Monday, March 31, 2008


Before I went to Australia I signed up to attend one of Kurt Taulbee's sailing seminars in Clearwater Beach, Florida at the end of March. Shortly after I returned from Australia, Kurt called me and said that I was the only sailor signed up for this particular seminar, but that was OK... I could have some one-on-one coaching from him for two days, then at the weekend I could train with the Clearwater Youth Team whom Kurt also coaches.

Needless to say I jumped at the opportunity. So Tillerwoman and I headed off to Florida last Wednesday for a long weekend. Four days of sailing for me, and relaxing in the sun for her.

As it turned out, two other sailors signed up for the seminar at the last minute. This was probably the ideal situation because it meant that we could do do drills that would have not been possible if I were there on my own, but all three of us received plenty of individual attention and feedback from Kurt. And on Saturday and Sunday some kids from the youth team joined us too.

I had a fantastic time and learned many, many ways in which I can improve my sailing. More details in upcoming posts...

Wet Ass

Long-time sailing blog readers will remember Tim Zimmerman's Wet Ass Chronicles, which sadly he folded up for good a couple of years ago. But now Tim is writing about sailing online again... at least for a few days. Apparently he's been racing a Laser for a year or so and, having read my stories about the Laser Center in Cabarete, he's gone out there himself and is writing about his experiences on Sailing Anarchy. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I'm off. Enough of winter. I'm off to Florida for a long weekend of yotting and fun and sun. Tell you about it when I get back.

Southern Cross

I hope you enjoyed my somewhat belated reports of sailing under the Southern Cross.

Wait. That's the name of a song. And here's something really spooky, possum. That clever Mr Stills included the title of everyone of my recent posts in his song...

Got out of town on a boat
Going to Southern islands.
Sailing a reach
Before a following sea.

She was making for the trades
On the outside,
And the downhill run
To Papeete.

Off the wind on this heading
Lie the Marquesas.
We got eighty feet of the waterline.
Nicely making way.

In a noisy bar in Avalon
I tried to call you.
But on a midnight watch I realized
Why twice you ran away.

Think about how many times
I have fallen
Spirits are using me
larger voices calling.
What heaven brought you and me
Cannot be forgotten.

I have been around the world,
Looking for that woman girl,
Who knows love can endure.
And you know it will.
And you know it will.

When you see the Southern Cross
For the first time
You understand now
Why you came this way.

'Cause the truth you might be running from
Is so small.
But it's as big as the promise
The promise of a coming day.

So I'm sailing for tomorrow
My dreams are a dying.
And my love is an anchor tied to you
Tied with a silver chain.

I have my ship
And all her flags are a flying
She is all that I have left
And music is her name.

Think about how many times
I have fallen

Spirits are using me
larger voices calling.
What heaven brought you and me
Cannot be forgotten.

I have been around the world,
Looking for that woman girl,
Who knows love can endure.
And you know it will.
And you know it will.

So we cheated and we lied
And we tested
And we never failed to fail
It was the easiest thing to do.
You will survive being bested.

Somebody fine
Will come along
Make me forget about loving you.
At the Southern Cross.


Never Failed to Fail

Sat 23 Feb

Normally reliable sources had said that there would not be any sailing on the final day of the Laser Masters Worlds. Certainly the forecast was for 30+ knots. To add to the excitement the race committee had brought the start of the first race forward by two hours to 10 am, presumably in the hope of fitting in two races for all fleets before the hard cut-off time on this the last day of the regatta. (Can't be late for the party!)

The wind sure was howling in the night. I set my alarm for 6:30 am and I'm at the club by 8 am ready, able and willing to sail. There is a south-west breeze of only about 20 knots and a big ocean swell. Seems like the pessimists were wrong. Let's go sailing!

Once out on the course we discover that the wind is continually shifting left (by about 70 degrees over the course of the day). The persistent shift causes a lot of delays with course moves and general recalls. Finally we start racing just after noon.

In race 1 I'm going better than Friday. I concentrate on bearing away on the top of every wave going upwind. Going left seems like the smart move and I end up with a respectable result (for me) in the low 30's.

Then in race 2 I choked. Literally.

I wasn't having a great race but halfway up the second beat I had one of those zen-like moments that I wrote about in Memories of a Moment. For a while I forgot I was in a race and just reflected on my blessings...

  • I'm in Australia in the middle of the northern hemisphere winter.

  • The sun is shining and the sky is blue without a cloud in sight. (First day since we arrived but, hey, the summer finally came.)

  • I'm sailing on the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific! (For a kid who grew up in a grimy working class town in middle England, the idea that one day I would sail on the Pacific Ocean was about as likely as that I would land on the moon.)

  • The wind is perfect, the waves are challenging but manageable. Champagne sailing conditions.

  • I have my health and fitness and can still play this game even at my age.

  • I'm surrounded by the best bunch of guys on the planet, the other globe-trotting Laser grandmaster zealots.

I just enjoyed being in the moment and to hell with my position in the race. Actually I think I sailed a bit better in this frame of mind.

And then I choked.

I'm approaching the mark at the bottom of the final run with no boats inside me, but I misjudge the angle and do an involuntary gybe. I gybe back on to port tack but the whole double gybe nonsense slows me down a bit. Out of the corner of my eye I see a blue boat surfing fast aiming to round the mark inside me. I'm a bit too confused and tired by now to think about whether he established an overlap before I entered the two boat-length zone so I try to give him room.

As he rounds inside me his sheet hooks around my neck. (I know yesterday's sheet round the bow incident sounded impossible. This sounds even more improbable, I know, but it happened.)

So now I have a line around my neck and the line is attached to a boat that is going faster than me and in a different direction from my boat. Instinctively my hands go up to my neck to save myself from being strangled and, at the same time, the noose pulls me off my boat and into the water.

So now I am being dragged along underwater with a line around my neck with my hands desperately trying to free myself. Thankfully my captor manages to slow down so that I can release myself and splutter to the surface. I think he's wondering if he's killed me.

Once he sees that I'm still kicking he asks if I'm OK. I say yes and start swimming after my boat. (Lasers sail really well without 200 lbs of dumbass slowing them down.) I retrieve my boat, clamber on board and try to catch my breath.

Hmmm. I guess I was outside boat. Probably my fault (again). So I do a 720.

The guys on the mark boat drive over and ask if I'm OK. I can laugh about it now and ask them if they got it on video. Apparently not. They don't have a camera.

I look around. Yikes, I'm last. I'm never last in a race. Can't remember ever being last. Well, at least I can finish. I sail the final reach and beat and cross the line DFL. Is there a protocol for this? Am I supposed to thank the race committee for waiting for me?

Now I'm really angry. It's one thing to fail to achieve my target of making the top half of the fleet in the regatta. But I should never be last in a race. There's always some bozo worse than me. I guess I'm the bozo today. I'm so angry I might actually have to do something about becoming a better sailor so I never end up as the tail-end bozo again.

I sail back to the beach and remember that I've been wearing the prestigious Polka Dot Racing T-shirt on the water today. I look at the motto in the small print on the front.

Polka Dot Racing Endorses Safe Yachting. Arrive Alive

Arrive alive indeed. Thanks Edward. I'm sure the shirt mojo saved my life today.

Monday, March 24, 2008


I have a doppleganger.

I just discovered that someone called tillerman has been writing a sailing blog called doublereef from early 2007, and what is apparently the same person has another blog called doublebeef which he has been writing for the last couple of months
under the name Tillertard (with the occasional post over the tillerman moniker too).

I've no idea who this bloke is, except I know it's not me. Check him out. It's funny stuff.

Update: In the first version of this post I quoted a long extract from one of Tillertard/tillerman's blogs as an example of his writing. On reading the post from which I borrowed the extract a second time I realized that he was quoting another author. Oops. Never mind. My doppelganger writes good original stuff too.

How Many Times I Have Fallen

Fri Feb 22

On day 5 of the Masters Worlds the Radials were due to race first so around 11 am Tillerwoman and I wander down to the beach to watch the Radials launching.

Huh? No Radials launching?

We walk a bit closer to the beach.

Huh? No beach? There was a beach here yesterday.

Yup. The beach from which we normally launched isn't there any more. The combination of an unusually high tide and even larger ocean swells than yesterday means that our launch area is covered in breaking surf. The winds are very light from the SE and so the race committee is apparently waiting for the expected stronger NE sea breeze this afternoon before launching.

Tillerwoman and I head back to the apartment for lunch of sausage rolls and bread and cheese. Life is good.

No, wait. That's how I usually sign off these reports. I haven't sailed yet. Don't go.

After lunch we head back to the club and our group starts launching around 1:15 pm. We have two races in big swells and confused wind-blown chop in winds of around 15-20 knots. It is not one of my better days of racing.

So what went wrong?

I am going pretty well on the first beat in the first race and am on port tack crossing an Aussie sailor. I am sure I can cross him. Well, pretty sure. Uh oh. He does a crash tack and hits me. I learn some new Aussie curses and do a 720. Now I'm way back in the fleet. Damn.

Lesson #1: It's harder to judge port/starboard crosses in big waves. Don't forget to allow for the fact that he's going faster down a wave and I'm going slower up a wave.

In race 2, I am starting to get tired and not hiking as hard as I should. That Guy sails right past me to leeward on a beat.

Lesson #2: Fitness counts.

Lesson #3: If one of your competitors invites you to a mid-regatta cocktail party it is probably not a good idea to drink a bottle of wine at the party and then go out to dinner and drink several more glasses of wine and some after-dinner drinks. Alcohol causes dehydration. Dehydration sucks.

I overstand the first mark (along with a bunch of other boats) in a big left shift and come into the windward mark on the port tack layline in a crowd of boats coming from both directions. I close my eyes and tack. I survive. Geeze, this is just like Tacticat.

Lesson #4: Sometimes it helps to be lucky.

I am not doing well on the first reach of race 2. Heavy air reaching is not one of my strong points. Just as I get to the mark where we round on to a run one of the Aussie sailors surfs past me to windward. He then decides it would make sense to bear off across my bow on to the run. In doing so he catches his sheet around my bow and capsizes us both. Don't ask me how this is possible. It happened.

I comment loudly and remark
sarcastically in my best plummy British accent, "Smart move!" I have found that Aussies generally respect such treatment.

Anyway, after we pick ourselves up. I point out as succinctly as I can that if we were still rounding the mark when we collided then he fouled me under Rule 18 and if we were past the mark then he fouled me under Rule 11. Either way it's his fault.

He mutters something incoherent about "proper course" and sails off without doing his 720.

Proper Course! Does he know who I am? Is he saying that he likes my blog?

Probably not. I guess he's saying that he expected me to bear off on to the run, what he think should be my "proper course", and that because I didn't bear off as quickly as he did then somehow the collision is my fault.

Ahem. Do you know who I am? I do know a thing or two about proper course my good man.

First of all I would only be constrained from sailing above my proper course under Rule 17.1 if it had been me who had established the overlap to leeward of you from clear astern.

Secondly, even if I were constrained by the rules from sailing above my proper course, I would argue that I was actually sailing my proper course because I have discovered that the fastest way to break away from other boats on the run here is to stay high and ride the waves to the right of the rhumbline.

So there. Of course I am only communicating these arguments telepathically to my Aussie friend as he sails down the run ahead of me. Apparently this works because half way down the run he stops and does a 720 and I sail past him. Ha.

Just before the leeward mark I look back and I see a huge breaking wave that comes out of nowhere and picks up my Aussie friend and tosses him high in the air and capsizes him again.

Lesson # 5: There is a god and she loves me.

I struggle along to the finish line and beat a handful of boats. I end up with two results in the mid 40's, my worst of the week so far. Surely things cannot get any worse?

It's Friday so off with Tillerwoman for fish and chips at the Fish BoneZ Cafe. Life is good.

My Dreams Are A-Dying

Thurs Feb 21

So, after three days of the Laser Masters Worlds we have only completed three races out of a scheduled six. And I have two results in the low 30's, and one in the 40's (in a 54 boat fleet). Can I do as well as I did in Spain and finish in the top half of the fleet? Well, yes, if I can run off a series of races in the low 20's (or better) and throw out my one race in the 40's there is still a chance.

Day 4 brings 10-15 knots of breeze on bigger ocean swells than we have seen all week. I really struggle finding the groove upwind in the swells. I know the theory of what I should be doing from my lessons with Rulo in Cabarete, but somehow I can't seem to make it happen. Every time I approach the crest of the wave I find myself overpowered, the boat heels to leeward and then heads up. Exactly the opposite of what I know I should be doing: hiking harder and torquing to make the boat bear away down the next wave.

In the first race I am low in the fleet at the first mark but then I am able to gain places all the way around the track. I feel particularly good about my choice to go low on the second reach, ride the waves down below the rhumb line, and then slot back into the procession of boats approaching the final leeward mark several places ahead of where I started the leg.

In the second race, I tack immediately to the right from the boat end of the start line and then left on a nice header. I'm in the top twenty at the top mark but then, in contrast to the first race, I'm losing places all the rest of the way around the course. Oh well.

Two more results in the 30's so my dream of making the top half of the fleet overall is dying fast. But I did beat That Guy again in both races, so it's not all bad. (OK, he did capsize in front of me on the final reach in one race but it still counts.)

Then off to a pre-dinner cocktail party at the apartment of one of the other USA sailors, followed by dinner of pizza and sticky date pudding with the beautiful Tillerwoman. Life is good.


Tues 19 Feb

Morning of Day 3 of the Laser Masters Worlds brings weather reminiscent of Day 1: light to non-existent wind and showers. But the Radials launch at 1 pm and our AP flag comes down at 1:40 pm so at least the Race Committee thinks the wind is good enough for racing.

Once we arrive in the start area it is apparent that one Radial race has been started and then abandoned. (More memories of Day 1.) So we old farts in the Grandmaster Full Rig fleet have to wait for three Radial fleets and three Full Rig fleets to start before we get under way.

The wind is a very light south-easterly. Most of the fleet go right. So do I but I am buried deep at the first mark. On the second beat I am gaining for a while in a left shift but then the boats on the right get more pressure and I am way down the fleet at the windward mark the second time.

Then the fun begins...

On the reach a couple of sailors behind me start heading high to take my wind so I luff up to protect my air and then stay high all the way down the reach. It is probably the smartest decision I make all week because the wind continues to go left turning the reach into a closer and closer fetch. After what seems like a couple of geological eons I reach the end of the leg and many of the boats that have gone low are having to tack and beat back up to the mark.

Similar story on the run. The wind goes even lighter and continues to shift left. It seems to me that the tide is also pushing us to the left (looking downwind), so once again I elect to stay high on starboard tack, way to the right of the rhumbline. By now we are moving excruciatingly slowly but, hey, after my long apprenticeship sailing Sunday mornings on a certain New Jersey lake in next to no wind I do know something about keeping a boat moving in this stuff.

The wind goes further left. The run becomes a close reach. What little pressure exists is coming in from the right side of the course (looking downwind). I see the group of boats ahead being swept below the mark, trying to luff round it, having to tack to lay it, colliding with each other and the mark. Oh joy!

I stay high to avoid the mayhem. Wait. What's this? There's a committee boat at the gate signalling a shortened course for our fleet. Even more joy!

I drift through the gate (now the finish line) well away from the mess of boats jammed up round the left-hand mark. Once the chaos is sorted out and they've all done their various penalty turns and re-crossed the line, I realise that I'm the first boat with USA on its sail across the line. Triple joy!

I glance at my watch (which counts up after the start). It says 39 minutes. Hmmm. The race took 1 hour and 39 minutes? No, wait. That can't be right. It's past 6 o'clock by the time we make the beach. So that means we must have been racing for 2 hours and 39 minutes. (The target for the RC was for races to finish in an hour.)

So I seem to have achieved the dubious distinction of being the first American in what must have been the longest Laser World Championship race in the history of the planet. (Or I would be if I were actually an American, which I'm not in spite of what my sail says. Oh well.) But I did gain 15 places in two legs on That Guy who was right next to me at the windward mark.

It's Tuesday night so off with Tillerwoman to the mid-week regatta barbecue at the rugby club for free booze and steak and sausages and bread-and-butter pudding. Life is good.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Bunny Day

Happy Easter, a festival that has always mystified me. Why an Easter Bunny? Why Easter eggs? And even more weird, why a bunny that lays eggs?

Thanks to Wikipedia for the following explanation...

Eggs are, by their nature, obvious fertility symbols. As for rabbits laying eggs, several explanations have been proposed.

In English, the etymology of the word "Easter" comes from an ancient pagan goddess of the spring named Eostre, related to German Ostara. According to popular folklore, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became the modern Easter Bunny.

The idea of an egg-laying bunny came to the United States in the 18th century. German immigrants in the Pennsylvania Dutch area told their children about the "Osterhas," sometimes spelled "Oschter Haws." "Hase" means "hare," not rabbit, and in Northwest European folklore the "Easter Bunny" indeed is a hare, not a rabbit. According to the legend, only good children received gifts of colored eggs in the nests that they made in their caps and bonnets before Easter.In 1883, Jakob Grimm wrote of long-standing similar myths in Germany itself. Noting many related landmarks and customs, Grimm suggested that these derived from legends of Ostara.

The German and Amish legends were most likely rooted in European folklore about hares' eggs which seems to have been a confusion between hares raising their young at ground level and the finding of plovers' nests nearby, abandoned by the adult birds to distract predators. Hares use a hollow called a form rather than a burrow. Lapwings nest on the same sort of ground, and their nests look very similar to hare forms. So in the Spring, eggs would be found in what looked like hare forms, giving rise to the belief that the hare laid eggs in the spring.

So now you know.

Of course there could be another explanation of how the Easter bunny got his eggs...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Church Sign

The folks in Terrigal, the host town for the Laser Masters Worlds in Australia last month, sure seemed glad to see us. Even the local Anglican church put out a welcome sign for us.

And by the way, the photo above is not some photoshop creation or from one of those websites that generate spoof signs like the one I used for the Weather Forecast for Sunday. Honest.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Take It Back

The exact arrangements for the next America's Cup match are still somewhat vague but the recent decisions by the New York courts seem to have cleared much of the smoke. This much is clear...

  1. The match will be between Alinghi and BMW Oracle.

  2. It will be in 90 foot multihulls.

  3. Unless Alinghi can negotiate an alternative date with BMW Oracle (or persuade the court to name an alternative date) the match will take place this year, probably in October.
So as I enthusiastically anticipated a few months ago, it will be a Deed of Gift match between two monster multihulls. Will there be much public interest in the event? Will an American audience be able to muster much patriotic fervor to support a multinational team sponsored by a German car company? How will it score in TV ratings (assuming there is any coverage in the US) coming as it does in the final weeks of what is bound to be an historic presidential election?

Most importantly of all, is this the best chance since they lost the cup (and the saucer too) in 1995 for America to "take it back".

Open season on the open seas and

Captain says no prisoners please
Skull and crossbones on a background of black
We ain't stealin' we're just takin' back

We ain't stealin' we're just takin' back
Very simple plan of attack
It's our job and a labor of love
Take it home to the up above
We ain't stealin' we're just takin' back
Very simple statement of fact
Call it pillage or call it plunder
We're takin' it back from them boys down under

Hit us hard, took our treasure
That was the worst thing they could do
It will be our great pleasure
To take it back from that Captain Kangaroo

Yo ho ho, and a bottle of suds
It's a pirates fight we choose
No we don't want a bucket of blood
Just a cup is all we could use
Just a cup

The sails are up and the bets are down
Let's lighten up this harbor town
By hook or crook or new design
We're streakin' for that finish line

We ain't stealin' we're just takin' back
Very simple plan of attack
It's our job and a labor of love
Take it home to the up above
We ain't stealin' we're just takin' back
Very simple statement of fact
Call it pillage or call it plunder
We're takin' it back from them boys down under

We ask ourselves when we get in a fix
What would Popeye do in a tight spot like this
He'd race for his true love and easily win it
In an old spinach can with a mast stuck in it

Lift us up, take us high
Time to let our spirits fly
Lift us up, take us high
Let us sail until we die

Lift us up, take us high
Let us float above the foam
Let our sails fill the sky
We are takin' our sweet treasure home

Take it back
We're takin' it baaaaaaaack
Take it back!

Lyrics by : Jimmy Buffett, Matt Betton

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Game Face

This is one of only two photos I could find of me in the vast number taken by the official photographer at the Laser Masters Worlds. Why do I look so serious?

As Big As The Promise

Mon 18 Feb

At last, at last, Terrigal delivered on the promise. Day 2 of the Laser Masters Worlds was close to perfect sailing conditions, 10-15 knots from the east, 1-2 meter ocean swells, sunshine, blue skies, and the chance to race 53 other so-called grandmasters in Australia while folks back home dug themselves out from a weekend snowstorm.

I had good starts in both races, front row, nice gap to leeward, accelerating well off the line and able to hold my lane for a good time. Unfortunately things went downhill somewhat from there.

in the first race I had a good first beat and rounded the first mark in the top half of the fleet. Caught a couple of nice waves on a starboard tack broad reach just after the mark and when I looked back I saw I had gained about 50 yards on the boat that was with me at the mark. Woo hoo, maybe I'm getting better at handling waves downwind.

On the second beat I went left when the majority of the fleet went right and I lost a bunch of boats. I was able to ride the waves again on the first reach and gain a few places but the run was only average.

Lesson #1. On the second beat if most of the fleet behind you is going the same way, then the safe option is to cover them.

Then at the penultimate mark (run to reach) everything went pear-shaped. I was rounding outside one boat who did an involuntary gybe, a second gybe to correct, and in the process his boom touched me. Damn.

Lesson #2. Never never never never round an offwind mark outside another boat. Quite apart from the distance you lose and being in his bad air after the rounding, there's always the chance he will do something unexpected and it will be your fault!

I did my 720, caught a few more boats by going low on the final reach but ended up in the low 40's (out of 54 boats).

The second race went a bit better. No spectacular, genius moves. But no dunderhead, stupid mistakes either. The first beat and run weren't all that good but after that I was gaining places all the way around the course including on the relatively short final beat to the finish. Placed somewhere around 30th.

Lesson #3. It ain't over until the fat lady sings. If you sail smart and keep grinding away you can gain places on every leg of the course.

Back to the apartment and dinner of
Aussie pies and Aussie plonk on the balcony with the beautiful Tillerwoman. Then off to one of the local gelato joints for rum and raisin ice cream. Life is good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flags Are A Flying

Sun 17 Feb

At last the day has arrived that I have anticipated for so long. Day 1 of the Laser Masters Worlds in Australia.

There are seven fleets split into two groups, three Radial fleets and four Full Rig fleets. (As usual we are broken down by age and sex. No check that. This year we are just broken down by age.)

The plan for the first day is for the Radials to launch first with their first fleet having a start time of noon. Then the Full Rigs will launch as the Radials are finishing their first race. By the time we get out to the course the Radials should be well into their second race and we will have our two races after them. Then every other day we swap round and we launch first and the Radials race after us.

At least that was the plan. Things didn't go quite according to plan even on Day 1.

Tillerwoman and I arrive at the rugby field where the boats are stored around 11 am. The Radials are launching. There is no wind. It is raining. Hmmm. Maybe I was right about the possibility that Terrigal will disappoint us?

We hang out at the rugby club. I eat a hearty lunch of chunky vegetable soup and a sausage roll. There are two heavy rain showers while we wait. Around 1 pm we walk up the hill to watch the Radials bobbing about on the ocean. They still haven't started a race. Too many shifts and lulls as the showers go through. We go back to the club. I find a computer there and send an email to my sons, subject: Welcome to Sunny Australia.

At 2:40 pm the postponement flag for our group is lowered. The word is that the Full Rigs will start racing in an hour. Hmmm. I guess the plan has changed and they are just doing one race for each group.

We launch and head out to the course.

At 3:40 pm the race committee starts the sequence for the first Full Rig fleet, the kids under 45. We are in the fourth fleet and are racing soon after 4 pm.

I hover near the committee boat aiming to steal into the gap there at the last minute and make a perfect squirrel start. Unfortunately one of the other USA sailors has the same idea and steals my hole on the line. Cheek of the man!

It takes a while to find an opportunity to tack on to port and clear my air after the start. It seems I am surrounded by sailors with AUS on their sails and they are all trying to cover me and blanket me. Is the USA hated that much or am I getting paranoid?

Eventually I tack on to port and can see from my heading against the land that there has been a big righty shift. Hmmm. I think Stuart Walker would say that the high near-surface lapse rate has replenished the upper-level outflow with an offshore gradient flow and the elimination of the inversion in the restricting effects of an adiabatic change in density.

So that's why I hang right. And the fact that with all the weird shifts that have been happening all day this as just as likely to be a persistent shift as not.

The boats ahead of me and further right tack and cross me. Ha. Don't they know that Stuart Walker would say that insolation has created an inward pressure gradient with an abortive outward flow of marine air in the horizontal convective rolls of the secondary sea breeze? Apparently not.

I let them cross and after sailing about a third of the way up the beat, I tack and am not far from the starboard tack layline. After the tack I see almost all the fleet through my sail window, way, way, way to leeward. Ha.

Feeling smug I continue on starboard tack until, about three quarters of the way up the beat, I sail into a bit of a hole in the wind. And then the wind goes left just as Stuart Walker would have predicted. Clearly a velocity veer of the gradient flow isolated above a subsidence inversion has amalgamated with the divergent advected air in the high near-surface lapse rate.

Other boats are going further right but with the confidence of a man who owns all of Stuart Walker's books and has even attempted to read some of them, I hang left. When I tack back on to port I am laying the mark and everyone who went right is struggling back to the mark in light wind and a huge header. Ha again!

Having just nailed two shifts perfectly I round the windward mark in the leading pack along with a bunch of former Masters world champions.
Thank you Doctor Walker.

I'm even passing the tail-enders from the fleet that started before us. That means I've gained six minutes on sailors ten years younger than me. Ha, a third time!

Just while I'm feeling that I've finally made a real breakthrough and that I'm a sailing genius, the race committee signal the abandonment of this race and we head back for the beach. Clearly the RC haven't read Doctor Walker's books and think that the extreme shifts were just matters of chance that have created an unfair race. Oh well!

I later learn that some of the Radial sailors got seasick while waiting for hours out on the ocean to start their race. A couple came in early because they felt so unwell, and at least a couple were actually vomiting out on the course. Yikes.

Let's hope the conditions are better tomorrow.

So back to the beach, pack up the boat, have a shower. Then off the Hog's Breath Cafe with Tillerwoman for a cheeseburger and sticky date pudding washed down with a bottle of Aussie Shiraz. Life is good.

Where Can I Buy a Used Sunfish?

I received an email a few minutes ago that posed a question that faces many people at this time of year. It's almost spring in North America and a lot of folk are thinking that now is the time, this is the year, I'm going to do it... start sailing. So they wonder where they can find a small second-hand boat such as a Sunfish or a Laser (or god forbid even a Force 5) that they can launch on their local lake and have some fun sailing this summer.

Paraphrasing somewhat here's what the email said...

Hi- I read your blog. I live in northern New Jersey and am a member of the XXX Club in YYY. There is a small lake at the Club which allows for sailing of small sailboats like the Sunfish or Laser. I am not a sailor, but will be taking lessons in May. I want to buy a boat so that my family can use it at the XXX Club.

Do you know where I can buy a used Sunfish or Laser? What should I be looking for in a used Sunfish or Laser?

Thanks so much!
(Actually he only asked about Sunfish. I added the bit about Lasers because I like Lasers better. Honestly he never even asked about Force 5's.)

So let's try and help this guy. Where can he find a used boat? Here are some ideas from me. What other suggestions can you think of?

1. Contact your club and ask them. I know that when I was a member of Sunfish Fleet 17 and Hunterdon Sailing Club we were always trying to match new members up with used boats. Usually demand exceeded supply at this time of year, but we did our best.

2. Contact other local sailing clubs and ask the same question. (Maybe you should even fake interest in joining the other club to make them more interested in helping you.)

3. Go and see your local boat dealer. He might have taken some used boats in part exchange for new ones. For example I see that your local dealer in North Jersey, Sunset Sailboats, currently has a used Force 5 for sale for $3,200. (You're not really that desperate are you?) Seriously though I once got a very good deal on a Sunfish at that dealer; it was the demo model he had had on display all the previous season. Dealers also sometimes have partly used boats that have been charter boats at major regattas and they can be excellent deals too.

4. Check out websites of local sailing clubs. Sometimes boats are offered for sale there. For example, on Hunterdon Sailing Club's Trading Post there is a used Force 5 for sale for $1500. No, no, no, you're really not that desperate. There's a reason everyone has Force 5's for sale, trust me.

5. Check out the Sunfish Forum and Laser Forum. The Sunfish Forum currently has a couple of used boats for sale, not too far from you in Eastern Pennsylvania, including one for $100, or only $1 if you take the trailer too! Wow! The Laser Forum also has a Laser Radial for sale in Philadelphia.

6. Check out ebay and craigslist. For example, I see that craigslist currently has three Sunfish for sale in North Jersey including one for $35.

7. Look out for For Sale ads in your local library.

8. Check the classifieds in your local newspaper.

9. Go to your local town dump and see if the town has removed any abandoned boats from the beach. They may need a bit of work but the town may be happy for you to haul an old hull away for free.

To answer the second part of the question, what should you look for in a used boat...

Preferably take someone who is knowledgeable about that class with you when going to see a used boat. Failing that, look at the condition of every part. Even an untrained eye can see if the sail, spars, rudder, daggerboard etc. are in good condition or totally beat-up. Most important of all check the hull. An old hull is likely to be scratched up a bit but you don't want one that leaks. Are there any visible cracks or holes? If the hull has inspection hatches check if the hull is dry inside. Weigh the hull. A dry Laser or Sunfish hull should weigh no more than around 120-130 lbs. If water has soaked into the fiberglass inside it could be much more than that. Unless you have a fetish for fiberglass repairs, you don't want a heavy leaking boat.

Good luck with your search.

Anybody else want to add ideas on where to find a small used boat for sale?

PS. Only joking about Force 5's. They really are very comfortable boats.

Totally Ridiculous

While in Australia I noticed that all of the Lasers owned by local Australian sailors had boat names on their transoms. In the USA, and in the UK as far as I can recall, hardly anybody bothers to name their Laser. Strange local custom, I thought.

But apparently it's not just a custom, it's a rule. According to a post on the Laser Forum by Tony B, Yachting Australia in an addendum to the Racing Rules of Sailing has specified that the boat name and number have to be on the transom in letters at least 50mm high and 8mm thick.

TonyB goes on to say, "At most regattas no one really cares, but the measurers have cracked down on it at the Nationals a couple of times. I've never seen them get the calipers out to measure letter thickness though, so I wouldn't worry too much. They normally just want to make sure that the boat name and number are legible from a couple of boat lengths behind, in case someone wants to protest you and can't see the number on your sail."

Hmmm. I guess I kind of understand the advantage of having the sail number on the transom, but it still doesn't explain why they want you to think up a fancy name for a 14 foot long chunk of fiberglass.

Many of the Aussie sailors at the Worlds seemed to have responded to this rule with typical Australian irreverence. I chuckled when I saw "Cheetah" on the race course. But the boat next to mine in the boat park had a name that puzzled me. It was called "The Rich". I asked the owner what it meant.

He explained that he had a friend with a boat named "The Famous". Then when the results were read out after their local club racing, the race officer would announce the place for "the famous Joe Bloggs" or whatever his friend's name was. Apparently my neighbor's wife liked the sound of "the rich Mick Lynch" and had insisted on him naming his boat "The Rich".

But the name I liked best was somewhat longer. It was scrawled with an indelible pen on the Laser's transom and I don't think the letters were 8mm thick. The boat's name was "This Australian rule about boat names is totally ridiculous".

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sailing for Tomorrow

Sat Feb 16

One last day of practice in Australia before the real action starts at the Old Farts Laser Worlds on Sunday. Not a day to do too much. Need to conserve some energy for what should be two races a day for six out of the next seven days. And it may well be big wind and waves. That's what they promised us.

So I just sail for an hour or so, trying to get comfortable with the conditions and familiar with how the boat feels on every point of sail. I warm up with two reaches, one on each tack. Then a long upwind, experimenting with the vang tension to see what works best. A few simulated starts and a few leeward mark roundings around an imaginary mark.

More upwind. Then a long run sailing on starboard tack by the lee. Vang very loose. Going as far by the lee as I can until I do an involuntary gybe. Just getting a feel for the limits. Then a port tack broad reach. Wheeeeeee. Yeehow!

That's enough. A good day without wearing myself out.

Back to the apartment for lunch of bread, cheese and dates with Tillerwoman. Wash it down with a bottle or two of James Squire Amber Ale.

Aforementioned Mr. Squire was a convict who was transported from England to Australia with the First Fleet in 1787 for the heinous crime of stealing five hens and four cocks. The story goes that once in Australia he stole some supplies to make some beer. Apparently the beer was so good that he was let off lightly with a sentence of only 150 lashes. I guess convicts who stole were usually executed.

After serving his seven year sentence, James became a successful businessman in the Sydney area, was the first to have success in growing hops in Australia, and he opened a brewery and a popular tavern.

This is a wonderful country. Growing up in England our heroes were the explorers, generals and admirals who spread the British Empire around the world. In the USA where I live now the most revered founders of the nation are the 18th century land-owning slave-owning gentlemen farmers who became revolutionaries. In Australia they honor such blokes as James Squire, a thief who founded a brewery. I love this place.

Another bottle (or two) of Amber Ale is consumed. Life is good.

Polka Dot Racing

Before leaving for the Worlds in Australia, I was moved and touched to receive a gift from the world famous sailing blogger Edward who is not only the founder of the EVK4 Superblog, but is also a former Laser Olympic campaigner and a kick-ass ocean racer currently preparing to race Paul Cayard to Hawaii. The gift was a genuine Polka Dot Racing team T-shirt with the prestigious PDR logo on the front and the Latin motto for Edward's Olympic campaign Velox Ocius Pango on the back.

I packed the precious T-shirt on my trip to Australia and decided to wear it while rigging my boat for my second day of practice on the Saturday before the regatta. Unworthy as I am, I felt a bit embarrassed wearing the uniform of the illustrious Polka Dot Racing Team and hope that Edward will forgive my impudence.

But perhaps those magic words Velox Ocius Pango will bring me luck?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

And Then There Were Nine

Once again, making my annual list of Top Ten Blogs has been the kiss of death for one of the honorees. Magnus Wheatley has announced that he is shutting down his superb Rule 69 Blog to spend more time with his family and because he thinks "the sailing scene is pretty dull right now".

Magnus's brand of self-described "hand-grenade journalism" will be missed. Magnus denies that he is putting up the shutters because of any outstanding legal disputes but, given his penchant for outspoken, hard-hitting criticism of some the most deep-pocketed and litigious players in our game ( I'm sure you know who I mean) it wouldn't have surprised me if that had been the real reason.

And then there were nine. What am I going to do? Shall I change the list in my sidebar to Tillerman's Top Nine Blogs. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it? Or should I select a replacement?


The woman waits and waits. She looks out west to the Indian Ocean from a hill in Geraldton, Western Australia. She is part of one of the most moving war memorials I have ever visited, the memorial to the 645 men who were lost when the HMAS Sydney ll went down with all hands on 19 November 1941 after a battle with the German merchant raider Kormoran. The Sydney was the largest vessel of any nation to be lost with no survivors during World War ll.

The reason for the loss of the Sydney has long been a source of mystery and controversy, with various conspiracy theories floating around, not least because the wreck of the Sydney was never found.

Or never found until now. The Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd announced a few hours ago that a government-funded search has found the wrecks of the Sydney and the Kormoran off the Western Australian coast. Further probes of the site are planned in a hope to solve the mystery of what really happened.

But for now the woman waits and watches. And, behind her, a flock of 645 interlocking steel gulls (one for every man that perished on the Sydney) fly forever over the memorial site.

Got out of Town on a Boat

Friday Feb 15

I may not be as serious as Andrew Campbell about practice before a major regatta but I did go for a bit of a blast on the Friday afternoon before the start of the Old Farts Laser Worlds. Hey, there was a major snow storm brewing up back home but I was staying in a beach town in Australia, my beautiful bride was me, there was wind, there were waves, and there was a shiny, almost brand new Laser in the boat park available for my exclusive use. Life is good.

In the morning Tillerwoman and I drove up the coast to the north a ways to a place aptly named The Entrance. This is a town near an entrance to a lake from the ocean. Very creative the way they name things these Aussies.

Then after lunch I went for a sail. It was worthwhile if only to work out some of the kinks (in me and the boat), make sure I had rigged the boat to my liking, and to try and see if I remembered to sail after over a month off. I just sailed around on my own and did a bit of everything: beats, reaches, runs, tacks, gybes, and some practice starts. There was a medium-sized ocean swell from the south-east with some wind-blown chop on top from a different direction. We're not in Kansas any more Toto.

Then off to the local Mexican restaurant with the love of my life. Hmmm, why do Margaritas taste so much better under the Southern Cross? Life is good.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Don't Get Burned Out by Practice

Andrew Campbell, the sailor selected to represent the USA in the Laser class at the 2008 Olympics, wrote a post on his blog a few days ago entitled Top 3 Training Tips for the Laser Worlds. Nothing illustrates better the gulf between an elite sailor like Andrew and a mid-fleet old-fart weekend-warrior hacker like me than our approaches to practice and training before a World Championship.

We both sailed in our respective World Championships last month in Australia. Andrew sailed in the real/ open/ senior Worlds against the best Laser sailors on the planet. I sailed in the Laser Masters Worlds held at the same location, using the same boats, a few days later, against... well, the best Laser sailors on the planet who just happen to be over 55.

Andrew showed up at the regatta site a week early. Tillerwoman and I flew to Oz and spent a couple of days staying at an old pub in the Rocks area of Sydney that claims to be the oldest licensed establishment in Australia, did a bit of sight-seeing, drank lots of beer and wine, had a great meal out at a Sydney restaurant with some friends, ate some fish and chips (of course) at the pub, and drove up to Terrigal, the regatta site, a couple of days before my regatta was due to start.

Andrew's recommended schedule for the week before a Worlds includes such items as a few "normal gym sessions" (whatever they are), five days of sailing, putting up the "race sail" if the wind is light or moderate, and a rest day immediately before the regatta starts.

My pre-regatta preparation before the regatta included a couple of hours on the water using my one and only sail that I had used/ abused for racing all last season, one evening at the Terrigal Mexican restaurant consuming margaritas and tequila shots, and another evening trying to score as much free alcohol as I could at the extremely long, noisy, crowded opening ceremony. Hey I paid my registration fee, and I'm going to get my money's worth.

Wait. Andrew mentioned gym sessions. What gym? There's a gym in Terrigal? I never found it. (Not that I actually looked for it.)

Andrew's three tips were "Show Up Early", "Know your threshold for good training", and "Don't Get Burned Out by Practice".

I agree (almost). My one tip which I follow religiously is "Don't Get Burned Out by Practice". But I did actually practice in Terrigal before the regatta started. More details to come...

Friday, March 14, 2008


Thanks to everyone who left comments on the previous post looking forward to my return home from Australia and the resumption of the usual posting of random drivel on this blog. I said I was taking a break until mid-March and, unless I'm totally confused by two crossings of the International Date Line, one day that seems to have disappeared from my life altogether, and one day that seemed to go on for 48 hours, it's still only March 14th.

It may seem a bit weird but I'll be posting accounts of the Laser Masters Worlds in Oz over the next few days, even though the racing actually happened about three weeks ago. As I've mentioned before, when I go overseas for a long sailing trip I also take a break from computers, Internet, blogging, email and all that stuff. It's one of the pleasures of being retired that I can sever the electronic ties that bind for a few weeks.

Terrigal did not disappoint, even though (as happens at every major regatta I attend it seems) the locals all told us apologetically, "We never get weather like this at this time of the year." My results in the Worlds were somewhat disappointing, it is true, but I have only myself to blame for that. Let's just say the regatta was full of "learning experiences".

After the sailing, Tillerwoman and I embarked on a trip around that sunburnt country. I will not bore you with all the details of our travels but there may be mentions of some of the highlights here. After all, I hear that the 2011 Old Farts Laser Worlds will be held in Western Australia so I owe my fellow traveling Laser masters friends some travel tips for that adventure.

"See ya later!" as they say down under.