Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lenscrafters Rayban 67th Sail

An anonymous commenter suggested here a few days ago that I ought to seek some sponsorship for my quest for 100 Laser sailing days in 2008. I was a bit skeptical at first about this idea. One thing I like about writing this blog is that I can say exactly what I like. If I had sponsors would I feel inhibited in any way to freely express my opinions?

Having giving the matter some thought I decided to give it a shot. I'm confident that a few measly thousand dollars will not unduly influence my writing. So here is the account of my 67th sail last Tuesday kindly sponsored by Lenscrafters and Rayban.

Let's see. I could tell you about the winds, or the moves I practiced, or how I worked on my boatspeed, or the scenery... No, I think I really must tell you about how wonderfully clear and bright the light was, how distant objects appeared so close and sharp. Perhaps it was the atmospheric conditions; perhaps it was the way that the low angle of the sun lit up the houses miles away at the northern end of the Sakonnet...

Or perhaps it was my superb pair of sunglasses whose makers names I could not possibly mention as it might compromise my journalistic integrity.

Monday, September 29, 2008


The 38 States of the USA

The state boundaries of the United States of America are all wrong. They don't reflect the natural, logical, physical or cultural boundaries, or the way that people spend their lives.

For example, I used to live in northern New Jersey about 35 miles from New York City. The city and its suburbs span parts of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey and form a much stronger natural geographical entity than the arbitrary state boundaries based on ancient land grants and colonial history. I sailed on the Jersey shore, the south and north shores of Long Island (NY), and was a member of a frostbiting fleet in Connecticut. New Jersey was a meaningless abstraction to me.

Now I live in Rhode Island. The state boundaries are so weird round here that the most natural route for me to our state's capital is through another state. I sail mainly on Narragansett Bay (RI), and on Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod both of which are in Massachusetts. The center of this region socially, culturally and sportsteamally is undoubtedly Boston (MA). Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts are a logical unit. But because of some disagreement about religion over 300 years ago there is a nonsensical state line a couple of miles north of my house. (Though it is kind of cool to be able to go for a run and say I ran all the way to the next state.)

So I was pleased to discover at Strange Maps that back in the 1970s, geography professor C. Etzel Pearcy proposed redrawing the borders of the US states, reducing them from 50 to 38. Each new state’s name was chosen to represent a physical of cultural aspect of each new territory. This realignment was supposed to be more organic and more logical than the current 50 state mish-mash.

For this week's Map on Monday, I give you the 38 States of the USA...

So what do you think? Does this map make more sense?

The other good things about this map... only 76 senators, only 38 governors (but 2 from Alaska god help us), and a shorter presidential primary season.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Best of the Best?

This post is probably going to get me into trouble. But, hey, what the hell...

First of all read this opening paragraph of a press release from US Sailing.

Sailing's Best of the Best to Compete in
U.S. Championship of Champions

Portsmouth, R.I. (September 22, 2008) - Twenty of the country's top one-design sailors will be at Sayville Yacht Club (N.Y.) later on this week to compete in the U.S. Championship of Champions for US SAILING's Jack Brown Trophy. The regatta, sponsored by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. and Dry Creek Vineyard, is known as one of the toughest one-design competitions in the United States and this year’s event will be no exception.
Sounds pretty good, eh? A big championship at the end of the summer to determine the top one-design sailor in the nation. The best of the best. Only national champions need apply.

I agree. Great idea.

Now just close your eyes for a minute and think which one-design classes have the top sailors. Which national champions are truly the best? Who are the champions that you would want sailing at this regatta to determine the top dog one-design sailor in the USA?

Well, I assume you would probably want the champions from the Olympic classes, right? Laser, Laser Radial, Finn, Star, 49er and 470 for sure. Probably Tornado and Yngling. Maybe not the sailboarders as it's such a different skill.

Then there are the other "hot" classes that always attract the top one-design sailors. Lightning, Snipe, J/24, Melges 24, Etchells, 505 ... I've probably missed a lot but you get the idea.

Now compare your mental list with this list...

2.4 mR
Force 5
Inland 20
Rhodes 19
Laser 4.7

Now, there are some well-respected classes on this list to be sure. But does anyone really believe that the national champions in these classes are, collectively, the cream of the cream of American sailors?

Some of the classes are junior classes. I can see an argument for letting some kids enter the "Championship of Champions" Regatta but I can see a much better argument for reserving the twenty places available for the national champions, whatever their age, of the most respected "adult" sailboat classes.

The regatta is being sailed in Sunfish, and the competitors list also includes the Junior, Women's and Masters champions in the Sunfish class. Hmmm. If you were going to include some extra Sunfish sailors then surely it would make more sense to give places to the guys who were 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Sunfish North Americans rather than the sailors who were actually 8th, 11th and 16th.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure all the sailors at the Championship of Champions Regatta are damn fine sailors, and certainly much better than me. No, wait. I take that back. There is one person on that list whom I have sailed against and who isn't that much better than me. OK, most of them are probably much better than me. So I'm not knocking the sailors. Really.

But what's going on? Where are all the champions from the "hot" classes? Don't they care about the additional distinction of being the US Sailing Champion of Champions? Previous winners include such names as John Kolius, John Kostecki, Hobie Alter, Ed Adams, Dave Ullman and Paul Foerster. You would think it would be quite an honor to have your name inscribed on the same trophy as those guys.

So where are the champions of the classes I would have expected to be represented? Did they not apply? Or did US Sailing not select them?

Can someone please explain this to me?

Update Sep 27: Congratulations to Doug Kaukeinen for winning the 2008 US Sailing Championship of Champions. Doug qualified for this event by winning this year's 2008 Sunfish North Americans.

The first 4 places in the C of C regatta were taken by the national champions of these classes...

1. Sunfish
2. Thistle
3. Sonar
4. Sunfish International Masters (incidentally also the Laser North American Champion in 1971, 1972 and 1973).

The last 4 places were the national champions of these classes...

Y Flyer

Best Sailing Innovations - Final Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who participated in our September group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever. Here is the full list of suggestions...

Wind by Kevin of News and Verse

Reservoirs by Carol Anne

The Mast by Jim

The Triangular Sail by Captain JP

Reefing by Joe

Roller Furling by Jarrett

Telltales by Captain JP

Winches by Captain JP

The Cabin by Joe

The Rudder by Joe

The Compass by Captain JP

The Planing Hull by Tim

Watch Systems by Joe

The Bowline
by Adam

The Figure 8 Knot by Tillerman

The Wetsuit by Andrew Sadler

by Steve

Marine-Tex® by Tillerman

The Laser Trailer Pivot Bow
by Tillerman

The Internet by Tillerman

Depth Sounders by Captain JP

The Ollie Wallock Race Start Machine by Tillerman

The Flag by Jos

SnapIts! by Christy

Spinach by Edward

What a creative bunch you are!

Update: Sincere apologies to Peconic Puffin for forgetting to include in this wrap-up his very entertaining post about the seminal invention that led to the sport of Windsurfing.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Tillerman announced Wednesday that he is suspending all activity on his blog in order to focus full time on the historic crisis facing the nation's economy. In a brief statement to the press he said that he was calling on all sailing bloggers to follow his lead and to come together to solve this problem. He requested that next Wednesday's beer can race be postponed if the economy had not been fixed by then. Tillerman is returning to Newport and will be holding meetings with fellow bloggers about a bailout package for distressed boaters at the usual bar on Thames Street.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sixty Six

My sixty-sixth sail of the 2008 season was a delightful late afternoon jaunt on the Sakonnet River off Fogland Beach in an 8-10 knot southerly. This spot is currently one of my favorite sailing locations... rural, peaceful, open water stretching south to Rhode Island Sound, easy launch spot... just perfect.

66 is almost two thirds of 100. Two thirds of the way to my target of 100 days of Laser sailing in 2008. Unfortunately September 17th, the date of my 66th sail this year, is a bit more than two thirds of the way through the year.

Worse than that. My rough plan for achieving 100 days of sailing in the year was 20 days in Jan/Feb/Mar, 60 days in the warmer months of April through September, then another 20 days in Oct/Nov/Dec. It hasn't gone exactly to plan. By mid-September I should have been at around 75 days, not 66.

Where did I slip up? I started the year OK. Thanks to travel to the Dominican Republic, Australia and Florida I did sail 18 days (against a target of 20) in the first 3 months of the year. And I did sail precisely the target 10 days a month in each of May, June, July and August. It was April (and probably September) where I fell sadly short of the target.


So what have I learned?

  1. 100 is a hell of a lot of days to sail in one year

  2. I like Laser sailing a lot but it does seem that 10 days in any one month is just about enough to satisfy my addiction

  3. April in Rhode Island is a lot colder than I had imagined it would be

  4. I am a wimp

  5. What's so important about 100 days anyway?

Look on the bright side. Life is good. I get to sail a lot by any standards. Being retired I get to sail on the days of the week when conditions are just right. And that may be the reason why I may not reach 100. To achieve 100 days I will have to sail on days when conditions are not "just right". On days when there is hardly any wind, or way too much wind, or when it's raining.

I sail for pleasure not to to achieve some arbitrary target I set myself.

But still, it would feel good to make it to 100...

Cannabinoid Moment

I had such a strange experience during the final race on the final day at the Buzzards Bay Regatta back in August that I've been putting off writing about it because I couldn't find quite the right words to describe what happened.

It was (for an old unfit Laser sailing geezer like me) a long three days. I had sailed and finished all nine races so far, in spite of breaking my rudder on the first day. The winds each afternoon had been strong enough to push me to my limits of endurance. Gotta get fitter. Gotta get fitter. Now, before the start of the tenth and final race, I was having my usual debate with myself as to whether to quit early.

I was tired. I was aching. The race committee signaled a T3 course -- triangle followed by windward-leeward-windward -- a longer course than we had been sailing all day.
A few other sailors headed back to the beach. I was tempted to follow them. But my stubbornness overcome my indolence and I started the last race.

As soon as my feet hit the toe strap and I hiked out hard to accelerate off the line, it was if something snapped. No, not the hiking strap. No, not a tendon. I mean "something snapped" in a good way. Suddenly I wasn't aching more. My shoulders stopped hurting. My legs stopped hurting. I was confident I could finish the race, and that I could work the boat aggressively all round the course.

I couldn't believe the change in how I felt. What was different? Was it mental attitude or had I subtly changed my hiking position to a less stressful posture? No idea.

Anyway, I raced hard up the first beat and then capsized at the windward mark. No idea why, but I did a dry capsize recovery with the energy and speed of an 18-year-old. Again, so unlike me. Usually on a capsize I fall in the water and take the opportunity to catch my breath as I sloooooowly right the boat, slooooooowly climb back on board, sloooooooowly check the boat and my body parts to make sure nothing has fallen off, sloooooooowly collect my thoughts, sloooooowly regain my bearings, and start racing again. But this time I was up and racing again in a blink of an eye.

But not before that other guy passed me. Damn him. But I was faster than him on the reach. Again that's amazing. I always consider the reach to be, relative to my usual opposition, my slowest point of sail. I caught up to him. I pumped the sheet on a good wave and surfed past him. Ha. He told me afterwards that he was pissed that I had passed him like that. He would have been even more pissed if he had heard what I called him as I overtook him. And I passed another sailor less than half my age. Kids!

I was in the zone. Up the second long beat I felt powerful and in control. The original That Guy was way in front of me, up with the leading pack, but I was gaining on him.

As we neared the top of the beat I could see that the finish boat and finish line pin were already set up to windward of the windward mark. I could hear some of the other (younger) sailors ahead of me hailing to each other, "Do we finish here?" I guess the long, tough weekend had affected their brains. Or maybe they hadn't had the sense to read the SIs and remember what a T3 course was.

So there was some confusion. Some folk crossed the finish line and stopped sailing. Until they realized their mistake.
More fool them. I knew we had two legs more to go, and there was no Shorten Course signal.

That was the other weird thing about the state I was in. Not only could I feel no pain I was mentally sharp. Not always the case at the end of a long day's sailing.

So I set off down the run
. The waves were challenging, but after three days I had the rhythm. I had That Guy in my sights and was gaining on him. I closed the gap significantly on the run, then chased him all the way up the final beat, and ended up less than a boatlength behind him at the finish. Damn.

But it was my best race of the regatta. Not just because of the score, but also because mentally and physically I felt sharper, more competent, more focused, more in control than I ever had been before while racing.

So what was it? This special zone? Why was I in it? And, more to the point, how could I recapture the experience?

Then a few weeks later I was reading a book about a totally unrelated subject: the sources of our food, of all things. In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan has written a fascinating account of how we produce, market ... and agonize over ... what we eat. It touches on so many aspects of where our food comes from and how it reaches our plate: politics, economics, business, ethics, biology, chemistry, history, farming, cooking... and Pollan does it without becoming an extremist or apologist for any particular point of view.

The Omnivore's Dilemma is structured around the preparation of four meals, from four very different food chains: industrial farming, organic and sustainable agriculture, and hunting. It was the section about hunting that gave me one of those "ahah" moments... and an insight into what I had experienced on Buzzards Bay.

Pollan was not a hunter before he researched this book. But as he sat silently in the woods, gun at the ready, waiting for a wild pig to come within his field of view he found himself entering an altered mental state... "sharper senses, narrowed mental focus, forgetting everything extraneous to the task at hand including physical discomfort and the passage of time" ... And I thought, "That's it. That's exactly the feeling I had during Race 10 of BBR!"

Pollan says, and here he has the advantage over me, that this state "in many ways resembles the one induced by smoking marijuana." And he goes on to discuss some recent research in neurosciences into the "cannabinoid network", a set of receptors in the nervous system that are activated by a group of compounds called cannabinoids, which include THC the active ingredient in marijuana.


So was I having a "cannabinoid moment"? And, if so, can anyone suggest an easy way I can recapture this experience next time I go racing?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yet Even More Best Sailing Innovations Ever

Two more entries for our group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever (which is now closed) -- not counting all my own ramblings on the subject last week.

The Wetsuit by Andrew Sadler (with Mum in second place)

Roller Furling by Jarrett (ahead of aluminum cans, the shackle key, fiberglass, and the Magic Eraser).

Thanks to everyone who participated. As usual, your creativity amazes me. Final summary and wrap-up coming soon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

History of Sailboat Race Start Procedures

In the beginning, flags were flown and a cannon was fired by upper-class chaps in blazers and white flannels, and thus The Race was started, and several hours later The Queen asked which yacht was second and was told, "Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second."

And Yacht Racing was without form, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and the spirit of Harold Vanderbilt moved upon the waters.

And Vanderbilt said let there be Rules and there were Rules.

And there were flags and shotguns and ten minute start sequences and more upper-class chaps in blazers and white flannels and thus the races were started; and Vanderbilt saw that it was good.

And MIT said let the Naval Architecture Department bring forth the Tech Dinghy, and the Naval Architecture Department brought forth the Tech Dinghy, and the Tech Dinghy brought forth college sailing, and college sailing brought forth, in the fullness of time, female college sailors in tight spandex and neoprene outfits, and the male college sailors saw that it was good.

And The Race Officer said let there be horns and audible signals and three minute dinghy starts, and let dinghy starts bring forth the moving boats to the start line, and thus the races were started. And The Race Officer saw that it was good.

And the teenage boy said unto the fleet at Goose Poop Beach Sailing Club, "I will start the races for you if you pay me thirty pieces of silver for the summer." And The Fleet Captain said, "It's a deal." And thus the races were started with three minute dinghy starts by the teenage boy on the beach. And The Fleet Captain saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the first week of the sailing season.

And the teenage girl in a bikini on the beach at GPBSC said unto the teenage boy, "Like we may like eat of the fruits of the garden like." And the teenage boy saw that the teenage girl was pleasant to the eyes and he forgot to make the two minute signal. And there was a weeping and a wailing and a gnashing of teeth among the members of the fleet. Therefore The Commodore sent the boy forth from the beach, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
And the evening and the morning were the second week of the sailing season.

And the racing starts were without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep, and some clubs even tried to have some guy who was racing make the start signals. But that was even worse.

And Ollie Wallock said let there be an orange box and let there be horns and let there be magic electronic circuitry to make the starting sounds at precise times. And Ollie brought forth the Ollie Wallock Race Start Machine; and it was so.

And everyone heard that the Ollie trumpets were louder than canister-type horns and did issue an elegant sound; and everyone saw that the Ollie was environmentally responsible; and that the Ollie cost nothing to operate; and that the Ollie was more reliable than a stopwatch; and that the Ollie reduced personnel needs, especially for teenage boy race officers whose attentions were easily distracted by teenage girls. And The Racers saw that The Ollie Box was very good.

And Market Forces saw that The Ollie Box was very good and caused it to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the Sunfish, and over the Lasers, and over every sailboat that raceth upon the face of the ocean.

And imitators did make automatic starting systems in Ollie's image but there is only one Ollie and its name is Ollie.

And Tillerman did see that The Ollie Box was very very good and he did award The Ollie Box first place in the first global competition for Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

And Tillerman saw every thing that had been entered for the first global competition for Best Sailing Innovation Ever, the mast and the triangular sail, Gore-Tex and Marine-Tex, reservoirs, the bowline and the figure 8 knot, the planing hull, Snap-Its and spinach, winches and wenches, even the Internet... and, behold, he still thought The Ollie Box was the Best Ever.

And the evening and the morning of the group writing project for Best Sailing Innovation Ever
were the thirteenth day.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Internet - Runner-up Best Sailing Innovation Ever

Surely the Internet was invented for sailors?

Just think of all the things we do with it...

  • Research what kind of boat to buy
  • Buy a boat
  • Read forums to learn how to maintain a boat
  • Read forums to learn how to sail a boat
  • Join a class association
  • Research a sailing club to join
  • Find out when and where regattas are being run
  • Sign up for regattas
  • Book travel to go to regattas
  • Book places to stay when attending regattas
  • Check out the weather forecast before we go sailing
  • Check tide tables
  • Study on-line charts
  • Read scores of regattas we attended
  • Book vacations at sailing resorts
  • Read sailing news
  • Buy sailing gear, parts, clothes, gizmos, toys...
  • Practice with an online multi-player sailing simulator
  • Learn about the Racing Rules by doing quizzes
  • Read blogs about sailing
  • Write a blog about sailing
  • Email friends to agree when to go sailing
  • View the Olympics
  • Track ocean races in real time
  • Sell a boat

The list is endless. How did we manage without it?

What did I miss? What's your favorite use of the Internet to support your sailing addiction?

Coming soon... Tillerman's #1 Best Sailing Innovation Ever

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Biden and Palin Reveal Top Five Lists

Lots more entries this week in our group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever...

Captain JP has come up with four more ideas in Nearly best sailing inventions ever. The four "nearly best" are
  • Winches
  • Depth sounders
  • Tell Tails
  • Compass
And thanks to a fearless piece of investigative reporting we also have the Top Five Best Sailing Innovations Ever from...

Joe Biden

  • Reefing
  • Watch systems
  • Cabin
  • Rudder
  • The Flag

and Sarah Palin

  • Guns
  • Mums
  • Bombs
  • Knives
  • Our flag

Last but not least we have a submission from a more well known sailor, the one and only Peconic Puffin, who thinks Mr. Darby's Idea is the Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

Only three days left in this project. Full details of how you can participate at Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

Laser Trailer Pivot Bow

Number 3 on my list of All Time Best Sailing Innovations Ever is the Pivot Bow on Laser trailers, specifically on the Kitty Hawk trailer (shown in photo) and the similar Trailex model (which I own).

"What the hell is Tillerman talking about?" I hear you say. "What's the big deal about a pivoting bow support?"

Well dear reader it's like this. The Laser is supported on these trailers at three points. Two under the gunwhales at each side and one at the bow. With the bow pivot feature you can lift the transom of the boat, and swivel the boat over the gunwhale supports on to a launching dolly alongside the trailer. Then you lift the bow on to the dolly.

By yourself. Single-handed. That's the point.

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) will know that I frequently go off sailing on my own on the bays around Rhode Island. Without the pivot bow feature I wouldn't be able to do this without seeking help from another person to lift the boat off the trailer. And as far as I'm concerned it ain't singlehanded sailing if you don't do everything singlehanded.

By the way, in case you hadn't realized, this post is an entry in a group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever. You too can enter. Full details are at Best Sailing Innovation Ever. Browse the entries so far at Spinach? and More Innovations. Then tell us about what you think is the Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

Anyway, tomorrow I will reveal #2 on the list of All Time Best Sailing Innovations Ever. It's huge. No, really it is. It's as big as the planet. It's everywhere. It is fundamental. It's even huger than the pivot bow option on Laser trailers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Figure 8 Knot

I mis-spoke yesterday when I said that today's item on the list of Top Five Best Sailing Innovations Ever would be even bigger than White Marine-Tex Handles Like Putty Hardens Like Steel Sands Like Wood.

When I said "bigger" I actually meant "smaller". But it is more huger in its contribution to the global sum of sailing happiness, and much more massiver in its sheer innovativeness.

Yes, number 4 on the All Time List Of Best Sailing Innovations Ever is... the figure 8 knot.

There she is. Ain't she lovely.

With all due respect to Adam Turinas and his rather creepy obsession with bunnies and The Bowline, there is surely no question that the the figure 8 knot is
la creme de la creme of nautical knottery, the je ne sais quoi of sailing knots, the essential embodiment of marine entanglement par excellence...

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. The figure 8 knot.

It's a stopper knot. It stops a line from sliding through something you don't want it to slide through. For example here are a few uses of the figure 8 knot that will be familiar to fellow Laserites...

  • In the good old days of Lasering, before all this new-fangled rigging was introduced, the only thing that prevented the mast and rig from falling out of the hull when the boat capsized and turtled was a figure 8 knot in the cunningham line. Pretty important knot, wouldn't you say?

  • There is nothing more pathetic than the sight of a Laser sailor whose mainsheet has come unattached from the boom or the ratchet block in the middle of a race. Figure 8 knots prevent this unhappy situation. I always tie two in the end of the sheet that goes through the block because my mainsheet is quite smart and is quite capable of undoing one figure 8 knot if I don't speak to it sternly.

  • I have written at length here previously about all the problems I create for myself at windward mark roundings. One thing I don't have to worry about though is setting the sail controls right for the downwind leg. I just tie... you guessed it... figure 8 knots in my control lines for the outhaul and vang at my desired downwind settings for the day and then I can just release the lines from their cleats and they magically go to the correct positions. How cool is that?

  • I do have some other uses for the figure 8 knot on my Laser but they are secret and I'd have to drown you if I told you about them.

  • One other use for the figure 8 knot... if you happen to be a sailing instructor who needs to fill in 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the day with a bunch of rambunctious junior sailors, set them a competition to see how many figure 8 knots they can tie in a piece of thin line about 3 feet long. Keeps 'em happy until their mummies and daddies come to take them home to bed 'cos they're tired little teddy bears.
So what do you think? Do you have any equally earth-shattering uses of the figure 8 knot to share with the world?

By the way, in case you hadn't realized, this post is an entry in a group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever. You too can enter. Full details are at Best Sailing Innovation Ever. Browse the entries so far at Spinach? and More Innovations. Then tell us about what you think is the Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

Tomorrow I will reveal to the world (or more specifically all three of my regular readers) the startling invention that is #3 on my list of All Time Best Sailing Innovations Ever. It's a truly amazing gizmo. It has fundamentally changed my life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I went to my local branch of Worst Marine a few days ago to buy some White Marine-Tex Handles Like Putty Hardens Like Steel Sands Like Wood. As I took the familiar red, white and blue box to the checkout the Worst Marine store guy said, "That's great stuff!" I guess he was lonely and wanted some conversation. There aren't many customers in our local branch of Worst Marine these days.

But he was right. It is good stuff. In fact I hereby announce that
White Marine-Tex Handles Like Putty Hardens Like Steel Sands Like Wood is #5 on my list of All Time Best Sailing Innovations Ever.

In case you hadn't noticed we are having a group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever. You too can enter. Full details are at Best Sailing Innovation Ever. Browse the entries so far at Spinach? and More Innovations. If you can't decide on what is the Best Sailing Innovation Ever you can even enter more than once. That's what I'm going to do.

I love
White Marine-Tex Handles Like Putty Hardens Like Steel Sands Like Wood. I always carry some in my toolbox. It's perfect for fixing minor dings and gouges in my daggerboard and rudder. I finished up my old box repairing some scratches in the bottom of my daggerboard caused by a huge submerged invisible rock that God had carelessly left a few yards away from my favorite launch ramp.

Did you know that this stuff handles like putty, hardens like steel and sands like wood? Magic stuff.

Tomorrow I will reveal to the waiting world what is #4 on my list of All Time Best Sailing Innovations Ever. You're going to love it. It's even bigger than
White Marine-Tex Handles Like Putty Hardens Like Steel Sands Like Wood.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Don't You Know Who I Am?

I've written here before at length about the fun I've had traveling to various exotic spots around the world with Tillerwoman to have interesting vacations linked to my sailing in Laser Masters Worlds Championships at aforementioned exotic spots. I've also written in Unqualified about how the Laser Class is attempting to tighten up the entry to the Masters Worlds in order to prevent totally incompetent bozos who don't know the pointy end of a Laser from the pointy end of their whatsits from entering these prestigious events. Or maybe just to prevent barely competent marginal Laser sailors with embarrassing blogs from entering?

Today the International Laser Class Association opened up applications for the 2009 Masters Worlds in Canada. OK, Nova Scotia isn't exactly as exotic as Mexico, Spain or Australia but it's still going to be a popular event among North American sailors.

As of 2:30 pm on the first day of applications...

  • There are 45 applications for the 35 places allocated to the USA.

  • There are 45 applications for the 11 places allocated to Australia.

  • There are 24 applications for the 15 places allocated to the United Kingdom.

  • There is 1 application for the 0 places allocated to American Samoa. (Good luck Ari.)

And so on.

Probably someone's going to be disappointed.

Each country's class association has to decide which sailors will be allocated places if too many from that country apply. I wrote at Unqualified about the North American system for ranking applicants, and I've already fired off an email to the North American class office documenting my eligibility on the two options of previous Worlds participation and ranking in major Masters regattas in the region. And I was in the first 35 to apply.

So I should be OK. But you never know what will happen when the wheels of sailing politics start to turn to divi up a scarce resource. But if our esteemed leaders decide I am unqualified to represent the USA then I will just have take up bodysurfing or snowmobile racing instead.

Come to think of it, that might make for a more interesting blog...

Update 10:56pm Sep 15: I have just discovered that one piece of the information above is incorrect. According to a post on the Laser Forum in the last hour by Tracy Usher, President of the North American Laser Class, the 35 allocated places shown on the international class website as allocated to the USA are actually the allocation for both USA and Canada (the host country). There are already 95 applications for those 35 places and it's only the first day. According to Tracy, "The entries are time ordered, so the first 35 between both countries are 'in'". But as the USA and Canada entries are listed separately it's not clear to me whether I am in that first 35 or not. Hmmm.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not Throwing in the Towel

New England Laser Masters 2008. What a regatta!

Light airs on Saturday with only two races completed. Driving rain and waves and almost too much wind on Sunday when we managed four races. Sailing out of Third Beach Newport, home of the US Olympic Trials for Lasers and Radials last fall. I've written about Third Beach before. Suffice to say it provides one of the best wave sailing locations for dinghies on the entire east coast, with only a short sail from the beach to the race area.

My boat speed in both the light stuff and the heavy stuff seemed pretty good compared to the usual suspects that I battle in these regattas. Of course I didn't make the best use of this advantage as a result of numerous mental errors, boat-handling mistakes, and sheer stupidity.

Race 1: Great start, clear lane, going fast. In the groove. All set to round the windward mark in the top ten (in a fleet of over fifty boats). I don't want to spend too long in light air being gassed by a crowd of boats on the starboard tack layline approaching the mark. So I approach on port tack about five boat-lengths below the mark. There's a gap in the line of starboard tackers. I go for it. That Guy T-bones me about six inches in front of my transom. (I almost crossed him). Damn. My fault. I do my 720 losing a ton of boats in the process. Even worse I've lost my concentration. I sail a terrible run. End up about thirtieth.

Race 2: Light air from the opposite direction after waiting all day for the wind to settle in. Can't remember what happened. Probably just as well.

Race 3: (Second day.) Driving rain, big waves, big wind. I do the squirrel thing, head right in clear air, going fast. This time I don't screw up and finish around tenth. Woo hoo. Maybe this will be a good regatta for me.

Race 4: Even more wind. Doing OK though, until I round the windward mark and discover that my mainsheet has tied itself into
a triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knot inside a double fisherman's alpine butterfly rolling hitch and so I am unable to sheet out and bear away. Hmmm. Deja vu all over again. I luff up and undo the bloody knot. Then I capsize. Then I capsize again immediately. A lot of my friends sail past me while I'm having all this fun and they don't even say, "Hi!" Eventually I get the sharp end pointing downwind and set off on one of the scariest downwind legs of my life. There are boats capsized all over the place. There's a guy drifting around with a broken mast. Somehow I finish.

I'm totally exhausted. I'm thinking of calling it a day. I learn later that the race officer is also wondering whether to abandon racing for the day. He asks the regatta chairman (who is racing himself) and our esteemed chairman recommends one more race but with an even longer course. Is this guy nuts? The race officer then decides to run two more races. Hmmm.

Race 5: I start the fifth race anyway. I'm thinking that I will definitely skip the last race. That can be my throwout. Halfway up the first beat my arms start cramping up. Oh geeze. I actually cleat the mainsheet for a while. Just before the windward mark I bang my head hard with the boom. This is getting silly. I'm so tired I'm in danger of causing myself or someone else serious injury. I'm definitely going to skip the last race.

I have a serious talk with myself after the fifth race.

Me#1: There's no point in doing the last race. It's unlikely to have any major impact on your overall score. And who cares about the score anyway?

Me#2: But I'll feel better about myself if I hang in there and finish every race.

Me#1: That's just crazy. You're tired and starting to make stupid mistakes.

Me#2: Yes I'm tired. But that's not why I'm making stupid mistakes. I've been making stupid mistakes all weekend.

Me#1: What are you trying to prove?

I don't know. I just hate to throw in the towel.

Race 6: I start the last race. What was I thinking? It's all a blur now but I was still fast compared to the usual suspects. I finish the last race. At least I achieved something this weekend.

As I derig the boat back at the beach I mull over what I learned at this regatta. Definitely some stuff I can work on. Lost places several times through misjudging the layline to the windward mark or the favored end of the finish line. That's something I can practice on my own. Also noticed that I wasn't pointing as well as the competition when I cranked on too much downhaul. I'm thinking of what else I might have learned when someone says the results have been posted.

I head over to the board. Whaaaaat? I can't believe the results.

In these Laser Masters regattas, there is an overall scoring for the fleet, but most of the awards are for places within age groups. I am in the 55-65 age group which should be known as "old geezers who should be toddling round a golf course and knocking little ball into little holes with a stick instead of beating up their bodies trying to sail a young man's boat like a Laser" but instead is euphemistically known as Grandmasters.

When I check out the overall scores I see I am in the top third of the fleet, about fifteen places better than last year. So that's good.

But then I scan down the positions of the guys in my age group, the Grandmasters. One guy who I thought was way ahead of me is scored with two OCS's and one BFD (in six races) so he's actually behind me. Tough luck on him. Two Grandmasters who were ahead of me last night packed up and went home early. And the real schocker is.... I'm Second Grandmaster.

I can't believe it. I've been doing one or two of these major Masters Regattas a year for the last twenty years and I think I've only placed in the top three once before.

I'm so pleased that I didn't throw in the towel.

The prizes for the top three in each age group are very smart. They are embroidered with the title of the regatta and the award winner's place and age group title.

It is actually a very useful item.

A big soft luxurious... towel.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad Races or No Races?

A frustrating day and a good question...

Today was one of those frustrating days for sailboat racing. For the competitors... and for the race committee I suspect. First of all there was drizzle and no wind. Then a light northerly set in. We launched. We sailed one race.

Then the wind died. And shifted to eastish. And went patchy. And more shifty. We waited around. After an hour and a half or so the RC sent us in to the shore. It was a long slow sail to the shore. Eventually most of us were towed in.

After a short stay on shore, the RC told us to launch again. Another long slow sail out to the course. By now the wind was from the south but still very light.

One start. A general recall. Eventually the second race started around 4pm under a black flag. There was a right shift but we completed the race. Afterwards there was pizza. And beer I heard, but I never found the beer.

Just one of those days. But during the long wait after the first race, one of my friends made a very interesting (at least to me) comment...

It's always tough for a race officer to make the call as to whether to race in marginal conditions such as we had to today. Is it better to give the the competitors a bad race or no race? A bad race would be one in light shifty winds, with big holes in the wind around the course, unpredictable shifts and puffs, a total crap shoot, one of those races where you just know that some of the good sailors are going to be at the back of the fleet, and some bozo like me is going to be in the top five (woo hoo). That's what it would have been like if we had held some more races in that long wait in the middle of the day.

Of course it depends to an extent on the event. If it's the Olympic Trials, absolutely you want good fair races in reliable winds. There's too much at stake to race in "bad" conditions. But if it's just Wednesday night club racing then maybe most sailors would prefer to get some races, even if the winds are fluky, patchy and unpredictable.

Today was somewhere between those two extremes. New England Laser Masters Championships. A big deal for some guys. For most of the fleet probably their only chance to sail this week.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not blaming the race officer. He is the best in the world. Literally. Last month he was PRO at the Olympics. Today he gave us two pretty decent races in the best winds that were available all day.

But my friend's comment made me think. During the long wait in crappy winds after the first race he said, "Tonight I'd rather be pissing and moaning over a beer and pizza about how unfair the second race was, than pissing and moaning about how we never even got a second race in."

What do you think. Is it better to have a "bad" race than not to race at all?

More Innovations

Five more entries for our group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever. And what a diverse and interesting range of topics our contributors have chosen.

Hail to the Flag! by Jos

The Planing Hull by Tim

Blow by Kevin of News and Verse

The Bowline
by Adam

SnapIts! by Christy

I'll write my own post on this topic next week. But it's so hard to decide on the best innovation ever. I have a shortlist of five, so maybe I'll write about the Top Five Best Sailing Innovations Ever.

In any case, there's plenty of time for you to participate too. Full details at Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

Friday, September 12, 2008

What Will You Do This Weekend?

Just saw the following on the Houston Yacht Club website...

What will you do this weekend?

  • Put your sails up just 50 yards from your slip?
  • Spend the evening at anchor in a protected cove with friends and family?
  • Snuggle into your berth after an evening of dining and dancing in the clubhouse?
  • Visit with friends after a day of first-class racing?
  • Watch your children play in the pool and sail dinghies in the harbor?

I don't think so... Not in Houston. Not this weekend.

Good luck to everyone in the Houston area this weekend. Stay safe.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


When I start one of these group writing projects, like the one this month about Best Sailing Innovation Ever, I am always surprised with the ingenuity and creativity of my readers in interpreting the theme of the project. For example, here is Kevin Pierce's contribution, BLOW.

When the oysters blow from rocks
Because of wind, we're shaking.

Sometimes the boat's becalmed
Because the wind was faking.

When the other guy makes good
It's was from wind, mistaking.

When the seabreeze finds its way
It's caused by wind, awaking.

Regatta dinner beans
Have prompted wind, breaking.

And a perfect day of sail
Was of the wind, partaking.

The best innovation yet?
That's of the wind, making.

Thank you Kevin for sharing that with us. More of Kevin's poetry can be found at
News and Verse.

Smuckers Fights Back

Regular readers of this blog, all three of you, will know that I was somewhat rude last year about a certain foul-tasting, unhealthy, inedible "snackfood" known as Uncrustables that was served up in the guise of lunch at a regatta I attended. Given the huge influence that this blog has in sailing circles I assumed that I had put an end once and for all to the role of Uncrustables in our sport.

But no.

Those devilishly clever marketing chappies at Smuckers are fighting back. They will not relinquish the sailing snack market to the likes of Clif Bars and Joe's Deli's Foot Long Subs. Guess who are the title sponsors of this year's J/24 North American Championship?

Yup. Smuckers Uncrustables.


Rest assured dear readers, I will not take this lying down. I did not ask for this struggle but I will answer the call with confidence. I will keep the pressure on these people. I will not relent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I'm not sure that all my readers are taking this month's group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever as seriously as the subject deserves. But for what it's worth here are the first five entries...

The Mast! Invented After the Sail
by Jim

GORE-TEX® - Best Thing Since Salted Beef
by Steve

The Triangular Sail by Captain JP

Reservoirs – providing places to sail no matter where you are by Carol Anne

Spinach, A Sailor's Best Friend by Edward

Along the way my friends considered (and rejected) such candidates for the honor of Best Sailing Innovation Ever as auto-pilots, roller furlers, electric winches, crew, galley slaves, AIS, the sail, the rigging, the rudder, GPS, radio, and lifeboats. (And there was an anonymous commenter who proposed Female Sailors for first place.) So there are a few other ideas if you want to argue the case.

Still plenty of time to participate in the project.
What are you waiting for? Maybe I should offer a prize. A pig with lipstick perhaps?

Full details on how to participate at Best Sailing Innovation Ever.

For anyone in the USA who is living under a brick, or for those in other countries not blessed with 24 hour cable TV coverage of the current US presidential election, the pig in lipstick reference is a nod to the issue that has been the #1 topic in the election today. Not the war. Not terrorism. Not global warming. Not the economic situation. Not taxes. Not health care. Not education. Not even how to make sure that the US wins more medals in Sailing at the next Olympics. No. They've all been talking about lipstick on a pig. God help us. We may well yet get the leaders we deserve.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

GORE-TEX® - Best Thing Since Salted Beef

Second entry in our group writing project this month is via email from Steve who describes himself as "an ex dinghy sailor, who spent a bit of time sailing keelboats and things."

If I have only one piece of advice to offer you it is wear GORE-TEX®.

Unless you are an habitual dinghy sailor, doomed for eternity to squeeze yourself into a wetsuit, you must have had to put on a set of oilskins. (This is what we call wet weather gear where I come from in England).

If you are old enough, you would have to remember the appalling range of wet weather gear available pre-
GORE-TEX®. Who can forget slipping into a sodden mass of wet nylon and bits of mesh, masquerading as a "waterproof", a contravention of the Trades Description Act if I ever met one. Ill fitting and with the absorbent properties of a bath full of sponges, these garments served only to hasten the onset of pneumonia if worn for any length of time and would increase the weight of the wearer to life threatening proportions.

But then there was progress....I remember being overjoyed when my parents stumped up for a set of French Equinox oilies. These were basically just extra thick PVC in shocking yellow, yet the knowledge that when sent to the foredeck, you would return wet only half way up your arms and halfway down your chest made the experience almost tolerable. But sit for a while and OH the sweat! This led to a constant robing/disrobing process, which would often make the entire crew look like it had fleas. But then, after decades of misery, miracle upon miracle, there came

GORE-TEX® has made wet weather sailing pleasurable. GORE-TEX® means coming ashore free of a full body case of nappy rash. GORE-TEX® means you won't smell like the lost property bin of the local gym. GORE-TEX® is Great. GORE-TEX® has to have improved the life of more sailing folk than any other invention since salted beef


Thanks Steve.

So where is the flood of ideas I expected on Best Sailing Invention Ever? What are you waiting for? Do I need to offer prizes? First prize, a mooseburger dinner date with Sarah Palin perhaps? Full details on how to participate at Best Sailing Invention Ever.

Slogan Contest

He's at it again.

I've written before in World's Most Expensive Sail and Dear Sunfish Class about the penchant of a certain pop-star billionaire to use his Sunfish as a romantic location for charming ladies that take his fancy. It was how he first snagged Heather Mills... and we all know how well that turned out. Now Sir Paul McCartney is once again a-wooing on a Sunfish, this time with his latest squeeze Nancy Shevell according to this story in the Mail Online.

Surely this is too good an opportunity for the leaders of the Sunfish class to ignore? Photo after photo, tabloid story after story, proving that the Sunfish is not only a toy of the rich and famous but also, apparently, a powerful aphrodisiac.

So if you were in charge of marketing and public relations for the Sunfish, what slogan would you choose to launch a campaign to promote the boat based on some aspect of this sex/money/pop-star angle?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Mast! Invented After the Sail

The first contribution to our group writing project on Best Sailing Innovation Ever comes via email from Jim Katz, who has such amazing insight into nautical invention pre-history that I assume he must be a professor of anthropology or archaeology at one of the world's major universities...

Uurrgh, who was one of the earliest boatmen, having awoken one morning to find himself inexplicably floating on a slightly hollow log the morning after feasting on some fermented berries, discovered that if he stood up on the log, the breeze pushed him along the surface of the water. The Sail was born! This was the state of sailing affairs for 18 thousand years, until one day an especially bright spark noticed that when the wind freshened, he found himself falling repeatedly off the log. That's when he invented the Mast to have something to hold on to. Further improvements followed at a blinding pace as not ten thousand years later it was noted that you could hang somebody else on the mast instead of yourself; then their skin only seemed to do the job even better, and could Kevlar and Carbon be far behind?

Hmmm. What have I started? Beat that if you can.

Best Sailing Innovation Ever

"Best Sailing Innovation Ever" is the title of this month's group writing project. Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to write a few lines about what innovation, new idea, or invention has been most significant for the sport of sailing or has contributed most to your enjoyment of it. Explain what the innovation is and tell us why you think it is so significant.

You might write about some technical advance such as canting keels or GPS. Or perhaps you think something much more mundane has dramatically contributed to your boating pleasure... such as the class 2 trailer hitch, or Velcro fasteners on sailing gloves. It doesn't have to be a very recent innovation... perhaps you are a fan of Mr Cunningham's contribution to sail control, or of Mr Darby's idea for using a handheld sail mounted on a universal joint to steer a sailing craft.

It doesn't even have to be a technical innovation. If you're into race management maybe you think that the dreaded Black Flag is the best thing that ever happened for the sport. Or if your passion is Racing Rules you might want to write about how Rule 44.1 has revolutionized sailboat racing.

Whatever. Be creative. Be a maverick.

Same rules as usual...

1. Write a post on your blog on the subject of "Best Sailing Innovation Ever".

2. Once you've posted your story, let me know about it by sending an email to tillermeister@gmail.com 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 20 September. Choose a unique title for your story please. We don't want a dozen posts all entitled "Best Sailing Innovation Ever".

3. I will post here two links to your story. Every day or so I will write a post listing any new entries in the project. Then at the end of the project I will provide a summary post with links to all of your articles about innovations, ideas and inventions.

Please participate in this project. Do it for fun. Do it to so that new readers will find your blog. Do it to show off your eruditeness. Do it to educate others. Do it to please me.

Oh for Neptune's sake, just do it.

Surprise me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Getting Serious About the Olympics

There's been a lull in posting here caused by a trip to the UK (without my laptop) and then my laptop going kaput on the day I returned. Perhaps it was lonely?

I'm still catching up on the US news while I've been away... why is this hockey mom who looks like she escaped from a Lenscrafters ad on the TV so much now? ... the Yankees are how many games behind? ... and it can't be football season already surely?

Anyway I haven't read much about what the US is planning to do to improve on its relatively dismal medal performance in Sailing at the 2008 Olympics. I did listen to John McCain's speech last night... but I don't think he mentioned this vital element of national policy. At least I didn't hear anything about sailing before I fell asleep somewhere in between his story about how being a POW is perfect preparation for being a POTUS (amazing nobody thought of this before), and the bit about how his new friend Sarah "works with her hands and nose". What was that all about?

Sorry about falling asleep Big John. Blame the jet-lag. But I'm not going to vote for you if you don't promise that the US will win a medal in every class in the sailing competition at the 2012 Olympics. Forget all that irrelevant stuff about offshore drilling (gets in the way of sailing) and the bridge to nowhere (I hate sailing under bridges anyway). At least the Democrats did show a sailing video at their convention.

Anyway I offer two observations for anyone in the US who is interested in raising the level of US sailing Olympic performance based on a couple of Olympics news snippets I read while in the UK.

  • The British Track and Field team had a target to win five medals in Beijing. They "only" won four. So this week they fired the "director of elite performance", which I think is Britspeak for head coach.

    Has anybody responsible for the US Sailing Team been fired?

  • Apparently the English professional football (Britspeak for soccer) teams hire a lot of promising youngsters of which only a few are kept on for professional careers with the teams. So someone came up with the bright idea of testing the kids that don't make the cut to assess their potential to excel in other sports... cycling, track, volleyball, cheese-rolling, midget-tossing, whatever... with a view to developing the best of the bunch for the Olympic teams. Sounds like a brilliant move to me. Here you have a source of fit, ambitious, highly motivated young men ready for a new challenge. It would surely be a shame if they all went off to be accountants or estate agents (Britspeak for realtor) or yobs (Britspeak for Red Sox fans).

    So what are the plans for finding the next generation of top sailors in the US?