Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's Snowing

Conversation yesterday between myself and my 3-year-old granddaughter.

Emily: Look Grandad, I've drawn you a picture!

Me: That's very nice Emily. Who is it?

Emily: It's you Grandad!

Me: Oh yes. Now you mention it, I can see it's me. What's all this at the top of the picture?

Emily: It's snowing!

Me: What am I wearing?

Emily: Mittens!

Me: It's good to wear mittens in the snow. What else am I wearing?

Emily: A dress!

Me: A dress? Why am I wearing a dress?

Emily: Because it's snowing, of course!

Me: Oh.

Frostbite racing starts on Sunday. I'm not sure how the other fleet members will react if I show up in mittens and a dress. Even if it is snowing.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: Saving Sailing

Nick Hayes is in love with sailing. He is one of those people who believes that sailing takes us as close to God as we think we might ever be.

But he is troubled. The numbers tell him that sailing in America is in decline. And he wants to understand why something as rich and rewarding as sailing should be losing popularity. More than that: he wants to work out how to save sailing.

So he has studied sailing and sailors and sailing clubs. He has interviewed more than 1,200 sailors worldwide. He has drawn some fascinating conclusions as to why sailing is decline and what we need to do about it, and he has written all about it in his new book, Saving Sailing.

Actually, in the process of pondering what is happening in sailing, Nick has developed some theories about how people choose to use their free time generally, and how to support any challenging but rewarding inter-generational life-long pursuit. His conclusions are as applicable to making music or hunting or knitting as they are to sailing.

Saving Sailing is a book which challenges you to examine many of your own assumptions about our sport. Time and time again as I read it, I found myself thinking, "Hmmm. That's a good point. How does that relate to my experience at that club or that sailing program? Do I agree with his argument or not?" My mind is still buzzing as I mull over the ideas in this book. I suspect I may revisit some of the issues in future blog posts.

A couple of examples...

Nick argues that one of the reasons that an activity like sailing, a "life pastime" as he calls it, is deep and rich and socially meaningful is that it requires more skill and more time commitment than some "time filler" such as watching TV or surfing the web. Paradoxically fewer people are embracing a life pastime because other options are easier; but those of us who are drawn to a life pastime, like sailing, do so even though it is hard - or perhaps partly because it is hard. Nick concludes that, "If sailors hope that sailing will survive and grow, they won't try and convince others that it is easy. They will rightly call sailing what it is: difficult, time-consuming, evolving, sometimes risky and always worth it." Quite a controversial stance. One that our new president of US Sailing doesn't seem to have embraced (yet).

As someone who was once involved in teaching junior sailing classes, I have always seen the large number of kids involved in junior sailing programs as a healthy sign for the future of our sport. Nick, however, is skeptical about this view. He sees that the vast majority of kids, even those who go on to college sailing, eventually drop sailing from their lives after they graduate college and find more important things to take sailing's place, things like a career and wife and kids. He also sees that, for many families, sailing is just another one of those activities like baseball and ballet and soccer where the parents drop off their kid for some lessons, Mum and Dad are not involved themselves in their kid's sailing, and indeed they often don't even understand what the kid's sport is all about.

After ranging far and wide (and deep) and analyzing the decline in sailing from all angles, Nick develops a set of recommendations for attacking the problem based on a model of mentoring across generations, preferably within the family. He is a strong believer in parents investing in skills so as to be able to transfer skills, in parents doing things with their children not just for them, in parents making difficult time choices in order to share time with their kids in their chosen life pastime.

His vision is compelling. I have seen at least one sailing club where it is working superbly well. I am not totally convinced that Nick's vision is the only way to save sailing, but his book certainly stimulates the reader to think through all these issues.

I would recommend the book to anyone concerned about the future of sailing.
If you are a parent who would like your kids to sail you should read the book; it could change your whole approach to sailing as a family. If you are in any kind of leadership position in a sailing club or a community sailing organization, then you should buy some copies of this book for all the officers of your group, read it, and then discuss as a group how you are going to use the ideas presented to improve your program. If, like me, you are just some old dude who loves sailing as much as Nick does, then you should read the book to rouse yourself to work out what you can do to make sure that our sport doesn't decline any more.

Nick's analysis of these issues is interspersed in the book with anecdotes about different people's experiences of sailing - some good, some not so good. (I'm assuming that the characters in these tales are fictional but based on reality.) As the book progresses we slowly discover that many of the people in these stories are actually connected with each other, and that Nick is writing about a complex web of relationships across genders, generations and ethnicities, a web in which memories are created and passed on and in which one generation mentors the next.

And now for a surprising coincidence and a hopeful sign...

I read the last one of these sailing anecdotes in Nick's book on Monday. It was the final link in the chain of connections between all the characters, but historically it was the earliest story. It was a tale about the seminal incident that had sent ripples of relationships and memories and teaching across families and across generations. It was a story about a sailing race in a Thistle about fifty years ago. A guy whose name began with E. took his young daughter and her best school friend out sailing. Immediately after reading this chapter of the book I turned to my computer and saw that my friend Edward had just posted Sailing Camp on SF Bay, an account of a sail he had with his daughter and her friend and how they were having fun learning about sailing.

I think Nick Hayes would approve. Edward is doing his bit to save sailing. There is hope. Sailing does have a future.

Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of Saving Sailing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gary Jobson - Please Don't Make Sailing Easy

Gary Jobson is a good guy (he used to be a Laser sailor) but I can't agree with what he just said. He was recently elected president of US Sailing and it was reported that in his acceptance speech he said, "We want to make sailing safe, easy, and fair."

Easy? I don't want sailing to be easy. It wouldn't be any fun if it were easy.

Watching TV is easy.
Mowing the lawn is easy.
Chatting with friends on Facebook is easy.

Sailing is difficult. That's what makes it so engaging. I have spent half a lifetime just trying to learn the skills to race one relatively simple boat as well as I can, and I still feel that I have so much to learn. It's the challenge of trying to learn something that is difficult and then attempting to use my hard-won skills that keeps me involved. I don't want sailing to be easy.

Having written the above I decided that, to be fair, I ought to watch the full video of Gary's speech. It is true that the context of his first remark about "making sailing easy" does leave open the possibility that what he actually meant to say was that he wants to make access to the water easy. And then later in the speech he gives three other examples of things about sailing he would like to make easier: handicaps, racing rules and measurement. So maybe I shouldn't blame Gary for that sound bite of,
"we want to make sailing safe, easy, and fair." Maybe we should blame the PR person who wrote the press release.

Whatever. US Sailing should not be trying to give the impression that they are going to make sailing easy. It ain't easy. And I, for one, don't want it to be easy.

What do you think?

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

If you have a hankering for a bigger boat you could always try this option. Just saw your boat in half and add a new section in the middle. Of course you don't need to go to the extremes of the Royal Caribbean International cruise line who decided to add 73 feet to the middle of Enchantment of the Seas using this method.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Want One

Photos shamelessly stolen from Sailing Anarchy

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Less is More: Wrap-up

Thanks to everyone who participated in this month's group writing project Less is More. We had about 25 responses...

Andrew says Less is...
and Greg and Kris say ahem.
I predictably wrote about the Laser.
Sam added some LASER TWO WORD STUFF.
Susie Pegel gave us her Star and Laser Comparison.

And Carol Anne couldn't quite make up her mind about the Etchells.

Earwigoagin was contrary at first...

The Laser......Not!

The Sunfish...... Not!

before deciding that canoe sailing beats paddling!

Joe likes sea kayak sailing
while Pat likes kayaking and the OPB gambit.
But it was Antolin who took the "Less is More" concept of boating to its logical conclusion in Hanging.

And then we had a group of writers who took the "Less is More" idea and ran off with it in all sorts of unexpected directions...

Emily Fabpants dreamed of warm summer days on the Norfolk Broads.
Crazy Swim Dad says the more you drive the less intelligent you are.
Some_day_soling wrote about the exquisite moments in sailing.
Manfred wrote about the pleasures of a very small regatta.
Captain JP offered us
some random thoughts on the topic.
Janna concludes that it's all about time in the boat.
O Docker describes minimalist boat maintenance.
Jos found a great example in The Racing Rules.
Zen offers sailing Hawaii through Zen eyes.
Edward explains why Popeye eats spinach.
Zen educates us on Wabi-Sabi.
And Yarg likes Molting.

Wow. You guys are the best. You never cease to amaze me with your ingenuity and creativity in taking a simple idea from me and spinning it into such a wide variety of nautical tales. Did I miss anybody?

Thank you.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blogger of the Week

Welcome to the world of sailing blogging to new blogger, and my Blogger of the Week, SailFast13©.

SailFast13© is written by 16-year-old Brent J. Burrows (aka BJ) who is fortunate enough to live in the Bahamas. This past week he has been competing in the Sunfish Worlds in the Bahamas and blogging about it every day... in both text and video formats. In his profile he says, "I will discuss various regattas I have taken part in, as well as my sailing in general, and also how sailing is affecting my life. Videos and photos of my sailing campaign will also be posted." So it sounds like he is going to keep the blog going now the Worlds are over. He should.

I hope you enjoy BJ's accounts of his racing at the Worlds as much as I did. It sounds like it was a windy, fun regatta. I must admit that reading his stories made me a little nostalgic for my former life as a Sunfish sailor, and part of me wished I was out there with him thrashing around in the bottom half of a Sunfish Worlds fleet just like the good old days in Cartagena and Santo Domingo.

But it was an aside in Thursday's post that made me realize how much BJ and I are alike (even if we are separated by 45 years in age). He confessed, "The more I sail Sunfish, the more I can't wait to get into Lasers ."

Yes dude. I know exactly what you mean.

By the way is BJ the first blogger to include that little copyright symbol
© in the name of his blog? Damn. Why didn't I think of that?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Anal-Retentive People Like Numbers

Anal-retentive people (such as me) like numbers.

We like to use numbers to analyze things and measure things in order to make decisions that ordinary folk would just make on "gut-feel". This satisfies our preoccupation with details and organization. It feels good to us.

One example...

How do you decide whether to go to a particular regatta? You probably take into account such factors as the likely weather, how attractive the sailing venue is, who else is going, how much fun it will be... and then just go.

Not me. Not anal-retentive people. We need to work the numbers first.

It all started after that invitation I received to sail in the Asia-Pacific Laser Masters in Thailand next year. I wrote about it in the ironically titled Small World. "Ironic" because as I wrote the post I was actually thinking, "It's not a small world at all. Thailand is a hell of a long way to travel to go Laser sailing. How many hours would I have to spend cramped up in an airplane?"

Ahah. I had asked myself a question with a number as an answer. I could put a number on the "to go or not to go" question. And for that matter I could work out how many hours of traveling vs how many hours of sailing are involved for any regatta I might be considering.

Ahah. A ratio. Even better than a number. Anal-retentive people love ratios.

So I built myself a spreadsheet to calculate the hours sailing divided by hours travelling for all the potential sailing practices, clinics and regattas that I could conceivably attend.

Ahah. A spreadsheet. Even better than a ratio. Anal-retentive people love spreadsheets.

So now I can read off the S/T ratios and decide which sailing trips I really want to do. Here are a few examples. (A higher S/T means more sailing and less travelling and is a "good thing").

As a baseline I calculated the S/T for two sailing activities I have really enjoyed in the past...
  • frostbiting at Cedar Point YC in Connecticut travelling from my former home in New Jersey
  • Saturday afternoon practice at Lake Massapoag in Massachusetts travelling from my current home in Rhode Island
They both came out with S/Ts of approximately 1.000. (Anal-retentive people absolutely love meaningless decimal places.)

So then I looked at a couple of other options for sailing locally...
  • solo practice for a couple of hours somewhere very local
  • one day regatta at one of the relatively nearby locations around southern New England
These both came out with S/Ts of approximately 4.000. Woo hoo. That's very good.

What about driving longer distances to regattas?
  • One-day regatta in Vermont or New Hampshire. S/T=0.667
  • Drive to Florida for Laser Masters Week. S/T=0.640

Wow. That's bad. What a shame. I really wanted to go and sail in some of those other New England locations, and that Florida Masters Week sure sounded like fun. But the numbers do not lie.

How about overseas travel to regattas? (For the sake of simplicity, in this calculation I counted airplane hours and car hours as equally painful and monotonous, and just added them together.)
  • Caribbean Midwinters and pre-regatta clinic in Cabarete. S/T=1.050
  • 2010 Laser Masters Worlds in UK. S/T=1.500
Hmmm. Interesting. Not bad. But not as good as doing local regattas or local practice. Perhaps less is more?

And what about the regatta that started all this anal-retentive obsessive-compulsive decision making by the numbers orgy?
  • 2010 Asia Pacific Laser Masters in Thailand. S/T=0.420

Of course this way of looking at the issue will only make sense to other anal-retentive people. I'm sure this post is going to attract lots of comments from so-called "normal" people who think I'm crazy to analyze things this way, and who will urge me to seize the opportunity to travel all over the world to see exciting places and meet all kinds of new people, and who will tell me how the actual physical travel is all part of the experience and not to be seen as something to be balanced against the sailing, and who will chide me that if I took my analysis to its logical conclusion I would never travel outside of my tiny little state of Rhode Island.

Of course you are right. You are normal. I am not.

My name is Tillerman and I am an anal-retentive.

Song for the Day

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Than Enough Less is More

Another couple of posts came in before the deadline for this month's group writing project Less is More.

Earwigoagin has really entered into the spirit of the theme by writing more 'Less is More' posts than anyone else. (Or perhaps he is trying to prove the counter-argument?) Anyway, his third post harks back to his Boy Scout days: Less is More.... or Less; Anyway, It Beats Paddling! tells the tale of how he (re)invented a very minimalist style of sailing.

And Manfred writes about a 'Less is More' subject that is dear to my own heart: how sometimes a very small regatta can be a more special experience than a huge one.

Update: Oops, missed another one because of an email snafu. The delightfully named Emily Fabpants dreams of warm summer days on the Norfolk Broads.

Full wrap-up on 'Less is More' coming shortly. Thanks to everyone who participated. Once again you guys have exceeded my expectations.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hang on to the Mainsheet

Continuing my series of posts of Tillerman's Top Five Tips For Making Sure I Don't Die on my Laser, my third tip is... if you fall out of the boat for any reason, Hang on to the Mainsheet.

I guess this piece of advice is really just a means to following that instruction given to all beginning dinghy sailors: Stay With the Boat. I used to drum that into my little Opti students right from the first day on the water. If the boat capsizes or you fall out of the boat, stay with the boat. Do not under any circumstances try and swim to the shore. From my coach boat I can see an Optimist in trouble a mile away. I may not see a little head in the water 50 yards away if it's choppy. Also your boat floats so hang on to it.

Where was I? Oh yes, how to stay alive on a Laser. Or rather off a Laser.

In most capsizes it's not too difficult to maintain contact with the boat...

The best of all is the so-called "dry" capsize. The boat goes over to leeward; you step over the windward rail on the daggerboard; you right the boat and step back into the cockpit without ever getting your feet wet. The youngsters do this on about 90% of capsizes; with my slow reactions I do this on about 0.05% of capsizes.

Next best is when the boat goes over and you fall in the water next to the boat. You can swim round to the daggerboard while still in contact with the hull. No problem.

But there will be times when the boat decides to eject you in a way that will initially leave you some distance from the boat.

One method the boat uses to achieve this is when you have just completed a perfect tack to lee-bow "that guy" and as you hike out on the new windward side you realize (too late) that the boat has tricked you into not putting either of your feet under the hiking strap and so you fall backwards headfirst out of the boat and everyone around including "that guy" laughs their socks off.

Another favorite way for your Laser to eject you is the famous "death roll". This is a windward capsize when heading downwind which can happen so fast that you don't even know it's happened until you notice that you are totally underwater and the boat is sailing off without you.

It's occasions like these that you need to hang on to the mainsheet. Your Laser probably won't sail very far away without you in it, but some days it can go even faster without your 200+lbs of weight slowing it down. In particular, a Laser that has done one of those pretty death rolls where the boom stays sticking up in the air can sail surprisingly quickly downwind in a good blow.

So it's important to hang on to something that connects you to the boat. Now, of course you are already holding two things that connect you to the boat: the mainsheet and the tiller extension. For many beginners the instinct is to hang on to the tiller extension. Do not follow this instinct. When your body weight levers the tiller extension against the gunwhale of the boat as you fall in the water, only two things can happen, both of them bad: the tiller extension can bend (if made of aluminum) or it can break (if you have one of those fancy schmancy ones made of carbon fiber.) Either way it's going to be expensive, and either way you probably aren't going to be able to sail very well with it in its altered form. Worst case you are suddenly floating around on your own holding half of an expensive carbon-fiber tiller extension with a nasty jagged end while your boat runs away downwind on its own at a rate of knots.

So hang on to the frigging mainsheet. Say this mantra to yourself ten times every night before you go to bed.

Even if you do hang on to the mainsheet your troubles may not be entirely over. Nine times out of ten the boat will round up, capsize if hasn't done so already, or just generally behave itself while you reel it in and regain contact with the hull. I do recall one day though when I fell out of the boat (don't ask how -- some stupid mistake or other) and as I hung on to the mainsheet the boat carried on sailing downwind at great speed... dragging me along underwater as it did so. That was a fun ride I can tell you. It wasn't so much fun when I surfaced and realised that my involuntary underwater speed swim was so fast it had sucked my expensive prescription sunglasses (which were of course secured by a croakie) right off my head and they were now sinking into the depths of Lake Ontario and I was now as blind as a bat. There are days when I wish I wore contact lenses.

Anyway hang on to the mainsheet. I do pretty much all the time these days... except when I forget to, or when I am too busy using both hands to try and disentangle myself from the mainsheet of some other dude who is trying to strangle me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Yet More Less is More (Or Should That Be Yet Less More Is Less?)

And still they come. Yet more contributions for this month's Less is More jamboree.

First time participant in one of my writing projects, Antolin, has written a real gem. He remembers how his love for the water started... riding on his father's back and Hanging on to a line of buoys. I'm hoping we will see more articles from him in future group writing projects.

Then Andrew pushes the envelope of minimalist blogging saying Less is...

And Captain JP offers us some random thoughts on the topic of Less is more (more or less) and hints at more to come (if he can decipher what he wrote on his iPhone.)

Update: Oops I missed one. Pat has an excellent suggestion for how to enjoy more boating for less money and less hassle - the OPB gambit.

I'm going to extend the deadline until Wednesday midnight as a couple of folk have told me they are still hoping to present an offering at the altar of minimalism in boating. Full details of how to participate at Less is More.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Thanks to Antolin for this contribution to our Less is More group writing project...

I have always loved water. Being in the water swimming, body surfing, jumping waves, relaxing; just the feel of the ocean moving you about in one global watery embrace. We start our lives surrounded by water in the most loving environment we will ever have.

Now as a grown man, I still love the water with passion! Race and cruise her body on all sorts of sailboats. From very complicated ocean going fractional rigged racing machines to the sublime uncomplicated Laser (my beloved mid-life crisis solution). How it all started has to be the apex of the "less is more" equation.

As a young boy, dad always took me to the beach. Long walks on the beach holding hands with dad or running ahead "exploring" on my own always included entering the ocean realm. An avid swimmer, dad would always take me into the water way beyond mother's deep as I could be, the assurance of his presence always made me feel safe. I would climb on his back and he would ferry me about as he powerfully swam towards the buoy lined edge of the swimmers area, beyond it, the rest of the world.

Dad would then leave me "hanging" holding the rope that tied all the buoys together in a sine wave parallel to the beach and swim away for his part of the swim. There, clinging to the buoys' line I would see my dad disappear below the waves. Every now and then our bodies would be lifted by the swell at the same time and I could see him speeding away from the top of a cresting wave, splash all about him. The rest of the time, I would be isolated from every sight of land as the troughs between waves only allowed me to see blue water, blue sky.

At those times all there was in my world was the sea holding me. What a pleasure, me in that embrace. With on shore winds, the waves crashing about, the troughs shielding me from any sights or sounds but water and sky, total isolation, total immersion. My only connection to any outside world experience would be the feeling of the rough buoy line in my hands and that barnacle population clinging to the bottom of the buoy. The passing of time vanished.

Eventually, dad's smiling face would appear back from the deep ocean. We would hang together to the buoy line while he caught his breath and rest. The things we spoke about, the silences we shared just bobbing about hanging to the buoy line. Time to go back he would say. I would again climb on his back and he would swim me in. I now could wave hellos to mom waiting for us on the shore.

Proudly riding the ocean on dad's back I was king of the world. Dad was my first boat and if less is more, then I can say a finer vessel has yet to be found.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Even More Less is More (or Less)

I wasn't sure how my readers would respond to the topic of Less is More for a group writing project. Would anybody else find it interesting enough to bother writing a post on that theme? I needn't have worried. We've had a great response so far, including six more posts today...

Firstly we have another Laser freak like me who has let his enthusiasm for the boat take him to a whole new extreme of minimalist blogging. Sam Chapin offers LASER TWO WORD STUFF.

Then we had Susie Pegel's Star and Laser Comparison which makes a pretty convincing case for the 'Less is More' movement.

Having rubbished the Laser in his first submission, Earwigoagin comes around the course on his second lap and takes a whack at the Sunfish too in Less is More; The Sunfish...... Not!

Jos of Look to Windward attacks the issue in LTW on 'Less is More', with a great example of 'Less is More' from the Racing Rules. But he doesn't want you to read his post. Do not go there. And if you do go there, he begs you not to look up the Rule he has in mind. You have been warned.

Half the time I have no idea what Greg and Kris are talking about. Is ahem something to do with 'Less is More'? It's certainly about less sailing and less blogging. But where is the 'more'? 'Down with this sort of thing,' I say.

Finally, Pat says if less is more..., then his kayak certainly fits the bill. Nice one. What can beat a kayak as the ultimate example of minimalist boating? Isn't anyone going to put in a good word for surfing or stand-up paddling?

The project will remain open until midnight on Monday October 19.
Full instructions on how to participate at Less is More.

Song for the Day: Streets of Philadelphia

So why is the song for the day? What makes it topical?

I think this one's a bit easier than last week's question.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Star and Laser Comparison

Before I wrote my own paean on the Laser for our Less is More writing project I received an email with a submission from Susie Pegel, in which she addressed the same issue by comparing the Laser and the Star. Susie of course has had a distinguished sailing career in both classes, winning the Laser North Americans as a young woman, competing successfully in the Star in her "middle" years, and is now a regular on the Laser Masters circuit (where she still beats most of the men.)

These days I tend to avoid posting a direct comparison between the Laser and another class of boat because of the inevitable impression it creates that I am implying that someone else's choice of boat is inferior to mine. So before you attack this post just remember
  • It's not written by me.

  • Susie knows what she's talking about (even if I often don't).

  • Just because some of us like Lasers doesn't mean that we don't know that they aren't for everybody.

  • Personally I think it's a marvelous thing that are so many different kinds of sailing boats and so many different styles of sailing. That way we can all choose a boat that suits our interests, aptitude, and income.

    Chacun à son goût!

Peter Vessella, John MacCausland and I can speak to the topic of "LESS IS MORE." I am referring to comparing and contrasting the Star to the Laser.

more control lines than you can count5 control lines
crew requiredno crew required
trailer requiredtrailer optional
hand brake on trailerdig your flip-flops into the gravel to stop runaway boat
usually mast breaks when you death roll
(see Vince Brun death roll, 1988 Star NAs)
mast does not break when you death roll
hiking strap and hiking vest required need hiking strap only
halyardsno halyards
more stays than you can countno stays
spreadersno spreaders
jibno jib
whisker poleno whisker pole
$65,000 for a new boat$6,000 for a new boat
spreaders and stays constantly need adjusting for changing conditionsonly need to adjust outhaul, cunningham and vang for changing conditions
more expensive than a 3-ring circusmore fun than a barrel of monkeys

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More Less is More

Four more posts in our Less is More group writing project for your enjoyment...

Some_day-soling aka Skipper of the Starboard Racing Vessel has contributed Less is More in Sailing and Everything I Know About That I Learned from My Boat in which she writes about the "exquisite moments" of sailing and why "less is more is what sailing is all about". Couldn't have said it better myself.

You could see this one coming. Of course when I selected the Less is More topic I was thinking about the Laser.

But then Earwigoagin has to go and disagree with me about the Laser. There's always one at every party, isn't there? He says Less is More; The Laser......Not! Oh well. You can't win 'em all. Sigh!

And finally we have Janna who has written a whole book about love and sailing which I'm going to review one day. She sums it all up on the Less is More theme with a post on her blog titled Love and Sailing: All About Time in the Boat.

There's still plenty of time for you to share your words of wisdom on the Less is More theme with the world. The project is open until next Monday, October 19.

Do it now. You know you want to.

Full instructions at Less is More.

Breaking the Rules

One thing that anal-retentive people like me hate is when other people "break the rules."

It drives me crazy when I'm racing if some other sailor breaks one of the Racing Rules of Sailing and then smiles sweetly and offers some excuse as to why it's "really OK". I wrote about these evildoers at Top 10 Reasons For Not Doing a 720.

There are rules in blogging too. At least there are rules in my group writing projects like Less is More. Not terribly stringent rules. Just common-sense stuff like "write something new", "stick to the topic", and "submit it on time".

People try and break these rules all the time. It drives me nuts. Did I mention that I'm anal-retentive?

O Docker tried to break the rules for Less is More with some cock-and-bull story about how he had read my mind and thought of the topic before I did and so I should accept some random post he had written the day before I started the project even though it had nothing to do with Less is More. I put him in his place, I can tell you. At least he had the decency to submit a proper entry a few days later.

Then today I received this email. The writer (who asked me to review her book a few days ago) was even cheeky enough to admit her crime in the subject line of her email:

This is definitely against the rules

Hi Tillerman,

It's me again, the lady flogging the book. Well, I'm writing because, actually, I was wondering if I could enter your less is more writing project. I have an entry that is perfect for so many reasons:

1) It's a lone sailing story on a blog about relationships (less is more)
2) about how the only race my fanatical racer of a husband has ever won (less is more)
3) was in a non-flying-sails class (less is more)
4) with only one crew member aboard (less is more)
5) and that crew member was lil ole me (less is definitely more as it was my first race ever--except one Snipe race with my dad circa 1979).

Perfect, right? Well, the only problem is I wrote this perfect post back in July, long before less is more was even a glint in your eye. So I'm assuming I'm automatically disqualified since I'm not psychic like O docker--and you made him write a new one anyway.


I'm convinced that's my fate as well, but thought I'd try to play on your sympathies (two young children, very little childcare, we've all had the flu--no, not the flu, the plague!).

All in fun,

P.S. Here's the post:
Can you believe the bare-faced cheek of this person? Who does she think I am? Does she have no respect for rules? Doesn't she know I am anal-retentive?

It's clear she is just using this as another pretext to flog her book. She is seeking to ride the waves of my vast on-line readership to attract readers to her blog and hopefully to sell a few more copies of her book. Her article Love and Sailing: All About Time in the Boat is very charming, to be sure, but I don't see how it fits in with the theme Less is More (in spite of those feeble arguments in her email and her kids having the plague and all that crap) and it's certainly not new... so it's AGAINST THE RULES.

There is no way I'm going to fall for her ploy. I will not link to her article or her blog or her book, even though it does have a rather intriguing, if somewhat long, title The Motion of the Ocean: 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife and a cute YouTube trailer.

You can't fool me Ms Cawrse Esarey. Rules are rules. Did I mention that I'm anal-retentive?

In line with proposed new FTC rules I hereby disclose that Ms Cawrse Esarey has offered to send me a review copy of her book which of course I haven't read yet because it hasn't arrived yet and I may or may not keep it if it does arrive and this post should not be read as an endorsement of Ms Cawrse Esarey's book and even if it were the new FTC rules don't apply to December. Did I mention that I'm anal-retentive?

Where Can I Learn to Sail in a Laser?

I received an email a few days ago with a question about sailing that I couldn't answer.

Dear Mr. Tillerman:

I too am 60-something.
I too would like to die in a Laser.
But I am a prairie boy from Calgary, Alberta who knows nothing about sailing.
I recently bought a Laser.
I need to learn to sail it.

If I could wait till next summer, I'd go to the Laser Sailing School in Weymouth, England and make a holiday out of it. But I can't wait. Nor can I face another winter in the cold frozen north (Canada) without a break.

Do you know of any schools where a guy could attend for a week or so to learn how to rig and sail a Laser? I mean, anywhere in the world, though Florida or California would be the most convenient. But convenience is not as important as learning how to sail; so I'd go anywhere, preferably in February when winter is at its worst up here.
Hmmm. You would think that would be easy.

But then I realized that I don't know of any sailing schools that teach total beginners in Lasers. In fact, most of the schools I know start beginners out on keelboats or on two-man dinghies, with an instructor in each boat with the students.

There's a good reason for that I suspect. When the instructor in is in the same boat as the beginners, it's much easier to show them what to do, and to correct their inevitable mistakes before one of those mistakes causes them to capsize, or broach, or crash into another boat, or head off uncontrollably in the general direction of Bermuda. Shouting from a nearby motor-boat is a poor second to (literally) hands-on instruction.

It's also a lot easier for raw beginners to learn the various elements of sailing a boat separately at first. Where is the wind coming from? What course do you want to steer? How should you balance the boat? How should you trim the sails? How should you steer? In a single-hander on your own you basically have to learn everything at once.

In particular I always found when teaching kids in Optimists and Sunfish that it was almost essential to have them learn the two skills of (a) steering and (b) trimming the sail separately at first. It was just too much for most kids to learn those skills simultaneously in the first lesson. I suspect it's even harder for older brains.

There's also the factor that the total beginner in a lively single-hander like a Laser has none of those self preservation instincts that are natural to more experienced sailors after a few hours in the boat. They don't automatically ease the sheets and/or hike harder when a puff hits... so they capsize to leeward. And if the boat accelerates to a scary (to them) speed on a reach they don't know that heading up or easing the sheet will slow them down. They are just as likely to panic and bear off and end up in a death roll. You can tell them this stuff on the land but until they've had a few capsizes like that they just don't have the quick reactions to avoid trouble.

No big deal, you might say. Let them go out in a 20 knot breeze and capsize a few times. Well, I guess that's one way to teach sailing but it's not a good feeling for a sailing instructor when a gust hits his class of 6 or 8 kids in single-handers and they all scream off out of control in different directions and execute wild capsizes in random places about half a mile from each other, and then start crying for help. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt. Learned the hard way. (The parents of New Jersey sleep easier in their beds now that I am no longer teaching their kids to sail.)

To be sure, there are some schools that teach beginners in single-handers but they usually use a boat a little more stable and forgiving than a Laser. For example, Minorca Sailing (of which I have written here) uses the Laser Pico for instructing beginners.

My correspondent referenced the Laser Sailing School in Weymouth in the UK (which is operated by the manufacturer of Lasers and other boats: LaserPerformance.) Judging by their website they don't use Lasers for beginner classes either. They teach the first two RYA levels in the Stratos (keelboat), Bahia (dinghy for up to 4 adults), and Pico (single-hander). Once you have passed those two levels you can move on to their Introduction to Lasers course.

It's not that the Laser is especially hard to sail. But it probably is a bit too lively for most raw beginners in any wind above 10 knots, say. I'm sure some people do teach themselves sailing from scratch in a Laser, by starting off in lighter winds and then going out in stronger winds as they gain confidence. But I don't know of any sailing schools that use the Laser as a training boat for people like my friend who "knows nothing about sailing." Sorry.

However, the skills of sailing any dinghy are basically the same. So I would encourage the writer of the email to attend any good sailing school in whatever boats they have. And then go out and use what he has learned in his own Laser next summer. That's what I did.

Alternatively he could go to a school (like the one in Weymouth and Minorca Sailing) that has beginner classes followed by an intermediate class in Lasers... and plan on enough time to cover both classes.

Or can any of my readers give my friend a better answer to his question?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where Is The Boat?

I think this picture (shamelessly stolen from Nils Andersson's Facebook page) kind of fits with this week's theme of Less is More. Who needs an actual boat to go sailing?

Caption contest anyone?

A Few More or Less

Here are a few more entries in our group writing project Less is More...

Carol Anne ponders the simplicity of her Etchells as compared to a cabin cruiser... but then starts adding up how many strings there are to pull on an Etchells and asks herself Is less more?

Zen offers LEss is MOre… Sailing Hawaii through Zen eyes in which he asks us to contemplate differences between the islands of Oaho and Kauai.

And O Docker describes how he has perfected the art of minimalist boat maintenance: Less is More Like It.

Great stuff!

Keep them coming. You have all this week to submit your own post on this theme. Full instructions at
Less is More.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Portrait of the Blogger as an Old Man

Talking of "less is more", I always enjoy drawings by kids who seem to know exactly how to capture the essentials of their subject. This is a drawing of me by my granddaughter, Emily. (The little figure is Emily herself; I am carrying her in my arms.)

Apparently, in Emily's eyes, I have quite a small head and really long arms.

Keep It Simple

Sometimes we sailors make our sport way too complicated with all our fancy words for parts of a boat. Thanks to Live Sail Die for this alternative - and much easier - way to name parts of a boat.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Few and Far Between

A few entries from the usual suspects trickled in this week for our Less is More group writing project...

Yarg of Apparent Wind told us about the Molting process of the species nauta novae-angliae. No shoes, no shirt, no problem.

Crazy Swim Dad submitted the more you drive the less intelligent you are which is actually about concentrating on one thing at a time while trying to improve your swimming stroke. I guess the same applies to improving your sailing technique.

Meanwhile, over on EVK4 Superblog, the same crazy swim Dad explains Why Popeye eats spinach which is actually about how he is swimming in order to get fit enough to run to the bow of a 44 foot boat. I don't think he actually submitted it to Less is More but it fits the theme so I'm counting it anyway.

I received another entry via email which will make an excellent companion piece to my own Less is More post when I get round to writing it, so I'm holding that one over until next week.

Oh, and I almost forgot O Docker who claims to have entered Tillerman's Next Writing Project? before I even announced it. I'm still scratching my head to work out what that post has to do with Less is More but if O Docker really can read my mind I had better not piss him off by ignoring him.

And finally Joe Rousse posted a superb video of Sea Kayak Sailing. I hate to agree with Joe but this sure looks like fun and is definitely "minimalist sailing." In fact it's so good I'm going to repost it here.

There's still plenty of time for you to participate in this project. Full instructions at Less is More.

Did I miss anybody?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

the most childish sailing website on the internet

One of the things I have discovered since adding the Recent Comments widget to my sidebar is that some people use the comments sections of old posts on Proper Course to indulge in good old-fashioned Internet flame wars. Without the widget I would miss all the fun...

I wrote about one such war in what a plonker. The battle is still going on but I am even more sure now that it is really one guy plonking with himself.

Today I discovered another flame-fest. Apparently my post from 2006 about Sailing Websites is still generating heat. It's all about some site called and the reaction to the sailmonster dude using my comments to promote his site. Here is a slightly edited version of the "conversation"...

Sailmonster is self generating. Our members make it great or not. We have been hit by SA as copying them which is not the case. That is why we formed. FU-SA Family United Sailing Association:) Our site is for all ages and clean.
12:34 PM

Anonymous said...
I have been to the sailmonster site, it sucks the most of any site I have been to. Not a single thing about sailing. maybe some raft ups and local stuff. but to say you are copying sailing anarchy is a joke.
7:10 PM

Anonymous said...
I agree Sucks
7:53 PM

Jeff said...
Yeah,Sailmonster Sucks, worst of the worst
5:06 PM

Jerry Stanford said... is the sailing my space for adult drunken sailors, and calling them adult is stretching the term. No actual sailing content,unless you consider the youtube videos that someone else made, the ones they made themselves are just pathetic. You have a salesman that runs,and his wife, both of which get sickening real fast.
Sailing Anarchy Rules
11:30 AM

Roznos said...
From Sailmonster:
Thanks for the feedback. If you had half a brain you would realize that is designed for people to publish there own sailing news, stories, experiences and meet other people that do the same. Our focus is to get people on the water. If you think that promoting sailing and running events to raise money for kids and sponsoring races sucks go to and start your own site like seaknots for free Rockstar.
9:04 AM

Peter Lyons said...
Well I happened to go to your site sailmonster and watched it for the past week or so. I wouldn't say it sucks. It is ok if you like the owner, namely you telling people how great you are and patting yourself on the back in your articles. Its a shame no one else seems agree.

Most people that have a good site, a good job,or anything good don't go around trying to pushing it down people's throats. They don't have to, they know what and who they are or what their site does.

You say go to for free, well I am not promoting a website and if I did,I might just use it. I wouldn't be like you and advertise to my whole website audience how much it cost to add features to my website like you do. Big Bucks it will cost me etc. etc. etc..

Come on down to earth. Your website is not a serious sailors site no matter how much you try to sell it to everyone. You have you, your wife, a few of your local buddies and a few other members that keep it going. Just look at how many are online, not many at all compared to other sailing websites.

I would never have posted this here but after reading your reply to the other comments, I just had to let you know what your site really is.

And by the way most of the people from your site have gone over to Seaknots and they think it is just great, it actually has a huge variety of user generated info about cruising. Not like yours,where you and your wife are the main contributors of photos and videos and articles that someone else has done,that you mainly copied from other webpages and posted them on your site and where the polls are "how much wood can a woodchuck chuck".

Come off it, do you think serious sailors want to read that stuff and the other goofiness that goes on at sailmonster.

Peter Lyons
9:07 PM

Anonymous said...
Hi Peter,
Thank you for your input. Sorry if an open discussion offended you. Not sure if you are aware of what we do. Have a great day.
10:02 AM

Peter said...

I was not offended in any way. I was just giving you my feedback on your website.

It is not an open discussion there, in fact there is no discussion there. It is YOU that does all the talking, all the posts,all the patting yourself on the back and most all of everything. You sit in your shoutbox all day long and if no one answers you, you still keep on talking.

You may post events and you may help sponsor things in your area,and try to promote sailing with your site, which is great.

But in reality, if you sit down and look at it truthfully,as a sailing website, it is really the most childish sailing website on the internet today.You have no useful information for sailors,no original content,just rehashed videos,photos,and articles,that is posted all over the internet before you even put it up on your site.

11:34 AM

Anonymous said... is a joke on most of the real sailing websites. ENOUGH SAID
12:32 PM

I am so happy that these people find my site a useful place to insult each other.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Underwater Cabinet Meeting

What do you do if you are the leader of an island nation, most of it less than 5 feet above sea level, when you realize that there is a very real possibility that the whole nation will be underwater if the present pace of climate change keeps raising sea levels? If you are President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives you start preparing for the inevitable by holding a cabinet meeting underwater!

Ministers clad in wetsuits and shouldering oxygen tanks, will meet about 20ft underwater on 17 October. Here is a photo of some of the ministers preparing for the meeting...

I wonder if President Barack Obama or Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be following President Nasheed's lead?

More is Less

There are two kinds of sailing blogger...

Some bloggers post infrequently, but when they do write a post they have something really interesting to say.

Others (like me) feel a compulsion to post something almost every day.

Two of my favorite blogs in the first category are Apparent Wind and Laser Sailing Notes.

Yarg of Apparent Wind averages about four posts per month, but you know that when he does post, it is going to be well worth a read. Recently we have had
  • A Conversation with O'Brien which is about an imaginary conversation that Yarg had with an imaginary friend about an imaginary dream (I think), or perhaps it's really about two different philosophies of one-design sailing,

  • Is Discretion Really the Better Part of Valor? which recounts a high school regatta sailed in atrocious conditions in illustration of a quotation from Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I, and

  • Practice Failure in which Yarg describes a coaching drill that didn't work out which leads him to muse on the parallel between sailing practice and "holistic thinking embodied in the English Romantics, the American Transcendentalists, and Eastern Philosophy."

Jay Livingston who writes Laser Sailing Notes also averages only one or two posts a week, but they are always worth reading. Recent posts have included
  • Dreams, Goals and Practice in which Jay uses an anecdote about walking around in circles to introduce an insightful discussion about sailing goals,

  • Meditation Can Improve Your Sailing which debunks some popular clichés about meditation and provides numerous practical examples of how meditation can indeed improve your sailing, and

  • For Men Only, a sensitive and perceptive discussion of how men behave when they are injured or sick, and how we need to look out for each other.

As you can see Yarg and Jay are very much the thinking man's sailing bloggers.

I, on the other hand, average about one post a day. There is no way that I could produce posts every day of the quality to be found on Yarg's and Jay's blogs. It is no coincidence that so many of my posts have the label Utter Nonsense. It sometimes feels as if my writing mantra is "More is Less."

Perhaps I should be more like Jay and Yarg?

On the other hand a recent study has shown How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect.

So take your pick. If you prefer quality over quantity, read Jay and Yarg. If you really think that nonsense sharpens the intellect, read Proper Course. Or if you like pictures of half-naked women holding big fishes, then read Joe Rousse (rhymes with mousse.)

Just remember. More is Less.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Times Are Tough

Wear a Wetsuit or Drysuit if the Water is Cold

The second of Tillerman's Top Five Tips For Making Sure I Don't Die On My Laser is wear a wetsuit or drysuit if the water is cold.

Yeah right. Like tip #1: Wear a Life Jacket this is not exactly controversial advice. Laser sailing is a wet sport. You will get wet from spray if it's windy. You will probably fall in the water sooner or later.

Cold water is not just annoying.
Cold water will kill you.
Faster than you might think.

Forget hypothermia (for now). Sudden entry into cold water can cause cardiac arrest, even for people in good health. And the initial shock of the cold water can also cause an involuntary gasp reflex that can cause victims to inhale water and drown. That's why it's so important to Wear a Life Jacket... because it's probably a good thing if your head isn't underwater when you experience that "
involuntary gasp reflex". If you don't believe me, ask the Coast Guard.

So let's assume you don't die immediately of a heart attack or of drowning when you fall off your Laser into the icy waters. Your next potential problem is hypothermia. An adult dressed in average clothing may remain conscious for an hour in water at 40 degrees F and perhaps 2-3 hours at 50 degrees F. But actually things are more serious than these numbers suggest because any movement in the water accelerates heat loss, and survival time can be reduced to minutes. And the numbing effect of the cold water will prevent you from swimming. If you don't think cold water is all that dangerous, just read some of the tragic stories at the bottom of this page about off-season boating. Nine elite marines trained as water survival instructors unable to swim 100 yards to safety! Another guy drowned 25 yards from shore!

So wear a wetsuit or a drysuit if the water is cold. How cold? Some people go by the "100 degree rule" and think you should wear thermal protection if the air temperature plus water temperature is less than 100 degrees F.

The Laser frostbite fleet that I used to sail with in Connecticut had a rule that sailors had to wear a wetsuit or a drysuit at all times. Their season was from mid-October to mid-May (with a break in the middle of winter). Not a bad guideline for southern New England. Remember those warm spring days in early May can be very deceptive; the air may feel warm but the water is still very cold.

Personally, I'm a total wimp about feeling cold on the water. Irrespective of any personal survival issues, I hate to be shivering when I'm sailing. So I put on a wetsuit in marginal conditions, and quickly switch to a drysuit when it becomes at all wintry. Keeping head and hands and feet warm is important for my comfort too. I've reviewed sailing gloves and socks here before, and I have another pair of cold weather gloves to review as soon as the weather is chilly enough.

I know some Laser sailors are not too fond of drysuits. Something about interfering with their "oneness" with the boat. So they tough it out in a wetsuit all winter. I'm not really into "oneness". I'm generally in the "twoness with the boat" zone. Probably partly explains why I sail so slow.

I could go on a lot more about wetsuits and drysuits. Shortie or longie? Bootee or not bootee? Hiking pads inside or outside? Is bare skin faster than neoprene? (Seriously.) But this post is too long already. Less is more.

How about you? What do you wear for cold weather sailing?

Pause for laughter while my blogging friends in New Mexico and Florida work out the most sarcastic way to answer that question...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Less is More

Your challenge for this month's group writing project is to write a blog post about sailing on the theme of "Less is more". Minimalist sailing, if you will. (Or if you're not a sailor then write one on that theme related to whatever form of boating is your particular perversion.)

We had some fun last week on the "Less is more" idea as applied to blogging: blank lines, blank comments, blank pages, blank posts... Things got a bit out of hand. I almost expected Graham Chapman's Colonel character to show up and tell us things were getting "far too silly."

So let's be serious for a moment. Minimalism is a concept that has been applied in many fields... music, art, literature, design, architecture... essentially meaning that the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. "Less is more" was indeed the motto of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. (Not often you see that name on a sailing blog!)

What are the fundamentals of sailing that we enjoy? Such simple things.. wind, water... and some machine that propels us using those elements. Why make it more complicated and fussy than it needs to be? Let's get back to basics. Less is more.

It struck me that the idea "Less is more" could be applied to so many aspects of boating... boat design, weather forecasting, racing rules, tactics, strategy, cruising, fitness, regatta travel, rigging, clothing...

Of course if you think this "Less is more" idea is total bollocks, as we Brits say, then write a rant about the opposite of "Less is more". Tell us why you absolutely need to own eight different boats. Tell us why you couldn't possibly go sailing without several hundred thousand bucks worth of electronic gizmos on the boat. Tell us why the latest incarnation of the America's Cup is the best thing that happened to sailing. Seriously. Go for it.

So here is how to participate...

1. Write a post on the theme "Less is more" (or the opposite) on your blog. Please publish it before Monday October 19.

2. Let me know about your post by sending an email to including a link to your post. If you don't have a blog of your own just email me your article and I will post it here.

3. I will post here two links to your post. 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 publish the complete list of "Less is more" articles.

Look forward to hearing from you...