Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Flowers at Bitter End Yacht Club

I don't think anybody goes to the Bitter End YC purely to look at the flowers.  But there is no doubt that the flowering shrubs on the property add a special something to the experience of a vacation there. The best flowers are to be found at the south end of the resort, where the shrubs are somewhat sheltered from the NE trade winds which whistle around the villas at the north end and dry out the soil too much for many flowering plants to thrive there. 

Here are just nine of the photos that Tillerwoman took of the flowers at BEYC this month.

How many can you identify?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Where the boat comes in...

When we go to Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda, we fly to Puerto Rico and then to Beef Island on Tortola. From there we take the high speed North Sound Ferry to BEYC, a ride of 30 minutes or so depending on whether the ferry has to make any other stops on the way.

We always seem to arrive at Beef Island with a couple of hours to kill before the next ferry.

This is absolutely no problem.

There's a little bar by the ferry dock where you can have a bite to eat and a couple of cold beers while you are waiting for the ferry. The specials menu is on a blackboard under a palm tree. Chickens are running around the place (although they seemed to be camera shy this year.)

A perfect spot to chill out and adjust to "island time."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

What Am I Up To Now? (With 10 Clues.)

This weekend I tried a new sport…

1. I have never done this before in my life.

2. I did it with one of my sons. He had done it before.

3. I wasn't very good at it.

4. But I had this feeling that with a little tuition and a lot more more practice, I might one day be good enough to enjoy doing this.

5. After two sessions, I looked up the sport on the Interwebs and discovered I had been doing some of the basic things totally wrong. Duh! My son didn't even tell me. Bad boy!!!

6. There's an element of danger if you don't follow some basic safety rules.

7. it doesn't require quite as much equipment and special clothing as sailing does.

8. This sport has a combination of tradition and technology - a bit like sailing.

9. It's a sport at the World Masters Games. Woo hoo! If I work at it I could be a masters world champion! (Let's face it. I'm never going to be a world masters champion at Laser sailing.)

10. One of the bloggers I follow has been trying it recently too.

Can you guess what sport it was?

If I took up this sport on a regular basis, I would probably want to blog about it. What would be a good title for such a blog?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Find What You Love And Let It Kill You

"Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains.

For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover."

I found this quote the other day. It is often attributed to Charles Bukowski, but like the "Eric Clapton owns the Blue Guitar" meme it seems to be one of those things that nobody can definitively pin down and it is hotly disputed on various forums.

It seems very dark. Especially if you interpret it as an invitation to kill yourself in overindulgence on alcohol or drugs or Big Macs.

But I embrace it in the spirit of the original motto of this blog, "Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser!"

But maybe these quotes don't really mean what they seem to mean? After all, I was accused by some of my readers of being too literal when I drew attention to a gross inaccuracy in that famous JFK quote about blood chemistry being the cause of our love for the sea.

Maybe the references to death are just metaphors for "give it your all." I'm not good with metaphors.

Truth is, although I am passionate about my Laser sailing, I don't work hard enough at it (or at getting really fit enough to sail a Laser well) to be anything other than a mediocre mid-fleet sailor. And I certainly don't work hard enough at Laser sailing to kill myself doing it.

A better quote to describe my attitude to Laser sailing would be this one from George Burns…

"I'd rather be a failure in something that I love than a success in something that I hate."

To all my northern hemisphere readers… Happy Winter Solstice!

The days start getting longer next week.

Friday, December 19, 2014


When the wind dies, will the RS Aero owner be the first sailor back to the club bar?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Blue Guitar - A Quiz

Today I have a quiz for you - with a difference.

When we were at Bitter End YC earlier this month, this boat was anchored there.

The Blue Guitar was also at BEYC when we were there last year.

In both years we were told by other guests that it was Eric Clapton's boat. But we never saw Eric Clapton. The only non-crew member we saw from the boat was a lady about our age who came over in a launch to BEYC a few times, apparently to walk on the trails there.

And here's the quiz part. It's all about how you decide what information you can trust on the Internet. I was reading a book a few months ago that said that one of the most important skills we can teach children today is to know how to verify sources, especially on the Internet. We are almost at the point where you can find any fact you want on the Internet. But can you trust everything you find there? And what do you do if there is conflicting information?

You will find many sources on the Internet which support the fact that the Blue Guitar is Eric Clapton's boat. You will also find other sources which say that Eric's boat is actually this boat, the motor yacht Va Bene.

You will find at least one source that claims Eric Clapton owns both the Va Bene and the Blue Guitar.

And you will find at least one source that names other people as the owners of the Blue Guitar.

So what's going on?  Should I believe what I was told - that the Blue Guitar is Eric Clapton's boat?

Have a dig around on the Interwebs yourself and tell me what you think. But I don't just want a yes or no answer. I want to understand your reasoning. Why should I believe some things I find on the Internet about the Blue Guitar and disbelieve others?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Red Wine and Duct Tape

Just got back from 10 days at the Bitter End YC in the BVI where I ate too much, drank too much... and sailed, kayaked, paddle-boarded, swam, hiked, ran and stargazed just the right amount.

While I was there, someone told me the secret about the difference between men and women that has eluded me these last 66 years...

Women think red wine will fix everything.

Whereas men think duct tape will fix everything.

I never knew.

I think I'll open a bottle of red wine now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


The next America's Cup will be held in Bermuda.

What a brilliant choice!

A natural amphitheater.

Excellent winds.

And it's British.

What more could you ask for?

And if you're still not convinced, read what Charles Doane - a much better writer and a much better sailor than me - has to say about this decision on his blog Wave Train.

Why Not Bermuda?

"We should just kick back and savor the madness…"

Monday, December 01, 2014

Best Sailing Blog on the Planet of 2014

Some years I have published a list of the top ten (or approximately ten) of my favorite sailing blogs of the year.

Some years I haven't.

It's tough to choose only ten blogs, balancing the wishes to include old favorites while recognizing promising newcomers.

Not to mention that inclusion on my top ten list has usually been the kiss of death for at least three blogs on the list which have been abandoned by their authors within a few months.

So this year I am dong something a bit different.

I am announcing that one blog, a relatively new blog, is the undisputed Best Sailing Blog on the Planet of 2014.

Pause for fanfare…


And the winner is…

by Damian

I could give you a long list of all the excellent posts that Damian has written this year. But please go and browse the blog yourself. There's excellent advice on how to be a better sailor. There are thought-provoking series of posts about important issues in our sport like how clubs can retain younger members and the ethics of protests. There's humor. There's poetry. There's sports psychology. There's a guest post by an Oppie Mum and hilarious advice on boat maintenance.

If I wasn't already writing a sailing blog, I think Damian's writing in the last year would inspire me to start one.

And so many times I have read one of Damian's posts and thought, "I wished I could write a post as good as that."

Subscribe to The Final Beat. Sign up to get it by email. Follow it. Read it. Leave comments.

It's the best sailing blog on the planet.

RS Aero at Carnac

RS AERO Carnac by voile-magazine

I can't get enough of RS Aero porn.

Especially when it's French porn.

I think I'll have a cold shower now.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is Blogging Dead?

There's a great article over on ProBlogger, by guest author Steff Green, titled Is Blogging Dead?

Subscriber numbers are down. Younger people aren't starting new blogs. The action has moved to other social media platforms accessed by smartphones and it's all about shorter, punchier messages than the average blog post.

I expect all of my watery blogger friends have seen the same trends.

Is it time to recognize the inevitable and organize the wildest funeral party ever to bury all our blogs?


I confess I didn't tell you the whole truth.

OK. I lied.

The full title of Steff's blog post is actually Is Blogging Dead? How Blogs are changing and How You Can Stay on Top.

Steff is full of ideas on how to respond to the trends in the blogging world, with suggestions on how to take advantage of the swing to social media, rethink where the conversations about your blog posts will be happening, and make money from your blog in this new world.

Whether you are a blogger or a reader or both, tell me, do you think blogging is dead?

Or, if you think the patient may still be breathing, then what do bloggers need to do to resuscitate the corpse?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Random Things I Am Thankful For This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for…

My sailing friends 
especially the ones who drove 
down from Massachusetts so many times 
to train with me in Rhode Island this year

The RS Aero 
perhaps the best new singlehanded sailing boat 
since the Laser

Cup-holders on boats 

The winter solstice

Trapezoid courses

Form N-400



My blog readers 
especially those of you who 
take the trouble to leave a comment 
or send me an email

Waking up





 especially rum after sailing 

The farmers, growers, fishers, brewers, and winemakers 
of New England 

The Oxford comma 

IEEE 802.11

Rule 43.1(a) 


The Leinster Burger 
at Aidan's Pub 

especially beer after sailing 

All the people who work in restaurants and bars and pubs 

Even More Extreme Sudoku
Antoine Alary 

Six little people

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

RS Aero - Focus on Cup Holder

For those of my readers who thought I had finished writing about the RS Aero, fear not, I still have a lot more to say about the Aero and what I learned while sailing it at Minorca Sailing.

There are many positive attributes to the Aero -  its light weight, its acceleration, its hi-tech, sexy, modern feel and look… But I didn't appreciate one of its most important features on my first few days sailing the boat. I had noticed this cylindrical indentation in the cockpit floor at the back of the hiking strap. And I saw that there was a small hole from its center to the outside of underneath of the hull. But I couldn't figure out what it was. Could it be part of the method for draining water from the cockpit? But that didn't seem to be necessary as there are perfectly good drain flaps in the transom.

Eventually I asked some of the instructors at Minorca Sailing. This caused much scratching of heads. One young instructor suggested it might be an air expansion hole for the hull but that didn't seem to make any sense at all to me. And then the chief instructor worked it out…

"It's a cupholder!!!"

Of course it is. A cupholder.

I found some random bottle of water, and put it in the cupholder, and photographed it. (Actually the cupholder could have accommodated a somewhat larger bottle.) Perfect!

Wow! Just wow! These guys at RS Sailing have thought of everything. I've never ever owned a boat with a cupholder before.

This may just clinch the deal.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

That Boat Has a Blog

Tillerwoman and I went for a walk in Warren RI this afternoon. There were some Sunfish racing on the Warren River.

Tillerwoman said she hadn't seen so many Sunfish together since we left Mountain Lakes in New Jersey in 2007. There must have been about 20 of them.

We strolled around Warren and watched the little boats racing up and down, up and down the Warren River.

Wait. I know that boat. That boat has a blog.

That boat on the right. The one with the blue and yellow sail. She has a blog. Sunfish 3929.

Wow. That's like seeing a member of the royal family.

I spotted blogging royalty.

In Warren RI.

Who would have thunk it?

Friday, November 21, 2014

R.I.P Old Friend

 For many years I was "the guy in the green hat."

Then for a few more years I was in my flowery hat phase. For part of that time I was in my flowery hatted bearded marxist phase.

In the last few years I have been "the guy in the orange hat."

It's true. Once I find a sailing hat that fits well, I tend to wear it all the time, year after year, until I lose it or it falls to pieces. I have been wearing my orange hat for…

… sailing with friends in Rhode Island...

….sailing with my granddaughter in Massachusetts...

…breaking Laser masts in the BVI…

…training in Florida...

…and hanging out in beach bars with friends in the Dominican Republic.

A lot of good times and happy memories.

That orange hat has had a long and fulfilling life.

But all good things must come to an end.

On our sailing trip to Menorca last month I noticed that my orange hat was falling to pieces.

It was time to arrange for it to be put to rest.

I've had this hat a long time.

As you can see it commemorated the East End Laser Series. As in East End of Long Island. I never sailed in the East End Laser Series. The hat was given to me by a friend who used to organize the East End Series. Maybe he still does. I guess he must have had some hats left over that year.

And so I had to say a sad goodbye to my orange hat in Menorca.

I did contemplate giving it a Viking funeral but, in the end, I threw it out in the trash.

So now it is rotting away in a landfill in Menorca.

Or perhaps it was incinerated and its ashes are blowing away in the Mediterranean breeze.

Either way I like to think it's a fitting end.

So now I have to choose a new hat for sailing from my vast selection of sailing caps.

Something I will proud to wear for at least 5 or 6 years.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

RS Aero - Capsize Recovery Videos

As a follow-up to my own post about RS Aero - Capsize Recovery here are a couple of videos posted by Peter Barton on YouTube. Peter is, I believe, the class association manager for the recently formed RS Aero Class.

In the first video a young sailor of about 60 kilos does a capsize recovery on an Aero that has turned turtle. He first tries to right the boat with the mast coming up to windward of the boat and it blows over on top of him, which is not unusual even in a Laser. He then swims around to the daggerboard, being careful to maintain contact with the boat all the way. On his second attempt to right the boat he briefly loses contact with the boat but does manage to swim after it and catch it before it drifts too far away. He succeeds in righting the boat on his third attempt. The grab rail nearest to him was used to help him pull himself into a position where he could grab the hiking strap and pull himself in. Nice job!

In the second video, the whole recovery goes much more smoothly.  This sailor also looks to be a lot lighter than me and the boat does heel towards him as he pulls himself into the boat. But with his lower weight and a little bit of pressure in the mainsail he succeeds in climbing into the boat amidships, a feat that I never managed in my three attempts.

My take-away from these videos is that entering over the side of the boat in a capsize recovery looks to be easier for lighter sailors than it was for me. But I suspect that with some more time to experiment and practice, especially at positioning the boat across the wind and sheeting in the sail to provide some force to counteract act my weight, I might be able to do as well as these two youngsters.

It also reinforces my suggestion that potential Aero buyers should spend some time practicing capsize recoveries to make sure that they can find a technique that works for their size, strength and agility.

Thanks to Peter Barton for posting these videos and also to "jimmy kneewrecker" for bringing them to my attention on the Dinghy Anarchy RS Aero thread.

Update: There is a more detailed blow by blow of these capsize recoveries (and a third one) at the RS Aero Forum.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

RS Aero - Capsize Recovery

On Tuesday of our second week at Minorca Sailing I sailed the RS Aero with a 9 rig specifically to test out capsize recovery. I had heard that a number of people who had sailed the Aero in Minorca had had trouble getting back from the water into the boat from the side. And I had also heard from one sailor that the Aero had blown away from him faster than he could swim.

I took out the boat at lunchtime. Minorca Sailing don't have a rescue boat out on the water at that time of day, just one instructor on the shore keeping an eye out for mariners in distress. So I left instructions that I wanted to do some deliberate capsizes and recoveries and that I didn't need any rescuing unless I was in the water for at least 10 minutes.

It was about 6-8 knots with the occasional gust of 12 so I sailed around for a while and did some ugly tacks and gybes trying to capsize it but the damn thing wouldn't go over. In the end I forced it into a deliberate broach. As the mast hit the water I tried to do a dry capsize but got my foot caught in something as I tried to climb up to the high side, so I dropped into the water thinking that I needed to test what happens if I did fall out of the boat anyway, because even if I did manage to learn how to do a dry capsize I can't guarantee I won't ever end up in the water.

I swam round to the daggerboard and pulled the boat upright. That part seemed a little easier than a Laser. (Important note - the Aero at Minorca Sailing had a mast head float fitted (as do pretty much all the boats there except Lasers) so I wasn't able to test the tendency of the boat to turn turtle or not.

As I was warned by one of the instructors, it was not easy for a heavy person like me to get in over the side of the boat. This pre-production boat did not have grab rails so the only thing to grab was the hiking strap and every time I tried to pull my weight into the boat using that the boat capsized again on top of me. I tried and failed three times. Please note that I weigh 190lbs but have never had this problem before with Lasers or Sunfish.

As I was swimming around the boat to the daggerboard one time I momentarily lost contact with the boat and it started being blown downwind away from me. The boat was on it side and the boom was high in the air so the sail was helping to push it downwind too. I think the only thing that saved me was that the masthead float was acting like a sea anchor and by swimming hard I managed to catch the float and then work my way down the mast to the boat itself. Without that float I don't think I would ever have been able to catch the boat, and this was only in lightish winds. Goodness knows how fast the boat would sail away on its own in 20 knots. I guess this is one of the consequences of the boat being so light.

After three failed attempts to get in over the side of the boat I decided to try Plan B - climb in over the transom. This wasn't as easy as it might have been because although the Aero looks like an open transom boat it isn't really. It has those funny little honeycomb contraptions that hold the drain flaps so you have to pull yourself in over one of those. But by grabbing the back of the hiking strap and pulling hard I managed to drag myself in over one of the honeycomb gizmos. I was worrying I might break the honeycomb gizmo or detach it from the hull. I didn't do any damage this time (but more on this design feature in a later post.)

Rear view of RS Aero showing 
the "honeycomb contraptions" which support the drain flaps 

So I didn't cheat the nursing home this time, but I think my inability to get in over the side of the boat and the speed with which the boat blew away from me in even light winds are serious questions I need to consider before deciding whether to buy one.

Bottom line is that I strongly recommend that anyone having a demo in an Aero should try out capsize recoveries. Maybe you will have a better experience than I did. Sailors who are lighter than me or more agile than me may not have the same problem. Also I understand that the production boats have grab rails so that may make re-entering the boat somewhat easier.

Photo from RS Sailing Facebook page 
showing grab rail on production RS Aero

Monday, November 03, 2014

Alternate Ending

I woke up in bed last night with a panic attack. I had just had this totally freaky dream.

Tillerwoman wondered what the hell was going on.

I dreamed I was employed as resident blogger at this amazing sailing center on a beautiful Caribbean island… and I was also the cook. It was like Minorca Sailing - only better - and not over 3,000 miles away.

Tillerwoman laughed at the idea that I could cook anything.

And there was this little sailing instructor who used the B-word a lot and would always be saying things like, "Yay B-word Musto Skiff!" and "Yay B-word Sea Sail today!"

Tillerwoman tried to calm me down.

But I couldn't stop talking about my dream… "And I had this 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display and a WordPress blog and I wore an orange hat..."

Tillerwoman wasn't impressed.

But I kept going. "I haven't told you the best stuff yet… I was paid a gazillion dollars to be the resident blogger at this place and I had millions of readers and I just killed it…"

"And I lived with this tall beautiful blonde sailing instructor…"

Tillerwoman totally lost it. "Keep dreaming pal."

It was the darndest thing.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Soccer in the Rain

There's a bit of a storm hitting southern New England this weekend. As I write on Saturday, the temperature is in the 40s, it's raining steadily and there's a northerly wind of about 20mph. Tomorrow the winds are supposed to increase to 25mph gusting to 40, and there might be snow. The manly men of the Newport Laser frostbite fleet have even postponed the famous Fat Boys Regatta because of the weather.

We were thinking of going to watch our 6-year-old grandson, Aidan, play his last soccer game of the season in Foxboro, Massachusetts today. But Tillerwoman and I decided that standing around on a muddy field in the rain and wind and cold wouldn't be much fun. So we wimped out.

But the game went on…


This boy has British blood in his veins.

So do I. But I am old and he is young.

Friday, October 31, 2014

RS Aero - Impressions in Stronger Winds

On the Friday at the end of our first week in Minorca, I wanted to sail the RS Aero in the morning but I discovered that another sailor had already put his name down to use it in the weekly pursuit race. So I took out a Laser and sailed around watching the pursuit race. After a while I realized that the Aero had left the race so I went back to the beach to see what was going on. It turned out that the hiking strap had broken, pulled out of the screws at the front. The staff were busy repairing it and I was told I could take the Aero out in the afternoon, once the sealant around the screws had dried.

So I went and had some lunch, and took out the Aero (with a slightly shorter hiking strap) in the afternoon in about 17-21 knots. That was the reading on the wind meter on the beach. It might have been more in the middle of the bay.

What a blast! I realized I had been doing it all wrong going upwind. The other windy day I sailed I couldn't really hike the boat flat but today I put on maximum vang and cunningham and I could sail it flat.  It was just as much hard work as a Laser in these conditions though - hiking as hard as I could, playing the sheet all the time to try and keep the boat flat and driving fast.

I found I could hike at the front of the cockpit without waves coming over the bow (which is quite high.)  I did manage to go into irons a couple of times going through tacks in these conditions until I realized it's just like a Laser - you do need to make sure you steer it firmly through the tack without being too tentative and make sure you get your weight across smartly and get it driving on the other tack.

On Tuesday in the RS Aero 7 in somewhat more moderate wind, the gunwales were deflecting all the spray on the reach and beat, but on this day I was getting a lot of spray in the face. Thank goodness for that. I don't really feel like I've had a good sail unless I've taken a couple of waves over my head and come back with my face caked with salt.

I got some great rides on waves on reaches, and downwind I was faster than the waves. The bow was lifting right out of the water on reaches when I got my weight back. Gybing was easy. I realized the boat hadn't capsized once in three outings and that I might have to do a deliberate capsize one day if I wanted to test out capsize recovery.

After three tests of the Aero with different rigs in a wide variety of conditions I was coming to a couple of conclusions about the Aero…

1. The boat's design does eliminate many of the frustrations that some people have with the Laser - such as catching the sheet around the transom, low boom, auto bailer ineffective at low speeds etc.

2. On the other hand, it is ultimately a very similar experience to sailing a Laser. It is what it is - a 13ft hiking, planing single-hander. The lighter weight of the Aero does make it more exciting on reaches, but I wasn't seeing a huge difference in the overall experience on beats and runs.

I was actually starting to wonder whether I really needed a (slightly) better mousetrap as well as my existing mousetrap.

Coming soon... Tillerman tests out capsize recovery on the Aero. Other sailors' experiences with the Aero at Minorca Sailing. What I like and don't like about the Aero design. Ruminations on robustness.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

RS Aero - Impressions in Light Winds

On Wednesday of my first week at Minorca Sailing, I took the RS Aero 9 out for a test sail in winds of about 6-8 knots. Here are my impressions of that experience, based on an email I wrote to some friends that evening...

Sailing the RS Aero 9 in lighter winds felt quite tame compared to my first sail in stronger winds with the 7 rig. I was glad I was in the 9 rig. The 7 would have been kind of boring I think. The experience was probably similar to sailing a full rig Laser in similar conditions. Sorry to report the Aero does not have a magic trick of planing in 6 knots - at least not with a 190lb crew. 
Played around with various downwind sitting positions. 
Did some roll tacks and roll gybes. I think you need to be a bit more gentle with those than with a Laser but it comes naturally to control the flatten in a manner that isn't too aggressive.  
There is definitely a big difference in speed between sailing close-hauled and cracking off 10 degrees or so, even in light conditions. Not sure what is best VMG. I actually spent most of the afternoon sailing quite low, but a Minorca Sailing instructor later told me that he always sails the Aero as high as he can.

 Minorca Sailing instructor explaining VMG

Summing up the experience I think that if this had been my one and only demo in the Aero I would have ended up thinking that it's a perfectly fine boat but that it didn't offer anything special compared to a Laser. Whereas yesterday in stronger winds I was constantly thinking about how much fun it was. I guess that's a message to other people contemplating purchasing an Aero - make sure you sail it in some different wind conditions before you decide.

My Grandfather's Eyes - Throwback Thursday

I never knew my paternal grandfather. He died a few years before I was born. And I realized a couple of months ago that, not only did I know very little about him, I didn't even have any photographs of him. So when we visited my sister in England earlier this month, we went through some of the old family photos that she had, and she kindly gave me a couple of photos of our grandfather.

There he is, in his army uniform. I knew he had been a professional soldier and had served in South Africa and India and World War 1, but knew very little else about his military career.

When I examined the reverse side of the photo, I realized it was actually a postcard. The stamp and the postmark (if it ever had them) had been removed. But the card was addressed to my grandfather's mother. The only other writing on it was his name and service number, the message "With love to all" and the two German words…

gefangenenlager Gardelegen

It didn't take long to discover that "gefangenenlager" is the German word for "prisoner of war camp" and Gardelegen is a town in Germany which was the site for a camp for British POWs. If I had ever been told by my parents that my grandfather was a POW in Germany, I had long since forgotten it.

I was intrigued to find out more so started looking around at various online records. It turns out that the International Committee of the Red Cross has an excellent archive of records of prisoners of the First World War and I was quickly able to find a scanned image of a handwritten record card with my grandfather's name, various reference numbers and in the top right hand corner the date 31-10-14.

31st October 1914. 100 years ago tomorrow. I wondered what the date signified. The date this record was created? The date he was captured?

I searched further records on the same database and found entries for my grandfather in a couple of ledgers of prisoners, and these confirmed he was indeed held at Gardelegen and that he had been captured at Ypres on 31-10-14. It also recorded that he had been wounded in his left leg.

Then I hit the jackpot. I managed to find the records for him in the British Army WW1 Pensions Records Database. It had page after page of information about him from the day he enlisted in 1900 (one month after his 18th birthday) until the day he was demobilized in May 1919. Among other things it confirmed the ICRC records of his being captured at the end of October 1914 because he was officially reported as "wounded and missing" on 1 November 1914 and officially reported as a prisoner of war on 25 January 1915. What a worrying three months that must have been for his family.

I wondered if I could find out any more about the fighting in which he was captured so I went to the Wikipedia entry for the First Battle of Ypres which raged from October 19 to November 22 1914. The only entry for my grandfather's regiment (The Royal Lincolnshire Regiment) was for the fierce fighting on the Wytschaete–Messines line on 31 October 1914. When the 1st Battalion of the Lincolns were committed to the battle it is recorded they lost 30% of their strength. It seems almost certain that it was in this battle that my grandfather was wounded and captured.

Mud and muck at the First Battle of Ypres, October 1914

My eye casually scanned the reports on the battle as it continued that day and a name caught my eye. A very familiar name.

A couple of French divisions had been rushed in to reinforce the British, and the Germans brought in two more divisions including the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment. And earning the Iron Cross (Second Class) on that day, for rescuing a man under fire, was a lance-corporal in the Bavarian Regiment called Adolf Hitler.

Holy cow. My grandfather fought in the same battle on the same day in the same part of the front as Adolf Hitler. 100 years ago tomorrow.

There were a lot more details about my grandfather in all those records I found including his height (5ft 5 and 9/10 inches) and weight (133 pounds) on the day he enlisted in 1900.

And the fact that he had blue eyes.

I never knew.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

RS Aero - First Impressions

After my adventure in the Laser Radial on my first Tuesday morning at Minorca Sailing, I had my first sail in an RS Aero in the afternoon, using the 7 rig in about 10-14 knots. Below are my random first impressions of the boat on that day, a lot of it quoted from an email I wrote to a couple of friends back home immediately after the experience…

The RS Aero felt initially a little unfamiliar but I soon got the hang of it and it wasn't long before it felt like a boat I had been sailing for years. As expected it was a lot of fun on reaches. I tried various reaching angles and it seemed to be easy to get planing on all of them. I can imagine that some recreational sailors will buy an RS Aero just for the pleasure of reaching back and forth as many kite sailors and windsurfers seem to do. At least to my inexperienced eye that's what a lot of them seem to be doing most of the time. 
Upwind it was a delight how the narrow bow sliced through the chop. At least in these winds, the gunwales were deflecting all the spray away from my face and body on both reaches and beats. I didn't seem to be able to apply enough cunningham to depower the sail for upwind sailing but it was easy to apply enough vang to achieve the desired effect. The hiking position was very comfortable. Oh god. I'm starting to value "comfort" as a desirable feature in a single-handed dinghy. I must be getting old.   
Tacks and gybes were no problem. Tacking from close-hauled to close-hauled was straightforward. Another sailor here who took out an Aero earlier in the day reported that it was hard to tack from reach to reach (without getting it going fast on a close-hauled course first) because the boat lacked sufficient momentum to get through the tack. I didn't try that personally. 
I had heard that it felt "uncomfortable" when sailing downwind. My experience was that it's not exactly uncomfortable, just a bit of an unfamiliar position. I found a position that I think I could maintain indefinitely which locked me into the boat and enabled me to balance it easily.
Actually they had to drag me off the water today because some other sailor wanted to try the boat, otherwise I would have been out even longer than the 1 hour 40 minutes or so that I was.  
I was very comfortable in the 7 rig in these winds. Felt more like a Laser Radial than a Full Rig in terms of how much effort was required. Suspect I will want a 9 rig in lighter winds and hope to get a chance to test that out soon.

More reports to come on two more test sails with the 9 and 7 rigs in different wind conditions, a capsize recovery evaluation, what I heard about the Aero from other sailors and instructors, and some of my own comments on various aspects of the hardware and boat design.

Watch this space.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Manly Men Sail Radials

On our first Tuesday at Minorca Sailing this year, as I have mentioned before, we were scheduled to go on a Sea Sail. Before we left the beach, our instructor warned us that Force 5 winds (17-21 knots) were expected and that, because it clearly wouldn't be practical to return to the shore to swap rigs if any of us found we were overpowered once we were out of the bay on the open sea, we should all consider sailing a smaller rig than usual. We all complied with his warning. I and most of the other full rig Laser sailors chose to sail with Radial rigs for the sea sail. And the sailors who had been using Radials went out with 4.7 rigs. (I think one sailor did opt to set out in a full rig but early in the trip he peeled off for some reason.)

I have written before about the pros and cons for me of using the Radial rig in such posts as Random Radial Ramblings in 2010 and Egotist or Masochist or Manly Man earlier this year. And uber-sail-blogger yarg wrote the classic post on this topic Why Manly Men Never Use a Radial Sail. As you may detect from my posts, the older I get the more I am warming up to the idea of buying a Radial rig to use on windier days. There was one very windy, gusty, shifty day at Lake Massapoag this year when I was definitely overpowered in a full rig Laser and some of my friends in Radials were regularly beating me. Hmmm!

I still wasn't all that enthusiastic about the Radial as we set out on our adventure on the Bay of Fornells. I'm a big guy. I'm a manly man. Surely I will be too heavy for a Radial, I thought.

But I got a big surprise. I estimate the wind was actually about 15-18 knots. We sailed out of the bay and then sailed a long port tack close-hauled leg across towards the next headland where the instructors set up a race course for us. We sailed three informal windward-leeward races before heading back in. I was surprised to find that even although I was probably the heaviest sailor there (or maybe because of it) I was usually faster upwind than all the lighter sailors in Radials and could hold my own with them downwind. Hmmm!

And then the trip back to the mouth of the bay was a long starboard tack broad reach riding wave after wave after wave. It was a blast! I was faster than all the other Radial sailors on this leg too (probably because Kurt Taulbee at SailFit explained to me how to sail a reach properly a few years ago and I discovered I had been doing it all wrong for 25 years.)

Sheer Lasering pleasure! I can't remember ever having more fun in a Laser than I had that morning.

Would I have had even more fun in a full rig? Probably not.

Would I have actually been overpowered and struggling to keep up in a full rig? Possibly.

Some dude (who is not me) having way too much fun sailing a Radial

Correction - thanks to Anonymous 9:44 AM, October 28, 2014
That's actually a dudette called Marit Bouwmeester
I need new glasses

OK - this one really is a dude - a manly man
Scott Leith of New Zealand sailing in the 2010 Laser Masters Worlds

It was the best day of the holiday so far and it gave me new respect for the Radial rig, and left me thinking I really should get one when I got home.

I think I had a very large beer for lunch (probably with a very large tuna roll too) and was very likely babbling away to anyone who would listen about what a great experience I had had in the morning.

Manly men sail Radials!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I am an Asymmetric Sailor

I am an asymmetric sailor.

No, wait. If you say you are an asymmetric sailor when you are at Minorca Sailing people will assume you are one of those crazy dudes who sails all those boats with asymmetric spinnakers like the RS Vareo and RS100 and RS200 and RS400 and RS500 and RS800 and Musto Skiff.

Actually, some years at Minorca Sailing I did sail some of those boats. But I mean I am an asymmetric sailor in a different sense. My sailing skills are asymmetric. My skills are different on port and starboard tacks.

It shouldn't be so. The Laser is an (almost) perfectly symmetric boat. How you sail it one tack should be an exact mirror image of how you sail it on the other tack. (At least to my simple mind it seems like it should. Or am I missing something?)

But I discovered on our first Monday at Minorca Sailing this year that I am more asymmetric than I thought I was.

The morning session in the Advanced Laser Class was about downwind sailing. One of the drills we did was to tether our tillers and sail the boats without use of tiller at all. We had to bear away from a beam reach to sailing downwind; and then head up and bear away at will; transition from sailing a very broad reach to sailing by the lee and back again; and then gybe the boat.

It was all going perfectly well when I was on starboard tack. I could do everything I was supposed to do using the sheet, the vang and the heel of the boat. Of course, the point of the whole exercise was to teach us to sail downwind without using the rudder to force the boat to turn.

But on port tack I was awful. I couldn't make the boat do what I wanted to do. In the end I ended up doing an ugly death roll and capsize. I am an asymmetric sailor.

I rationalized that when I am racing I spend most of my time downwind on starboard tack unless there's a very good strategic reason to be on port. I think most Laser sailors do. So I have developed the skills of using my body weight to steer the boat on starboard, but my brain is not wired to do the same thing on port because it has hardly any practice at doing so.

This got me thinking. Are any of my other sailing skills asymmetric? I am naturally right-handed so am I better at steering with the tiller on port tack when my right hand is on the tiller? Do I do port to starboard tacks better than starboard to port tacks? Ditto for gybes?

I have no idea, but I do seem to recall some years ago realizing that I was kicking the sheet around the cockpit when tacking one way but not the other way. I had to slow things down and work out what I was doing with my feet differently when tacking opposite ways.

Then I looked at my sailing gloves (which were new at the start of the holiday.)

Do you see what I see? The forefinger of the right hand is starting to wear out faster than the forefinger of the left hand. I must hold the sheet more tightly with the right hand.

Oh geeze. I really am an asymmetric sailor.

Then I started wondering about other sports. Are they inherently asymmetric or do participants in those sports have to be concerned about being asymmetric in their skills when they shouldn't be?

What about rowing? If you are rowing with one oar, in an eight for example, it is essentially asymmetric. Do top rowers end up specialize in always rowing on the same side of the boat? If you row an eight, are you always a bow side or stroke side rower? But what if you have two oars? Don't the handles overlap? Does one hand always go on top? Inquiring minds demand to know. Well one inquiring mind does.

And how about kayakers? From my naive perspective that looks like a sport that should be perfectly symmetric. Or is it? Aren't you twisting the paddle to feather the blade in opposite directions from each side? Do kayakers have a problem in making sure that their strokes in each side are of equal strength? And what about when they start doing all those fancy rolls? Does each kayaker have a preference for doing rolls from left to right or right to left? Or do they train to be ambidextrous?

And then there's ice skating? All that spinning round and round? Are skaters asymmetric? Is each individual better at either clockwise or anti-clockwise spins?

Baseball and cricket of course are inherently asymmetric. In fact a whole part of the management of a baseball team is working out how to use your left-handed and right-handed players to match up best against the other team's left-handed and right-handed players.

Soccer players are usually better kickers with one foot aren't they? Or are they? Do they train to have equal skills with each foot? Does "ambidextrous" apply to feet, or is there some other word for it?

In fact the more I think about it, it's an issue that in some way or other must affect almost every sport. We often naturally have skills that are different on each side of our bodies and, depending on the sport, we have to work to capitalize on that or minimize it.

What about you?

Are you asymmetric?

How does it affect your favorite sporting activity?

Bonus points for anyone who can tell me ways in which the Laser actually isn't perfectly symmetrical!

Sunday, October 26, 2014


I'm not very good at writing about feelings.

I've been wanting to write a post about what it feels like to be at Minorca Sailing. Fundamentally, that feeling is why Tillerwoman and I keep going back there.

I made a stab at it in my 2006 post, Minorca Sailing - 25 Years Later. I talked about some of the factors that make it a special place for us…

Nostalgia - that so little has changed since we first went there, over 30 years ago now.

The unspoiled beauty of the bay and the surrounding hills.

The unique nature of the style of service and offerings. As I said then…
A safe sailing environment where the guests are offered a huge range of options. Something for everyone from total beginners to aggressive racers. Casual fun atmosphere with professional help and instruction if you want it, but with plenty of freedom and flexibility to do what ever turns you on.
All true but that's all external stuff. It's not about the way we feel when we are there.

The feeling came over me again on the Sunday morning, the second full day, of our visit to Minorca Sailing this year, as I lay in bed and waited for the sun to rise and shine through the bedroom curtains and I reflected on the previous day and contemplated the days ahead.

There had been a couple of welcome parties - a dinner on Friday evening and drinks on the beach on Saturday evening. A chance to renew old acquaintances with instructors and clients, and also to make new friends. An easygoing, friendly bunch of people whom I looked forward to having fun with in the coming days.

A Laser class on Saturday morning and then some free sailing in a Laser in the afternoon, working on my tacks and gybes.

Dinner on Saturday evening at Ca Na Marga with a couple of my favorite items from their menu.

All good, but hardly enough to explain why I was waking up with a silly grin on my face. Relaxed. Anticipating a wonderful day ahead. Two weeks of wonderful days ahead.

I think it's really about the sheer pleasure of a "no worries" vacation with lots of "no hassle" sailing.

I've had all sorts of vacations in my life including ones where we were driving long distances every day and/or looking for new places to stay every night. There's none of that when we are at Minorca Sailing. We are HERE. It's a two minute walk to the beach to go sailing. It's a five minute walk to the nearest restaurant. As the Beatles sang, "Oh that magic feeling. Nowhere to go." It's almost like the feeling of coming home after a long trip. Only better.

And then the sailing is totally hassle free. I forget sometimes how much hassle there is in much of the sailing I do, especially at regattas. Such things as…

Pack up boat and sailing gear
Drive trailer to wherever I am sailing.
Get boat off trailer and rig it.
Read sailing instructions.
Wait to launch.
Sail out to racing area (which might take an hour or more at some locations.)
Wait for race committee to set the perfect course.
Wait for fleets using the same course to get their starts off.
Wait for own fleet to work out how to start without triggering a general recall every time.
Sail back to launch site at end of day (maybe another hour or more.)
Try and find my own dolly among the hundreds on the beach.
Derig boat.
Put boat on trailer.
Drive home.

OK. None of that is terrible in the big scale of things and we are all happy to do it to enjoy the fun of racing.

But there is essentially none of that at Minorca Sailing. The equivalent list there is roughly…

Walk two minutes to beach.
Tell member of staff what boat you want to sail.

The boats are all rigged by the staff. They will even try to assist you launching and putting in your daggerboard and pushing your rudder down if you let them. And when you are finished you just sail (the short distance) back to the beach and some instructor will be standing in the water ready to take your boat from you.

No, no, no. That picture was not taken at Minorca Sailing. It's from a website for a ridiculously extravagant cruise line. The instructors at Minorca Sailing do NOT wear tuxedos or bring you snacks and glasses of champagne when you come back from a morning of Laser sailing. But there's something of the same spirit of service that this picture portrays. It's your vacation and we are here to make sure you enjoy it.

And there's just the right balance of organization and freedom to make sure you will enjoy it. There is organized instruction at various levels from beginner to advanced in the mornings. And organized (pretty informal) racing in the afternoons. And then in the late afternoon you can have personal one-on-one tuition on any sailing subject you want. And in the evenings there are sometimes GPS and video debriefs.

But the beauty of it is that you can do as little or as much of the organized offerings as you want. Or just go free sailing if you want. Or take an afternoon off if you want. Or mix and match the offerings however you like. 

Want to take lessons on sailing asymmetric dinghies in the morning and race Lasers in the afternoon? No problem.

Want to take Laser classes in the morning and just practice on your own in the afternoon? Sure.

Want to skip the Laser racing and try out the RS Aero? Whenever you like.

Want to do the Asymmetric classes some days and Laser classes other days? Be our guest.

I find it hard to imagine a better way to have a sailing vacation.

I really am no good at writing about feelings.

You will just have to take my word for it and go to Minorca Sailing yourself.

Or read the posts about our 2014 Minorca Sailing trip if I ever get round to writing them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Sea Sail

Today at Minorca Sailing was the best day so far.

Sunny. High 70s. Force 4 to 5 winds in the morning, and force 4 in the afternoon.

In the morning, we had the legendary Sea Sail when the brave Laser sailors in their petites bateaux head out of the bay on to the wild and wooly Mediterranean Ocean for some wave sailing and informal racing.

Here are our intrepid sailors leaving the relative shelter of Fornells Bay as captured by Tillerwoman from her vantage point on the rocks.

And here is another Tillerwoman classic of 10 white dots in front of the Cap de Cavalleria, artistically framed by a cleft in the rocks. Can't you just feel how much fun we were having?

"Laser is love. Laser is LIFE!"

And then in the afternoon I did something I have never done in my life before… I had my first sail in an RS Aero.

I suppose I am going to have to write another blog post about that some time.

Sunday, October 05, 2014


As expected the video debrief on the Laser racing this evening at Minorca Sailing this year was somewhat embarrassing for me.

I settled in for the session with a large glass of beer to dull the inevitable pain.

First there was a shot of me sailing upwind on which the instructor made no comment even thought it looked to me like I was doing OK.

Then there was a shot of me sailing upwind on which the instructor pointed out to me that I wasn't sailing the boat flat enough and I should get my shoulders back more. Good feedback. Thanks.

Then there was a shot of me dropping the tiller in a tack and heading up and slowing down, so much in fact that I then had to duck a starboard tacker whom I thought I would cross. The instructor didn't need to make any comment. The many howls and hoots of derisions from the peanut gallery said it all.

I now hate those guys in the peanut gallery.

Those guys in the peanut gallery

Then a shot of me doing a leeward mark rounding. If I do say so myself, I thought it was pretty decent.

The instructor said it was "textbook."


I think that's a compliment.

It must be at least 20 years ago I went to a one day masters clinic at Wianno YC held before the Atlantic Coast Champs there. The coach was Brad Dellenbaugh. I still remember that Brad Dellenbaugh said I did an "excellent" gybe.

People remember positive feedback a long time.

Instructors and coaches and teachers should know that.



And so to bed.