Monday, January 11, 2010

I Love Winter

I love winter.

Yesterday in Miami the Etchells sailors were whining because it was 39 degrees F and twenty racers went home early. Oh the horror! 39 degrees!

In Fort Lauderdale the wind chill was in the 20's and they canceled the last day of the USSTAG Qualifier, whatever that is, but it appears to be something to do with girls on keelboats.

In Rhode Island the temperature never got out of the 20's, the wind chill was in the teens... so we went Laser sailing. About twenty of us turned up for frostbite racing at Newport and we had a terrific day.

Some of the guys had a little boat work to do before we launched. Chipping frozen snow off the hull for anyone who had left their boat upside down without a cover. Spraying de-icer into the mast step and chipping ice out of there for others. I had my snow shovel in the car... just in case I needed to dig the boat out... but my boat was fine apart from a slab of ice in the cockpit.

We launched a little later than usual... some problem with the RC boat it seemed... but then the RC did a superb job, cracking off seven short windward-leeward races one after the other with the minimum of hanging around between races. It's not the racing that makes you cold in these conditions; it's the waiting around.

I think that when you write about racing you're supposed to describe the sailing conditions but I'm hopeless at estimating wind speeds. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it started around 12-14 knots and dropped to about 8-10 knots by the time we finished, and the direction was NW-ish. What do you care anyway?

After the first race it felt like the tips of my fingers had died. No, they couldn't be dead or they wouldn't be feeling that excruciating pain. I looked around the fleet and saw that several of the other guys were furiously shaking their hands or slapping their shoulders or otherwise performing contortions apparently aimed at restoring blood flow to their extremities. So I started waving my hands around too and after a couple of minutes the pain had changed from "They should use this torture at Guantanamo" to "I may be able to just about stand to do one more race if it doesn't get any worse."

After the second race I felt fine. My brain or heart must have realised that it really did need to send some blood to my fingertips and the pain went away. In fact I felt positively toasty all over. Thank you all you scientists who invented Goretex drysuits with latex booties, and wicking underwear, and hats made out of Windstopper fleece with DWR finish and contoured ear band wraps with Elastane trim. (No, I don't understand half of that marketing babble about the hat either but it sounded good when I bought it.)

My race results were nothing to write home about so I won't write home about them.

I generally tried to stay to the right of the fleet because I have a morbid fear of reaching the port tack layline and then approaching a crowded starboard tack layline with no gaps and nowhere to go. Must be something to do with that traumatic experience I had in my youth. To make things easier for me, 90% of the fleet seemed to favor the left side of the course.

90% of a 20 boat fleet? You do the math.

I expect I will get an email in a day or two with "Words of Wisdom" from Sunday's winner which will explain why the left side of the course was obviously favored because of a tidal differential or a coastal wind veer or some other similar gobbledygook which I never understand. Be that as it may I generally arrived at the windward mark with the tail-enders. But that's OK. I was having fun... and these guys are all faster than me anyway so I don't think it would have mattered a lot which side of the course I sailed the beat.

Actually I did bang the left corner in one race. Never could find a lane to tack into and the corner comes up much faster than you think on these short courses. So I sailed up the port-tack layline only to discover a solid wall of starboard-tackers at the mark, bore away for a promising gap only to see someone else tack into it, tried to tack below the crowd, fouled someone, did my penalty turn... and was last to round the mark behind some dude in a Radial. Hmmm.

The runs were a lot of fun. Pretty decent waves to hook rides on early in the afternoon. A bit less lumpy later. Always a nice crowd at the leeward mark where I could demonstrate my amazing talent at shouting a lot for room and occasionally even managing to pick up a place or two.

As the afternoon progressed I improved from my initial mindset of "oh shit it's frigging cold... I do hope I don't capsize... I do hope my fingers stop hurting... it's bloody crowded... I'd better be careful I don't hit anybody" to the much more constructive "some of these people really aren't any faster than me... I can overtake them on the run or pick them off by playing the shifts better on the final beat."

At the start of this frostbiting season when we had 50-60 boats on the line I was thinking, "It would be really cool if I could break into the top 20 in this fleet." I'm pretty sure I achieved that ambition yesterday.

No sign of Larry yet...

I love winter.


Sam Chapin said...

Larry is looking for a good deal on a used Laser.

tillerman said...

Yeah Sam. I hear he's a pretty shrewd businessman so I bet he's scouring the Rhode Island Craigslist every day until he can find a real bargain.

JP said...


bonnie said...

I'd just noticed, the last time I went paddling, how much easier it is to get the water out of a cockpit when you can pick it up in one big chunk!


O Docker said...

Geesh, it sounds like you're suiting up like an astronaut just to go sailing. Do they cancel these sails or is it 'scrub the mission' ?

Antolin said...

you guys are nuts!! it is freezing in Tampa!! I did not race on sunday because itwas going to be around 30 to 40 degrees....I know..such a wimp

doryman said...

You don't mention your gloves. Neoprene with a fake leather palm.
If they're too tight, no good.
Winter has the best wind. No contest.

18 knots is when you wish you had reef points.

PeconicPuffin said...

You sailed in that cold? You are mas macho!

Edward W. Coyne said...

The comments regarding the recent cold weather Etchells regatta in Miami insulting, condescending and representing poor sportsmanship. I am familiar with both Etchells racing and cold water sailing. I have sailed Etchells for a few years including past Jaguar Cup Series races in Miami, fleet racing in Chicago (not exactly a warm venue) and the Etchells Worlds. I also have the dubious record of having windsurfed on Lake Michigan at least once a month, every month for 60 consecutive months, which included several encounters with ice including having my feet freeze to the sailboard. So I am familiar with cold water sailing.

There are huge differences in the safety of sailing a keelboat in a 50+ fleet in strong winds in cold weather from sailing a single handed comparably simple boat. I would imagine that most or all of the Laser competitors were wearing wetsuit, drysuits or the equivalent as it would common for them to end up in the water. This is not true for a keel boat in Miami. Most of the sailors, many travelling from good distances, would not be prepared for the highly unusual weather. The potential for damage and injury increases with the wind and temperature conditions witnessed by the amount of damage sustained by one of the competitors. Making a decision to avoid uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions should not be considered “whining” or a lack of machismo that the author of the letter is so proud of.

To me sailing is a fun sport and can be enjoyed at several levels. Some like extreme conditions, I have windsurfed in 15 degree weather, in a blizzard, in 50+mph winds, in 20 to 30 ft waves, some like cruising in warm weather with their friends and family, some like racing. Making disparaging remarks about other who don’t enjoy the sport in the same way that you do just doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of sailing.

Sam Chapin said...

Is Edward really pissed or just wants on Scuttlebutt?

tillerman said...

Edward, I apologize for my poor choice of words, for my disrespect and poor sportsmanship, and for any offense caused to you or anyone else.

You are right. Sailing is meant to be fun. Every sailor has the right and the responsibility to make their own decisions as to whether the conditions on any given day are something they want to handle or not. And I should not have disparaged fellow sailors for making such decisions.

Anonymous said...

I was there when the PRO made the decision to cancel at the ISAF qualifier for ladies keel boats no one was happy about this but the decision was made with a lot of thought. We were sailing the Jag and made the same decision.The conditions were on the edge of both class rules and ther was no reason to put so much at risk.
To spend a couple hours frosting (grew up in NY) is no comparison to these sailors going out to do 6 or 7 races in a blow like we were seeing BTW you are talking about an Olimpic qualifier, do the math

Sam Chapin said...

Come on big boat guys. We all know cold and windy are dangerous and with special precautions big boats can handle it as well as the little guys with dry suits. Tillerman only loves winter when he goes skiing. This is an all in fun thing.

Brent J. Burrows II said...

Oh man! and I though sailing in 60 the other day was a bit chilly... Why don't you come down to the Bahamas for our Midwinters on Feb 6th and 7th? :)

David Storrs said...

Tillerman, it was not "girls on keelboats" who bailed but the OA that concluded it was not safe. All the women were prepared to race - this was an important regatta toward qualifying for the national team.

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

Now we're into our EIGHTH year of drought here Down Under, and us rural lake/dam sailors are literally running out of options as to WHERE we can do any sailing at all, as most of the dams are litearlly un-navagatable!!!

Keep your snow, tho! hahahahaaaa

Pat said...

I think the slope function you were looking for is,

37 deg F (Virgin Gorda)
= 39 deg F (Miami, Key West)
= 41 deg F (Galveston Bay, Jacksonville, Bahamas),
= 44 deg F (San Diego, Bermuda),
= 47 deg F (San Francisco),
= 49 deg F (Narragansett Bay),
= 51 deg F (Sable Island)

Or, you know you've reached some sort of blogospheric success when you're taken seriously -- even when you don't want to be.

This too will pass.

Pat said...

I think the point that the keelboat sailors wanted to make had a lot to do with ensuring fair competition and making their races reasonable tests of skill rather than of gear and crew survival.

Crews traveling from afar to the Florida "tropics", in addition to not having proper gear and clothing, may also have been psychologically prepared for the conditions, especially if the regatta, despite serious competition on the water, represents something of a traditional tropical holiday break from winter cares and hence one secondary or subconscious consideration for an Organizing Authority might have been the possible damage to regatta's image.

A consideration might have been the ability of regatta volunteers and local facilities to cope with cold-weather emergencies... or even normal operations in cold weather.

Greg Anthony said...

Boy, I bet you never thought "I Love Winter" would stir up such high emotions by even BIG SHOT brenner.
Some folks really flame on. Just a testament to how you've taken your little blog to new heights and how influential you've become. Your equal opportunity and self-effacing. Folks get real. Let's face the facts Tillerman your no Harry Reid. Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Good job PO'ing the USSATAGABCDEFGHIJ folks!

Pat said...

The Arizona Yacht Club Birthday Regatta and fund-raiser for leukemia research today in Phoenix featured racing in 4 to 16 knots of wind, blue skies, sunshine, and 70-degree temperatures. This was Frostbiting as brutal as it can be only in southern Arizona. As

As the day progressed, it was agonizing to have to shed layers to cope with the brilliant desert sun. By the time some boats reached the marina and boat ramps, some crew members were forced to strip down to t-shirts and shorts.

Not everyone has the stamina and hardiness to hold up to these conditions. Some might rather sail during January in the more refreshing, sprighlier climates of Massachusetts or Florida or some such. But, for those who can withstand the searing rays and sunny blue skies, Arizona offered a sailing opportunity for the tough mariners who ventured bravely into the wind and waves of January.

Tim Coleman said...

Some folk really get out of thier cockpit don't they!

Unknown said...

Oh come on, sometimes the ice in the cockpit is the only thing keeping your feet warm!

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