Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Super Sunfish

The Super Sunfish was marketed from 1974 to 1984 by AMF, the manufacturer of the better known lateen rig Sunfish. It was clearly an attempt to compete with the Laser which was introduced in 1971 and which was rapidly growing in popularity in the 70's and early 80s. Judging by Portsmouth handicap numbers the Super Sunfish was slightly slower than the Laser. There were several other Laser clones introduced around this time but none of them ever approached the Laser's worldwide success.

Rogue Alligator on the Loose in Rhode Island

I'm not saying that it's anything to do with global warming... but who expected we would need to be wary of alligators in Rhode Island? There's a Rogue Alligator on the Loose in Portsmouth!


Do alligators eat Laser sailors?

Little Compton

I was in a rut. I had my favorite places to launch my Laser on the local bays... and I kept going back to the same places. Fogland Beach to enjoy the peaceful, rural atmosphere of the middle stretches of the Sakonnet; Colt State Park to stretch my legs on the wide open spaces of Upper Narragansett Bay; and Independence Park in Bristol for Tuesday night racing and solo practice in a relatively enclosed harbor.

I had had my eye on Little Compton for a while. It's at the mouth of the Sakonnet River, roughly opposite Third Beach Newport from which I had launched in the past for some epic days of sailing in the New England Laser Masters and also for that exciting day a couple of years ago with my son, documented in Fat Boy and Little Man. In my travels I had noticed a small beach in the harbor at Little Compton which would be perfect for launching a Laser; and parking spaces for cars and trailers just across the main road from that beach. What could be better? Easy parking, easy launching in a sheltered harbor, with access to wide open water renowned for fantastic wave sailing conditions when the wind has been coming from the south.

So I check it out a couple of weeks ago. It totally fulfilled my expectations for ease of access and launching. Unfortunately the wind was from the east that day so the waves were nothing special. But still... I had got out of the rut.

The junior sailors from the Sakonnet Yacht Club were just returning to the harbor as I was leaving it that afternoon. There was a couple sailing a Soling just outside the harbor mouth, but other than that very little boat traffic. I started reaching across the mouth of the river towards Newport and then got in some beating practice towards the Sakonnet lighthouse.

I mentioned a few days ago that it seemed that my propensity to make stupid mistakes in the boat had lessened a little lately. Lessened... but not totally eliminated. I was hiking hard and decided I needed to tighten the outhaul a tad. As per usual, I transferred my sheet to the tiller hand and, while still hiking, reached for the outhaul control with my front hand. Oops. Somehow the sheet slipped out of my other hand, the sail went out, the boat came over on top of me, and all of a sudden I was swimming in the Sakonnet River, all on my own, a mile from shore.

No big deal. I laughed. I took a big breath. I righted the boat and clambered back on board. I checked that nothing was broken or missing on me or the boat. All good. And went on sailing.

Life is good.

I think I will be going back to Little Compton.

By the way, did you know that Little Compton has Rhode Island's only town common?

Not many people know that.

And did you know that Little Compton is the only place in the United States with a monument dedicated to a chicken? The Rhode Island Red of course.

Not many people know that either.

And did you know that Henry Tillinghast Sisson (1831-1910), inventor of the 3-ring binder, lived in Little Compton?

Hardly anybody knows that.

I think I'll take a nap now.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jimmy Buffet Doesn't Live in Key West Any More

Dear Sir,
Your post today of the map of Florida was a sweeping generalization about the state that has the most coastline in the lower 48 and some of the best cruising grounds in North America for sailboats. And, in case you didn't know, Jimmy Buffet doesn't live in Key West any more.


A map that finally explains Florida.

Shamelessly stolen from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Does or Do?

Another moran at the Glenn Beck Fan Club Party in Washington today. I think this one is protesting against irregular verbs in the English language. It are so hard to get them right.

Sware and Belive

Some moran at the Glenn Beck rally in Washington today. I think he's protesting for more investment in elementary education... especially spelling.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Desperate Laser Wives

A friendly Laser sailor from Oregon emailed me this week and kindly sent me all sorts of info about Laser sailing in his area and an invitation to go sailing there one day. I might just do that.

He also sent me a link to a slideshow of photos from the 2005 Laser Masters Worlds which was held in Brazil. This was the first photo in the slideshow. (It was already captioned 'Desperate Laser Wives'. I didn't make that up. Honest dear.)

One of the beauties of the Masters Worlds is that many sailors take their wives along. Something tells me that next month at Hayling Island the desperate Laser wives won't be sunbathing under the palm trees. Bring your umbrellas ladies.

A Little Anxious

Some thoughts on the upcoming Laser Masters Worlds...

I’m a little anxious about going to the Worlds and not being where I want to be. I would have liked more practice... but maybe that’s what Masters sailing is all about. It’s a great scene.

I’m probably as fit as when I was younger, just not as flexible. Laser sailors today are more physical, and they’re faster. I’m kind of at the same level as when I was younger, but the standard has moved up.

I could have said that. It's exactly how I feel about the Laser Masters Worlds in England next month. But it wasn't me who said that. It was John Bertrand. Yes, the John Bertrand who won back-to-back Laser world championships, the Finn Gold Cup and an Olympic silver medal as a young man.

He's anxious?

What hope is there for me?

Full text of Kimball Livingston's interview with John Bertrand at Blue Planet Times.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Colin Cheng

Famous sailing blogger Colin Cheng from Singapore training earlier this week at Hayling Island for the upcoming Laser World Championships.

I will be there next month for the Laser Masters Worlds.

Woo hoo!

I Love Barney Frank

I have written before about the proposal by an outfit called Weaver's Cove to build a liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) in Mount Hope Bay, My Bay. There has been much local opposition to the project. All sorts of objection have been raised, ranging from the dangers of LNG explosions, the possibility of terrorist attacks, the disruption to recreational boating during the passage of LNG tankers through Narragansett Bay, environmental impact, etc. etc.

It has been hard to sort out the real facts of the case. I do feel that the opponents of the Weaver's Cove project have occasionally been somewhat shrill in their complaints. There was one claim for example that little kiddie Optimist sailors on the bay would be threatened at gunpoint by military contractors who will be protecting the LNG tankers (presumably from 7-year-old suicide bombers in Optimists.) On the other hand, since the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico this summer I have become much more skeptical of the claims by Big Energy (Weaver's Cove is owned by Hess) that "we know what we're doing, it's all perfectly safe, you don't need to worry, accidents never happen."

On balance I would prefer it if they don't build the LNG terminal at all or, if they really have to do it, they choose an off-shore site well away from population centers. (The proposed site is very close to the city of Fall River which is at the head of Mount Hope Bay.)

The latest maneuver in the battle is from Congressman Barney Frank (whose congressional district includes Fall River.) According to this article...

Congressmen Barney Frank and James McGovern Thursday announced they will be including an amendment in the House appropriations bill for the Department of Energy stating that “no funds made available by the act may be used to take any action to authorize the construction of any liquefied natural gas terminal or its infrastructure to be located within five miles of the city of Fall River, Massachusetts, or to authorize vessels carrying liquefied natural gas to serve such terminal.”

The congressmen said the move would effectively block the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from spending any money to deliberate the proposed project, including the approval of the off-shore berthing site designed for Mount Hope Bay. Frank said the bill has bi-partisan support, including the backing of Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown, and described the action as veto proof.

I love it. Everyone howls when members of congress include earmarks and pork in appropriation bills to route federal funds to pet projects in their districts. But this is "negative pork." Instead of saying, "Spend money on my district," Barney is saying, "Don't you dare spend federal money on this project in my district."

I'm sure this isn't the end of the story. Hess has shown remarkable persistence in pushing this project in spite of all the local opposition. But for now...

I love Barney Frank.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Irish Coffee

I have recently completed some ground-breaking research into the nutritional requirements of old geezers such as myself who are preparing to compete in a Laser Masters World Championship, and in particular the perfect way in which to satisfy those needs. I have identified four essential food groups...

Alcohol. It's a closely guarded secret that a Laser Masters Worlds is not about sailing; it's really about the parties. The organizers will have a party for the opening ceremony. They will have another party for the prize-giving and closing ceremony. There will be at least one other official party during the week. Each major nation and continent will organize a party for its sailors; there's bound to be a North American Laser Class party. Some of our fellow sailors will organize parties too. At all of these parties huge quantities of alcohol will be consumed. None of us wants to be a party pooper. Now is the time to increase our daily alcohol consumption in order to raise our alcohol tolerance to the level we will need to face the challenges of Masters Worlds parties.

Fat. We are going to need to raise our calorie intake too in order to meet the physical challenges of racing in those 30 knot winds and 12 foot waves off Hayling Island. Have you ever studied the calorific contents of various nutrients? Carbohydrates and protein only have about 4 kcal/gram. Fat has over 9 kcal/gram. Fat is the way to go, obviously. Eat more fat.

Sugar. During digestion, sugars are rapidly broken down into glucose by digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestine, and then absorbed into the blood stream and dispersed around the body as energy for muscles and cells. Sugars provide the best way of raising our energy levels quickly. Sugar is the way to go. Eat more sugar.

Caffeine. The 2010 Laser Masters Worlds is being held 5 time zones east of where I live and 8 time zones east of California. That means that we US sailors are going to be getting up to start preparing to sail each day at a time that our body clocks think of as the middle of the night. We will need vast quantities of caffeine each morning in order to function effectively in this disorienting situation. We need to start acclimating our bodies to that now.

So what food contains all four essential food groups... alcohol, sugar, fat and caffeine? Irish Coffee is the answer. I recommend one large Irish Coffee for breakfast and one for lunch each day, one immediately before sailing, one immediately after sailing, one after dinner each evening, and one before going to bed each night. You will be amazed at the effects on your metabolism, general health and energy levels.

By the way, contrary to what you may have read on a certain blog today, Irish Coffee was not invented in San Francisco.

The original Irish coffee was invented by Joseph Sheridan, a head chef at Foynes, County Limerick in Ireland. Foynes' port was the precursor to Shannon International Airport in the west of Ireland. The coffee was conceived after a group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat on a miserable winter evening in the 1940s. Sheridan added whiskey to the coffee to warm the passengers. After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee.

Years later in 1952, Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, discovered Irish coffee at Shannon Airport and decided to bring it from one cold, rainy, drizzly, foggy place to another cold, rainy drizzly foggy place... San Francisco. The good news is that the Laser Masters Worlds in 2011 will be in San Francisco and they already know how to make Irish Coffee for us there.

I think I'll go to bed now.

In A Rut?

When you live in one of the best places on earth for sailing (Rhode Island) it is all too easy to get into a rut when choosing where to sail. Why would I travel more than 20-30 minutes from home when there are so many delightful locations to sail right on my doorstep?

The issue exists at several levels -- local, regional, national and global...

There are several excellent places to launch my Laser for a solo practice session within a 20 minute drive that I sometimes overlook the fact that there are other superb spots that are perhaps an hour's drive away.

There are plenty of regattas that I can sail every year and sleep in my own bed every night, that sometimes I don't feel like booking a stay in a motel or hotel and driving to sail a regatta in Vermont or Maine or even on Cape Cod.

There are so many Laser regattas in New England that I sometimes ask myself why I should bother to drive to South Carolina or fly to California to race in a major regatta. My blogging friend O Docker tried to put me straight on this point today with his post Ten Reasons in which he tried to tempt me to sail in San Francisco Bay next year.

And with so, so many wonderful opportunities to sail in North America, why would anyone even consider flying to Europe or Australia to go Laser racing? I have done. I will again. Am I crazy?

I am basically a lazy person. I could easily get into a rut in my choice of sailing locales. The beauty of sailing a Laser is that I don't need to stay in my rut. I can haul my Laser anywhere that I can drive that has a beach or a ramp and launch my boat. I can race Lasers all over this continent if I so choose. And I can travel to international regattas even further afield when the mood takes me.

I must make sure I don't get into a rut. Please help me. Please emulate esteemed blogger O Docker and write a post listing some reasons as to why I should consider coming and sailing in your favorite sailing location. If you don't have your own blog then feel free to email me your list and I will post it here. Don't let me stay in the rut.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

Next month I will be racing in the Laser Masters Worlds at Hayling Island on the south coast of a country called England.

Prior to the Masters Worlds (aka sailing vacation for old farts) the Real Laser World Championships will be held at Hayling Island for Real Laser Sailors (aka incredibly fit young guys who go to the gym every day and sail about 250 days a year.)

Some of the US Laser Olympic hopefuls are already at Hayling Island training for the Real Laser Worlds. One of them, Kyle Rogachenko, posted the picture above on Facebook with the comment...

Since Sail for Gold I have been training here in Hayling Island. We have had strong winds and great sailing. Yesterday and today we practiced in 30+ knts which was incredibly fun.

30+ knots?

Incredibly fun?

What have I let myself in for?

What is wrong with this picture?

Monday, August 23, 2010


Laser sailors practice.

Well, some Laser sailors practice. The top guys do. Actually the top guys call it "training", not practice. Sounds more sporty and professional, I guess.

Some Laser sailors don't practice. They just race with their local club and race at regattas and never practice. Then they beat me anyway. Hmmm.

But I like to practice on my own and with fellow sailors. I count the Tuesday evening informal racing in Bristol Harbor as practice. And I practice on my own to work on all kinds of stuff. Fix faults. Improve my technique. Improve my fitness.

The truth is there is hardly anything I enjoy more than sailing my Laser on my own on some quiet corner of Narraganset Bay on a sunny, windy weekday afternoon when most of my fellow sailors are slaving away in their office cubicles trying to earn enough money so they can retire early and go sailing any time they want. I call it practice. Really it's just fun.

A couple of weeks ago, just after the Buzzards Bay Regatta, I took my Laser down to Fogland Beach and spent the afternoon practicing on the Sakonnet River. I practiced start accelerations and windward mark roundings and leeward mark roundings and tacks and gybes and all that sort of stuff.

Improvement comes slowly. But I think it does come. After BBR I realized that I hadn't experienced any of my usual regatta sailing screw-ups. No getting my feet tangled in the sheet and messing up a tack. No getting the sheet tied up in knots and being unable to bear away at a windward mark. No falling out of the boat during a tack. No unintentional gybes and fouling other boats at leeward marks. No capsizes. No capsizes all weekend! (Except for when I hit that submerged object sailing in after racing on Sunday. But that doesn't count.)

Apologies to my readers if my reports on BBR were not as entertaining as some of my regatta accounts from other years. I know you love to read about my blunders and mishaps.

Maybe I was lucky at BBR? Or maybe all my solo practice in the last few years is paying off?

How do piano players practice? They work on the difficult parts of each passage. They slow it down. They play the same tricky piece over and over again until they have it right. They don't expect to learn to play a piece perfectly in one day; they know that skills develop from day after day after day of persistent practice. Sailing is just the same really.

Laser sailors, "Practice!"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Tillie's Posing Stand


So on Friday I headed on over to my local Laser dealer to buy a new vang key to replace the one I broke on Thursday. This little bit of bent metal looks like it should cost about 40 cents, but thanks to the miracles of offshore outsourcing, integrated global supply chain efficiencies, and the huge economies of scale in serving the mass market of millions of Laser sailors around the world ... it was actually $8.20.

This was not a surprise. It's to be expected if you sail Lasers.

In line with the Tillerman Laser Spare Parts Inventory Building and Replenishment Policy (as discussed yesterday) I decided I might as well buy two vang keys. One for the boat; one for the toolbox. Better safe than sorry. Now I have a spare one in case I suffer another vang key breakage one day. You never know. So far I've broken a total of one in 30 years so it could happen again. (If I am still sailing Lasers at age 92.)

Total bill $16.40. Ka-Ching!

Then I spotted a pair of sailing gloves just like my favorite ones that are wearing out. As these are basically the same as gardening gloves that sell in their millions for two bucks a pair, these were a real bargain. Only $5.99.

Total bill $22.39. Ka-Ching!

Oh look, they've got some of those SEA waist-lock hiking pants. I've been meaning to buy some of those to replace my current hiking pants that are falling to bits. Thanks to the high technology Airprene construction, not to mention the Mauser bonded panels, Tatex knee pads, Velcro waist lock with elastic back support, non-flex fiberglass battens... and probably the weak dollar, they were only $189. Still you need to be comfortable when sailing.

Total bill $211.39. Ka-Ching!

Oh, and see what else they have. Some of those cool Zhik PFDs that are totally illegal if the SIs say you have to wear a US Coastguard approved PFD but all the cool kids wear them and it won't catch on the boom like my legal PFD. I have to have one. Thanks to the ultimate coolness of the Zhik brand it's a snip at $119.

Total bill $330.39. Ka-Ching!

Add on sales tax and we are talking over $350. Ka-Ching!

And I only went in for a 40 cent vang key.

But it's good to support your local Laser dealer... I think.

Friday, August 20, 2010


It was a beautiful day for sailing.

I launched and headed out on a long starboard tack beat to the middle of the bay. As I reached more open water, the wind freshened. I tightened the outhaul and downhaul. I tightened the vang a tad more.

I was tanking along, hiking hard, just me and the waves, all by myself on My Bay.


Oh shit. Something broke. The boom shot up in the air. The boat stopped.

I had spent a few hours last week putting some through bolts in the gooseneck which was starting to work loose. So it wasn't that. My first thought was that the vang fitting on the boom had pulled off because I had noticed some corrosion around the rivets there recently. But no, it wasn't that. The shiny stainless steel fitting was still there on the boom as it waved madly around at a rakish angle.

I looked at the top of the vang lying useless on the deck now. The frigging vang key had sheared! (The key is the tiny curved piece of metal used to attach the vang to the boom.) That had never happened to me before, in 30 years of Lasering.

I tightened the outhaul some more (to help prevent the boom coming off the gooseneck) and turned back downwind to limp back to the launch ramp. I pulled the boat up on my dolly and went off to the car to retrieve my toolbox.

I have an amazing collection of spare Laser parts in the bottom of my toolbox. Almost every small fitting that can possibly break. It's been accumulated over 30 years mainly through the habit of buying two of anything when it breaks; one for the boat and one for the toolbox. Surely I would have a spare vang key in there?

I rummaged. I searched. I spread out my collection of spare parts on the hood of my car. I couldn't find a key.

I'm sure my smart readers will have worked out by now why my search was fruitless. If I only buy spares when I first experience a breakage of that part, and I have never had a vang key break in 30 years... yeah, yeah, yeah... of course I didn't have a spare vang key.

I derigged the boat. I changed back into dry clothes. I put the boat on the trailer. I drove home. Two hours of driving to sail and rigging and getting dressed for sailing and derigging and getting changed again and driving home... all for about 10 minutes of decent sailing. I was not a happy camper.

Before washing the boat I got out the blender and the tequila bottle and made some margaritas for Tillerwoman and me. I drank some margaritas. I mellowed a little. I pondered that maybe I am the Luckiest Man Alive (again.) At least the bloody key didn't break while I was racing somewhere.

Life is good.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010



AS San Francisco struggles with how to handle the huge costs of upgrading its crumbling waterfront infrastructure in order to be a viable contender to host the 34th America's Cup, news out of New Zealand is that BMW/Oracle are about to announce that they will shun the US altogether and move AC34 to La Maddalena in Italy.


Say it ain't so Joe.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Laser sailors have stamina.

You need to be fit to race Lasers well. As I mentioned in Work, in moderate to strong winds the harder you work the faster you go. And to work hard for six, eight or ten mile-long beats in a day, you need stamina.

Stamina, or the lack of it, is my Achilles heel. My ability to race hard all day is not what it was 25 years ago. I'm an old dude now. I don't exercise as much as I should. I'm not as fit as I should be to race Lasers well.

I haven't raced in many regattas over the last couple of years. And I am signed up next month to race in the Laser Masters Worlds in England. Six days of racing in seven days. Up to twelve races in all. They say the winds will be strong.

I looked on the Buzzards Bay Regatta this year as practice -- and a bit of a test -- for England. Could I race hard for three consecutive days? Would I get tired and start to make stupid mistakes? Would I be totally shattered after each day? Would I have the stamina?

I had my doubts. My fitness program, such as it is, is mainly running. I had run a couple of half-marathons earlier in the year. But in the last few weeks I hadn't run much at all. First I was laid low by a vicious attack of the dreaded Man Cold. Then it was too damn hot to run much. I felt fat and lazy. I wasn't sure I had the stamina for BBR, let alone the Masters Worlds.

The first day of BBR was mainly a test of how many hours you could tolerate sitting around in 80+ degrees on a little fiberglass boat waiting for decent winds for racing. Quite tiring in its own way but hardly the challenge I was looking for.

Days two and three were the real thing. The classic Buzzards Bay breeze, 15-20 knots out of SSW. The RC gave us three leg windward-leeward courses. Two beats of about a mile or slightly less in each race. Four races on Saturday and three on Sunday. This was the test I was looking for. Would I have the stamina?

Yes and no.

The most common word I heard used by other sailors to describe the beats on Saturday and Sunday was "grind." They were hard work for sure.

My results on both days were very strange. Each day my finishes became progressively better as the day progressed. In the fifty boat fleet I finished in the 30's in the first race, mid 20's in the second, and around 20th in the third. How weird is that possum? What's going on?

I'm not sure. Maybe it took me a while to find my hiking groove? Maybe the winds were getting progressively stronger and that suited me better?

I think the best explanation is that I was subconsciously holding something in reserve in the first race, not going all out. Then I would work harder in the second race. And really put it all on the line in the third race. I've written before about how this trait is probably an unintended outcome of my running marathons a few years ago. Marathon running teaches you in the worst way imaginable that you had better start slow if you want to finish strong. It was certainly true that I was letting it all hang out on the final beat of the third race. And it worked. In the third race both days I was dueling with people I don't usually beat... and beating them.

Which brings me to the explanation of why I didn't sail the fourth race on Saturday. I could have done. I wasn't totally exhausted. But I felt like I had gone out to run a ten mile road race, pushed as hard as I could in the final mile, and finished in a time as well as I could have hoped for. Then someone invited me to run a three mile race just for fun. Right now. Ummm... no thanks.

I was sailing well in race three. I was in the groove. I was winning close battles. I was having fun. I felt that in a fourth race I would just be hacking round the course, not working as hard as I did in race three, not sailing particularly well. I have this theory that perfect practice makes for perfect execution. Practicing sailing badly is worse than not sailing at all. And BBR was really a practice regatta for the Worlds. So I called it a day after race three. Feel free to abuse me in the comments for wimping out.

Captain Judy said that I came in on Saturday with a big smile on my face. I probably did. I felt that I had raced as well as I possibly could. I had passed the test. I had raced the Buzzard.

So I discovered something about my stamina. I am fit enough to race six mile-long beats in a day. I am fit enough to race three days in a row. But I need to be fitter to be able to race four or five races in a day and not just three. I need to be fitter to race as hard in every race as I raced on the final beat of the third race on Saturday and Sunday. I need more stamina.

Stamina. How to get it. That could be the subject of several more posts.

Laser sailors, "Have stamina!"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sea Level

Sea level.

Everyone is familiar with the term "sea level." We all know what it means. Or do we?

Of course sailors know that the sea isn't really level. There are waves and tides and wind surges and storm runoffs and all sorts of other factors that affect the level of the sea. So we use "mean sea level", the average height of the ocean, often measured as the halfway point between the mean high tide and the mean low tide. Then we can measure tides and surges in relation to mean sea level, usually only a few feet up and down.

So mean sea level is.... ummm level. The same height all over the earth. Right?

Well, not exactly. It all depends on what you mean by "height". The variation in the distance of the mean sea level of the ocean as measured from the center of the earth varies by many miles from place to place. Yes... miles.

It's all because of the earth's rotation. The earth isn't a perfect sphere. It's an oblate spheroid. It bulges at the equator. You knew that, right?

The land bulges. The sea bulges. So what if we could magically make the seas and oceans really level? For example, what would happen if the earth stopped spinning one day? No more centrifugal force. No more bulging. Over time, the earth’s shape would approximate a perfect sphere, but the most immediate readjusting would be done by the oceans which currently bulge as much as 5 miles at the equator.

The picture at the top of this post (shamelessly stolen from Strange Maps) shows what the map of the earth's continents and oceans would look like if the earth stood still and the seas leveled themselves out. Goodbye Canada, Russia and Europe. Hello to an equatorial megacontinent ringing the globe and two polar oceans.

You could drive around the world on land. I guess some record breaking circumnavigators would eventually bike it, walk it or run it. Leaving aside the issue of what wind patterns there might be on a non-rotating earth, you couldn't do a sailing circumnavigation any more, at least not in the sense of a route that crosses the equator and crosses every meridian. The best you could do would be to sail a circuit of the Southern Ocean or a similar route crossing every meridian in the new Northern Ocean at the latitude of the USA/Canadian border.

How strange is that possum?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Of Cars, Coffee, Catholics and Cardio

We Tivertonians are a diverse lot. We worship at many different altars on a Sunday morning, but it seems like we all go to our sundry shrines in our cars.

As I drove south along Main Road this Sunday morning there were cars parked solidly along both sides. The first crowd clearly belonged to the Catholics who were all safely inside St. Christopher's Church for their 9:30 Mass as I drove by their empty cars. There sure were a lot of them. It's a little known fact that there are only two US states where more than 50% of the population claim adherence to the same religious denomination. One is Utah (Mormons); the other is Rhode Island (Catholics).

A little further along, the main cause of congestion was the cars of the coffee addicts getting their fix at our local coffee shop, Coastal Roasters. They have an outside seating area where you can sip your morning joe and watch the boats on the Sakonnet River. I drove carefully past here. You never know when one of the worshipers of the bean, all juiced up with java, will jump out between the parked cars into the traffic.

The congestion eased just south of the old Stone Bridge. The Episcopalians were at worship too but they do not seem to be as numerous as the Catholics. Or perhaps they just have a larger off-the-road car park.

I turned right into Nannaquaket Road and parked by the bridge. Time for my own personal addiction, my worship at the shrine of the cardio. A gentle four mile run around the back of Nannaquaket Pond and further down Main Road to Seapowet Avenue. Getting my running fix.

I drove north again after my run. As I carefully negotiated my way through the two lines of parked cars outside Coastal Roasters an elderly couple started wandering across the road in front of me. They weren't looking my way. They didn't seem to hear me. I stopped to let them cross. The woman must have sensed my presence and turned her head and saw me just before she completed her crossing. But the old dude kept ambling along at a snail's pace completely oblivious to the fact that he was stopping all the traffic. I gave him a cheery wave as I (eventually) drove past him. Honest. All five fingers.

We Tivertonians are a diverse lot. We respect each other's different forms of Sunday morning worship. The bread and the wine. The roasted bean. Bashing the pavement. Though if that old dude had actually been imbibing in Coastal Roasters I don't think much of the stimulative effects of their coffee.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Long Tack

Laser sailors sail the long tack first.

Well, the smart ones do anyway. It's conventional racing advice, something to do with maximizing your chance of gains and minimizing your chance of losses based on probability theory, non-Euclidean geometry, and the collected wisdom of Stuart Walker, Paul Elvstrom and some guy who I met in a bar in Sydney. I never quite understood the logic but I guess it makes sense to keep the pointy end aiming more or less where you want to go (the windward mark) instead of further away from it.

The first day of BBR last weekend was very frustrating. I blew the first race due to sheer incompetence. See Plan. You stupid boy!

Then we hung around for a few hours as the wind died and shifted around pretty much all points of the compass. I did drop hints to the race committee from time to time that instead of drifting around aimlessly in Buzzards bay we could be ashore boosting the bar revenues of Beverly Yacht Club, or that maybe they could order us some pizza... but they wisely ignored me.

Eventually a lightish breeze settled in just west of south and they got the Vanguard 15s started. Just before our start the breeze went left by about 40 degrees and I confidently expected the start to be postponed... but I was wrong. The starting signal sounded, the whole fleet flopped on to port tack (we could barely lay the line on starboard) and we were off.

Hmmm. Well this was pretty clearly one of those "long tack" situations so I stayed on port. I guess the wind did square up a bit to the original direction but it still seemed to me that I was pointing closer to the mark on port tack. Plus it looked like more pressure ahead on the right while the boats on the left seemed to be in even worse air than us. And so it was that about ten of us (out of a fleet of nearly fifty) kept going and going and going to Cornersville.

Not long after we tacked on to starboard a tad below the layline a huge righty shift came in and we could reach in to the mark. Woo hoo, top ten at the first mark at BBR. The guys coming in from the left on a huge header didn't look like they were shouting, "Woo hoo!"

The wind eventually went so far right that the "run" was now a close reach. There seemed to be a lot of confusion down at the leeward gate. The Radials hadn't started yet and some were drifting around near the gate. There were some horns sounding. I couldn't see what flag was flying. Had the RC abandoned the race? It would not be surprising if they had.

But no. We were still racing and the RC was signalling a change of course to a new windward mark, roughly in the same direction as it was for the morning race. Somehow on the "run" and on the final beat I dropped a few places but I still finished comfortably in the top twenty, with what would turn out to be my best finish of the regatta.

If I had been a PHRF sailor I would probably have gone to Sailing Anarchy and written some long abusive post about the supposed sins of the Race Committee. But, thank god, I am not one of those mean, angry dudes. I am a laid-back easy-going Laser sailor. I assumed that our Race Committee felt that completing two races on a day when the winds weren't very cooperative was better for the sailors that only doing one race and blowing off the second one in a vain search for perfection. Thank you Race Committee. Good call.

Laser sailors, "Sail the long tack first!"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Laser sailors plan.

Well, if you're a racing sailor and you want to do well in a race then you sure as hell ought to develop some kind of plan before each race. Where do you want to be on the start line? What's your strategy for the first beat? Are you going to go right or left or play the shifts up the middle? Tide, current, wind pressure, wind shifts are all stuff that will help you to create your game plan.

As for me, I'm pretty bad at this part of the game. The first race at BBR on Friday was a case in point.

The fleet launched in an extremely light northerly zephyr for a long, long, drift down Sippican Harbor to the racing circle almost three miles away. It was frigging hot. I was already sweating like a pig at 9 o'clock in the morning. After what seemed like a couple of hours we arrived at the race course and hung around waiting for the breeze to build and maybe settle into some sort of consistent direction. It felt like it was going to be a long day. Did I tell you it was hot?

Eventually the race committee laid a course and a start line in a light north-westerly breeze coming off the shore. I was feeling lazy in the heat. I looked up the course. What's the wind doing? I had no idea. Looked pretty much the same all over the course to me.

Some sailors were sailing up the course before the race, checking out the wind pressure and the shifts and all that good stuff it says you're supposed to do in the books. I was feeling lazy. Did I tell you it was hot? I thought it made more sense to conserve my energy for a long day of racing than go hacking all over the course before the first race. So I lolled in the boat and drank some Gatorade.

My friend Captain Judy came sailing by. She was one of those keen types that had been sailing the beat, doing their research.

"So, what's your game plan?" she asked. (She is a high school sailing coach so she's probably asking her students stuff like this all the time.)

"Ummm. Plan? I don't have one," I replied.

Now I was feeling inadequate as well as unprepared. Then I thought to myself, "Hey, even if I'm too lazy to work out my own plan, I can always steal hers."

So I asked her, "What's your game plan?"

"Go left," she said. "It feels like there's more pressure over there."

Woo hoo. Aren't friends wonderful? Now I had a plan and I hadn't had to expend any physical or mental effort to create it.

I can't really recall what happened after that. Maybe I was dehydrated. Maybe I should have drunk more Gatorade. I had a terrible race and only beat a handful of other boats. It was ugly.

After the race I asked all my friends how they had done. They had all had good results. And when I asked them how they did it they all said, "I got a good start and went left."

Me, I got a bad start and went right. What was I thinking?

What we have here is a failure to plan. And a failure to execute a plan even after I had stolen one.

Oh well, things can only get better in the next race. Surely. Can't they?

Laser sailors, "Plan!"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Laser sailors travel.

We travel to regattas (as they call them in America) or to "open meetings" as we used to call them in Real English in the old country.

Sooner or later most dinghy racers become tired of racing against the same old people around the same old buoys on the same old stretch of water. They decide to spread their wings and sail a regatta at the club in the next town, and then maybe try their hand at the district championship. Sometimes the travel bug strikes so bad that they drive halfway across the country to race in their National Championships, or head south in the winter for the Midwinters, or even travel abroad to international events.

I think Laser sailors travel more than many other classes, partly because it's so easy to transport a Laser, partly because of the sheer number of events to choose from in such a popular class, and partly because of the frequent availability of Lasers to charter at more distant regattas.

There are many reasons to travel to regattas. Variety. Meeting new people. Sailing against better competition. Experiencing different sailing conditions. There's no doubt that if you want to improve as a racer you really have to travel.

After my crazy attempt to sail my Laser 100 days in 2008 when I traveled all over the place, I've been pretty lazy about sailing in regattas over the last couple of years. I had all sorts of excuses. The weather forecast doesn't look too promising. I might have to get up early. It's too far to drive. I hate staying in crummy motels. There's too much waiting around and not enough sailing at regattas. I would rather play with my grandkids. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I had forgotten the real reason I used to travel to regattas. They are (usually) so much damn fun.

Last weekend I sailed my Laser in the Buzzards Bay Regatta. Hardly travel really as it's only half an hour down the road. It was a three day event, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Part of my motivation for going was that I am signed up for the Laser Masters Worlds in England next month and I thought it was about time I got some serious regatta practice in, not to mention checking out whether I am still even fit enough to race hard for three consecutive days. (The Worlds format is three days racing, a lay day, followed by three more days of racing - weather permitting.)

I was not disappointed by BBR (as everyone calls it.) Friday was a bit of bust with one light wind race, then a lot of waiting around, and then a second race with two huge shifts. But Saturday and Sunday were awesome. The kind of days that you come to Buzzards Bay for. A strong breeze of 15-20 knots, a little west of southerly, for all seven races on those two days. Gut-busting, leg-trembling, hard-hiking grinds upwind and plenty of waves to ride downwind. There were capsizes. There were breakages. There were retirements. And for those who could handle it, there was lots of fun and plenty of close competition.

That guy was there. The other guy was there. Many other old friends of mine were there. If I can summon up the energy after an exhilarating but exhausting weekend, I will write several more posts about my experiences at BBR 2010 over the next few days.

I came. I saw. I sailed the Buzzard.

Laser sailors travel. But as Frank Sinatra said, "It's so nice to go traveling but it's so much nicer to come home." When I arrived home on Sunday evening after the regatta there was a very pleasant surprise waiting for me. My son and his wife and their three kids were paying us a surprise visit on their way home from Cape Cod. My daughter-in-law and my grandkids stayed over at our house on Sunday night so I had the best of both worlds: three days of Laser racing and a whole day playing with my grandkids!

Life is good.

Laser sailors, "Travel!"

Friday, August 06, 2010


Laser sailors work harder.

Tuesday night racing this week delivered the best winds this summer so far. A solid 15-20 knots out of the SW that held up all evening. Sadly, only five of us were there to enjoy it.

The first couple of races I found myself off the pace upwind and I was fourth in both races. Before the third race the wind picked up a tad more and I told myself, "You're tall, you're heavy, just hike your socks off and blow them all away." (OK, you're the oldest sailor here too (by far) but just forget that.)

So I reached down to the rabbit, hardened up around his transom and started hiking and working the boat like a demon. I channeled all those videos of "real" Laser sailors torquing the boat through chop, throwing my upper body out and back on every significant wave. Coach Rulo at Cabarete told me that one of my faults was that I was "too quiet" in the boat upwind. Well, I wasn't "quiet" in this race. It certainly felt fast. Surely all this work must be worth it? After a minute or two I was huffing and puffing with all the effort. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that I was sailing faster and higher than all the other boats and that I could easily cross them. Another minute or so of a-hiking and a-torquing and a-huffing and a-puffing and I tacked, crossing the fleet easily. I arrived at the windward mark in first place. Woo hoo.

It must have been windier than the first two races because halfway down the run I heard a splash and looked back to see that my closest competitor had death-rolled. Woo hoo again. I surfed down to the finish winning the race by the largest margin that evening.

One sailor went home after the second race (broken tiller) and another packed it in after the third race (tired.) And then there were three.

I lost count of how many more races we sailed after that. The wind strength held up and in every race we were close at the windward mark and close at the finish. Perfect winds. Hard close racing. Race after race after race. Great training.

And so I confirmed what all the books say and all the coaches say. If you want to go fast upwind in moderate to heavy winds and chop, then you have to hike hard and work the boat. The harder you work the faster you go. Simple really.

Laser sailors, "Work harder!"

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Finger

I don't know if my 6-week-old grandson Owen will grow up to be a sailor, but he has already perfected one of the essential gestures that all sailors should master.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Laser sailors have feelings.

Esteemed blogger O Docker published a typical wise and eloquent post yesterday in which he compared the merits Of Big Boats and Little Boats.


Big boat - big enough to sleep on and to drink distilled and fermented spirits on after sailing.

Little boat - one sail, one tiller, one sheet - feeling better - better feel.

He concludes, "For my wife and me there will be more days of feeling things in the little boat. I think that's really what little boats are all about."

Feeling things?


Sailing a Laser is all about feeling things.

Yesterday I went for a sail on the Sakonnet River off Fogland Point in my little boat, my Laser. The wind was a steady southerly at 13-16 knots, enough to stir up a few whitecaps and generate some juicy rolling waves.

I concentrated on feeling things.

Upwind I was feeling the pressure of the deck on my calves and my thighs as I experimented with how hard I could hike. How does it feel with knees slightly bent, or locked straight? With toes pointing up, or out straight? What's the difference in feel when I tighten the outhaul a tad and crack off a couple more degrees? How does the speed feel if I work through the waves with a lot of upper body movement, or a quieter style?

Downwind I was feeling the pressure on my tiller hand when sailing at different angles of heel. Where is the sweet spot when the helm goes neutral? How does it feel to sit further forward, further back, to move forward and back as I go over the waves? How does the tension in the sheet feel as I bear off to sailing more and more by the lee?

Sailing little boats is all about feelings. I am pretty sure that feel is the secret to boat speed. I hope it is.

Before I went sailing yesterday I was feeling shitty. My younger son came to see us three weeks ago and confessed that he had what he called "walking pneumonia." Whatever it was, I caught it. Tillerwoman caught it. We both felt like shit. I call it The Man Cold. I didn't run for two weeks. I didn't sail for two weeks. I hadn't seen my grandchildren for three weeks. I felt miserable. I felt sorry for myself.

At the weekend I thought I was feeling better. Then on Monday, I felt worse. On Tuesday I felt even worser.

I thought to myself, "F*** it. I might as well go sailing. It couldn't make me feel any worse. Kill or cure."

So I went sailing. Concentrated on feeling good things in the boat, instead of the bad feelings in my head and my chest.

Last night I felt even more like shit.

Today I feel a lot better. Thank you for asking. This evening I will go sailing again. Tomorrow I will go and see my grandkids.

Is Laser sailing the cure for The Man Cold? Probably not, although perhaps the Sakonnet River salt water nasal sprays helped clear my sinuses. But I'm pretty sure that Laser sailing is a cure for feeling sorry for myself.

It's all about feelings.

Laser sailors, "Have feelings!"

Monday, August 02, 2010


Laser sailors eat bananas.

Or at least Laser sailors should eat bananas, according to an article by Evan Lewis H.B.KIN., CSCS, CK in the latest issue of our class magazine The Laser Sailor.

(I have no idea what all those letters after Evan's name mean, but I am impressed by them.)

The article is titled 10 Power Foods to Boost Performance This Summer. Wow! That's what I need. Power foods. Some of them don't sound very appetizing though. Quinoa. What the hell is that? Tillerwoman tells me it is pronounced Keen Wah. Tillerwoman knows about that kind of stuff. It's a seed, apparently.

As well as other unappealing "power foods" such as flax seed (ugh), Evan recommends bananas. "Great nutritional value... mix of complex and simple carbohydrates that provide both rapid and sustained energy..."

I like bananas. I eat a lot of bananas. I usually take a banana or two with me when I go sailing and eat them before and/or after sailing. I have even seen Laser sailors with a couple of bananas duct-taped to their mast so that they can eat them between races. But some sailors are superstitious about bananas on a boat.

My father hated bananas. He wouldn't touch them. When I asked him why, he explained that it was because, when he was in West Africa during World War II, he saw (and smelled) huge piles of bananas rotting on the beaches, and for ever after the sight of a banana nauseated him.

Evan Lewis H.B.KIN., CSCS, CK says that "bananas are an excellent source of potassium, which is an electrolyte needed for proper muscle function that is lost in sweat."

Hmmm. I sweat a lot. I am a prolific sweater. I am an embarrassingly prolific sweater.

Whenever I partake in any vigorous exercise the sweat pours out of me. Even standing outside an a moderately warm day can stimulate my sweat glands into hyper-action.

Earlier this year I joined a running club and started doing their weekly five mile runs on Thursday evenings. Part of the attraction, I admit, was the prospect of beer and pizza after the runs. I was really looking forward to hanging out with other old geezer runners over beer and pizza.

The first week I did the run and went to the pub for beer and pizza. I was sweating. I was sweating a lot. I couldn't stop sweating. I sat in the pub chatting over beer and pizza to the other old geezers while desperately mopping up sweat and trying not to drip too much sweat in my beer and on my pizza and on the other old geezers. It was awful. Even thirty minutes after the run I was still sweating profusely. Not one of the other old geezers was sweating like me. I am an outlier on the "propensity to sweat" scale.

So now I still do the runs but I skip the trip to the pub. Instead I just sit on a towel and sweat in the car on the drive home with the AC on full blast.

Where was I? Where am I?

Oh yes. Bananas. Potassium.

I figure that if I sweat out a lot of potassium then it's a good thing that bananas are an excellent source of potassium. After all, I certainly need some of that "proper muscle function" that Evan writes about. A lot of my problems sailing a Laser are caused by lack of proper muscle function.

I like bananas. I eat a lot of bananas.

Laser sailors, "Eat bananas."