find a gap.

Deja vu all over again. This is impossible. In a fleet this large and this competitive, the top twenty or so boats form a solid wall of starboard tackers on the layline. Eventually I find a gap and am able to tack back on to starboard and round the mark.

Much gnashing of teeth and beating of breast. Even when I sail well I still get screwed through someone else's mistake.

Oh well. Got to forget about it. Now let's see if I can catch some rides on these waves without using my rudder to steer.

Wave to windward. Heel to leeward, sheet in, flatten boat. Whooooooo. That was good.

Wave to leeward. Heel to windward. Keep sail trimmed. Release sheet. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

What was the adverb that Scrivan used to describe this technique in those words of wisdom? Gracefully? Oh well, I can try for gracefully next time. For now, life is good.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Dead Squirrel

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about starting tactics. In a comment on that post Litoralis suggested that I try "squirrel starts". He talked about a fellow college sailor who "would line up at the starboard end of the line just downwind and outside the committee boat about one minute before the start. As the boats on the line started to accelerate for the start an opening would typically open up just to leeward of the committee boat. The key would be to time the approach so as to reach the line at full speed right where the hole had appeared."

So while Litoralis was sitting by his fireside, I tried some squirrel starts in the Laser frostbite racing on Sunday.

Wow. What a great technique. It works perfectly except when ...

1. The tide is running towards the right end of the start line and creating a pack of boats jammed up against the committee boat.

2. The starboard end of the line is significantly favored and all the best sailors in the fleet are trying for that perfect start right next to the committee boat.

3. The pin end of the line is significantly favored so most of the fleet is down near the pin and are already several boatlengths ahead of anyone starting at the boat end.

4. Your approach to that perfect hole by the boat is too far below the layline so you end up luffing too much and can't get in the hole.

5. Your approach to the hole is too high so someone else screaming, "No barging!!!" luffs you the wrong side of the committee boat.

6. Some idiot who forgot that the "round the ends" rule was in effect tries to duck back across the line on port tack a few boatlengths away from the committee boat with the result that, even though you do get a perfect squirrel start, a few seconds after the start the three boats to leeward of you go head to wind or even try to tack to avoid the aforementioned idiot and meanwhile some slower hopeful squirrel is now on your windward quarter so you can't tack so you end up going head to wind too and watching the rest of the fleet sail off into the sunset.

7. You get a perfect squirrel start but the RC signals a general recall.

8. There's a boat sitting right next to the committee boat but you do get a perfect start in the hole to leeward of him but he crosses the line early and doesn't sheet in very fast either so you make contact and although he's OCS and has fouled you and has to go back and restart and do turns he has still managed to screw up your start.

9. The top three sailors in the fleet all decide to try for a squirrel start too and are all to leeward of you and shouting, "Go up. Go up." And you end up head to wind staring at the transom of the committee boat as they all accelerate and start the race in your hole.

10. You're lined up for a perfect squirrel start just waiting for that gap to appear and just as it starts to open some former Olympic campaigner who was to windward of you somehow accelerates through a gap between you and the transom of the committee boat that you are sure was no more than 6 inches wide and blasts away to start the race in your hole.

Yeah Litoralis. Apart from those ten situations it worked perfectly every time. Meaning that for me on Sunday it worked perfectly once.

And if I hadn't got into that incident at the windward mark I might have won the race. But that's another story for another day ...

Monday, December 12, 2005


Sunday morning at the yacht club. I had my snow shovel in the car in case I needed to dig my boat out of the snow.

In the end I didn't need my shovel to dig my boat out, but I did need it to chip the frozen ice/snow mix off my boat cover. At home we had had about 8-10 inches of fluffy stuff. But 90 miles away at the yacht club they must have had freezing rain at the end of the storm. My Laser cover was so solid and heavy I couldn't lift it. A few minutes of scraping with the shovel solved the problem.

The guy at the next boat wasn't so lucky. His cover must have been porous. His cockpit was full of ice and he spent a few minutes scraping that out. Then he had another problem. His mast step was full of ice. He chipped away with a screwdriver without much effect for a few minutes until I suggested he try pouring hot water in the step. That eventually fixed it.

After rigging the boat I changed into my sailing gear. Thick thermal underwear. A pair of fleece pants. A polyester rugby shirt. A fleece top. Two pairs of socks. Drysuit. Hiking boots. Rubber gloves with glove liners. Ski hat. Life jacket. Ready.

It was sunny with around 8 knots of wind when we launched. Almost 40 boats for the first race. After an hour or so the sun went behind the clouds and the wind picked up to 15 knots. The sea was almost black. The sky was gray. The beaches were white. (Not sand.)

My feet were cold. My hands were cold. After 3 or 4 races the fleet began to dwindle as people bailed out. My face was cold where it was splashed by the waves. People started to get tired and made mistakes. There were more capsizes. By the last race there were only around 20 boats. My arms were aching. At last the RC announced, "The last race of the fall season will be a Harry Anderson course." I finished the race and sailed back to the beach.

I dragged my boat up the beach and through the snow back to the car. Always the hardest part of the day. Took off my gloves so I could untie the knots and derig the boat. Tipped the water out of the mast step. (Learn from others mistakes.) Put the boat away, took off my drysuit and went into the clubhouse. Pizza hadn't arrived yet. Decided to drive straight home.

Turned on the car heater (and the seat heater) full blast. Played a CD of island songs. Tried to think about warm weather. Slowly thawed.

After driving for an hour, I noticed that the tips of my fingers were still numb. Is that a bad thing? Is that why they call it frostbiting?

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Sailors have a language all of their own. I'm not talking about all that technical jargon that we use to intimidate newcomers to the sport. No, I mean those, let's say, "colorful" words that we use in moments of stress or when we want to emphasize a point.

The author of notes from a very small island, hobbes,
wrote a very funny account back in July about that "helpful sailing terminology of the type that sometimes gets thrown around in our boat or in brothels when things get exciting."

And, of course, if you are daring enough to frequent the Sailing Anarchy forums then you will soon learn all the special words you will need as a sailor.

But in reading bviemma's story about sailing in the Laser Radial Worlds I came across an expression that was new to me. On Wednesday she reported that she "did pants" and at the end of the regatta she told the world that her "result was pants".

Huh? Pants? Where does that come from?

A quick google identified that this is one of those examples where as George Bernard Shaw put it, "England and America are one country divided by a common language". The point being of course that it's not a common language at all.

So, back to pants. Apart from the difference in meaning of this word when used in polite company in the UK and USA, a number of websites report that during the 90s a new meaning of the word crept into British slang. As an adjective or a noun, "pants" can apparently mean rubbish, bad, total crap ...

Wikipedia adds the fascinating cultural footnote that "this usage gained wider attention when it came to light that the then Prime Minister John Major
tucked his shirt into his underpants."

What? It must be true. It's in Wikipedia.

So when Emma says she "did pants" it means, I assume, that her sailing performance did not match up to her expectations.

Of course, Emma does not live in the USA or the UK. So I am just guessing that British slang is more prevalent in the BVI that it is in the USA. But be careful, Emma. That utterly reliable source Wikipedia also tells us that "in Canadian drug use slang, pants can sometimes be a codeword for heroin."

So now you know.

I'm going sailing tomorrow. Hope I don't do pants.

BVI Emma

The Laser Radial World Championships in Brazil have just finished. Congratulations to Paige Railey of USA and Eduardo de Magalhaes Couto of Brazil on their victories in the Women's and Men's divisions respectively.

By all accounts the Women's Radial class has become extremely competitive since it was announced that the Radial will be the Women's Single-handed boat at the Olympics in 2008. By winning the Worlds, Railey has established herself as the leading contender for the US spot at the Olympics and for the gold medal in China. (But there are still three years to go.)

A few of the competitors at the Radial Worlds have blogs. For the top sailors with their near full-time
campaigns and sponsorship deals, a website and/or a blog is almost essential for keeping their supporters informed of their activities.

And so am I pleased to announce that, after intensive review and much discussion, the judges have awarded the Tillerman 2005 Radial Worlds Grand Prize for the Best Blog of the Worlds to ...

Emma Paull of the British Virgin Islands for bviemma. Emma may not have finished at the top of the fleet but she certainly wrote the most vivid and personal blog of her experiences in Brazil.

Way to go Emma. Good luck with the sailing and keep writing the blog.

Friday, December 09, 2005


Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

All the books says cross-training is good for you. My marathon training program says I should be cross-training twice a week. it suggests cycling, cross-country skiing....

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

Ha! That's a joke. I'm not skiing until after the marathon. Not risking a twisted ankle or knee after months of training. And as for cycling? Today? No way.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

The roads are covered with ice and slush. Too dangerous to cycle. Or run. We had eight inches of snow last night. Which is why I'm out here shoveling the drive.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

It's light fluffy snow. So not too hard to shovel. But there's piles of it. And I have 6,000 square feet of drive to shovel.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

Yeah, yeah. I know. I should pay someone with a snow plow. Or buy a snow blower. Nobody else in this town shovels their own drive. But there's method in my madness.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

It's great cross-training you see. My sailing books say I should work out when I can't sail. They recommend running, cycling, weights ... But I'm doing it my way. Shoveling.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

Talking of sailing, this would be a fine day to be out in my Laser. It must be blowing 20 to 30 knots. The dry snow is swirling around and blowing back on to the parts of the drive that I've cleared. The sky is that perfect clear blue that you only see in the winter round here. (Too much haze and humidity, not to mention pollution in the Garden State in the summer.) Well, I would be sailing if it were 40 degrees warmer and the lake were not frozen and I didn't have to shovel this drive.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

This really is great exercise. Definitely aerobic. I'm breathing well and I can feel my heartbeat is faster than usual. I'm using all kinds of different muscles in my back and arms and shoulders. I'm sure they'll be used again when I'm sailing.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

I look up at the sky. We have five old oak trees and one elm on the property. Probably 50 to 60 feet tall. They are swaying wildly in the wind. It never ceases to amaze me how much a 4 feet wide trunk can stretch and bend.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

I stop and stretch every dozen or so shovels. I know from experience that this activity can easily pull a back muscle. Geeze, I actually missed a whole day's sailing one winter because of that. It's the last day of fall frostbiting on Sunday and I don't want to miss it. Take it easy. Have a stretch. Take a break.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

A truck with a plow arrives to clear my neighbor's drive. I try to ignore him. My other neighbor's handyman is shoveling her drive. I allow myself a feeling of smug superiority. These people think they are so smart. They pay someone hundreds of dollars a year to remove their snow. Then they pay private gym fees so they can get in their exercise. I am saving money two ways and getting my exercise for free.

Push. Lift. Throw. Grunt.

Afterwards I soak in the tub to ease all those aches and pains in my side and back and shoulders. Hope I'm OK for sailing on Sunday ..

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Silver Fleet Day Two

Continuing the story of my use of virtual coaching resources at CORK in 2001...

Monday: Silver Fleet Day 2. Winds are moderate from SW with some lighter patches. Before the races I experiment with different fore-aft trim on reaches looking at the wake. There’s definitely a critical point where the wake smoothes out if I get far enough forward.

In the races I’m working the boat through small waves on the beat with tiller movement. It seems as if on some beats I’m as fast as the boats around me but on others I seem to be underpowered. On the reaches I’m much faster than yesterday. Even though the winds are stronger I sit well forward with thigh next to centerboard and see other sailors near front of fleet doing the same. I pump on every likely wave. Today only one boat passes me on a reach all day (and that is the current series leader) and I gain distance on the boats behind me. Thanks coach. Results 9, 10 and 16. Now 14th overall.

Monday Evening. I have two questions for my coaches. Why does the boat feel slow on some beats in these marginal hiking conditions? And what can I do to avoid this pattern of my results getting steadily worse during each day?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Laser Girls Kick Ass

So what do you do when you are sailing in the World Championship of an Olympic class and you get black flagged? Tell the world in your blog, of course.

And what do you do when you are sailing in the same World Championship and you win a race? Blog it, of course.
Congratulations to Emma and Krystal.

Keep it coming ladies.

Silver Fleet Day One

Continuing the story of racing my Laser at CORK in 2001 ...

After all the study on heavy air technique on Saturday night, Sunday brings a light ENE wind. Before the racing I practice doing some windward mark roundings especially when approaching on port tack. I don'’t need a coach to tell me that hitting marks is not smart.

I get great starts in two of the three races. However I seem to be really slow on the reaches in the light stuff. Whether I go high with the majority of the fleet to protect my air or try and go low to take the shorter line to the mark, I'’m losing lots of places on the reaches. Results 12, 19 and 30 out of 46. 23rd overall.

Sunday Evening: I'’m disappointed at being so far back in the Silver Fleet and turn to my virtual coaches for advice. What am I doing wrong on the reaches? Is it how I'’m setting the sail controls? My tactics? My boat handling? All the coaching resources talk about the need to keep the body weight forward on light air reaches. I know that. I spent most of my summer shouting at kids in the beginner classes I teach to sit in the front of the cockpit. But in studying the CDs more closely I see that this is my actually my problem.

The SailCoach CD has some excellent video of Phillipe Bergmanns reaching in light air and I see he is actually sitting up next to the centerboard -– further forward than my normal position.

Steve Cockerill'’s CD has a great article on boat trim and the pithy advice of "“if you'’re comfortable you'’re not sitting far enough forward"”. He also talks about the need to check the smoothness of the wake off the transom. Hmmmm. Maybe I'’ve been doing it wrong all these years. I also take the opportunity to look at some great video clips on both CDs about how to use waves on the reaches.

Tomorrow's another day
. Maybe I'll do better.

Velocitek S3

I've been thinking for a while that it would be cool to have a GPS unit that displays my current and maximum speed while sailing my Laser. (For practice only of course; I'm sure such a gizmo would be illegal when racing.)

I just found the ideal gadget: the Velociteck S3. No other fancy GPS features, just a simple large digit speedo.

PS. If any friends or family are reading this please don't buy me this for Xmas. There is a 30 day return policy and I want to buy it at a time of year when I can give it a real workout and return it if I don't like it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wave Technique

First installment in my story about how I used some virtual Laser coaching resources at CORK in 2001.

Racing in the round-robin qualifiers on Saturday confirms my suspicion that I am seriously out of form. The southwest wind starts out at marginal hiking conditions and builds in strength over the day. At the start in the first race my timing is all off and I am squeezed out of the back of the fleet. Starts in the next two races are marginally better. But it doesn'’t help my performance to hit the windward mark twice during the day trying to tack around it after a port tack layline approach. But the most obvious weakness in technique is that I am not working the boat well through the waves on the beats. The final indignity is a death roll capsize on the run in the third race. At which point sailing back to the inviting shelter of nearby Portsmouth Harbor seems to make more sense than finishing the race. Oh well, I expected to be in the silver fleet anyway and now I am.

On Saturday evening there is plenty of stuff to review with my coaches. But I spend most of my time seeking their advice on how to work the boat through the waves upwind.

Steve Cockerill has a long article on his CD about upwind kinetics. He analyzes how rudder movements and body movements affect boat trim and shows a couple of video clips of bad hiking and kinetic techniques. Finally he has an 11 second clip of himself showing the recommended technique in smallish waves. Hmmm. Very analytical but a little difficult to see exactly how everything is meant to work together.

The SailCoach CD has an extensive range of video clips showing how to work the boat in a variety of wind and wave conditions. There are several minutes of video of Robert Scheidt, Ben Ainslie and Serge Kats from various angles -– above, behind, the side -– so I can see exactly how the tiller and body movement affect the movement of the boat in the waves. There is a good commentary explaining it all but, for me, it is the video images that really teach the technique. I play one of the clips of Scheidt several times and try to carry a visual memory of his technique.

Finally I consult the chapter
(written by Rod Dawson) on Straight Line Speed on the Beat, Reach and Run in Ben Tan'’s book”. There is a good short discussion on torqueing the boat through waves supported by two photos. But it is accompanied by the realistic advice that the technique requires a great deal of physical fitness and if you get it wrong you'’ll actually go slower. Rod'’s advice is to learn to hike flat-out first and then to torque the boat only on the bigger waves.

Let's see how all that helps in the real races in the silver fleet tomorrow ...

Lunatic Fringe

The Cedar Point Laser Fleet did sail on Sunday in spite of a morning snowfall.

In a post in the Laser Forum, Greg M notes that "it warmed up enough that the snow changed to freezing rain by the time we went out sailing".

Monday, December 05, 2005

CORK 2001

CORK is the Canadian Olympic training Regatta at Kingston. I had been reading about it for years in sailing magazines and books and had always imagined it as a high-powered event that all the Olympic hopefuls and other sailing superstars attend. Well, it is that. But it is also an exciting 2 week event in one of the best venues for sailing in North America held in August of every year for over 20 classes of boats. Including Lasers. And open to any entrants. So in 2001 I decided to do CORK.

Having not done much Laser sailing for a few years, I decided to use the regatta as a tune-up prior to getting back into the Laser scene. And to help me make the most of the time in Kingston I took along three top-notch coaches:– Trevor Millar, Steve Cockerill and Ben Tan.

To be honest, I didn'’t really hire these gentlemen to follow me around the course in coach boats. I took them along in “virtual” form. I bought the then recent book The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing edited by Ben Tan. And along with my trusty laptop I packed two CD-ROMs : LaserCoach 2000 from SailCoach Associates Ltd
(managing director Trevor Millar) and Rooster Single-Handed Sailing Techniques by Steve Cockerill. The idea I had was to identify each day any problems I experienced on the water, and to use the CDs and book in the evening to see if they could help me solve those problems.

A real live coach out on the water to point out my weaknesses and give me advice would have been the ideal. But I wondered if virtual coaches could be almost as effective. So I'm going to write a few posts this week about my experiences at CORK in 2001 and whether or not my virtual coaches helped me. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Sordid Tale Of Addiction

Another day for living slow instead of sailing fast. Hey - that's the dream and I'm living it my way.

Started fantasizing about what boat I'd sail If I wasn't hooked on Lasers. A friend sent me an email about his intention to buy an A-Cat. Noodled around the net and came across this story about one man's addiction to A-Cat sailing

Ahah! He may be on a different drug from me but I share his pain.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Last Sunday the winds were very light in south-east New England. The Sunfish frostbite fleet at Barrington decided that the wind speed was zero and didn't race at all. But the Newport Laser fleet convinced themselves that there actually was a wind of 2-4 knots and went out to race.

Here is part of the Words of Wisdom written after the racing by Dave Moffet.

I have always found the most important aspect of light air sailing is smooth boat handling and in order to have good handling you need to be dressed for flexibility. When it looked like the wind was going to stay light I took off the hiking pants and spray top. This allows you not only to move about easier, improving roll tacks and gybes but gives you a better feel for the boat and the wind and better ability to adjust your weight as the conditions require. No gloves, no hat, no dry suit just a wet suit and a good fitting life jacket.

What's the matter with this guy? Is he crazy? The temperature was at least 45 degrees. Surely he should have dispensed with the wetsuit too? And I hope he was sailing barefoot.

Seriously though, I am sure Dave has the right idea. Personally, when the temperature drops below 50 degrees I am inclined to the "better too hot than too cold" school. I wear plenty of layers under a drysuit. But I do feel like the Michelin man. (Probably look like him too). As a result I'm pretty clumsy in such conditions.

I do remember one October day a few years ago. The weather was cool and cloudy with light drizzle and light winds. I was wearing a shortie wetsuit and no hat; almost everyone else was bundled up in long wetsuits or drysuits, spray tops, warm hats, gloves, boots and so on. I had one of my best regattas ever, one of those rare days when I beat a bunch of guys that I had never beaten before (or since). I'm sure I sailed better because of the improved mobility and feel for the boat.

There's another factor too. The more bare skin, the more you are sensitive to the wind. I read somewhere that Dennis Conner always has a really short haircut before a major regatta so he can feel the windshifts better on the back of his neck.

Of course you could take this "maximize the area of naked flesh" thing too far ...

Friday, December 02, 2005


Carol Anne in a comment on my post yesterday, Winning, writes that I am getting "jaded".

Wow! I hope that's not the impression I'm creating. Perhaps it was only her reaction to that one post? I hope so. Because even my ramblings in Winning were meant to communicate that I derive immense pleasure from sailing -- and especially from racing -- but that the psychic rewards from winning races or regattas are actually very mild. It surprised me at first but it's true. At least it's true for me.

Winning was actually inspired by a chapter in a book I'm reading: Winning - The Psychology of Competition by Stuart Walker. In a chapter entitled The Joy of Victory, Walker discusses the different reactions that sailors have to winning and the psychological reasons for them. Apparently it's not at all uncommon for winning to deliver less satisfaction than the competitor might have expected. The idea struck a chord with me and stimulated to write yesterday's post.

Lest any other reader gets the idea that I am jaded about sailing, let me correct that belief right away. Even when the lakes are partly covered in ice and there's snow blowing in the wind I'll go sailing. I'll travel to the other side of the country to learn more about sailing. I'll even drive a couple of hundred miles to go racing in the fringes of a hurricane.

I get pumped up about sailing a Laser in heavy air and I can laugh at my attempts to master light air sailing in a Sunfish. I organized a totally new regatta on the program this year and derived immense pleasure from that and from sailing in it. (Winning that regatta was an unexpected bonus -- by no means the best thing that happened that day.)

I enjoy the banter and camaraderie with other sailors and even (occasionally) having fun at their expense with April Fool jokes in the newsletter I publish. Maybe I don't write as often as I should about the high I get from sailing. But I hope you know that I can have fun preparing for a regatta, tussling on the race course with an old rival or discovering a way to improve my racing performance.

Carol Anne advises me to get out and teach someone else to sail. Great advice. I've been doing that for many years including working four days a week as a sailing instructor for the last six summers. I especially enjoy teaching the younger kids, partly because they do exhibit such uninhibited joy in sailing. It's also very rewarding to introduce adults to the pleasures of racing. But it took a little kid to remind me that our sport truly is "spectacular".

More recently I've enjoyed sailing our Laser frostbite series and can even laugh at my disasters such as a major equipment failure and some awful tactics and boat-handling. The only days in the series I have missed are because of family events. However strong my passion for sailing, family does come first.

Perhaps Carol Anne's post was written tongue-in-cheek? I hope so. If she had seen me in my role as a new grandfather this week, "jaded" would be the last word she would choose to define me.

Stuart Walker should have the last word. He is wise enough to know that racing sailboats is about so much more than winning. Most of us rarely win; and even when we do it's only a tiny, tiny part of the rewards we receive from racing. He writes that "although winning is the object of the game, it is not the object of playing the game." Very true.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


How do you feel when you win a sailing race or regatta?

Satisfaction, joy, exultation, pride? You would think that any or all of these would be appropriate.

Me? I usually feel numb. Yes, numb.

Don't get me wrong. My brain isn't wired up in some bizarre way that I can't take pride in my own achievements. When I accomplished some academic or professional ambition, usually after years of hard work and often against tough competition, I was able to take pride in my achievement. I hope I was outwardly modest; but inwardly I would not be lacking in lashings of positive self-esteem.

And I can experience immense elation from an athletic achievement. When I ran my first marathon at the age of 56 I strutted around for days wearing a T-shirt saying: Disney World Marathon - I Did It.

Any regular reader of this blog knows that sailing is the passion of my life and gives me all sorts of satisfactions and pleasures. So what is wrong with me? Why does winning leave me cold? It's not as if I'm not trying to win.

I think it's because when I reflect realistically on why I have won there are two alternative explanations, neither of which is a reason for celebration.

If I have raced against people that I usually beat, then I expect to win. Where's the fun in that?

In the much, much more infrequent occasions
(perhaps three times in the last ten years) when I win a regatta by triumphing over sailors that usually beat me, I am not fooled. I did not suddenly become a better sailor. I either won because my opponents made crucial mistakes. (He failed to cover me on the final beat of the last race.) Or through luck. (I was finding streaks of wind in the middle of the course all day while the top guys were chasing each other up the side that was usually favored.)

The other reason why winning a sailing regatta doesn't deliver the same psychic reward as, say, the successful completion of a major, major project at work is obvious. Sailing isn't work. I don't work hard at sailing. Sailing is fun. If something good happens it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But not something in which I can take much pride because I haven't invested more than a few hours of effort in it.

So how do you feel when you win? Comments please.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


The Sailing Anarchy forums have a thread going about what those of us with less than perfect eyes need to do to be able to see properly when sailing. Prescription goggles, prescription sunglasses, contact lenses, LASIK surgery, PRK surgery, beer goggles, blow-up condoms over your head ...

OK. No more. But you get the picture. Any topic can get a bit wild and woolly over there.

The discussion reminded me of a little piece of wisdom I learned on this topic a few years back. I was sailing my Laser at CORK. In the silver fleet of course. Never have been able to qualify for the gold fleet. Not yet anyway.

It was a crazy windy day. Over 20 knots steady and more in the gusts. We were sailing big trapezoid courses. Coming down the last run on the first race of the day I was hit by a humongous gust. I hung on for a while and tried to avoid the obstacle course of upturned boats in front of me. Bore away to gybe about 100 yards before the leeward mark and then totally lost it. I don't really know what happened but I do remember that one moment I was on the boat and the next I was underwater but the boat was still humming along at a considerable speed dragging me with it.

I had learned the hard way some years ago what you need to do in these circumstances. Basically you have three choices.

1. Let go of everything. Not a good idea. Unless you want to be alone in the middle of Lake Ontario, practically invisible to any other craft, while your boat carries on sailing towards the St. Lawrence River faster than you can swim.

2. Hang on to the tiller extension. Well, at least you are still connected to the boat. Unfortunately tiller extensions bend or break so the advantage is likely to be temporary or expensive or both.

3. Hang on to the mainsheet. Definitely the best option. Unfortunately it has its downside too.

So there I was hanging on to the sheet for dear life while my Laser carried on sailing. (Funny how it sails so much better without me on it.) I was dragged along underwater for what felt like several hundred yards. Quite a thrilling ride under different circumstances. Eventually the boat got tired of the game and capsized. I reeled it in, righted the boat and climbed aboard.

Let's see. Nothing broken on the boat. Nothing broken on me. Still have my hat. Oh no - my glasses had come off. In spite of wearing a croakie the glasses had been pulled off my head by the underwater joyride.

They were expensive prescription sunglasses. Without them the whole world was just a gray blur as I am seriously myopic. But my competitive spirit hadn't totally left me. The boat was now on the correct gybe to round the leeward mark and I wasn't last in the race. So I headed off in the rough direction the mark should be, by luck found the 10 feet high trapezoid buoy, rounded it, and could just see enough to be able to make out the 50 foot yacht that marked the finish line at the end of a short reach.

I finished the race and signaled to the RC that I was heading in to shore. This was a beat for a couple of miles. But I could navigate by staying close to the shore. All I can say, is that it's a good thing that the entrance to the sailing center is marked by a massive prison building about the size of the Pentagon or I would probably have missed it.

After getting ashore I was faced with a quandary. I only had one other pair of prescription glasses with me and I needed those to be able to drive home from Canada. No way was I going to risk losing those in a similar accident. Back at the hotel, a quick perusal of the Yellow Pages identified that Lenscrafters has branches north of the border. So wifey and I headed out to find the Lenscrafters store in a suburban mall north of Kingston.

I explained what had happened to the optician and he smiled. It was obvious that replacing glasses lost to the deeps of Lake Ontario was a major plank of his business. He was able to identify my prescription from measuring my driving glasses and I went off to his display wall to chose some frames.

I chose a stylish pair of aviator glasses and brought them to the counter.

"No. They're not what you want," he counseled. "You need smaller lenses. The reason you lost your glasses is that the other frames were wider than your head so the water could pull them off your head."

I went back to the displays and chose an even smaller pair. They looked a bit strange when I tried them on, but I submitted them for his inspection.

"No. Still not small enough. Try again."

Eventually I chose a pair of Ray-Bans that looked like they would fit a 10-year-old boy. A 10 year-old-boy with a very thin face. I thought they looked ridiculous on me but they met with the optician's approval. And the lenses were manufactured and ready in time for the first race the next day.

So if you go to a Laser regatta and see some old bald guy wearing John Lennon style granny glasses, he's not stuck in some 60's fashion time warp. It's me. And I don't care what you think about my glasses. They work.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

C (3) iv.

International Laser Class By-Law 1 Rule C (3) iv states that one mainsheet clam or cam cleat of any type may be mounted on each side deck in the position shown on the measurement diagram.

Some Lasers have mainsheet cleats; some don't. It all depends on the preference of the owner.

I have cam cleats for the sheet on my current Laser but have rarely used them. Whenever a rookie would ask my advice on mainsheet cleats I would always adopt the macho pose. "Nah. Cleats are for wimps. You need to work the sheet all the time in a Laser. The wind's always changing. You need to be able to ease the sheet instantly in the gusts. You'll capsize if you cleat the sheet. Sure it's hard but if your arms are too weak to hold the sheet in a blow then you need to get to the gym more."

I've now decided that I'm getting too old for that ridiculous assertion. After several hours of sailing a Laser in 15 knots or more my arms start to cramp. The muscle on the inside of my forearms (I'm sure there must be a Latin name for it) tightens up, my thumb locks over my palm in a cramp and I'm unable to release my grip.

Last time I sailed
I experimented with cleating the sheet when beating in stronger winds. I'd uncleat it if it looked like I might need to tack such as when approaching a starboard tack boat. Nothing terrible happened. (All right. Two terrible things happened but the humble cleat wasn't to blame. They were the fault of the nut on the end of the tiller.)

I finished all the races without feeling like I'd been hanging by my arms from a hook in an Iraqi prison for a week. So now I'm going to start using the cleats more. Time to start sailing like the grandfather I am.

Emily came home today.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sunday's Child

I didn't go sailing yesterday.

Emily, our first grandchild, arrived at 5:11 am on Sunday morning.

Mother and baby are doing well.

Friday, November 25, 2005

No Go

I get a good start, sail on starboard tack for a minute or so then tack into a nice lane going back to the right side of the course. So far, so good.

Halfway up the beat I see a starboard tacker coming towards me about ten boatlengths away. I can probably cross him but am not sure so I give him a hail.

"Tack or Cross?"

For non-racers let me explain. He has right of way so according to the racing rules I am supposed to keep clear of him. To do so I would tack on his lee bow. He would then be in my bad air and would also tack. What just happened? I was going to the right side of the course (presumably because that's where I wanted to be) but now I'm going to the left. He was going to the left side of the course (perhaps he knows something I don't but in any case that's where he wanted to go) but now he's going right. So now we're both going towards what each of us believes is the wrong side of the course.

So that's the reason for the "tack or cross" hail. You won't find it mentioned in the racing rules. It's just a convention that could help both of us. If he really wants to keep going left and thinks that I will easily cross in front of him or that he only needs to bear away a little to let me do so safely, then he will tell me to cross. That way we both keep going the way we want to go.

"Tack or Cross?" I hail again.

"Go!" is the reply.

Fair enough. So I carry on sailing.

As we get closer I see that I'm not going to cross in front of him unless he bears away a bit and he's leaving it very late. Now we're only a few feet apart and he's still coming on fast. Yikes! We're going to collide. I throw a quick tack to avoid a collision and when he's inches away from me so does he.

"No means no!" he screams.

What? No means no? Anyone would think I had tried to rape him. I start to explain that I thought he was saying "go" and that "no" and "go" sound just the same when heard through all the noise of sails and waves. But we are heading in opposite directions now and I doubt he hears much of my complaints.

OK. What do I do now?

Strictly speaking according to the racing rules I should do penalty turns. I was the give-way boat and he definitely had to tack to avoid me. But I start to rationalize why I shouldn't have to take a penalty here.

1. It was really his fault. What did he expect? Shouting "no" that sounds just like "go".

2. We didn't actually collide.

3. If I had heard him properly, I would have lee-bowed him and he would have had to tack, so the outcome is the same.

4. He didn't actually protest me. Maybe he's letting me off because he knows how stupid he has been?

Of course, none of these are actually relevant. According to the rules I was definitely in the wrong. But I finish the race without taking a penalty.

After racing I put the boat away, get changed, and head into the clubhouse. Twelve boxes of steaming pizza arrive and a couple of dozen hungry sailors demolish them in a matter of minutes. In the corner of the room opposite from where I am sitting a few members of the race committee are typing the results into the computer. I am listening in to a conversation between two sailors just to my right. The teenager is about to head off to the Radial Worlds in Brazil and is picking the brains of the gray-haired Master sailor who sailed at the same location in the Masters Worlds last month. The kid really wants advice about the sailing, but the old guy seems to be giving him advice about how to deal with the Brazilian girls. I wonder how he knows so much about this subject?

Someone from the corner of the computer starts to speak up and addresses the room.

"OK. We have a few protests to deal with. Does this sound familiar to anyone here? Fourth race, halfway up first beat, guy with a British accent on port hailed 'tack or cross', starboard boat hails 'starboard'......."

Was that me? I'm not the only sailor in the fleet with that accent. Apparently the protestor didn't remember the sail number of the boat he is protesting. I could just keep quiet and nobody would ever know. But I speak up anyway.

"Describe that incident again. It might have been me."

Basically the same details except he says it went on for quite a while. Hmmm not exactly the way I remember it.

"What actually happened to me was that after the tack or cross hail, I thought he said 'go' but he reckoned he said 'no'."

"It was a yellow boat."

"I wasn't sailing a yellow boat."

"No, the starboard boat was yellow. Was that the incident you were in?"

"I don't recall. Is he protesting me?"

The answer is vague. I'm still not clear what's going on. Did the boat in the incident protest me? Or some third party? Is it even the same incident? Is it even the same race? Whoever has reported the incident they haven't identified the sail number of the boat at fault. And in my incident the starboard boat didn't hail 'protest'. So if he does protest me now it can be thrown out as invalid. So if this does go to an actual protest hearing I can probably win it because of all those reasons.

But I am still feeling some guilt about not doing turns so I tell the scorer to retire me from the race.

One of the fleet leaders pipes up. "And the moral of this tale is........? The question is 'tack or cross?' There are only two answers. 'tack' or 'cross'. Not 'go' or 'no'."


I feel it's a moral victory as I don't really care about my scores in this series anyway. More on clarity of communication in this SailNet Article.