Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Unlocking the Mysterious Words of Walker

This week I received an email from TK that challenged me to explain one of Stuart Walker's articles in Sailing World: Unlocking the Mysterious Lake Winds.

After reading your Wednesday additions of deciphering Dr. Walker, I stumbled into this one. I do a lot of lake sailing and figured I could make it through without scratching my head. Wrong! The itch in the scalp started at about paragraph 2. Phew! I didn't absorb much of anything and now I need to lie down. Perhaps you can translate!
Wow. I see your point TK. As with much of the good doctor's writing it seems that there's a lot of good advice in there, but it's certainly tough to understand. I may need several posts in the Walker's Words of Wisdom series to unlock the mysteries embedded in this article.

I'd love to get straight into sailing advice but in order to untangle the messages in this mess, if only for my own benefit, I'm going to have to identify the reasons that Walker's text is so perplexing...

  1. He uses words like "insolation", "entrained", "lift-off" and "divergence" that are not part of the everyday vocabulary of normal racing sailors like myself, or that may have specific technical meanings different from their everyday meanings.

  2. He writes complex sentences with clauses within clauses, parentheses within parentheses that are very hard to follow. Take this for example.

    The likelihood of development and the strength of lake breezes and upslope winds are proportional to the ease of liftoff from the near-lake land (which is proportional to the lapse rate [the disparity between the temperature of the insolated land surface and the overlying air]) and to the coldness of the lake water and are greatly influenced by the direction and temperature of the gradient wind.

  3. He uses sentences that are ambiguous to the uninitiated. Take this for example...
    Cold lakes can only expect a sailing wind on clear days in the presence of insolation (surface heating by the sun)...
    Does this mean cold lakes will have winds only on those days that are clear and have surface heating by the sun, but never have wind on dull days or on clear days with no surface heating; or does it mean that if it's a clear day and the land surface is heated by the sun the lake
    will have wind, but on days that aren't clear there might be wind for other reasons?

  4. He is trying to explain three things. What the wind on lakes does. Why it does it. And what to do about it in a race. Personally I need to understand and grasp the first two before I can learn the third. But these three kinds of information are all mixed up together in the text.

  5. There are no pictures.

  6. There is paragraph after paragraph of complex, abstruse text with no sub-headings or bullet points to help understand the structure of the article at a glance. How are those 17 paragraphs grouped into larger chunks of message? Or do they all stand alone?

  7. He never makes clear what kind of lakes he is talking about. The tiny little puddle I used to sail on in New Jersey, surrounded by trees, only a couple of hundred yards across at its widest point? Larger reservoirs a mile or two across? Much larger lakes like Lake Ontario but sailing within a mile or two of the shore such as at CORK? Long distance racing on major lakes such as Lake Michigan? All of the above?
Did I miss anything?

Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I don't read enough books with complex arguments and technical explanations these days. But I don't think so. I'd wager that I read more non-fiction on heavy and complicated issues than much of the population, and still I find Walker's writings tough.

But now I've identified the major causes of the obscurity I may be able to tease the messages from the code.

Watch this space.


Stephen LLG said...

Maybe you should have started the series with the 1972 Classic "Laydybird book of sailing" ? Mr W's comments are far to complex for me - and I'm a lawyer !

Anonymous said...

I think he got better later on - with the Tactics of Small Boat Racing and Advanced Racing Tactics.

The other thing is his take on meteorology isn't necessarily that accurate anyway. The thinking has changed a lot since the 60s!

Anonymous said...

In the next to last paragraph, Dr. Walker writes that, in parallel to shore winds, the right side of the course (looking upwind) will have more pressure due to divergence. Most articles and books on wind strategy I've read claim that the opposite is true. Who is correct?

Anonymous said...

Geeze mj, I think you had better write this series instead of me. I'm still puzzling over various things in the first two paragraphs and you're challenging something right at the end.

I'll get to that paragraph eventually but I'm pretty sure I'm going to need some help in making sense of many things in this article. Please stay tuned and chime in when you think something's wrong, or when i am completely stumped.

Tim - I'm shocked. I've always assumed that the good doctor is always right. This article was only published this month. Are you saying that some of the thinking is from the 60s and therefore wrong? Please stay tuned too and correct any errors as we get to them.

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to jump the gun. I will anxiously await the next installments.

Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm not sure about that. Lucky if I spell meteorology right...was what I studied at uni but the mind blocks out traumatic experiences...

This thread on Y&Y forum is on the same subject:

mgandrew said...

I had the oppertunity to hear Dr. Walker speak this past weekend at the US Sailing ODCC symposium.

The preamble to his prepared talk required your undivided attention but wasn't as convoluted as much of his writing.

I hope we all are as sharp as he is when we are 82. The twinkle in his eyes was remarkable.

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