Saturday, June 30, 2007

April Folly

Talking of poor race management, I give no apologies for republishing this post originally written by me as an article for our club newsletter one April a few years back. I guess most readers quickly recognized it as a spoof and thought they were so smart for spotting my April Fools joke. But if they thought I had made it all up the joke was on them because every outrage described in the article actually happened. And they were all perpetrated by the same race officer in one single evening of Wednesday night racing.

All members scheduled to serve as race committee on Wednesday nights should become familiar with the following guidelines.

1. Fishermen at our lake have a boring life. All they do is stare at the water. Try to make their life more interesting by setting the start line between some anchored fishing boats. Fishermen love to watch the boats sailing nearby and to chat to the sailors.

2. In light winds, make sure you set very, very long courses. If you don't, you'll only have to run more races making for unnecessary work.

3. Most sailors hate to tack. Try and set the first leg of the course so that they can reach the first mark without tacking.

4. Most sailors find it really hard to work out which is the upwind end of the start line. Help them out by setting a start line so that they have to beat to get to one end. Then it is so much easier for the sailors to identify the favored end.

5. Start sequences can be very boring for the sailors. Try livening things up by stopping a 3-minute sequence at any time and restarting it without warning. Another option is to make the 2-minute and 1-minute signals at some random interval after the 3 minute signal. This keeps the sailors on their toes.

6. Don't bother to call any boats that are over the start line. It's not really your job. Alternatively call out a few sail numbers that are over and add "and those other boats that I can't see". Keeps everyone guessing and that is a lot of fun for everyone.

7. Liven up the first leg by driving the committee boat up to the windward mark, and then when everyone is halfway up the beat and spread out on both side of the course, pick up the mark and move it. This is really exciting for the sailors who guessed wrong about where you were going to drop the mark.

8. Have a good rest while the sailors are racing. You have earned it. Chat to the sailors that showed up late for the race. Don't bother to watch the racers. The first boat will always give you a shout when he or she is about to finish.

9. Set a really long finish line. Don't worry if it is so long that you can't read the sail numbers at the other end of the line. You can always ask the sailors to shout out their numbers when they know they have crossed the line.

10. If you get bored, you can always shorten the course. To do this, drive over to the mark that the sailors are approaching and put it in the committee boat. Let the racers guess how they are supposed to finish. Makes them think - which is good for them.

11. If any guests or potential new fleet members show up to race, remind them that the races are for members only and that they should keep clear of the racecourse. This is especially important if the newcomers are juniors, because kids need to be put in their place.

12. If any of the anchors on the buoys look old or dirty, just untie the line and dump the anchors in the reservoir. The rear commodore will be delighted to supply new ones.

13. Set the course as far away from the club launching area as possible. You can usually rely on the wind to die later in the evening, and the sailors really appreciate the chance to practice their light air skills on a long sail back to the beach in the dark.

14. Remember when you are race officer, you are always right. Do not be distracted by advice and comments from any of the sailors. If a sailor persists in telling you how to do your job, it is OK to teach him or her some new nautical terms that may not be in the dictionary.

15. Please make sure that these new race officer procedures are used for all races on or after April 1st 2003.

Happy Sailing!

Aaaah -- Sunfish racing -- so much fun -- Lasers are so serious by comparison.

Friday, June 29, 2007


A great story from Chris Jordan for our group writing project on Top Race-Committee Screw-ups...

I know we are not going to get a good race, when the Race Officer stands on the front of our committee boat, with his arm outstretched, holding a burgee in order to check the wind direction before setting the pin end of the line.... and then gets the rescue boat to drop the pin end just where the burgee is pointing: i.e. straight into the wind!

Or when, with an 11:00 start scheduled, the Race Officer leaves the club house at 10:45, and still has to: walk to the committee boat (2 mins), remember the keys (1 min)and how to start it, motor out to the start area (5 mins), decide where to anchor (2 mins), anchor by lowering the anchor to the bottom and fastening off the chain at that point (1 min), lift the anchor as its drifting (2 mins), re-anchor with enough chain (2 mins), plan for the pin end (1 min), get the rescue boat to place the pin end (2 mins), and then plns and sets the course (2 mins) and then starts the sequence.... and wonders why the competitors all look fed up.

One of the better decisions was when the Race Officer shortened the race to: the first across the start line! The wind had dropped, and the tide was keeping everyone back, and it took about 45 mins for the first boat to start / finish.

My mate got disqualified for outside assistance: Very strong winds, racing in a dinghy. They were the only ones to stay upright and crossed the finish line after about an hour (and at least 20 minutes ahead of the next boat). Looking at the club-house, there was clearly a shorten course (S) flag flying, along with their class flag (E) and a couple of others. They didn't get a finish hooter. They landed, asked what was going on, and were told there was one more lap to do. They jumped back into their boat and did another lap. They were still in the lead, but didn't get a finish. They were told that as someone had held their boat while they raced ashore, and were disqualified for outside assistance. The flags? Behind the club-house was a small cafe selling teas and cakes, and were advertising this with flags: T E A S.

And the complete lack of sensibility in a Race Officer? My daughter, at the age of 16, was the only person out of a fleet of 25 adults who were all doing the week long regatta to venture out in her race, when it was gusting force 7 at the start. She sailed round the course, capsizing 2 or 3 times, but completing 3 laps very successfully, and got a hooter after 3 laps to indicate she had finished. But the next day she noticed no result had been posted. On enquiring she was told, "we never count races that have only one boat entered". WHY? 25 boats were in the week regatta? She could have been finished at any time before the 3 laps? We have never been back there again.



Boats now: RS-400, RS-Vareo.
Boats past: Cadet, 420, Enterprise, Fireball, Laser.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


The America's Cup is fundamentally a very boring event.

Did you know that in the last seventy years spanning sixteen America's Cup regattas, there has only been one occasion on which the losing boat won more than one race? That was the time when Dennis Conner won three races against Australia ll but still managed to lose the Cup. Eleven of the other fifteen America's Cup finals since 1937 were sweeps with the loser failing to win even one single race in what was usually a best of seven series.

No wonder it is tough to persuade the general public that the America's Cup is exciting. But this year things are different. With Alinghi's win yesterday tying up the series at 2-2, it is now certain that even the losing team will have won at least two races.

Aren't you just pumped up about that? Doesn't it make you want to jump on a plane to Valencia right now? Or at the very least subscribe to the Versus channel?

No? Oh well. I guess you could go and watch some paint dry.

The views, conclusions, findings and opinions expressed here may or may not be the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Laser Class Association, the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Her Majesty's Government, or America's Cup Management. The opinions expressed here represent the views of 0.000017% of Versus subscribers and do not necessarily represent the views of the other 99.999983% of subscribers, Comcast Corporation or its subsidiaries. You should check with them if you really care what they think. New readers to this blog are advised that Tillerman does not always say what he means or even know what he means, or know what he says, or ... Wait. Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. You are advised that Tillerman reserves the right to write the opposite of what he really means in order to provoke some comments even supposing he knows what he thinks in the first place.

Race Committee Mistakes

Four responses so far to my request for stories of race committee mistakes. Still plenty of time to add your stories to the list. Full details of how to participate at Top Race Committee Screw-ups.

The RC is Always Right from M Squared.

Miller Genuine Draft by Carol Anne from Five O'Clock Somewhere.

No Foul by jsw225.

Sex Change Operation
by me.

There must be more stories. Keep 'em coming.

Miller Genuine Draft

Response by Carol Anne of Five O'Clock Somewhere to my request for stories of Race Committee Screw-ups (originally written as a comment and reposted here so I can link to it).

There was the time a committee boat was a big boat with a little anchor, and the wind was stiff, the the boat dragged its anchor way downwind between the start and the finish of a race, while the guy on the committee boat didn't notice anything wrong. By the end of the race, the committee boat was a half-mile from the pin, and because of the stiff winds, there were enough waves on the lake that the pin was invisible to boats trying to finish the race. They just all sailed toward the committee boat, and passed the committee boat based on the relative position that the boat and the pin had had at the beginning of the race. The race committee guy's comment at the end of the day: "I didn't realize that the pin was drifting so much."

Then there have been guys who decide to run something other than a strict upwind-downwind course, which are what the sailors are used to and which are supposed to provide more tactical competition -- reaching legs, in general, aren't good tests of tactics or seamanship. In particular, there was one guy who called a Harry Morgan course (two triangles and an upwind-downwind final lap) on an extremely light-air day. Some of the slower boats in the fleet would have been out past sunset, except that they all quit.

Then there was the mostly cruising sailor who clocked the finish when the last part of the boat cleared the line, rather than the first -- he was another one who called triangular courses rather than strictly upwind-downwind. His decisions were strongly influenced by Miller Genuine Draft.

No Foul

Response by jsw225 to my request for stories of Race Committee Screw-ups (originally written as a comment and reposted here so I can link to it).

My biggest error as a race committee was starting a race just as the wind was turning to the left. I didn't expect it to turn so hard. Half way through the race it settled at roughly 90degrees to the left and the wind died by half. Most people knew that it wasn't my fault, but that didn't stop them from teasing me.

The worst foul committed against me was by a Jury Boat during my match racing. Before this "Foul" my team and a conference rival had traded the lead 4-5 times. Around the last windward mark, they got a little bit ahead. We knew we sailed better downwind, and we weren't more then 2-3 boat lengths behind. Unfortunately, I cut the lay line too short. I poked the bow up and just BARELY cleared the mark. I missed by about 2-3 inches. However, the jury boat was on the opposite side, and saw the buoy move with us being very close. So they called a foul on us.

It was a perfectly understandable call. However, since we were up against a conference football rival, and it was so close of a race, we were very angry at the call. Especially since you couldn't challenge a Jury Boat's call.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Sex Change Operation

One of my most embarrassing moments as a sailing event organizer happened when I was the regatta chairman (not on the race committee as required by the group writing project on Top Race Committee Screwups but hey, it's my project, I make the rules, and I can break them).

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes.

I had volunteered to host a Sunfish Regional Championship at my sailing club in New Jersey. In the world of Sunfish sailing, Regionals are a pretty big deal. They are the highest level of open event below the North Americans, the winner of each Regional qualifies to sail in the Sunfish World Championship, and the events are usually written up in the class newsletter the Windward Leg. I knew already that at least one former Sunfish World Champion and at least one former Sunfish North American Champion, plus a sprinkling of national champions from other classes, plus all the local New Jersey hotshots would be coming to the event. So I wanted to do a good job. I did not want to screw-up.

I persuaded the best people I knew in the club who sailed other classes to be on the race committee so I could sail in the Regional myself. I used every method I could think of to publish news of the regatta and ensure a large entry. I wrote the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions and agreed them with the PRO. I set up the paperwork for registration and arranged some volunteers to handle that on the day. I bought some really cool trophies. I was working hard to ensure that this would be a quality event.

What else? Oh yes, food and drink. Very important.

I made all the arrangements to make sure that the sailors would be well fed and watered before, during and after sailing. As part of this I decided that I would break from the usual tradition of sandwiches and chips for lunch and treat the Sunfish sailors like the finely tuned athletes that they imagined themselves to be (and some are). So for lunch one day I would give them energy bars and fruit and a sports drink. I went down to the local supermarket and grabbed a random selection of dozens of energy bars including my favorite Clif Bars. I was all set.

On the first day of the regatta we handed out bags of my healthy fitness lunches to the sailors on the water between races. The fleet dispersed from the committee boat and the sailors settled down to open the bags and enjoy their lunches.

Then I started to hear howls of complaint from all over the fleet. It seemed that some of the male sailors had problems with the contents of their bags...

"What's this?"

"I'm not eating this."

"What are you trying to do to me?"

I sailed over to find out what the problem was. It turned out that in my haste to grab energy bars in the shop I had accidentally bought a batch of Luna Bars which are marketed as "the whole nutrition bar for women". And of course most of the Luna Bars had been given to male sailors. Oops.

The men thought that one bite of this girlie food was going to play havoc with their hormones. They imagined all sorts of terrible side-effects including facial hair loss, higher voices, growing breasts... or shrinking of vital parts of the male anatomy. I never heard the end of it.

But in my defence I would like to point out that a certain sailor did not eat his Luna Bar for Saturday lunch and had a fairly mediocre score at the end of the day by his standards. But then he did eat the female dietary supplement before sailing on Sunday... and went on to win the regatta.

Way to go Chris! Sorry about those side-effects.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Origins of Language

Yikes. What have I done?

In a comment to my post on Mommy Boats, Edward from EVK4 Bloglet said that he hoped that the phrase Mommy Boats would get into the everyday lexicon as it should shame a few dads and coaches from driving Mommy Boats. While agreeing with his sentiment I laughed at the idea that it would catch on.

Then today on M Squared in a post entitled Little League Sailing, the author writes: "When kids race solo ... they're sometimes followed around the course... by a parent. Such support boats are often referred to as Mommy Boats." My emphasis.

Often? What's going on here? I don't remember hearing the phrase "Mommy Boats" before I invented it in a burst of sarcastic indignation a few days ago. Can it be that it has been used before? Let's see what Google can find.

Hmmm only a handful of hits for the exact phrase.

One is for the use of the phrase, "Look Mommy, boats!" Not at all the same thing.

One is for a forum where someone asked the question, "Where do boats come from?" and got the answer, "Mommy boats get together with Daddy boats, then baby boats come out." Ha ha.

Pursuing that theme further, one is for a site that if I linked to it or just repeated some of the words on it, my coveted PG rating would be downgraded immediately. I don't even want to know exactly what Mommy and a boat were doing to each other in this context.

One is the original post on Proper Course.

One is the M Squared post linking to Proper Course that says the phrase is "often" used.

And all the others seem to be sailing news sites, or social bookmarking sites, or blog scrapers, that link to or copied the material from Proper Course. So if a phrase falls in the forest and Google's not around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes.

So is this is how new language usage starts? Someone uses a phrase. A dozen people repeat it. Someone assumes that the phrase is in current usage. Somehow the myth that it's in common use gets on to the web. And the rest is history.

What have I done? Someone please tell me it ain't so.

Top Race Committee Screw-ups

Running the race committee for a large sailing event is a major challenge to the Principal Race Officer's organizational, communication, race management and leadership skills. I know from my own experience that when I have succeeded in running an (almost) flawless regatta it can be an amazingly satisfying achievement. In the days leading up to a regatta when I am in charge of the race committee I always find myself trying to anticipate what could go wrong, and then making the necessary plans to avoid each potential blunder. On the other hand, I don't always succeed. And it's the errors and mistakes that I never thought of in advance that come back to haunt me...

So in the spirit of our previous group writing project on Worst Sailing Mistakes, I propose a similar event on Worst Race Committee Mistakes.

Same basic format as before...

1. Write a post on your blog about the worst mistake you have seen made by a race committee (or made yourself as a race officer). The idea is for us to create a collection of RC screw-ups that will serve as terrible warnings to future race committees. 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 including a link to your post. Please let me know about your post before Saturday 30 June. Or if you don't have a blog just email me the story and I will post it here.

3. I will post two links to your story. During this week I will write a number of posts listing any new stories. Then at the end of the week I will provide a summary post with links to all of your embarrassing RC stories.

In the spirit of the event I will write two posts myself on the topic: one describing a couple of my own embarrassing moments as a PRO, and one listing an uncharacteristic mistake made by the RC at the Laser North Americans the weekend before last.

Go for it. Now is the time to expose your own biggest errors; or to have your revenge on that race committee that messed up what would have been your perfect race. If you want you can leave out the names to protect the guilty parties.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


How old do you need to be before you can no longer sail a Laser? I hope I have a good few years left in me before I have to hang up my hiking boots. It was certainly inspiring to see some Great Grandmasters considerably older than me sailing in the Radial fleet at the Laser North Americans last week.

But some athletes never seem to know when to retire. Such as...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Parental Guidance Suggested

Did you know that blogs can be rated, just like movies? Head over to mingle2 if you want to rate your blog. I was somewhat disappointed to discover that I only achieved a PG: PARENTAL GUIDANCE SUGGESTED. SOME MATERIAL MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN.

Apparently I achieved this shocking score because the censors over at mingle2 discovered two occurrences of the word "hell" and one of the word "poop" somewhere in the blog. Bloody hell -- is that all the shit they could find? Yikes, I guess that makes it four and two of the above plus two other baddies. I'm probably up to PG-13 already.

Anyway I'm pretty sure that hell is mentioned in the Bible more than twice so I guess the mingle2 nannies wouldn't want children reading the Bible without parental guidance.

As for poop? Dear gentle souls at mingle2, don't you know that this is one of the first words that kids learn? It is a pretty essential word when you're only 18 months old and need to tell Mommy that you need your diaper changed.

Which gives me the perfect excuse to post this photo of Cutest Granddaughter In The World.

What is your blog rated?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Are You Experienced?

It happens all the time at sailing regattas -- and it did happen last week at the Laser North Americans. The wind is blowing over 20 knots, maybe gusting to 30 or more, and the race committee decides to postpone racing, maybe even blow off the whole day.

Some of the sailors are frustrated because they live for days like this. They want to go sailing and blast around in the wind and waves and think they can handle it OK. Most of them are probably right.

Another group of sailors is secretly relieved. They would have gone out to race today but they know they would have struggled in these conditions. Maybe they would have capsized a dozen times and had to retire when they were too exhausted to climb on to the daggerboard one more time. For sure they would not have scored well.

And then there are the sailors who know they can't sail a Laser in 30 knots and would have had the good sense (at least in their own minds) not to sail today whatever the race committee chose to do.

The race committee knows that some of the sailors can handle these winds; but are more concerned about the others. It's a tough call as to whether to race or postpone. The decision depends on many factors: the size of the fleet, the number of safety boats, how large the course is, how far offshore the racing will be, etc. etc. It's one thing to run a regatta for 20 boats just off the beach; it's quite another thing to take 200 boats a couple of miles out to sea when it's blowing 30 knots.

Sure the Racing Rules of Sailing say that "the responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone." But if the PRO decides to take the fleet out today she just knows that there will be some sailors who come out to race who won't be able to handle the conditions. How many? What kind of trouble will they get themselves into? No matter that they've all signed a waiver form drafted by the finest legal minds in the club, no PRO wants to take a fleet out for a day's racing and end up with some sailors drowned or seriously injured. It is only a game after all.

At the North America Laser Class AGM last week, one sailor threw out an interesting suggestion to deal with this issue that might enable the good sailors to race on a day like this. How about having some kind of experience qualification that would allow the competent sailors to race on those heavy wind days when race committees are tempted to postpone in order to protect the weaker members of the fleet? Not a speed test, not who is the fastest sailor, but some way of identifying the ones that would not get themselves into (too much) trouble in 25-30 knots say.

Hmmm. The meeting received the suggestion with silence initially. We could all see the potential problems with such a plan. How could you construct such a test? Who would administer it? Would it be fair to the competitors who had travelled to the regatta but were now not qualified to race on one day of the event?

Someone mentioned that the Laser Heavy Air Slalom (of recent YouTube video fame) was an invitational event. They didn't invite anyone who couldn't sail a Laser well in heavy air. Someone else pointed out that, to an extent, sailors self-select; why would anyone even enter a regatta at a known heavy air venue if they knew they couldn't sail in the typical winds at the location?

The discussion meandered on to talk about problems at recent Laser Masters Worlds where a few "tourists" would decide "Hey - World Champs in Brazil - 30 knot winds expected - cool place to visit - no qualification to enter - I'm going - now what does a Laser look like?" (I don't think they were talking about me.) Apparently there has been some discussion at the international level of restricting entry to the Masters Worlds to masters who have achieved a certain level of achievement in other regattas. (Didn't like the sound of that. Would my one and only Atlantic Coast Grandmaster Champion title be enough to earn me entry to the Masters Worlds?)

As usual at such meetings nothing was decided. But I think the idea of an "experience test" to race on a heavy air day has some merit. I guess you'd have to announce in the Notice of Race that such a procedure would be used. Something like: "At the discretion of the race committee, any day of racing may be open only to those in possession of a current Laser Class Level 3 Fat Boy Heavy Air Nut Certificate" or words to that effect.

How would you earn such a rating? 10 points if you ever used a 3:1 vang and can supervang it by standing up and bouncing on the boom in 30 knots? 15 points if you finished any races in the 2007 Caribbean Midwinters? Bonus points for every pound you weigh over 220lbs? I dunno. I can see lots of problems with the idea but plenty of upside too. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mommy Boats

It seems to me that at every major Laser regatta these days the race course is infested with Mommy Boats. Little and big motor boats buzzing in and out of the fleet of Lasers between every race, swarming around the course area during the race.

To be fair it's more often Daddy than Mommy driving the Mommy Boat. Daddy likes to drive the Mommy Boat, especially if it has twin 60hp engines. And even more commonly it's not Daddy or Mommy driving the Mommy boat, it's a guy (or gal) who goes by the name of Coach who is paid by Mommy and Daddy to drive the Mommy Boat. He gets paid even more if he has a New Zealand accent.

Oh yes, Coach is an excellent sailor. He was competitive in the class himself back in the day. But now he earns his living working as a sailing coach. And part of the duties is driving the Mommy Boat at regattas. Back home Coach teaches the kids how to sail better. He runs lots of drills and blows a whistle incessantly. But at regattas Coach is really just a surrogate Mommy and he gets to drive the Mommy Boat.

So if you're sailing in the regatta and you have a Mommy Boat what does it do for you?

Well, first of all it might tow you out to the course, just like Mommy used to drive you to school even though you only lived half a mile from school. God forbid that you might have to walk or bike to school yourself, or actually sail your Laser out to the racecourse like all the other competitors. You might get tired. Then of course the Mommy Boat will tow you home again at the end of the day.

Also, the Mommy Boat might carry some spare sailing clothes for you. Remember how Mommy always made sure that you had a warm coat in the winter or a waterproof if it might rain? The Mommy Boat will do just the same for you.

And the Mommy Boat will carry your lunch and your drinks. Good old Mommy was always there when you needed a cookie or a drink of warm milk wasn't she? So is the Mommy Boat.

And if you have a bad experience on the race course -- maybe you got black flagged or were OCS -- then Coach will provide you with moral support. Just like Mommy used to wipe away your tears if you got beat up by one of the big boys at school or fell over and grazed your knee in the playground.

So doesn't Coach actually do any coaching at a regatta? I guess so. Sail to the Mommy Boat between races and maybe Coach will remind you of what time the tide turns or what he thinks the wind is going to do. Just like Mommy was always there to wipe your nose or help you with your homework. Good old Mommy.

The Mommy Boat of course is just part of the trend in which modern parents structure the recreational activities of their kids. The kids don't go and play stick ball in the street; they are signed up for Little League. They don't kick a ball around on a local field; they have a soccer coach. Sailing is just going the same way. "Whatever happened to fun?" one veteran Laser sailor asked me at the weekend after hearing that Coach had told one of the kids to run ten laps after racing.

It wasn't always this way. When I used to take my kids to Optimist regattas I'd push them off the shore and then watch the races from the beach if practical or, if not, go and read a magazine in the clubhouse. Let 'em cope by themselves on the racecourse. Sailing taught self-reliance. Toughens 'em up. Nowadays sailing teaches that the Mommy Boat is always there for you.

And of course Mommy is always there these days. My son tells me that parents sometimes even show up at the initial screening interview when Junior is applying for her first job after college. Yikes.

But wait, I hear you say. The Coach Boat (as you call it) provides a valuable service. It helps a competitor to have the physical, moral and logistical support that Coach provides. If nothing else it's much better to dump all the spare clothing, food and drinks on the Coach Boat than carry all that extra weight on your Laser while racing.

And of course, you are right. The Mommy Boats do give an advantage to the competitors that have them. But what about the rest of us? After paying several hundred dollars for regatta entry fees, travel, hotel, food (not to mention that new sail that I should have bought too) do I also need to pay someone to drive a Mommy Boat for me? Where is this heading? Will we see the day when all 200+ sailors at the Laser North Americans have Mommy Boats?

I say ban the Mommy Boats. Let's get back to the good old days when the only motor boats on the course were race committee and safety boats. I'm going to start a movement. Dads Against Mommy Boats. DAMB. Sign up here.

Monday, June 18, 2007


On the one hand I achieved all my objectives at the Laser North Americans.

On the other hand I sailed my worst regatta ever.

How come?

Well the objectives weren't exactly that hard to achieve...

1 (and 10). Have fun. Sure. How could I not have fun? Three days of Laser racing in all sorts of wind conditions with some of the best sailors on the continent. Superb race management (apart from that scoring fiasco but that's a story for another post). Excellent hospitality and food at Hyannis YC. Good friends to hang out with on the beach. Sure it was fun.

2 and 3. Stretch and hydrate. Wow, Laser sailing makes you tired and sore. But at least I remembered to ease the pain somewhat by drinking lots of water and stretching before and after racing.

4 and 5. Start and finish every race. Check. Triumph of persistence and stupidity over common sense but I've always felt that even if I can't sail well at least I can keep sailing badly.

6. Pass that boat in front. Yes, I made some smart tactical and strategic choices and did pass some boats sometimes in some races. I still know how to sniff out a new wind coming in from one side of the course and get over there before at least some of the opposition. I still know how to time an inside overlap at the leeward mark just before the two boat length zone. I still know when the tide will cause a pile-up at the windward mark and so overstand a bit and sail over all the mayhem.

7. Work hard enough to be completely exhausted every night. Oh yes. Three long days on the water. At least six hours of sailing a day. Long sails out to the course and back. Working on aspects of technique when sailing to and from the course. Hanging it all out in each race. Oh yes. I was exhausted every night. I still am.

8. Meet up with some old friends and make some new ones. Sure. Good to renew some old acquaintances. Pump some of the guys I knew from New England about the sailing scene up here. Meet some new people including one of the legends of the class... bought a boat in 1971 the first year the Laser came out... champion in the 80s... sailed another class but now coming back to the Laser only. But that's a story for another post too.

9. Learn some lessons. Maybe. On the long sails to and from the race course I was able to experiment with some things and learn some things about my style and mistakes and how to correct them. But as for the races themselves? See below.

So why the Humiliation poster?

Well I achieved my objectives for my first major regatta this year. But I did set the bar pretty low. I was just looking at it as a practice session and a way to kick off the summer season. But I can't totally ignore my results...

I had the unique distinction of posting the worst score in the regatta among sailors who finished very race. The only people behind me were those sailors who scored at least one DNS or DNC or DNF. Pretty dismal, eh? I wasn't last in any race but I was always among the tailenders. Sure we had fun tussling about who would come 4th or 5th from last. But I still ended up with the worst score of people who sailed every race. At some regattas they give a special award to the sailor who ends up in that position. They call it the "Spirit" or "Persistence" Award. No thanks. I didn't even stay around for the awards ceremony.

So what was wrong? Well, basically my boatspeed was slow, slow, slow on just about every point of sail in every wind condition. After the windy day on Friday I thought maybe I was just out of practice in heavy wind and waves. But Saturday was only 10-12 knots and Sunday was even lighter with relatively flat water. But even so, people were just sailing away from me upwind and downwind.

I have only two possible explanations...

Theory #1. I'm getting too old for this game. It's time to sell my Laser and take up something easier like cave diving or paragliding.

Theory #2. I need a new sail.

On balance I'm leaning towards theory #2.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Superb day on Nantucket Sound today at the Laser North Americans. 15-20 knots of breeze out of the north and plenty of waves. As expected, my first day back at Laser racing was a humbling experience. My lack of fitness was exposed and I seemed to have forgotten what little I knew about how to sail the boat in waves.

But it was terrific to be out on the water again. I'd forgotten how much fun these little plastic boats can be.

On the positive side also...

1. I didn't capsize. (At least not in a race).
2. I did finish all three races.
3. I wasn't last in any race.
4. I did pass some boats.
5. I did beat a former Laser North American Champion in one race. Well actually a very former Laser North American Champion. The 1980 champion. But hey, I'm an oldie too.

As for my other objectives, I did manage to "work hard enough to be completely exhausted", actually probably a bit too hard. And I did manage to identify many areas in which I need to improve; but I'm way too shattered to blog about them tonight.

When I was recovering from the day back at my hotel earlier this evening, my son called and put my 18-month-old granddaughter on the line. Apparently she had learned a new word today.

"Say hello to grandad," he told her. (She never speaks on the phone.)

I heard her little voice saying, "Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome."

Quite right Emily. It was an awesome day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Waiting Game

Arrive at the yacht club around 7:30 am. Weather is cold and gray with a moderate wind. Check out noticeboard for any new announcements. Rig boat. Wind increases. Swathe body in several layers of neoprene, hiking pants, spray top, hat, hiking boots, racing watch, gloves, etc. etc. Just finish dressing as RC signals postponement. Sailor who has talked to the PRO says that a gust out on the racecourse was measured at 34 knots.

De-rig boat. Take mast out of boat and lower sail. Wonder how long the postponement will be and whether it is worth removing the multiple layers of neoprene etc. etc. Listen to weather forecast on weather band radio in car. (Thanks Subaru.) Forecast is for 15-20 knots gusting to 30 all day. Decide to change back into more comfortable clothes.

Wander around the club and meet up with some sailors from my old club. Have discussion about what to wear for Laser sailing on an unseasonably cold day in June. Have fruitless discussion about what we think the weather is going to do. Wander around some more. Meet a guy I know who just won a major championship in another class. Congratulate him and listen politely as he tries to recruit me to the other class. Check out the breakfast buffet at the club and wonder if it's worth buying a second breakfast. Decide not to.

Listen to the weather forecast again. Read the newspaper. Phone my wife. Drink some water. Walk around the club again and meet up with a couple of guys I know from the masters circuit. Have fruitless discussion about what they think the weather is going to do. Wander around the club again. Drink more water. Look at the weather which hasn't changed.

Decide to go for a walk along the beach. When I'm about five minutes from the club, a gun goes off and the Come Within Hail flag is raised at the club. Return to club. RC has announced that the postponement will last until 12:45 at which time another announcement will be made. Drive into town to buy a sandwich for lunch. Return to club. Eat sandwich. Phone wife. Chat to another sailor and have fruitless discussion about what the weather is going to do.

Sun comes out. Look like the wind is dropping a little. Have fruitless discussion with another sailor about whether I am right or not. Check wind speed with nifty little device one of my sons bought me for Xmas. Coach for some team of kids comes over and does the same. We're both seeing about 15 knots with 25 knots in the gusts. Member of race committee strolls by and tells us it is still gusting 35 on the racecourse. Coach and RC member have fruitless discussion about whether the fleet is competent to sail in these conditions.

RC fires gun. RC posts notice saying that the postponement will hold until 2pm when another announcement will be made. Go for a longer walk on the beach over to the channel out to the open sea. See nice waves out there. Walk back to club. Hang out. Chat to other sailors about stuff. Phone wife. Drink some water. Watch flagpole at 2pm as RC signals that all racing is postponed until tomorrow. De-rig boat and pack it up for the night. Have fruitless discussion with fellow sailor about which of two weather forecasts for tomorrow is correct.

So that was it. No racing on the first day of the 2007 Laser North Americans.

As Peter Isler said when interviewed on Versus during one of the Louis Vuitton Cup postponements, this waiting is part of the sport and sailors are used to it, so we just have to remain patient and stay cool. Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Laser North Americans

Today I drove over to Cape Cod to sail in the Laser North American Championships which run out of Hyannis YC for the next four days. This is a totally ridiculous idea for multiple reasons...

1. I have never sailed in a Laser NAs before.
2. I have no business trying to compete against some of the best Laser sailors on the continent.
3. I have no business trying to compete against fit young guys less than half my age.
4. My boat is old.
5. My sail is tired.
6. I've hardly sailed since the week in the Dominican Republic in January and am totally out of practice.
7. I'm totally out of shape.

So what am I thinking?

Good question. I guess I'm thinking that if I'm going to get back into Laser sailing after the hiatus during our house move I might as well start with this regatta as any other. What the hell? It's not too far to travel and it's happening now. At least I can go out and sail on the ocean, work off some of the inevitable rust in my technique, and have four days of intensive practice.

So what are my objectives for the weekend?
Hmmm. Another good question. Let's see...

1. Have fun.
2. Stretch.
3. Hydrate.
4. Start every race.
5. Finish every race.
6. Pass that boat in front.
7. Work hard enough to be completely exhausted every night.
8. Meet up with some old friends and make some new friends.
9. Learn some lessons, mull over some mistakes, identify where I need to improve... and who knows, maybe even blog about some blunders.
10. Have fun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ten Thousand Sunsets

Carol Anne -- and the anonymous post-modernist expletive-deleted commenter to my previous post -- want pictures. So here is a photo taken from the deck of our house one evening last week.

I think we're all set now. I see no reason ever to move again. (Assuming I fulfill the objective defined in the byline to this blog and manage to cheat the nursing home.)

Over a third of a century ago I met a fascinating young woman who, for reasons that are still a mystery to me, accepted my invitation to spend the rest of our lives together. She's still here... for reasons that are even more puzzling to me. So right now I can think of nothing more I want to do than to share the next ten thousand sunsets (or so) with her.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Improper Course

Don't you just hate those people who abandon their blogs for several weeks or months, and who then resume posting with some pathetic story full of excuses for their absence such as I lost my job/ the job's a bitch/ my wife left me/ my wife is too demanding/ the dog died/ the dog ate all my notes/ I've just got back from a month taking photos of villas in the Med/ or some similar tale of woe?

So I'm not going to fall into that trap by boring you with a tale of how I've been too busy moving into a new house and dealing with all the hassles of lawyers/banks/movers/cable guys/phone guys, and helping Tillerwoman buy all the new furniture/kitchen appliances/rugs/lamps/garden equipment/ etc./ etc. that we apparently need now we have a smaller house. Because that would be too too tedious and would only be part of the truth.

Nor will I tell you how much we love our new house and how just hanging out here, and admiring the scenery, and watching sailboats as we eat our dinner, and enjoying the sunsets has induced such a feeling of relaxed satisfaction that blogging has been the furthest thing from my mind. Because I know that's of no interest to my remaining three readers and is only a partial explanation for my absence anyway.

And I'm certainly not going to tell you that living in this gorgeous corner of Rhode Island is like being on vacation every day and that I'm so chilled out that I haven't even sailed my Laser since we moved because that would sound totally lame and would not fit at all with the image I've projected in this blog of being a die-hard Laser sailor who sails in rain, hail, ice, hurricane and snow. You would think I'm getting old or soft or both and would ask me why the hell I moved to live by the sea if I'm not going to go sailing soon?

So I'm just going to leave you guessing as to why this blog has been silent for three weeks. But I am back. And there is some sailing about to happen. Stay tuned.