Friday, May 29, 2015

The Question With No Answer

I was sailing on Lake Massapoag the other day when another sailor asked me a question I couldn't answer.

I don't mean I didn't know the answer. There are a lot of questions about sailing that I don't know the answers to. Questions like... "How is it possible to sail faster dead downwind than the wind?" or "Why does the US Olympic team not win more medals?" or "Why did they get rid of Rule 17.2?" These questions are, in theory, answerable and somebody knows the answers - I assume. But the question I was asked totally stumped me because it did not compute, it was like one of those impossible paradoxes such as, "Which came first the chicken or the egg?"

But first let me digress and give you the background.

I have been sailing my new RS Aero quite a lot in the last few days. Mainly because I am entered in the first RS Aero Regatta in North America east of the Continental Divide tomorrow and I still have no idea how to sail the boat properly.

A couple of days at the lake it has been very windy - about 18 mph with 30 mph gusts and shifts up to 90 degrees. These are not the ideal conditions to learn how to sail a new dinghy. To be honest on those days I have mainly concentrated on keeping the long carbon pointy thing in the air and not in the water. But man, when you take off in an RS Aero on a reach in a 30 mph gust, you are really flying. And on those windy days, although I wasn't sailing very well, I consoled myself with the thought that which does not kill me makes me stronger, as the famous German Laser coach Friedrich Nietzsche once told me.

The other two days the winds were around 10mph so it was possible to work on boat-handling skills and boat-speed and all that other stuff that coaches call "training" and I call "having fun in the boat." One day I mainly worked on tacking and was starting to do something a bit more like a proper tack instead of my original method of "push the tiller over and pray." The other day of medium wind I sailed up and downwind with a Laser and another Aero which was great for working out things like whether to go high or low upwind and what angles were fast downwind.

And I am so pleased that I have two friends with Aeros on the same lake. We are all learning from each other and passing on little tips and tricks we discover. Everything from how not to break the outhaul (oops) to the optimum position to sit in the boat downwind.

All good stuff.

I am not really ready to sail this baby in a regatta yet but I am having fun, and that's what it's all about, right?

So what was this impossible question?

It was, "So do you like your Aero better than your Laser?"

I was nonplussed.

The question didn't make sense to me.

OK. I know we ask questions like this about consumer products all the time. Do you like your Audi better than your Subaru? Do you prefer Smuttynose IPA to Bud Lite?  Did you like The Graduate better than Honey I Shrunk the Kids?

All good questions. All easy to answer.

But a boat, at least a single-handed sailing dinghy, is not like any other consumer product. Not to me anyway. It's almost like a living thing. It's an integral part of who I am and how I have fun. It's a lifestyle. It's a community, or at least the way into a community. And that's all about the people you meet and the friends you make.

The Aero and the Laser offer different sailing experiences and entries into two different communities. Different opportunities to sail in different places. But I couldn't possibly say I like one more than the other. Not the way I feel right now, anyway.

You might as well ask me which of my sons is my favorite as question whether I like my Aero better than my Laser. The question is meaningless and impossible to me.

So I fudged the answer…

"I refuse to draw comparisons. I really enjoy having two boats. End of story."

Am I strange?

If you have more than one boat do you feel the same way?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Laser Sailing at the Lake - Crushed!

I joined the yacht club.

A couple of Sundays ago I hitched up my Laser trailer and headed off to race in the Sunday races at my new yacht club.

My friends Yarg and The Email Dude were there. But they had brought their RS Aeros.

What the?

I thought we had all agreed back at the big winter planning meeting that we were going to sail Aeros on Saturdays and Lasers on Sundays. But the the meeting was held at Mick Morgan's Irish Pub and there was an Irish band playing and I had had two (conservatively) pints of Guinness and I couldn't really hear what anyone else was saying so maybe I got confused. And I'm a bit deaf these days anyway. Must make an appointment to see the ear doctor.

My friends had taken delivery of their RS Aeros only a couple of days before, so I guess they couldn't resist taking them out and playing with them. Boys with toys!

Never mind. A boat's a boat. So there were 6 Lasers and 2 RS Aeros - with 7 rigs - for the Sunday races.

According to the handicap numbers they are using in the UK, the Aero 7s should be a bit faster than Laser full rigs but we did seem to have pretty even racing between Lasers and Aero 7s on that day. At least to start with, we are going to race Lasers and Aero 7s together starting at the same time. At least I think that's what we agreed at Mick Morgan's Irish Pub back in the winter but it was during a rousing chorus of The Wearing of the Green and I don't hear so well these days.

Wearing of the green

So off we went.

One race I was OCS.

What the?

I am hardly ever OCS.

I took this is a good sign. I am usually not very aggressive on the start line.

Obviously I was too aggressive on the first day of racing in 2015.

This year will be different.

Yarg and the Email Dude were often ahead of me in their Aeros.

But not always.

They were often ahead of me when we all raced in Lasers so I don't think it proved much.

Anyway lake sailing is so much about spotting shifts and gusts that a theoretical few percentage points in boat speed aren't all that relevant.

There was one race when I was 5th at the windward mark but then I overtook both Aeros and the two leading Lasers on the first reach to take the lead.

Woo hoo!!!

How did I do that?

Well, I spotted more pressure higher than the rhumb line and went for it.

And I used my double super secret trick I learned from Kurt Taulbee at SailFit about how to go fast on reaches.

But then I threw it all away by going the wrong way on the final beat.

Hey ho!

Such is lake sailing.

Must make an appointment to see the eye doctor.

So, going into the final race I had a 2nd and a 3rd and a 5th (ugly!) among the Lasers.

Did we decide at Mick Morgan's whether we were going to score Aeros and Lasers together or separately? I couldn't remember.

Maybe we did, but they were playing a rousing chorus of Whiskey in the Jar so I probably didn't hear the answer, and now I had no idea.

Whiskey in the jar

I set myself up for a good start but immediately after the start, the wind died and we were all sitting there with our sails hanging lifeless in the wind.

Somehow I got the boat going in a zephyr of about 1.62 knots and headed out to the left side of the course.

Then I had one of those moments of clarity that happen about twice a lifetime for lake sailors.

I saw a puff just ahead, and if I tacked on it I would reach that puff over there, and if I tacked on that I would reach that other puff.

I could connect the dots.

So I did.

And I rounded the windward mark with a substantial lead.

Down the run to the finish I was in clear air and the rest of the fleet were fighting each other for air.

About half way down the run, the wind died again, and then came in from a new direction, but I managed to spot it and I crossed the finish line in in first place beating both the Aeros and all the other Lasers by a considerable margin. Maybe I don't need to see the eye doctor after all.

I love lake sailing.

I love Laser sailing.

Yarg was gracious enough to invite a few of us to enjoy a few beers on his elegant curved dock at the north end of the lake. Mrs Yarg had prepared some delicious dips and we sat on the elegant curved dock and dipped and sipped and reminisced on the day's sailing.

Mrs Yarg asked an innocent question about how it had worked out with the Aeros and Laser sailing together.

I must admit I couldn't resist telling her about the final race and how I had beaten both the Aeros (and all the other Lasers) in my Laser

I must admit I used the word "crushed."

I probably used the word "crushed" a lot.

Children can be so cruel at my age.

Monday, May 25, 2015

What is this?

What is this?

Or rather, what was it?

Dead sea creature found on the beach of Mount Hope Bay when taking my three biggest grandkids for a walk this morning. These kids love finding dead stuff!

It isn't a quiz. I don't know the right answer.

Surely one of my readers does.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I Joined the Yacht Club

Regular readers of this blog will have come to know that I have a special affection for Massapoag Yacht Club in Sharon, Massachusetts and its sailing waters, Lake Massapoag.

I have been blogging about it off and on since at least 2006 when I wrote about Laser sailing with my son on Father's Day on Lake Massapoag using the pseudonym of Lake Whippersnapper. I know I often disguise the real names of the sailors I meet (to protect the guilty) but I can't for the life of me remember why I gave a lake a pseudonym.

And then there was that amazing day in 2008, actually the day before my 60th birthday, when I sailed my Laser in Massapoag YC's First Annual Laser/Sunfish Regatta, had a hell of a lot of fun, and actually won the regatta. I wrote about it with typical false modesty at Just One of Those Days.

And the day in 2012, which was so good that I summed up the experience at the end of the post with the words, "I don't know if last Saturday was the best day of my life so far, but it was pretty damn close." It was special not just because Lake Massapoag is such a beautiful spot but because it was the day that my son and I treated his two eldest kids to their first taste of Laser sailing.

The truth is that Massapoag YC is my kind of place. Ever since I started sailing in the early 1980s until I moved to Rhode Island in 2007, everywhere we have lived I have been a member of a lake sailing club. Often on very small lakes. Lake Massapoag at 350 acres is positively huge compared to a couple of the lakes where I sailed regularly. And the clubs I belonged to were all basically volunteer-run family-oriented dinghy-sailing-focused sailing clubs… just like Massapoag YC.

Don't get me wrong. I like sailing on the sea too and I appreciate the pleasures of sailing regattas at the grand old dames of the yacht club world like the New York Yacht Club. But being part of the community at a small lake-based sailing club had been part of my life for 25 years, and the truth is I have been missing it in the last few years. Also, even though the good folk at MYC had made it clear that I could sail there as a guest any time I wanted, I felt that if I was going to sail there more often I should do my part to support the operation of the club.

So a few weeks ago I sent in my application to join Massapoag Yacht Club and was quickly welcomed as a provisional member. Everyone has been very friendly and helpful and I raced my Laser there as a member for the first time on Sunday.

But that should be the topic of my next post…

Monday, May 18, 2015

Who Wants a Lily Camera?

Is this the most amazing drone camera yet?

You just throw it in the air and it tracks you.

And it's waterproof.

So you can record yourself pursuing all sorts of outdoor activities without any need to be actively controlling the drone.

I can only start to imagine how useful this would be for taking videos of my Laser sailing.

More details at

What do you think?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Aeros Have Landed

The first three RS Aeros for the Boston RS Aero fleet were delivered to my house in Rhode Island today, thanks to Scott Hardy of The Boat Locker.

My two friends and I ordered these boats over a year ago in March of 2014. It has been a long wait but, to be fair to RS Sailing, the order form did say, "A $500 deposit secures your build slot for supply earliest Spring 2015 and is fully refundable subject to test sail if required."

I had a chance to sail the RS Aero on several days at Minorca Sailing last fall and my two friends were able to check out the RS Aero demo boat from the Boat Locker on several test sails in March and April this year. So RS Sailing have delivered exactly what they promised. It's Spring 2015 and the boats are here.

My boat, RS Aero 1421, is now sitting in my garage all rigged and ready to go, and the other two RS Aeros are already on their way to their new homes in Massachusetts.

This year will be different.

Watch this space.

Laser Hiking with Nick Thompson

Pursuing the theme I started on Tuesday of trying to get a good mental picture of an
aspect of Laser sailing technique in order to improve my own pathetic attempts at sailing a Laser fast… check out this video of British sailor Nick Thompson demonstrating correct Laser hiking technique going upwind in about 14-15 knots occasionally gusting more.

This is a screenshot taken at about 0:21 seconds.

Makes it look easy doesn't he?

Ha ha. Only joking. The shot above shows Nick's "just sitting comfortably in the boat while chatting to the camera and explaining what he is going to do in this video" pose. That is not how you sail a Laser upwind in 15 knots. Well, maybe if you weighed 250lbs this would work.

This is a screenshot taken at about 1:00. Now Nick has his feet in the perfectly adjusted toe-strap, toes pointing up, leg straight, quads tight to keep his bum out of the water, leaning back and hands high.

Hmmm, That looks a bit more strenuous.

But wait. It gets worse.

Just after this shot Nick says, "And then the hard bit. Lean back and keep that work rate up all the time. The harder you hike, the faster you go…. As the wave hits the boat the weight goes out and back."

You really have to watch the video from about 1:00 onwards to appreciate how active Nick is in the boat. Working the waves with his body. Working the sheet.  Steering aggressively. But here is one screenshot to give you an impression of what it's all about.

I can do that.

Well sort of.

For a short time.

A minute or two, perhaps.

But I'm not fit enough to do it all day long for multiple mile long beats.

And I bet if I put a GoPro camera on my boat, I would discover that I'm not really hiking like Nick Thompson at all. It just feels like I am.


Maybe I'll just buy some of that cool Zhik hiking gear and a matching hat and PFD in a fetching shade of turquoise.

That should work?


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Caption Contest

Captions please!

And for those readers who like to make fun of my love affair with the RS Aero - yes, that is an Aero…  but it wasn't me sailing it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees

During some of my Laser training sessions this spring I have tried to work on my starts - specifically the acceleration at the start.

I have tried to focus on each part of those vital seconds before the start - set the vang, bear away, sheet in, heel to leeward, flatten the boat, accelerate off the line etc. etc.

How fast or slow to do each part of the task?

What parts overlap with each other and what parts are sequential?

To scull down or not to scull down?

How many seconds does the whole process take?

What's happening with the tiller at each stage?

Am I leaving the line with the boat flat and at full speed and on a close-hauled course?

So much to think about.

So much to analyze.

Sometimes when you focus on the details of a piece of boat-handling you can lose yourself in the minutiae so much that you can't see the big picture.

Or as we say in English English you don't see the wood for the trees.

Sometimes it may be better to try and get a mental image of the whole maneuver and just absorb it and then let it flow.

So here is coach Jon Emmet showing us how to start - approx 0:25 to 1:15 in this video.

What do you think of Jon's starts, all you expert Laser sailors out there?

Would you do anything differently?

How do you learn best?

Are you a wood person or a trees person?

Friday, May 01, 2015

Guess What We're Having for Dinner

Typical conversation between Tillerman and Tillerwoman about what to have for dinner...

TW: What do you want for dinner tonight?

TM: Toad in the hole.

(For reasons lost in the mists of time, family tradition dictates that the first two salvoes of the game must always be played in this way. Choice of subsequent shots is entirely at the discretion of each player.)

TW: You don't really want toad in the hole, do you?

TM: Don't I? What do I want then?

TW: I have some ground beef.

TM: Well let's have minced beef and Yorkshire pudding.

TW: I was thinking chili.

TM: OK. Let's have chili then. Did I guess the right answer?

Short silence...

TW: It's Sunday tomorrow. You don't want chili for Sunday dinner, surely?

TM:  (Feeling a little confused.) Well let's have roast chicken then.

TW: We've already had chicken this week.

TM: Well let's have roast beef.

TW: But we're having beef today. In the chili.

TM: Well let's go out for dinner then.

TW: We can't go out for dinner. We went out for lunch last week.

TM: (In desperation.) How about oysters and beer?

TW: We can't have oysters and beer for Sunday dinner.

Pause for thought...

TM: We haven't had Beef Wellington for a while.

TW: We could have Beef Wellington.

TM: Did I guess the right answer?

Short silence...

TW: I'm going shopping to buy some wellingtons.