Thursday, May 29, 2008

Caption Contest

We had a caption contest last week at the expense of a few serious looking sailors doing something mysterious with a Force 5 sail. Just to show that I allow equal opportunity to make fun of Laser sailors too, do please give me a caption for this Laser classic.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Seven Reasons Why Force Fives Are Better Than Lasers

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will know that I have something of a feud going with Joe Rouse at The Horse's Mouth about the relative merits of the Force 5 and the Laser. It's all very pointless really because it's common knowledge that the Force 5 is a better boat than a Laser. Here are seven reasons why...

1. The Force 5 is more comfortable than a Laser. Nobody claims that a Laser is comfortable. Indeed I've even written a post or two about how Laser sailing is all about ability to bear pain. Why would anyone but a masochist sail a boat that hurts so much?

2. You can take a friend with you on a Force 5. In theory you can have more than one person on a Laser. When I was a sailing instructor, on afternoons with no wind we would occasionally see how many kids we could load on to one Laser. I think our record was thirteen. But the Laser isn't really designed for more than one person. On the other hand, the way the Force 5 cockpit extends to the side of the daggerboard makes more room for a crew to join you in comfort.
(There we go with the C-word again.)

3. The control lines are easier to reach on a Force 5. The Force 5 was designed after the Laser was launched and so the designer had the benefit of seeing how difficult it was to adjust the sail controls on the original Mark 1 1971 vintage Laser. As a result, the Force 5 has double-ended control lines that lead to both side decks. A few years back the highly conservative Laser class eventually allowed a so-called "new" control line set-up but it is still far inferior to the Force 5 arrangement.

That's why all Laser sailors have such long arms. Thanks to the power of natural selection, in another three generations all Laser sailors will look like this...

4. The Force 5 is more forward-looking.
The builder of the Force 5, Brian Weeks, has been updating the boat with all sorts of techno-wizardry such as a winged hull and a fully-battened composite sail. How cool is this?

You're never going to see anything like this in the Laser class. Even if the manufacturer and the leaders of the class association wanted to do it, it would never get through the byzantine bureaucratic rule change process that the Laser class has invented to keep pure the true spirit of board-boat sailing 1970's style. It takes about eight years and at least seven voting steps (not to mention approval by those fun-loving wild-thing super-delegates at ISAF) to change the Laser rules to allow something like a left-handed square knot instead of a right-handed reef knot to tie your toestrap shockcord. Fuggedaboutit.

5. The Force 5 sail insignia. The symbol for the Force 5 looks masculine and vaguely pornographic at the same time. Haven't you always wanted to wear a T-shirt like this?

6. Force 5 sailors are more friendly. I will get into trouble with my Laser friends for saying this but there is an obvious reason why it is so...

If you join your local Laser fleet you will probably be the 217th sailor to sign up for the season and one of about 50 racing today. The reaction from your new "friends" is likely to be something along the lines of, "Oh hi. Welcome. You can probably find somewhere to keep your boat over there on the other side of the club behind the dumpster. Now c
an you move your boat so I can get to the ramp. Good luck."

Whereas if you turn up with a Force 5 at your local sailing club the only three other Force 5 sailors there will be so pleased, not to say astonished, to see you that the reaction will be more like, "Wow! Another Force 5! Amazing dude! Let me buy you a beer. Do you need any spare parts? You can borrow my trailer. Please use my new sail. Do you have anywhere to stay in Key West for the Midwinters? You can stay with my sister. Hey, you can sleep with my sister." That's what I call real friendship.

7. The Zippered Halyard Mainsail. This is the clincher for me. A sail with a zipper! Man, how can the Laser complete with that?

When I first read about this on the Force 5 website I was mystified. Zippers on boots, yes. Zippers on PFDs, yes. Zippers on drysuits and wetsuits, absolutely, especially that all-important special zipper so essential to male comfort during a long day on the water. But a zipper on a mainsail? Why?

Well, Mr. Weeks' website has full instructions for the simple 18-step process on how to use the zipper and the reason for having one:
"no more Iwo Jima mast raising".

Brilliant! I have to have one.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Slip Sliding Away

Whenever I launch my Laser to go sailing on my own I always have this premonition that in between slipping the boat off the dollie into the water, letting go of the boat while I run the dollie back up the beach, and then running back to catch the boat before it sails off on its own... I have this dread that it really will have sailed off on its own, out of my reach, and that as I run after it into deeper and deeper water, and then swim after it, that it will always be out of my reach and that I will never catch it and that it will be gone for ever.

At least I will be the only one to see my humiliation, though I will have to explain to my wife why I lost my boat and now need to buy a new one.

But imagine if you had spent $20 million on a quest to break a world record, invited the press, got all togged up in a bright yellow pressure suit, and then someone let go of your craft and it just went floating off out of reach. Oops.

This is what happened yesterday to Michel Fournier who is planning to fly a balloon 25 miles up into the stratosphere and then jump out of it... apparently in order to set records for highest jump, fastest and longest free fall, and the highest altitude reached by a man in a balloon. But unfortunately, according to this report from CNN, his crew kinda sorta forgot to hold on to his balloon before he climbed into it and it just went slip sliding away up into the blue beyond.

"Honey, I lost my balloon. Can I have another $20 million please?"

Actually the balloon did land about 25 miles away thereby setting a record for world's most expensive unmanned 25 mile balloon flight but there's no glory in that.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


A certain Australian website called LiveSailDie is asking its readers (all three of them) to name their favorite sailing website, and also wondering if they are fans of "Tillerman's rants."

Rants? Rants! How dare they? Who are these people? How dare they suggest that I am a ranter? I don't rant.

Proper Course (unlike LiveSailDie) is a serious sailing blog full of serious sailing information for serious sailors. We have insightful regatta reports from a top Laser sailor, informative reviews of essential sailing gear, and breaking news about the sailing industry.

You won't find any rants here.

For our more intellectual readers we have hauntingly evocative sailing poetry from our resident poet, post-minimalist art from the staff artist and leading edge discussions of sailing theory from our in-house scientist.

Not a rant in sight.

Sure, we have the occasional opinionated piece such as So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?, Bollocks to Handicap Racing, and Seven Reasons Why a Cat Fight Would Be Good for the America's Cup. But these are not rants. Oh no. They are more in the nature of the op-ed pieces in a newspaper. Intelligent discussion of topical subjects.

I don't rant.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Barrington Blather

What am I learning?

What am I learning with all this solo practice? That's what I was thinking this afternoon as I sailed in a gusty north-westerly, around 15 knots give or take, from Bristol to Barrington Beach. And back. Back is important. It's always good to sail back to where the car and the trailer are.

Ah, Barrington! The scene of numerous humiliating experiences in years gone by in various Sunfish North Americans and at least one Sunfish Regional. I don't recall ever having a good result in a regatta there, and worse than that I never could figure out what I was doing wrong. Was I on the wrong side of every shift for a week? Or are there some weird tidal eddies that I never understood? Happy days.

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. Learning experiences.

According to 100 Days at Sea this was my tenth day of solo practice in Rhode Island waters since the Kurt Taulbee clinic in Florida in March. So is it doing me any good? Am I getting better? Am I learning anything?

Well, it's certainly not producing any dramatic changes in my sailing ability. My mediocre result in the May Madness Regatta at Quannapowitt proved that. But I think I am making slow improvements in some areas. What else did I expect? I wrote last Saturday in What I Learned From Running Marathons that "performance improvement comes slowly and with regular practice."

I think the payoff is in three areas...

1. Boat-handling mechanics. I've been working on trying to correct the faults in my technique pointed out to me by the coaches at the two clinics I attended in Cabarete and Clearwater. Things like doing the hand swap in a tack after hiking out, and how to steer properly through a gybe at a leeward mark. And then there are some other faults -- and solutions-- that I spotted myself in practice, like how to avoid tying my feet in knots in the mainsheet when I tack. With regular repetition these things are gradually getting better. By no means consistently 100% right all the time yet but it's coming. I think.

2. Wave awareness. Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will know that until I moved to Rhode Island last year most of my sailing was on lakes a.k.a. flat water. This whole business of sailing in the moguls is quite new to me but today on the long downwind back to Bristol I had another of those zen-like rides that I also wrote about in Poppasquash Poppycock. Just tuned in to the waves, experimenting with slight changes of angle, boat trim, sheeting... and seeing the (sometimes dramatic) changes in speed. Again, I think my downwind speed in waves will take a long time to improve but I do believe it's coming. I can only hope.

3. Sailing fitness. Surely this routine of sailing a few times a week is better physical preparation for racing than my routine last year of doing very little practice prior to sailing an early-season 4-day national championship, being totally wasted after every day, and then being surprised that I placed badly? Please tell me this is better.

So I had a good old blast on the bay, then packed up and went home just in time to meet Cutest Granddaughter in the World and her parents who came today and are staying with us for the weekend. Life is good.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wanted: J/30 Tactician

The choice of a J/30 sail insignia as my "days sailed counter" in the sidebar yesterday reminds me that I meant to tell you the story about my being invited to be a tactician on a J/30 in the class's 2008 North American Championship. Or maybe it wasn't tactician. Maybe it was strategeriser. Is there a difference?

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will know that I am about as well qualified for such a role as I am for being John McCain's choice for vice-president, or the US representative in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics. I mean when I look at the picture above the questions that occur to me are...

  • Is that a J/30? I stole it off the website for their NAs but I've no idea if it really is one.

  • What are all those people doing? How can it take so many folk to drive one little boat? Don't they get in each other's way?

  • Which one is the tactician? Is it the guy in the snazzy red dungarees bending over? Or the guy in the tasteful yellow pants apparently clapping his hands behind his back? And what is all that about anyway?

  • Why are there three holes in the back of the boat? Won't it leak?

Anyway this is how it happened. Back in February, my wife and I were having dinner in Sydney with a fellow US Laser Master sailor and his wife prior to the Laser Masters Worlds in Terrigal. The conversation rambled around various topics as the wine flowed and vast quantities of seafood were consumed. It turned out that my dining companion has a half-share in a J/30 and is planning to do the NAs in Rhode Island this September. I asked polite questions about J/30 sailing trying to sound interested while not displaying my total ignorance of the subject. My friend then had what I can only describe as a brainfart. I think his logic went something like this.

  1. We need a tactician, someone with local knowledge of winds and currents in Narragansett Bay.

  2. Tillerman lives in Rhode Island and may have sailed on some parts of Narragansett Bay.

  3. Ergo Tillerman would make a great J/30 tactician.

The invitation was proffered. I humbly explained my total lack of qualifications for the role, not least that I know nothing about sailing a boat with more than one sail, I know even less than nothing about Narragansett Bay winds and tides, and moreover I don't play well with others. There's no me in team.

I wasn't sure how serious the invitation was. After all, this was the same guy whom I was with at one of the "social" evenings at the Laser Masters Worlds in Spain last year when we both bullied various New Zealand sailors into agreeing to host us for a pre-Australia-Worlds Laser training campaign in Kiwi-Land. Nothing came of it, not least I suspect because when I sobered up next morning I couldn't even remember which New Zealanders we had been talking to.

Anyway the topic was not raised again in Terrigal so I assume he also sobered up after our Sydney dinner and made other plans. But perhaps I am missing something? Maybe I should get some big (well bigger) boat experience so if such an invitation comes up again I could legitimately accept it. Maybe sailing in yellow pants with my hands behind my back would be fun?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Senator Edward Kennedy
sailing his 50' Concordia Schooner, Mya, by himself.

Sir, we wish you fair winds and a following sea.

Narragansett Nonsense

Narragansett Bay
Today in the rain sublime
Thirty and counting

Can I Go Sailing This Weekend?

What would your reaction be if you were rushed to hospital after suffering a seizure and following a battery of tests the doctors diagnosed you as having a malignant brain tumor?

That is what happened to Senator Edward Kennedy this week. The news this afternoon is filled with messages of support and sympathy from everyone in American public life including political leaders from all parties, along with speculation about treatment options and the prognosis for his condition.

And what was the reaction of Ted Kennedy himself? According to this report from CNN he "asked his doctors if he could leave the hospital to participate in a sailing regatta off Cape Cod this weekend."

What a guy!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Ohmigod what have I done I wrote a post back at the turn of the year saying I was going to sail my Laser 100 days in 2008 and write a post about every day here but it's so hard not so much the actual sailing I still think there's a reasonable chance that I will manage to sail 100 times this year hey Hillary still thinks she's going be the Democratic nominee for president so anything can happen no it's finding something original to write about every sail that's so hard as Edward wrote somewhere on the EVK4 SuperBoatnameBlog a good sail is not necessarily postworthy like last Wednesday I went for a sail by myself on my Laser on the Sakonnet River launching off Fogland Beach and it was cool and soulsailorlike just me and my boat and the water and the wind was cooperating and the sun was out and I cruised up and down and practiced this and that and worked out how to do better one particular maneuver but who is interested in the minutiae of Laser technique other than than that guy in Australia who used to have his own blog but then stopped writing it but he occasionally leaves comments here and I'm pretty sure it was him that sailed up to me between races in Terrigal and stared at my sail number but who knows all these Aussies look the same like superfit and suntanned and look like they sail a Laser 500 days a year and where was I where am I oh yes last Wednesday I guess I could write about the old dude that came up to talk to me while I was rigging and all he told me about what he did in the war but who's interested in that I guess I will be one of those boring old dudes one day you know the ones who just ramble on and on and don't say anything all that interesting but you have to listen out of respect for their age and you never know they may say something worth repeating but they never do...

Caption Contest

I've no idea what these people are doing but this picture is just crying out for a caption...

Go for it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Learning Experiences Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our group writing project about "learning experiences" in sailing. What I found most gratifying about this exercise was how many writers from whom I hadn't heard before came forward with stories about their learning experiences. Some of you were writers of sailing blogs of which I was previously unaware. Some of you don't have your own blogs but felt inspired to send in a story anyway. Thank you to you all. I've enjoyed hearing from you and hope you will stop by here again and leave comments on my posts and/or participate in future writing projects.

The learning experience stories were...

I See Stupid People by IC

Drive by TK

A Racer's Fact of Life by Wavedancer

Lessons Learned from the Mallory Championships at Elephant Butte by Pat

Humiliation by ISO by Mark

You've got a friend
by Carol Anne

Shifting Gears by Manfred Schreiber

So kids, what did we learn today? by Somers Kempe

The Sailor's Prayer and
Motivation by Captain JP

Don't Think Twice by Andrew Sadler

Point Nemo by Edward

Adventures in Boating by Robert Hruzek

Helping Hands by Jos M Spijkerman

What I Learned From Running Marathons by Tillerman

And from David Anderson...
We Can Learn
Learning is Gud
Father's Day Sail
Mothra vs. Benicia

Wow, what an amazing diversity of different ways to interpret this theme. Tactics, racing rules, boat-handling, race management, sports psychology, relationships, family, friends, humor, instruction, humiliation... and ocean geography. It's all here. Thank you guys.

Because you all did such a great job on this writing project I'm thinking of making it a monthly event. A discussion that broke out in the comments to one of the above stories gave me an idea on what topic to use for the June group writing project. But please tell me if you have any suggestions too.

Last, but not least... please leave a comment letting us know which learning experience stories you enjoyed the most. I think my personal favorite was I See Stupid People. I may not have chosen to express this lesson in quite the same words that IC did but nevertheless his lesson is very valuable: stay out of trouble with other sailors if you want to do well in the races. I suspect IC is probably the youngest contributor to our project and I enjoyed the outspoken tone, passion, and straight talk that are typical of the young. Some of us old geezers could learn a thing or two about writing (as well as sailing) from him.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

What I Learned From Running Marathons

Long-time readers of this blog may remember that I used to describe myself in my profile as a Laser sailor and a marathon runner. That may have been a bit disingenuous. I've never really made a commitment to marathon running as a lifetime pursuit, a part of my identity, in quite the same way as I have with Laser sailing. But I did run three marathons (one each in 2005, 6 and 7), I did complete a defined training program over approx. six months for each event, I did travel to the UK to run the London Marathon in 2007, I did finish all three marathons... and I did learn a couple of things along the way.

I haven't met many other Laser sailors who run marathons. Probably the demands of training at a high level for a marathon and for a major Laser championship are mutually incompatible. There may be another reason. One of the things I learned while training for marathons does have some relevance to sailing, I think; but another thing I learned while running marathons could actually be harming my performance as a racing sailor.

Learning #1: Performance improvement comes slowly and with regular practice. My marathon training program basically involved running four times a week for six months. The duration and intensity of the training increased over the six months and then tapered off in the last couple of weeks. It's amazing what you can train a human body to do with a program like that. At the start I could barely run 3 or 4 miles but by completing the training I managed to develop my body (and my mind) to the point where I could run 26 miles or more several times in training, and was able to complete that distance on race day too.

I suspect sailing skills are very similar. You can't just listen to a coach, read a book, watch a video... and then go out and execute a new skill perfectly. You can't expect to be able to jump into a boat that demands some athletic ability and race all day with full effort if you haven't prepared physically for it. My guess is that it actually takes constant training several times a week over many years to reach a high level of racing skills in a physically demanding boat. That's why high school and college sailors become so good. They're training almost every afternoon and racing every weekend for the whole season.

It will be interesting to see what my program of 100 days of Laser sailing in one year accomplishes. If the intensity and length of my marathon program have any relevance to sailing I should be shooting for something more like 100 days in 6 months. Maybe next year?

Learning #2: Start slow and finish strong. The most important thing about running a marathon (at least for an aging unfit amateur like me) is not to start too fast. Every book, every website tells you the same thing. Hold back your pace in the first few miles. Save your energy. The last 6 miles are the hardest part of the race and if you start too fast you will "hit the wall" at around the 20-mile mark and the last 6 miles will be agonizing.

After hearing this, reading this, trying (and sometimes failing) to put this into practice, I've learned that it is true the hard way. When facing a long run there's something deep in my brain now that whispers to me, "Go slow. Pace yourself. It's going to be a long day. Save something for the last few miles. Hold back. Take it easy."

Now the length of time it takes me to run a marathon is roughly the same time I will spend on the water on a regatta day. Five hours give or take an hour or so either way. So when sailing out for the first race of a day of Laser racing that little voice is still there whispering its seductive message, "Take it easy. It's going to be a long day. Pace yourself. Don't go all out at the start."

Say what? This is of course exactly the wrong mental preparation for a sailboat race. The most critical parts of any race are the start and the first few minutes after the start. These are the minutes that will determine whether I will be racing with the pack of leaders or trying to avoid being the tail-end charlie. The start is when I need to be at the peak of my mental arousal and the first few minutes after the start are when I need to be working at 110% capacity, hiking as hard as I can, striving desperately to hold my lane and to work out ahead of the boats around me.

I know all that with the conscious, thinking part of my sailing brain. But my marathon running has trained something deep in my head to whisper those dangerous "go slow" messages at the start of every day and the start of every race.

You don't believe me? Hey, you have to admit it's a creative excuse for my normally dismal performance at Laser regattas. "Yeah, I didn't have a great regatta but that's because I'm really a marathon runner."

So what do you think? Have you had experience of cross-training in one sport that may have actually hurt your performance in your primary sport? Or, if nothing else, does one sport give you a great excuse for doing badly in another?

I wrote this post for my own Learning Experiences group writing project and also for the challenge from Robert Hruzek at Middle Zone Musings, What I Learned From... Mashing It Up! The point about Robert's challenge was to write a WILF story addressing two or more topics from a list he provided. Well this post is definitely about Recreation, running a marathon is a bit like climbing a Mountain, and both the learnings are all about Time and how to use it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Racer's Fact of Life

Thanks to Wavedancer for this Learning Experience...

Imagine a just-for-fun club regatta. The sky is dreary, but the rain has stopped and the breeze now ranges from 5 to 15 mph. One Sunfish geezer with only some late-in-life racing experience is challenging four Bytes (an Ian Bruce designed smaller version of the Laser). Bytes and Sunfishes have almost the same Portsmouth handicaps; so the Race Committee relaxes after the start; there is no need to record finishing times.

In the second and third race, Byte #1 beats old Sunfishguy easily. But the fourth race is different. Sunfishguy isn't exactly leading while tacking towards the windward mark, but thanks to Byte #1 capsizing, Sunfishguy unexpectedly finds himself in first place, trying not to do something stupid, like touching the mark.

The downwind leg is next. Byteman has recovered nicely from his swim, but is now some ten boat lengths behind. Sunfishguy has his boat heeled to windward with the sail way up, sitting up front and close to the daggerboard, with his bottom almost dragging in the water. Sunfishguy is sailing straight towards the leeward buoy, focusing on keeping the boat properly heeled without taking a bath to windward. The prior races had shown that a Sunfish sailed this way downwind is marginally faster than a Byte under the prevailing, relatively light, conditions. Sunfishguy thinks he is in good shape. In fact, the Race Committee is cheering him on, perhaps wondering how a back-of-the-fleet guy can be in first place.

Sunfishguy is getting closer now to the leeward mark and looking around for Byteman. Oops, almost on his tail and to leeward. Sunfishguy is puzzled at the change of scenery in the last half of the leg. At the two-length circle it looks like Byte #1 has an inside overlap by a foot or so. Sunfishguy's knowledge of the rules stretches no further than the basics, and he sees no way to cut off Byte #1. Byteman draws a tight circle around the mark, and leaves Sunfishguy on the outside. After that, Byteman has no trouble covering Sunfishguy upwind towards the finish line. Sunfishguy has been fooled again, but hopefully he learned something important.

Being on the inside at the leeward mark is such a powerful weapon that Sunfishguy may remember this lesson for some time. He should not have sailed the rhumb line. Rather, he should have gone inside (to the left, but how far?). This might have required a jibe early on and maybe another one later. He might even have gone faster and made up for distance lost; Laser theology states that sailing straight downwind is slow. Does this hold for Sunfish sailors as well? Maybe the Sunfish Bible will have the answer.

Wavedancer tells me that he has sailed a Sunfish informally for a number of years, but is now learning to sail a Laser, and sails his
Laser more than his Sunfish these days. In the area where he lives there is much more competitive Laser sailing, and it has been fun for him starting with twenty boats rather than five or so. Last year he went to his first Laser Masters event sailing as a Great Grandmaster, which means he is over 65. Hmmm, I think I like this guy. Maybe we will meet up at a Laser Masters regatta some day soon.


She contacted me via email back in November. Right away I could see that she had excellent judgment because she wrote of my blog...
It's such a pleasure to find someone who appreciates the absurd, isn't afraid to recount recent on-the-water humiliation, deeply considers issues of (meta-) pointlessness, and welcomes everyone to contribute to the sailing blogging community. And all while exhibiting a measure of respect for the English language.
And then she mentioned that I had "inspired" her to consider buying a Laser. I never know quite how to feel about it when complete strangers tell me that this blog has triggered them to take a new direction with their sailing... a bit of pride sure, but also some concern that I may have sent someone I don't know down a path which may not be right for them.

Anyway, over the next few months she sent me several more emails... about watching the Laser frostbiting at Newport, and about how she was frostbiting in J24s but was suffering withdrawal symptoms because she needed to drive. She asked questions about how much Lasers capsized and I gave her some advice on choosing the right rig (full, Radial or 4.7) to suit her weight, and on what to wear for winter sailing.

By January she had found a deal on an (almost) brand new Laser and was asking my advice on whether it was a good price, and I gave her tips on what to look for and what extras to buy with the boat. In February she sent me a photo of the shiny new Laser she had bought.

In March she emailed me for advice on who should come out with her on her first sail in a Laser. So naturally, having suckered her into buying a Laser, I offered to go out sailing with her. Hey, if I'm going to make it to 100 days of sailing this year I need every excuse I can find.

More email conversations during April established a mutually convenient date and place in May for me to join her for her first sail in a Laser. Which was why we met in person at Quannapowitt Lake in Massachusetts last weekend.

The wind at the lake on Sunday was gusty and shifty, not exactly ideal for a first sail in a Laser but my new sailing buddy was keen to give it a go. I helped her to rig her Radial, had a brief discussion about sail controls, did a demonstration of how to do the magic hand swap ritual after a tack, and then looking apprehensively at the wind I asked, "So you do know what to do if you capsize, don't you?"

After a little confusion as we launched our boats (hey it's a good idea to practice a capsize drill in shallow water first) we headed out to the windier side of the lake. Hmmm, it really was a bit more gusty for a first sail in a Laser than would be ideal.

She was having fun reaching back and forward and was tacking around OK if a little unconventionally. After a while however three things became apparent...

  • Every time she bore away on to a run she death-rolled and capsized to windward.
  • I had no idea how to tell her to avoid the death-rolls as none of the usual causes seemed to apply.
  • She didn't quite have enough upper body-strength to pull her body on to the centerboard after a capsize or enough body-weight to right the boat if she just hung on to the centerboard with her arms.

We managed for a while with me helping along every capsize recovery process by sailing to the top of her mast and giving it a bit of a lift. She still seemed quite happy with how things were going. And then after one capsize her boat turtled and her mast stuck hard in the evil, viscous, noxious, muddy bottom of Quannapowitt Lake.

I coached her for a while on various ways to free the mast, all to no avail. I was just about to jump into the water myself to try and free her mast from the mud, when a rescue boat came out from the yacht club and towed her boat out. I jumped in anyway to right her boat.

I thought she would be ready to pack it in now but, no, she wanted to keep going. More wild reaches accompanied by lots of spray and wild whoops. More capsizes. More swimming.

Eventually we called it a day and headed back to the club, where she faced the messy, and ultimately impossible, chore of having to hose the black sticky mud stains off her brand new sail. Nasty stuff this Quannapowitt mud.

I was thinking that if she sticks with Laser sailing after an afternoon like this she will become a true addict. There was some discussion about getting to the gym to deal with that little capsize recovery handicap. I fully expect to see her frostbiting in Newport next winter.

As we were putting her spars away we saw a couple of Force 5's on racks, so I completed her initiation into the community of Laser sailors by teaching her the secret curse that we use to protect our karma against Force 5 sailors.

On Monday she sent me another email, actually forwarding an email she had received from someone who had been watching us from the yacht club...

Yeah, so I hung around for a while until some time after you got the mast out of the mud and were able to unturtle the boat. Looked like you guys were having a blast out there. He he he he ..., being somewhat downwind from you guys, your laughter engulfed the YC grounds such that I was standing by the ramp watching when some guy walked up behind me, watched (and listened) for a minute with me, and said "damn, that girl is having some fun out there".
Damn. I think she was.

Mallory Cup

Oops, I missed yet another story written for our Learning Experiences project, Lessons Learned from the Mallory Championships at Elephant Butte, where Pat reflects on lessons learned from running a men's championship elimination regatta.

Pat asks, "How many things do you think can go wrong in a sailboat race? More than you, as a competitor, might think. And, if we're really, really lucky, some of the mistakes may be small enough that competitors never realize they happened."

Also posted on Desert Sea - New Mexico Sailing are some pictures, a race summary, and lots of data.

Orang Puti: Humiliation by ISO

Today's entry in our Learning Experiences group writing project is from Mark, a Laser sailor in Brunei, who has submitted Humiliation by ISO. The story is about his attempts to sail a boat which has three times as many ropes and lines than a Laser, not to mention three times as many sails.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

You've Got a Friend

Check out You've got a friend, an entry in our Learning Experiences group writing project from Carol Anne at Five O'Clock Somewhere. Once again Carol Anne has given us a new way of looking at a familiar topic.

One of the beauties of this whole blogging nonsense is that you can never predict the trajectory of an idea or a story, where it will land, who will read it... IC, a high school sailor from Maine, sent me a story for the group writing project by email which I posted here under the title I See Stupid People. It caught the attention of whoever maintains the website of the Laser Class Association of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory who posted a link to it on their website (in the sidebar on the left) and last night my stats were showing all these hits
on IC's story from down under. So now those awesome Aussie Laser sailors are learning something from a kid in Maine.

There are still two days for you to submit your Learning Experiences story. Either post it in your blog or send it to me by email. Who knows... you too could have your 15 minutes of fame in Australia. Full instructions at Learning Experiences.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More Learning Experiences

Two more submissions for our Learning Experiences group writing project today...

Manfred Schreiber from Germany has written a learning experience post on his blog about Shifting Gears particularly in relation to sailing a Foiler Moth.

Somers Kempe of Thinking of Sailing has submitted So kids, what did we learn today? about how he and someone else in his fleet (in Bermuda I believe) really aren't learning from their experiences. The other guy is named Mr. Luff, so you can guess what this is all about.

And here's a recap of all the previous entries...

The Sailor's Prayer and
Motivation by Captain JP
I See Stupid People by IC
Drive by TK
Don't Think Twice by Andrew Sadler
Point Nemo by Edward
Adventures in Boating by Robert Hruzek
Helping Hands by Jos M Spijkerman
A whole bunch of posts from David Anderson

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Sailor's Prayer

Another entry in our Learning Experiences group writing project from Captain JP... about how he learned from his mistakes and by being pushed by the competitive spirit of racing, and why he still mutters under his breath The Sailor's Prayer.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I See Stupid People

A learning experience for our group writing project via email from IC...

I am a high school sailor from up in Maine. While I do race Lasers a lot in the summer, it's 4twinkie season for me right now. While I'm sure I, as with most seasoned sailors, could write a book on our learning experiences, there is one experience (yesterday, in fact) that jumped off the top of my head.

So I was at a high school regatta yesterday, the second of a two-day regatta. On the first day I was posting top-5 finishes with the exception of two races, which were in the back third of the fleet because of two ridiculously blatant fouls at the start. I get off the water on Saturday and find out that those two bad finishes have dropped me down to 8th, certainly not where most of my finishes had been. Sunday comes, and I'm mad. Those darn other boats keep fouling me! I'm not letting that happen today- I'm going to protest foulers!

Well, Sunday didn't go well. I didn't sail as well, and was fouled some more. One instance in particular really irked me: I was about to round the windward mark in 2nd, and the 1st place boat stalled out, stopped, tacked, and forced me to gybe around and go at the mark again. And he was still there, clogging up the layline! and if that weren't bad enough, at the leeward mark in the same race the same boat (we were now in the back half of the fleet after that little incident) sailed 2 lengths past the mark before rounding, forcing me way outside and letting 3 other boats in on top of us. I vowed to take it to the protest room.

Both my protests were dismissed. Turns out, on Saturday they both wouldn't have been, but by Sunday the protest committee was fed up with protests and looking for reasons to dismiss them. One they decided was "iffy" (the sailing-past-the-mark issue) and they said the other boat didn't sail enough past the mark to constitute a foul. Ya, okay. Then the other incident there was a procedural issue, my fault, but the committee said I would have won if it had gone through.

So here's the learning experience (bet you thought I'd forgotten that part in all my bitching, didn't you?): first of all, protest committees never do anything good for you. Even if you win, you can't get redress for a foul at the start that puts you in the 3rd row. There's just no way to make up for it. And people are going to do stupid things on the racecourse. Incredibly stupid, idiotic, blind-sighted, pointless things that you would never expect any decent sailor to do. And whenever those people do those stupid things, if you're involved at all, it's a lose-lose situation. No matter what. And if you keep getting involved in them, even if you're right every single time (I totally was ;)), your bottom-third finishes start to look ugly next to your top-5 finishes and you find yourself closer to the middle of the fleet, through no fault of your own. So my lesson from this weekend? Learn to think far enough ahead to avoid stupid people and the stupid situations they create entirely, before you find yourself in the thick of them.


Here is an entry in our group writing project about Learning Experiences received via email from TK...

I can remember it from the time I was very little. I would sit in my row boat tied to the dock and watch the sailboats with their brightly colored spinnakers race down the lake off on the distant shore. I have always loved boats, always been drawn to the water. I love to walk the docks in harbor towns. I love to gaze out at any body of water from little ponds to Lake Michigan. But more than all that, to my very core, I've always wanted to be great at racing sailboats.

It must have been imprinted on my brain when I was about seven and I went to my first trophy dinner at the club. I watched wide eyed as the local legend in his 1970's red checkered pants went up to receive trophy after trophy. Wow, I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be better than that!

That drive has always been there deep down inside like a little pile of dry kindling. And that moment of my youth was when the match was lit, and the journey began. There have been lots of people that have affected that journey and altered my course, as the drive inside pointed true north on the compass.

"Well aspiring youth, meet local legend. He's won the fleet championship ten times."
"Nice to meet you!" and I'd learn whatever I could. But I'd ask myself, "what if I want to be better than that?"

"I'm sure you'd like to meet regional rock star. He's won the district regatta three times."
"Nice to meet you!" and I'd learn whatever I could. But I'd ask myself, "what if I want to be better than that?"

"What do I need to do to become a really great sailor??"

And that's where the journey stalled for a little while. Looking back at first I thought it was my own club. They really only cared about the fleet championship. They only sailed on their lake. Once a decade, a local sailor would go out and win a regional regatta or two, but that was as far as anyone would take it. I've later learned that this is true for many more yacht clubs than my own.

Who really has the desire and dedication to take the journey as far as it will go, to keep climbing and climbing towards the summit? Most get satisfied somewhere along the way. They may get tired. They may just stop and rest. But they stop.

It reminds me of the line in the movie Miracle by Coach Herb Brooks, "Nobody has ever been willing to work hard enough to beat the Soviets. Gentlemen, we will."

I digress. But it makes me that much more grateful for the lesson that made all the difference. I wish I could credit it to an old weathered sailor with his hand on my shoulder like Norman Rockwell fancied. I actually had it relayed to me second hand or even third hand. But that did not lessen the impact of the words. I try to pass it on to every youth sailor I know.

The old salt's words go like this:
If you want to be a really great sailor, you have to get off your home lake and travel the boat.

Man oh man, that's it! Eureka!! My local club's occasional flash was the sailor who got off our lake. The rival lake that always cleaned our clocks in the regional regattas had sailors who traveled all the time!

I had the drive, but what I needed to do was drive!! White line fever!!!

And I did. I hit the road and regattad more than almost anyone in the class. Frustrations. Growing pains. Always another lake to figure out. So many people saying, "why do you do this so much? Is it really worth it??"

And then it crystallized. All of a sudden everything got easier. Starting in big fleets. Figuring out the breeze and the local lake effects. Staying with the really fast guys. And I started to win. Even a lot.

Well I haven't made the Olympic team. And there's still one national title I seek with the crazed obsession of Don Quixote. But if I stop and think back, I've gone farther than I ever thought I could. Than I ever dreamed, really.

But I still hear Herb Brooks' line in my head. And I still keep climbing.
"What do I need to do to be better than this??"

It goes on. And someday when I'm older. I guess I am older. When I'm just plain old. I will be like the Ancient Mariner, constantly seeking out the promising youth that has signs of the kindling that has been touched by the match, and I will tell him or her. You've got the drive? Great. Now you need to drive!

Thanks TK. Superb story and a lesson that is so true. There's still plenty of time for others to submit their stories of learning experiences for the group writing project. Full instructions at Learning Experiences.

Don't Stop Me Now

Admit it. You thought I was crazy when I wrote about sailing my Laser while singing Wheels on the Bus at the top of my voice.

Well today
International Moth champion Simon Payne reveals on his blog that he also sings while he sails, apparently favoring classic rock from Queen such as Don't Stop Me Now when he goes sailing with his son.

I managed to find this video on YouTube but I don't think that's Simon is it?

May Madness

Reasons not to go to the regatta last Saturday...
  • Daughter-in-law has invited us to 3D ultrasound scan of grandchild #2 (code name Boris) on same day
  • Weather forecast says steady rain until early afternoon
  • Weather forecast says winds of 22mph gusting to 38mph
  • Regatta was canceled two years ago because of rain
  • Regatta site is other side of major city
  • I'll have to get up early
  • I'm a wimp

Reasons to go to regatta last Saturday...
  • I can always catch up on 3D ultrasound of new baby when the DVD comes out
  • I've agreed to meet one of the Tillerheads there
  • It will be 2008 Laser sailing day #27
  • Weather forecasts are usually wrong
  • It might be fun

I decided to go to the regatta...
  • It didn't rain (much)
  • The drive across Boston is much faster now the Big Dig is finished
  • It was windy and gusty but not 38mph
  • I did meet the Tillerhead
  • It was fun
My regatta results were nothing to write home about so I'm not going to write home about them. Sometimes I was in the leading pack and most of the time I wasn't. I thought I understood lake winds but now I know I don't... or perhaps every lake is different. The folk at the host club were very friendly and welcoming and there was what looked like some good grub afterwards but I had to leave early to go to dinner with the family and check out the DVD of Boris's ultrasound.

However, the DVD of the supposedly three-dimensional ultrasound didn't work at all and the blurry still pictures of Boris showed a baby whose nose seemed to adopt different shapes and be in different places on his/her face in every shot and whose eyes never looked the same size as each other in any shot. I think the technology may not be perfect yet. I sincerely hope his/her nose doesn't move around like that after he/she is born. And I do hope it's a boy as Boris is not a good name for a girl.


JP of Captain JP's Log has written a post for our Learning Experiences group writing project. It's short and sweet, but I love the punchline explaining what it is that motivates him to get up early on Saturday mornings to take canoe training lessons.

The answer is at
Learning Experiences - Motivation.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Don't Think Twice

Andrew Sadler who blogs from Holland has submitted a story Don't Think Twice for our Learning Experiences group writing project about how buying an Optimist for his daughter Em led to him getting bitten by the Laser sailing bug. He writes how he learned that "even if she (Em) takes up show jumping I'm going to be out there on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings in my old Laser, surrounded by old Laser sailors, doing what I have rediscovered to be the one thing I enjoy doing most of all."

Well said sir.

By the way, Andrew's story is the May 9 2008 entry in that link which is to his sailing category. I can't see how to link to an individual post on his blog.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Point Nemo

Many people learn stuff when they go sailing. Others are able to learn stuff while while thinking and obsessing about sailing from the comfort of their offices.

Some people learn practical stuff like not to forget the gas tank or how to gybe properly. The ones that sit in their offices and obsess about sailing learn stuff that's theoretical like how many miles they will be from the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility at their nearest approach.

Edward is the second kind of person. His contribution to our Learning Experiences group writing project is Point Nemo. It's even more fascinating than the comments he left on this blog earlier this week about the mathematical properties of sums of sequences of consecutive squares.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Cutting Corners off Colt

"If you can't learn to do something well, learn to enjoy doing it poorly." So says the quote on the demotivational Ineptitude poster from

Well, I guess that's the story of this blog. Anyone who has been following along here for the last few years knows that I have a hell of a lot of fun sailing a Laser poorly (even if some folk become confused occasionally about whether I'm really having fun by the odd ironic post such as Poppasquash Poppycock.)

Anyway, I never give up believing that I might actually find some way to improve my sailing skills. If that blind guy can bowl a perfect game, twelve straight strikes, there's hope for me yet.

On Wednesday the sea breeze kicked in with a vengeance and it was blowing a good 18-20 knots by the time I launched off Colt State Park in Bristol. I did a bit of straight line sailing on each point of sail to warm up and then decided to work on my boat-handling for the rest of the session.

Did a few practice starts. Hard to assess how well you're doing when on your own, but at least the mechanics of accelerating, sheeting-in, hiking out, and going flat out for a couple of minutes seemed to be working smoothly.

Then a few tacks. Tried to work on eliminating all the faults with my tacks I'd found in the last few months... hiking out before the hand-swap, not getting the feet in a tangle, not easing the sheet too much or too early. I still have to think about these things; they're not automatic yet. But it's coming along.

Then some simulated mark roundings. Windward marks and leeward marks. Yikes. These are bad. However did I get round a racecourse sailing like this? My bearing away around a windward mark is slow and shaky. If I have to gybe before a leeward mark there's no predicting what might not go wrong. I'm beginning to understand why I had all those incidents with the Aussies at marks in Terrigal. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the racing rules, it's clear that my ineptitude and unpredictability at mark roundings in heavier air makes me a hazard to shipping.

So I have a choice. "Learn to enjoy doing it poorly." Or put in some more solo practice sessions until my mark roundings are tactical weapons that I can use to gain places, instead of opportunities to drop places at best or wipe out at worst.

Hmmm. Can we do it? If a blind guy can bowl 300, yes we can.

You're Never Too Old

Age creeps up on all of us. I can't run as fast as I could when I was younger. I sometimes wonder if my sailing performance will go downhill as I get older too. Then I read an inspirational story such as the one today about Dale Davis, aged 78, who just bowled a perfect 300. And here's the kicker, Dale is not only an old geezer, he is also blind. The only sight Davis has today is a foggy spot of peripheral vision in his right eye that requires him to turn his head to use and that he uses to find where he needs to line up on the lane.

"After I went blind, I just assumed it wouldn’t happen," he said of the doubts he had. "I always knew I wanted to have a 300, but I never thought it would be possible, especially as I got older and couldn’t see. Bowling rejuvenated me. I’ve got a love for this game I can’t even describe."

Bowling being a part of Davis’ life again has also taught him another important lesson: You’re never too old to set goals for yourself.

"Hopefully I’ll do this again when I’m 90."

What a guy. He's not losing his bearings. My hero of the day.

Cuttlefish on Fridays

Ice cream anyone? Make mine a rum-raisin and cuttlefish in a sugar cone.

The Economic Times of India is reporting that scientists have invented a way of making ice cream from cuttlefish. Mmmmm. Yummy.

Adventures in Boating

Today's contribution to our Learning Experiences group writing project comes from Robert Hruzek who writes the blog Middle Zone Musings. His learning experience, Adventures in Boating, includes the words sludge, sinking, suction, quicksand... and is all about how Robert learned never to forget the gas tank when he goes sailing.

Please keep the stories coming. You have until 17 May to write your contributions. More information on what to do at Learning Experiences. Any kind of story that is related to learning and sailing is welcome.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Poppasquash Poppycock

It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult;
that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.

Rainer Maria Rilke

I'm worried about me.

I'm afraid that I'm changing from that aggressive, kick-ass Laser racer that I used to be .... check that, I mean that aggressive, kick-ass Laser racer that I used to aspire to be... and that I'm turning into a contemplative, philosophical guy that likes to sail around on his own staring ecstatically at his own bow wave.

I went for another solo sail on Tuesday on the west side of Poppasquash Point in Bristol. It was warmer and less windy than my previous sail. No icy waves slapping me in the face. No cold water down my neck. Almost idyllic.

I sailed upwind for a while then headed back down. Tried starboard tack for a while and then gybed on to port. As I bore away to sail by the lee I suddenly hit a magic angle. I could bear away a little and ride the waves down and then head up slightly and break over the next crest. Down up down up. Surf the downhill then up and over the hump. It was hypnotic. I just wanted to keep sailing at that magic angle for ever. Down up down up.

I pondered how this solitary enjoyment of riding through the waves would never happen in a race. I would be thinking furiously about how to keep my air clear and how the racing rules apply to the tactics for passing that boat in front and which side of the course is favored and which side of the fleet I need to be at the mark rounding and how my boat speed is compared to that guy and whether I will have an overlap on that boat at the mark...

I'm concerned that I'm becoming addicted to this solitary sailing and losing my passion for racing, or even for practice with other sailors. Maybe I'm turning into one of those moody single-handed sailing types that Edward loves to abuse on the EVK4SuperBlog? Next thing you know I will be quoting Rilke and Camus and posting peace videos on my blog.

I'm worried about me.

The only real progress lies in learning to be wrong all alone.
Albert Camus

Helping Hands

One thing I like about these group writing projects, such as our current one Learning Experiences, is that I don't have to think of something new to write on my blog every day; the Tillerheads do all the work. (Oh, by the way, if you were wondering who coined the word Tillerheads to define readers of this blog... it was bonnie from frogma.)

The Tillerhead of the Day is Jos M Spijkerman who writes Racing Rules of Sailing- Look to Windward, which is, without a doubt, one of the best blogs on the planet about the racing rules. His post Helping Hands is about a "learning experience" he had in one of his first events working as an international match-racing umpire... how he almost made a huge rookie mistake... and how he learned when not to lend a helping hand.

Thanks Jos who shows that there are all sorts of unexpected ways to interpret the theme of this project. Plenty of time left for you, yes you, to participate. Full instructions at Learning Experiences.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

David Anderson's Small Boat Sailing Adventures

One of the benefits of a group writing project such as our current one on Learning Experiences is that it is an excellent opportunity for writers of less widely known sailing blogs to showcase their work, and to attract new readers in the process. Such is the case for David Anderson's Small Boat Sailing Adventures, a blog which David claims is only read by his best sailing buddy and his Mom. Hmmm, we all feel like that some days David, except in my case I know that even my own Mom doesn't read my blog.

David has submitted several posts that fit into the Learning Experiences category.

In We Can Learn he writes about how his struggles in learning to gybe in heavier air remind him of his four-year-old's frustration in trying to learn to ride a bike. Practice is the key, he suggests. Then in Learning is Gud he puts his suggestion to the test as he practices multiple gybes and capsize recoveries in his Megabyte. This guy is keen!

In Father's Day Sail he learned a few things about sailing with his family, and in Mothra vs. Benicia he has a few tips on hoisting and dousing sails while under way.

All good stuff. And there's plenty more where that came from. Check out David Anderson's Small Boat Sailing Adventures.

Thanks for leading the way David. Plenty of time for others to submit stuff for the group writing project. Full instructions at Learning Experiences.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

No More

Today, May 6, is Bob Seger's birthday.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Learning Experiences

It's time for another group writing project, a bit like the one we ran last May on Worst Sailing Mistakes. This time the subject is Learning Experiences.

Same rules as before. This is how it works...

1. Write a post on your blog about a "learning experience" that is related to sailing. Some of us use that phrase to describe a major screw-up as in, "Oh no! Not another learning experience." But you can interpret it how you want. It might be a story about a funny or an embarrassing mistake you made, or it might be a serious post about something you learned while sailing, or something you learned from a book or a course, or even a tale in praise of a favorite instructor or coach. It can be about racing or cruising or day-sailing.If you have pictures or video we'd love to see them. The idea is for us to create a collection of our learning experiences that will be of interest to fellow sailors.

2. Once you've posted your story, let me know about it by sending an email to including a link to your post. If you don't have a blog just email me the story and I will post it here. Please let me know about your post or send me your story before Saturday 17 May. By the way, please give your story a title that is more descriptive than "Learning Experience". Otherwise I will be forced to choose a unique title to use in the link and you don't want that, believe me.

3. I will post here two links to your story. Every day or so I will write a post listing any new stories. Then at the end of the project I will provide a summary post with links to all of your learning experiences.

4. Then it's your turn: surf, surf, surf. Check out all of the stories and leave comments here letting us know which ones you like best. If you wish you can also link to some or all of the stories on your own blog. It's all about sharing information with fellow sailing bloggers and learning from each other.

Please participate in this project. Do it for fun. Do it to so that new readers will find your blog. Do it as a public service. Just do it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rumstick Reaching

Thurs May 1

I have a confession to make.

I've never really mastered a basic Laser sailing skill that's covered in all the beginner handbooks, and that kids usually pick up almost straight away when learning to sail... I've never really got the hang of using the toe-strap to hike when I'm reaching.

In my defense let me give you my pathetic list of excuses as to how I've managed to sail and race a Laser since Reagan's first term without this essential skill in my armory...

First of all I'm fairly tall and fairly heavy (as Laser sailors go) and all the sailing clubs to which I have belonged have been inland lake clubs with relatively light winds. So usually I have been able to keep the boat flat when reaching by planting my butt on the side deck, or worst case hooking my toes under the grab-rail on the far side of the cockpit. In other words I am too fat.

Secondly, the standard advice for sailing a reach using the toe-strap is to rig an adjustable strap so you can tighten it for reaching from the looser position you need when beating. I've experimented with this but have always found it too fiddly, too much of a hassle to mess about trying to pull one bit of string at the back of the cockpit before a reach and another part of the same bit of string at the back of the cockpit after the reach along with all the other bits of string at the front of the cockpit that have to be pulled or released at the same time. Yes, in other words as well as being too fat I am also too lazy to bother with setting the toe-strap properly when nine times out of ten I don't really need to use it on a reach anyway.

Ah but what about the one time out of ten I do need to hike using the toe-strap on a reach? Whenever the wind is over 20 knots say and/or the reach is tighter than a beam reach, then I really need to hike properly. But I can't. Because either my toe-strap is too loose (see above under too lazy) or even if it is tight I have never sailed that way enough to be effective at it (see above under too fat.)

Oh, I forgot. There's a third reason. Most race committees at Laser regattas in North America seem to set windward-leeward courses. So we hardly ever need to reach anyway. But at the Masters Worlds we sail trapezoid courses with long reaches, and sometimes it is windy enough to hike, and on those races I lost gazillions of places on the reaches... not to mention being overtaken by suicidal Aussies intent on wiping us both out as in How Many Times I Have Fallen.

So I've decided it's time to fix this problem. On Thursday I went for a practice off Bristol Highlands just south of Rumstick Point. It was blowing 18-20 knots. I had an adjustable toe-strap rigged so I used it and practiced reaching using the toe-strap all afternoon.

I learned...

  • it's not all that hard

  • but the art of keeping the boat balanced using body, sheet and tiller is a bit different from the same skill on a beat

  • when reaching into the waves they often break in your face

  • the water is still very cold especially when a wave breaks in your face every five seconds

  • if you have your mouth open when a wave breaks in your face you will swallow some water

  • the water tastes salty when you swallow it

  • cold water down your neck is very invigorating

  • nobody else in Rhode Island is yet out playing in small boats on this part of the bay on a Thursday afternoon

  • it was slightly stupid to be out on my own but I survived

  • confession is good for the soul

  • socks are good for the sole too.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Well Said Sir

I'm a lurker on the Laser Forum but I have to admit that, after a while, a lot of the stuff posted there becomes pretty tedious. Oh no, not another thread whining about how the sails don't last for ever. Oh no, not another newcomer to the class who wants to redesign everything on the boat. These folk just don't get it.

Then occasionally someone posts something that captures with total clarity what Laser sailing is really about. Such was the case today in a post by Debos, which I have reproduced in full below.

The laser is not the fastest boat in the world, it is not the slowest, it is not the prettiest(particularly with its sail up), it is not the best downwind, or upwind, it goes pretty well on a reach, if you can keep it upright. It isn't the cheapest boat out there, and it clearly isn't the most expensive. It is nearly useless for camping, and it has no loo. The unstayed rig trims counter-intuitively to stayed rigs. It is not built to last forever, but is reasonably durable.

It is arguably the most popular race boat in the world, I think for 2 simple reasons:
  • it was introduced at a time that it had no real competition and a huge demand for the concept, giving it a huge marketing head start, and

  • the class has made a serious, long term commitment to keeping the boat as one-design as possible.
These factors combine to produce the 6 figure sail numbers stretching across the sails of new boats.

It would be nice if the manufacturers were able to provide us with prettier sails, that lasted a bit longer, for a more reasonable price, but they have figured out what we are willing to put up with and have set the bar there. The sails we have produce fairly even racing, and unless you are in superb physical shape, and compete at the very top level, the difference between a one race sail and a 30 or 40 race sail can be blown by a few minutes of lazy hiking, or inattention at the helm.

If you want to race the fastest boat in the world, you need to find a different class.

If you want the opportunity to redesign deck layouts, design new sails, alter foil shapes, add hiking systems, etc, you need to find a new class.

If you want the best, purest one-design singlehanded racing possible, available in practically every body of water that humans sail on, choose the Laser.
Well said, sir.