Thursday, June 30, 2005

Modest Not

I am a modest person. So this post is going to be hard for me to write.

When starting to write this blog I thought I would post regularly with stories of my disasters and screw-ups on the race course, all spiced with self-deprecating humor. And there's been some of that.

But I also decided that one of the main reasons I screw up so often is to do with my mental attitude. And I resolved to work on these mind problems this year using the methods in The Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum.

So here's the problem. The next step in Baum's method is for me to write down five positive beliefs I have about myself. Ouch. It hurts my head to even think of doing that. I'm not a bragger. I'm uncomfortable telling even myself how wonderful I am. I've been putting off this step for weeks.

But it's all in a good cause. Me. (Only joking.) So here goes....

1. I sail fast. Hey, it even says that in the title of my blog. Live slow, sail fast. Do I really believe it? Not enough, I suppose. But this year two very good sailors have both told me, after racing with me, that I am "fast". So I need to believe that more. My strategy may be nonexistent, my starts may be pathetic -- but I can always use good boat speed to recover from my mistakes. To an extent.

2. I am the perfect height and weight for sailing a Laser. True. No excuses there.

3. I have great light air skills. Having spent almost all my sailing career sailing on inland lakes, some of them very small lakes, I ought to have some experience in how to make a boat move when there is hardly any wind. I may not like those conditions. I may whine about light airs. But I can't deny that I have spent endless hours, sitting still in excruciating positions, trying to coax a fraction of a knot of movement out of a sailing dinghy.

4. I love heavy air sailing. More true now than it was a year ago. I started the season with a couple of months of heavy air sailing, got better at it and learned to love it. Keep repeating this often enough and I might actually believe it.

5. I have good stamina and strength and can outlast the competition. Hey - I run marathons don't I? Well, to be more precise I have completed one marathon and am in training for another. I work out with weights don't I? Well, actually no -- not for a few months. If I do tire in a day of hard racing it's my arms that are the first to go, so I definitely need to do more work there.

Ouch. That did hurt. Even more than I thought it would. Hope nobody reads this nonsense. Have to write a few posts putting myself down to pay for this one.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


The chair of the junior sailing program (of which I am head instructor) asked me if there were any specific messages I would like her to pass on when she meets with the parents of kids in the program.

Ahah! A chance to vent about some of my frustrations with a small minority of the parents. And perhaps head off some problems before they occur this year. Most of the basics about what kids and parents need to do are covered in written instructions. But there were a few things I wanted her to emphasize.

1. Bring your kid to class on time - at least 5 minutes before class begins. Classes start on time. If your kid isn't there they could miss important instructions about what we are doing that day or a fun activity. In some classes we will be rigging the boats immediately and going sailing, so a kid who is late could miss out on sailing or hold the whole class up while we scramble to help them get their boat rigged which is not fair to the other kids.

2. Collect your kid on time. The instructors are not paid to be child minders and, after teaching sailing to your kids for several hours, they deserve (often need) their free time.

3. Contrary to what some parents assume it is not always 90 degrees and dry in New Jersey in the summer. Some days it is cool. Some days it is rainy. We go sailing when it is cool. We go sailing in (light) rain. The only things that stop us sailing are no wind, too much wind, torrential rain or thunderstorms. So make sure your child brings clothes for cool weather and rainy weather. A sweatshirt and a waterproof top at least. Put them in the kid's bag and bring them every day so you don't forget. There is nothing more miserable than a kid out sailing in the rain and cold wearing only a swimsuit. Don't let it happen to your kid.

4. If you are staying at the club please allow the instructors to run the program. They will ask for your help if they need it which should be extremely rarely. If a kid has to leave an on-the-water activity for any reason we will radio the shore parent to meet that kid at the dock and look after them. Do NOT go out in a motor boat and follow your kid during a class or practice race and shout at him or her with extra instructions. Your kid will hate it. (Yes - that has happened.)

OK. Glad I got that off my chest. Most of the parents are knowledgeable about sailing and supportive of the instructors. It's just the odd one or two that cause problems for us.

The junior program starts a week today. Can't wait to meet all the new kids and to help them discover this absorbing, rewarding, fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) life-long sport.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

England Expects

In England this week, Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy and 150,000 spectators are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar with a naval review and a mock naval battle. The Queen is reviewing 160 warships from 35 navies including those of France and Spain who were soundly trounced by the English at Trafalgar. Jolly sporting of them, I say.

Did I mention that I have English roots? Thoroughbred Anglo-Saxon I am pretty sure. Not much of those Norman invaders' blood in me. I occasionally meet people from Germany who look more like me than anybody except my immediate family so I am fairly confident I am descended from the Angles and the Saxons that settled southern Britain centuries before those parvenu Frenchies came across in 1066.

So that means my patriotic pride in battles where the English whupped the French goes very deep. Unlike some Americans whose antipathy to the French seems to stem from the recent arrogance of that man Dominic de Villepin who had the temerity to interpret his role as French Foreign Minister as being to pursue French interests. Did he not know he was supposed to believe George W. Bush's claims about WMD in Iraq and loyally support the great wise leader of the western world in his headlong rush to war? And where were the WMD? Oh sorry, not allowed to ask that question. Supersize my freedom fries please. End of political rant. Sorry again. Stop apologizing -- so British.

Where was I? Oh yes. French vs English. We've been fighting each other on and off for most of a millennium. And English schoolchildren of my generation were taught about the Battle of Hastings, 1066 and all that (technically a French victory but only because some unsporting French archer shot his arrow in King Harold's eye); the Battle of Agincourt (mainly as related by Will Shakespeare with plenty of stirring lines for young King Hal); and of course the Battle of Trafalgar.

Trafalgar has all the elements of a perfect English battle story. Victory for the Brits against numerical superiority of enemy -- us 22 ships, them 33. Fighting against both of our historic enemies France and Spain. British lovers of freedom fighting against an evil continental dictator. Our heroic leader, Admiral Nelson, losing his life in the heat of his finest victory. (We love dead heroes much much more than live ones.) A score line to die for: their ships sunk - 22; our ships sunk - zero. And the famous signal from Nelson to his fleet before the battle, "England expects that every man will do his duty." Spelled out in flags of course.

Which brings me back to . After the first day of the District 10 Laser Championships, it was clear that the battle for First Grandmaster was between me and.... a Frenchman. (Grandmaster is an age category in the Laser class, not an indication of supreme ability as it is in chess. It loosely translates as, "These guys are incredibly old, we can't believe they can even get in the boat let alone race it, so whoever of these decrepit old geezers comes first we will give him a trophy.")

Where was I? Oh yeah -- me and my buddy Alain duking it out for First Grandmaster. Alain is an incredibly nice guy. He is a French chef. That is to say he is a chef by profession and French by origin, complete with accent. So on the second day of the regatta it was all down to French vs English. What Would Shakespeare Say?

At the first start there we were "like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start." Alain went left, I went right and he was way ahead at the first windward mark. I gradually reduced the distance between us on the reaches and the second beat. Going down the run there were some nice waves to ride but he was still ahead of me at the start of the final beat. Somehow I played the shifts better and passed him halfway up the beat. Tight cover all the rest of the way. England 1 - France 0.

Second race was pretty much the same story. England 2 - France 0.

Final race of the day. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, or close the wall up with our English dead!" Once again my Gallic friend took the early lead. Once again I was unable to catch him and was still behind him starting the final beat. I hiked as hard as I could. Hiked 'till it hurt. With 100 yards to go he crossed ahead of me. "But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood." I did my best to stiffen my aching sinews and summon up my overheated blood. Hiked from the tips of my toes. Next tack I crossed ahead and just beat Alain across the line. England 3 - France 0.

We laughed about the day afterwards and promised to meet up again for a return match at the Atlantic Coast Championships in July.

Scheherazade wrote about having to fix incorrect embroidery on her regatta trophies. I had a similar problem at a regatta I organized earlier in the year. Apparently the organizers of this regatta were not as fastidious as Sherry and me. When I arrived home, I saw that my trophy read "FIRST GARANDMASTER". Is that the French spelling?

Thursday, June 23, 2005


On Tuesday it was a gorgeous day for sailing. 80 degrees and 10 knots. I took my Laser down to the club and just had fun cruising around the whole reservoir exploring every bay and inlet.

After a while I began to hear voices in my head.

The first voice was saying "You enjoy the Laser so much, you should just sail it all the time. Sell the Sunfish. Sell the Sunfish."

But the second voice asked, "But I enjoy Wednesday night Sunfish racing too. What would I do on Wednesdays?"

The first voice said, "What do you mean? You know the Laser is more fun. What's so great about Wednesdays? Sell the Sunfish. Sell the Sunfish."

The second voice still wasn't convinced. "Well, I appreciate the company and meeting everyone on Wednesdays."

"What do you mean? You always end up sitting next to old W. at the inn afterwards. With his deafness and accent, he can never hear what you say and you can never understand what he says. Sell the Sunfish. Sell the Sunfish."

" least I like the beer and pizza."

"You must be joking. Last week they ran out of Yngling Lager and pizza. You could be sitting at home on your deck on a Wednesday evening watching the sun set over the hill with the love of your life and eating her gourmet cooking and drinking a good bottle of wine. Sell the Sunfish. Sell the Sunfish."

Geeze. Am I going crazy? I seem to have a Laser sailor and a Sunfish sailor arguing inside my head. And the Laser guy is winning right now. What should I do?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Sign Up Night

In July and August I work 4 days a week as the head sailing instructor at a local yacht club's junior sailing program. "Work" may be a misnomer. Don't tell my employer but I'd probably do this job for nothing. My own kids are grown up now and left home some years ago, and my first grandchild is not due until November. So the summer is the only time that I get to spend much time with kids these days. It's a real pleasure to be able to introduce them to the joys of the sport of sailing. Working with kids is challenging and frustrating at times too, as any parent or teacher knows. But all in all one of the highlights of my year.

Friday night was sign up night for the junior sailing program. The parents, often with their kids too, come to the club to sign up the kids for the sailing lessons and to ask any questions they may have. At my suggestion, the club restructured the program this year to provide a better progression for the kids as their skills improved each year, so there were a number of questions from parents about which classes their kids should take.

"None of the parents said their kids don't want to come back this year if that mean old instructor is there again," joked the chairperson of the junior program. (At least I hope she was joking.) I see my role as being partly about helping the kids to learn, but mainly about making sure they have a good time and that they learn that sailing is fun. The worst possible outcome but would be to turn a kid off sailing because I gave them a scary or miserable experience.

Most of my old friends showed up and signed up for another summer. A few of the older kids didn't but they are probably off working summer jobs or having other adventures this summer. A lot of new families came too There were lots of questions...

"My daughter is only six and a half. Can she join up?" In theory our minimum age is seven but I told the mum that it's OK as long as her daughter is adventurous for her age and confident in the water.

"Can my son do the recreational and the racing classes?" Sure. The more time on the water, the better.

"I have my own Optimist this year Mr. S. and I've got two sails." That's great.

A new family came with four kids, one a babe in arms. The mum made the two potential students, two boys aged 7 and 8, give me proper handshakes. As she struggled to complete all the paperwork with the baby on her arm, I took the two boys down to the dock to see the club Optimists. They sat in the boats while I talked a bit about what we do and how much fun we were going to have in the summer. Nice kids.

Last year there was an 11-year-old girl in one of the beginners classes who informed me on the first day of classes that she didn't want to be in the program, but was only doing it because her parents made her. All her family -- father, brothers, uncle and cousins -- sail so they expected her to. I did my best to encourage her and introduce her gently to the sport, but she was easily upset if things didn't go right for her. And that happens a lot of times when you're learning to sail. After a couple of weeks she was making progress and announced to me that, "I'm really proud of myself. I only freaked out once today." As the season progressed her sailing skills improved and she entered into all the activities and games with spirit. She looked like she was having fun. Still, she maintained right to the end of the season that she didn't really like sailing.

I found out on Friday that she's coming back this year. And because she wants to; not because her parents want her to. I must have been doing something right.

Friday, June 17, 2005

District Champs

This weekend I'm travelling to the District 10 Laser Championships on the shore in New Jersey. This will be, by far, the toughest competition I've entered since the US Nationals in April. The Jersey shore has been a breeding ground of top class Laser sailors since the early 70s when a young man called Gary Jobson burst on the scene in the early days of Lasering.

So I don't have much hope of a good overall finish. I don't think I've ever broken into the top 20 in this regatta on the few occasions I've sailed it before. But I ought to have some objectives for the weekend. So what are they?

1. Have fun.
2. Meet up with some old friends.
3. Avoid breaking anything -- on self or boat.
4. Check out my starting technique in a larger fleet with more aggressive competition. (Repeat to self -- I will be in the front row of every start.)
5. Test out my boat speed against some of the best -- see what they are doing differently from me and learn from them.
6. Have a happy father's day. Hey - my dad has been gone for 10 years so this one's for me.
7. Work on boat to boat tactics. (Repeat to self -- I will be on the inside at every mark.)
8. Have some interesting experiences that I can write about in this blog.
9. Eat some fresh seafood.
10. Have fun.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wednesday Night Sailing

It was a typical Wednesday.

I hitched the Sunfish trailer to the car at around 3:30 and headed off to the lake. Set the CD player in the car to random and enjoyed listening to a live version of Jimmy Buffett singing Southern Cross

Got out of town on a boat
Goin' to Southern islands.
Sailing a reach
Before a followin' sea.
She was makin' for the trades
On the outside,
And the downhill run
To Papeete.
Off the wind on this heading
Lie the Marquesas.
We got eighty feet of the waterline.
Nicely making way.
Hey I'll probably never own an eighty foot yacht or cross the Pacific but I can dream.

Arrived at the lake in plenty of time to hang out with other sailors before racing. What did we talk about? Wind and weather, of course. Someone had heard that a front was approaching. I switched on my weather band radio in the car (thanks Subaru) and found out that the wind was gusting to 22 knots at a town about 40 miles west of us. Nice. Would it get here in time for racing?

The other guys who had arrived early don't much like stronger winds. So I hammed it up. Every time a little puff came across the lake I would holler, "Here it comes. Yeah -- definitely building. We'll have 22 knots by 6 o'clock". Stuff like that. They looked a bit nervous.

I went to get my pre-race snack of fruit and energy bar and sat munching while one of my friends rigged his boat. "For sure" I told him, "that front is going to hammer in here at 6 o'clock." Emphasis on hammer. "Make sure to wear your hiking pants." One of the older sailors looked a bit queasy and contemplated not sailing so I persuaded him that I had been exaggerating. "Hey - if you get into trouble just drift into this shore". He went off to rig his boat.

One of the new guys, a convert from a more technical class, was asking me questions about how to set up and look after the boat.

"How do you get rid of that ugly crease you get when you roll up the sail?"
"You don't."

Just before we launched he asked what could break on a Sunfish.
"Let's see. Mast. Spars. Rudder blade. Rudder cheeks. Blocks pulling off boom. Hiking strap pulling out. Pretty much everything."

OK. Time for racing. Blowing 5 - 8 knots. I'm using this series mainly to practice my starts. First race the line had a slight starboard favor. I luffed into position just next to the committee boat with about 60 seconds to go. My inquisitive friend, the guy with all the questions, came in to leeward of me and luffed to a standstill too. At about 15 seconds to go he started to bear off and accelerate. At just under 10 seconds I started to bear off. Accelerate. Head up. 3,2,1,go. Nicely done though I say it so myself. I am second (out of about 16 boats) at the weather mark on the first lap. Drop a couple of places in fluky winds on the second beat and end up fourth. Not so shabby.

Second race the pin was slightly favored. I definitely need more practice at pin end starts so headed off to the left end of the line. The leader in the series was luffing right next to the pin so I luffed about 3 boat lengths to windward of him. Our commodore tried to drive over me so I luffed him up. We were both over the line at 15 seconds to go. I bore away into the gap and timed it perfectly. The series leader was gasping for air as I sailed over him and the commodore was called OCS. Wow -- it felt good to be so mean. I concentrated on boat speed for 30 seconds and looked back to see most of the fleet several boat lengths behind me. Once again I was second after the first beat. Approaching the finish line on the second beat I had the inquisitive guy pinned to leeward of me, tacked on the layline to the favored end of the finish and beat him by half a boatlength for a second in this race.

Third race I got an OK-ish start midline. 5th after the first beat. Wind started to die. I went left. Wind died some more and went right. Boats started to pass me on right. Oh well, can't win 'em all. Ended up around 8th.

I hate racing in the really light stuff so skipped the fourth race and started sailing back to the club. A couple of female Sunfish sailors were up and down close to the club. Obviously beginners practicing. I sailed past one of them, an attractive woman a few years younger than me, and said hi. I'd never met her before. Much to my surprise she said, "Can I follow you?" Wow. I don't usually have this effect on women. I know. It's not my rugged, handsome profile. She just wanted to copy my sailing technique. We cruised around a while enjoying the summer evening. The fish were jumping. Birds were diving for fish. The sun was starting to go down behind the hills. I gave her a few tips on sailing technique. "Heel the boat this way. Sit further forward". Usual stuff.

We packed up the boats and headed off for beer and pizza. Big crowd this week. I ended up sitting opposite a guy who used to live in Aruba and sailed in the Sunfish fleet there. He was telling us about the annual cruise they used to make from Aruba to Venezuela in Sunfish. About 30 miles of open water with 12 foot swells and 20 mph winds. Of staying in some fishing village for the night in Venezuela, sleeping in hammocks, fighting off mosquitos and cockroaches. Breakfasts of local delicacies in the fishermen's homes. And then 30 miles sailing back to Aruba the next day.

Driving home I turned on the radio and it was the 9th inning of the baseball game. The Yankees were one run down to the Pirates. Bottom of the ninth, Posada hit a double to tie the game. Top of the tenth, Mariano worked his usual magic. Bottom of the tenth, Giambi came to bat and was booed. Giambi hit a two run walk-off game-winning home run. Giambi was cheered.

First time this season the Yankees won a game when trailing after 8 innings. Maybe they have finally come out of their funk.

Music, banter, racing, cruising, beer, pizza, yarns, baseball.

Just a typical Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Small is Beautiful

Items on a couple of favorite sailing blogs this week reminded me of why I've avoided so far any serious commitment to "big boat" sailing. (For me a big boat is anything significantly larger than my 14 foot Laser.)

First of all
EVK4 who sails a Catalina 22 told us that he spends about one hour doing dock work for every hour of sailing. I guess if you love maintaining and fixing things that could be very rewarding, but it's not for me. This year I've probably spent a couple of hours on maintenance -- washing the boat, replacing a few lines -- and around a hundred hours of actual sailing. The Laser is sturdy, simple and relatively maintenance free. I like it that way.

Zephyr drew our attention to a boat in trouble near New Zealand. Much as the idea of cruising the Pacific has some romantic appeal I actually prefer to sleep in my own bed every night. Or at least in a hotel room near a regatta site. I have no wish to place myself in the situation of the sailors in the news story -- ripped sails, no diesel for the motor, GPS disabled, gale force winds, huge seas, waiting 24 hours for a rescue while wife sews up a wound in hubby's head.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from sailing whatever kind of boat turns you on. For EVK4 it's his Catalina. For Larry Ellison it's his 136 meter Rising Sun.

Thanks, but I'll stick to my Laser.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


I have a friend at the sailing club who loves to write long, rambling articles about her sailing adventures. Let's protect her anonymity and call her Vicky. Last fall she sent me a typical Vicky story about her trials, tribulations and triumphs sailing in a major regatta. I ran a couple of 'episodes' in winter issues of the club newsletter but even though I gave her generous space in the rag each time, I think there was 80% of her article still unused. Now that the sailing season is in full swing there is so much topical news, photos and announcements of events to include in the newsletter, I never have room for further episodes of Vicky's story.

She grabbed me after sailing on Sunday and asked if I was ever going to finish publishing her regatta account.

I tried to be diplomatic. "It was a fascinating account, Vicky. But, you know, it's a little out of date now. I feel I really have to cover more recent events if people send me stuff."

She wasn't placated. "Yeah - but you sent out an email requesting articles for the newsletter and you said you would fill any space left over with stuff promoting the Laser fleet".

True. I did do that. Apparently Vicky doesn't share my sense of humor. The email was meant to be funny and to encourage submissions by making a self-deprecatory rhetorical threat.

She was insistent. "You could always edit it a bit, if you want. Just pick out the bits that are complimentary to me. Those first two parts made me look bad."

I spluttered. I could have said, "Well, you wrote that stuff."

But I bit my tongue and kept on in my diplomatic voice and said, "But Vicky - people love those stories where you describe what went wrong at the regatta. You are such a great sailor that sometimes people are scared to race against you. It makes you seem more human when you tell folk that you screw up sometimes too."

I'm not sure I convinced her.

Afterwards I got to thinking about her motivations and how they compared to my own in writing this blog. We are really quite similar in that we feel compelled to share our own fascination with the sport of sailing by writing at length about our sailing experiences. Maybe we are similar too in that other folk may not find the resulting stories as gripping as we think they are?

She clearly wanted to get the news out about the good things that happened at the regatta. I don't think I share that same compulsion to write self congratulatory material. I am much more comfortable writing stories that poke fun at myself such as Fixing a Hole and Heavy Air Fear.

On the other hand, luck has been running my way this year so I have ended up writing about some successes too such as The Regatta. Does that make me come across as pompous and arrogant? Am I too much in love with myself? Hope not.

Or does one need to be a little narcissistic to want to write a personal blog every day?

Comments please.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Well, I may have given myself no excuse to lose on Saturday. But lose I did. The gorgeous silver ice bucket that is our club's Commodore's Cup was won by my flamboyant, trash-talking nemesis, Flash.

He kept up his banter before, during, and after the regatta. I don't think it affected me but perhaps it's what he needed to do to psych himself up.

Just before the first race he said to the race officer, "Have you ever heard so much hype for a regatta?"

The race officer, our commodore, beat me to the obvious punchline, "Yeah - every regatta that you sail in, Flash."

The winds were light, around 5 knots. Because it was a handicap regatta -- me in a Laser, him in a Force 5 -- I had to beat him by about one and a half minutes in each race. But I never had the boatspeed to achieve this. Flash deserved the win and we all congratulated him sincerely as he was awarded the cup.

My primer on the mind-body connection, Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum, counsels that you should turn a loss into a gain. "Use it as a motivation to change your way of training and thinking in order to enhance your chances of future success."

Hmmm. Need to think about that.

nem·e·sis (nem'i-sis) n., pl. -ses (-sez').
1. A source of harm or ruin.
2. Retributive justice in its execution or outcome.
3. An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.
4. One that inflicts retribution or vengeance.
Nemesis Greek Mythology. The goddess of retributive justice or vengeance

Saturday, June 11, 2005

No Excuse To Lose

Dennis Conner, who knows a thing or two about winning sailboat races, wrote a book called No Excuse To Lose. It defines a philosophy about how to win at any endeavor, whether it be sailing, business or any other aspect of life.

At one level NETL is all about eliminating all the reasons why you might fail. "We lost because they had newer sails .... the bottom of our boat was dirty .... we hadn't practiced together." Duh! Well, buy some new sails, clean the bottom of your boat and make the time to practice. Easy to say but most of the fleet won't do it.

But the more fundamental point of the NETL approach is that in our minds, sometimes we allow ourselves to lose. Deep down we are afraid to make the commitment to win. And if we have some ready made excuses we can go easy on ourselves after the loss. This happens more often than we are prepared to admit. I do it myself in our Wednesday night Sunfish series.

Conner's point is that if you have put in the time and effort to eliminate every possible excuse to lose, then you have prepared your mind to win too. You have no excuse to fall back on if you lose, so now it's OK to win.

Apparently Dennis is fanatical about boat preparation. Before a race he and his crew will spend many hours, days even, wetsanding the bottom of their boat to achieve the fastest possible finish. Can you imagine what that does to the mental attitude of the crew? Once they have spent all that time, elbow grease and sweat on boat preparation they are not going to waste it by making stupid mental errors on the racecourse. They have no excuse to lose.

In preparing for today's Commodore's Cup regatta at the club I have done the NETL thing. Last week in light airs at the club I had difficulties in picking up the direction of the very light wind filling in after a calm and in seeing my telltales on the leeward side of the sail in certain light conditions. So I have made a new wind indicator out of recording tape for light winds and replaced the old telltales with more visible black ones. I have wet sanded and refinished my foils. I have washed and polished the bottom of my boat. I have cleaned my spars. I have checked all my lines.

I have given myself no excuse to lose. But wish me luck anyway.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Sex Education

I was noodling around looking for sailing blogs today and found this joke on Nhicky Albano's blog. As I work as a sailing instructor in the summer it seemed appropriate.

Mr. Killington wanted to become a teacher in the worst way, but the only job he could find was as an instructor at an all female college teaching sex education. His wife was a very jealous woman so Mr. Killington decided he would tell his wife that he would be teaching sailing at this college so that she would not get angry. He was very happy and for months all was well.

As fate would have it, one day in the grocery store check out lane, Mrs. Killington overheard a group of girls standing in line behind her talking about college and their instructor Mr. Killington. The girls went on and on about how great this Mr. Killington was at teaching their class. The cashier handed Mrs. Killington her change and said, "Have a great day Mrs. Killington, and thank you, again."

One of the girls in line heard the cashier, and asked Mrs. Killington if she was related to the Mr. Killington that was teaching at the college. Mrs. Killington replied, "Yes, he is my husband." Well, that set off a torrent of accolades about how knowledgeable Mr. Killington was about the subject matter he was teaching, about how he got the whole class to discuss their fears about learning the subject.

Well, Mrs. Killington was taken back by what she heard from these girls and replied, "I don't know how you find him to be so gifted at teaching you this course. You know he only tried it twice in his life. The first time he tried it, he got sick, and the second time, his hat blew off and he just quit."

OK. It's a pretty childish joke. But Nhicky apparently is a 14 year old girl so I'm sure it appeals to that demographic.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Winning Isn't Everything

I was trimming my hedge this morning and pondering all sorts of questions about why I race sailboats and my mental attitude and approach to different regattas.

Such questions as....

Why am I racing in this event? What will it take for this to count as a good day? What are my expectations of winning? How much do I care about winning?

In thinking back on the events I have entered this year the answers are surprisingly different.

First of all there are regattas like the Laser US Nationals where I had no chance of placing near the top of the fleet. I was just there to have some fun and get some practice sailing in stronger winds and bigger waves than I am used to. Sure, I tried my hardest in the individual races. But I also played around with different techniques. And I didn't stress out about how well I would do in the races. It really didn't matter.

Then there are events like our Wednesday evening Sunfish series. Actually I probably could do well in this series if I put my mind to it; I do win the occasional race. But I really don't take the series seriously at all. My main aim there is to practice my starts for other more "serious" events. So beforehand I am thinking about being aggressive on the start line and, in the racing, I feel free to experiment, joke around with fellow sailors, have fun.

There are other events that I do actually win, but where winning is not my main focus or reason for sailing. In our Sunday Laser fleet series my main aim is to build this new fleet. I want to attract new sailors, have them enjoy sailing the Laser, pass on some of my knowledge and get them coming out on the race course regularly. I will consider the year a success if we build the fleet to, say, 10 active, regular sailors by the end of the season. Right now I win all the races but there's little pleasure in that; I will actually count it as progress when some of the newcomers do start beating me. In the meantime I also get tremendous pleasure in just being out in the wind and the waves and the sun in a superb little boat.

My approach to our Laser regatta was similar. My main aim was for the event to be a success. A good turnout, well run regatta, close racing up and down the fleet. I had tougher competition than in our Sunday races but winning was just a bonus.

The most problematical events, in terms of preparation and mental attitude, are those regattas where I have a chance to win -- maybe a 5 to 25% chance -- but certainly no expectation of an easy win. And because the competitors are strong I would feel a genuine sense of pride in testing myself against them and beating them. So I do really care about winning. In these races there is a definite risk of "choking". I can think of several regattas over the years which I entered thinking I only had a small chance of winning, and then being tied or with a one point lead going into the final race. Time and time again I blew it with a stupid mental error or lapse of concentration or error in execution. SoulSailor writes in his blog this week of being "2nd a bloody gain". I know how he feels -- I have a shelf of 2nd place trophies and hardly any 1st place ones.

The Commodore's Cup this Saturday is in this latter category of events that are a real, but realistic, challenge. I certainly have a chance to win; after all I have won it the last 2 years. But that brings it own pressures. I would certainly feel proud to win it because I know that the competition will be tough. How will I get myself in the right frame of mind to sail well, to be relaxed and not tense, to focus on performance not position? How to care -- but not too much?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ten Reasons to Own a Laser

  1. It will keep you fit.
  2. No matter how many years you sail it, you still have something to learn.
  3. Every weekend you can go sailing at a regatta near you.
  4. You have an excuse to travel to regattas anywhere in the world.
  5. Easy to maintain.
  6. Cheaper than a J-24.
  7. Goes on a roof rack.
  8. More fun than sex. OK I lie. But it's close.
  9. Laser sailors are the nicest group of people on the planet. Except for my family of course.
  10. Nobody to blame but yourself when you screw up.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Man You're Old

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to try and work on my mental game this year.....

Stop. Back up.

"... was going to try and work..."? That's not positive thinking. Start again.

This year I will improve my mental game. I've decided to use the method in the book Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum.

One of the first things the book asks the reader to do is to "write down a limiting belief that you have of yourself as an athlete."

OK. I'm old. How about that as a limiting belief?

How old?

Have you noticed that old people always look ahead to the next birthday when asked their age? You ask some little old lady in a nursing home her age and she will proudly reply in a quavering voice, "I'll be 94 next birthday, my dear." I guess the unstated but understood condition is, "..if I last that long." My father had a variation of that. He was always "pushing" a certain age, as in "pushing 70." I think he used that answer from about 66 onwards. So let's say I'm pushing 60.

Baum then asks, "What irrefutable evidence exists that this belief is true?" Hmmm. Let me see. Here's my birth certificate. Here's my driver's license. Here's my passport. Even the Department of Homeland Security would accept the evidence. I was definitely born during the Truman administration. Irrefutable indeed.

Of course my limiting belief is not so much my chronological age. It would be better stated as, "I'm too old to be really good at Laser sailing." And it is true that the top Laser sailors seem to be in their early 20's and look as if they spend 3 hours a day in the gym and 5 hours a day on the water. But I'm not aiming to compete in their league. I'm not trying to qualify for the Olympics. I'd be quite happy with doing well in local regattas and club racing and to be competitive with the best sailors of my age group.

Paul Simon summed it up well in his song "Old".

The first time I heard "Peggy Sue"
I was 12 years old
Russians up in rocket ships
And the war was cold
Now many wars have come and gone
Genocide still goes on
Buddy Holly still goes on
But his catalog was sold

First time I smoked
Guess what - paranoid
First time I heard "Satisfaction"
I was young and unemployed
Down the decades every year
Summer leaves and my birthday’s here
And all my friends stand up and cheer
And say man you're old
Getting old
Getting old

We celebrate the birth of jesus on christmas day
And buddah found nirvana along the lotus way
About 1,500 years ago the messenger mohammed spoke
And his wisdom like a river flowed through hills of gold
Wisdom is old
The koran is old
The bible’s
Greatest story ever told

Work ’em out

The human race walked the earth for 2.7 million
And we estimate the universe at 13-14 billion
When all these numbers tumble into your imagination
Consider that the lord was there before creation
God is old
We’re not old
God is old
He made the mold

Take your clothes off
Adam and Eve

Next week in the Mental Edge method - 5 positive beliefs about myself. Geeze - that will be hard.

Monday, June 06, 2005


One of the guys making the most noise about how he is going to take the Commodore's Cup away from me is one of the fastest sailors in the Force 5 Fleet. He is the master of the one-liner put-down remark and quite a character. In line with my practice of giving my fellow sailors nicknames, let's call him Flash.

Before racing on Sunday, Flash was telling me how he was going to beat me next Saturday. I adopted an attitude of mock apathy.

"I hope you do win, Flash. I'm tired of seeing that ugly cup in my home. And I'm fed up of having to polish it. Worst of all, every time I win it I have to fork out twenty bucks to get my name engraved on it. I can't afford to win it again. You can have it. In fact, come by my house before Saturday and pick it up."

Round one to me.

On Sunday the Force 5's and Lasers started together. According to the handicaps, the Force 5 is about 4% slower than a Laser. So if a Force 5 sailor beats a Laser sailor he feels he has achieved something; that's why they like to have a combined start. I like it because it makes for more interesting racing to have more boats on the start line, even though the two fleets are being scored separately.

In the first race, the wind was very light. Before the start, Flash was trying to match race me, force me over the line early, make me foul him, playing games with my head. I escaped him and worked out to the right side of the course and saw a wind line even further right. I sailed towards it and could feel the wind getting progressively stronger. The only other boat on the right dug back in to the center of the course. Everyone else was way over on the left of the course for reasons I could not fathom. As I sailed further into the new wind I was headed some and the wind was getting even stronger. I sailed as far as the layline, tacked and rounded the windward mark a hundred yards ahead of the pack. Flash was nowhere to be seen.

After the race Flash sailed over to me. "Well, a Laser won but it wasn't you."

I was puzzled. What did he mean? Was this some obscure put-down? Whatever his point was, I didn't get it.

A few minutes later he sailed by again. "So who was that guy who won? Is there some ringer in your fleet?"

"It was me, Flash."

"Nooooo? I thought it was somebody handsome!"

I just can't win with this guy. But wait until Saturday.

Marked Man

I'm a marked man at the sailing club.

The reason is that through luck, guile and mathematics I am the current holder of the club's Commodore's Cup. This is a magnificent silver ice bucket awarded to the winner of our annual handicap regatta. Normally all the one-design fleets at the club race within their fleets. But once a year we have a one day regatta for all classes of boat scored using the Portsmouth Handicap system to determine the overall champion.

I won it two years ago through being sneaky. At that time I had the only Laser in the club. And the Laser was faster than any of the other boats competing. So all I had to do each race was to win the start, power away ahead of the other boats, then just keep extending my lead sailing in clear air while all the other fleets slowed each other down with covering and boat-to-boat tactics. As long as my lead at the finish was enough to overcome the Laser's handicap vis-a-vis the other fleets I could win every race. My sneaky plan worked like a dream. The wind was steady and around 15 knots so it was a pure boat speed competition.

The second year was more tricky; the winds were light and shifty and fluky. Several times I sailed into a hole in the wind and other boats caught me up. Of course, in a handicap race they didn't even need to pass me; if they finished close to me they effectively beat me. Somehow my closest competitor was beaten by one other boat in the final race which pushed him into a tiebreaker on points with me which I won through some mathematical quirk of the racing rules. Phew!

The regatta has been run every year for almost 40 years. Other folk have won it two years in a row before. Nobody has ever won it three years in a row. So I can hear them plotting, working out how to beat me this year.

The regatta is being sailed next Saturday. I'm a marked man.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


I find it hard to take the Sunfish seriously. It's such a weird little boat. But my club has a Wednesday evening Sunfish fleet that's kind of fun and I enjoy the social aspects -- a.k.a. beer and pizza after racing. This year I've been using these races just to practice my starts and not worrying too much about what happens after the start which is usually pretty dire.

This week was different.

Before launching I was chatting to another sailor who is new to the Sunfish. He was looking at how I had set up my boat and I was giving him my usual line of, "Don't copy me. I know nothing."

But this guy was persistent.

"Why don't you have a line or a clip on the first grommet on the lower spar?" he asked.

"I dunno. Somebody told me that was the way to do it."

"Doesn't it make the sail baggy there?"

"Huh. Maybe. I dunno."

I told him that I thought most of the little tweaks and variations you find on racing Sunfish are of more psychological value to the skipper than anything else.

I went out for a practice sail. I looked at the front of the sail. Hmm -- maybe there is too much of a curve there. The second grommet had a loose tie but the third one had a clip and there was a vertical crease running up from that clip. Sort of looked ugly.

I returned to shore. I tweaked a bit. Added a tie at the first grommet. Replaced the clip at the third grommet with a tie. Fiddled with them until the front of the sail had a nice smooth entry with no vertical creases.

The races started in a shifty south-easterly breeze, maybe 8 knots. 13 boats racing

Race 1 - led for threequarters of the race but lost out on the final beat by boats that went to both corners. Seemed to be a big lift out on the left side. Ended up 5th. Pretty good for me in this fleet.

Race 2 - 1st. Race 3 - 2nd. Race 4 - 1st. Race 5 - 2nd.

What happened? I can't believe it. Neither can anybody else. I'm just here to practice starts, I despise the boat, and I have the best performance on the night. Moi?

Did my tweaks make all that difference? And if they did was it just psychological?

Of course it could have been because I nailed every start perfectly and used the strategic knowledge that I gained watching other sailors on the first race. But why was I able to do that this week when I never have before?

Tweaks. As W would say, "Don't misunderestimate them."

The more I sail, the more I think that is a weird sport.


I sailed a Sunfish regatta at the club on Memorial Day. I'm not too fond of the boat these days but there's a lot of Sunfish racing around here. When in Rome do as the Romans do.

It would have been a good regatta except for one thing. The day was marred by accusations of cheating. A sailor who is new to the area and had been doing well in the morning races left at lunchtime. When I asked other fleet members why he had left, I was told that he had committed a foul and not done his penalty turns. At lunch the husband of the woman who was fouled had requested the offender to retire from that race. Apparently the newcomer had said he had done his turns but his accusers would not take his word for it. Eventually he decide to withdraw from the regatta and go home.

I felt bad. I had met the newbie before and he seemed to be a nice enough guy as well as a good sailor. Just the kind of person we would want in our fleet. But now he was pissed off and we might not see him again. Words like "cheat" and "liar" were being used. Feelings were high.

I had no idea who was right or wrong. I tend to have a mistrust of any account where I have only heard one side of the story. Maybe he did do his turns. Maybe he wasn't the one at fault in the original incident. Maybe he was having a bad day; we all do. Maybe he is a jerk. I don't know.

This club has a history of harsh words being used, feelings being hurt and someone leaving the club in a huff, never to be seen again. I don't know why. Not all sailing clubs are like this.

The incident leaves a nasty dark cloud hanging over what would otherwise have been a perfect day.

Why can't we all play nice?

The Regatta

The sailors arrived. We had a briefing from the race committee chairman and launched before 10:30. Our first Laser regatta was under way.

The weather was perfect. The wind was from the NW with plenty of shifts and gusts to make life interesting. Over the day it built from under 10 knots in the morning to gusts of around 18 knots in the afternoon. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. Life was good.

The sight of 10 Lasers sailing out the race course was a huge thrill for me. I've sailed other boats but the Laser is my first love. There hasn't been an active fleet of Lasers on this lake for over 20 years. Indeed there's even been some antipathy to the Laser from some old-time club members for reasons lost in the mists of time. Seeing this fleet was a validation of our decision to revive Laser sailing at the club and made all the work of fleetbuilding and publicity in the winter worthwhile.

I was on a high as the racing started and, much to my surprise, started the regatta with two wins. In race 3, Wily Old Fox banged the right corner on the beat and won the race with Surfer Dude in second. In the middle of the fleet The Kid and Hot Chick were having close competition in Radials. The Rookie was the tailender but at least he had learned to keep the mast pointing at the sky instead of the bottom of the reservoir. Aussie was hanging in there but still adapting from his previous skills in the Laser 2. Cheerleader had her moments too and was leading one race for a lap.

We went in for lunch after 3 races. Hot dogs and hamburgers on the barbecue. It was good to relax in the sunshine and relive the morning's experiences.

After lunch, Living Legend showed his true form and won the first two races with me in second place both times. We had some good duels but he outmatched me every time in tactical situations.

Going into the last race I desperately tried to figure out the points situation. Remember my finishes and Living Legend's. Subtract the throwout. I figured that if I finished one place behind him I would win the regatta. I was wrong.

In the sixth and final race, Surfer Dude found the big shift on the right and took the lead. Living Legend and I battled for two laps but he was still ahead of me at the final mark. Oh well, I thought, it's OK, I still win the regatta if I finish one place behind him. Wrong! For some reason he didn't cover me up the final beat. We split tacks. When we came back I was ahead. Turns out I actually needed to beat him in this race to take the regatta. And I did.

Bossman and Wily Old Fox were having quite a duel too. They actually finished in a dead heat in the final race; and as a result were tied on points for the regatta.

Wow. What a feeling. Superb sailing weather. Good turnout for our first regatta. Close competition up and down the fleet. That would have been enough to make the day a success for me. Winning the regatta was an unexpected bonus.

We sailed in and derigged. Everybody seemed to have that mellow feeling of satisfaction that comes from a perfect day on the water. There had been no aggro, no protests, just clean fair racing in almost perfect sailing conditions. The trophies were awarded by Cheerleader. Speeches of thanks were made. The sailors were photographed with Hot Chick - once again in bikini - in the front row.

I love it when a plan comes together.

The Regatta Cast

Sunday was the big day.

Last fall my friend S. bought a new Laser and we decided to start a Laser fleet at the club. She is quite the cheerleader so I felt that with my experience in the class and her energy we had a chance to build a fleet quickly. One of her suggestions was that we hold a Laser regatta this year to help get the word out about the fleet. I was skeptical about doing this in year one but was swept along by her enthusiasm.

So Sunday was the day of our Laser regatta. We had done all the preparations. Publicity. Food. Trophies. Volunteers. But you never know how successful the event will be. It's a bit like throwing a party and wondering how many will show up and whether they will have a good time.

The weather was perfect. When I arrived at the lake around 8am it was sunny and blue skies. Already a wind of 5-10 knots was blowing from the NW. That was one worry out of the way; sometimes on the lake it doesn't start blowing until lunchtime.

Then the sailors started to arrive. My friend, Cheerleader. Another sailor who had just moved to the area from California - let's call him Surfer Dude. A new member of the fleet still learning the boat, a Rookie. And a long-standing member of the club, an Aussie, who used to sail a Laser 2 and who had just bought the solo version of the Laser. I welcomed him and asked him whether he still had the Laser 2.

"No. I lost that in the divorce settlement".

Oops. I didn't know he had been divorced.

"Sorry to hear that" I mumbled. Leaving it ambiguous as to whether I was expressing condolences for loss of wife or boat.

Cheerleader and I had persuaded a couple of club members from other fleets to sail the regatta in borrowed Lasers that we had found for them. The commodore of our club, let's call him Bossman, who had been very supportive our efforts to start the Laser fleet was sailing in my son's Laser. And one of the long standing members of the club, a Wily Old Fox who has great local knowledge of our lake's winds was sailing too.

A couple of youngsters with Laser Radials arrived. The Kid with his mother driving was welcomed by our race committee chairman; they had met on a course last weekend. And then a young woman arrived with her mother and they started putting together her dollie and unloading their boat. I went over to welcome them and help them as they were running a bit late. A few minutes later Bossman started giving me a hard time about being so eager to help. I didn't get his point at first - then I understood. It was true - the daughter was a strikingly good looking woman. One way to describe her was to say she was perfectly built for Laser sailing; the longest legs I've ever seen on a woman -and plenty of weight up top if you get the drift. And to rig her boat she had stripped off to a skimpy bikini. All the men were taking in the sight. Definitely a Hot Chick.

We were just about to hold the skippers' meeting when another car, with a Laser on the roof rack arrived. It was one of the sailors I had been seeing at regattas around here for many years. Seeing his transom mainly. The first few regattas I had sailed in this area - district championship, masters national championship - had been won by this man. In the little booklet issued to all Laser class members it lists the names of sailors who have placed in the top 5 in World Championships and Masters World Championships. His name is on these lists. Several times. A Living Legend.

So we had 10 boats. I had always said that if we achieved 10 boats for our first regatta I would count it as a success. Another local club who had just revived their Laser regatta only had 5. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

If you build it they will come. And they did.