Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Can

I went out for a bit of a yot in my Laser on Bristol Harbor on Tuesday evening with a fellow I know from the Newport frostbite fleet. A 15 knot breeze from the south was kicking up some chop. My companion suggested doing a few loops around "the red can" for an hour or so and then calling it a night. Sounded like a good plan to me.

"Wait a minute. Red can? What red can? Do you mean the red/green buoy in the middle of the harbor, the one we sometimes use as a windward mark in our Tuesday races?"

"No. There's a red can way out beyond that."


So we sailed out of the mooring field, lined up, and set off upwind. I was hiking hard and trying to work the boat through the waves and to concentrate on my new technique of holding the sheet loosely to avoid the dreaded finger cramps. Seems like I was on starboard tack for a long while. We reached the red/green buoy and I kept going upwind. I scanned the horizon for a "red can". Couldn't see anything but my sunglasses were covered in spray and my eyesight isn't so good any more anyway. I tacked on to port and crossed my buddy by a good amount and that felt good. I kept going upwind past Hog Island towards Mount Hope Bridge. Still couldn't see any "red can". I don't recall seeing a red buoy on this stretch of water so I kept sailing upwind and hiking hard and working the boat through the waves and not holding the sheet too tight... Tacked back on to starboard and scanned the horizon and still couldn't see a "red can". Looked at my watch. We had been sailing upwind for 30 minutes. Pretty good workout in this breeze. Scanned the horizon. Wait, there is a red buoy, way, way, up there in the distance just where we would turn for the bridge. Hmmm. Is that the one he means?

I looked at the sky. Uh oh. It was a lot darker in the north and west then when we started. Looked like a storm coming in. I waited for my fellow sailor to catch up. He agreed, it was time to turn back. We rode all the little waves back down the harbor and heard the thunder getting closer and closer. I tried to remember if there were any places to bail out and go ashore with a couple of Lasers if the storm hit us before we reached our launching point. But we were going pretty well and arrived back at the beach safely.

"I thought you were going to round the red-green buoy," he said.

"I thought we were going for the red can," I said.

Duh! I guess my hearing must be as bad as my eyesight.

We packed up our boats. We could see the storm approaching. Several passers-by congratulated us on the wisdom of coming ashore when we did.

"Thanks for coming out tonight. Sorry we didn't get a longer sail," I said.

"That's OK. At least this way we both get to go home to our wives," he said.

True. It's better than the alternative.

I still don't know where that "red can" was. I don't really know buoys well. Aren't nuns red and cans green anyway?

Lake Sailing Roulette

After our adventure on Massapoag Lake last Saturday, my son and I joined the Massapoag Yacht Club Laser fleet for their regular Sunday fleet racing. I must say they are a great bunch of sailors. I must also say that the experience reminded me that lake sailing is like no other kind of sailing in its ability to surprise, frustrate and delight the sailor with its (apparently) random changes and fluctuations of wind direction and strength that are constantly shuffling the fleet, punishing the wise, and occasionally rewarding the unworthy (i.e. me.)

The wind started in the north. Yarg of Apparent Wind and I launched early enough to sail up to the windward mark and check out the breeze. He told me later that he thought the breeze was stronger on the left. I was pretty sure I detected a wind curve that favored the left side of the course. I worked the left side of the course. I was looking good. Then everyone on the right passed me and I never caught up. After two years with no Laser sailing, Litoralis surprised us all by rounding the windward mark in first place and hanging on to take a third at the finish. I finished sixth of eight boats. Ugly!

The wind went east. The race committee moved the whole course and called for a three lap windward leeward course (because we were now racing across the short axis of the lake.) On the first lap Yarg was last. On the second lap he was second. It was that kind of race. I generally played the right side of the course to take advantage of some shifty puffs coming out of a cove on that side. Or maybe I just got lucky. Anyway I finished third.

The wind went further right. We started a race and then, by mutual agreement, abandoned it when it was apparent that the first "beat" was a reach. The race committee set a new windward mark. Litoralis and I blasted off the pin end of the line sailing for more pressure on the left. It was a good plan but poorly executed on my part as I tacked too late and overstood the layline. I arrived at the first mark in sixth place. The first "reach" was now a very tight fetch. Somehow I managed to sail high and work up out of the bad air of boats in front of me. But just before the mark there was a big header and I still had to do a couple of tacks to lay the mark. But I did round in third. The second "reach" was now a run. My closest competitors played luffing games and I slid by them to arrive at the leeward mark clear ahead (thanks mainly to my double secret downwind vang setting.) The next "beat" was a close fetch. The "run" to the finish was a reach. So there was little opportunity for other boats to pass me. I extended my lead to win the final race of the weekend. Woo hoo!

Such is lake sailing. Leaves you frustrated... but wanting more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Many, many years ago I used to be Laser fleet captain at Rutland Sailing Club in the UK. Without a doubt, Rutland Water is the best inland sailing locale at which I have ever sailed and Rutland Sailing Club has the best facilities of any of the sailing clubs of which I have been a member before or since.

When I see a picture like this (actually of the recent Laser Midlands and Eastern Grand Prix at Rutland) I feel strong pangs of nostalgia for the old days, and I still sometimes wonder why I allowed my ambition to progress in my career to tempt me to move away from this very special place. I think I would have been perfectly happy to spend the last 23 years sailing these waters in fleets like this.

Blogger Rescue

Apparent Wind was there. Center of Effort was there. Even the blogger formerly known as Litoralis was there. And, of course, Proper Course, was there. It was like a Laser sailing bloggers' reunion.

What was this auspicious occasion? Not some grand regatta at a swanky yacht club? No. Just Saturday afternoon informal Laser racing and practice at Lake Massapoag in Massachusetts, also once known on this blog as Lake Whippersnapper.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Litoralis is my son. And he hadn't been Laser sailing since that infamous day two years ago in Portsmouth when some Bastards! stole our dolly wheels while we were out sailing. In fact he hasn't even got around to replacing those dolly wheels yet. I've missed not sailing with him but I do understand. He has a demanding career and a growing family and, at this stage in his life, it's more important for him to be a good husband and a good father than to be sneaking off every weekend to go sailing with me.

I've tried to tempt him to join me. And last weekend my three-pronged strategy finally succeeded. The three prongs were...

  1. Make it easy for him. Massapoag Lake is close to my son's home so he only needed to be away from his family for an afternoon, not a whole day.

  2. Solve his dolly wheel problem. The guys at Massapoag told me they would lend him a dolly.

  3. Emotional blackmail. When my son's wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday this month, I shamelessly played the "sad old grandfather" card and said (in a sad quaking voice) that all I really wanted for my birthday was for my son to come sailing with me again, gulp, sob, gulp, sob.

It worked. So on Saturday afternoon we joined the group at Massapoag for a spot of Lasering. There were lots of short races. Some college kid from the lake won most of the races, although I was a close second to him in some of the races. My son was hanging in there, not doing too badly considering his two year sabbatical from Laser sailing.

It was towards the end of the afternoon that I noticed that there was a water-ski boat, with a man and woman on board, hanging out about three-quarters of the way up the course and the skier appeared to be taking a rest in the water. I was slightly annoyed that they were just sitting there in the middle of our course but mentally planned how to sail the beat to avoid going anywhere near them. I suspect most of the sailors were doing the same.

I was out near the starboard tack layline when I saw my son's boat capsize out of the corner of my eye. Ha ha. Must have been trying an extreme roll tack and muffed it, I thought. I rounded the windward mark and started going downwind. My son's boat was still capsized, not too far from the water-ski boat. Hmmm, that's strange. I couldn't see his head in the water near his boat either. That's worrying. Then I heard some shouting and screaming from the water-ski boat and saw my son in the water next to that boat. Everyone stopped racing and sailed over to the water-ski boat.

What had happened was that as my son raced near the water-skier in the water he realized that she was in some distress and that the man from the water-ski boat was actually in the water with her now, and was trying to support her and keep her head above water. My son asked if he needed any assistance and then capsized his boat and swam over to help him support the water-skier who had apparently injured herself in a fall while skiing.

Litoralis's worst fear was that she had some kind of spinal injury and felt that they should help her float in the water until paramedics could be summoned to the scene. But the woman insisted on climbing into the motor boat under her own steam and then, once on board, she started screaming because of intense pains in her chest. Our race committee guy had now motored over to the scene and immediately called on his phone for an ambulance to come to Massapoag Yacht Club. The water-ski boat ferried the patient the short distance to the yacht club and we all sailed in too. One of the Laser sailors, a doctor himself, persuaded the water-skiers not to move the injured woman any more and to wait for the paramedics. The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and the paramedics transferred the water-skier to a stretcher and took her away to hospital. Our doctor friend's initial diagnosis was that he thought she had suffered some kind of chest injury in the fall but that there were probably no serious internal injuries.

Obviously sailing was over for the day so we packed up and went back to my son's house. I told his two elder children Emily (5) and Aidan (3) about how their Daddy had rescued the water-skier, as Owen (1) listened and made happy noises. I may have exaggerated the significance of Daddy's role in the rescue slightly. Now Litoralis is even more of a hero in his kids' eyes than he was already. And quite rightly so.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Not Believing the Weather Forecast

The forecast in the picture above has been fairly typical of what SailFlow has predicted for the winds at least one day each week recently. Light winds, changing direction all around the compass, probably no more than 3 or 4 knots during the time we are likely to be sailing. Ugh!

The forecast for the Saturday of the Newport Regatta was much like that. I thought about not going. But I went. I had a good time.

The forecast for the Saturday of the Lipton Cup was much like that. I thought about not going. But I went. I had a good time.

I think I've cured myself from my "paralysis by analysis", my tendency to read too much into weather forecasts, specifically my belief that if the forecast predicts light fluky winds then it will be impossible to sail... or at least impossible to have fun sailing. Two years ago this bad attitude of mine was one of the reasons I almost gave up sailing. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that I've cured myself of that one.

Last Tuesday was another case in point. Shitty light wind weather forecast. But I went to Bristol anyway. I sailed for an hour by myself in about 5 or 6 knots. I had a good time. The wind died. I waited around. Another Laser sailor came out to join me. The wind picked up to maybe 3-5 knots. We raced three short windward-leeward races. We had a good time.

I asked my companion if he wanted to do another race. He said no, he would rather use what wind was left to sail back to the beach. It was a good decision.

I'm glad I've stopped believing the weather forecast, or at least in letting a light wind forecast from stopping me going sailing.

Tonight on the other hand SailFlow is promising 14 knots from the south at 5pm. Woo hoo!

No wait. I don't believe it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Not Playing the Red Sox

"It's like coming to play in a neighborhood pick-up baseball game only to find that some of the players are members of the Red Sox." So said NewportPatch in describing the experience of sailing in the Newport frostbite fleet - Frigid Frostbiters Sail Newport. I wrote a post on a similar theme myself at Strangers in which I wrote about the sailing hotshots whose transoms I saw disappearing into the distance every week.

What's true of frostbiting in Newport is also true, to some extent, of sailing in some of the major Laser regattas around here in the summer. The depth of talent at the top of the fleet is remarkable. I sometimes forget, as I thrash around the course in the bottom half of the fleet at these regattas, that the sailors at the top of the fleet have sailing achievements to their credit that I will never be able to match.

It's good to sail against great sailors some times. But some times it's also fun to go and race with regular folk, local club sailors who aren't all-Americans or World Champions or America's Cup professionals. Some times it's good not to play the Red Sox

That's what I found at the Lipton Cup Regatta at Squantum Yacht Club in Quincy on the weekend of July 16/17. There was a bunch of Laser sailors from local fleets who don't travel to regattas much, and a few kids (complete with Mommy Boat) from a local junior sailing program. The top seven or eight sailors were pretty much all of the same standard, i.e. Tillerman standard not Red Sox standard. It made for a laid-back, fun event where any one of us at any time might take the lead, and I think the nine races were won by seven different people.

On Saturday the winds started very light from the sea, under five knots I would guess. I've written before at Beast of Burden how very heavy sailors (more specifically this very heavy sailor) can sometimes do well in these conditions. In the first race I got a good start, poked out in clear air ahead of the fleet and had a healthy lead at the windward mark and held on to score the win. Woo hoo!

In the second race one of the kids went off like a rocket and things looked ugly on the downwind leg as everyone was trying to win the left side of the course for that valuable inside overlap at the leeward mark. As the wind died even more, I was somehow able to coast away from the bunch and have a lead of several boat lengths at the mark (probably due that magic go fast setting for my vang downwind that I had secretly copied off the boat of a certain Masters World Champion at a regatta last year.) Second win to the Tillerman. Woo hoo again!

Then things went pear shaped. I was sheeting in for another amazing super-wonderful start in the third race when something went bang, my traveler went loose, and I looked back to see that one of the screws holding my port traveler fairlead had sheered off, leaving the stump of the screw flush with the deck. What should I do? Go back to shore and attempt a repair? Did I even have the tools or a replacement screw to effect such a repair on the beach? The fairlead had twisted around and was holding on by one screw and the winds were still light so I carried on racing. Even though my results for the final three races on Saturday didn't match my wins in the first two, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that at the end of the day I was only two points out of the lead, tied on points with three other sailors for second place (and winning that tie for second on account of my two wins.) I hung out at the club for a while and consumed a couple of beers (of course) before heading over to my son's house for the night.

On Sunday morning I repaired my boat and we headed out for more racing in a stronger breeze, coming off the shore this time. It took me several races to notice that the best strategy was to head left for the beach, where you would find a nice shift to lift you into the mark. Duh! It's definitely one of my faults that I don't observe which side the race leaders are coming from and process that information for future races. (Maybe now I've written it down I will not be so bad at this?) So my results for the first few races were pretty mediocre.

The wind built steadily throughout the day and was blowing dogs off chains by the time of the final race. Somebody told me afterwards that it was measured at 28-30 knots. I find that hard to believe but it was certainly "tighten all the controls and hike as hard as you can" weather on the Tillerfort scale. It was definitely a help in these conditions (a) to be a heavy bastard and (b) to be able to keep the long pointy thing aiming at the sky downwind. As a result of these two skills acquired from (a) a lifetime of beer drinking and (b) being too lazy to have to deal with all that swimming around and climbing on the daggerboard nonsense, I managed to score a second in the final race, only being beaten by some ringer who claimed he hadn't been in a Laser for thirty years but whom I later discovered (thank you Mr. Google) was recently a national sailing champion in some other class in some European country.

I didn't win the regatta. And I think the published results are wrong. A few days later, one of the other sailors and I managed to convince each other based on our "perfect" memory for every sailor's finish in every race that he won the regatta and I was third.

But it doesn't really matter. It was a helluva lot of fun for a change NOT to be playing the Red Sox.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Two sailors had the following scores in a seven race series with one throwout allowed.

Sailor A    4   4   3   4   2   2   2
Sailor B    2   2   2   2   8  16   1

After the throwout each sailor had 17 points.

Which sailor had the most consistent series? Which sailor had the worst individual races? Which sailor won the tiebreaker under the current Racing Rules of Sailing?

This is not some theoretical exercise. These are real results from a regatta sailed this week.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Photo of sailing action at Cabarete shamelessly stolen
 without permission from Mj Barshi's Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I don't know my knots.

No, not knots as in knots you tie. I know knots in that sense.

But I don't know knots as in wind speed. People are always asking me things like, "What do you think it was blowing today, 14? 17?" I have no idea. Top sailors always write on their blogs about how they were racing in 5-7 knots that freshened to 8-11 with gusts to 16. I wish I could do that. Sometimes I just make up numbers to make this seem more like a sailing blog which is written by someone who knows his knots. I do not. Knots are a mystery to me.

I think of wind speed in terms of how I have to sail my Laser upwind. A Tillerfort Wind Scale might be something like...

  1. Crouch in the cockpit
  2. Sit on the side deck
  3. Butt over the side.
  4. Straight leg hiking
  5. Tighten all the controls and hike as hard as I can
  6. OMG I think I'm going to lose it
  7. Lost it

These might roughly correspond to Beaufort wind forces 1 to 7 but I wouldn't guarantee it. And, of course, the Tillerfort scale is specific to an elderly, rather unfit, somewhat overweight, bozo sailor. A different sailor of a different weight would move through that scale at different real wind velocities from me. My son (who weighs a bit more than me) will be sitting on the side deck when I am hiking flat out.

Tuesday evening last week in Bristol it was blowing Force 4 on the Tillerfort Scale and we had six sailors out for some informal windward-leeward racing. I seem to recall that I won the first two races. No idea how. Must have got lucky. But after that brief moment of glory, I was generally finishing towards the back of the fleet. One reason was that I was definitely not going so fast upwind as some of my fellow racers.

Now granted, two of the fleet are among the best Masters sailors in the world and they had spent the weekend tuning up for Tuesday night by sailing in the Canadian Masters. I watched them and tried to work out what I was doing differently from them. After a while I began to suspect that they were keeping the boat consistently flat better than I was. I kept trying to fiddle with my sail controls to find that elusive groove and every time I did that the boat heeled. Every time a little puff hit I was slower to respond than these two guys and the boat heeled. All that heeling and flattening can't be good for the flow of water over the foils and the air over the sail, can it?

Anyway that's my theory. Not an excuse, a theory. Something to work on when I'm sailing on my own, searching for the groove.

We sailed for a couple of hours but then the younger members of the fleet were getting tired with all that hiking in Tillerfort Force 4 so we went in and had some beers. Life is good.

Not Cool

I wrote last year about a terrible accident on Narragansett Bay in which two young women were killed during a midnight joyride in a powerboat. Now comes news that the young man who was driving the boat that night has been sentenced to 15 years after pleading no contest to reckless boating and boating under the influence, both with death resulting.

Yesterday I wrote a post in jest about Beer and Sailing, but drinking to excess before and during boating is no joke. Apparently the group of five young people involved in this tragedy drank before driving to the marina in Portsmouth to pick up the boat, they drank on the boat ride over to East Greenwich, and they drank again at a bar in East Greenwich. They then headed back to Portsmouth around 1 a.m. on a very dark night, and reached speeds of 39 mph with no GPS and no charts. The boat flipped over when it hit some rocks and landed upside down. Perhaps even more shocking, the young man at the wheel had been convicted two years before for a drunk-driving offence on the road!

Play safe out there kiddies. Boating while drunk is not cool.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beer and Sailing

Regular readers of this blog (all four of you) will have noticed that I write about beer almost as often as I write about actual sailing. Beer and sailing just seem to go together so well. Whether it was beer and pizza after Wednesday night sailing at my old club in New Jersey, or beer and dinner in Bristol after Tuesday night sailing these days, or the infamous Hangover Bowl at my old frostbite fleet in Connecticut where beer actually featured in the racing, there almost always seems to be beer involved when I go sailing.

So as I we were chilling out after racing in Squantum Yacht Club this weekend, over a couple of beers of course, imagine my shock and horror when one of our number who had spent a couple of decades in Sweden reported that beer is not allowed in Swedish yacht clubs!!!


A yacht club with no beer??? That's just not right. Beer goes with sailing just like hot dogs go with baseball, and Gatorade goes with football.

A yacht club with no beer? That's terrible. It would be like a Starbucks with no Wi-Fi. Why would anyone ever go there?

I bet the Australians wouldn't stand for it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In The Groove

I have mentioned before that the first day of the Newport Regatta (weekend before last) was somewhat frustrating for me for all sorts of reasons, not least because of the light, fickle winds.

The winds on the second day were much more reliable. We sailed out to the course in a light northerly which died and then switched to southerly just as we reached the race area. Then the southerly continued to build during the day from "sit on the deck" sailing to "occasional hiking" weather to "hike all the time" conditions. Then, as soon as the last race was over, it increased another few notches to "hike your socks off" fun for the long beat back to Fort Adams.

The race committee did a superb job of keeping the races rolling. There were five or six different fleets sailing on the same course but we never seemed to have to wait for other fleets. As soon as one race was over and the tailenders (often including me) had straggled across the finish line, it was into the sequence for the next start. So we managed to complete seven races on the Sunday.

My finishes were generally mediocre to disappointing, usually in the lower teens in the 23 boat fleet. But I was having fun battling it out with all the other bottom-half-of-the-fleet mediocrities. And as the winds strengthened during the day it was necessary to keep adjusting sail controls and boat-handling technique for the changing conditions, which kept things interesting.

On the final beat to the finish of the second race of the day something really odd happened. I was going extraordinarily well! I was sailing higher and faster than all the other boats around me! My sail control settings must have been just right for that wind strength, and somehow the way I was trimming and balancing the boat was just right too. How did that happen?

I think part of the reason was that before racing I had been listening to one of the top Sunfish sailors describe his upwind technique in various wind conditions to some of the other Sunfish sailors. He talked about how he kept the boat flat as the wind increased through different ranges. One thing he said had stuck in my mind, and that was how at a certain wind strength your weight is distributed between your feet in the cockpit and your butt on the deck and how you can keep the boat perfectly flat by subtly shifting weight from feet to butt and back again to deal with minor changes in wind speed. He said it was incredibly fast if you just get it right. Somehow his description of that feeling had stuck in my mind and I had fallen (by dumb luck of course) into "the groove."

Ah! The Groove. The Elusive Groove. The secret to boatspeed. That perfect combination of sail controls and boat trim and boat handling technique that is fastest in any given conditions. It's like jazz and love: it's hard to define but you know it when you feel it.

Would my luck hold for the next race? Would I still be in the groove? It was a black flag start but I didn't let that deter me. I found a good gap on the line. I pulled the trigger at just the right time. I accelerated well and made sure I was a little bow out on the boats to leeward and windward of me. O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I was punching out ahead of all the other boats around me, just like I was in the ultimately disastrous third race at the Atlantic Coast Masters a few weeks before.

So, I can pull off one good start per regatta. So what? Why can't I do it more often? More importantly (a) would disaster strike again like it did on Buzzards Bay and (b) would I still be in the groove?

Disaster did not strike and more importantly I was sailing fast. It felt like the previous race but, of course, it always feels fast when you are in clear air in front of the fleet. I was definitely up with the leaders most of the way up the beat, but I got a little discombobulated coming into the windward mark and played the final shift wrong and a few boats got past me. (It's amazing that none of those sailing books by Stuart Walker and Paul Elvstrøm and the like address the subject of discombobulation.) Anyway I held on pretty well for the rest of the race and finished in sixth, which turned out to be my best score of the whole regatta.

Of course in the next race the wind was a bit stronger and the groove was somewhere different so I wasn't in it any more and I muffed the start and I was back with the tailenders again.

Some wise sailing coach once said to me, "You have to be inconsistently good before you can be consistently good." At Newport I was pleased with myself that I had for a short while found "the groove" and that I had raised my game from consistently bad to inconsistently good.

It tasted sweet while it lasted.

Bloody Summer

I blame summer (again.)

A week ago I wrote that I felt like I had been neglecting this blog (and more importantly my three regular readers) because I had been actually sailing five times since I had last written a post about actual sailing. So I buckled down last week and wrote four actual sailing posts about actual sailing days. Phew! It was tough I can tell you.

So let's see where we are now? Oh no! I see that I have now been actually sailing four times since my last post about actual sailing. So I still owe you four actual posts about actual sailing days. How did that happen?

It's a tough life being a sailing blogger. The sailor who lives in this skin keeps going sailing these days and the writer who lives in the same skin can't keep up with trying to remember what actually happened when the actual sailor went actually sailing and then write all those actual sailing posts about actual sailing.

I suppose I could just close down the blog for the summer and disappoint all three regular readers?

Or just write about non-sailing subjects like deodorants or nipple rings?

Or stop doing actual sailing to give the writer a chance to catch up?

Choices, choices, choices.

I blame summer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I was in two minds whether or not to do the Newport Regatta last weekend. I kept checking the weather forecast all week. It changed every day but one thing did not change. The winds would be light on Saturday and Sunday. There would be a prevailing northerly and the wind might change to the south some time during the day and then again it might not. Sounded like the recipe for a frustrating regatta.

My wonderful wife finally lost patience with my procrastination. "You need practice in light air, don't you?" asked the Tillerwoman. "Just go. You will have a good time hanging out with your friends even if you can't sail all the time."

Isn't she brilliant? Of course she was right. Sailing in light winds presents its own challenges, and I certainly need practice in all kinds of conditions. And sailing is about the people you meet, the friends you make too.

So I registered for the regatta and drove my Laser down to Newport on Saturday.

The weather forecast was right. The winds were light. The sail out to the course area between Goat and Rose Islands was slow, but the good news was that I arrived in the start area only a few minutes before the announced time for the first warning signal, and the RC started racing bang on time.

We raced in a light northerly for a while.

Then in one race the wind switched from north to west to south during the race causing all kinds of havoc in the fleet order. You don't expect to have to beat to the leeward mark.

We raced in a light southerly.

The wind totally died during one race and it was eventually abandoned.

We waited around to see if the wind would fill in again, and eventually the northerly beat the attempts of the sea breeze to establish itself and we completed two more races making five for the day.

I hit a buoy in one race and took a penalty. I hit another boat in one race and took a penalty. There was tide and variable wind speeds and shifts and I never really figured it all out. I was in the top ten in one race and DFL in another.

It was hot and we spent about seven hours on the water in all. But I did drink lots of Gatorade and I didn't get cramp so that was good.

All in all a very frustrating day.

But it was also fun in some strange, masochistic way. How did Tillerwoman know that it would be? She doesn't even sail.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Who Needs Cheerleaders?

Every Laser fleet needs a cheerleader.

No, no, no. Not a buxom young lady in a skimpy costume who can do jumps and tumbles and chants. I mean someone who will motivate the members (and potential members of the fleet) to get off their butts and come out sailing. Usually we call the cheerleader a "Laser fleet captain." He or she organizes the activities of the fleet, and reminds, cajoles, pushes and persuades the rest of the fleet to participate in those activities.

Our Tuesday night informal Laser racing fleet used to have a superb cheerleader. But he is in the Naval Reserve and someone at the Pentagon decided that his considerable talents would be of more benefit to the USA in Afghanistan than in persuading a bunch of Laser sailors to go racing every Tuesday night in Bristol Harbor.

Nobody seemed to be picking up his role so I kind of stepped into the job of cheerleader by default. I don't look very good in a cheerleader's uniform and I certainly can't do all those tumbles and jumps and stuff. But I did hassle all the Tuesday night regulars at the Atlantic Coast Masters about when they were going to start coming out on Tuesdays. They all had very good excuses. I think the best was the guy who had scheduled oral surgery for a Tuesday just so he could avoid racing with me.

And I did send out emails to all the people I knew who came last year, and I did send out emails to everyone on last year's cheerleader's email list (most of whom I didn't know and I had never seen on Tuesday nights.) I think I got a couple of replies. That's if you can count "Auto-Reply: I am out of the office" as a reply.

After all that effort I persuaded one other sailor to come out and sail with me on Tuesday evening last week in Bristol. Only one! We raced windward-leeward courses in a typical late afternoon sea breeze until we were both thirsty enough to go for a beer (or two.)

Over a beer (or two) I bemoaned the fact that nobody else had come out to play with us (probably because I am no good as a cheerleader.) But my friend said he was just as happy to sail for an hour or two by himself or with one other sailor.

And I thought for a while and realized he was right. Sure it's fun to sail in a larger fleet and deal with tactics and whether or not you can cross that guy on port and how to find a clear lane and whether you can get an inside overlap at the mark. But when you are on your own, or with one other boat, you can concentrate more on boat speed and enjoy the experience of the waves and the wind and the sounds the boat makes moving through the water and the feel of the setting sun on your face... It's a zen thing, I guess.

Who needs cheerleaders?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


They say that Eskimos have at least a hundred words for snow. I don't know any Eskimos so I can't confirm or deny it. Although I do wonder why a language needs separate words for "snow mixed with Husky shit" and "snow mixed with the shit of a lead dog." I mean, dogshit is dogshit isn't it? And I have to admit I am a little intrigued by ertla which apparently means "snow used by Eskimo teenagers for exquisite erotic rituals." I must remember to ask about ertla if I am ever in Eskimo country.

Anyway this got me thinking about how many words there are in the English language for waves, the waves on water that sailors experience. Ripples. Chop. Waves. Swells. Rollers. Breakers....



I would be hard pressed to think of a hundred.

And yet waves are even more variable in their nature than snow, it seems to me. Every place I go sailing it feels as if the waves are different. And even in the same place they are different on different days depending on the wind conditions, both the wind now and the wind over the last few days.

For example I described the waves at Hayling Island on the first day of the Laser Master Worlds last year as "nasty, unpredictable, monster, cockpit-filling, boat-bashing, short wavelength, square waves." The Eskimos (if they were sailors) would have a word for that. The Germans of course would probably describe those Hayling Island waves with a word such as böseunberechenbarriesigepilotkanzelfüllungbootschlagenkurzewellenlängequadratischewellen. There are some advantages to a language that can invent compound nouns.

On Thursday a couple of weeks ago I took my Laser down to Little Compton for a sail. There is a nice sheltered beach in a harbor for launching, and after a few minutes sailing you are out in the mouth of the Sakonnet River across from Third Beach Newport, site of the fabled New England Laser Masters and also of the US Olympic Trials for Lasers and Laser Radials back in the good old days when the US Olympic Trials were actually held in the USA, rather than Europe or Australia or both like they are now. But I digress.

When the wind is in the right direction, i.e. south or south-west, the waves in the mouth of the Sakonnet are as good as you will find at any dinghy sailing location on the east coast. Add in the iconic Sakonnet Lighthouse and the natural amphitheater of the Sakonnet River shoreline and I really don't understand why they aren't holding the America's Cup here. But I digress. Again.

That Thursday the wind was in the right direction. The waves weren't exactly böseunberechenbarriesigepilotkanzelfüllungbootschlagenkurzewellenlängequadratischewellen to the extreme extent that they were at Hayling Island, but they were a pretty good approximation. There were nice rolling swells coming in from Rhode Island Sound with confused waves from various directions on top of them with some breaking crests. Let me tell you it was an interesting experience poking the bow of a Laser into one of those breaking waves going upwind. Going downwind was a total blast.

I don't really understand waves. Yes, I know all the theory from college physics, but I don't understand waves as a sailor and how to deal with them when sailing in a little 14 foot dinghy. I have a lot of learning about waves to do. Probably more learning than I have Laser sailing years left to learn. But it's fun trying. If I were going to San Francisco for the Masters Worlds next month I would go to Little Compton and practice every day. But I'm not. So I won't.

However, I am determined to sail in Little Compton some more times this summer. And then in winter I will go looking for ertla.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Wise Old Man of Lake Eustis

I blame summer.

I seem to have been neglecting this blog lately. I've been sailing five times since my last post about actual sailing and I haven't written a post about any of those five sailing days yet (as opposed to writing about cramp and posting some Swedish beefcake for the ladies). I blame summer.

Anyway, returning to the real subject of this blog, my continual struggle to keep on Laser sailing in the face of the depredations of old age, in particular, the dreaded death grip cramps... about a week after my dismal failure at the Atlantic Coast Masters on account of the aforementioned death grip cramp, I went sailing on Monday to test out the theory advanced by the wise old man of Lake Eustis, Sam Chapin, namely that I was holding the sheet way too tight and that that was the principal cause of my dreaded death grip cramp.

I launched from Independence Park in Bristol and did the loop around Hog Island and back. With 10-15 knots from the south that meant starting off with a beat of about 3 miles, so I had plenty of time to test out the Chapin Theory.

What I learned...

1. I have two different ways of holding the sheet. One is with the line coming up between my hand and fingers and then locked beneath my thumb. The other way is with the sheet wrapped around my hand. I think I read somewhere that wrapping the sheet around the hand is considered very bad form and extremely wimpy in some macho Laser sailing circles, but hey I'm not a macho Laser sailing circle.

2. With my sheet coming up through my hand, I discovered that I could relax my fingers almost entirely and that only a light grip with my thumb was sufficient to do the job of holding the sheet. The ratchet block really does do the job!

3. With my sheet wrapped around my hand, I don't grip the sheet very tightly but I do then have a tendency to pull the sheet very taut and put a lot of strain on the muscles in my forearm, which I am pretty sure is where the cramp starts.

4. I have a fault when hiking hard of using the sheet to support a lot of my weight. This also puts a lot of strain on the forearm. By concentrating on supporting my weight with my legs and my feet under the toe-strap I can relax the tension in my arm.

5. I noticed that when I transfer my sheet to my tiller hand (to adjust sail controls with my front hand) I naturally hold the sheet in a light grip between one finger and the tiller. Duh! If that's all it needs then I don't need to be straining like crazy when I hold the sheet in my front hand!

So I sailed my long beat, practicing holding the sheet with minimum hand tension and minimum forearm tension, and supporting my weight with my legs not with my arm, and I concluded that the wise old man of Lake Eustis really is a Wise Old Man.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

3 Ways to Avoid Cramp

After taking in all the helpful advice I received in the comments to my sorry story about getting cramp in my hand while racing my Laser a couple of weeks ago, not to mention all the friendly feedback from fellow sailors at the regatta, I am beginning to think that cramp is a bit like religion. Everyone seems to have some experience of it. It comes to some people alone in the middle of the night, and to others in a crowd in broad daylight. For some people it's an intensely personal experience while others prefer to seek professional guidance. People's views about it are all over the place and often conflicting. There is no apparent agreement about what it is and why it happens. Worst of all, you never seem to know when you are going to get it next.

So what do I conclude from all the feedback? How can I avoid further occurrences of the dreaded death grip cramp.

For sure, dehydration can be a cause of cramps, not to mention all sorts of other bad things. But I'm pretty certain that dehydration wasn't the cause on this particular day. I had drunk a fair amount of water at home before leaving for the regatta and another couple of bottles while rigging. And, without need to get too graphic about the details, I did use the same test that the US Olympic Sailing Team used in Beijing to make sure I wasn't dehydrated.

Depending on which source you believe, low sodium, potassium, calcium or magnesium in the bloodstream can also be a cause of cramps. One sailor at the regatta told me that he used to have exactly the same symptoms as me, but when he changed to drinking Gatorade rather than water to hydrate before and during the racing, his cramps went away. His theory was that drinking only water "flushed" the essential minerals from his system. Gatorade contains sodium and potassium, so if shortages of these are the cause of cramps, it could well be the cure.

The wise old man of Lake Eustis, Sam Chapin asked, "Do you think you have a death grip on tiller or maybe on the sheet. Try practice with concentrating on letting the ratchet block hold the sheet after you get it pulled in and just a light grip in the tiller?" Ahah. I think he may be right. I do tend to hold the sheet way too tightly, and also to use my sheet arm to support part of my weight when hiking. When I'm excited about doing well in a race I tend to try even harder and hike even harder and pull the sheet even harder. I'm fairly certain that this was a contributing factor on this occasion. I must learn to let the ratchet block do the work and not tense up my forearm muscles too much.

Of course, as this was the first time I'd raced in a real Laser regatta for many months, my forearm muscles were probably a bit out of shape and so it was easy to over-exert them. I suspect that some simple exercises in the off-season to strengthen my grip and forearms might have helped avoid the problem, and that now I'm sailing more regularly my arms and hands will become strong enough again that I won't work them too hard during normal racing. At least, I hope so.

Summing up the Tillerman method for avoiding death grip cramps...

1. Drink the right stuff.
2. Sail more.
3. Relax!

Sounds good to me.

Monday, July 04, 2011


Happy Independence Day to all my American friends.

This songs sends chills down my spine. I'm not sure what exactly it means, but I do think that it expresses an optimism about the future of American democracy. I hope you will find it appropriate for today.

Friday, July 01, 2011

470 For Sale

Oh no! Tillerman is at it again. Just when we were looking forward to another fascinating story about his hand cramps, he is posting a picture of a lady in a bikini. And not just any lady. That looks like Dutch supermodel Doutzen Kroes. I thought this used to be a sailing blog?

Thank you for your comment dear reader. But this still is a sailing blog. And this is a sailing post. You see, when Doutzen is not doing whatever it is that supermodels do, she likes to go sailing in her 470. And now she is selling the 470 to raise money for a charity which creates awareness about HIV and AIDS amongst young people.

Normal cramp post service will resume as soon as possible.