Monday, September 25, 2006

Minorca Sailing

Is it wise to try and repeat an experience from a different time in your life? If you had a good time doing something special in a certain place will you be disappointed if you go back and try and do the same thing twenty five years later? Things will have changed. People will have changed. You will have changed. Will you enjoy the changes or not? Can you wade in the same river twice?

Twenty five years ago, around this time of year, I learned to sail on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Minorca at a windsurfing and sailing center operated by Minorca Sailing. I remember long afternoons sailing around the bay on my own, making every mistake that a novice can make, capsizing and laughing and recovering, and learning from my mistakes, and slowly getting the hang of this thing called sailing. I remember picnics on an island, sardines grilled on an open fire, gazpacho, lemon ice cream, lobster dinners. I remember my first sail in a Laser there... and my first death roll. I remember sailing a 470 in big ocean swells just outside the protected bay... and a scary capsize in a 470 when I ended up trapped underneath the boat pinned by the tiller through my buoyancy aid. I remember sailing with Tillerwoman in the beginners' race... and winning it.

Those two weeks changed my life. They hooked me on sailing and on racing for good.

Tonight Tillerwoman and I head off to Europe to make some family visits and also to spend another two weeks at Minorca Sailing. I'm excited but also wondering how it will be different. I know most of the boats will be different... but in a good way. They have Lasers and Musto Skiffs and RS 700s and RS 800s and 49ers and 59ers and... the list just goes on and on. More toys than I could ever try in two weeks. They have Laser racing every day. It sounds like dinghy sailor heaven. Hope I'm right.

So this blog is taking another vacation. Normal service will be resumed some time in mid-October.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sailing Websites

Why do sailing websites suck so much?

That was the question posed by Adam Turinas at Messing About in Sailboats. Or to be more precise: Why do sailing websites suck so much (blogs excepted)? Adam has been checking out some so-called "professional" sailing websites, mainly the websites of dead-tree US sailing magazines, and has come to the conclusion (as a self-described Internet professional) that most of them are "equally crap".

Adam has also been checking out sailing blogs and has discovered that the stuff on sailing that
he finds most interesting is in blogs, not on the sites of sailing magazines. He then comes to the conclusion that "sailing bloggers have the responsibility to make the web a better place for sailors".

I must admit that that last statement put me back on my heels for a while. "Responsibility." "Make the web a better place." Yikes. That's heavy stuff. I don't know about you but I blog for fun, not with any thought of making the web a better place. And as for responsibility, that's the last thing I want when it comes to blogging.

But then I started thinking that maybe Adam has a point. These days most of my reading about sailing is on blogs. If I want to follow what's going on at major Laser championships I can check out US national team member Andrew Campbell's blog, or if I want to see some tips from race winners in local Laser club racing I can find them at Greenwich Laser Racing. I can stay in touch with the training and racing of a fellow Laser master sailor at Split Tacks, or if I feel nostalgic for news of club racing in the old country I can check out Soulsailor or All Day I Dream About Sailing.

If I feel the need to see some superb sailing photography I can feast my eyes at Sailscape, or if my taste today is for some more off-beat pics with a watery theme I can go to The Horse's Mouth. If I feel like a good argument about some sailing controversy I head over to read one of Peter Huston's rants at Sailing As I Sea It, but then if I need something more soothing I settle down to enjoy the latest writings by Judy and Mark Handley
at about their cruise around the world.

The list goes on. I can ogle over marine electronics at Panbo, hear all about the latest news on marine accidents, safety and law at Lawboat, or for something completely different drop in at Grandma's Gone Surfing.

I could go on and on. I think Adam has a point. Some of the most entertaining, informative and provocative writing about sailing on the web these days is to be found in blogs. And the beauty of this medium is that I can tailor what news, stories and opinions I see by continually tuning my feed reader to include those blogs that interest me and to drop those that don't.
(I use Bloglines.)

Adam is critical about the website design and quality of grammar and spelling at some of the "professional" sailing websites. To be honest, some bloggers fall a little short in these areas too. But I don't really care. Almost all bloggers are writing from the heart. They are telling us about personal experiences or expressing opinions about which they have a passion. They are not hacks regurgitating some press release written by some other hack in a PR agency for a company promoting some marine product. It's this vivid, personal, direct, honest communication that makes sailing blogs such compelling reading. And by using Bloglines I can compile my own personal sailing magazine full of articles that interest me written by a variety of folk who are passionate about their subjects.

But what do you think about all this? What do you see as the key differences between professional sailing websites and sailing blogs? Which do you prefer to read? And why?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Caribbean Laser Midwinters

I've just booked up for a Laser sailing adventure at the Cabarete Windsurfing and Laser Sailing Centre in the Dominican Republic in January. First there is a four day clinic run by Brett Davis, then a day's rest, and finally the three day Caribbean Midwinters Regatta.

By all accounts there is every chance of big wind and huge waves. The list of other Laser sailors who have already attended Laser training sessions at this site is impressive. On the other hand they do sail out of Bozo Beach. I guess I'll fit in somewhere on that spectrum.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Man, it was good to be sailing again!

On Wednesday I took my Laser down to the reservoir and went for a blast. This is the first time I've sailed since the first weekend of September because of this nagging cold and cough which is finally clearing up.

The wind was blowing around 12-15 knots so it was good weather for stretching my legs on some long all-out hiking beats. I decided to practice sailing a tad higher than I usually do. I'm generally a footer but on occasion there are tactical reasons to want to be able to pinch slightly without losing any significant speed. So I sailed long upwind legs with the windward telltales fluttering and with good speed.

Downwind I tried the knees up style of sailing that Split Tacks has been recommending, and also my conventional style of front knee by the centerboard and aft knee and foot jammed across the cockpit. I still prefer my old style partly because it's much easier to move weight forwards and aft when necessary, not to mention it's easier to balance the boat side to side.

Spent a fair amount of time reaching, practicing keeping the boat on the plane as long as possible, and doing reach to reach gybes going from plane to plane as smoothly and quickly as possible.

After a while I sailed up into the bay where some of the diehard Sunfish sailors from the club were doing some fun racing even though it's long after their official season is over. One of them gestured for me to join them but I shook my head and went off to practice again in the windier part of the lake.

Around 6pm I headed back towards the club and saw the Sunfish starting a race when I was two or three minutes downwind of them. So I joined the race for the hell of it. In the lighter winds I had a chance to practice the roll tacks that had been giving me so much trouble back in August. Now it all seemed a lot easier. Funny how your brain seems to keep on learning between practice sessions. Is it true that we learn in our sleep?

Slowly I passed all the fleet tailenders. The Curmudgeon has recently started showing up at the club again after sulking for almost a year because of this incident. When I first saw him a few weeks back I gave him a friendly greeting but he ignored me. Perhaps he read my post about him? Anyway, he was in second place in the Sunfish race and I just passed him near the finish line using superior tactics and awesome roll tacks. He's still not speaking to me.

Over beer and pizza afterwards conversation turned to the club champion of champions regatta which was sailed last Saturday. Apparently Rule 42 issues surfaced again just as they did last year. I kind of suspected they might which was why, although I was qualified to sail in it as the club Laser champion this year, I found an excuse to avoid it. This year the RC was better prepared and was using Appendix P which allows on-the-water judges from the protest committee to award immediate penalties for illegal propulsion. It turned out that one sailor's choice not to accept such a penalty decided the regatta.

On the drive home I was still high from the experience of being back in the Laser again. I think I had been suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Man, it was good to be sailing again!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How to Roll Tack a Laser

You must be joking. You are reading my blog to learn how to roll tack a Laser? You can't be serious.

Anyone who has ever seen me sail knows that my roll tacks are crap. When I try to do a roll tack it either comes out as a rather pathetic wafting around that only serves to make the boat move even more slowly than it already was, or else as a totally uncontrolled near capsize followed by a desperate rapid flattening of the boat that frightens all the waterfowl within a three mile radius.

I am never able to tack like all those incredibly annoying kids who effortlessly perform controlled, graceful, smooth roll tacks that turn the boat efficiently and propel it speedily on to the new tack.

Well, I may not be able to perform killer roll tacks. But I know a man who can. Or rather I own a DVD by a man who can. Steve Cockerill's Boat Whisperer DVDs include some excellent advice on roll tacks supported by some superb video on how the master does it. I have been studying the DVD to try and work out what is wrong with my own technique and how to change it. I have been trying to break down the tack into its individual elements so I can reconstruct my own tacks. So here is my synopsis of how to tack like the Rooster...

Disclaimer: As I wrote before passing on Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips, if the following doesn't make sense to you or you disagree with it, blame me, not Steve. Hey - it's OK to disagree. I like a good argument. Flame me in the comments if you like.

Shoot. Steve's first tip is to start the tack by "cheating the wind" or shooting into the wind. His point is that your aim is not to complete the tack as quickly as possible but to gain as much distance to windward as you can. He has a lot of gobbledygook on the video about the square root of two which will probably go over the heads of folk who have forgotten Pythagoras's Theorem. But the idea is to use your speed to gain distance towards the breeze without slowing down. The shoot is achieved with gradual gentle use of the rudder and continues until the sail starts to back. At the same your weight should be moved towards the centerline of the boat. Note there is no mention of a heel to leeward before the tack which many sailors do use.

Roll. As the sail starts to back, move your body weight by pushing with your feet against the cockpit wall and moving your butt to the edge of the deck. Steve has a long explanation about how this is using the angular momentum of your body to help the boat rotate to the new tack more quickly. The boat is moving in a circle around a vertical axis as it tacks and when you move your body backwards you are moving your weight towards the center of the circle. This is analogous to an ice dancer spinning with her arms out and then pulling her arms in when she wants to spin more quickly.

I have to confess that although I understand the physics of this argument, it doesn't feel to me that this body movement to roll the boat is actually making the boat spin more quickly to the new tack because of this angular momentum effect. Am I alone in this feeling or do you get that sensation when you tack?

Another way that Steve describes this part of the move is to say that it's not so much a matter of sitting on the side deck as that it should feel like you are pulling the boat towards yourself.

Stand up. Once the roll is complete, you should stand up through the gap between the boom and the deck.

Ease. At this point you should ease the sheet a tad so that when you flatten the boat the sail doesn't stall. Steve emphasizes that you shouldn't ease too soon as keeping the sail sheeted in helps the boat to turn.

Flatten. Roll the boat flat and sheet in as the boat gains speed.

I haven't mentioned what is happening with the tiller, the rudder and your hands through all this as I am assuming that this part of the technique is understood. When I studied this video in detail and then went out on the water and tried to emulate Steve, I realized that my technique was wrong in several areas. I was starting the first roll too soon, I was easing the sheet too early, and the way I moved my body across the boat in the middle of the tack was totally wrong. It took me a few practice sessions back in August to correct these errors, and things got a lot worse before they got better. But that's why it's important to practice; you're never going to fix errors like this in the middle of a race. I still have more work to do, but thanks to the Rooster I'm making good progress.

What is your technique to roll tack a dinghy? Do you do it in a different way from what Steve recommends? All input, advice, disagreements and insults gratefully received.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How to Talk Like a Pirate

Some sailing blogs are pointing out that today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. So, as a public service, here is a short educational film to help you enjoy the day.

Death of a Sunfish

I was pleased to be able to dispose of my old Sunfish in a way that meant it would still be of some pleasure to another sailor. Thanks to chuck for proving a link to a story of a Sunfish that met a much more unhappy end.

This reminded me of the photo below which I took on the beach of some Caribbean island
(Bequia I think) a couple of years ago. It looks as if the hull of some old Sunfish has been recycled into becoming a rowboat for a fisherman by tacking on various timbers. But eventually even this life came to a sad end.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sailing Pictures

I've long been an admirer of the marvelous sailing photography on display at Sailscape. Tall ships, windsurfers, dinghy racing, sunsets... and every week a few new superb shots.

To truly appreciate the beauty of all these photos hook up your computer to a projector or big screen TV, put on some suitably nautical music, pour yourself a rum drink, sit back and enjoy
Willie Waw's photostream on Flickr as a slide show.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Yesterday I sold my Sunfish. It feels like the end of an era. Or at least the end of a major chapter in my sailing life.

I learned to sail and race in a Laser in the UK and my two sons started sailing in Optimists
when they were old enough. So when we moved to America in 1989 our plan was to continue sailing these boats. However, the area to which we moved in North Jersey had very little Optimist and Laser activity but it was a hotbed of racing in a weird little boat called the Sunfish. Indeed a Sunfish fleet raced every Sunday morning in the summer on the lake opposite our house.

At first I resisted the obvious draw to sail what the locals sailed. My sons and I raced our Laser and Optimists for a year or two in the lake club's open fleet. But the fleet was small and dwindling, and handicap racing has never been as exciting for me as racing in a large one design fleet. So slowly we were sucked in to the Sunfish world. I bought a second-hand Sunfish, passed it down to one son and bought another. He also inherited my Laser when I bought a new one. Pretty soon the Tillerman family fleet was three Lasers and three Sunfish.

We raced the Sunfish locally and occasionally traveled further afield for Laser regattas. Every Sunday morning we would drift around the lake with the Sunfish fleet. It was usually the highlight of our weekend. It was what I and the kids did together as they were growing up. Pretty soon they were faster than me but that was OK.

I took my sons to the North Jersey Lakes Junior Sunfish Championship and they each won it in turn. I sailed in the senior North Jersey Lakes series against some of the best Sunfish sailors in the region. Once I even won one of those regattas. The high point of our six boat family sailing was the summer of 1995 when all three of us did a Laser clinic in upper New York State one week, and then sailed in the Sunfish North Americans in Delaware the following week.

Around that time I set myself the challenge of qualifying for the Sunfish World Championships. This turned out to be somewhat easier than I expected and I sailed as part of the US team at the Sunfish Worlds three times including memorable championships in the Dominican Republic and Colombia. For reasons I still don't fully understand I woke up after the free rum night at a Sunfish North Americans to find that I had been elected to the board of directors of the US Sunfish Class.

When my sons left for college I turned my attention to encouraging and coaching other young Sunfish sailors. I taught local kids how to race and took them to junior championships. After I retired from real work in 2000 I spent the first three summers teaching sailing in our club's Sunfish program. And I was instrumental in creating a junior championship series sailed at several local clubs. I joined a Wednesday night Sunfish fleet at another nearby club on a reservoir and even won their Sunfish regatta one year.

So I've had a lot of fun and a lot of rewards from the Sunfish over the years. But lately I've been drawn more and more back to the Laser. I've been sailing my Laser on Sundays in the spring and fall at a frostbite fleet in Connecticut. A friend and I started a Laser fleet at that reservoir club I mentioned, so I've been able to sail the Laser every summer weekend locally as well as travel to Laser regattas further away. The more I sail my Laser the less interesting the Sunfish is to me. But I don't want to knock the Sunfish or the people who sail it who are as friendly a crowd as you could ever hope to meet. It's just a personal preference.

Regular readers of this blog may have worked out that I've been heading towards dumping the Sunfish for a while now. When I wrote my third post ever Focus (and by the way the first post to attract any comment) this was in the back of my mind. My growing lack of interest in the Sunfish influenced Tweaks and my frustration with Sunfish racing came out when I wrote about Wednesday Night Racing. It seems like every time I sailed the Laser I enjoyed it so much more that I kept hearing these Voices asking me why I still bothered to sail a Sunfish. But even this year there have been times when the Sunfish has occasionally been a source of pleasure, such as the evening I wrote about in Memories of a Moment.

So finally I pulled the trigger. Placed an ad in our club newsletter, had some interest from a couple of members, and sold the Sunfish yesterday to a young woman who has just learned to sail and wants a boat to race. I explained all the little mods and tweaks I have made to the boat, answered all her newbie questions about the equipment, helped her work out what she needed to be able to tow the boat, and she bought it for the asking price.

Now I can concentrate purely on Laser sailing. Portugal here I come.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bubble Baba Challenge

I know I relaunched this blog a couple of weeks ago to focus more on Laser sailing and training. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy other water sports from time to time.

It's not an official sport event and it will probably never be considered for the Olympics, but the growing popularity of Rubber Doll White-Water Rafting in Russia saw the fourth annual contest staged near St.Petersburg.

The event, better known as the 'Bubble Baba Challenge 2006', is the highlight of the novelty watersports season in Russia, and was held over a testing one kilometer course near St.Petersburg. Contestants are required to brave rapids on the river Vuoksa while embracing a blow-up doll, some of whom had their modesty preserved by t-shirts.

The idea to use rubber dolls to race down the rapids was conceived as a joke three years ago during a long rafting trip involving only men. Since then the popularity of this new watersport has grown rapidly.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Welcome. Especially if you are a new reader. Thanks for stopping by. Please stay a while and check out some of the links over on the right in Favorite Posts or Boating Blogs. If anything provokes or interests you, please leave a comment. You don't have to sign up for Blogger to leave a comment. You can make up a name or even do it anonymously if you prefer.

You'll probably work out that there is a group of twenty or so people that regularly write the comments here. Many of us write blogs about boating and read each others' blogs. But we are not an exclusive club or clique. Newcomers are welcome.

I know from my stats that many people other than the regular commenters read this blog. A lot of you arrive here via a search engine and only read one page; but quite a few of you dig around for a while. But you hardly ever leave a note saying hello and expressing some opinion on the ramblings here. I wonder why?

Just lately for example I've had a fair number of visitors from Australia thanks to the NSW and ACT District Laser Association who placed links to a couple of my jottings in the What's New section on their website. But as far as I can tell, hardly any of these visitors have left a trace. Tidy blokes these Aussie Laser sailors.

How can we welcome these silent mysterious visitors? What would make them want to interact? More provocative subjects? Competitions? Prizes? Lots of questions at the end of every post? What do you think?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More Windy Ramblings

The thoughtful comments to my post on Sailor's Wind blew me away. They may have only been a slight flurry in number but they packed the punch of a hurricane. They brought a breath of fresh air to my own thinking about weather and sailboat racing, and quite took the wind out of my sails.

I was impressed with the discussions of how other sailors are able to integrate weather forecasts, understanding of the science behind weather, local knowledge, observations and even visualization to inform their decisions on the racecourse. It's not that I didn't know that I ought to pay more attention to all those issues; it's just that I haven't developed the habits to do it consistently. Definitely very helpful input on a major way to improve my sailing. Thanks guys. You see I was right -- you can be my coach.

Somebody mentioned local knowledge. Ah, yes. The racing sailor's home field advantage. But even local knowledge isn't 100% reliable. Here's ab from Split Tacks telling us about a Laser race last weekend and revealing that although he knows that in the prevailing conditions the right side of the course should be advantaged, it's only true about 70% of the time. And here's another example where a sailor checked out his assumptions based on his local knowledge and found out that things were different from what he expected.

So even if you have local knowledge you have to check it out and can rarely afford to bet all the chips on your supposed inside information. And if you don't have local knowledge what can you do? How many ways are there to check out the wind conditions and get some information to form a race strategy? Here are a few. I'm sure you can think of others.

1. Sail the course before racing. Check wind directions, wind strength and tide conditions around the course. Is the wind oscillating or in a persistent shift? Is the wind or tide more favorable one side of the course? Are there curves in the wind near headlands or other land?

2. Split tacks with a buddy and see which side of the course is favored.

3. Watch the fleets that start before you. Which side of the course, if any, seems to be favored?

5. Look up the course in the final minutes before the start. What's happening? Are there gusts coming in from one side of the course?

6. Keep an eye on the rest of your own fleet up the beat. Are the guys on the other side of the course gaining, sailing faster, pointing higher?

7. Take a checkpoint at the windward mark. What worked? Which side did the leaders come from?

Or if you really must have local knowledge, then just ask the locals.

Or eavesdrop on them. One of my best races ever was when I overheard one of locals on the racecourse telling his buddy that although it wasn't yet the time of official high tide, the tide actually turned 45 minutes earlier in the part of the bay in which we were sailing. As a result I guessed that the morning's strategy of hugging the shore in light winds and adverse tide wasn't going to work any more and that I should tack away from the shore on the next race. The few brave souls who chose the same strategy were definitely in the minority but we made out big time. Hey, good intelligence is key.

So what have I missed? What other methods do you use to check out the wind on the racecourse?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sailor's Wind

The other day I jotted down all the ways I could think of (well, all I could think of in two or three minutes) to improve someone's sailboat racing performance. Several readers commented that I had made no mention of weather forecasting, understanding weather patterns, shifts, land effects on the wind, and so on. One kind soul even suggested reading Stuart Walker's book The Sailor's Wind and taking an online course about the topic.

I'm grateful for all of you for pointing out this blind spot in my thinking. It's not that I don't think about what the wind is doing, and what it's going to do, when I'm racing. But it is somewhat worrying that it didn't come to mind when I made that list. I'm going to try and explain this omission and it may come off as a bit defensive. But bear with me as I try to explain how I currently approach this whole issue and then, by all means, tell me if you think I need to make some improvements.

First of all, let me explain that most of the racing I do (in Lasers) takes place on relatively short courses in relatively short times. We are not talking Newport to Bermuda here. We're talking about windward legs of up to a mile or so (often less) and total race length of no more than an hour or so. So the wind effects that are important are on a relatively small scale both in distance and time. It's of little use to me to be told that the wind blowing on the coastline is probably going to shift twenty degrees to the right some time this afternoon. What I need to know is what the wind is going to do during the next ten minutes in the stretch of water half a mile upwind of me.

So although I do study weather forecasts available from various public sources, my gut feel is that they don't often help me very much. A dinghy sailor needs to understand micro-weather patterns and you're typically not going to find that from any regular weather forecast.

OK, you say, so you need to study Walker's book where he does explain the causes of various wind patterns and deal with small-scale wind effects too. Then you would be able to predict what's going to happen to the wind on your racecourse. Now Dr Walker is a superb sailor and is highly knowledgeable about many aspects of sailing, but in my opinion his prose style is often turgid and impenetrable. Take this for example...

It has recently been recognized that one of the most common form of large-scale, boundary-layer convection is the horizontal convective roll. HCRs develop when wind shear causes a rising column of heated air to twist into a horizontal helix. Continued rotation entrains additional air so that such helices, approximately aligned with the surface air flow, ultimately extend downwind for miles. Because adjacent rolls counterrotate, persistent bands of vertical flow (alternately upwards and downward) develop in the regions between them; bands of altered surface flow, backed or veered and strengthened or diminished by the direction of the adjacent vertical flow, develop beneath them.

Hmm. I think he's saying that some times the wind is "streaky". But I already knew that.

At the Laser Masters Worlds in Spain three years ago, the regatta organizers arranged for a professional meteorologist to brief the sailors before each day of racing. So a few dozen of us trooped into a meeting room each day and watched this guy's PC-based presentation of weather patterns and predictions. As I recall, half the time his predictions were wrong.

So let me summarize. Basically I'm saying that conventional weather forecasts, and even study of the theory behind weather, are of very little help for the kind of racing I do. However, practical observation on the race course, prior to and during the race, can provide a lot of valuable information about what the wind is doing and what it is likely to do.

But what do you think? Do you find you are able to gather useful information for your racing from a weather forecast? Does your theoretical understanding of weather make you a better racer?

Next post: ways of checking out the weather on the course...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Quiet Week

It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon...

It wasn't supposed to be like this. I returned from my trip full of energy and enthusiasm about getting started on my training program, picking up the marathon preparation where I had left off, sailing at least four times this week, working out...

Instead I came down with what my wife calls a bad cold but which I think is actually acute bronchio-pneumonio-laryngitio-sinusitis, or it might be black lung, legionnaire's disease or SARS. Anyway I've felt like shit all week. So no sailing since Sunday, no running, and no other exercise -- and I had to abandon my plans to sail in the Surf City Regatta this weekend.

But looking on the bright side, the relaunch of Proper Course has had some unexpected benefits. Thanks to the friends who validated my goals, and special thanks to all of you that came up with some constructive suggestions to my question about ways to improve my sailing. This is exactly the kind of practical help that I had hoped that I might be able to solicit from you by sharing my thoughts on training. It's clear that I had some holes in my plan and the suggestions to work on such issues as wind prediction and awareness, and balance, are something I have to ponder... or at least blog about in the next few days.

Also of great practical help were an offer from a friend who read my blog -- a much better sailor than me -- to come and practice with me over the coming months; a lead from the same friend to a Laser sailor who is living in Portugal near the site of next year's Masters Worlds whom I hope will be able to help with some local weather knowledge; and a very generous offer from a certain equipment manufacturer to provide me with some samples of his products.

So all in all, not a totally wasted week. Now if I can just get rid of this cough I hope I will be able to do some sailing next week.

It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the sailors (except me) are above average.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How to Grow Old

So what's the point? Why is an old guy like me trying to run marathons and sail his Laser in world championships? Why doesn't he just age gracefully, sipping margaritas while sitting on his deck, telling tall stories about the good old days, and grumbling about the decline of yacht racing?

Well, first of all, sailing a Laser in a blow, and traveling to regattas in cool places, and meeting other sailors from all over the world is a hell of a lot of fun. But during my recent break I came across a more worthy reason.

At my son's house last week I was reading an anthology of science writing -- The Best American Science Writing 2004 edited by
Dava Sobel. Hey I'm a scientist by education, a geek by nature, and a sucker for good writing in any form. (Sobel, by the way, is also the author of Longitude, a fascinating read for any sailor interested in the history of navigation.)

The essay that caught my attention was
How to Grow Old by Yale professor of medicine, Sherwin B. Nuland, in which he argues that the proper task of American medicine "is not the prolongation of life beyond the naturally decreed maximum span..... but its betterment." Nuland writes about the concept introduced by James Fries of Stanford known as "compression of morbidity" meaning the attempt to decrease the period of life during which any person is disabled.

In general, most of us are now fated to endure a final period of many years during which we become ever more frail, with the trajectory of decline sloping downward more markedly after about 50. Dr. Fries hypothesized that measures could be taken to change the long, gradually drooping arc with a pattern that more resembles a slightly sloping horizontal line ending in a rapid drop-off shortly before death.
In other words, it's better to have a long, healthy, active old age than to be a grumpy old geezer who can't climb upstairs without running out of breath or breaking a leg.

So what does all this have to do with sailing a Laser and running a marathon? Well, according to Nuland, study after study has shown that loss of muscle strength, not disease, is the major factor that limits the chances of older people living an independent life until death. And the natural decline in muscle strength that sets in after the age of 50 can easily be reversed through a simple training program.

Nuland has his own way of following this advice: "As I approach seventy-four I get to the gym about three times a week, pumping iron and dashing along on the treadmill (and concomitantly lusting after the bevy of tightly clad young women who are always there)."

Hmmm - it's true what they say about those Yale professors. (Momma don't let your baby girls grow up to be Yalies.)

So as Nuland sweats on his treadmill and (concomitantly) drools over the co-eds, I sail my Laser.

Nuland takes over three thousand words in his essay to make his point. Me, I have a bumper sticker on my car that says it all in eight words.

Cheat the nursing home. Die on your LASER.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Many Ways?

How many ways are there to improve your ability to race a sailing boat?

Sailing. Well duh! Yeah - you need to do a lot of sailing if you want to improve. But this could include club racing, regattas, clinics, solo practice, paired practice, practice with groups of other sailors... Is all sailing of equal value? What's most important? Is there such a thing as too much?

Physical Fitness. Maybe not so important in some classes but definitely important for Laser sailors. The harder you hike the faster you go! You need to work on endurance, upper body strength, postural and hiking muscles, leg strength... Also need to think about body weight, nutrition, hydration, stretching. And don't forget the importance of recovery and avoiding injury.

Mental Fitness. Often overlooked but more important than a lot of people think. Some issues to consider include goal-setting, concentration, commitment, confidence, focus, avoiding distractions, keeping a positive attitude, motivation. Can these things be trained? If so, what's the best way?

Learning. Reading, books, CDs, DVDs, post-race analysis, asking other sailors for advice, observation of others racing.

Equipment. Boat set-up and tuning, choice of right equipment and sailing clothing. Maybe not such a big deal for Lasers as for some boats but there are a few options and you may as well set up the boat in a way that works best for you.

I need to think of all of these factors in preparing a training plan for a major event like the Masters Worlds next year. And maybe some others. What am I missing?

Oh yeah. Have fun on the way. What else?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Goal

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about a commitment to achieve a certain goal in the 2007 Laser Masters World Championship in Portugal. One of my readers Dan from Adrift at Sea has taken to leaving comments here joshing me about my plans for "world domination" and "Laser mastery". Sorry to disappoint you Dan but my goal is "only" to finish in the top half of my age group fleet at that regatta.

First, a word of explanation for those of you not familiar with Laser Masters racing. To qualify as a Master in the Laser class you have to be over 35 and at Masters regattas these days we are scored against other sailors in our own age range. Those aged 35-44 are known as Apprentice Masters, 45-54 are Masters, 55-64 are Grand Masters, and sailors aged 65 or over are Great Grand Masters. Usually at the Masters Worlds the number of entrants is so large that we have separate starts for each age group.

Secondly, before Dan and others berate me for setting too easy a goal, let me explain. I have sailed three Laser Masters Worlds before -- Cancun in 2000, Hyannis in 2002, and Cadiz in 2003. Every time I finished almost exactly at the 75th percentile in my age group, i.e. three quarters of the way down the fleet.

It's a tough group. They may all be old guys but all of them are as crazy about Laser sailing as myself -- or even crazier in many cases. There are no marshmallows in these fleets. Hmmm -- didn't I write a post a few months back about how if you don't know who the marshmallow is, it's probably you? It could be, it very well could be me.

So, sure I would like to think that I could be among those taking home a trophy from the worlds one day, but I have to be realistic. The first aim is to raise my game so that I am consistently in the top half of the fleet. Once I'm there it will be time to think about moving up even higher.

A fellow Laser Master blogger, the writer of Split Tacks has set himself a goal to win a trophy at the Masters Worlds in Australia in 2008. Good luck to him. It may well be realistic for him. But for me it's "top half of the fleet in 2007".

Monday, September 04, 2006

Wanted: Sailing Coach

Thanks to everyone who responded to my Time for a Change post by asking me not to kill this blog. You gave me the encouragement I needed to reconsider this decision.

And special thanks to those of you who read my posts Commitment and Questions about why I felt that the blog needed to die or change, and then provided me with some excellent advice on how to move forward. Several of you suggested that I keep a private training journal but use the blog to keep you informed about my racing, training regimen, approaches to motivation etc. And Katinka supported my conclusion that it's OK for a blog to change when the writer changes his or her needs or intentions.

So, this may be good news or bad news -- or a bit of both depending on your point of view: I've decided to keep Proper Course alive but with a different focus. It will not be what it used to be: a random collection of thoughts on various aspects of sailing some of them desperately trying to be funny. Nor will it be my detailed training journal. What I'm currently thinking is that it will be an occasional progress report on my training and racing along with observations, musings and questions about how best to improve a sailor's racing performance.

I hope some of my former readers will find that of interest. If not, thanks for hanging around this far and bon voyage to you. Perhaps the new focus may attract some new readers too.

More importantly I hope that some of you will help me in the coming months with my training program as you helped me in the last couple of weeks to rethink what to do with this blog. I know that the regular readers of this blog include active sailors in a wide variety of boats. Many of you are racers. Some of you are former champions. Some of you are professional instructors or coaches. So as I struggle to work out how best to improve my own sailing performance I hope you will weigh in with comments, suggestions, disagreements, stories about what worked and didn't work for you, advice, encouragement, criticism...

In other words: please by my coach.