Thursday, September 22, 2005

New England Laser Masters

I sailed in the New England Laser Masters last weekend. As I am a great admirer of Antony Clay's blog I thought I would write up the regatta the way he might. Enjoy.

SlowSailer Racing Association

So the hallowed New England Old Laser Buggers event has been and gone... I thought I might as well go and join in the fun... well get drunk with the old geezers anyway...

So what happened, not 100% sure.. me and wifey drove up to Massachusetts on Friday afternoon/evening... raining all the time with Hurricane Ophelia lurking offshore.....arrived at home of son #1 and his missus....blew up the airbed we were supposed to sleep on...drank some cheap Ozzie plonk... ate something that used to have feathers...drank more of the Ozzie plonk... sat around and talked.... drank.....admired swelling belly of son #1's wifey with grandkid #1 still inside....drank.... bed ... slept (not well)... breakfast, coffeee, drove to Newport in more rain.....rigged boat and waited... chilling....

Sailing.....God its been too long sorry... Friday night the forecast said 40 to 50 gusting 60 for Saturday am....well it wasn't 40 but certinly blown Dogs off chains....there were big swells from Ophelia coming from the south and with the wind from the north the waves were breaking in the middle of the bay.... so we blasted out in a breeze that wasn't as scary as it looked except that at the bottom of the waves you were hunched up on the deck and then on the top it was fekin blowy and you had to hiek like crazy and ride ride ride that b'stard down into trough hell agin.

Had crap starts and crap beats but somehow managed to keep the BIG white flappy thing above the blue plastic thing and the cold, wet stuff and had OK races, not last anyway! happy, buzzin, exstatic and basicall in the SlowSailor groove proper...

After sailing, me, wifey, Doug, Pat and all the other old buggers went off to the regatta bash at the local Police Frat Hall... some nice food, veggie lasagna, cow lasagna, crap Mexican lots of drinking, speeches, giving out of "silly things", drinking, chatting - everything was some Canadian bird sang the rubber ducky song and Joe played his trumpet and so we all nothing really more exciting happened me and wifey went off to cheapo MiseriLodge motel for the night

Sunday came and less wind.... so after the very slow crawl out of bed and hangover breakfast of stale bagel and stale donut at cheapo motel and early morning piss in the portaloo at the beach... first race was crap light but then the wind kicked in from the SW so swells going downwind caught some rides on the lumpy things..but not a good weekend for the SlowSailor Racing Association...ended up last in the really old bugger age group...bummer

So, where to next.... Annapolis weekend after next

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Laser Sailor

My copy of the summer 2005 edition of The Laser Sailor arrived today. This is the newsletter of the North American Laser Class. Frankly the quality of the rag has been let's say variable over recent years. But the current editors Sherri Campbell and Jerelyn Biehl are doing a fine job.

You just have to smile from the moment you see the cover picture. A Canadian sailor taking a break during the US Nationals. He is lying flat on his back on the deck of his Laser, arms stretched out, toes pointing to the heavens and with one hand only gently touching the tiller. On his transom scrawled in red are the words, "Queens Sailing Team. Please don't move. I'll be back to pay." There's a story there one suspects.

The issue is packed with useful and interesting information. At least it's useful to the community of Laser racers at which it's aimed.

An update from the builder covering the testing and development of a composite upper mast section intended to be more durable than the current aluminum section and to widen the competitive weight range of the Laser Radial.

A comprehensive review of the different models available of "the most important piece of equipment" for Laser sailors -- hiking pants. The author reviews fit, durability, ventilation, cost and the all-important amount of padding on the seat. If you spent a day on a Laser you would understand why the latter is so important.

An article about "nutrition on the road" by a certified personal trainer. Hmmm, must read that one carefully -- I'm off on a Laser road trip this weekend.

There are the obligatory minutes of the AGM. The class AGM was held at the North American Championships in Seattle. Now minutes of meetings are usually pretty dry and are usually written to hide more than they reveal. But these are fascinating because, even in the terse language of the minute writer, it is obvious that one of the members at the meeting, a certain Mr. C, was being a real pain complaining about the regatta venue, regatta fees and expenditure, race officers, etc., etc. By the end of the meeting the class secretary was "asking for Mr. C's help" in various matters. I bet she was! One suspects the exchange was more along the lines of, "If you're so frigging smart why don't you fix the problem instead of wasting our time with your whining?" Or do I just have a suspicious mind?

The adverts in the newsletter are worthy of close study too. The dealer that I might buy my new Laser from has an interesting 2 page spread. There's an ad for some boots I've been thinking of buying. One for a new cleat system I've not seen before. And an advert for a Laser training center in the Dominican Republic. Hmmm, that sounds like an interesting trip one winter. Must check out their website.

And lots more. A Masters Report. An insert of the International Laser Class Magazine with more good stuff. Lots of action-packed photos. And reports of regattas from all over North America. Hmm let's check out the report of our district regatta.....lots of stuff about the leaders and the breeze and the waves.....ahah.....there it is in the small name for winning first grandmaster. What a great magazine.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

What's Wrong With Being Number Two?

I haven't written much about racing in the new Laser fleet that S. and I started at our club this year. The truth is that I haven't found it as exciting as I thought it would be.

Yes, it has been rewarding to start a new fleet from nothing, attract new members, help them find boats to buy, get them started in Laser sailing and pass on some knowledge. I take great satisfaction from the fact that in one year we have built it to be one of the largest and most active fleets in the club. I'm not a natural cheerleader but occasionally it's good to succeed at something out of your comfort zone.

Yes, it has been enjoyable to be able to sail my Laser every Sunday. No other boat gives me quite the same thrill. As it said on a bumper sticker I saw somewhere, "Life is too short to sail ugly boats." And I've wasted too many years sailing ugly boats.

But what's been missing has been real competition. The other folk in the fleet don't yet have the same experience in the boat as myself. So most races follow the same pattern. Win the start. Stay in front. Extend my lead. This can get really boring after a while.

I have done my best to raise the standard in the rest of the fleet. I've shown people how to get their boats in top racing order. I've passed on tuning advice. I've offered to organize practice sessions. I've given advice on the water when I've seen people doing the wrong things. And they are improving. But not fast enough to push me much.

Sailors from other fleets give me a hard time about my horizon jobs. Say I should be sailing in their fleets to get closer competition. I see their point but I want to sail my Laser. The other Laser sailors get really excited if they are even in front of me for part of a race.

Don't get me wrong. I have been beaten. I've invited better sailors from other clubs to race with us and they've won races. We've lent boats to good sailors from other classes and occasionally they've won races. Unfortunately that doesn't happen very often.

But last Sunday we had a breakthrough. The winds were light, patchy and shifty. And the second best sailor in the fleet is really good in these conditions. In the second race he was close on my transom all the way round the race track. I rounded the last mark in textbook manner -- enter wide, leave close. Too close? The mark definitely twitched a little as I rounded it. Did I hit it? Not sure. Did a 360 anyway. My friend passed me and I couldn't overtake him in the last few yards of the race.

Man - it felt good to be second. First time I've been beaten by one of the regular members of the fleet. He's a good guy. Really got the Laser bug. Says he's trying to persuade his wife to let him buy a new Laser but she thinks that feeding the kids is more important. As Morrie teaches Mitch in Tuesdays with Morrie, "What's wrong with being number two?" It felt amazingly good.

But I beat his ass in the third race.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Top 10 Reasons For Not Doing a 720

This is one for the racing aficionados. If you foul another boat in a race you are supposed to do a penalty that is generally known as a 720. As in 720 degrees. Two complete circles including two tacks and two gybes. Yes, I know that in the latest version of the Racing Rules it is now known as a "two turns penalty" and the definition has changed slightly. But racing sailors are conservative and we will be calling it a 720 for at least another 20 years.

Here are some excuses that I've heard on the water from other sailors who have fouled me but didn't think that they should do a 720.

10. But it's hard to know all the racing rules

9. But I was trying to avoid you

8. But the wind made me do it

7. But you beat me anyway

6. But I was still recovering from the last collision

5. But you weren't disadvantaged

4. But you fouled me in the last race so now we are even

3. But I only hit your mast

2. It doesn't matter that we collided as we were both on port tack

1. But I was out of control

and a bonus one.....I think there is something wrong with my bifocals.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Never Gonna Feel Like That Again

For some reason I keep playing Kenny Chesney's "Never Gonna Feel Like That Again" on the CD player in the car. It's just a breezy country song about phases in a young man's life but I can't get it out of my head.

I am always a sucker for songs that celebrate the playing of sports -- even if they're not about the sport of sailing. The opening lines are actually about high school football. But change the words slightly and they could just as easily be about the start of Laser frostbiting season. Especially that bit about being black and blue afterwards! They capture the feeling of anticipation and nervousness before the start of a day's racing and the feelings of satisfaction afterwards.

Friday night butterflies
Like clockwork they'd arrive
Little chill in an October sky
Nervous till the kickoff came

Four quarters win or lose
Spent Saturdays black and blue
But it was what I loved to do
And it was more than just a game

The song is really about transitions in life. And as I wrote earlier, I am in the process of closing down one phase of my life and starting another. It's over 35 years since I graduated from college but September still feels like the time of year for new starts.

It was my life and it was fun
Another season of my life is done
Another race I'm glad I got to run
Another chapter of my life is over

No I'm never gonna feel like that again
Time's rushin by me like the wind
Never be as young as I was then
No I'm never gonna feel like that again

Of course the bad boy in the song has a girlfriend called Cindy Lou and after a steamy prom night she ends up "in that way". Our hero does the right thing by his girl and the story ends with the tearjerker lines ....

Now I'm out here throwin this ball around
With a boy that looks just like me

Hey - I don't wish looking like me on anyone. Certainly not my first grandchild, due in November. But I am looking to throwing a ball around with him or her. Or even better taking them for a sail.

It's my life and it's sure fun
Another season of my life's begun
Another race I'm glad I get to run
Another chapter of my life I'm writin

No I'm never gonna feel like this again
Time's rushin by me like the wind
Gotta grab each moment that I can
Cause I'm never gonna feel like this again

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Goodbye Mr Chips

EVK4 and Zephyr, two blogging sailors have recently posted pictures of their kids on their blogs. So I thought I would do the same.

These are some of the kids that have been in my sailing classes this year. That's me in the orange hat and sunglasses in the back row mid-left.

To paraphrase the dying words of Mr Chips, "But I do have children, dozens of them and they are all sailors."

Saturday, September 10, 2005


I retired for the second time last week.

My first retirement was 5 years ago. I retired from my job as a senior manager with a multinational corporation. I had been there for almost 30 years and was tired of the constant travel and corporate politics. It was the kind of company that wanted to keep promoting younger people and at the ripe old age of 53 it was clear that they thought I was over the hill.

The trigger that made me eventually decide to chuck it in 5 years ago was hearing that a sailing buddy was going to spend his summer helping out with a junior sailing program. My first reaction was intense jealousy. He's going to be out in the fresh air sailing with kids all summer and I'm going to be stuck in an office and riding cramped airplanes and dealing with all these idiots trying to screw me over??

That's when it dawned on me that what I really wanted to do was to cash in my pension and go live the dream. Teach sailing in the summer and sail as much as I could for the rest of the year. So I did.

This is the sixth summer that I have spent my weeks teaching kids to sail. Three years each at two separate programs. It has been a whole load of fun and the memories of all those kids will live with me for a long time.

But last week I told the yacht club that I work for that I'm not coming back next year. Of course they wanted to know why.

I could have said that after six years I feel like a break. That I want the freedom in the summers to travel to long regattas and visit other places. Even that I am afraid that I am running out of new ideas to keep their sailing program fresh and alive and developing and that they need a new face. That what was exciting to me in the first year I worked there may well feel like more of a chore next year. Or that while most of the kids are wonderful, some are badly behaved and although I know exactly how to straighten them out there's not much fun in that part of the job. All of the above are true to some extent but it's hard to say any of those things without it sounding like a criticism of the club, the program or the kids. And they would only try and argue about the reasons and try and persuade me to stay.

So I gave them a reason that is another part of the truth. That my wife and I have been planning for some time to sell our big old family home and move to something smaller. And that for some time we have been thinking of moving to another state (coincidentally a great area for sailing) to be nearer our eldest son and his wife. And that we have decided that now is the time to do it because our first grandchild is on the way and we want to be nearer to him or her. We will be starting a new adventure, a new life in a new home in a new place. New sailors to meet. New regattas to go to.

So last week I retired for the second time. We're on our way.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sense of Direction

It serves me right. I shouldn't have written that smug post about how males have this innate sense of direction whereas females tend to navigate by using landmarks...

I went out for a 9 mile run. It was along a trail I had run before. Easy to find as it followed a stream through woods for just over 3 miles. Every mile or so it crossed a road but I never paid any attention to the names of those roads. Then the path got narrower and less well marked and worked its way up a hill into deeper words. When I figured I had run about 4 and 1/2 miles I turned round and started heading back down the hill.

After a while I began to wonder if I was on the same trail. It just felt a bit wrong. But I had my male's sense of direction so I figured if I just kept heading north I would be fine. Bad idea!

Now I knew I was on the wrong trail. By now I should be getting on a wider trail and approaching the road. Hmm. Feels like I must be east of the right trail. So at the next fork I take a left and start working back west. Yikes I've gone a long way. And what is this stream doing running east-west? Definitely not the stream I was following before. And here are some houses. There were no houses near the correct trail. For a while I think of retracing my steps to get back on the right trail. But I realize that the trails are so faint that I'd probably get even more lost.

I finally find a trail leading out of the wood between houses and emerge on a road. A very unfamiliar road. Which way to go? Downhill seems like a good idea. It's almost noon and the sun is high and it's over 80 degrees. My water bottle is almost empty. I head down the road.

And now a junction. Left or right? Now my starting point is definitely 4 or 5 miles north of here. So north is good. But the roads are not running north-south. I feel I am east of where I should be but I'm not sure. The county town is somewhere over to the northeast maybe 5 miles away. If I head north and east I will eventually get somewhere I can recognize. Wild country be to the south and west.

So I zigzag through the country roads. I see the name of the township I am in. Yikes -- that is miles away from where I want to be. But maybe it stretches a long way? I pass huge mansions big enough to shelter several dozen families of hurricane survivors. Long driveways. Acres of lawns. A sign that says "Gate Opens Outwards". Big money around here. Where the hell am I? I could be running round in circles. I might be running for hours. This was supposed to be a marathon training run -- not an actual marathon.

After zigzagging around the roads for 30 or 40 minutes I see a sign that indicates pedestrians crossing ahead. Ahah. It's my original track. I had deviated to the west not the east. I pick up the track and breathe a sigh of relief. As I run the remaining few miles I only have a slight nagging doubt that I'm actually heading the wrong way down the track.

Of course a woman would never have made that original mistake. Especially my wife who knows trees. She would have remembered her way via landmarks. "We should bear left at that Gray Oak with the Poison Ivy. Need to keep to the right off that Mountain Laurel under the American Elm." Or even more obviously, "Darling - the path we came up the hill had blue blazes on the trees. Why are we on a trail with white blazes now?"

I admit it. Women are better at some things. They even ask for directions.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bad Taste

I wrote last week about a problem in our Laser fleet. A member of the fleet had been persuaded by a sailmaker, also a club member, to buy two knockoff Laser sails that are illegal for club racing. (Two sails because he had two kids with Lasers too.) The sailmaker was trying to make a case that such sails are OK in "friendly, local fleet racing".

Should I be a hardass and tell the guy he just can't use the sails? Would that be unfriendly? Can he just return the (custom made) sails to the sailmaker? Or will the sailmaker just refuse to take them back? After all he made what was ordered.

I polled all the members of the Laser fleet by email as to how they wanted to handle this. Some were angry at the sailmaker. All had sympathy for the purchaser's quandary. Some felt that we should stick to strict one-design rules. Others were more open to relaxing the rules for friendly fleet racing. In the end, all the members of the fleet, some more reluctantly than others, agreed that our friend could use his knockoff sails. But no more exceptions.

When I communicated the fleet's feelings to the owner of the sails he was touched that everyone was prepared to help him out, even when this meant going against strongly held views of what one-design sailing is all about. But now he understands Laser class rules better and how all of us feel, he is not so sure he wants to take advantage of our friendliness to him by actually using his new sails. He wondered if it might be better if only his kids used the sails because they don't finish as high in the fleet as he does; on the other hand they will develop and will start winning races soon. We wondered how future new members of the fleet will feel if they join us and see a couple of boats with illegal sails. The more we talk, the more I can see his discomfort with the sails increase.

We laid out one of the new sails over another legal sail. Then we realized. This is not a knockoff at all. The curve of luff and leech are different. The panels are in different places. The window is in a different place. The battens are in different places. It has a tack grommet as well as a cunningham grommet. The sail cloth is heavier. This is not an imitation Laser sail. It is simply a sail that will fit on a Laser.

The unfortunate purchaser pondered what to do. Should he return the sails to the sailmaker? Should he try and sell them privately as practice sails? In any case, he is now very reluctant to use them. He went across to talk to the sailmaker. I only overheard snatches of the conversation. Later in the day the sailmaker tried to tell me all the reasons he had made the sails differently from legal Laser sails. The main gist of his argument seemed to be that he can't buy sailcloth that is as "crappy" as that used for real Laser sails, so he "has to use" better quality cloth and that forces him to build the sails differently. So they are "better" than real Laser sails? He is only digging a deeper hole.

My fellow Laser fleet founder S. has written an article for our club newsletter reaffirming the principles of one-design sailing and stressing the importance of following class rules. I felt it would be good if the article came out over the names of all the fleet captains. So, without going into too much detail of the original issue, I forwarded it to them for comment. If anything they were even more extreme than I and S. were. No variations, no allowances, no flexibility.

I will be interested to see how my friend, the purchaser of the sails, decides to proceed. The only good thing to come out of this is that it has not caused division and bad feelings among our fleet members. But the whole affair leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Rookies

On Saturday afternoon I ran the Rookie Regatta at our sailing club. This is an event open to sailors who have learned to sail this year or last year. We train a lot of adults and kids in our "Learn to Sail" courses but only a small percentage of these new sailors make the transition to racing with the club on a regular basis. The Rookie Regatta is one way that we try and make this transition easy for them as this event is only for other beginners. No hotshots allowed. And we aim to make it as informal and easy as we can.

Last year a friend of mine ran the Rookie Regatta and it was a disaster. Only three sailors showed up. During the first race, two of them capsized and were unable to right their boats -- and the third drifted away to leeward and got stuck on a lee shore. After rescuing them all, my friend abandoned the race and the regatta. So I approached the assignment with some trepidation.

The wind was still fairly gusty at lunchtime. Our juniors had handled it well in the morning but as I am not involved in sail training at this club I didn't know the rookies well or whether they would be able to handle the conditions. People started arriving over lunch and by the time of the skippers' meeting we had twelve rookie sailors ready to race in ten Sunfish. (Two boats opted to sail with two sailors on each boat.) We had the three junior sailors from the same family that had done so well in the junior regatta in the morning (still officially rookies). There was a Dad sailing with his young son, a few teenage boys, a guy who had just bought a Force 5 and a couple of middle-aged women. At the skippers' meeting I asked each sailor to introduce themselves to me and the other competitors and tell me about what experience they had. Most of them had just done the beginners' course but had not attempted any racing yet. I looked at the wind, remembered last year and wondered if I should start to get worried.

We reviewed how we would run the races with them. We reminded them of the basic right of way rules. We made sure they all remembered how to do a capsize recovery. We answered all their questions, wished them luck, told them to have fun and sent them off to launch. Remembering last year's experience, I did make sure that one rescue boat was out on the water before any of the rookies hit the water. I was relieved to see them all sail out safely towards the course area.

In the first race it was apparent that the two middle-aged women had not really mastered the art of sailing upwind. Then one of them had the universal joint on her tiller extension break. One of my RC crew quickly drove into the club, picked up a new rudder and tiller, drove back out to her and replaced the whole rudder and tiller on her boat. This "pit stop" greatly impressed her and all the other rookies. My two fellow RC crew in rescue boats coached the tailenders and somehow we got everyone else around the course with no other disasters. We ran two more races and everyone completed both races. There was only one capsize (one of the teenage boys) but he quickly righted the boat and carried on racing. We could see everyone's technique improving as the afternoon progressed and by the end of the day the tailenders were not so far behind the leaders.

Of course, the three kids who had raced in the morning took the top three slots in the afternoon. One of them took home the Rookie Trophy, a huge rudder that looked like it must have come off the Titanic. His parents must be delighted. All the rookies were pumped up to have completed three races and promised to come out racing with us on Wednesdays or Sundays.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went home with a big smile.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The Juniors

On Saturday morning I was in charge of the race committee for the club's junior regatta which is sailed in Sunfish. As I mentioned in my post about Wednesday night sailing, we have a couple of hot shot juniors who have been winning most of the local junior regattas and did well at the junior nationals. We also have a family of three kids -- brother, sister and cousin -- who learned to sail last year and have been competing regularly in the Wednesday and Sunday Sunfish series with the club's adults this year. Until Saturday I hadn't realized how much the whole group had improved and how close in skill levels they now are.

The wind was a puffy north-westerly. Our course area was in a part of the reservoir with two coves to windward of the windward mark and stretching away roughly north and north-west. The wind would come out of one of these bays for a few minutes and then switch to coming out of the other. We solved the problem of these huge shifts by setting two windward marks, one pink and the other yellow to suit the two competing winds. Then we told the kids before each start which mark we were using for the windward leeward courses.

I ran six short races during the morning. Our two hotshots must have been asleep or overconfident because in the first few races the other three kids were showing them up. It was a pleasure to watch how competitive the fleet was. We had a kid OCS in each of the first two races -- not by much, just a sign of them being prepared to really push the line. Usually the problem with beginners is that they are too timid at the start. In one race we watched with delight as the smallest, lightest, youngest kid surfed past his cousin in a puff to take the lead.

After four races, only two points separated first and last boats. After five races, only one point separated the first three boats. And everyone had won at least one race -- except for the kid that everyone (including himself I would guess) had assumed to be the top junior sailor in the club. In the final race the hotshots finally got their act together and did well enough to just win their respective age groups.

As they sailed in for lunch I felt good on so many levels. The race committee work had gone smoothly in spite of the shifty winds. The kids had enjoyed themselves, sailed hard, competed fairly and shown good sportsmanship. But above all I felt good about the state of junior sailing in the club. If this group of five stick together and continue to push each other to excel, there's no limit to what they might achieve.

A good morning on the water. Almost as good as sailing myself.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Proper Course

In the September issue of Sailing World magazine, racing rules guru Dick Rose has an article about Proper Course. No, it's not about this blog. I'm not that famous.

The article is entitled "Clarifying Proper Course and Luffing" and he does a great job of clearing up an area of the racing rules that is of confusion to many racing sailors. As Rose says the concept of "proper course" is one of the terms covered in the Definitions section of the Rules. And the Definition says that a boat's proper course is the course she "would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of other boats referred to in the rule using the term."

In other words, proper course is the course you would sail if there weren't all those other idiots trying to overtake you, steal your wind or otherwise interfere with what would otherwise be a perfect day on the water. I guess that's the reason I chose it for the title of this blog.

I didn't give a lot of thought to choosing the blog's title. I wanted some term that was vaguely sailing related. But I also wanted something that could have multiple meanings. I was partly inspired by the phrase "Stay of Execution" used by Scheherazade as the name of her blog. I'm still impressed by how that title works for her at so many different levels.

Proper Course seemed a good choice for me because it was a term from sailboat racing. But it also seemed to me that in many aspects of life I'm trying to choose the path that is right for me without being too distracted or diverted by other folk that may be preventing me from steering that proper course through life. In retrospect the title sounds a little prissy and doesn't quite capture the spirit of what I'm trying to communicate here. But I'm stuck with it now.

Anyway, back to the Dick Rose article. He quite rightly points out that, contrary to the belief held by many racing sailors, there is no rule that says you have to sail your proper course. So there. All you people who like to scream, "Sail your proper course" don't know what you're talking about.

The term "proper course" appears in only three rules. One tells certain boats not to sail above their proper course. Most people still think of this rule in terms of whether you do or don't have "luffing rights". (More on that another day perhaps.)

Another rule tells some boats not to sail below their proper course. It is, in my experience, the most widely abused and ignored, or perhaps unknown, rule in the book.

And the third rule covers a very specific situation where a boat is obliged not to sail further from a gybe mark than her proper course would take her. I have never seen a situation in fleet racing where anyone would be tempted to break this rule (except perhaps through fear of gybing in over 30 knots) so it's largely irrelevant to the racing I do.

And that's it. With those exceptions, you can sail your proper course or any other course you damn well please. Ain't life grand?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Silly Awards

At the end of the junior sailing program we have a lunch for the sailors from all the classes. We play crazy games and have pizza and ice-cream for lunch. Then I present the "silly awards". These are wacky prizes - mainly bought at the dollar store - that celebrate something unusual or humorous that happened to each individual sailor during the program.

Here are a few examples....

For the little 7-year-old boy who was so quiet in classes I could hardly hear him - a noisemaker. (In hindsight it was a mistake to give out this award first.)

For the kid who forgot to wear shoes to class in spite of our strict rule about wearing closed toe shoes - a pair of stripy bedroom slippers (with closed toes of course).

For the high school freshman who was a good sport in spite of really being too big for an Optimist - a ribbon saying "I'm a Big Boy".

For the girl whose mother was often late coming to collect her so she had to borrow my cell phone to call her Mum - a toy cell phone.

For the girl who complained to me that someone had spilt ice cream on her boat cover - a scrub buddy so she can clean her cover.

For the girl who got her long hair caught in the boom bridle one day - a pair of scissors for an emergency haircut.

For the girl whose parents' boat ran out of gas while bringing her to class - directions to the local marina.

For the boy who use to sing annoying songs all the time he sailed - a ribbon saying "Singing Star".

For the girl who freaked out one day when she found a spider in her boat while racing - a plastic spider.

For one of the boys who had to be told how to go to the bathroom in between races of a regatta - a Potty Training Award.

Somehow I found a different way to humiliate every one of the 40 kids. For some reason that I don't understand, later in the afternoon they all filled buckets of water and soaked me while I was sitting in a chair outside the club. I'll miss them.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Nobody Yells

My post about how my shouting instructions at female sailing students may be received negatively reminded me of an organization that I saw at a Boat Show a few years ago. They are called Womanship and they are a sailing school designed by women, for women.

As their website says they "bring together women of all ages ... from diverse backgrounds, from every part of the world, in harmonious collaboration and in a conducive learning environment, to take part in a sailing journey of self discovery, self fulfillment and the acquisition of real skills, real strengths, the ability to team and to lead, in harmony with nature." Or as the website also says more succinctly "Nobody Yells, Everybody Learns".

Women don't like being yelled at. I should know. I probably turned my own wife off sailing through making that mistake. We learned to sail together at a sailing resort and entered the beginners' race at the end of the course. The wind picked up, things got a bit scary and my competitive juices started flowing. I started yelling at her to trim in the jib or pull up the centerboard. We won the race but I lost the war. She has hardly ever raced with me again.

We laugh about it now. When we saw the Womanship stand at the boat show I suggested she ought to take one of their courses. She declined. So I teased her a bit. But they won't yell at you. If you drop the spinnaker under the boat and wrapped it round the keel they'll just quietly whisper, "Oh my dear, if you have a moment when you've finished painting your nails, do you think you could please, pretty please, be so kind as to see if there's anything you can do to tidy up that spinnaker, if you don't mind darling."

OK it's a politically incorrect sexist joke and a slander on Womanship. I know. And I am sure Womanship do great work and connect with women learning to sail in a way that I find more difficult.

I'm just jealous really.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why Gender Matters

I've been reading Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. It's aimed at parents and teachers but I've been trying to absorb its message through the eyes of a sailing instructor.

Sax, a psychologist and family physician, argues that sex differences are significant and are important to how children are raised, disciplined and educated. He dismisses the politically correct view that boys and girls only behave differently because in our culture we treat them differently. And he rejects just as firmly the traditional gender stereotypes.

Instead he presents research that shows that boys and girls brains do develop differently. And that those differences are crucial in determining how to teach boy and girls.

It started me wondering about the boys and girls I have taught to sail over the past six years. I have had some successes and failures with both sexes. But it is true that the kids who have progressed the most under my instruction have been boys. Is that, I wonder, due to some innate difference in ability between boys and girls to pick up sailing skills? Or is it perhaps that I, as a male, have found the right techniques to motivate and teach other males and am missing the mark with the females?

One gender difference that Sax discusses at length is the way that boys' and girls' brains are different in the way that they handle geometry and navigation. He says that researchers have discovered that females and males use fundamentally different strategies for these tasks. Ask a man for directions to a friend's house and he will give it in terms of, "Go south on King Street for two miles, then turn east on Duke Street for about a mile......" A woman asked the same question will answer, "Go down King Street till you see McDonald's. Then make a left, go past the hardware store and the Exxon station until you see the school....." In other words, women typically navigate using landmarks; men use absolute directions (north, south) and distances (miles).

I wonder how significant this difference is when learning to sail. It certainly helps to have a mental image of one's orientation with respect to the wind direction. This seems similar to the way a man navigates a city while maintaining a sense of which way is north. It must be tougher if your brain is wanting to navigate using landmarks when you are in the middle of a mostly featureless stretch of water. Or is my male brain failing to understand how a female sailor deals with this problem?

Sax also discusses differences between boys and girls with respect to risk taking. He says many boys enjoy taking risks whereas girls are less likely to seek out risky situations. I wonder how this affects their attitudes to some of the more scary aspects of learning to sail such as dealing with heavy weather or big waves for the first time?

The book also describes how both girls and boys are being shortchanged at school because teachers fail to understand and compensate for these gender differences. One very basic issue he raises is that girls hear better than boys. So a boy sitting at the back of a kindergarten class with a female teacher speaking in what seems to her a normal voice may not even hear most of what she is saying. On the other hand if a male teacher speaks in a tone of voice that seems normal to him, a girl in the front row may feel that he is yelling at her.

I guess I'm a yeller. I have a naturally loud voice. I tell the kids in my sailing classes that if I shout instructions at them on the water it doesn't mean that I'm angry with them or that I'm telling them off. It just means I want them to hear me.
Having read this book I wonder of some of the girls are turned off by my yelling. Could be.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Full of Woe

I went to race with the Sunfish fleet on Wednesday evening. I hadn't been in a Sunfish for a couple of months so I was looking forward to a relaxing evening of laid-back racing. Wow - did I get a surprise.

A couple of the more experienced kids have been sailing lots of regattas and had both done well at the Sunfish Junior North Americans. The father of one of these kids told me that his son was so pleased I was there because he hadn't had a chance to test himself against me for a few months. Already I'm a marked man.

In the first race I was meandering down the start line towards the pin end when the other kid, obviously in a testosterone induced mania, started screaming, "Leeward, leeward" at me. I pretended to be deaf but quickly got further down the line and out of his way.

I was second boat to the windward mark in the first race. Not too shabby. But on the second reach kid #1 who was just behind me went higher and higher trying to take my wind. I luffed to protect and when we were about 5 miles to windward of the rhumb line I gently pointed out to him that if we didn't go down soon we might get passed by one or boats to leeward of us. He got the message.

I held on for second place in that race but after that the wind got lighter and my results went downhill. In the second race the boat end of the line was favored but I was too far down the line when I realized it. So I sailed above the line, gybed round the committee boat and came in for a perfect start at the right hand end of the line. Except I was about 15 seconds early and way too fast and there were two boats already luffing in "my" place. I saw a gap and thought I would barge into it. Bad idea. Totally out of control I fouled two boats before the race had even started. I sailed the race anyway and afterwards told the RC to disqualify me. One of the guys who had been luffing at the boat was laughing at me, "So that was your plan?"

I am definitely out of practice. My timing is all off and mentally I'm really out of it. Need to do some work before the big Laser Master regattas in September and October.

Clearly I have far to go.