Friday, May 16, 2008


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.


Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

Laser sailing? Fun? WHAAAAT...?!? rofl rofl. There's a good news story - thank you for encouraging people to get back out on (or 'in'? lol) the water. Good on you - and her plucky enthusiasm.

I've often been told by people both on and off the water, at my little sailing club, when they know I'm out on the water having a wow of a time... by the loud "wOOts" echoing across the bay! heh heh.

Mal :)

Joe said...

"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."

ROFL! Tears are streaming out of my eyes. You slay me.

PS She should try a Byte. An excellent boat for lighter people.

Polyphony said...


Well done leaving out the less heroic-sounding obstacles of the day...the 1.5 hours we took to rig up the boat from scratch ("Er, what's this line for?") or the fantastically perilous job of lifting my girl back onto her second tier rack.

To give your loyal readers a taste of the wind that Sunday, it should be documented that you advised me wisely to "save jibing for another day." Lol.

Just got back from my Day 2 (7 to 9 kts and shifty...not whoop-worthy, sadly, but still fun!). Figured out how to right the boat without having to hit the gym just yet, and was capsize-recovering like a Laser camp kid in no time. Practiced the magic hand swap. Got knocked around by the boom a bit. Faked a race with my buddies at the club. And learned from said buddies of even more gadgets to spend money on.

So, thanks for welcoming me into the class, T-man. You've changed my life -- or, at the very least, the rest of my weekends!


P.S. Give Litoralis my congrats!

Anonymous said...

You're welcome polyphony. Pleased to hear you got out again on your Laser this weekend.

So what is the secret you found for doing capsize recoveries that eluded us last week? How do Laser camp kids do it?

Carol Anne said...

Oh my, Tillerman, you influenced another gal to alter the course of her life?

Before we know it, you might have a woman in every port (or at least in every time zone) who has become infected by your blog.

Anonymous said...


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