Saturday, March 17, 2007

Running Where Einstein Sailed

Last week I was supposed to do a 25 mile run as part of my marathon preparation program. The only day I had free to run it the temperature was under 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill in the single digits. I opted to skip the run and hoped to make it up one day this week.

Wednesday seemed like a perfect day. Definitely a hint of spring in the air. Warm and sunny. So I headed down to one of my favorite places for a long run, the towpath of the Delaware and Raritan Canal. This 70 mile linear park stretches right across the much-maligned state of New Jersey from the Pennsylvania border to the ocean. The towpath is perfect for running and there's something especially restful about running alongside water.

My route took me past Carnegie Lake, now mainly used by Princeton University for rowing. But I do believe that there used to be an active fleet of Lasers on this lake at one time. And when Einstein was at Princeton this was one of the places he sailed. Not in a Laser though.

No sailboats or rowers out on Wednesday morning. Just a couple of guys fishing and two women in a canoe. Definitely starting to feel like spring.

Things were going well with the run until about the 13 mile mark. The day was getting hotter and hotter, there was little breeze, and no shade from the leafless trees. My legs were getting heavier, I was sweating profusely and I was starting to feel decidedly woozy. I arrived back at the car at the 16 mile point and the temperature gauge said it was 82 degrees. No wonder I was feeling bad. I'm not sure I'd ever try and run 25 miles in that temperature. Certainly not after training for months in temps in the 20s and 30s. So I decided to call it a day. 16 miles in 80+ degrees is a decent run. No point in making myself ill. I still have the opportunity to do at least one run of 25-26 miles or more before the marathon.

Friday we had the biggest snowstorm of the winter. 8 inches of frozen boilerplate. I spent most of today shoveling snow.

Weird week. Weird weather. What would Einstein make of it?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Synchronized Swimming

My previous post about a goldfish driving an electric car attracted skeptical comments from some quarters about whether a goldfish would have the memory or intelligence to perform such a feat. So in order to convince the disbelievers, take a look at this amazing video which is proof that goldfish can be trained to perform complex tasks of navigation and teamwork.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


This blog is mainly about sailing, a form of transportation where animals that breathe in the atmosphere (humans) transport themselves on water. But what if animals who breathe in the water (fish) wanted a vehicle that would transport them in the atmosphere. Would it look something like this?

The goldfish - sorry Terranaut - steers the vehicle by its movements in the bowl - sorry cockpit. The camera tracks the fish's movements and, through some electronic jiggery-pokery, commands are sent to the motors driving the wheels.

Left a bit Goldie.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Australia - Look Out!

February this year was a total zero as far as sailing is concerned. I could have gone down to Florida and sailed in three Laser masters regatta and the open midwinters but we are in the middle of a house move and there was just too much stuff to attend to in New Jersey related to the sale of our old house. Having said that we did manage to negotiate the actual sale of the house using a rented cell phone on the beach in Cabarete in January, and attempted to seal the deal with contracts faxed to a hotel fax machine that seemed to take three days to receive one contract intact. Why does the one buyer interested in the house choose to improve his offer in the one week when we were out of the country?

But next February will be different. It's official now that the 2008 Laser Masters Worlds will be held in Terrigal just north of Sydney next February. I had the pleasure of visiting Terrigal a few years ago on a business trip to Australia and stayed at a hotel right on the beach so I know it is going to be a very special experience.

Australia look out. Here comes Tillerman.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ice Optimists

Someone got the idea to put an Optimist rig on an iceboat hull. Result: ice sailing for kids.

Waiting for the start

They're off!

Rounding the windward mark

Does that look like fun kiddies or what?

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Zen of Sailing - 1949 Style

August 1949. Tillerman was still in diapers and hadn't learned to walk yet. Life Magazine carried an article about a new boat, the Sailfish.

How do you like that hiking style? And the head back eyes closed sailing posture? Zen-like indeed. Perhaps I should try that in the Laser next time I go racing?

Joe Rouse, is that a topless wahine I see on the foredeck? That could be your grandmother.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Are You A Pincher?

I'm confused. My head hurts. What is a poor weekend racing sailor to do when two world-class sailing coaches disagree on their advice?

My confusion relates to how to sail in those critical first hundred yards of sailing after the start of a race. Andrew Campbell at is responsible for messing up my head with a post he wrote a few days ago titled After the Start.

Andrew first of all quotes Dave Dellenbaugh's advice...

After the start point high for two reasons:
1. So you will keep clear air to leeward,
2. So you will squeeze off the windward boats, gaining the option to tack.
After several minutes, a few boats will squeeze ahead of the pack like watermelon seeds. Your object is to be one of those boats.

Andrew then goes on to say that sometimes this is sound advice (after all you can't just blatantly tell Dellenbaugh he is wrong) but then goes on to argue why pinching may not be such a great idea. In summary his reasoning seems to be...
  • If you want to go left then by pinching you are allowing the boats to leeward to gain lateral distance to the left side of the course and this may be all they need to gain enough to be able to beat you.

  • If you want to go right then sure you can pinch off the boat to windward to make him tack, but that doesn't help you with all the boats to windward of him who may still be blocking you from getting across to the right.
Andrew's basic advice seems to be not to get yourself in a position in the first place where the leeward boat is bow out on you tempting you to pinch to avoid his bad air. Then you should just use your "superior boat speed" to punch out ahead of the line of boats in the first hundred yards of the race.

In other words, get a great start and sail faster than your competitors. Hmmm. That may be fine if you're one of the two best Laser sailors in the nation like Campbell. But what if you're some average Joe who doesn't always execute perfect starts and is not faster than the other guys in the fleet? If you find yourself too close to the leeward boat after the start, or he is bow out on you, and he is gassing you with dirty air; or you just need to force one boat to windward of you to tack to allow you to sail across to the favored right side of the course... what then? Is it OK for average Joes to pinch?

What do you think? Are you a pincher? (You can answer even if your name isn't Joe.)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


What's the point in blogging? Where's the payback? I'm sure you have lots of answers. But one of our little community of sailors-who-blog has recently had a very special reward that came (at least indirectly) from her blogging activity.

Sherry Fowler's Stay of Execution was on on my first list of Top Ten Sailing Blogs. To be honest it never was a one-dimensional sailing blog. Sherry used to write about many aspects of her life: work, friends, family, books, music and so on... and occasionally about sailing her Etchells or her job as a college sailing coach. She made the top ten list because she is an extraordinarily talented writer who can make the most mundane aspects of life into an interesting read, and her occasional posts on sailing made up in quality for what we may have missed in quantity.

Sherry only touched obliquely in her blog on her personal relationships with the men in her life. But over time we read occasional sad posts where she pondered on whether she ever would find her soul-mate and indeed whether she was even capable of a long-term relationship. A few months ago we gathered that there was a new man in her life (code name NBT for Next Big Thing). We also learned that they met because he read her blog and that he lives in North Carolina; Sherry lives in Maine and often wrote about her love for coastal Maine and how it would be hard for her ever to tear herself away from everything she loves in that place. Her regular readers gave her much ill-informed (and probably unwelcome) advice on the relationship as it seemed that there were considerable geographical obstacles in the way of a happy outcome.

In December Sherry abruptly killed Stay of Execution after writing over 2600 posts in more than three years. Her final post was a Sherry classic of self-awareness entitled What I've Learned From My Blog, or My Yellow Underpants. But she started a new blog in a completely new style, posting photos of random scenes and objects she observed and only short pieces of writing. This week we learned on Stay in a brief announcement from Sherry that "NBT proposed last weekend, and I accepted. That's right. I met my future husband on the Internet."

Congratulations to the happy couple. Let's hope we will be reading many more posts on Sherry's blog -- and perhaps occasionally even one or two gems about sailing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Seasons of the Blog

Fascinating post today on Darren Rowse's blog about Seasonal Blogging. His point is that blogs naturally go through seasons...
  • Winter - tough times, hard to keep going, when many bloggers give up

  • Spring - renewal of energy, time to launch new features

  • Summer - just coasting along, the living is easy

  • Autumn - time for change, cut out dead wood, new directions.

I think his point is that these phases don't necessarily follow nature's seasons but for a sailing blog, at least for this sailing blog, it seems to me that they do. Winter is a tough time to write about sailing -- mainly because I'm not doing much sailing at this time of year. This blog drifts off into drivel about various realms of utter nonsense or even a whole series of posts about playing a sailing computer game.

But Spring is just around the corner... Hang in there dear readers. Things will look up and there will eventually be some stuff worth reading about here.

By the way, at the bottom of Darren's post there are some links to some of his older posts which have tips about what you can do if you are stuck in "bloggers' winter"!

Does your blog go through seasons? What season are you in now?

Monday, March 05, 2007

More Lists of Top Sailing Blogs

A couple of my favorite bloggers have recently published their own lists of top sailing blogs.

Joe Rouse at the horse's mouth has announced his first annual Popeye awards for excellence in sail blogging. And just to demonstrate that there are many superb sailing blogs out there -- or perhaps that Joe and I have totally different tastes -- this list has only two blogs in common with my own list of Top Ten Sailing Blogs of 2006.
Proper Course also makes the cut. (Where's my spinach Joe?)

And Ant Clay at SoulSailor wrote about his Top 5 Sailing Blog Experiences on Feb 21. Three of his Top 5 were on my Top 10. And he also gave Proper Course a shout. (Thanks Ant.) But interestingly enough not a single blog was on all three lists made my Joe, Ant and me.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Say It Ain't So Joe

All of a sudden I'm seeing them everywhere. Yes boys and girls, they are infiltrating us. They come in the night and appear on the beach in the morning with their hairy coats and their twitching whiskers. They are taking over the world. Evil's name is Surfing Rodents.

Damn that Joe Rouse and his plans for world domination!!!!!

Baby this ain't Newport!!!

Saturday, March 03, 2007


The inventors of the Heated Wetsuit and series winner on last years New Inventors TV Programme have just finished developing a Heated Kidney Belt which can now turn any wetsuit into a Heated Wetsuit.

How does it work? It has a built in reusable chemical heat pack which can be activated through your wetsuit when required by locating and then pressing an activator button.

A chemical reaction (phase change) will then provide an instant heat of 50C/122F.

The pack remains warm for up to an hour and can easily be recharged after each surf and sail by boiling it in water for 15 minutes. This process can be repeated hundreds of times.

Chris Lyons, founder and inventor of Hotsuits says "We wanted to change the way you think about cold water forever. It's a fact that when your body is subject to prolonged exposure in adverse conditions it will inevitably lead to heat loss. Using an external heat source assists in maintaining the core temperature allowing you to remain in the water longer even in the coldest conditions."

I don't expect any self -respecting Laser sailor would ever use one of these.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Racing Rules Question

Some of the Racing Rules of Sailing are very clear, logical, black and white...
  • A port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard tack boat.
  • A windward boat shall keep clear of a leeward boat.
  • A boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead.
This is a good thing. We need to know when we have broken a rule and who should take a penalty if there is a collision. The writers of the rules have worked diligently over the years to make everything as clear as possible. To that end they have even defined some of the terms in the rules so there will be no confusion.
  • A boat starts when after her starting signal any part of her hull, crew or equipment first crosses the starting line ...
  • One boat is clear astern of another when her hull and equipment in normal position are behind a line abeam from the aftermost point of the boat's hull and equipment in normal position.
  • A boat's leeward side is the side that is or, when she is head to wind, was away from the wind.
All very logical. So mechanical and straightforward in fact that if you were writing a computer program to simulate a sailing race it would be very easy to program these rules into the computer. It's all binary. You are either on starboard or port. You have started or not. You are clear astern or overlapped. Once the facts are established there is no wiggle room for competitors or protest committee.

But wait. Is it that simple? How about some of these concepts in the rules?
  • Room: The space a boat needs in the existing conditions while manoeuvring promptly in a seamanlike way.
  • Proper Course: A course a boat would sail to finish as soon as possible in the absence of other boats referred to in the rule using the term.
  • Initially -- as in "When a boat acquires right of way, she shall initially give the other boat room to keep clear."
How can you program concepts such as "promptly", "initially" and "seamanlike" into a computer - let alone such a subjective concept as "proper course"? Surely these things are open to human interpretation and argument? Well, if you were the programmer for a sailing simulator you would have to give it a shot. Maybe to keep things simple you would program "initially" as two seconds, say. Or interpret "proper course" downwind as the straight line to the next mark.

So my question for today is: Would sailboat racing be a better game if the Racing Rules were so clear and logical and black-and-white that they could be programmed into a computer? Would it be better if none of the rules had vague fuzzy undefined terms like "seamanlike" and "promptly"? Or would it change the game in such a fundamental way that we would lose more in fairness than we gained in clarity?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sailing Club Application

Hypothetical question: Suppose you found a sailing club that was just right for you but when you inquired about membership you were told that there was an average two year waiting list, but with an implication that members were not necessarily accepted in strict chronological order...

What would you write on your membership application to encourage the powers-that-be to accept you as a member earlier?

What other steps would you take to get accepted early?