Wednesday, November 30, 2005


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

C (3) iv.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily came home today.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Sunday's Child

I didn't go sailing yesterday.

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

Mother and baby are doing well.

Friday, November 25, 2005

No Go

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

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

"Tack or Cross?"

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

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

"Tack or Cross?" I hail again.

"Go!" is the reply.

Fair enough. So I carry on sailing.

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

"No means no!" he screams.

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

OK. What do I do now?

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

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

2. We didn't actually collide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It was a yellow boat."

"I wasn't sailing a yellow boat."

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Would You Like To Dance?

I thought I'd seen about every possible way to teach sailing until I came across skiff blog. In a post entitled What to do with no wind the author describes how on one day with no wind, he and his crew practiced their footwork for gybing their 49er. And he has documented the results with colored diagrams of feet positions that remind me of the way dance steps are often described.

Foxtrot anyone?

Shark Attack

This frostbite racing season my main objective is to improve my starts. In the past, I have had a tendency to be too cautious at starts, hanging back for fear of being over the line in any race where I care about the results. The racing this summer in my home fleet did nothing to cure me of this fault. In a small fleet where I had better boatspeed than the other players I could do mediocre starts and still have a great chance to win almost every race.

So I'm going into the Sunday frostbite races with the attitude that I don't care about my overall results, I don't even care about being called OCS occasionally, but I will start every race in the front row in clear air with good speed. I am trying to break myself of the habit of being too cautious and build a new habit of being aggressive at starts. They say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. If I only race once a week, does that mean it will take 21 weeks of racing? We will see.

When I did the John Kolius racing clinic in Houston a couple of years ago, JK taught starting tactics by saying you basically have two choices. You can hold station on the line trying to stay in position just below the line while protecting the gap to leeward as best you can. Or you can be a "shark". A shark cruises along behind the line of boats holding station until he sees a good gap then scoots into the hole at the last minute. A shark can approach the hole on port tack in which case he has to tack into it. Or he can be a starboard tack shark. In the drills, JK had us practice all three options -- hold station, port tack shark and starboard tack shark.

On Sunday I decided I was going to be a starboard tack shark.

First start it works to perfection. Start cruising down the line with two minutes to go. Find a nice hole. Scoot into it at about fifteen seconds. Luff to slow a little but still have forward momentum. Have room to leeward to bear off. Sheet in and am going fast at the gun. Looking good. Too bad they call a general recall.

Race committee puts up the I flag meaning any boat over the line in the last minute before the start has to go round one end of the line to restart. What do I care? I'm here to practice being aggressive. I'm a shark.

Use the same approach that worked so well for the first start. Cruise down the line slowly on starboard. See a nice gap just below my friend D. Luff up below him and force him up a bit creating a nice big gap to leeward. Bear away just after the 10 second horn and am blasting over the boat to leeward. Sheet in and go. Looking great.

The race committee starts calling sail numbers of boats over the line. Damn. The last of three numbers called is mine. OK. Now I need to go back. Easier said than done. I have boats to the left and right. I have a bunch of second row starters astern. I can't bear away. I can't tack. If I slow down I will screw up the boats behind me. Eventually I see an opportunity, slow down a bit, tack and duck the boats to windward and head off to the right end of the line to round the committee boat and restart.

By the time I'm crossing the line for the second time the fleet is disappearing over the horizon. Oh well -- let's see how many tailenders I can pick off.

I pass one boat halfway up the beat. Pick off a bunch at the windward mark. Get out to one side of the run and cruise past a few more. A couple of boats capsize and let me pass them. Inside rounding at the leeward mark gains me a few more places.

Hike hard up the final beat. Coming towards the finish on starboard tack just below the layline for the port end of the line, I see one of my fellow grandmasters coming in on port tack. No way he can cross me. I start screaming, "Starboard". He keeps coming. What is he thinking? At the last minute we both throw crash tacks. Ha! Got him! It feels good to be mean and to take out a tough competitor. This aggressive behavior could become a habit very fast.

I didn't really care about being OCS. The way I look at it, it proves I'm trying. If the price of learning to make aggressive starts is one OCS per week then so be it.

After racing my friend D. commiserates with me. "That was a tough call," he says. "We were so close that it's amazing they called you but not me. You couldn't have been over by very much."

Thanks D. I needed that.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Only 47

The Laser racing on Sunday once again was simply superb. Sunny day, not a cloud in the sky. About 55 degrees. And a nice solid breeze from the southwest that had us hiking hard upwind and planing on the reaches. 47 sailors with big smiles.

The word "frostbiting" conjures up images of snow and ice and miserably cold weather. But this season (so far) has been absolutely magnificent. Gorgeous sunny fall days and perfect sailing winds.

And did I mention? "Only" 47 boats this week. Down from the 50+ fleets of the last few weeks. Many classes don't attract that many boats for their national championships.

This is the fourth week I've raced this fall and, at last, it feels like I'm getting back in the groove. Not that my results would reflect that. (Yet).

in a large fleet like this on short courses requires some special skills. It seems to me that there is a huge premium on being able to "read the fleet". Wherever you start on the line at some point you have to get across to the right side of the course. Getting trapped out on, or even above, the port tack layline is not a good recipe for success as you are likely to approach the first mark to face a wall of starboard tackers that you can't get through. Unless of course you are lucky enough to catch a nice lefty shift and get there first. But that's a low percentage play.

Problem is that there always seem to be several boats to weather of you that you won't be able to cross when you tack. So you have to decide whether it is worth ducking them. And you don't want to follow immediately behind the boats to the left of you that are deciding to cross the course as you'll then be in their bad air.

So there's this need to be able to divine what the boats around you are going to do and to decide when to tack across to the right at a time when you will have a clear lane that will get you close to the starboard tack layline without having to take too many transoms and without being pin-balled around the course by starboard tackers.

Then there's that all important approach to the starboard tack layline. Too close to the mark and you'll end up ducking too many boats. Too far away and you can only lose out on headers or lifts. Again a matter of "reading the fleet" and developing a good sense of when and where to make your final approach.

After 3 weeks of racing in this fleet I'm starting to get a better feel for all this and am not screwing up quite so badly as I was earlier in the season.

Downwind the waves weren't quite as good as last week. Not at all easy to get much of a ride. So I concentrated on getting out to one side or other of the fleet and was occasionally able to gain a few places on the runs. Which is definitely progress for me because, being on the heavy end of the weight range for Laser sailors, I always felt at a disadvantage to the lighter sailors off the wind.

The race committee gave us an interesting mix of courses. Some windward-leeward one lap races; one windward-leeward two laps; a triangle; a Harry Anderson; and a triangle/ windward-leeward for the last race.

I particularly enjoyed those two lap races. A chance to stretch my legs on a long beat and exploit my height and weight. Those kids may have the edge on me downwind but I can grind most of 'em down upwind. Ha!

The day was not without incident.....

But I'll write some separate posts about my apparent ability to blow the first race in a unique way each week; a curious rules incident that left me in the wrong through the other guy's stupidity; and my discovery after 20+ years of Lasering of how one little piece of equipment can make a huge difference.

Watch this space.

Friday, November 18, 2005

26 Miles

On Thursday I ran 26 miles.

No. It wasn't a race. I wasn't running with anyone else. I just went off into the woods and ran 26 miles by myself.

I know what you're thinking. Is this guy nuts? I sometimes think so myself.

But this is all part of the marathon training program that I'm following in preparation for the Disney World Marathon in Florida in January.

Wait a minute. There's something wrong here. This is supposed to be a program to prepare me to run a marathon and I just ran a marathon as part of the preparation? Yes -- it does sound screwy. Hey, my aim is to run a marathon and now I've done it. Can I stop now please?

It's not quite as simple as that. I ran my first marathon, also at Disney World, in January. The last six miles were awful. And my time was just over five hours. My aims for the 2006 event are to finish it in (much) better shape and in a (slightly) faster time.

I'm following Jeff Galloway's training program which basically uses a run-and-walk approach for the long distances, including the marathon itself. This week, week 20 of the program, calls for doing 25 to 26 miles "easy". (I love that "easy" bit). In this context "easy" means running 3 minutes and walking 1 minute for the whole 26 miles. And doing so at a pace that is 2 or 3 minutes a mile slower than I could do on that day.

So that's what I did. I measured out a nice, easy, level trail through the woods that was exactly 3.25 miles. I ran from the car to the end of the trail and then back. Drank some water or Gatorade and sucked an energy gel. Then repeated 4 times in all.

You have a lot of time to think when you're running. Unlike sailing. I find that when sailing a race my mind is occupied 200%. Thinking about strategy, tactics, wind, current, boatspeed, how much my legs are hurting.....

Running is different. Once you've settled into your desired pace there's nothing you have to think about. Except, of course, how much your legs are hurting. Maybe it's not so different from sailing, after all.

So when I'm running my mind wanders. What shall I write in my blog tomorrow? When will my son's baby be born? (It's now week 40 of the pregnancy). Wouldn't it be cool if I ran a marathon and became a grandfather on the same day? How many different kinds of bird song can I hear? How many different kinds of leaf are on the path? How much are my legs hurting? And so on, and so on, for 26 miles.

I started off really slow and relaxed. Then each 3.25 miles I ran very slightly faster than the previous one. Until about 20 miles. Then, wham, it hit me. There really is a wall. The last 6 miles were much slower. I told myself it was actually a cool-down lap. I told myself that by doing the 26 miles now I was somehow storing endurance in a tank that I could use in the real marathon in January. I sincerely hope that's true.

But I finished this "slow and easy" training marathon in only a few minutes more than I ran the race back in January. And I had none of the agonizing cramps that brought me to my knees in Florida.

So I guess I'm making progress.

Just hope my legs recover in time for Laser racing on Sunday.

Thank you

Thank you.

Thank you for your supportive comments about my writing but, no, I'm not a novelist in training. It's all real. I'm glad we appreciate the same things such as sailors' support of each other and our vanity about hats.

Thank you for your insightful comments on racing strategy and rules and mental preparation. I admire your dedicated efforts to improve your own and your crew's performance and am learning a lot from you.

Thank you for your different perspective on our sport. When we met you were a recreational keelboat sailor and I was a racing dinghy sailor. I think our exchanges are widening horizons for both of us.

Thank you for your youthful enthusiasm -- well, you sound young. I love your stories of struggling with spinnakers and of sailing in England in the rain. Makes me nostalgic.

But especially thank you for making sure that I rarely have to see the dreaded 0 comments.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Where It All Started

While noodling around the web the other day I came across the website of my first sailing club. Now called Taplow Lake Sailing Club it was called something else back in the early 80's when I was a member. But it's good to see that many of the traditions and quirks of the club have endured.

The club's sailing area was a small L-shaped lake created by gravel extraction. Lettered buoys were distributed around the perimeter of the lake. There was a railway embankment on one side of the lake and trees on other sides. Winds were variable and unpredictable in strength and direction, to say the least.

When I showed up for the skipper's meeting for the first race there I couldn't believe it when they announced the course. The course would be announced as something like L to starboard, B to port, F to port, J to starboard, C to starboard, E to port, K to port, A to starboard. As it was announced, all the sailors would start drawing a wiggly line to represent the course on their forearms and writing down LS BP FP JS CS EP KP AS. There was no way to remember it; it was always too complicated.

One of the beauties of this almost random zigzag circuit around the lake was that it guaranteed that at least one leg would be a beat on each lap. Maybe not always the same leg. That was half the fun.

The other unusual feature of sailing there was that all regular series races were pursuit races. We sailed 4 one-design classes then: Toppers, Miracles, Enterprises and Lasers. The slowest class would start first followed by the others at predetermined intervals - 90 or 60 seconds apart as I recall. We raced round and round our zigzag course until a certain time interval had passed -- just over an hour I think. This time was designed so that in theory the relative speeds of the different classes had allowed for them all to catch up with each other. The race committee would sound a signal at that time which meant the leading boats had to head for the finish line. If we had all sailed equally well we would all hit the line together.

Of course it never worked out that way. As the Lasers were the fastest class we started last. But it's one thing to catch up with a slower boat in front. It's much harder to overtake it. Especially on a small crowded lake with a buoy to round every few minutes.

But it was fun and an ideal place to get started in racing. Boathandling skills developed quickly in the shifty conditions -- especially when an unstable gusty northwesterly was dumping great shafts of air across the railway embankment and splashing them down on the lake producing random 25 knot gusts at unpredictable intervals.

I've done pursuit racing elsewhere but never been to another club where it was the main form of racing.

The other unusual feature of their program was their Easter Regatta which was a multi-day event based on personal handicaps. Some obscure formula was used to allocate personal handicaps based on previous racing performance. So the races were just like regular Portsmouth Handicap races except each skipper had an individual handicap. In these races all the classes started together and finishing times were adjusted afterwards according to the sailors' handicaps. In fact, personal handicaps were even adjusted during the weekend as I recall. The idea was that a rookie had just as much chance to win the event as the club champion. I think I did place second one year.

We raced all year round, only stopping in the winter if the lake froze which it did some years but not every year. The club was low key and friendly but there were some excellent sailors there including some national champions. It was good to see from their website that not much has changed in 25 years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


What's up dude? New dollie?
No - just replacing this cracked bracket. Now I've lost a nut in the grass.
Here, I'll help you look for it.

Let me look how your outhaul is rigged.
Sure, no problem.
Hmmm. I have that line too long. Thanks. I'll fix it.

What do you think? Should I wear an extra layer under my drysuit?
Nah - forecast is for 60 degrees. You'll be fine.

Hey dude. What's that Rooster skin made of?
1mm neoprene. Here -- feel. With my hikers on top it's just right for today.

Hey - I'll move my mast so you can get your boat closer to your car.

I'll take your dollie if you want to launch now.
That's OK -- I'll hold your boat while you take both dollies.
No thanks -- I've still got a couple of things to fix.
OK -- thanks very much.

(To tailender) Hang in there M. You're doing fine.

Looking good there D.

Nice start last race. I liked the way you accelerated into that gap.

Man, you point so high. How do you do it?

Phew. That was a long race for a couple of old guys like us.

What happened to you in that race? I thought you were right up front?
Aah. I was second at the windward mark but I couldn't quite lay the mark. Then I fouled some guy when I tacked. So I retired.

I have room on you red boat.
OK, you got it.

That was unlucky. (To sailor who capsized while near the front of the fleet).

Thanks race committee. Nice job.

What's your dollie look like? I'll get it for you.
Thanks very much. I appreciate it.

After you with the hose please.

You were going well today.
Thanks M. You too.

What do you think it was blowing?
10 -12. Maybe more in the gusts.

Hi P. What a great day. You could really get some nice rides on those waves.
Yeah -- until I capsized.
Sorry to hear that. You must have been riding the edge a bit too hard.

D. wasn't here this week.
Yeah -- he said he was coming. Hope he's OK.

Need help folding that sail?
Sure. Thanks very much.

Coming next week?
You bet.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Once again this week I am amazed by the difference between the level of the game I am playing and the plane that the experts are on. In my account of Sunday's racing I briefly described how I passed a few tailenders with some well-timed pumps on the waves. (Well, to be honest, sometimes well-timed.)

Here by contrast is an account by the guy at the front of the fleet, Andrew Scrivan, of how he was using the waves downwind.

As I mentioned in the debrief, there were a few key things that I may have been doing to better my boat speed downwind. Things like scanning my peripheral for the largest part of the wave, loading and unloading the boat, and paying careful attention to my high and low angles in relation to the bottom mark accounted for much of my gains. When you catch a wave and are cruising down the backside immediately start looking to the left and right. The wave you are on will most of the time either die out in one of these directions or grow larger. Always head for the largest curl. Remember when you turn the boat use the change of course to your advantage by accelerating the boat. If you intend to reach up, roll slightly to leeward, and then trim in quite fast and gracefully flatten the boat at the same time, all the while letting you tiller follow. The boat will accelerate and shoot into the large curl you spotted. If you spot a wave set or the larger part of your wave to leeward, heal the boat to weather, allow the tiller to gracefully follow and keep tension on the main sheet. When the boat is on course flatten, and then slowly ease the mainsheet. Again the boat will accelerate in your new direction and you can look for you new large wave. Most of the steering comes from shifting your weight and sheeting in and out a lot, not your tiller. As you go down wind you will notice that the fastest route may be on the by the lee angle, reaching or at times, dead down wind. Most of the time you will have to be conscious not to sail too long and hard on the fast angle as it can take you into a corner too soon and you will end up having to sail back to the mark at poor surfing angle. To avoid this, be conscious of your rumbline, and keep looking for opportunities to take a wave back to center, left, or right depending on which way you need to head.

Then just to rub it in, he writes that this "just scratches the surface of the issue".

Man, do I have a lot to learn!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Laser Dreams

I thought I was pretty much the lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe of Laser sailing. I do spend a lot of my waking hours thinking, reading and writing about Laser sailing, getting ready for Laser sailing... and, sometimes, actually sailing my Laser.

But this guy actually dreams about it too!


Racing on Sunday was about as good as it gets. Almost 60 Lasers. 10-12 knots. Sunshine. 60 degrees. OK -- about as good as it gets in New England in November.

Racing short courses in such a large fleet it seems like you are always sailing near other boats.

No, it's worse than that -- you are always sailing in a huge swarm of other boats some of whom are barely in control and some of whom will do totally unpredictable things. You are always looking out for boats to the left, boats to the right, boats astern, boats crossing you, boats ducking you, boats on your wind...and "WTF ...where did he suddenly appear from?"

In such a fleet you get great practice at starts and mark roundings. On Sunday, for reasons unknown I was doing killer starts. Every time I was in the front row, nice gap to leeward, accelerating perfectly in the last few seconds, and off like a bullet at the gun in clear air.

Well, apart from that one occasion when four of us decided to go for that perfect position next to the committee boat. But we won't talk about that. There was a general recall anyway.

My leeward and gybe mark roundings were better than usual too. I kept repeating the mantra, "Do not be on the outside of the pinwheel." Seemed to work.

But my approaches to the windward mark in every race were total disasters. I must have lost five boats every time (and those were the good races). Tacking below the layline. Tacking too far above the layline. Having to duck huge packs of boats. Every error in the book, I made it. At least twice.

But the most catastrophic was the at the end of the first beat in race one.

I get a nice start about a third of the line away from the pin which was favored. Pretty soon the guys who started left of me start crossing me so I hang on for a bit waiting for a clear lane. By the time I tack I'm pretty much on the port tack layline. Hey -- I know that was the first mistake but I'm still getting back into this big fleet, short course stuff. OK?

So there I am motoring at a nice speed down the layline wondering what I'm going to do when I get to the mark. Of course all the hotshots in the fleet are coming into the mark on starboard by the time I arrive. So I have two choices.

Do a crash tack underneath them right at the mark. Percentage of success -- close to zero.

Duck a few boats and try and find a gap in that parade that I can pass through, tack a little high of the starboard tack layline, and cruise over all the guys that are not quite laying the line, are luffing, praying, stopping, getting hung up on the mark, cursing, going backwards......You get the picture. It's like that in every race. Percentage of success -- a lot more than zero.

So I start bearing off looking for a gap. Five boats. Ten boats. Fifteen. There's just a solid wall of fiberglass. Ahah. There's a likely gap. Not very big but doable. I'm just squeezing through the gap when I realize that my mainsheet is caught around the bow of the boat I'm crossing. Uh oh. Not good. Luckily he quickly extricates himself so I've only lost another five boats by the time I'm free.

I tack on to starboard above the crowd and notice that my sheet is now hooked around the corner of my transom. For those who don't know the Laser this is one of the quirky design features of the boat that you learn to love. (Only kidding). Beginners in the boat always ask how to prevent getting their sheet hooked and, although there are some techniques that minimize the chances of avoiding it, the real answer to how you prevent it totally is, "You don't."

Anyway, although continuing to sail with sheet hooked round transom is the fastest way to make the beast capsize, and although it only takes a second to lean back and flick the sheet off, I decide on a better plan. "I have to do a 360 anyway for fouling the other boat so it will just free itself when I gybe." (Our sailing instructions call for a 360 instead of a 720 in frostbite racing).

So smugly congratulating myself on my smartness I round the mark and stay high in order to find a quiet spot to do my 360. I figure this should be easy as the next leg is a run and everyone else will be bearing away. Unfortunately some other guy is sailing even higher than me and has a slight windward overlap. I tell him I'm "just going over here to do a 360", but he persists in following me. Of course as windward boat he has to stay clear but he really wants to bear away and go down the run. More boats pass us while we sort out this little confusion.

So eventually I have enough room to do a turn. I gybe. I look back. Now the sheet is hooked around both corners of the transom. What? That's impossible. I've never done that before in 25 years of Lasering. So I lean back and sort out the mess while a few more boats round the mark. Do the tack to complete my 360 and bear away for the run.

I don't believe it. Now I'm in DFL apart from some kid in a Radial. There are almost 60 boats in front of us. How did that happen just because of one stupid mistake?

Well let's see how many boats I can pass. There are waves that are just big enough to surf so I start pumping on each wave and catch some nice rides. I get out to the side of the fleet and keep pumping. Pass a few boats. Round the right hand leeward mark on the inside and pass a few more. Hike hard for the final beat. Finish around 40th.

Oh well -- it can only get better after this. Can't it?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

You're So Vain

You're so vain.

You think that the most important part of your sailing gear is your cap. You want to make a statement. You want to look cool.

Back on Virgin Gorda years ago you listened to that kid from Dominica telling the American teenagers the right way to wear a sailing cap. First take out that little button thingy in the center. (Rust streaks down the hat are so uncool.) Then keep soaking the hat in seawater and smoothing it down over your head. Eventually you will get it to fit smooth and tight and have that weatherbeaten faded look. And don't forget to mould the brim into just the correct curve.

You listened. You learned. You imitated.

You're so vain.

For years you wore that flowery cap they gave out at a regatta in Florida. You thought it made you stand out. You thought it sent a message. "Hey I'm so sure of my masculinity I can get away with wearing a girlie hat." (What were you thinking?) You relished in the angst that you caused every hotshot kid who got beat in a race by the old geezer in the flowery hat.

You're so vain.

You only abandoned that flowery hat when the wife of an old friend picked it up one day at the yacht club and asked you why you were still wearing this floppy, sweat-stained, dirty, smelly, worn-out rag.

Then last November you watched the events in Ukraine on TV. You saw Yushchenko's supporters in the streets with their orange flags and ribbons and scarves. (Or was it apricot.) Right there and then you decided that orange would be the next cool color.

While cruising in the Grenadines last winter you came across Bequia Yacht Club and they were selling yachtie apparel to raise funds for their Easter regatta. And there was an orange hat on the table. You had to have it. What could be cooler? An orange hat from a yacht club in the Grenadines. Your hat would be the envy of the masses at every regatta.

You're so vain.

You were so proud of your orange hat that you hardly ever wore it sailing in case it blew off and you lost it. But you wore it before and after sailing. And in photos. Nobody ever commented on it. They didn't appreciate your amazing fashion sense. But all the girls dreamed they'd be your partner. Sure.

You're so vain.

Then last week you saw the rally and demonstrations in Argentina for Hugo Chavez. Some of his supporters were wearing caps with a big 'C' on. You decided that 'C' is the next orange. You just have to have a 'C' cap for sailing next year at the Laser NAs in Nova Scotia.

Even better, your middle initial is 'C'. So George Bush is 'W' and you will be 'C'.

You're so vain
I bet you think this blog is about you.
Don't you?
Don't you?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Words of Wisdom

Someone forwarded me an email containing words of wisdom by Scott Ferguson, the winner of the Laser frostbite racing in Newport last weekend. The extract below just emphasised for me how much guys like Scott are planning strategy on a whole different plane from mid-fleet klutzes like me.

If I remember to formulate a wind strategy at all it's likely to be no more than, "Hmmm -- water looks a bit darker on the right -- will try and head that way." And if I'm lucky I might actually execute it. But in short course racing I'm just as likely to get forced the other way by the crowd of boats around me.

But note that Scott had a strategy that took into account local knowledge, the weather forecast, the distribution of wind pressure around the course and which way the puffs were moving. And he executed it. And he was right.

Brenton Cove is tricky place to sail when the wind is in the south quadrant coming over the land. But for the most part you can see the wind on the water. I always carefully study the wind on the water, trying to discern which way the puffs are moving, and how I can align my boat to take the most advantage of each wind cell as they move down the course. I do not pay too much attention to the cells that are out of my reach.

For example early in the day the far left looked pretty good, but that pressure and angle would never hold all the way to the windward mark. Sailing on port across the middle of the course I would see guys over my shoulder at times lifting off me with pressure looking pretty good, but if I looked at my path to get there it just was not an option. I would only take steps to the left when my puffs allowed me to.

In the first 3-4 races my path up the beat was almost identical. I played the middle/right side with good success. The forecast was for a building southerly as the front approached, slowly turning the wind right to the SW. This was one reason I favored the right side of the fleet, but I think the way the wind came down the course ultimately determine my upwind path. There was some geographic right pressure at the windward mark for the first 2-3 races causing me to lose distance to the few boats on my right, but more importantly allowed me to stay in touch with the bulk of the fleet on the left.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Pressing On

The creativity of priests in writing sermons has always amazed me. But this one takes my all time prize. Pastor Gavin from Albert City, Iowa has somehow managed to find a connection between Wednesday night sailboat racing and Paul's epistle to the Philippians.

Bravo to Gavin.


There's been a lot of wringing of hands and beating of breasts recently about the supposed decline in popularity of our sport of sailing.

Maybe I'm not mixing in the right circles but I don't see this decline.

Take a look at this photo (shamelessly stolen from Yachts and Yachting's website). It shows 235 Lasers racing at Rutland Water last weekend. The weather forecast was for strong winds and rain, and on Sunday they did experience "torrential rain".

When 235 Laserites turn out in November in England to race in torrential rain, I don't think we need to worry too much about our sport being in "decline".


One of my favorite bloggers Scheherazade, who is also the sailing coach at Bowdoin College, wrote an interesting post today on Teaching Instinct. In it she describes her realization that teaching sailing is largely about teaching feel and instinct. And that the way to achieve this is to set up structured situations -- such as starts or leeward mark roundings -- and to repeat them a lot of times so that her student's ability to handle these situations becomes automatic. Drills in other words.

I am sure she is right. There is only so much sailing knowledge you can impart by classroom teaching methods. We only learn to handle situations on the water correctly by practicing them and repeating them over and over again in practice.

But what kind of repetition is most effective?

I was reminded of a thread discussing this subject on Scuttlebutt last year. Richard Schmidt in an article entitled Some Principles of Practice for Sailboat Racers presented some fascinating research on what kind of practice produced the best performance in a test conducted later. After all what's important is not how well you can perform a task in a practice session; what really matters is whether you can do it well in the regatta next weekend. He contrasted "block practice" -- for example doing 100 tacks in a row; with "random practice" -- say doing a jibe, a mark rounding, a tack, 30 seconds of speed sailing and so on.

His claim is that ...

Much research since the late-1970s has shown that, during practice, blocked performance is far superior to random performance, which is not surprising. But what was surprising was the discovery that, for performance on a test given on the next day (e.g., next weekend'’s regatta), random practice was better than blocked. That is, a condition that made performance worse in practice (random practice) increased learning as measured on a retention test. Sometimes this effect is small, but sometimes it is huge--and always in favor of random practice.

In other words, a great way to practice sailboat racing is to set up a very small triangle of buoys and sail round and round that triangle. Every few seconds you are shifting from straight line speed upwind, judge the layline, tack, upwind sailing, round a windward mark, reach, jibe, reach, round a leeward mark. And so on. And so on. According to Schmidt this kind of random practice is superior to concentrated blocks of practice of a single skill such as downwind sailing.

I'm not sure that Schmidt's conclusion is accepted by many top sailing coaches and sailing champions. But perhaps this skipper is using the random practice technique to train his crew?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mark Rounding

The Skip asked for more information on the mark rounding incident that I mentioned in my post Sunset. So here goes.....

Basic situation. Large Laser fleet on a run approaching a downwind gate in about 5 knots of wind. I am in the middle of the fleet. All the boats in question are on starboard tack approaching the left hand (looking downwind) gate mark so must gybe before rounding.

Ahead of me are two boats -- let's call them Alphonse and Bertie. They are overlapped, basically side by side with Alphonse on the inside. They are about a boatlength clear ahead of me.

So obviously I must keep clear of both boats and Bertie must give Alphonse room to round the mark. I don't want to end up overlapping outside either or both of them so plan to round on Alphonse's transom if Bertie goes wide; or on Bertie's transom if he rounds behind Alphonse.

I glance back and see Cedric a couple of lengths behind me as I enter the two-length zone though sailing a hotter angle than me. He's out of the equation (I think) so I concentrate on Alphonse and Bertie and making a good rounding.

Alphonse makes his gybe and starts rounding the mark. Bertie gybes too and is clearly not going to go outside Alphonse so I plan on setting up to go behind Bertie if he does a tight rounding or on poking my bow between him and the mark if he screws up and gives me enough room to do so.

I gybe and end up overlapped a tad with Bertie as he approaches the mark. I luff a bit to slow down as he executes a nice tight rounding slightly inside of Alphonse. Then I follow him as close as I dare, sheeting in fast and passing within inches of the mark myself.

So far I'm pretty proud of myself.

Then Bertie shouts, "Are you talking to me?"

I look puzzled. I hadn't said anything.

Then I hear Cedric from astern shout, "No -- this guy 999." (He calls out the last 3 digits of my sail number.) "He completely ignored me and shut me out."

Hmmm. What's all that about? As a rule, I avoid getting into shouting matches with fellow sailors during a race -- especially after an incident is over -- so I carry on sailing and ignore Cedric's remark. As far as I can tell he's not protesting me so I guess it's no big deal to him either.

I cross the finish line several boatlengths ahead of Cedric. He gives me the evil eye so, in the interests of fleet harmony and being a non-confrontational guy, I sail away and start eating my tween-race snack of a Clif Bar and drinking my Gatorade. He follows me.

"Sorry I don't know your name?" he opens the conversation.

I tell him. It then dawns on him that we did race committee together a couple of weeks ago.

"Oh -- people look different with clothes on," he replies. In different circumstances that line would be funny but I guess he's saying that he didn't connect today's grey-and-blue-neoprene-guy with red-goretex-guy from two weeks ago.

"So... at that mark rounding," he begins, "you were lined up like this," he lets go of sheet and tiller and starts flapping his hands about, "and I was here," more incomprehensible gesticulating, "but you didn't give me room."

"Excuse me? I was clear ahead entering the two-length zone."

"No. No. No. There were three boats lined up bow to stern. You were the third boat. So you were outside the zone."

"I don't think so. I was to windward of the second boat. I never left the two-length zone after entering it."

He repeats his earlier description his voice rising and with more hand waving.

"Well it seems that you and I have different recollections of what happened," I say in an attempt to avoid getting him even more riled up.

"Why didn't you respond to my hail?"

"Sorry guy. I didn't hear any hail."

He sits there looking angry and apparently waiting for a response. What does he expect? That I withdraw from the race? Apologize? Tell him to f*** off? Give him a Clif Bar?

In the end I decide to give him one of those political non-apology apologies. As in, "I'm sorry if my use of the N word offended any of the members of the other party who might be particularly sensitive on that subject due to their ethnic heritage."

Or, "If the publication on the Internet of the photos of me having sex with the intern caused any pain to my wife and family then I regret it but it was never my intention."

"I'm sorry if I screwed you Cedric but I don't think I did."

He rolls his eyes and sails off.

And then the nagging doubts start. Cedric is a sailing industry pro and a champion in other classes. I guess he is just doing Laser frostbiting to stay sharp over the winter. If his description is right then I was supposed to give him room to round inside me. Given his experience should I trust his judgment over my own? Is he just trying to give some friendly rules education to someone he perceives as a novice and a klutz, not to mention deaf too?

On the other hand I have heard him yapping today at other sailors. He has all the symptoms of someone having a frustrating day who is trying to overcome his anger at his own performance by heckling other sailors.

I don't know him well enough to make the call as to which explanation is likely to be correct. Of course, both could be true.

So what did I learn?

1. Make sure I don't go outside the two-length zone once I've entered it.

2. Tell other boats I am not giving them room -- even if I think it should be obvious to them.

3. Get a hearing aid?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


I'm sorry -- I can't stop laughing. I just have to share this with you.

Following links from one
blog to another I came across Life aboard a Taswell which is well worth a visit in its own right.

But what caught my eye is that the owner of the blog is using Google Ads which claims to generate ads that are matched to the characteristics and interests of the visitors that the site's content attracts

And the ad at the top of the list is for a product that gets rid of Fishy Vaginal Odor.

I can't imagine what it is about the site that triggered this connection. But don't forget that if you go to the site and click on the ad you are generating revenue for the site owner, Cameron Clarke! Sweet.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Norm Freeman

The US 1976 Olympic sailing team included some names well known to every sailor -- and even to many non-sailors.

Dennis Conner - bronze medal in the Tempest class. Needs no introduction.

John Kolius - silver in the Solings. I had the pleasure of attending one of his clinics a few years ago.

Peter Commette - 11th in the Finns - showed up sailing a Laser this year against us mere mortals at the Laser Masters US Nationals in Annapolis.

Norm Freeman - 6th in the Flying Dutchman in the 1976 Olympics - is a name not perhaps known as widely. I did sail against him at a Laser Masters regatta in Ontario in the early 90s. There was a clinic before the regatta and the young instructors were in awe of him. I recall him as a tough and fair competitor; a gentleman on and off the course.

I was, to say the least, shocked and sickened to read the following about Norm in Scuttlebutt.

* A 73-year-old former Olympic sailor who had faced several molestation charges involving three minor girls was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison after pleading no contest to one of the charges Wednesday. Norman Douglas Freeman was also ordered to serve 23 years of sex offender probation following his release. Assistant State Attorney Vicki Nichols on Friday said prosecutors considered his age and failing health in negotiating the plea deal, which included the state dropping three lewd and lascivious counts. "We are looking at this as a life sentence," Nichols said Friday, adding that the victims' families supported the plea.

Of course our sympathies are with the victims. One always feels revulsion toward the perpetrator when one hears of such crimes. But I cannot help feel some sadness in reading the story of a man who was once an Olympic athlete, and a minor hero in his own world, ending his journey through life in such degradation. He could have become a respected elder statesman of the sport like some of his illustrious contemporaries. Instead his story ends in disgrace and, one assumes, a miserable and frightening punishment. Perhaps repentance? Who knows?

Part of me wants to believe that this court case is about some other man with the same name. Not the smart aggressive sailor I jousted with over a decade ago. But I have to assume that the reporting is accurate. We think we know the characters of the people that we race against but really we only see one small slice of the human being.

I guess it just goes to show you never know who you can trust.

Take care parents.

Rutland Can Be Lonely At Times

Browsing around the Yachts and Yachting site I came across this photo captioned, 'Rutland can be lonely at times'.

No -- that's not me in the picture. But it easily could have been a few years back. Been there -- done that.

The Rutland they are referring to is Rutland Water in the UK. It's the largest man-made lake in Europe with over 3,000 acres of water.

I used to blast around there in my Laser in my younger days. Capsized more times than I care to remember and broke a mast top-section once. Of course, when something like that happens there's never a rescue boat nearby. I ended up sailing the boat a couple of miles back to the sailing club with the mast bent in two.

Rutland sure can be lonely at times.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


My performance at the Laser regatta was very average. Looked like there were over 50 boats. Winds were moderate for the first couple of races but then got lighter. I had trouble getting clear air off the start line but once I could find a decent lane my boat speed seemed OK.

Mark roundings were crowded and one veteran sailor got ticked off when I didn't give him room at a leeward mark. He sailed across to me after the race and started complaining. I quietly and politely explained why I thought the facts of the case were in my favor and he drifted away. Still, it left me feeling uneasy that a respected fellow sailor thought I had been cheating.

At the start of the last race I was near the right end of the line because the wind seemed stronger on that side. But then there was a 30 degree shift to the left about a minute before the start. I started to work down towards the pin but didn't get very far. About three quarters of the fleet tacked on to port and crossed me. So I thought, "What the hell -- nothing to gain from tacking underneath them and going right -- let's bang the corner."

The wind was pretty light by then but I could see some more pressure further left. If the wind went further left I might pull off a big gain. A few other gamblers were with me but I was the last to tack on to port. The outgoing tide was lifting us above the layline so we cracked off slightly.

I arrived at the windward mark about midfleet so I had gained some boats by not following the herd. But the wind was dying so I opted to call it a day and head back to the club. I sailed above the windward mark and told my friend T, who was manning one of the race committee boats, that I was heading in.

He laughed as the continuous line of starboard tackers slowly progressed around the mark. "Hey look -- there's a gap -- go for it -- just behind B." B is one of the better sailors in the fleet -- not usually a winner, but usually ahead of me.

I rolled my eyes and said in my loudest and most sarcastic voice so even B could hear, "I don't want to be behind B." With plenty of emphatic derision focused on B's name. Geeze -- I can be such a jerk at times. I sailed on back to the club.

I was first to the hose to wash my boat.
Gave the rivets on my shiny new gooseneck a really good rinse. Don't want another disaster like last week.

Also first into the changing room to change into street clothes. Better than sharing the tiny room with 50 sweaty Laser sailors along with their wetsuits, drysuits, fleeces, sweatpants and smelly underwear.

D, who is one if the top Laser Master sailors in New England, had opted to come in just behind me. "I can sail in those conditions and I have done well in those conditions but I don't enjoy it," he said.

I kind of disagreed. "It's always fun if you're winning. If I had been in the top 10 at that mark I would have kept on racing."

When I got outside again another friend P was there but the rest of the fleet was still at sea. "Did you win by a mile or come in early too?" I asked. He smiled. "No -- I called it a day."

After putting the boat away I noticed another friend A still
in to the boat ramp. The wind by now was zero knots and he was standing on the foredeck, holding the mast and rocking the boat to propel it. Once he had hauled the boat up the ramp I went over and congratulated him as he had been ahead of me in every race that day.

"Yeah, but in that last race......." and he proceeded to tell me a tale of woe about how he had been at the starboard end of the line too but had gone right under pretty well the whole fleet. Judging by the time he hit the dock he must have been near last.

"So are you coming to Bermuda next year?" he asked. I knew he and a few others had sailed Lasers at an invitational regatta in Bermuda in April this year.

"No. What's the deal?"

"Send me an email and I'll send you the details and the invitation," he said.

It sounded like a fun idea. The Bermudians provide the boats -- and housing too if you want it. All we have to do is show up and race.

So the day ended on an optimistic note. I drove home into the sunset admiring the changing tableau of cream to peach to pink to salmon to apricot to crimson ahead of me. As the sky darkened, the view was dominated by the crescent moon with Venus hanging just above it. Crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge I could see a small sailboat with no lights and no engine drifting far below me in mid-river in the gloom.

I hoped he got home OK
as I dreamed of Spring sailing in Bermuda.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Life Changing Event

I apologized to the commodore of my sailing club saying that I probably wouldn't be able to attend the sailing club awards dinner because our first grandchild is due to arrive in the next couple of weeks. And when he or she does show up we will be going to stay with my son and his wife for a while to help out.

The commodore already has several
and said that of course he understood and told me that this will be a "life changing event".

Wow. Can't wait.
Here's Anne with about 18 days to go.


A few days ago I wrote a piece looking back at the highs and lows of my sailing season this year. I said I've been thinking about what I should do differently next year in order to make some progress. The old definition of insanity (sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein) is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So I am determined to do some new things in 2006. What will they be?

1. Sell the Sunfish. Even back in June I was writing about how much I was enjoying sailing the Laser that I was hearing voices in my head telling me to get rid of the Sunfish. It's a tough decision because there is a lot of Sunfish racing in the area I live now, I have a lot of friends in the Sunfish world and I've had a lot of fun over the years racing the Sunfish -- including being on the US team at the Worlds a few times. But it feels like it's time to move on. If I'm going to get better in the Laser I need to focus on it.

2. Sail Laser regattas all summer. This summer I did most of my sailing racing in the Laser fleet we are building on one of our local lakes. Building a fleet was rewarding. But it did no good for my own sailing ability. The competition there didn't stretch me. And the regattas that really count (at least for me) are the major regional and national regattas that are almost invariably sailed on ocean, sea, bay or sound. I need tougher competition on a regular basis and I need to spend more time sailing on the sea. Going to a regatta almost every weekend will be the way to achieve that.

3. Don't take on a summer job. Hey, I know that most Laser sailors have full time jobs. But at my age, after working all week teaching sailing, sometimes I didn't have the energy, mental or physical, to hook up the trailer and drive a few hundred miles on the weekend to a regatta. So July and August were pretty much a competition famine for me. In 2006 I will not fall into that trap.

So that's the first part of the plan for next year. Clear the decks, eliminate distractions so I can focus on sailing Laser regattas on the ocean.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Living Slow

The subtitle of this blog is "live slow and sail fast". Being retired from real work it is all to easy to stay true to the living slow part. Except that, even though it's now 5 years since my official retirement, I still have a guilty conscience when I while away a day like I did today.

7am - wake up - think that if I want to go and run a 5k on the high school track I should go and do it now as later in the day the phys ed classes will be using it. Turn over and go back to sleep.

8am - wake up again. Get up and make the love of my life a cup of coffee. She looks after most of the cooking in this household so this is my token attempt to carry at least a share of the load. Sit in bed, drink coffee, read my library book.

8:30am - get up, shave, put the trash out, eat breakfast.

9am - start up the computer, read my email, read the news, read a few blogs, write one posting for my blog.

10:00am - go and fix the new gooseneck on my mast to repair the problem that sabotaged me when racing last weekend.

11:00am - surf the web for a while.

11:30am - think that if I don't do a 5k at the track I should go and do a long run before lunch instead. Decide to go running after lunch.

12:30pm - make myself a toasted cheese bagel and a cup of coffee for lunch. Watch cable news for a while. The Dems are calling the Repugs liars; the Repugs are trying to ignore them; the Pres is leaving the country; Brownie (you're doing a heck of a job Brownie) is being embarrassed by the publication of his emails about how far to roll up his sleeves to look good on TV while hundreds were dying in New Orleans; the French are revolting. Nothing new.

1:30pm - go back to the computer and while away the afternoon doing nothing much except researching portable GPS equipment and wondering if I can justify one for Lasering even if it is illegal for racing. Find cool Brit site with a sailing speed challenge.

4:00pm - think about going for a run before it gets dark. I don't.

5:00pm - practice my guitar for a while. Wish I could play better so give up.

5:30pm - write a blog post about Living Slow.

So that was about how much I produced today. My gross domestic output was a cup of coffee for my wife, 6 pop rivets in a Laser mast and a few hundred words of drivel for my blog.

Tomorrow I really must go for a run.

I've Been Thinking ...

I've been thinking ...

Uh oh. Whenever my wife or I say, "I've been thinking ..." to the other, we both know that it's a signal that some sort of surprise is coming. Maybe not a welcome one.

As in, "I've been thinking ... that we should throw away all your old skiing gear." (Her to me.)

Or, "I've been thinking ... it would be fun this winter to go hiking in the Andes." (Me to her.)

No dear. It's all right this time. I'm not planning to buy a new boat, take you bungee jumping in New Zealand or spend 5 grand on that cool audio system. Not today anyway.

I've been thinking ... about what I'm going to do differently to improve my sailing performance next year.
As I wrote a few days ago I want to achieve more consistently good results -- as opposed to my somewhat patchy achievements this year. What should my target be? Sailing is a funny sport because you can only measure yourself against other sailors. Running is different. "I want to run a mile in 5:30" is a good objective -- clear, measurable. And there are training programs out there that will tell you what you need to do if you want to achieve that target. A sailing objective would be more like, "I want to come in the top 5 in my age group at national Laser Masters regattas." Problem is that the achievement of this target depends on who shows up at each particular regatta.

Paul, who commented on one of my running posts the other day, has a simple objective summed up in the name of his blog -- All American or Bust. According to his blog that means he would need to run (at his age) 2:06 in the 800 meters or 4:24 in the 1500 meters. Looking at the results of the 2005 Track and Field USA National Masters Championship those times would have placed Paul at around 5th place in his age group.

Hmmm. OK. So it seems that my sailing ambitions are roughly equivalent to achieving All American status in masters running. Wow. It sounds much better put that way.

Maybe I should change the name of my blog to be more like Paul's. He's certainly hanging it out there. All the world can see his target and read about how he's progressing towards it.

On the other hand, perhaps I should concentrate more on the process of improvement than on the end target? Process objectives rather than outcome objectives? As in, "In every start I will have clear air, be near the favored end, have a good hole to leeward and be going full speed on the line at the gun."

I've been thinking ... "Am I overthinking this?"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cancun Knee

Oh no. Not another post about injured body parts (I hear you say). Is this guy obsessed with his aches and pains?

All right. Settle down. What if I am? It's my blog. And my body parts. So here goes.

Back in March of 2000 I sailed the Laser Masters Worlds in Cancun. As sailing regattas go it was about as good as it gets. The regatta site was on the beach in front of the hotel in which we were staying. The temperatures were in the 80s. The wind was 15-20 knots every day except when it was stronger. 145 of the best old geezer Laser sailors in the world (plus me). Man it was awesome.

So this was the routine every day. 2 or 3 miles sailing to the racing area beyond the reef. 2 long races on trapezoid courses. 2 or 3 miles sailing (upwind) back to the beach after sailing. Except for the runs your feet never left the hiking straps. Magic.

Of course being a fair-skinned Caucasian with Viking ancestry I lathered up every square inch of exposed skin with SPF 999 sunscreen. But after a day or two I noticed that my knees were getting sunburned. I was wearing normal hiking pants with my knees bare. And I guess the sunscreen was rubbing off my knees as I scrambled around the boat in tacks and gybes. Then for most of the time (with my iron-muscled straight leg hiking style of course) my kneecaps were facing the relentless gaze of the Caribbean sun.

It just got worse every day. However much sunscreen I put on my knees they just got burned every day and ended up red and raw. Much worse than my little problem after running this week.

So when I got back I bought a pair of three-quarter length hiking pants and never showed my knees to the world again. These Queensport pants from Australia have doubled up neoprene in all the right places and super strong non-flex battens in the backs of the thighs. They are one of my most heavily used items of sailing clothing and have stood up to the abuse extraordinarily well considering I have had them 5 years now.

Hey that wasn't so bad was it? At least I didn't show you a photo of my knees!

Wizards of Winds and Waves

I'm always scouting around for new and interesting blogs. Today I came across Five O'Clock Somewhere. Actually it isn't mainly about sailing but the author, Carol Anne, is publishing an episode every few days of a fictional story she has written entitled Wizards of Winds and Waves. Lots of authentic descriptions of sailing and apres-sailing action but with the added twist that there's a supernatural element to the plot.

I'm hooked. Can't wait to see how the story turns out. Go check her out.

What a Beauty

There she is. What a beauty!

OK I give you that she's not as sexy as the
Brenta 30 or as exciting as a VO70.

But she's one of my favorite craft.
She goes by the glamorous name of NDBC Station 44039. More commonly known as the Central Long Island Sound weather buoy.

It still blows my mind that with one click from my desktop I can immediately see the wind and wave conditions in one of my favorite sailing areas.

It seems that it's popular these days to complain about the federal bureaucracy especially in the aftermath of FEMA's inadequate response to Katrina. But I, for one, think that the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) is "doing a heck of a job"
. An agency within the National Weather Service (NWS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) you can find out more than you ever wanted to know about NDBC at their website.

So let's see what 44039 says right now. Currently 13.6 knots gusting to 17.5 knots with waves of height 1.6 feet and a water temperature of 57.9 degrees.

Just perfect Laser sailing weather. Why am I sitting here at my desk?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Inconsistently Good

A few years ago I went on a 5 day clinic with Kolius Sailing Schools. I learned a lot of good stuff from John Kolius and his team but one particular comment by one of the coaches has stuck in my mind. She said, "You have to be inconsistently good before you can be consistently good."

What did she mean? We all start as back-of-the fleet racers and over the years gradually improve. But our results don't improve consistently at first. Before we are good enough to expect to be in the top 3 at every regatta we sail we have to go through that stage of being inconsistently good. Good days and bad days. Moments of glory separated by long periods of total mediocrity.

"Inconsistently good" just about sums up my
year. Last Sunday was a great example. Probably the best start and best first beat of my sailing career. Followed by a gear breakdown and then some very average races where I struggled to make the top 20 in the fleet of 50+ Lasers. And that has been the pattern over the year. The highlights were winning an open Laser regatta for the first time; winning my age group at the Laser Masters Atlantic Coasts; and placing in the top 25% at the Laser Masters US Nationals. The worst performance was probably at the New England Laser Masters and everything else was somewhere in between.

Looking beyond results I also take pride in starting a new Laser fleet, writing a sailing blog for over 6 months, introducing another whole group of kids to our sport, being a competent race officer and publishing another year's worth of my club's sailing newsletter.

So it's time to step back and think what I want to achieve next year. How do I turn "inconsistently good" into "consistently good"? And what sailing challenges outside of racing shall I look for?

I'm sure part of the answer is in one of the first posts I made in this blog.

Fruit of the Loom

Years ago when I toiled in the dark satanic mills of a major corporation they used to send us on leadership courses. These were supposed to convert introverted analytical geeks such as myself into some kind of cross between Alexander the Great, Henry Ford and Mother Teresa. Dynamic, patient, thrusting, empathetic, energetic, innovative, compassionate, tough, caring, kick-ass leaders of industry. Impossible of course but we all played along with the game.

One of these programs was run by the Center for Creative Leadership. (And if you don't believe my tongue-in-cheek description of the program's objectives check out their page on 12 Leader Competencies.) Anyway, the company sent me on CCL's Leadership Development Program which is a 5 day course that "uses a variety of in-depth self-awareness tools and activities to enhance leadership capabilities. Participants learn strategies for continuous development through extensive assessment, group discussions, self-reflection, small-group activities and personal coaching." Which translated into English means that your boss, your colleagues and the people that work for you get to answer anonymous questionnaires about why they hate you and then you get to spend a week wallowing in all that delicious "feedback" with a bunch of other victims and some amateur shrinks from CCL. Oh - it was a joy, I can tell you.

As a participant I also had to spend many hours before the course filling in questionnaires before the course on my leadership style. I lied of course. I assumed everyone else would too. One of the questions -- like most of the questions it seemed to be somewhat unrelated to our company's business of turning cheap commodities into overpriced consumer goods -- one of the questions was "What personal health worries do you have?"

Of course this is a bit like, "When did you stop beating your wife?" No way am I going to answer, "Oh the usual stuff for a middle-aged male. I worry about cholesterol and blood pressure, testicular cancer and prostate cancer.... could that mole be a skin cancer, did I lose even more hair this month, am I losing my sex drive, are my teeth falling out and why do I have nightmares about my boss?"

So after a couple of seconds thought I answered, "Avoiding running injuries."

Ha ha, I thought I was so smart. It's a bit like those job interviews where they ask you, "What is your greatest weakness?" I assume nobody answers that they are lazy, that they cheat on their expenses or that they fudged the numbers in that last report. Of course not. You give an answer like, "I work too hard" or "I have high expectations of my co-workers".

"Avoiding injuries" is really saying "I am an alpha male. I keep myself in shape. I go out and run for an hour or so every morning before going into the office at 6:30. I push myself too hard sometimes." Just the right tone for the shrinks at Center for Creative Leadership.

Strange thing was it was almost true. About the only health problem I had to worry about back then was the occasional inflamed tendon or twisted ankle. Of course runners obsess about injuries. You can get Plantar Fasciitis or Iliotibial Band Syndrome or even Exercise Induced Compartment Syndrome
to name just a few of the possibilities.

Since I started training to run marathons I have had very little in the way of running injuries. I've been using Jeff Galloway's run and walk method this year and it does seem to be doing the trick of gradually increasing my endurance without allowing me to push so hard that I get injured.

Until last week. I was in week 17 of the 26 week training program and it called on one day for "23 miles easy". I know - Mr Galloway does have a dry sense of humor. Easy indeed!

But I got through the 23 miles. But it wasn't exactly "easy". I don't think that running 23 miles is ever going to be easy for me.

After the run, I cooled down and then took a shower. Aaargh! Intense sharp pain in the small of my back as the water hit it. I jumped out of the shower and examined my back in the mirror. There was a small rectangular raw red sore in the middle of the back of my waist. Must have been caused by the label of my underwear. How weird. It was so well delineated you could almost read the writing on the label. (Hence the title of this posting if you've read this far mystified by the lack of connection between title and content).

Oh well. If that's the worst injury I get running this year I guess it ain't so bad. At least it didn't stop me from sailing on Sunday.