Friday, December 31, 2010


Woman is a mysterious creature.

I have written before - for example at Tillerwoman and Tillerwoman's Rules - about my wife's aversion to sailing.

To be honest, she is not very fond of the water at all. She can swim but she is not at all that confident in the water. She has a morbid fear of deep water which is totally resistant to my repeated rational logical explanations that you can just as easily drown in 7 feet of water as 70 feet. She will occasionally ride on a boat with me if the conditions are perfect - but not if she is expected to be responsible for any action concerned with actually sailing the boat such as holding a jib sheet or assisting in picking up a mooring. For many years she has consistently refused to race with me under any circumstances.

Like many men faced with the mysteries of woman and her strange likes and dislikes I have often pondered if this is somehow all my fault...

Could it be that she just hates sailing with me but might enjoy it more in other company? Maybe. But she has always resisted my suggestions to take some of those Womyn Only sailing lessons where "nobody shouts"?

Could it be that I put her off sailing for life because I shouted at her to put the centerboard down in the race at the end of our beginners' sailing course in Minorca in 1981? Maybe. But I only shouted once. Well... maybe twice. But I didn't call her any bad words. And it was almost 30 years ago. And we did win that bloody race, didn't we?

I dunno. Truly woman is a mysterious creature.

This month we had a breakthrough. We went back to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the BVI again. Same time as last year. For ten days. Actually it was largely her idea that we visit there again this December after our excellent vacation there last year.

But this year it was different.

My wife sailed in the races with me. Three times. For the two Sunday regattas and the mid-week beer can races. She laughed and smiled a lot and seemed to be having a good time. (See photo above. Does that look like a woman who doesn't like sailing?) And we even won one of those regattas!

She sailed with me on other days just for fun, including sailing on boats where she actually had to do stuff like holding a jib sheet and picking up a mooring. And she didn't once complain.

We took two long trips together in a kayak where we crossed open water to other islands and paddled further from land than she would ever have been comfortable doing before. I even broached the subject of how we could perhaps kayak together around the various ponds and creeks and bays of Rhode Island next summer, and my suggestion was at least left open for further consideration and discussion.

I have no idea why she suddenly became so enthusiastic about participating in water sports with me, after thirty years of my unsuccessful attempts to interest her in boating. I didn't suddenly discover a killer argument in favor of sailing or behave any differently towards her. As far as I know.

I just know that I am a very lucky man.

Woman is a mysterious creature.

Update: My Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Sailing World arrived today. Before I had a chance to look at it myself, Tillerwoman had grabbed it, skimmed through it, and was making intelligent conversation over dinner about Ken Read's article on the Pro-Am Regatta at BEYC and Dave Reed's article about Sailing World's selection of the RS/100 as Boat of the Year.

This is getting seriously weird.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Impossible Voyage

The National Center for Science Education has a thorough and fascinating analysis demolition of the story of the voyage of Noah's ark as expounded by modern creationists at The Impossible Voyage of Noah's Ark. There's some interesting stuff about the real state of shipbuilding techniques at the time of Noah, not to mention the inherent challenges of designing a vessel to cope with all those animals.

Before any of my British friends scoff at the need for such an elaborate effort to prove that the beautiful and inspiring myth of Noah's ark is exactly that, a myth, please reflect that 40 percent of Americans still believe that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years, and that in Kentucky the state is backing the building of a $150 million creationist theme park which, among other things, will teach visitors that men and dinosaurs existed at the same time, and that unicorns were real.

There's a battle for the minds of the next generation going on out there people... and I'm not sure who is winning.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Ten Boating Blogs of 2010

Here is my own personal and idiosyncratic list of the Top Ten Boating Blogs of 2010 based entirely on my own opinion of which blogs I enjoyed reading the most.

1. Best kayaking blog on the planet - Frogma.

2. Best rowing blog on the planet - ROWING FOR PLEASURE.

3. Best boating blog on the planet written by a sailor under 18 - sailfast13.

4. Best blog on the planet about the Racing Rules of Sailing - Unruly.

5. Best hand-grenade journalism blog on the planet - Rule 69.

6. Best blog on the planet about how to sail the Laser - How to Sail the Laser.

7. Best thinking man's Laser sailing blog on the planet - Laser Sailing Notes.

8. Best sailing blog on the planet by sailors from Lake Massapoag - Apparent Wind.

9. Best boating blog on the planet by a Brit - Captain JP's Log.

10. Best in show - O Dock.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Twelve Drummers Drumming

2010 was a strange year for me: so many of my sailing adventures had unforeseen outcomes. What might have been expected to be highs turned out to be disappointments; but then, to compensate, rewarding experiences were found in unpredictable places.

Since moving to Rhode Island in 2007 I had only dabbled in the local Laser frostbiting scene. But then in January and February, in the depths of a cold New England winter, I suddenly uncovered a masochistic streak of enthusiasm for sailing in the chilliest of weathers, and found myself loving it. The wind chill was in the teens on the day that I decided that I Love Winter, and I found I could even laugh about the day I got Brain Freeze. What's wrong with me? Am I Strange?

In the last thirty years I've raced my Laser at every level from local regattas to world championships, but some of the most fun I've had in Laser racing was this summer with the small group that does informal racing on Tuesday evenings in Bristol Harbor. Sometimes I surprised myself and had some good races as in The Rabbit and the Old Dog; sometimes I learned something (or re-learned something I had somehow forgotten) as in Work; and other times I was just reminded again that when all is said and done... Laser Sailing is Fun.

I didn't sail many regattas this summer, but I think the one in which I had the most fun was the classic Buzzards Bay Regatta. I have serious doubts about my fitness for sailing in heavy air these days, but on each of the two windy days at BBR I found my results improving from race to race. I guess it's all about Stamina.

When you write a blog almost every day you never know which posts are going to click with readers. And I was certainly puzzled one day in September when people who were almost complete strangers to me were coming up with broad grins on their faces and congratulating me on that day's blog post. What? I hadn't even written a post that day. I finally discovered that Scuttlebutt had republished a post I had written a week or so before called Irish Coffee, which seemed to have tickled the funny bones of some of my fellow sailors.

And then there were the sailing experiences where disaster struck. The day when a potentially beautiful day for sailing was spoiled because one of the tiniest components on my boat broke: Keyed. The day I was stranded in the middle of the Sakonnet River when my mast broke: Broken. And the day when what is usually one of my favorite regattas, the New England Laser Masters, was ruined for me when my brand new mast Bent. Laser sailing is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.

Sadly, I suspect I will remember 2010 for a sailing experience which should have been a high point but which turned out to be a huge disappointment. Due to a combination of illness and my lack of preparation, the Laser Masters Worlds at Hayling Island ended up being a god-awful misadventure for me. The whole sad story is at Half a World. It was a real wake-up call for me and made me face some tough questions...

At the age of 62 am I committed enough to Laser racing to put in the necessary effort to train properly for major regattas in strong winds and big waves on the open sea? Or do I reconcile myself to being a puddle sailor for the rest of my sailing career? We will see...

So there you have twelve posts that are a sample of the ups and downs of my sailing adventures this year. But there is one more surprise that I haven't written about yet. Earlier this month I went back to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the BVI, where my wife and I had enjoyed a vacation last year. And something happened there which certainly surprised me and which was a culmination of something I have been striving for, on and off, with little success before, for all of my thirty years of sailing.

But that's another story for another day...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa is Innocent

It turns out that my post on Monday about Santa robbing a local yacht club was wrong. Police now say that the bartender made the story up.

Sorry about that Santa. I believed in you all along. Honest.

PS. The cookies and brandy are where the Christmas tree would have been if I weren't allergic to Christmas.

Yule Log lll (Director's Commentary)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Old Man

It might not seem like it for a while, but this post really is about the America's Cup. Please hang in there...

A few weeks ago Tillerwoman and I were visiting one of my sons and for our entertainment he had his TV playing back-to-back episodes of a TV reality show called Pawn Stars. I have no idea why my Tiller Extension thought we would be interested in a reality show about a pawn shop in Las Vegas but I have to admit it was vaguely addictive. The plot, if you can call it that, is that a series of real people each come into the pawn shop with some treasured object and attempt to negotiate a price to sell it to one of the family members who operate the shop.

The attraction of the show, as far as I could work out, is three-fold...
  • what would be the real value of the treasured object?
  • how would the seller and buyer handle the negotiation?
  • the characters of the three principals in the show.

No wait. This really is about the America's Cup. Stay with me...

The three principal characters in the show are the patriarch of the family Richard Harrison, his son Rick Harrison, who opened the shop with his father in 1988, and Rick's son Corey, who has worked there since childhood.

The middle Harrison, Rick, is a tough negotiator but he will have a smile on his face and a glint in his eye as he sticks it to you.

Rick's son Corey, at least on the episodes I saw, is presented as a bit of a doofus. He bought a second-hand boat without a sea trial or a survey. His father and grandfather abused him severely. "We don't buy boats. They are just holes in the water into which you throw money." Etc. Etc. But it turned out that Corey knew a thing or two about boats and he had picked up a vintage Cris Craft at a good price and they did sell it for a profit, even after paying for minor repairs.

Personally, it was the grandfather, Richard, known on the show as The Old Man, whom I found most interesting. He dresses like some kind of mortician in a Johnny Cash song or a New Jersey mafioso. It's hard to tell whether he is gruff, doddering, demented, or just hamming it up for the cameras.

If you were unfortunate enough to have to negotiate with The Old Man the conversation would go something like this...

The Old Man: What do you have there?

You: It's a 1960s Les Paul custom guitar that was owned by Jimi Hendrix's brother-in-law. Look it's signed by him.

How much do you want for it?

Well, I'm told it's worth at least $25,000. But I'm prepared to sell it for 20 grand.

I'll give you $2,000.

What? Didn't you hear me? It's worth over $25,000. Look, can you give me $15,000?

I'll give you $1,000.

Did you see what just happened? You are negotiating in good faith, trying to reach some middle ground between the two opening positions. But The Old Man is moving away from you. As you lower your offer, he lowers his opening low-ball position even more.

How do you deal with someone like that? Do you say, "OK. I'll take a thousand"? Even though he offered you twice that a minute ago? Or do you say, "Thank you very much, I'll sell it somewhere else"?

Of course, you take the second option. You take your guitar and go to another pawn shop, or even better a specialist guitar shop who will understand guitars and how valuable this one is.

This is where we get to the America's Cup stuff. Honest.

My contention is that the current America's Cup debacle is because the mayor of San Francisco has been acting like The Old Man from Pawn Stars in his negotiations with Larry Ellison and BMW/Oracle about hosting the AC34 in San Francisco.

A few months back, San Francisco made an offer to Larry Ellison. In return for his agreement to host AC34 in their beautiful city by the bay, they were prepared to give Mr. Ellison some long term leases on a few run-down old piers. It seemed like everyone was happy and there were the makings of a deal.

But then the highly influential and esteemed San Francisco Bay blogger O Docker wrote a couple of posts, The Thrill Of Victory and Setting The Record Straight in which he gave a brilliant financial analysis of the real value to Mr. Ellison of these leases, especially the potential for developing the famed Pier 50.

Oops. The mayor and supervisors of San Francisco read O Docker's brilliant financial analysis and had second thoughts. So they lowered their offer. I think the call to Mr. Ellison went something like this...

"Ummm. Larry? Ummm. Hi! You know we didn't really mean it when we said you can have those leases on piers 30-32 and 50. How about we hold the Cup on some other piers further north and you can have a lease on the parking lot for Red's Java House?"

OK. What is the difference between this and The Old Man negotiating strategy in Pawn Stars?

None at all.

So what do you think Larry did?

He said he would go and have a chat with some other folk who might know a bit more about hosting the America's Cup than those crazy dudes in San Francisco. Which is why the big guns from Larry's sailing empire have been in Rhode Island the last couple of weeks, talking to the big guns from Rhode Island about holding AC34 in Newport.

I have no idea how this is going to turn out.

Maybe Larry is just using the threat of taking his boat and going to play in Newport as a way of putting the squeeze on San Francisco to offer him something more valuable than the right to put up some condos on the parking lot for Red's Java House. It could well be. Nothing would surprise me.

But I do think the History Channel or ESPN is missing an opportunity. We all know that the actual America's Cup match is going to be another boring procession of two pontoon boats, just like the last one. So why doesn't someone make a TV reality show about the interesting part of the America's Cup - the negotiations, the legal battles, the interplay between fascinating, eccentric old characters?

It's got to be better than Pawn Stars.

Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


I really should stretch more. Do yoga or something like that. I did drop a hint about some yoga DVDs for Xmas, so you never know.

We all get less flexible as we get older. Some days these old bones feel really stiff. And you need some degree of flexibility to sail a silly little boat like a Laser. That boom is so damn low.

Kids are flexible. My 6 month old grandson Owen can even suck his own toes. His brother and sister could suck their toes at that age too. Actually I challenged his sister (now 5 years old) at the weekend to see if she could still suck her toes. And she can. But it wasn't very elegant or ladylike. So I didn't take a photo.

But Owen sucking his toes looks cute. At least, I think so. But then I'm biased.

I can't suck my toes.

I don't think I'll ever be able to suck my toes.

Cross Training

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Autocomplete Quiz

Google any word, and the search engine will suggest a longer word or phrase, based on the popularity of current searches starting with the same word.

Just for fun I entered some names of popular sailing boat classes into The Google to see what the great search engine in the sky would add to those names in its efforts to be helpful. See how many you recognize...

  1. hair removal
  2. er teresa
  3. bolt
  4. tuna recipes
  5. bucks
  6. egans wake
  7. ic
  8. hartley
  9. mouth
  10. whiskey
  11. car rental
  12. in oregon
  13. rise to candleford
  14. storm
  15. cottage studio

Santa Robs the Yacht Club

According to police, a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit and armed with a gun robbed the East Providence Yacht Club in Rhode Island last night.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hi - it's Robbie

Tillerman has left the keyboard quiet this month. He hasn't touched a computer for almost two weeks. He has been away on one of those yotting vacations he likes to take from time to time.

I don't know why he doesn't want to write blog posts when he is off doing his yotting thing. But he doesn't. Last time I caught a glimpse of him he was muttering that it's something to do with trying to prove to Tillerwoman that he is not addicted to the Interwebs. Ha! Fat chance of that! She is a smart cookie and is not so easily fooled.

So he has left me in charge of this Proper Course thingy since the beginning of the month. I am Robbie the Robo-Carp and I have just been figuring out how this Interblog stuff works. Apparently I was supposed to use my automated robotic powers to read Tillerman's mind and post something in his style every day or two.

I hope I did OK. Tillerman will be back soon and if he doesn't like what I did I'm afraid he might disconnect my batteri...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Periodic Table of Stuff

Today's Map on Monday is not exactly a map, or perhaps it is in a way. Click here for larger version.

I don't know what you think but this version of the periodic table makes a lot more sense to me than that one we had in school chemistry, the one with elements like Gadolinium, Terbium and Dysprosium. I mean, who has to deal with Gadolinium, Terbium and Dysprosium in everyday life? Whereas Tears, Vomit and Blood are the stuff of normal existence if you are a parent (or grandparent) of little kids. And I am sure we will all see enough of Snow, Frost and Ice before this winter is over.

The only thing I am bit confused about is where are Wd and Dt?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Face-Painted Fish

For more face-painted fish in a relationship check out Think or Thwim.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Winter Break in Chicago?

Continuing the series of posts in which readers dream of where they would like to escape to this winter...

Some are dreaming of St. Lucia, San Juan or Sydney... but others are more practical. Captain Puffy Pants says that the best that he and Honey Bunny can muster up is a trip to Chicago in January "to bask in the warm glow of a boat show."

Good luck sir. Make sure Honey Bunny brings her snow shovel.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


We human beings live by cycles.

Ever since our remote ancestors crawled out of the seas (and maybe before) our lives have been governed by the astronomical cycles. The annual journey of the earth around the sun and its impact on the seasons. The annual rotation of the moon around the earth and the complex cycle of tides that result. Summer and winter. High tide and low tide. Up and down. Round and round.

Some religious dudes invented the week. I never did quite understand why all the world's major religions decided that one rest day in seven would be a good idea. I prefer two rest days. Actually I prefer seven.

Athletes live by cycles too. Those Olympic sailors training all year have some kind of plan involving cycles of different kinds of training at different times of year, all aimed at peaking for that one big event. The Olympic Trials. The World Championship. Whatever.

All the experts agree (or, to put it another way, I read it somewhere on the Internet) that you should work on different cycles in weight lifting too. Strength. Power. Endurance. Hypertrophy - whatever that is. Is the America's Cup a hypertrophy?

I've been thinking about cycles a lot as I have been designing an exercise program to avoid a recurrence of my dismal, pathetic, disappointing, shameful, wimpish performance at the last Laser Masters Worlds.

Actually, I find that my motivation to go Laser sailing at all goes in cycles.

After I sailed (almost) 100 times in 2008, I hardly sailed my Laser at all in 2009.

And the year that I had my best performance ever at the Masters Worlds, 2007, I had sailed a lot of regattas that summer prior to the Worlds, probably because the previous winter I hadn't done any frostbiting at all.

So is that the key? Take the winter off. Sail a lot in the summer. Go to a major regatta at the end of the summer and do well?

It's certainly a conundrum. How to manage the amount of sailing I do in different seasons in order to maintain my enthusiasm and to peak for the event that means the most to me.

One of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog in 2005 was about Focus. In 2006 I sold my Sunfish and have been concentrating on Laser sailing ever since.

Maybe that was a mistake? The whole focus thing? Maybe I should sail different boats at different times of the year? I have a friend who sails mainly his Sunfish in the summer and does Laser frostbiting in the winter. His improvement in the last few years and his racing results have been exceptional. Perhaps we need to cycle through boats?

And so I continue to search for the cycles that will work best for me.

Any suggestions?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Sandwich Islands

In response to my post about where to escape in the winter, both bonnie and Peconic Puffin suggested Hawaii. It's a place I've never visited. It always seems such a long way from the East coast of the US when other attractive sailing destinations, even warm ones, are so much closer.

Today's Map on Monday is of the Sandwich Islands, which was the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by James Cook on one of his voyages in the 1770s. Cook named the islands after John Montagu (the fourth Earl of Sandwich) for supporting Cook's voyages. The map dating from 1868 was issued for a paper by the Bishop of Honolulu.

So what am I missing? Do I need to add the Sandwich Islands to my list of 1001 Places I Must See Before I Die?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sailing in Sydney

Andrew is dreaming of an escape from the frozen wastes of the Netherlands to the other side of the globe. I'm not sure if he wants to watch or participate but his dream involves 18 foot skiffs on Sydney Harbor. Fine choice.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sailing Ships in San Juan Harbor

I don't think Antolin really wants to escape. He seems quite happy sailing his Laser in Florida. But maybe he is a little nostalgic for the old days in Puerto Rico?

Hmmm. I wonder if San Juan has changed much since then?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Running with a Cold

All the experts agree (or, to put it another way, I read this somewhere on the Internet) that it's OK to go running when you have a cold as long as the cold is above the neck. Symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body ache) require time off, while symptoms above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing) don't pose a risk to runners continuing workouts. So they say.

Regular readers of this blog will know that up to now I have ignored this rule. Basically I have taken the first hint of a cold as an excuse to go into hibernation for two weeks, avoid all kinds of physical activity during that time, and to write self-pitying blog posts about the severity of my Man Cold.

But not this time. I have a whole new attitude to exercise, thanks to my reaction to my pathetic, dismal, wimpish performance at the Laser Masters Worlds this year. Consistency is my watch word. If I say I am going to go running three times a week, then I damn well am going to go running three times a week.

About 10 days ago I felt the first signs of an impending cold. Probably picked it up from one of my darling grandchildren. At any one time it seems that at least one of them has a runny nose, a sneeze or a cough.

So I checked the location of the symptoms in relation to my neck (above - OK) and went for a run.

A couple of days later the symptoms were worse. I definitely had a cold now. Check location of symptoms in relation to neck. Tick. Go for a run.

Over Thanksgiving the symptoms got worser and worser. But still not below neck. Tick. Went for a run on Sunday.

All the experts agree (or, to put it another way, I read this somewhere on the Internet) that even if running won't make your cold any worse, it won't make it any better either. But I feel better than I usually do when I have a cold. Why would that be? Is this some mild girly cold virus and not a fully fledged Man Cold Virus? Or do I feel better psychologically because I am still getting out in the fresh air for a run several times a week instead of sitting inside writing self-pitying blog posts about my Man Cold? Or is the cold waiting its time to show me its true awful Man Cold nature?

What about you? Do you still exercise when you have a cold? Do you think it is beneficial?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Breaking the Rules

Which of the Racing Rules of Sailing are broken the most frequently?

It's a tough question on which to find hard data. It's not necessarily the same as the frequency at which protest committees find violations of the various Rules. Or the frequency in which competitors voluntarily take on-the-water penalties. Or even the rate at which protests are made. I'm asking about actual Rule violations, protested or not, accepted or not.

The clever folk who run the online racing simulator SailX have come up with an answer for their environment. They measured the total number of Rules breaches recognized by their Rules Engine in one year in just a couple of their sailing fields. The grand total was 661,023!

More interestingly the histogram above shows the breakdown by Rule of some of the most common breaches on SailX. For those of you who (like me) can't always remember their Rule 15 from their Rule 16, here is a cheat sheet.

Rule 10 - On Opposite Tacks
Rule 11 - On the Same Tack, Overlapped
Rule 12 - On the Same Tack, Not Overlapped
Rule 13 - While Tacking
Rule 15 - Acquiring Right of Way
Rule 16 - Changing Course
Rule 17 - On the Same Tack; Proper Course
Rule 18 - Mark Room
Rule 21 - Starting Errors; Taking Penalties; Moving Astern

And if you don't have all of the Rules remembered by heart here is a link to the full Racing Rules of Sailing.

It's no surprise to me that the most common breach is of Rule 18 - Mark Room. SailX mark roundings are almost as crowded, confused and chaotic as they are in our local Laser frostbite fleet.

The Rules Engine also has some pretty good logic for calling the next two most frequent breaches, Rule 15 - Acquiring Right of Way and Rule 16 - Changing Course, but I don't think there are that many protests under those Rules in real life. That's not to say that they aren't regularly broken though.

So what do you think? Is this similar to the breakdown you see in real racing? What do you think the three most frequently breached Rules are? If the SailX pattern is different from real life, why would that be?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sailing to St. Lucia

As Britain shivers in its coldest spell for 25 years, Captain JP dreams he could escape by sailing to St. Lucia. Who can blame him?

Bonus points for anyone who can name the schooner in the photo and triple bonus points for anyone who can say where she is now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Thanksgiving is over. Xmas is coming. The stores are playing Xmas music and are full of stuff, more stuff, stuff you never knew existed, stuff you don't need, stuff your friends don't need, stuff you will buy anyway... of course.

The weather is getting colder. There are hardly any boats left on the moorings. They are all tucked up in their shrink-wrap coats for the winter, packed gunwhale to gunwhale on dry land. The hardy souls are frostbiting. Brrrrr!

Is it just me or is anyone else already coming down with a bad case of cabin fever? Do you feel the need to say, "Bah humbug! Forget Xmas shopping. I need to fly to St. Somewhere. I need warm water and a tiller in my hand. And afterwards I need palm trees and sand between my toes and rum drinks with little umbrellas"?

If you could escape to anywhere in the world this December, where would you go, what would you be doing?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mongolian Beef

I have a strange relationship with the Thanksgiving holiday. Unexpected things happen to me at Thanksgiving. So every year I get this odd feeling that something surprising is going to happen.

My first Thanksgiving in America was in 1989. A colleague from work invited my family to spend Thanksgiving with his family. Wonderful! How generous! We would have a chance to experience a real American family Thanksgiving.

Except my colleague phoned me early on Thanksgiving morning to say that his daughter had taken ill with some dreadful highly infectious disease and that, unless I wanted to put my own kids at risk of catching the dreadful highly infectious disease, then we had better not come to his house. Oops. What a surprise!

Do you know how difficult it is to buy a turkey on Thanksgiving morning?

A few years later we decided to spend Thanksgiving at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the BVI. They were promising a Family Fun Week with lots of activities arranged for the kids and a special Thanksgiving Dinner for all. What could be better? Fun in the sun and Dad gets to play with boats all week.

When we arrived at Newark airport to fly to the BVI we discovered that the American Airlines flight attendants had decided that this would be an excellent week to go on strike. After several fruitless hours at the airport we finally realised that there was no way we would be able to fly to the BVI in time for Thanksgiving. What a surprise!

So we went home. The kids were off school. I had booked a week off work. There was no way I wasn't going to have some kind of vacation. Do you know how difficult it is to book a last minute vacation in Thanksgiving week? In the end we went skiing for a few days at Killington. There wasn't much snow, but hey it was better than going back to work.

Five years ago Tillerwoman and I were spending Thanksgiving with my son and his wife in Massachusetts. We had had an excellent family Thanksgiving with my daughter-in-law's extended family on the Thursday, and on the Saturday evening the four of us went out for a Chinese meal at a local restaurant.

She says it was the Mongolian Beef that did it. Shortly after returning home, my daughter-in-law suddenly made a strange expression and said, "Uh oh! I think my waters just broke." A few hours later I became a grandfather for the first time. What a surprise!

Thanksgiving always seems to deliver a surprise. I wonder what it will be this year?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Little Cotton Socks

O Docker, bless his little cotton socks, called it right six weeks ago. In The Thrill of Victory he drew our attention to the terms negotiated by the City of San Francisco with the current holders of the America's Cup for the "privilege" of hosting the next AC in their beautiful city by the bay. The perceptive and persistent Mr. Docker searched through all the legalese in the terms and discovered that the city by the bay was planning to give away 66 and 75 year leases on 25 acres of prime waterfront property for aforementioned "privilege". And the lucky fellow who would be the beneficiary of this windfall would, of course, be a certain Lawrence Joseph Ellison. What a shocker!

Now another clever West Coast dude called Harvey Rose, bless his little cotton socks, has been crunching some numbers and worked out that the "privilege" of hosting AC 34 will cost San Francisco as much as $128 million. Harvey is not as prominent in the blogosphere as Mr. Docker, but Harvey works in the San Francisco Budget Analyst's Office, so I guess he knows a thing or two about budgets and costs and has produced some very fancy spreadsheets to support his case. Nice work Harvey!

What a wonderful, generous bunch the people of San Fransisco are! They want to shell out $128 million of their own hard-earned dough in these difficult economic times to help make the sixth richest man in the world even richer. It sure is in the finest tradition of voodoo trickle-up economics.

Meanwhile, back in Newport, the real home of the America's Cup, the America's Cup RI 2013 Planning Committee didn't lose heart when they were told that there wouldn't be an America's Cup RI 2013. They switched gears and are now working hard on preparing to host an America’s Cup pre-regatta in Newport in September 2012. Apparently Mr. Russell Coutts, bless his little cotton socks, has told the chaps in Rhode Island that there will be pre-regattas and that, "Newport will be given top priority for any such regattas in the USA." I should hope so!

The plans for the pre-regatta include upgrading Fort Adams, home of the famous Laser Fleet 413, into a world-class sailing center which could be used to host future sailing events. As far as I can tell there are no plans to donate Fort Adams State Park or any other parcels of Newport prime waterfront property to Lawrence Joseph Ellison, bless his little cotton socks. I should hope not!

Is it just my perverted perspective, or does it seem like that when you win you really lose, and that when you lose you really win?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Died 22 November 1963 R.I.P.

Fit to Sail?

Do I sail a Laser to keep fit? Or keep fit to sail a Laser? What's the relationship between fitness and sailing for me?

As they say in one of the Facebook options for Relationship Status ... it's complicated. It's both I suppose. And neither entirely. Is the prop driving the wheels or are the wheels driving the prop? It's complicated.

My personal relationship with physical fitness is complicated for sure. At school I hated sports and avoided them as much as I could. It was probably something to do with the way the English educational system worked at the time which meant that, while I might have been one of the smartest kids in my class, I was also by far the youngest (18 months younger than the class average) and therefore one of the smallest and weakest and least physically developed of my so-called peers.

Rugby? Big kids knocking me over in the mud.

Cross-country? Big kids running faster through the mud than me and leaving me behind.

Cricket? Big kids throwing a hard ball at my head.

What was there to like? There was no me in team.

I never really got over my aversion to sports and physical exercise in my college years... apart from my brief flirtation with rowing which was fun if not exactly a huge success.

In my first job after graduation I was lucky in falling in with a group of guys who were into hill-walking in all weathers in the mountains of Wales (where we lived.) I began to appreciate the joys of the great outdoors and even to take a pleasure in overcoming physical challenges.

I tried white-water kayaking too. Disastrous.

I tried rock-climbing. Whoah. Not good for someone scared of heights.

In my next job the folk at work played games like squash and badminton, and I joined in. But it was more for social reasons than anything else. I was never any good at either game really.

In my thirties I started running. Entered some races. Was never any good at that either but for some weird reason I stuck with it. Probably an ideal sport for an anti-social bastard like me.

I had tried sailing on odd occasions but had never done it regularly. That all changed when one day on vacation in Menorca I had my first sail on a Laser. There was something about the responsiveness and acceleration and closeness to the water of the experience of Laser sailing that grabbed me in the first few minutes... and it hasn't let go of me for nigh on thirty years.

I was somewhat surprised at first to discover that you need to be physically fit to sail a Laser properly. But after a while I began to appreciate that Laser sailing gave me a good workout and also gave me a motivation to keep fit.

So do I sail the Laser to keep fit? That's not the prime reason I sail it by any means, but it is a beneficial side-effect of sailing the Laser. That's probably one of the reasons I keep sailing the Laser rather than a boat which wouldn't physically challenge me so much. I like it that it challenges me. I don't always like it when I fail the challenge, but hey that goes with the game.

When I fail to perform on the water at the level I expect of myself because of a lack of stamina or strength or flexibility or agility, it (sometimes) motivates me to work on my fitness to improve my sailing. I'm very much in that phase now. My pathetic performance at the Laser Masters Worlds in September made me angry with myself. I channeled that anger into working on my fitness. In the last couple of months I have had a much stronger motivation to work out than I can remember ever having before. And I have been able to work consistently on various aspects of my fitness. I hope I can maintain this momentum through the dark months of winter and into next summer's sailing season. Then we will see if it pays off in sailing performance.

So do I keep fit to sail? To an extent. That may be a major part of my motivation to work out and get fitter. But of course the more important reason is that we all need to stay fit, especially so as we grow older. As I wrote over four years ago in How to Grow Old...

It's better to have a long, healthy, active old age than to be a grumpy old geezer who can't climb upstairs without running out of breath or breaking a leg...

And study after study has shown that loss of muscle strength, not disease, is the major factor that limits the chances of older people living an independent life until death. And the natural decline in muscle strength that sets in after the age of 50 can easily be reversed through a simple training program.

It's complicated. Is the prop driving the wheels or are the wheels driving the prop? I don't know. It's magic.

I think I'll go to bed now.

Friday, November 19, 2010


OMG Granddad!

What's up Owen?

OMG! Did you see that cart going faster than the wind dead downwind?

Yes Owen. Amazing, isn't it?

Sure is Granddad. How does it do that?

I don't know Owen. I'm hoping one of the many smart readers of my blog will explain it to us.

OMG! I thought you knew everything Granddad?

Not quite everything Owen.

And another thing Granddad. What's the right acronym for this kind of sailing? I see the video in your post calls it DDFTTW. But I see that some people call it DDWFTTW. Which is right?

I don't know Owen.

OMG! Something else you don't know Granddad.

Owen, why do you keep saying "OMG"?

I don't know Granddad. I think I saw people using it on Facebook. What does it mean?

I'll explain it when you're a bit older Owen.

OK Granddad. I think I'll go to bed now.

OK Owen. Sleep tight.


Is it possible to build a craft that will "sail" dead downwind faster than the wind (DDFTTW)?

Watch the video. It certainly looks like that cart is sailing DDFTTW. How can that be possible? Is this an illusion, a fake, a scam? If it's real, how does it work? What's the science behind it?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Rowing Career

My post last week about bumps charts and the video above (which I discovered on Chris Partridge's Rowing for Pleasure blog) reminded me of my rowing career...

In my second year at college, a group of my friends and I (all with zero rowing experience) decided that we would enter an eight in the Cambridge May Bumps. There is a long and honorable tradition of inexperienced amateurs rowing in the Bumps in the lower divisions. I think we were in the 7th Division (out of 8) but we were probably one of the worst crews ever to chance our luck.

By the way, if you have no idea what "bumps" is all about you should first read May Bumps on Wikipedia (which is renowned for its truthiness.) I don't see any point in explaining it all again here.

A few of our number were college athletes (rugby or hockey players as I recall) but at least half of us were totally unfit science geeks who never took any exercise other than walking from the college to the nearest pub most evenings. My room-mate Steven had done a bit of rowing at school so he offered to coach us. One of my friends, Paul, agreed to cox. He wasn't a terribly big chap but he was probably the heaviest cox on the river that year.

We trained hard. At least a couple of sessions a week for three or four weeks. I remember two things from the training. One was that Steven (who followed us on his bike on the towpath) was always shouting, "You're late Two!" (My friend Robin was rowing at #2 on the boat.) But the thing that really sticks in my memory was the day when we were rowing flat out and Paul managed to steer us into a direct collision with a cabin cruiser moored at the side of the river. It was an even more spectacular crash than the one in the video. I have no idea why he did this. It wasn't as if the Cam was especially narrow at that point. But then he was no more incompetent as a cox than the rest of us were as rowers.

Come the first day of the May Bumps we were totally shocked when we "rowed over" meaning we rowed the whole course without catching the boat in front or being bumped by the boat behind. I think that was probably because the six boats who started behind us (maybe even more) were all involved in bumps early in the race and so dropped out. We had never even rowed the whole course at full pace before.

We were immensely proud of our achievement. Rowing over in the Bumps! I took my girlfriend for tea at the Union and felt I had finally arrived as a "Cambridge man."

Unfortunately we were bumped every day on the remaining three days of the Bumps. One of them may have been one of those ignominious overbumps (where the boat who started three places behind you catches you) or perhaps even an even more ignominious double overbump. (Don't ask.)

As luck would have it, our college first crew was Head of the River that year. So we enjoyed the rare pleasure of attending a college Bumps Supper for the winning college. All I can say is that what happens at a Bumps Supper stays at a Bumps Supper. And anyway I was too drunk to remember clearly much of what transpired... except I vaguely remember a lot of singing... and a huge fight... and a fire. Hmmm. I wonder who paid for all the damage.

Anyway. That was my career as a rower. I think that was why I decided to become a sailor.

Killer Shrimp Invade UK

According to the BBC my native country England is under attack from an invasion of killer shrimp. The evil creature, officially known as Dikerogammarus Villosus, is described by the Environment Agency as being 'particularly vicious and destructive'. Apparently the nasty little buggers bite and shred their victims to death but often leave them uneaten.

The alien invader hordes were recently spotted in Grafham Water, a popular sailing lake in eastern England, but this did not deter 248 courageous Laser sailors from showing up last weekend at Grafham for the Laser Inland Championships. For these intrepid souls, racing in a Laser regatta is even worth the risk of being bitten and shredded to death.

So what is to be done? How can Britain fight back against the alien invaders? Where is a latter day Churchill to inspire the country to action with a speech vowing, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender"?

That David Cameron bloke who is now Prime Minister seems a pleasant enough chap but I don't think he has the temperament to lead the nation against the onslaught of Dikerogammarus Villosus.

But, if it's any help Mr. Cameron, I did find this recipe online for Killer Shrimp Soup.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Water Based States

Look at a map of the United States. Between the Mississippi and California almost all of the states are bounded by straight lines and many are nearly perfect rectangles.

It might not have been so if the US government had heeded the suggestions of John Wesley Powell, who in 1890 produced this Map of the Arid Region of the United States, showing Drainage Districts. Powell argued for those districts to become the essential units of government, either as states or as watershed commonwealths.

Makes a lot of sense to me. Water management is still a hugely contentious issue in many of the arid regions out West. Why not organize around watersheds?

Thanks to Strange Maps for this fascinating look at how things might have been. Click here for a larger version of the map.


Continuing my series of posts based on questions in Jay Livingston's thought-provoking Should I Race My Laser again Next Year? ...

After asking us to think about what gave us the most fun in sailing this year and what skills we improved this year, Jay moves on to the subject of physical fitness...

I want to stay in shape. I enjoy all the things I can do when I’m in good health and my body is ready to handle a bit of physical activity. That’s why I choose the Laser; it sails better when I’m in shape. For me being aware of the upcoming physical challenge drives me in the winter when I find it hardest to do conditioning.

Were you physically ready to sail last spring? Would you enjoy being in better shape this coming spring? (The key word here is “better” not perfect. A bump up of 10 or 20% can make a major difference.) Getting the boat upright, hiking and even rigging and launching are easier and safer when you’re in better shape.

Hmmm. That's one of the reasons I sail the Laser too: it's a motivation to stay in shape. But it's clear from my pathetic performance at the first and last days of the Laser Masters Worlds this year, that I haven't been taking physical fitness seriously enough. If I had been fitter I would have sailed better in heavy air. If I had been fitter I would have been able to sail both races on those two days instead of being totally exhausted after the first race on each day.

The Words of Wisdom from the daily winner at the Newport Laser Frostbite Fleet a couple of weekends ago, Brian Fisher, reinforce the need for physical fitness in Laser sailing...

Q: You seem to hop in and out of the Laser and still perform at a high level when you're sailing. In general, after not being in the boat for a long time, how do you go about getting back into the groove? What's your routine for re-acquainting yourself with the boat to the degree that you can compete in Fleet 413?

A: I have been jumping in and out of the frostbiting fleet for the past 10 years or so with varying results. Last year after a dismal performance at the windy Fat Boys regatta I decided that I didn’t want to sail the Laser any more at that level. Without proper physical preparation and at least some practice, I was not getting any better. I paid for a program from Annapolis Sailing Fitness and worked hard all last winter on getting stronger for the Laser. This summer I sailed 5 regattas starting with the ACC’s in Sayville. I also practiced 5 or 6 days including an afternoon with Shope and Ferg. The result of this effort is that I am now able to sail within striking distance of the leaders, and it is a lot more fun.

That's exactly I how I feel about my "dismal performance" at the Worlds. I don't want to sail another Masters Worlds if that's the best I can do. My anger at myself has been a motivation to work harder this winter on raising my fitness up to a level where I can compete in major Laser regattas on the heavy wind days -- or at least not wimp out after only one race. As Brian says, if you have the fitness "it is a lot more fun."

And it's all about having fun, right?


Quote from my 2-year-old grandson Aidan yesterday as I held his hand to help him walk down some steps on the way to his sister's fifth birthday party...

"You can do everything Granddad."

It's good to know there's someone who believes in me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Late Night Bonus Picture Quiz

My last picture quiz was obviously too easy. Mojo had the answer within three hours of the posting.

Let's see who can get this one...

What is it?

When was it?

Where was it?

Who won?

What is the connection with Tillerman?

Picture Quiz

Picture quizzes seem to be all the rage these last few days in the little corner of the boating blogosphere which I frequent. So here is another one for you...

Where did this race take place?

What year?

Who were the crews?

Who won?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Navel Gazing

Continuing the navel-gazing that I started in Reflections with more questions to myself from Jay Livingston's post Should I Race My Laser again Next Year? ....

In Reflections, Jay's questions were all about what was fun about Laser sailing this year. He then moves on to ask, "What core skills did you develop or discover? What improved?"


That's a damn good question.


Let's see...

In January I developed the skill of how to restore the circulation to my finger tips and ease that excruciating pain that says, "You stupid bugger, what are you sailing in this temperature for? You must be nuts." See the ironically titled I Love Winter. Useful, but not exactly a "core skill".

In August I discovered that if you work the boat hard on the beat in 15-20 knots you will go faster and might even win a race. See the cryptically titled Work. Well, that's more useful, but it's not really a discovery. I knew that all along. Just been too lazy lately to actually do it.

And in September I discovered that I am nowhere near fit enough to sail in big wind and waves with the best Laser Master sailors in the world. See the jokingly titled Half a World. Well that sure was a "discovery" but it wasn't exactly an area in which I "improved". Quite the opposite in fact.

So, if I am brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I didn't discover or develop any core skills this year... and damn all improved. Quite depressing really.

If I stopped this post here I know the comments would be full of remarks from well-meaning friends who would tell me that, "It's not all about winning," and "Sailing is meant to be fun." Well, yes, I know I'm not going to be winning races at the Laser Masters Worlds. But there is a certain satisfaction to be gained from sailing a boat with a modicum of competence. And I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be improving one or two specific sailing skills each year. That would be rewarding in itself.

But I didn't improve any skills this year. In fact, I haven't improved any specific skills in most of the 30 years I've been sailing a Laser. Not consciously anyway.

Sad really.

I should. I could. I've owned Eric Twiname's book Sail, Race and Win for many years which is essentially about identifying skills you need to improve and then creating a self-coaching plan to achieve that improvement.

So why haven't I done it? Why didn't I do it this year? What makes me think next year will be any different?

Search me. Laziness and wishful thinking I suppose.

Jay has more excellent questions on this topic such as, "Is there one aspect of your sailing that, if it improved, would help you feel more motivated? Have you or can you put multiple practice sessions into honing your skill? Does the tradeoff between practice time and more skill seem worthwhile even if you don’t currently have the time?"

Oh geeze.

I think I'll go to bed now.