Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ask the Tillerman

It's been a few weeks now since the last post in our Ask the Tillerman series where the apocryphal Tillerman gives unhelpful advice to imaginary questions from fictional sailors. So here is your chance to ask that question about sailing that's been bugging you. Could be boat-handling, tactics, strategy, preparation, racing rules, anything ... Remember there's no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid questioner. No, wait, that's not right. You know what I mean.

To recap the questions so far...

In early January, Tangled and Wet, a novice Laser sailor, wanted some advice on how not to get his mainsheet hooked around the transom every time he gybes. The Tillerman replied with an erudite but irrelevant lecture on the physics involved and a tip on how to screw up a gybe in an even more spectacular manner.

A couple of weeks later, in response to another post, Litoralis made the mistake of begging for another Ask the Tillerman post. Tillerman responded by publishing a long letter from a writer named Without a Clew asking for advice on whether a young man with many non-sailing commitments and various fitness issues should accept the offer of a free Laser and start racing it. I guess only a couple of readers knew that Without a Clew bore more than a passing resemblance to Litoralis himself. Litoralis secured his revenge for Tillerman's sarcasm by taking the Laser, restoring it, and then whupping Tillerman in a regatta last weekend.

At the end of January, Tillerman ventured into the field of sports medicine by dispensing a potentially dangerous prescription for Pained in Peoria who had a question on how to treat
chrondomalatia patella and spondylolisthesis. The legal disclaimer appended by Tillerman's lawyer was longer than the answer itself. Then in February Ask the Tillerman expanded its reach even further with an answer for Water Girlie on a fashion question. The man is a veritable polymath!

In March, Tillerman was explaining some of the bizarre reasons why Laser sailors own hiking benches. Then the sixth in this series in April returned to a more mainstream sailboat racing subject with some unconventional advice in an answer to a question from Hi Lilli Hi Lo on whether to go high or low on a reach.

So let your creative juices flow. What subject should Ask the Tillerman tackle next?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Laser Antarctic Championships 2008

I've decided that I need to start a new Laser regatta somewhere in Antarctica ...

Having too much time on my hands the other day, I started thinking about some long term running and sailing goals. Sort of picking up from where I left off in the rambling schizophrenic conversation with myself back in January, in which I had poured scorn on "participation goals". Or at least part of me did.

Runners know all about participation goals. 99% or more of the runners that enter a marathon are not trying to win it. They know they have no hope of that. Some may be aiming to achieve a certain finish time, but for most the only goal is to have a good experience and to finish in one piece. Some folk don't find that quite challenging enough and start setting themselves goals like running a marathon in every one of the fifty states of the USA. Others with a yen for travel set out to run a marathon on every continent.

How many continents are there? Let's see ... North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia. That's six. Oh, plus the one we always forget, Antarctica. That's seven. Yeah, but for the purposes of a marathon challenge it will have to be six, right? There's no such thing as a marathon on Antarctica is there?

Oh yes, there is. There's actually a travel company Marathon Tours and Travel that arranges trips for runners wishing to travel and compete in marathons all over the world. The bulletin on their home page is currently touting tours to the marathons in the Medoc region of France (run through 59 vineyards), Easter Island and Australia's Gold Coast. And to satisfy the ambitions of those marathoners yearning to achieve the goal of running a marathon on all seven continents, they do organize an Antarctic Marathon.

That's sounds like a pretty cool goal - to run a marathon on all seven continents. Especially as it would involve travel to some exotic locations and plenty of opportunities for some side trips and exploring.

But, hey, I'm a sailor first and a runner second. Why not aim to compete in a major sailing championship on every continent? I've already sailed World Championships in Europe, and North and South America. The Laser Master Worlds this year are in Korea and in a couple of years are in Australia. That's doable. Africa is tougher. The last time the Laser Worlds were in Africa was 1996. Must be due soon.

But that still leaves Antarctica. Wonder how practical it would be to organize a regatta there? I do notice that those crazy folk at Marathon Tours and Travel have been arranging an Antarctic Kayak Championship since 2005.

Hmmm. I need to talk to them about this Laser regatta they need to organize...

Monday, May 29, 2006

Second Annual Collander Cup

A tale of half a birthday, a dive, a colander and a bruise.

Last year I started a Laser fleet and organized what I hoped would be an annual Laser regatta at our lake sailing club in New Jersey. Over the winter I handed off the responsibilities of Laser fleet captain to another member and he put together the second running of the regatta.

Having nixed two regattas already this year by writing about them in anticipation in this blog, I carefully avoided making the same mistake with this one. And it worked. This regatta actually happened.

The whole American branch of my family came to stay for the weekend. Both my sons, one wife, one girlfriend, one mother-in-law (sons' gf, w and m-i-l not mine) and the guest of honor, cutest granddaughter in the world. On Saturday she was exactly six months old so we held a half-birthday party for her complete with half a birthday cake.

Then on Sunday, son #1 (a.k.a. Litoralis) and I sailed in the Laser regatta. The weather was hot and sunny with unfortunately only a light patchy easterly wind. Once again we had ten entrants but only a few of the same cast as last year. Litoralis was more enthusiastic about the conditions than I was and his positive attitude showed up in the results. The event was won by our current club champion, an ace in multiple classes, Litoralis was second and I was tied for third on points with Wily Old Fox (from this story) but lost the tiebreaker.

It was the first time my son and I had sailed a Laser regatta together since 1997 (he won that one) and he was psyched up to be back in Lasers again. In between races he rocked around the lake standing in front of the mast with rudder up and only fell off once. Luckily his inadvertent dive was right in front of the committee boat where the race officer, also our webmaster, managed to photograph Litoralis in freefall, a photo sure to turn up on the club website in short order. Sadly nobody was there to photograph my son going for a second swim as he managed to slide off the deck of his Laser, and capsize it, while adopting some Laserite go-faster extreme body position on a run.

After five races, scores were tallied, speeches were given, and trophies were awarded, included a new perpetual trophy for the regatta awarded by S. my fellow fleet founder. The oldest Laser trophy in the world is the Orange Coffee Pot competed for annually in Surf City NJ ever since Lasers were invented back in the Jurassic Age. So, in line with this tradition, S. created a colander trophy for our regatta - yes it really is a metal colander mounted on a wooden base - complete with a story about how it was in honor of my cousin Collander who represented Great Britain in the Louis Vuitton Cup and was alternate crew for the British Flying Dutchman team at the Olympics in 1982. (The year is a clue that this story may not be entirely accurate.)

This morning Litoralis is complaining that he has a bruise on his backside and that he is planning to remove the deck cleats from his Laser.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

This is Not a Post

This blog is a jinx on my sailing.

In December I wrote a post about how excited I was to be sailing in the upcoming Hangover Bowl on New Year's Day. As a direct result the weather forecast changed to zero wind for all of Long Island Sound on the day of the regatta and I didn't even bother to go to the yacht club.

Then earlier this month I wrote another post about how I was looking forward to sailing with my son in a regatta on Mother's Day. This caused five days of heavy rain and floods in Massachusetts and the regatta was cancelled.

So I'm not even going to mention that this weekend is the date of ...

And I'm not going to write about how I spent all day Saturday ...

And I will certainly not tell you how my ...

And there is no chance I'm going to tempt fate by even whispering that today, Sunday, we are going to ...

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Something that I have never seen before in sailboat racing...
and another question for you racing rules experts.

Last Saturday I posed a racing rules question about a situation that came up while I was doing race committee for our Wednesday night Sunfish fleet. The winner of the race cleared the finish line but, in heading downwind for the next start, inadvertently interfered with the wind of two other boats still racing.

Agraham correctly pointed out that under Rule 22.1 a boat that is not racing shall not interfere with a boat that is racing. And Eliboat recounted a situation where Optimist sailors were DSQ'd for sailing back through the racing fleet after finishing. I also remember a situation where a world champion Sunfish sailor was protested for similar actions at a major Sunfish championship.

So it certainly is against the rules to interfere with boats still racing after you have finished the race. And most racers, if only out of simple respect for their fellow sailors, do their best to sail clear of the race course after they have finished. It's only fair. If occasionally we forget to do this then perhaps most of us would follow OG's advice to buy the other guys a beer after we get back to shore.

However, none of the commenters said they would do what the sailor in my real life situation actually did. Let me first explain that this guy is one of the most respected sailors in our area. He has a strong knowledge of the racing rules -- he's usually the guy that others go to if they have a rules question. More than that he has immense integrity and a strong sense of sportsmanship. I have known him contact regatta organizers after a regatta is over and the scores are published and the trophies awarded, to tell them that on second thoughts he thought he had infringed a rule and that he ought to be rescored as DSQ in a certain race.

On Wednesday night this sailor, as soon as he realized that he had interfered with the wind of two other racers, immediately did penalty turns and re-crossed the finish line -- now in sixth place. And he made sure that I recorded that lower finishing place for him.

What a guy! What an example to us all!

Or is it? Can any of you rules mavens and sea lawyers see anything strange about this situation?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Sailing Romance

A couple of days ago I wrote about how Paul McCartney wooed Heather Mills by taking her for a sail on his boat. It's not the first time I've heard of a man using the enchantment of a sailing boat to impress a woman he was pursuing. I remember working with a young woman many years ago who was totally blown away that a suitor invited her out to sail with him on their first date instead of the more conventional drinks or dinner.

Makes sense. What could be more romantic than sailing? And of course if it's just you and the object of your desires alone together on a boat in the middle of the bay as the sun sets... you can use your imagination.

So how common is this ploy? Male and female readers please comment. Have you been involved in a romance that started with an outing on a sailboat? Or perhaps a date on a boat that ended disastrously? Please tell us your story on your blog or in my comments.

I have to confess that my courtship of Tillerwoman did not start with sailing. Indeed, given what I know now about her general antipathy to small boats I might have blown the opportunity of a lifetime if I had invited her to go sailing with me for our first date. Luckily I did not even know how to sail then so I wasn't able to frighten her away.

But I was a guitar player when I met her. And she confessed later that she first realized that we had something special going when I played my guitar just for her. (Wonder if that ever worked for McCartney? I should think so.)

This old guitar gave me my lovely lady
It opened up her eyes and ears to me
It brought us close together
I guess it broke her heart
It opened up the space for us to be
What a lovely place and a lovely space to be

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Caption Contest

Yachts and Yachting has some superb photos of the Lark Inlands at Bristol last weekend, including the one above.

What is he saying, I wonder?

Seven Habits of Highly Effective Boating Bloggers

Darren Rowse at ProBlogger challenged his readers this week to write a post on The Habits of Effective Bloggers. The idea was to create a fun article, written in the style of Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that would outline some characteristics that new bloggers might find useful.

Effective? Ugh. That's one of those management-speak words. But that's the word used in the challenge thrown out by ProBlogger and I suppose he's allowed to use words like that because he writes about how to make money from blogs. But I blog for fun only - and so do most of my readers - so let me define "effective" my way. As far as I am concerned you are an "effective" blogger if you make me want to keep coming back to your blog over and over again, if I look forward to your next post, if you entertain me, inform me, make me think.

So here are Tillerman's Seven Habits of Highly Effective Boating Bloggers ...

Be original
You are a unique human being. Your boating experiences and perspectives are different from every other boater's. Tell us about your sailing or kayaking or whatever it is you do. Tell us about the thoughts about sailing that were going through your mind on the way to work today. We really are interested. Dare to be different. A couple of examples that come to mind are Tim Zim's ongoing account of converting a fishing trawler into a home, and Zensekai a blog about a man and a boat apparently both named Zen, full of musings about Zen, Feng Shui, Tai Chi and sailing. Both unique. Both fascinating.

On the other hand, please do not be the tenth blogger today to tell me about Dee Caffari's achievement in being the first person without a Y chromosome to sail backwards round the world without stopping with one hand tied behind her back, or whatever it is she did. I can read that on her website or even in the mainstream media. Unless of course, like Fuff you happen to be moored in the same marina as Dee and you have a story about how your mate Fur had an encounter with said anticlockwise antipodean adventurer.

And don't just relay news from the Volvo Ocean Race. I can read that in multiple places. Yes, we are all sad about Hans Horrevoets but don't write about it in your blog unless you can bring an original perspective as OG from Live Sail Die did when she wrote about meeting him during the race's stopover in Victoria.

Be regular
No - I'm not talking about laxatives. I'm talking about your blog. You may not be able to post pretty much every weekday like Zephyr, but please please don't be one of those people who write a few interesting posts over two or three months and then disappear off the face of the earth - or at least the blogosphere - for an indeterminate period. I know you're not sailing every day. But you are thinking about boating every day aren't you? Don't we all? I do.

Be passionate
I assume you're writing about boating because it is your passion. Or at least one of your passions. Let us hear your enthusiasm for the sport in your blog. Here for example is Tim Coleman from All Day I Dream About Sailing summing up a Friday evening practice sail in a post entitled The return of the demented beast.

Now the fun really begins! What follows next is one screaming reach with spray going every where, I am constantly playing the main and spilling wind and the she is just skimming over the water at breakneck speed! The demented beast has returned! Man this is just great! I am half inclined to stay out a bit longer but I know that with no rescue boat about it would be foolhardy so we head in and call it a day. Boy what a great sail! And the weekend hasn't even started!
Be graphic
This one is probably going to offend the purists who think that blogging should be purely a textual medium. And I am sure there are some great blogging writers out there who keep their readers entertained with nothing but thousands of verbs, nouns and adjectives. But, for me, the attraction of the web has always been the ability to show pictures (not to mention audio and video too). So liven up your blog with some interesting photos, drawings, cartoons, whatever.

Of course Willie Waw at Sailscape is the master of the visual blog with his magnificent photos of tall ships and Rhode Island seascapes. And Maria at Ferroever (Bridget Jones with a boat) is enlivening her entertaining tale of sailing the Eastern Med Yacht Rally with pictures of everybody from her fellow sailors to the lovely Turkish boys she meets, and everything from bucketfuls of goat heads to her spilt breakfast cereal. "Ferkin' crap shit pooh bums!"

Or if you're not sailing one week, then take some photos of the rest of the fleet and share them with us as Pat Byrne, commodore of the New Mexico Sailing Club, did in this series of posts showing his wife and others in a single-handed race and a long-distance race on the Desert Sea.

However, the prize for most effective use of graphics to describe sailboat racing must go to The Skips Blog whose author chronicles his J24 racing with ingenious diagrams and even uses weather charts like this one to explain his pre-race planning.

Be human
I'm not perfect. You're not perfect. Sure, tell us how you won that race, but it's often more interesting to read about your screw-ups and how you lost that regatta. Carol Anne from Five O' Clock Somewhere wasn't afraid to tell us about how a disastrous race one weekend ended up with a visit to the hospital emergency room. And Orkin Soyer, a Turkish match racer living in Switzerland shared with us his tough loss against top class competition in Rimini.

Most boating bloggers realize that they're writing for a niche audience and manage to stick to the nautical theme. But occasionally it's good to show us another side of your life as when Canadian Ckayaker tells us about his other passion for playing flamenco guitar or when Litoralis shows us how his baby daughter is learning how to pump the mainsheet.

Be sociable
One of the things that I most enjoy about this whole blogging-about-sailing experience is the way in which we seem to be building a community of folk from all over the world who take an interest in each other's sailing lives and provide feedback, advice and encouragement to each other via the comments sections in our blogs. So if you want to be an effective sailing blogger then try to encourage that interaction. Leave comments on posts that you find interesting or challenging or just plain wrong. Encourage others to do so on your blog.

Be interesting
Of course everything you write is going to be interesting to other boaters, right? Well, maybe not if all you ever write about is how you sailed the same boat around the same buoys with the same people every Wednesday evening. Try and find a new angle for every post you write. If you're not sailing yourself then write about someone who is, as when Litoralis told us about these Optimist sailors training in the winter in New England.

Mix it up - have some variety in your posts. For example, Edward from EVK4 Bloglet told us about the day he was faced with a mutiny and Strathy from We Live On a Boat wrote about weekenders.

Try and use humor such as when David Bethancourt told us How To Clean Your Toilet or when Michael Bradley shared some thoughts, from a kayaker's perspective, on Getting Older.

But above all, as
one of the most inventive and imaginative of all boating bloggers, Derrick Mayoleth from Blog, told us in this Steve Martin quote...

"You know when you're telling these little stories?
Here's a good idea: have a point.
It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!"

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Liars Poker

After sailing on Wednesday evening we went to our usual inn for beer and pizza. I sat in the middle of a long table and could hear snatches of conversation from left and right.

So what's happened to the curmudgeon? Has he really left the club?

Dunno. But I still play poker with him once a week. He's just as much a curmudgeon at poker as he was at the sailing club. He's threatened to leave that group too over five bucks. Seems like five bucks is his hot button.

Yeah, I'm crewing on an E-Scow on Sunday morning. The guy who owns it has an ice-boat too. He and his brother work on it every Tuesday evening. That thing can go 100mph.

When I lived in Aruba we used to sail our Sunfish over to Venezuela 35 miles away once a year. Would hang out with the fisherman on the beach and then sail back the next day.

He bought a seven-sided poker table for one of the group for his birthday and then expected the rest of us to chip in. Some of the other guys thought it was too much and that's what got the curmudgeon all riled up.

Yeah - you sit inside this totally enclosed cockpit so it can be 20 degrees below freezing outside and even at 100 mph you don't need to wear much to keep warm. The cockpit is actually in front of the mast.

We got huge swells and big winds on the cruise to Venezuela every year. Never been so fast in a Sunfish. We used to troll for fish on the way too.

What? How could you see the sail to trim the sheet if you were in front of the mast?

What? How can you fish from a Sunfish in those conditions?

You just trim in all the way. The apparent wind is always right on the nose. This baby is 45 ft long and 35 ft wide. That's why it goes so fast.

You put a chunk of 2 by 4 in your cockpit and have a reel of line. You tie a spoon on the end of the line and trail it out behind you. Once you feel your boat going sideways you know you've got a bite so you reel it in.

I hate that guy. We take it in turn to choose what type of poker to play. He has this weird variation where you split the pot between low and high hands. So I threaten that if he chooses that game I will choose the game where the hand with the lowest spade loses.

How can that be? If the apparent wind were straight ahead it would mean you were sailing dead upwind.

I like this mushroom pizza. Someone should write an article for the club newsletter comparing the dietary benefits of mushroom and pepperoni. What do mushrooms have in them anyway?

So then you reel in the barracuda and you kill it by hitting it on the head with the 2 by 4.

Has anybody seen Flash? I wonder how he's doing.

Aren't mushrooms mainly water?

But if you had a dead fish in your boat for several hours wasn't it high by the time you got to Venezuela?

He's out of action. Needs rotator cuff surgery.

I heard they're good for your prostate. Pepperoni is very high in sodium and salt.

One year a guy hooked a 200 lb sailfish and it pulled him all the way back to Aruba. We never saw him again.

So once you're heading at 100 mph towards the dam how do you stop?

Rotator cuff tear? How did he get that? Too much pumping?

They are high in selenium or something like that.

I miss the curmudgeon. Do you remember how he always came into the windward mark on the port tack layline and fouled several boats at the mark in every race and then sailed off as if nothing had happened.

You old guys and your prostates.

He claimed he was deaf.

Just let go of everything.

Yeah, selective deafness. But he does play poker wearing a hat with ear flaps on so he can hear better. And he keeps all his chips in a nail apron below the table so nobody can see how many he has.

I think my buddies are the biggest liars I have ever known.
I never know when to believe them.
I need some good tall tales for next week.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

World's Most Expensive Sail

You knew sailing was expensive. But you didn't think that it could cost you 400 million pounds, did you? No, I don't mean over a lifetime. I mean for one afternoon of sailing.

On a Sunfish.

Yup. Apparently true. In an interview with Donnie Deutsch (first shown some time ago but replayed last night on Deutsch's show on CNBC) Heather Mills McCartney says that Paul wooed her by offering to take her for a ride on his boat. She didn't quite know what to expect but assumed it would be some kind of luxury yacht. However, her future husband showed up at the beach sailing a Sunfish to take her out for a cozy sail for two, and that was when he won her heart. Now after four years of marriage, the couple's impending divorce is likely to generate the largest settlement in British legal history.

Smooth move Macca. But next time get the girl to sign a pre-nup before she steps on your Sunfish.

When I get older losing my hair,
Many years from now.

Will you still be sending me a valentine

Birthday greetings bottle of wine.

If I'd been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door,

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I'm sixty-four?

You'll be older too,
And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride,
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more.

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I'm sixty-four?

Every summer we can rent a cottage,
In the Isle of Wight, if it's not too dear

We shall scrimp and save
Grandchildren on your knee

Vera Chuck & Dave

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,
Stating point of view

Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, wasting away

Give me your answer, fill in a form

Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I'm sixty-four?

Apparently not.
Sir Paul is 63.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lake Weekend

Went down the lake to practice in my Laser. Must have been the first practice sail (as opposed to racing) for at least 6 months. What an awesome wind! As you can see from the chart, it was gusting between 20 and 25 knots and very shifty. I'd forgotten how shifty the winds can be on a lake after sailing on the sea all winter. At times the whole of the surface of the reservoir as far as the eye could see was covered in whitecaps. There must be over 100 boats in the boat park but the only people out sailing were me and a windsurfer. I was pumped.

I worked a little on every point of sail, especially reaching. Couldn't waste a wind like this. At times you could sail a screaming reach without coming off the plane from one side of the reservoir to the other. Big smile on Tillerman's face. On the run I was sailing faster than the waves which sounds fun but it's actually more fun when you have to work to catch a ride. Upwind it took me quite a lot of practice before I was even getting close to keeping the boat flat and driving fast in such shifty, gusty winds. Did a lot of practice gybes and only capsized once.

It was my first day of Laser racing at the lake club this year. I sometimes despair of the membership here; being lake sailors they don't have much experience in heavier winds and many of the sailors are even too timid to try. The Flying Scot fleet showed up, sat around muttering about the weather forecast for a while - 30 knot gusts were promised - and then they went home without even launching their flying sidewalks. The Jet 14s and the Lasers went out to race. In the early afternoon it wasn't as windy as Saturday but still fun.

I won the first race. A little squall with some rain came through in the second race and the wind started gusting to 20 knots. After practicing yesterday I was in my element. Yeehow. Won the second race.

Then the race committee signaled
Abandon and called off the third race. I sailed by the committee boat and made a cynical comment about, "What's the matter? Are you getting cold?" That sounds bad, but they're my friends. They know that I'm not really a sarcastic yahoo. (At least I hope so.)

Actually it can't have been much fun for them sitting out in the rain and wind but, hey, they're the race committee - they're supposed to suffer so we can have fun. We all take turns at the misery. Afterwards the race officer said that he thought all the Jet 14 fleet looked to be "out of control" and he was worried about their safety. So what? How are these guys going to learn to be "in control" if they don't push the envelope?

So we informally raced upwind back to the club in the rain. As we were packing the boats away the rain stopped, the sun came out and the wind moderated a little. Damn that race committee.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Eight Days a Week

For 25 years I have been wondering why I have never progressed above being a middle-of-the-fleet Laser sailor, but I think that the latest issue of the North American Laser Class newsletter may have the secret. In a cute little section entitled Laser Profiles, the magazine has a series of answers to various questions by a range of Laser sailors.

No - it's not that they all look disgustingly young with lots of hair. (Except for Jim Christopher who gives his age as "pretty old".) It's not even the revelations that Anna Tunnicliffe likes to eat "pasta with tuna" or that Rogan Kriedt's friend Ben "sits on him constantly". No - the shocker for me was the answers that these folk gave to the question of how many days a year they sail their Laser.

Bernard Luttmer - 110 days
Emily Billing - 170 days
Mike Leigh - about 200 days.

Yikes - that's a lot of sailing. No wonder they're all faster than me.

Somewhere I have some records of how many days I sailed back in 2002. Let's see.

Laser club races - 17 days
Laser regattas - 20 days
Laser practice - 18 days
Sunfish club races - 18 days
Sunfish regattas - 4 days
Sunfish practice - 15 days
Total - 92 days

Hmmm - I guess that's not a huge amount less than Bernard Luttmer. Must be some other reason why I'm such a crap sailor. What could it be, I wonder?

How many days a year do you sail?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Racing Rules Question

Interesting situation that arose while I was doing race committee for our Wednesday night Sunfish fleet this week ...

You win the race, clear the finish line and start heading back downwind for the start of the next race. Then you see that you are heading straight at a couple of boats still racing. They don't need to change course to avoid you, but you do sail within a couple of boatlengths to windward of them so you certainly affected their wind.

Have you broken any racing rule? If so, what should you do about it?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips

Back at the beginning of April, Dave Dellenbaugh came to our sailing club to deliver his lecture on Top Ten Tactical Tips.

His first tip Fast=Smart was all about the importance of boat speed, and then he gave us a couple of tips about starting: one about Line Sights and the next one about how to deal with the Boat to Leeward of you on the start line.

The next four tips were all about managing the windward leg of a race. Number 4 was Plan Ahead and number 5 was a discussion of how to handle Persistent and Oscillating shifts. Of course, the more difficult question is how to identify whether the wind shifts are persistent or oscillating and I wrote a post about the Answers that Dave gave to this question. The next tip was Sail Towards the Next Shift and the final tip on the beat was Sail the Long Tack First.

Tip number 8 was Evaluate Risk and tip number 9 was all about how to make Gains at the Finish of a race. Dave wrapped up the lecture by reminding us not to lose sight of the Big Picture.

During the six weeks or so that I have been writing about these ten tips one of the most gratifying aspects has been the feedback from you, my expert readers. You have weighed in with extra advice on some topics, some questions as to whether Dave's advice actually works for the kind of racing you do, and examples of how you have or have not used these techniques in your own racing.

Thanks for making the series so rich and informative with so much input from such a diversity of racing sailors. I have one further challenge for you. If you could add one more tip on racing strategy or tactics to Dave's Top Ten, what would it be?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Big Picture

The last of Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips was short and sweet: Don't lose sight of the big picture. Every time you make some tactical move to outsmart one other nearby boat, you are losing distance to every other boat in the fleet. Hard to remember when you're caught up in some tacking duel with your arch-rival or are luffing way above the rhumb line on a reach to prevent that same guy from taking your wind. But you do need to keep an eye on where the rest of the fleet is; no point in keeping ahead of one boat if, in the process, ten others pass you.

Of course some times the only thing that matters in this race is beating that one other boat. Remember the final of the Laser class at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney? To win the gold medal Ben Ainslie of Britain had to force Robert Scheidt from Brazil to finish the final race in lower than 20th place. Ainslie executed a superb one-on-one covering operation to slow down Scheidt as the rest of the fleet sailed away. They eventually collided after Scheidt gybed to escape the cover (Scheidt lost the protest) but by that time the Brazilian was only able to recover to 22nd place.

But you're not Ben Ainslie and I'm not what stands between you and a gold medal. So if we meet on the racecourse, remember that big picture and lay off the aggressive tactics against me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

OK Guys

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that one of the top sailors in our Laser frostbite fleet had a bad race and was back with the tailenders. I asked him what had happened. He explained about some mistake he had made and then offered an insightful comment about the standard of the fleet...

The competition has become a lot tighter in the last couple of years. There used to be a significant gap in skill level between the "good guys" at the top of the fleet and the "OK guys" in the middle of the fleet, as he labeled them. In the last couple of years the standard of the "OK guys" has improved so that if one of the "good guys" makes one little mistake he can suddenly find he has slipped from 5th, say, to 25th or worse in the race.

The results from the spring series have now been tallied so I took a look at the standings. It's impossible to tell from the summary results whether our friend's theory is correct. But what is true is that the number of "OK guys" has increased and the competition within that group is incredibly tight.

The scores for the series are based on the average of each sailor's position in all races in which he or she sailed (excluding some throwouts). Around 90 sailors sailed at least one race in the series but only 43 "qualified" by starting at least half of the races.

The top 11 sailors managed to achieve an average score in single digits ranging from 1.968 to 9.111. Let's call them the good guys. Hey, to achieve an average position in this fleet in the top ten is truly amazing - at least to me it is

Then there are 17 sailors with average scores ranging from 10-point-something to 15-point-something. You wouldn't think that was mathematically possible but it's true. Seventeen! Seventeen sailors averaging a finish from 10th to 15th. That's the group of "OK guys" waiting to pounce on the slightest mistake by one of the top ten group, and also producing intense competition within the fleet for those places in the low teens.

I'm one of those OK guys. About in the middle of that group which also places me pretty much in the middle of the fleet of qualifiers. Somebody has to be in the middle. We can't all be winners.

Am I making any progress? Tough to tell. Perhaps our friend from paragraph one is right. Perhaps all of us OK guys have improved. Also there's a high level of turnover in the fleet, so it's tough to compare results from year to year. But if I look back to the results of the spring 2003 series, I do see that my absolute position in the fleet and my average score have improved by a few places each. And of the sailors who qualified in both years, nobody overtook me from 2003 to 2006 but I did place higher in 2006 than two of the sailors who were ahead of me in 2003.

So I'm still one of those OK, middle-of-the-fleet sort of guys. But perhaps if I work really really hard, and put into practice all the good ideas I read from fellow sailing bloggers, then maybe, just maybe, one day I'll be a good guy.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gains at the Finish

The ninth of Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips was that there are often gains in position in the race to be made near the finish line. Using the ideas in this tip you can be one of those annoying people who comes from behind and passes another sailor in the final seconds of the race even though you have been behind them the whole race, and not be one of the patsies that gets picked off in this manner. Dave's advice was...

  • approach the finish on starboard tack if you are close to other boats.
  • finish head to wind - in other words "shoot the line".
  • finish at the favored end of the finish line.
And how do you find the favored end of the finish line, which is, of course, the downwind end if you are finishing upwind? Some of the ways discussed were...

  • look at the flag on the race committee boat.
  • look at the boats finishing ahead of you.
  • if it's a windward leeward course with the line in the middle of the course, check out the line as you pass it on the last downwind leg.
  • if it's the same as the start line (and the wind hasn't shifted and the race committee have not moved the boat or the pin buoy) then the favored end for the finish will be the opposite end from the one favored for the start.
Another way which can always be used, even if none of the above methods can be applied, is to use the laylines to the two ends of the finish line. As you sail up the beat keep an eye on the finish line. As soon as you are on a layline to one end, tack and follow that layline to the point where it crosses the layline to the other end of the finish line. At that point you should be able to see which end of the line is closest; that is the favored end.

So, all of you expert racers reading this blog, do you have any other tips for picking up a place or two at the finish line? Or any good stories about how you pulled off a master stroke in the last few yards of a race to win a major championship? Comments please.

And the final tip is…? Can you guess? Here it is.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Memories of a Moment

Wednesday was another perfect evening for Sunfish racing. I was waiting for the tailenders to finish the third race, thinking about my performance in the race, wondering what starting tactics to employ in the next race, when I woke up to my surroundings...

It's hard to believe that this lake is in the middle of the most densely populated state in America; I can hardly see any sign of human habitation or activity (apart from fellow boaters). Over there, behind some distant trees, I can just see the spire of some building, perhaps a church. On that hill there is a water tower. And over there is an old stone house with a view of the water. That's it. The rest of the view, for 360 degrees around the lake, is of rounded hills in every shade of green rolling away serenely to the horizon. The hills are worn down, old curving mounds, and the landscape has a calming, relaxing effect

In the west the sun is slowly sinking to what will be a spectacular sunset. The sun paints a long streak of gold and yellow and orange splashes on the ripples of the lake. There is something hypnotic about the way the light reflects off the constantly moving water, the way the tiny wavelets form and move and interact and fade away, the incessantly changing pattern of glossy shadows and brilliant highlights, never still.

Looking the other way I see the sun is illuminating every individual leaf of the trees on the south-eastern shore. They are a mile away but the effect is so eerie that I feel that I could reach out and pluck one of those leaves shivering in the breeze, shimmering in the light of the setting sun.

That's when it struck me. I don't play this sailboat racing game just for the competition. I don't do it purely for the physical excitement of speed; surely not as this is one of the slowest of all racing sports. Certainly not for the technical challenge of tweaking the last fraction of a knot of speed out of a boat.

The most profound rewards of sailing are moments like this, being able to appreciate the natural world in all its variety, the combination and interaction of light and sky and wind and water and land that are never the same on two days, not even the same for two minutes, the elements always changing and moving and making new patterns. The opportunity to escape from a world of machines - cars, phones, TV, computers, yes even blogs - and to open all six senses to the spine-tingling spectacular beauty of the planet.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Evaluate Risk

The eighth of Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips was "Evaluate Risk".

If you're considering making a move that you know to be high risk for high gain -- such as pulling off that perfect port tack pin end start or banging the corner -- then you need to evaluate whether the risk is worth it or not. If you are happy with your position in the race (or series) now, then it is probably not worth taking a big risk. Now is the time to sail conservatively and to consolidate your position. On the other hand if you have nothing to lose, why not roll the dice?

Do you follow this advice? What is the biggest risk you have taken in a sailboat race -- and was it worth it?

And here is the next tip.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Laser Frostbiting

Another winter of Laser frostbiting is over already. I was just getting into my stride and now it's done. What happened?

I missed the first two weeks of the frostbiting season in October with family commitments and then on week 3 I did my race committee duty for the fall season.
As I wrote here, Tillerman's Second Rule of Frostbite Race Committee is, "Always volunteer to do race committee at the warmest end of the season." It was a crisp October day with a brisk northerly breeze gusting to over 20 knots at times. The guy in charge of race committee motivated his team beforehand by telling us, "You're gonna be cold. You're gonna be miserable. If you have a drysuit, wear it." So I did and wrote in my blog about what I wore. Then a chance remark after sailing from one of the sailors afterwards prompted me to blog about thumb cramps.

So it wasn't until week 4 that I was actually able to enjoy some racing. What a day!
60 degrees and a gusty north-westerly at 10 to 15 knots. After 4 weeks with no sailing I was psyched up and rarin' to go. Over 50 boats out and amazingly I'm leading the first race when... bang... disaster strikes. God hates me.

The fifth week of the season we hosted a regatta (open to sailors from other clubs) on the Saturday and there was no racing on the Sunday. We had a magnificent turnout for the regatta, almost 60 boats, but the winds were light, not conditions I enjoy, and I finished midfleet after bagging the final race. Even so there were a few moments that provided bloggable material from the day, including a contentious mark rounding.

Week 6 was a perfect day for sailing.
Almost 60 Lasers. 10-12 knots. Sunshine. 60 degrees. And surfable waves. I found lots to blog about including conversations in the boat park, advice from an expert, and how Tillerman always finds new ways to screw up when he is doing well in a race.

Week 7 was yet another superb day for sailing.
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. At last it felt like I was getting into my stride in dealing with the crowds in such a large fleet on short courses. The day was not without incident however including one start that was a tad too good and a curious rules incident.

I missed week 8 but it was still one of the happiest days of my life.

I also missed week 9 because it was snowing and I wasn't willing to risk the 80 mile drive to the club in a snowstorm. Even so, 29 sailors raced. Apparently the snow changed to freezing rain by the time they went out sailing. I used to be nuts, too.

I did make week 10 even though there was still snow on the ground and I had to chip frozen snow and ice off my boat before racing. This week really felt like frostbiting. Following advice from Litoralis I tried some squirrel starts and learned ten ways that they can go wrong. Even when I did pull of that perfect squirrel start some other idiot managed to ruin my race. I think by this time the ice was affecting my brain because later I made two more dumb mistakes.

What a day of learning experiences. What a season!

The fleet always takes a break in January and February and the
spring season of Laser frostbiting started on the second Sunday in March. It was raining. The winds were light. The current was strong. But it was good to be actually sailing again.

Week 2 of the spring season started with 10 knots of wind and just a few light snow flurries but by the end of the day it was blowing a good 25 knots in the gusts.
I had one race where I was first at the windward mark and I managed to finish in the top ten overall for the day - quite an achievement for me in this fleet. I had a blast but learned that I still need to work on my heavy air skills, that my stamina has its limits, and that I need to work on awareness of wind and wave and current. I also learned of a new use for KY Jelly.

I missed the third week of the season because of a long-standing commitment to do some racing rules education at my other sailing club. I had not realized that this would clash with the frostbiting season when I agreed to give the talk. But we had some fun, burning some socks, and then discussing rule 42.

Day 4 of the Spring Series was a busy weekend at the club. As well as the racing on Sunday, we had Dave Dellenbaugh giving a talk on Top Ten Tactical Tips on Saturday; and Steve Cockerill of Boat Whisperer fame teaching us about boat-handling after Sunday racing. The arrival of spring motivated me to step up my exercise program in the preceding week and I may have done too much because I only managed to sail five out of eight races, while trying to work on my powers of observation. But I did pull off at least one good start.

I missed week 5 (visiting cutest granddaughter in the world again). And week 6, though a glorious day for sailing, wasn't one of my better days so I was able to wrote about excuses for sailing poorly. But I did manage to finish all the races, unlike week 4.

Then there was week 7
. Rain. 5-18 knots. Continuous rain. 48 degrees. Continuous heavy rain. 19 idiots sailed (including me). Did I mention it was raining? Like torrential downpour all afternoon long? Somebody pointed out that a significant percentage of the sailors were Brits. Hey - this is a typical English summer's day for us. I actually enjoyed it in a masochistic kind of way.

I did my spring race committee duty in week 8 - a warm, sunny, light wind day. Perfect for doing race committee. Awful for racing. I wrote about Tillerman's Three Rules of Frostbite Race Committee.

Week 9 was lightish wind, sunny and warm, a beautiful May spring day - not really frostbiting conditions at all, and not conditions that suit me, but I did have my moments. And that was it. Week 10 is Mothers Day and I'm missing the last day of the season to sail a Laser regatta in Massachusetts with my son. At least that was the plan until the organizers cancelled the regatta because of rain in the forecast. What? After this frostbite season I'm an expert at sailing in the rain. I'm a sailing-in-the-rain god. Oh well - nothing I can do about it now.

I started frostbiting at this club around five years ago so that I could get some practice in the winter and didn't feel so clumsy in the boat every spring when I started sailing again after a winter of idleness. Over the years it has become much more than that. Except for major regattas it's the most competitive fleet in which I sail. Every week there is a major learning experience.

This winter I've learned about physical fitness, boat preparation, wind and current strategy, boatspeed, tactics (especially at the start, and windward and leeward marks), using waves downwind -- not to mention sailing in rain.

But there's still so much to learn. That's the beauty of Laser racing.

That's why I'm a grandfather who sails a Laser.

Friday, May 12, 2006


I'm all psyched up. The sailing gear is packed in the car. The Laser is on the trailer. Today Tillerwoman and I are towing the boat from New Jersey to Massachusetts to my son's house. Then on Saturday my son and I are going to sail in the May Madness Regatta at Quannapowitt Yacht Club in Massachusetts. It will be the first time we have raced together in the same Laser regatta since he was in high school ten years ago.

All ready to go. Just check my email before we leave home. I read this...

Hi Tillerman,
Due to the 100% chance of rain and extraordinarily dreary forecast for the next three days, we have decided to cancel May Madness for this year.

We will have the Last Blast Regatta in October, so we hope to see you all then...

Best Regards,
Regatta Chairperson
I'm speechless.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Degrees of Practice

Kayaking is not sailing, but Derrick from Kayaker has written an awesome post, degrees of practice, on his approach to practice. With a little translation, it is an excellent guide and inspiration for sailors too.


A few days ago I wrote a post about stretching before exercise. Actually that's a lie. It wasn't really about stretching at all. It was just another feeble attempt to find a justification to slip into a sailing blog even more pictures of my incredibly beautiful granddaughter, just like I did here and here and here. But she is gorgeous, isn't she?

Anyway, this post really is about stretching. Why do we do it? Does it do any good?

When I ran the Woods and Lakes Run a couple of weeks ago, many of the runners before the race were doing their usual contortions: hanging by their fingernails off the lamp posts, nibbling their toes, trying to pull their ankles past their ears. They seemed to believe that stretching before running is a way to avoid injury during the run, in spite of the fact that there is absolutely no scientific evidence that stretching before exercise has any impact whatsoever on the chances of injury. Only a very few randomized, controlled trials have been done to test the assumption that stretching reduces the risk of injury, and not a single one of those trials could measure a protective effect from stretching. See this article for example.

So should sailors stretch? Here is a post from the Laser Forum where a professional fitness instructor provides some advice on how sailors should stretch before and after a regatta. The reason? To avoid pulled or strained muscles she says. Hmmm. Guess she hasn't read the scientific research.

In another post by the same author she advises on some stretches to increase strength and flexibility in the lower back. Aaah - the F word. Flexibility. That's the real reason we need to stretch.

Frequent poster at the Laser forum, the alphabetically challenged 49208, has the following suggestion in this thread on how to stretch properly.

I took a few yoga classes so I could get a better handle on proper stretching techniques - one think I learned in those was the length of time holding the stretch. I was typically holding up to 30 seconds prior to yoga - in those classes we were holding the stretch 1 to 2 minutes and once I was tuned into what was happening, I could feel the stretched muscles start to relax somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds and the distance I was stretching would increase an inch or more. Lesson learned - hold it until the muscle fatigues/relaxes and then start counting for at least another 30 seconds.
And if you really want to get serious about getting fit for sailing then you could adopt the training program described in this article from the Times of London.

Ben Ainslie, who won gold in Sydney and Athens, wakes at 7 in the morning and does 90 minutes of stretching before heading to the water for an hour of boat work and four hours of punishing water-based training before finishing off with an hour of weights. Romantic it ain't.
Ninety minutes of stretching a day!! Well, I guess if you want to win a sailing gold medal that's what you need to do. But i
f you don't have the time in your busy schedule to stretch before you go sailing then you can always stretch while you're on the boat as Litoralis showed us a few months ago. And if you think that you're already flexible enough then check out the girl in the video. Can you do that?

So it is true that those of us who race real sailing boats that demand agility from their crews need to do some stretching for flexibility so that we can perform all the contortions we need to do to make the beast go fast. Of course I'm not talking about you, yes you there in the blue blazer and peaked cap, sitting on your floating lead mine, sipping cocktails on the deck with Bunty and Muffy, and occasionally pausing to press a button to trim the kite, maybe you can get away with being a stiff old salt.

But forget about all the scientific mumbo jumbo on this topic; for most of us the real reason for doing the occasional stretch is that it feels so damn good. Especially if our muscles are aching after some unaccustomed exercise.
I'm still a bit sore after yesterday's run so I'm off to do some stretching.

If we need to gybe, press the green button.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Thanks to Geared Up Blog for this short video of a lifeboat capsizing in heavy waves.

OK - so now the lifeboat is upside down with three men in the surf.

What happens next?

What would you do?

Sail the Long Tack First

Continuing the summary of Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips lecture with another tip about the windward leg ...

The seventh tip in the series was "sail the long tack first". In other words sail the tack which has your bow pointing more directly at the windward mark first. That way if the wind changes, you stand to gain whichever way it shifts. The math and the odds are with you. Dave highlighted three situations when this advice is even more important: when the course is very skewed, when you still have a long way to go to the mark, and when you are uncertain about the wind.

Somebody in the audience asked Dave if there really is a place called Cornersville with a sign saying, "Population One". This led to Dave elaborating that another way of expressing this tip is to say that you should keep away from the laylines and the corners of the course.

But of course there are obvious exceptions, says Dave. (Don't you just love it? There are always exceptions. That's what keeps sailboat racing perpetually fascinating.) You should consider going right to the corner when you are sure there is a persistent shift, the current strongly favors one side, and when the winds are very light. (In light winds the middle of the course is usually a bad place to be.)

As you can see from this story about the 2005 Bacardi Cup, the population of Cornersville has recently doubled. Have you ever been there? How was it?

And here is tip #8.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Skiff Porn

In forums and blogs, many North American sailors have bemoaned the scarcity on our continent of skiff racing, using such boats as the Musto Skiff.

Perhaps this is the answer for these tormented souls.

Mothers Day

So what are you doing for Mothers Day this weekend?

Going sailing.

What? How do you get away with that? Why don't you go and visit your Mom?

My mother lives in England, and so does my mother-in-law. I live in New Jersey. It's hardly practical to drop in and visit them on Sunday. Not since they scrapped Concorde anyway. In any case it isn't Mothers Day in England - it's a different day over there.

OK. So where are you going sailing?

I'm planning to do the May Madness Laser Regatta at Quannapowitt Yacht Club in Massachusetts on Saturday.

Wait a minute - you said you live in New Jersey. Why are you driving all the way to Massachusetts for a regatta? Aren't there any regattas nearer home?

Yes there are regattas nearer home. Some years I do the Philadelphia Laser Championship at Marsh Creek Sailing Club. But if I go to see my son in Massachusetts I also get to see my gorgeous granddaughter again and I can race in Lasers with my son for the first time since he was in high school ten years ago. Do you want to see a picture of my granddaughter?

Wow - she's beautiful. I see your point. So if you're racing on Saturday I guess that on Sunday you and your son will spend Mothers Day with your wives, he will be with his mother for Mothers Day and you will be able to help your daughter-in-law celebrate her first Mothers Day?

Nope - my son and I are thinking of sailing at this club near his home.

Hey - check that website again - that club isn't racing because it's Mothers Day. At least some sailors have some respect for Mothers Day.

Damn. I see you're right... hang on, the phone's ringing.

... ...

My son just called while I was writing this. He says we will go down to the lake and practice anyway.

You guys are nuts.

You can't blame my son. He can't help it. It's genetic.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I Had My Moments

Thankfully the wind on Sunday wasn't quite as light as originally forecast and we enjoyed another typical day of Laser frostbiting with a large fleet, packed start lines, crowded mark roundings and all the usual fun and mayhem that happen when 15 boats are trying to occupy exactly the same spot on the water at the same time.

Once I pulled off a perfect squirrel start and sailed in clear air to the right side of the course and judged the layline perfectly and rounded the first windward mark with the leaders. But most of the time I didn't.

Sometimes I had great boatspeed upwind with my shoulders positioned outside my butt, just like Steve Cockerill taught us, and could feel the tension in my stomach muscles squeezing the boat forwards, and was steering the boat with heel not rudder. And sometimes I wasn't.

Occasionally I was doing effortless, flowing roll tacks that were a pleasure to perform and I executed the roll just at the right time and speed to accelerate the boat smoothly on the new tack. And other times I didn't.

Sometimes I had great boatspeed downwind, sailing by the lee at just the perfect angle, using the heel of the boat and not the rudder to steer, and I could feel from the tension in the sheet that I was fast, and I was scooting past other boats. And sometimes I didn't.

Once I thought ahead when approaching the leeward mark with a crowd of boats ahead and abeam of me, and slowed down and worked across to round on the transom of the inside boat and passed a bunch of boats rounding on the outside of a pinwheel. But most of the time I didn't.

Once or twice I executed a perfect leeward mark rounding, going in wide and coming out tight so I was in clear air with freedom to tack and could look back and see a dozen boats gasping for air behind me. But most of the time I didn't.

Sometimes I judged the finish line perfectly, finishing at the favored end, and approaching it on starboard tack so I could use my rights to pick up a place or two in the last seconds of the race just how Dave Dellenbaugh taught us. And sometimes I didn't.

A sailing coach once told me that you have to be inconsistently good before you can be consistently good. On Sunday I was sometimes inconsistently good. But most of the time I wasn't.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Wind Switch

Weather forecast for Sunday afternoon.
2pm 3 knots NNW
5pm 2 knots SSE

So let's get this straight. We will start with not enough wind to race, then during the afternoon the wind will get even lighter and shift 180 degrees? Or is it that with a massive high pressure area anchored over New England, the weather gurus don't have a clue which way the wind will blow so they're just hedging their bets?

In any case, unless the forecast is totally wrong, this doesn't look very hopeful for racing. Wish there was some switch to turn on more wind.

And now for something completely different...

Seems like someone has invented a "wind switch" that might work to reduce wind strength at the opposite end of the Beaufort scale. It's a neat idea to reduce the intensity of hurricanes. The proposal is to deploy 6000 pumps spaced 50-100 meters apart in a 100 km wide band stretching across the Gulf of Mexico. Each pump would be attached to a 1000 meter long, 1.5 meter diameter flexible tube moored to the ocean bottom. When a hurricane approaches, the array would pump cold water from deep in the ocean to cool the surface waters and thereby reduce the intensity of the hurricane.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sinking Feeling

So you have this new $27 million motor yacht. It's fully loaded with elevators, a couple of hot tubs and even a submarine. Now, what's the worse thing that could happen?

It might sink on its maiden voyage like the Titanic? It might run aground?

No, worse than that. It sinks into the road while on a trailer on its way to dry dock!

Check out Sinking feeling: Road gives way under $27 million yacht for the full story and video.

Where Are You?

A couple of days ago I wrote about sailing blogs and asked for comments on the question of whether it's true that sailors don't interact with each other via sailing blogs very much, and if so why. Thanks to all of you who replied, especially to Pat and Carol Anne who invited me for beer (and pizza maybe) at their lake place. Carol Anne even went so far as to suggest that, "Tillerman's place is essentially the clubhouse where we all come to socialize." Thanks CA.

Ant (English), OG (Australian) and Turos1 (Turkish living in Switzerland) made some comments from an international perspective so I thought I would check out the nationalities (or at least the countries from which you are browsing) of all you sailors hanging out in this multicultural clubhouse. The pie chart above is of the 'visitors by country share' stats in Site Meter for this blog. (Not sure what time period this is from - a 24 hour snapshot I suspect.)

I wasn't surprised to see that 65% of my visitors are from the United States even though it would be nice to have greater representation from other countries. Not that I have anything against Americans - two of my most favorite people were born in the USA.

I'd be interested to know if other sailing bloggers have a similar country distribution. For those of you not in the USA, are most of your readers from your own country, or mainly American like the crowd hanging out here?

Anybody ready for another beer? Does anyone else want that last slice of pizza?

Friday, May 05, 2006

No Contest

It didn't take more than one day of the new sailing season for illegal propulsion to rear its ugly head again. I've mentioned before the situation at this club where I sail in the summer.
There is a group of old members who think that some of the newer members are breaking rule 42 on a regular basis. The new guys for the most part think that they are just sailing their boats athletically but legally; nowhere does it say you have to sit like a statue in the boat.
This whole issue has been rumbling around for years, ever since a new guy joined the club and the old guard thought that he was doing roll tacks that were way to good, not to mention pumping the sail too often and even doing a bit of body pumping to flick the leech. This fellow, let's call him Hurley, is not the only one accused of cheating in this way but the suspicions and accusations seemed to have started with him. He's actually a really nice guy, warm, friendly and easygoing, always willing to help with club activities though perhaps a little forgetful at times. But the grumbling about his sailing style goes on year after year, and nobody brings it to a head.

To try and educate the membership on this topic, during the winter I and another member gave a talk at the club on the illegal propulsion rule and held a discussion with the members on how to deal with it if we saw fellow sailing club members breaking the rule. The general advice was to give the offender a warning first, but if he or she persists, protest him.

Locke and Sayid (not their real names of course) were on race committee for day one of Wednesday night Sunfish racing. Locke is a well-respected senior member of the club, quiet and thoughtful. Sayid is a younger man, well-spoken and friendly, but ruthless on the racecourse. After the first race, Locke called all the racers - about ten of us - over to the committee boat and said that the race committee had seen violations of rule 42 and that this was our last warning.

After the third race, Locke called me over to the committee boat and asked me if I would serve on a protest committee after racing. Uh oh. I could see what was coming. I noticed that Hurley had missed the third and fourth races so when I arrived back at the club after racing and ran into him I asked him what was going on.

"Locke tossed me for doing an awesome roll tack," he explained and said he didn't think it was fair. I explained to Hurley that as we discussed at the winter meeting, the race committee cannot disqualify a sailor for a rule 42 violation. They have to protest him and hold a protest hearing.

"Whatever dude," says Hurley, "he protested me, same difference," and walked off. Hurley's girlfriend Libby, who was listening to our conversation, suggested in something of a sarcastic tone that perhaps we should hold that rule 42 seminar again.

While packing up my boat I was chatting to Michael, one of the other sailors. Michael is one of those guys that everyone likes, partly one suspects because he's a middle of the fleet sailor who rarely presents a threat to any of the top sailors. He was astounded that Hurley had left the course and bagged races 3 and 4 over a stupid thing like this.

I assumed that Hurley had effectively retired from the race in question but apparently not. A protest committee was assembled, Jack and me with Ana-Lucia as the chair. Jack, last year's commodore, is one of the club's natural leaders with a lot of skills useful in a tricky situation. Ana-Lucia is a forceful young woman, quite capable of handling any challenges from male members of the club on and off the water.

Locke and Sayid came over to present the protest that Hurley broke rule 42 in the second race, but Hurley was still messing about near his boat. Ana-Lucia went across to talk to him and then came back and said he refused to attend the meeting.

So Sayid described what happened. Blatant, persistent pumping on the beat as Hurley approached the windward mark in the second race. I asked a question or two about the wind conditions to see if there was any possible explanation for his actions. In the absence of any defense or explanation from Hurley we had little choice but to disqualify him for a breach of rule 42.2(a).

Afterwards I couldn't help pondering what all this meant. Why didn't Hurley just retire from the race, why refuse to attend the protest meeting? Was he sulking? Did he think that Locke was out to get him from day one of the season? Did he believe the protest committee was stacked against him? Is the end of all this rule 42 nonsense at the club or the start of a bitter feud?

All these thoughts were going around in my head as I drove home. The other sailors went off to our usual inn for beer and pizza. When I arrived home, my wife was watching some program on TV with a host of characters and a confusing plot, but my mind was still on the protest and surrounding issues and whether the protest was being argued over again at the inn by all the sailors.

It must have been just before 10 o'clock, while I was half dozing on the sofa in front of the TV, when Michael got hold of a gun and shot Ana-Lucia and Libby and then turned the gun on himself.

Wait. I'm lost.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


In the beginning God created day and night. He created day for footy matches, going to the beach and barbies. He created night for going prawning, sleeping and barbies. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Second Day.

On the Second Day God created water -- for surfing, swimming and barbies on the beach. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Third Day.

On the Third Day God created the Earth to bring forth plants -- to provide tobacco, malt and yeast for beer, and wood for barbies. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Fourth Day.

On the Fourth Day God created animals and crustaceans for chops, sausages, steak and prawns for barbies. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Fifth Day.

On the Fifth Day God created a bloke -- to go to the footy, enjoy the beach, drink the beer and eat the meat and prawns at barbies. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Sixth Day.

On the Sixth Day God saw that this bloke was lonely and needed someone to go to the footy, surf, drink beer, eat and stand around the barbie with. So God created Mates, and God saw that they were good blokes. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came and it was the Seventh Day.

On the Seventh Day God saw that the blokes were tired and needed a rest. So God created Sheilas -- to clean the house, bear children, wash, cook and clean the barbie. Evening came and it was the end of the Seventh day.

God sighed, looked around at the twinkling barbie fires, heard the hiss of opening beer cans and the raucous laughter of all the Blokes and Sheilas, smelled the aroma of grilled chops and sizzling prawns, and God saw that it was not just good, it was better than that, it was bloody good.


Thanks to backbyrner for this one. He's right. Australia is bloody good.

Sailing Blogs

Thanks to Zephyr for pointing me to the brief article by Rebecca Waters about sailing blogs in the May 2006 issue of SAIL magazine. Rebecca draws her readers' attention to the phenomenon of sailing blogs, cites Zephyr and a couple of cruising blogs, and gives some advice on how to find more sailing blogs - including mentioning that the Laser sailor who writes Proper Course has a list of Top Ten Sailing Blogs. Actually Rebecca, I have written a couple of top ten posts, Top Ten Sailing Blogs of 2005 and a more recent Boating Blog Roundup.

Rebecca closes her article by noting that interaction is the element that distinguishes weblogs from other forms of mass communication and suggests that this interaction is missing from the sailing space.

Interesting point. Is she right? Do sailing bloggers interact with each other? Are we a community, or just a bunch of lonesome writers dumping thousands of words into the ether with no hope of any feedback?

I'm not sure. It seems to me that the level of conversation between myself and my readers and the authors of the blogs I read is growing all the time. But I am constantly surprised by which topics in this blog generate the most comments from you. In the past month the subjects that have inspired you to respond the most often have included a story about a jetskier being jailed, an account of racing in the rain, some cute pictures of my gorgeous granddaughter and a spoof report about a protest hearing involving two of the Bee Gees. Of course the all-time record for number of comments from you was the infamous dueling church signs post. On the other hand, my attempts to educate myself and you about racing tactics have elicited comparatively little reaction. But our ongoing, interminable discussion about how sails work has generated some erudite and passionate responses from a small group of sailing geeks like myself.

So what's that say about the topics that interest you and that will spark conversation? You like funny. You like cute. Some of us like to argue about a subject that not one of us fully understands.
We all hate jetskiers. I guess you're not so different from the sailors I know in real life.

Are we a community? I must admit that in following some of your blogs over many months I have become interested in your sailing lives and started to feel that I know some of you well, that we might even become friends if we met in the flesh. For example it has been fascinating to read Dan's account of fitting out his new trimaran and finally launching her last weekend, and to follow the ups and downs of Carol Anne's attempt to qualify for the Adams Cup. I have had a good chuckle over Ant's Enterprise racing (and drinking) adventures in England and Edward's daysailing jaunts in California. The interaction that we, and others, have had via comments in the blogs have felt, at least to me, very similar to the interchanges with sailing friends in real life. A word of congratulation, some encouragement, occasional empathy when things are going bad, laughing over a joke together ...

My own standard of whether I am interested in reading your blog and interacting with you is the "beer and pizza" test. If you were to show up to Wednesday night racing at our club, would I want to sit with you in the bar afterwards for beer and pizza? Would I find your conversation interesting? Would we have things in common? Would we enjoy each other's company?

We might sail different kinds of boat. We might not both be serious racers. But sailing would be our common bond. Sailing anecdotes would be the core of our conversation. But it would be OK also for you to tell me about how proud you are of your kids, or nephews, or grandchildren; to whine about the terrible weather we've been having lately; to tell me about your vacation; to complain about those awful people at the next table. All of these subjects are the stuff of normal conversation and fit well into an interaction with fellow bloggers too.

So what do you think about this whole topic of interaction among sailing bloggers? Do we do it enough? How can we encourage it? Does it matter?

Geeze - is that the time? I've rambled on for way too long. The pizza is all finished. The beer pitchers are empty. Time to hit the road.
It was nice talking to you. See you soon.