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.


Litoralis said...

Very funny post. I have had good luck with contact lenses and a pair of inexpensive polarized sunglasses. Last summer I had a great pair that had rubber ear and nose pieces. I didn't even need croakies to keep them on. Eventually I lost them when I wore them body surfing in Mexico and was flipped upside down by a wave.

Carol Anne said...

A week and a half ago, my husband had sort of the opposite problem -- he lost his non-sunglasses overboard. This meant we had to hustle to get home before it got dark, challenging with a two and a half hour drive, starting at three o'clock.

As for the optician's advice, I totally agree. I used to have big glasses, mostly so I could have better peripheral vision. But the prescription I need is so strong, those glasses were horribly bulky. Last year, I switched to much smaller lenses, trading peripheral vision for comfort, and I'm much happier.

Hubby, meanwhile, is still going for the jumbo aviators, and he keeps lamenting, "I hate glasses." He used to wear contact lenses, but when we moved to the desert, the air was too dry, which made his eyes too dry, so he had to give them up. Now, he wants laser surgery, even though it is a luxury we definitely can't afford.

Anonymous said...

I suggest some Mosley Tribes to solve that problem!

Captain John said...

I hate it when that happens.

Seems one rule is that you have to finish a crewed race with the same number of crew you started with on board.

During one race so long ago I can't believe I'm that old . . .

We finished with me (the crew), hanging on for dear life the last 100 yards.

During that joyride the boat was healed about 45 degrees, I had fallen off, and had my arms wrapped around the centerboard of the FireBall as we finished in 1st place off of St. Francis Yacht Club.

"Just hang on!" called the fully hiked out skipper as he played the mainsheet to keep my head above water in the steep chop, well, at least in the toughs.

Apparently 'On Board' includes 'On the Center Board'.

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