Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I am a Rhodilanda

Today we completed the purchase of our new home in Rhode Island and I officially become a Rhodilanda. Or did I?

According to one website I now have to complete this application form for Rhode Island citizenship which has qualifications such as I Have A Friend/Cousin/Ex-Boyfriend Named Vinny and I Know What A Low Numbah Is And How To Use One. (Does it count if I have a lawyer named Vinnie?)

And it seems I have to learn a totally new language with words like weeniz and kwah-hawgs.

Geeze. This sounds almost like a foreign country with its own language, culture and customs.

And then at another website there is a long list of tests to determine Do you qualify to be a Rhodilanda? I am so far from passing most of these tests that I don't even understand what some of the "tests" are talking about.

But I am making progress. I do know that as a Rhodilanda that I eat my clam chowder white instead if red; I am still angry that the Aussies stole "our" America's Cup; and I am looking forward to having one of those cool car number plates with a wave or sailboat logo (probably without low numbahs).

However I have no idea what a bullrake is, I'm not familiar with Atwells, and I'm not on first name terms with Patrick, Jack and Sheldon (yet). Perhaps the good people of my new home state will allow me visitor status with a chance of qualifying as a real Rhodilanda in a couple of generations or so?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

America Defeated

So America is defeated. BMW Oracle is out of the America's Cup, beaten by the Italian Luna Rossa team without ever having led round a single mark of the course in any of the six races of their Louis Vuitton semi-final series. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time since Dennis Conner first lost the Cup that there will not even be an American team in the Challenger Finals.

What went wrong?

Edward in a comment to my last post on the Cup, bemoans the facts that the BMW Oracle team didn't have a single American flag on their base. Gee golly. Could that be the problem? Somehow I don't think so, as according to this article on BYM News there were actually only three American sailors on the BMW Oracle team. Much as Americans revere their flag, I don't think that the BMWO multinational crew from New Zealand, Australia, France, Denmark and god knows where else would have been inspired to do much better by a few pieces of cloth with stars and stripes on them wafting in the breeze back at the base.

Ah, perhaps that's the problem. Carol Anne in a comment on the same post questions whether it's possible to build the necessary team spirit in a multinational team. Hmmm. Maybe that is the issue. I do have some slight experience on this topic having spent the last ten years of my career building and running multinational teams in a corporate environment. Sure it's tough sometimes to overcome language issues and cultural differences. But Larry Ellison actually boasted of the international character of his team and compared it to his global team in his Oracle business. Surely if you take a group of guys and have them live together, work together, train together, travel together, race together and party together for several years -- and even fit them all out in the same snazzy uniforms -- you ought to be able to weld them together into a cohesive team with a will to win? Or maybe not judging by their dismal performance this week. What do you think?

But before we rush to downplay the chances of multinational teams, let's remember that the conqueror of the American team, Luna Rossa, has a Brazilian tactician and an Australian helmsman to mention only two of the many non-Italians on their crew.

So where does America go next? Geeze I'm starting to sound just like that guy Craig Hummer on the Versus channel with such an inane question. But seriously, what should the USA do if they ever want to win back the America's Cup? In the latest edition of Sailing World magazine, Gary Jobson picks his dream team of Americans for the next challenge, including by the way a fair sprinkling of Laser sailors. Smart guy our Gary. Is that the way to go? A red, white and blue challenge with a pure American team, with some suitably patriotic name like Stars and Stripes or Young America (no more German car company names please), and with plenty of American flags fluttering around the base camp?

Please let us know what you think. Somebody please come up with some ideas. America Needs You.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

America's Cup Songs

AC 32, or at least the competition to select the challenger, is shaping up to be a fascinating tussle. Wins by both underdogs yesterday, and questions are already being asked about the supposed boat speed advantage of the Americans and the skills of various superstar tacticians and helmsmen.

But one thing is missing. What is the song of the 32nd America's Cup?

The song of the 1983 Cup was clearly Men At Work's Land Down Under which was used as a theme song by the crew of Australia ll. Whatever you think of the song it certainly worked for Australia ll in their historical win.

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
And he said,

"I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?
You better run, you better take cover."

Then in 1987 Jimmy Buffett wrote a "fight song" for the Stars & Stripes Challenge to win back the Cup from the Australians in Fremantle. Take It Back was played for the first time as the boat was towed out to the racecourse and eventually made it to JB's boxed set Boats, Beaches, Bars and Ballads.

We aint stealin were just takin back
Very simple plan of attack
Its our job and a labor of love
Take it home to the up above
We aint stealin were just takin back
Very simple statement of fact
Call it pillage or call it plunder
Were takin it back from them boys down under

In a slightly different vein, Tom Paxton's
The Day We Lost the America's Cup is hilarious in lampooning the importance (or lack thereof) of yacht racing to most folk. One of the characters of the song is clearly so cut up about the New York YC losing the cup that he even wonders if we lost the saucer too.

So what is the song of AC 32? Do any of the teams have a rousing fight song? Inquiring minds demand to know.

Ask The Tillerman - Play Safe

First in a series of posts on "how to" subjects for newcomers to sailing as suggested by readers of this blog...

What do I need to wear to be safe when sailing?

1. Protect your skin from the sun. You know that, right? When you're out on the water sunburn is a risk even on cool, hazy days. Sunburn hurts. Skin cancer can kill. So Slip-Slop-Slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat. And don't forget sunglasses too.

2. Protect your feet. Oh yeah, I know that barefoot sailing feels so cool. I used to do it too. Sail a Sunfish off a clean sandy beach and you might be OK. But in most sailing situations there are just too many hazards to the feet -- on and off the water -- to risk going barefoot. Docks have splinters and protruding nails. Launching ramps and beaches have sharp rocks and broken glass. Kids can get their toes trapped under an Optimist on the land. Boats are full of objects on which you can stub your toes.

OK. OK. Maybe I'm a bit paranoid on this one. But in all the years I taught kids sailing the most common injuries I saw were foot injuries. We were supposed to have a strict policy that the kids wore shoes with closed toes all the time, on land and on the boats. On the few occasions when some kid forgot to bring his or her sailing shoes (and I wasn't in the mood to be mean enough to ban them from the program that day) there was a high probability that the kid would end up with a crushed toe or cut foot by the end of the day.

Note that comment about closed toes. Flip flops are worse than useless for sailing.

3. Wear a Portable Flotation Device. Some of you may also disagree with this one. I know a lot of sailors -- on dinghies and bigger boats -- hate the constriction of a PFD and prefer to sail without one. Here are the reasons why I wear one all the time when I am on or near the water.

  • Accidents happen however smart you think you are. People fall off docks. People fall off boats. Boats capsize. Boats even sink. I do most of my sailing single-handed and sometimes with no other boats around. It is possible that I might capsize and lose contact with the boat. I might even get a blow to the head from the boom before I hit the water. Wearing a PFD I can stay afloat longer and in my bright yellow PFD I am more visible to any potential rescuers.

  • It's a good example to others. I used to belong to a club which had a rule that juniors had to wear PFDs all the time but a lot of the adults didn't bother to wear them. This used to drive me crazy. What kind of example were those folk setting? Especially as most of the kids were far better swimmers than the old geezers.

  • Wearing a PFD is usually compulsory at the Laser regattas that I attend. What's the point in practicing without a PFD if I have to wear one when I race? I'll just get lazy about ducking under the boom properly when I tack and then in a race I'll get my PFD caught on the boom in a 25 knot tack and capsize the boat.

Just my two cents. Make your own decision. It's your funeral.

OK. That's enough preaching for now. Next article will be about what to wear on the boat to stay warm and dry. Well, warm anyway. If you want to stay dry I suggest you take up some other sport like hitting little balls down holes with a stick.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Laser Sailing Sydney Harbour

Thanks to allagai1 for this video of Laser sailing on Sydney Harbour in a patchy 15-20 knot westerly breeze. For those of you that haven't tried a Laser yet, this is what it's all about.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Little Dutch Boy

I'm still receiving tales of boating mistakes as requested for the group writing project even though it officially closed at the weekend. Eliboat posted a story by his father at Better late then never and here's one from Robin Hunter...

Bang, crash, ouch!!

And there I was on the ground with my BMW motorbike lying beside me and a big fat Volvo estate with hardly a scratch on it.

Anyway 2 years later after a lot of paperwork, medical exams and something called a forensic accountant, I received a nice compensatory cheque for a combination of loss of earnings and personal suffering, including 3 broken ribs and a broken collar bone.

So, still being a financial advisor, I sold Panache, my little Folkboat, and decided to buy a Rival. (Those of you fortunate enough to read my previous experiences may remember that my introduction to sailing was on a Rival 34).

I looked at a number of this deep keeled, sensible boat and eventually decided on Ayton Serenade a 32 footer built in 1971 and moored at Amble – 40 miles north of Newcastle (good financial advice dictated the 32 foot version as, generally speaking, they are up to £10,000 cheaper than the almost identical 34 ft).

So, after a number of trips, some negotiation, a test sail and a full survey, I paid my money and with Malcolm, my original sailing instructor, made plans to sail from Amble to Gosport, about 450 miles, estimated time 5-7 days. The boat had recently undergone a full refit including a £3,500 engine rebuild, carried out by the Amble Boat Yard, the same people who did the survey.

And off we went at 10 am April 29 2002, weather forecast acceptable but not ideal.

And by midday the next day we were well out in the North Sea, cold, sea sick, wind hard on the nose and preparing to go round the bulge of East Anglia. And the engine stopped, just like that, no warning, no noises, just stopped.

“There’s smoke pouring out of the engine compartment” yelled Malcolm. And then a few minutes later: “And there’s no oil in the engine”.

“How can that be, we’ve only been running it for about 10 hours and it’s just been completely rebuilt – I’ve even got a copy of the original invoice”.

At that point I would have been happy to sell the boat for £5 and probably offered a 10% discount as an incentive!!

Anyway, a cup of tea later we decided that we should sail for the nearest safe haven which was the Humber Estuary where we arrived late evening. But could we find the entrance? We looked at charts, checked our numbers on the GPS, timed all the flashing lights and finally identified one of the red entrance buoys. But with the wind getting up, the genoa managed to jam itself open, we decided not to risk the estuary at night and since Malcolm was knackered after spending an hour (in a force 5-6) trying to manually furl the (very definitely non-furling) genoa, I decided to cruise up and down all night, keeping the red buoy in sight.

After a night of very interesting hallucinations – nymphs included – the wind dropped and we sailed up the Humber towards Grimsby, only to find that the radio would receive but apparently not transmit. – so much for the survey!!

Once in sight of land, and with the wind having dropped to little more than a whisper (what a grim place the Humber estuary is) we called up the coastguard to let them know our situation. And out came the RNLI with one of their huge lifeboats – one of those that go out to 500,000 tankers, not little sailboats – which towed us, very ignominiously, into Grimsby marina.

“Why did you come out to help us, we were all right”

“Yes, but we don’t like little sailboats in a large estuary with almost no wind and very large cargo boats trying to get in and out. We want you out of the way, and quickly”

So, after one of the best breakfast ever we left the boat in Grimsby and trained back home

Rather than risk any more excitement, Ayton Serenade was trucked down to Gosport where, over, the next few months including a winter ashore, things, including a new engine, were put right. The old engine was given to the Gosport Cruising Club (actually sold for a very nominal amount) and Neil spent what seemed like for ever stripping it down and rebuilding it. It now of course works perfectly, driving Lulu, the club workboat.

I sued the Amble Boat Company for my “difficulties” and they settled out of court, so at least I got some of money back.

And for the time being that was that. An uneventful trip over to France, expect that on the way over the genoa fell to the deck with the halyard up at the top of the mast. Easily solved with 3 strong French fishermen and a small son. And they took such pity on us that we lived on the fish that they gave us for 2 days.

2003 started well with a trip round to Gosport boat yard for the mast to be put up when, in a strong offshore wind and driving rain, the new engine just stopped. And so we were blown down onto the oiling berth just outside Campers.

“You can’t land ‘ere, it’s MOD property”

“Well what do you want me to do?” and with that we put out some fenders and tied up.

“The police are coming”

“Good, then they can give me a tow to the boat yard”.

Dirt in the fuel system was the problem and so a complete refreshment of the fuel tank was duly done

After that the spring and summer was spent pottering around the Solent and what luxury to be able to stand fully upright and not keep covering the ceiling – is that the right nautical term? – with blood.

And so to Weymouth. Hard work 74 miles on the water as against 54 on the chart and an average speed of 4kts. However my crew had to leave and there I was on my own. Just a doddle, I thought, provided I get to the Needles on time. And I did, despite the fact that it was pouring with rain and visibility was about one mile.

And so back onto the mooring, tired but very happy – my first single handed journey.

Oh, the luxury of a hot cup of tea, some toast and jam followed by raspberries and cream.

“I must do a couple of jobs before I leave”.

One of them was to stop the table wobbling as one stood on the floor, since, whenever there was a cup or glass on it, it spilled. And since there was a screw hole in the floor board, with no screw in it, it was just a simple matter of a new screw.

But it wouldn’t go in.

“Funny, the old screw must be broken off; I’ll just drill it out”

And I did. And water started spurting out.

From what I thought was the water tank. Only it wasn’t, it was the hull.

“Tut tut” I said, or at least that was the gist of what I said, “how can you be so silly?”

And there I was like the little Dutch boy with my finger over the whole wondering what to do? Of course with hindsight there were at least half a dozen solutions; but the one I came up with was a large kitchen match tapped into the hole and silicon plastered all round it.

Moral of this little story of course is:

i don’t ask me to do any DYI on your boat;

ii don’t do any work on a boat when you are tired.

(Incidentally you may remember the Wilt books written by Tom Sharpe. In the first, there is a description of Wilt’s father who is very keen on DYI. Wilt grew up thinking that a f..k was something you did with a nail and a hammer !!)

And that for the time being is that.

How Good is VS America's Cup Coverage?

Commenters on yesterday's post raised some questions about the quality of the Louis Vuitton/ America's Cup coverage on the VS cable channel. I cannot comment on their previous coverage of the infamous Acts (mainly recorded highlights I believe) but based on my vast experience watching a couple of hours live coverage of the first semi-finals yesterday here are my impressions...

To answer one specific question, yes there were quite a lot of computer generated birds-eye views of the racecourse as well as the live video feed. This was especially useful for seeing the true distance to windward between the boats when separated somewhat on the racecourse, and how the different shifts on each side of the course affected the relative positions of the boats. They also had some computer generated underwater views that left me totally cold. I'm not into keel porn.

There was full coverage of the starts of both the semifinals yesterday. Then they alternated between live coverage of each race. Yes there were some commercial breaks too, but I felt that all the key incidents of both races were aired.

One thing I missed that I know we had in at least one previous Cup was live audio from the boats so we could hear the conversation between tactician, helmsman and the crew. I hope they get permission to carry this before the event is over.

But yes eliboat you would probably still want to throw something at the TV for inaccurate commentary. One classic example was when the wind shifted dramatically at the end of the final leg and the run turned into a beat. One commentator carried on speaking about the "gybes" the boats were executing though one could clearly see that they were actually tacks!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Morning

It's Monday morning. The time when, for over thirty years, I crawled back to work after a weekend of fun outdoors, sailing, skiing, playing with the kids, whatever. The time to try and switch the mind back to thinking about work, pick up the loose ends of problems I didn't solve in the previous week, work out the priorities for the coming week, look forward (not) to whatever location in the world I'd be flying off to on business this week, deal with all the hassles...

But now I'm retired what am I doing on Monday morning? Watching the Louis Vuitton Cup on the VS Channel. Spectacular pictures from Valencia. Close racing between BMW Oracle and Luna Rossa in a shifty breeze. Who said that there isn't any good coverage of sailing on TV?

And it even has sewercam!

Ask The Tillerman

Last week it was the group writing project on embarrassing moments in sailing. This week I'm going to try and answer some of the questions you suggested when I asked back in April what "how to" articles would newcomers to the sport want to read on a sailing blog.

Here's the list of questions...

What are the basic safety precautions?

What clothes should I wear for sailing?

Where should I sit in the boat?

How do I go faster in light winds?

How do I mentally prepare for racing?

How do I read windshifts on the water?

Hmmm. Not sure I know all the answers on those topics. But I'll take a stab at each one and then I'm sure you will add stuff in the comments if I miss something or correct me in the comments if I get it totally wrong.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Worst Sailing Mistakes

Thanks to everyone who participated in this week's group writing project on your worst sailing mistakes or most embarrassing moments. You rose to the challenge and were not afraid to share your awful mishaps with the world.

Thirteen brave boating bloggers sent in stories. Here is the full list...

Protest Shoe by M Squared

The Vicar and the Hog by Tim Coleman on All Day I Dream About Sailing

Broken Arm by Pat Byrnes of Desert Sea

Gybe Ho
by Carol Anne of Five O'Clock Somewhere

Taking the Inside Route by Manfred of Sailracing.

Light Airs Suck by Walter Mondale

The Midnight Shredder on Captain JP's log

A Bag of Pretzels by Edward of EVK4 Bloglet

Naked Sailing at US Naval Academy by JSW225

A bird's eye view by Zen of Zensakai II - By Sea

Playing Ahab by Heather from The Picaroon Blog

RFU W/ RDF, SO BAD WE MISSED CAPE COD from Panbo: The Marine Electronics Weblog

Bugger's Muddle by Adam Turinas of Messing About in Sailboats

And my own Top Ten Worst Sailing Mistakes

So browse the list and tell us in the comments which story you liked best. Which is the funniest? The most awfully incompetent? Feel free to post links to some or all of the tales on your own blog. Share the link love. Retell the stories to beginners as terrible warnings of what not to do; and to remind them that sailing is so much worth doing it really is worth doing badly.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Top Ten Worst Sailing Mistakes

Having started a group writing project on your worst mistake or most embarrassing moment in sailing, I feel obliged to write a post on that topic myself. But which incident to choose? I am such a klutz in the boat that I have had so many embarrassing moments.

How about the only time in five years I had a chance to win a race in our Laser frostbite series and then my gooseneck broke? Lesson #1 - check your fittings for corrosion regularly.

Or one of the many occasions when I screwed up a mark rounding such as the time I made so many mistakes in one windward mark rounding I went from being among the leaders to almost last in a 60 boat fleet. Lesson #2 - don't try an approach to the windward mark on the port tack layline if it's likely to be crowded when you get there.

Starting is one of the areas of my game that I would really like to improve. So many times a mistake on the start line will ruin my race. Sometimes I try for a squirrel start (going for the gap at the boat end of the line) but there are at least ten ways I have found to screw them up. Lesson #3 - A squirrel start is a high risk option.

Sailboat racing is as much a mental as a physical game and sometimes I fail to think ahead. Such as the time when in trying to get inside one sailor at a leeward gate I managed to get myself trapped outside a line of starboard tackers leaving the leeward mark. Lesson #4 - don't get so involved in boat-to-boat tactics that you lose sight of the big picture.

It's never too late to make a mistake in a sailboat race. Such as the time when I fouled a fellow competitor when approaching on port tack at the left end of the finish line. Lesson #5 - remember that if a large committee boat is at the left end of the finish line you can't tack straight through it.

Then there was the time when I almost messed up a start for the whole fleet at my first Sunfish North American Championship. For some reason I was to windward of the line a couple of minutes before the start when, BANG!, my whole rig came crashing down on my deck. My halyard had come undone from the upper spar and so there I was, totally out of control drifting down into the fleet setting up for a start. Lesson #6 - tie a stopper knot in the end of the line before you tie a clove hitch or rolling hitch on the halyard.

But then a fellow Sunfish sailor not involved in that start saw my predicament and tried to rescue me by towing me away from the start area. She sailed by and so I grabbed hold of the bridle at the back of her boat and she started to tow me. Then I ripped the bridle out of her deck. Lesson #7 - don't grab hold of a fellow Sunfish sailor's bridle.

I can't remember how this incident ended. Perhaps it was so bad my mind has blocked it out?

Talking of Sunfish, perhaps my most embarrassing moment was during our Wednesday night Twilight series. I was setting up for a start at the boat end of the line next to the small whaler being used as a committee boat. There was a crowd of boats at this end and I ended up being squeezed out to the right of the committee boat. As the starting horn went off I could look down the line and see the whole fleet crossing the line right on time. Or perhaps they were a little early. I was thinking, "General Recall? I do hope there's a general recall." Duh. I must have been thinking out loud. Because some of the sailors who had crossed the line heard me and thought it was the race officer hailing, "General Recall." (This is the standard method in this fleet). So these sailors started hailing the sailors further left and most of the fleet turned back assuming that a recall had been called. The race officer had no alternative but to actually have a general recall. Oops. How red was my face? I apologized profusely to all concerned but I still felt bad about it. Lesson #8 - keep your mouth shut.

Actually I can screw up even before arriving at the regatta. Such as the day when I drove all the way from New Jersey to Cape Cod to sail in a North American Laser Masters Championship to be held later that week without thinking to phone ahead to check if the regatta had been cancelled. Maybe I should have guessed. But it seemed a good idea at the time to get away from the area around New York City. When I arrived at Hyannis YC to drop off my boat there was a sombre meeting of race officials at the club who looked at me as if I were crazy. Perhaps he hasn't heard the news today? They gently informed me that the regatta had been called off.
The date: September 11 2001.

So that makes nine dumb mistakes. And the title says Top Ten Worst Sailing Mistakes. Oh, I guess the tenth mistake is not being able to count...

Final Embarrassment

And one more "worst mistake" story...

Bugger's Muddle by Adam Turinas of Messing About in Sailboats in which our hero has a series of mishaps on Galveston Bay and ends up wearing a small child's life vest.

Another Mistake

One more entry today in our group writing project.

RFU W/ RDF, SO BAD WE MISSED CAPE COD from Panbo: The Marine Electronics Weblog in which the author owns up to a minor navigation error.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Even More Embarrassment

Three more entries in our group writing project on your worst mistakes and most embarrassing moments while sailing...

A bird's eye view tells how Zen of Zensakai II - By Sea got stuck, and got unstuck by waiting for the tide.

Playing Ahab
by Heather from The Picaroon Blog is a story of struggle and survival in an open rowing boat.

Naked Sailing at the US Naval Academy was sent to me by JSW225 who doesn't have his own blog. Mooning in Annapolis. Thank god there were no pictures!

Still plenty of time to send in your own story. Full instructions at Group Writing Project.

Which reminds me... I'd better write up one of my own embarrassing moments. But there have been so many. Hmmm. Which was the worst?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Laser Sailors in America's Cup

So now that the challengers for the America's Cup are down to the Final Four, I might actually start taking an interest. Up to now it's been so confusing with so many teams and so many "Acts", that following the competition would be as mentally confusing as trying to follow every team in Major League Baseball for a whole season of 162 games. I'm just not that much of a sports junkie. If I follow sports at all I need to focus on one team and root for them.

But who should I be cheering for as we enter the semi-finals of the Louis Vuitton Cup and then the America's Cup itself? As a British citizen I could support the British challenge. What? There isn't a British challenge? How did that happen? I thought we invented the America's Cup (along with soccer, dysfunctional royal families and Marmite). How come they won't let us play any more?

Oh well, I live in America so I shall cheer for the American team. They're probably like the New York Yankees in being prepared to spend more money than any of the competition so are bound to win anyway. Hang on. They've named their team after a German car company and they seem to have more Kiwis than Americans in their afterguard? That's not very patriotic. Seems like they're not really an American team at all.

So how do I choose where to place my loyalties? Well, this blog is mainly about Laser sailing so let's see if there are any Laser sailors among the Final Four/Five teams. BMW Oracle has Rod Dawson who was the Laser Asia/Pacific Champion in 1991; while the defender Alinghi has Ed Baird the 1980 Laser World Champion.

But it seems that the team with the deepest line-up of Laser sailing talent is Emirates Team New Zealand. Their afterguard team includes...

Ben Ainslie -- Laser Olympic gold and silver medal winner
Dean Barker -- Laser World Youth Champion in 1990
Kevin Hall -- Laser North American Champion in 1991 and 1995
Mark Mendelblatt -- US Laser sailor at the 2004 Olympics and second place at the 2004 Laser Worlds.

I don't think any of the other teams can compete with that. I figure that anyone who can excel in Lasers must be good at sailing one of those fancy-schmancy AC leadmines so that's it. The decision is made. I'm rooting for ETNZ.

Now where can I buy an ETNZ cap?

Naked Sailing at US Naval Academy

Another entry in our group writing project on your most embarrassing moments while sailing came via email from JSW225...

About a month back I got to participate in some match racing at the Naval Academy in their Colgate 26's. As much fun as it was, there was a lot riding against us. First being that I had an inexperienced crew. Not necessarily as in we hadn't practiced together (although we hadn't). But only one of my crew had experience on that boat, the other two weren't too experienced with racing. On top of this, it was my first sail of the year. I literally had not been in a boat since the previous fall.

I realized the day would be even more fun when half the other teams were military academies, and about a quarter of the ones that were not military academies were top ranked from in our district, and out.

The day started pretty well when we were greeted with an inch of snow on the boat. As hard as we tried to sweep it off, it was still there. And I was VERY nervous about putting up a green racer on a slick bow for the spinnaker. The wind picked up, and I got even more nervous.
I was confused as how the starting sequence worked and as to which race we would be in. However, I knew that if I didn't cross the line to match race between 4:00 and 2:00 prestart, a jury boat would chase me down, and penalize me, so I wasn't too worried about not understanding the flight, because I'd at least know when to get to the line. But, given my luck, NO jury boat chased me down. Later I found out I had missed my race.

The next flight, we buckled down and actually started a race. Over the course of the day we had won a few, but lost most of our races, which was to be expected. I also got a little gift from god, being in that the wind picked up so high that spinnakers were not allowed during the races.

The problem started when I was slated to race against the Naval Academy. At the time my jib was down, and there was about 4-5 minutes til the 4:00 barrier where we could cross the line. I wanted to wait to put the jib up til the last minute. My crew wanted to put it up at that moment. I ended up being right. They put the jib up, and didn't take up the slack. Just as I predicted, the jib sheets got tangled, and in 25 knot winds with a flapping jib, they got tangled bad. I tried really hard to guide my crew to get the stuff untangled.

Soon I realized that we were on the wrong tack, heading away from the line, and we were really short on time. Earlier in the day we learned that we could get screwed really bad by a starboard boat if we weren't right on time in crossing the line. So I was getting really nervous as my 4:00 passes. Finally they get it untangled, and I scream off for the line. I get to the port pin just in time for the Naval Academy to get under me and block me out.

Right about now I want to explain the colgate 26. It's a decent boat with a large cockpit area. My only quarrel with it is that there is about 2-3 inches of space between the tiller clearance, and the center mainsheet console.

So with the naval academy right under me, I understand that I need to get separation in order to get back to the line. So I start zigging from close reach up to close haul. I see I get enough clearance just at the ripe moment that the NA's skipper is looking away from me. I cut hard towards him, duck him with about 2 feet worth of clearance, and start to head to the line. This all happened on a thousand pound boat in a span of about a second. Immediately I saw that the angles were just a touch not in my favor and I had to crash gybe.

In the process of crash gybing (which I probably should have informed my crew about), I try to pass between the tiller and the console. It catches the back of my pants, and pulls them down all the way. Because I got caught, I fell down on the original port side. Because the tiller wasn't free to move, I lost control of the boat. The boat heeled wildly over.

Suddenly I realized that my bare ass was sitting on fiberglass. The tiller had caught my boxers as well as my sweat pants. I clear the tiller off of my pants, and instantly prioritize what needed to be done. First, I needed control of the boat. Second, I needed to cross the line. Third, I needed to get my crew in order. Fourth, I needed to pull my pants up.

I get control and stand up. My crew immediately gets their footing and starts doing their jobs. I look forward, and see I'm about 3-4 feet away from the mark, aiming dead on. I look to port and see the NA scrambling to cover their mistake in letting me go. I decide I can't cross in front of them without fouling them, so I try to cut above the mark, seeing as how it was so screwed that I needed to reset. The momentum of the boat carried it sideways to port, and we hit it.

Now I realize that I'm standing up in a boat with my pants around my knees, my ass is facing the other boat, and they're probably really angry (assuming this entire maneuver was intentional). For some odd reason, the 3 people who were no more then 5 feet away from me did NOT realize that I was half naked driving the boat.

About this time, I pull up my pants and get held off by the Naval Academy. The race starts, and I have 2 fouls against me. First, I didn't cross inbetween 4:00 and 2:00. Next, I hit the mark.

After I cross, and dip under the line, I start to do my turns. The jury boat comes up to me and with a condescending tone asks if I know why I was penalized. I almost got another one for unsportsmanlike conduct. But I decided not to say anything.

Never in any race did I ever sail half naked, get so many penalties before the start, and end up getting boned really hard.

Thanks JSW225.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

More Embarrassing Moments

Two more entries in the group writing project of worst sailing mistakes ever...

The Midnight Shredder on Captain JP's log in which our hero was almost able to brag about going up the mast in the middle of the night in mid-Atlantic.

A Bag of Pretzels has Edward of EVK4 Bloglet in fine form describing how he gybed while sailing at 55mph in 30 knots. (Of course it wasn't his fault. It never is.)

Still plenty of time to enter. Full instructions at Group Writing Project. And if you haven't already done so check out the six stories from yesterday.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Looks like our days of being homeless will soon be over. We found a house we like that meets all of the important criteria I wrote about on Sunday. And today the owner accepted our offer.

There's somewhere to keep my Laser, it's close to Newport for frostbite racing, and it's in easy driving distance of many of the Laser regattas on the New England circuit. Tillerwoman seems to be quite happy with the other less important stuff: it does have a kitchen as far as I can recall... and some other rooms... I think there was a bathroom somewhere... pretty sure some of the rooms were bedrooms... anyway that stuff is all her department and she's not complaining.

Best of all it has a view of some salty water that sometimes has boats on it.

I'd better not say any more as that might nix the deal. We still have to get through the home inspection, agree a contract, and pay some lawyers to do whatever mumbo-jumbo lawyers do with titles and deeds and all that stuff. But we're hopeful that we will be in our new home within a few weeks.

Most Embarrassing Moments

There are already six entries in the group writing project on your most embarrassing moment while sailing...

Protest Shoe by M Squared -- a tale of improvisation and a terrible warning on why you should never wear red shoes to go sailing.

The Vicar and the Hog by Tim Coleman on All Day I Dream About Sailing relates how a clergyman's morals were challenged.

Broken Arm -- in which Pat Byrnes of Desert Sea describes a painful accident.

Gybe Ho
tells us how Carol Anne of Five O'Clock Somewhere punched a hole in the bow of her Etchells.

Taking the Inside Route was the worst mistake committed by Manfred of Sailracing.

Light Airs Suck is an hilarious account by Walter Mondale (no -- I don't think that's his real name) of how he managed to get stuck 60 yards from the start of a famous race in full view of a crowd of spectators.

Thanks to the authors of the above confessions. Please keep them coming. I'm sure many other readers have embarrassing moments to share with us. Full instructions at Group Writing Project. Don't forget to send an email to
tillermeister@gmail.com to tell me when you have written your post.

And, something I forgot to say in my original post, please try and choose a distinctive title for your post so it stands out in the list. I invented most of the above titles myself as all the posts had some variation on "worst mistake", "embarrassing moment" or "group writing project".

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Group Writing Project

It's time to try something new. I feel the need to do something different with this blog, and in the process build stronger connections in the community of boating bloggers that occasionally stop by here. So I'm proposing we have a group writing project. Here's how it will work...

1. Write a post on your blog about the worst mistake or most embarrassing moment you had while sailing. It could be while racing or cruising or day-sailing. It might be funny or disastrous. If you have pictures or video we'd love to see them. The idea is for us to create a collection of our sailing screw-ups that will serve as terrible warnings to fellow sailors, especially beginners. After all, the best way to learn is from other people's mistakes.

2. Once you've posted your story, let me know about it by sending an email to tillermeister@gmail.com including a link to your post. Please let me know about your post before Saturday 12 May.

3. I will post here two links to your story. Every day or so this week I will write a post listing any new stories. Then at the end of the week I will provide a summary post with links to all of your embarrassing moments and mistakes.

4. Then it's your turn: surf, surf, surf. Check out all of the stories and leave comments here letting us know which ones you like best. If you wish you can also link to some or all of the stories on your own blog. The writer of the most popular story will receive a highly valuable prize such as instructions on how to make a duct-tape cupholder -- or even a duct-tape rose for your Mum on (American) Mother's Day.

Please participate in this project. Do it for fun. Do it to so that new readers will find your blog. Do it as a public service. Do it to show you have the courage to admit to your own mistakes. Do it to find out how to make a rose from duct tape. Hey, I don't care why you do it. Just do it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


I should be sailing a Laser regatta somewhere today, but unfortunately the priorities of finding a house to live in have pre-empted my sailing. Tillerwoman and I have officially been homeless for about six weeks now, ever since we sold our New Jersey home. Not that I'm exactly sleeping under my Laser and playing my guitar in the street to beg for food. We are staying in a very comfortable apartment in southern Massachusetts courtesy of fellow blogger Bill M.

Before and after our trip to the UK to run the London Marathon, we have been searching in Rhode Island and various coastal areas of Massachusetts for a house to buy. Today we are taking the Whippersnapper and Mrs Whippersnapper back to one that looks promising to get their opinion, and also to take a second look ourselves. Being the busy young people they are this was the only day they could make, so I had to miss the regatta. We're going to check out another couple of possible houses with them too.

You wouldn't think it would be all that hard to find a house in this so-called buyers' market. My requirements are very simple. I just need somewhere near a launching ramp for my Laser, reasonably situated for easy travel to the New England Laser regattas in the summer, not too far from Newport so I can sail with the Newport Laser Fleet in the winter, and preferably with somewhere to store my Laser.

However Tillerwoman has a long list of other selection criteria including such trivia as bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room, garden, porch, deck, patio, garage, view, character, style, craftsmanship, decoration, age, appliances, neighborhood, community, shops, location... and so on ...and so on. Not that all of her needs are frivolous. I think a water view would be cool too.

And so the search goes on. Wish us luck. Maybe today we will find our dream house.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Zen of Laser Practice

It always amazes me, after all the years I have been sailing a Laser, how many things I still have to learn and how many different nuances of technique there are.

Today I took my Laser down to the lake near my son's house in Massachusetts for a spot of solo practice. I did an hour of straight line sailing on beats, reaches and runs; and then another hour working on tacks and gybes, accelerating from a stop, bearing away, and so on.

As I spent time on each activity, I became aware of the tiny details of each technique and found myself trying slightly different methods to see which worked best. Even after all these years I discovered some new ways of sailing that I hadn't consciously tried before.

Ease, hike, trim. It was a puffy wind with some overpowering gusts at times. I focused on easing the sheet as each gust hit, (as well as depowering the rig with more vang and downhaul). But how to ease? Is it better to let the sheet run through my hand? Because then I have to use the tiller hand to grab the sheet near the block to sheet in. Or is it sufficient to ease simply by moving my sheet hand from near my chest in a hiked-out position towards the block? The latter seemed to be more efficient in today's conditions. Don't remember ever thinking about these two options before.

Easing the sheet in the tacks. At Cabarete our coach had encouraged us to roll tack by keeping the main sheeted during the first roll, and not to move the body backwards but just to let the boat roll naturally; then ease the sheet before flattening. This was a new variation to many of us including far better sailors than me. I worked on this method but found that above a certain wind strength it seemed "safer" to ease the sheet a tad earlier.

Setting the vang at starts. In practising some simulated starts I discovered that even with my present vang set-up it is quite practical to pull on the vang fully to the block-to-block position before starting the bear-away and acceleration for the start. I had always pulled in the vang in two stages, some before the start and then another pull after I was sailing close-hauled. How this opportunity has evaded my notice all these years I do not know. Plain stupidity or just an ingrained bad habit I suppose.

There were a few other things of a similar nature, but I'm sure you get the idea. These little tweaks to technique are something I would never discover in the course of normal racing. They are things that came from an afternoon of quiet concentration, focusing on the minute details of each procedure, thinking about what things could be changed to make it better, experimenting with different ways, and then trying to ingrain each slight improvement in the muscle memory.

I'm sure Zensekai would have a word for it.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Peter Milnes Memorial Regatta Newport

The Whippersnapper and I headed down to Newport for the Peter Milnes Memorial Regatta on Sunday. It was the first time we had raced against each other in a regatta since the infamous light air Collander Cup last year. I know I shouldn't focus on whether I beat my son or not, but in a tough fleet where I know I have little to no chance of being amongst the leaders I just can't help myself from checking my position against his in every race.

When he was in high school and we used to go to Laser regattas together we were pretty similar in standard and usually finished close in the results. Then he went off to college and enjoyed four years of top quality coaching and racing on the New England college racing circuit. At the end of his college racing career he must have been a much better sailor than me, but we never raced each other at that time. Now he is nearly thirty, has gained a few pounds and hasn't done as much small boat sailing as myself in recent years. So I always think I have a chance to beat him.

After a delayed start waiting for the wind to fill, the first race got away in a light patchy southerly wind off the land. I had a pretty bad start and was forced out to the middle-right of the course to find a clear lane. I focused on changing gears in the little gusts and lulls and gained a few places upwind. Good enough to give me a finish in the low 20's in the 52 boat fleet. The Whippersnapper was a dozen boats behind me.

Similar story in the second race but I did plan to break out to the left side of the course downwind as there seemed to be more wind over there. Actually thinking about my downwind strategy before the windward mark is something I have not usually been good at. Perhaps all those winter months playing Tacticat have had a positive impact on my mental game because I had the forethought to avoid getting trapped to windward of a pack at the crowded windward mark rounding, gybed immediately after the mark, and executed the strategy perfectly. Half a dozen boats up on the Whippersnapper too.

The third race started in a similar breeze but it almost died soon after the windward mark rounding. Looking at the boats ahead of me (there were always plenty of boats ahead of me) I could see the leaders were now sailing what has started as a run as a starboard tack close reach in a north-easterly wind. So I worked my way towards the new wind, tacked around the upwind of the two gate marks, and scored another mid-twenty finish way ahead of the Whippersnapper.

Short pause for the race committee to adjust the course and race 4 went off in a brisker breeze, real hiking weather. Just for the hell of it I tried for a squirrel start at the boat end and pulled it off perfectly, best start of the day. Had a nice beat but the left side boats won out and a bunch rounded ahead of me. Then I screwed up the run completely by vacillating about which side of the course I preferred. It probably didn't matter much which side I chose, but it was a huge mistake to sail across the middle of the fleet to change sides, and then fail to secure the inside position at the leeward mark. Then while I was trying to give room to the boats that entered the two boat length zone ahead of me, the Whippersnapper managed to sneak between me and the mark. I guess he did learn some tricks from college sailing. But then he went off with a bunch of the boats to the left when I tacked for clear air to the right, and I beat him by half a dozen places again.

In between races, I joked I would let him beat me in the next race. Yeah right. It was a two lap race this time, good hiking weather and some small waves to ride downwind, around 12 knots I would guess. I totally screwed up the approach to the windward mark on the first lap and had to duck way too many boats to find a gap in the starboard tack layline parade. Tacticat should have cured me of this bad habit too but I guess I'm just a slow learner. In this race the Whippersnapper used his weight to power away from me upwind, and he didn't forget to cover me on the final beat either. Oh well. Have to let him win occasionally or he won't want to come to regattas with me any more. But I was comfortably ahead of him in the overall standings.

Having done very little sailing since Cabarete in January, this was really just a shake-down regatta for me. A day to get used to racing a Laser in a big fleet again and identify what I need to work on (quite a long list). The Whippersnapper was complaining on Sunday evening about how sore his legs were; I felt fine so I guess running a marathon the previous Sunday was good training for Laser sailing.

Now when and where is the next Laser regatta in this part of the world?