Friday, July 31, 2015

Learning to Sail the RS Aero on the Interwebs

One of the joys of learning to sail in a new class of sailboat these days is that it is so easy to find and share information online. We can all watch seminars by the experts and learn boat specific skills by watching the videos they post. So different from when I was trying to learn to sail the Laser back in the 1980s. In those day I had to study books (with still photos) by experts such as Dick Tillman and Ed Baird.

So thanks to Matt Thursfield who recently ran a coaching day for his fleet at Chelmarsh Sailing Club in the UK and produced the coaching video (above) which has some excellent tips.

If you are an RS Aero sailor wanting to progress rapidly up the learning curve - and keep in touch with news about RS Aero events and what other RS Aero sailor are doing - then you need to tap in to these online resources.

Join the RS Aero Class Facebook group.

Check out the RS Aero Class website - and especially participate in the forum there.

Sailors in North America should also join the RS Aero Class North America Facebook group.

And if you are a new RS Aero owner wanting the best primer on all things Aero, do watch the RS Aero Primer video by Peter Barton. the RS Aero class manager.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Photo Quiz

OK. Enough of posts about RS Aeros.

This throwback Thursday photo was taken back in the days when my "other boat" was a Sunfish.

That's me in the stripy shirt.

Where am I?

What year is it?

Who is the guy in the white T-shirt?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Other Boats at the Gorge Dinghy Invitational

As well as the fleet of 22 RS Aeros holding our North Americans, there were three other classes participating in the Gorge Dinghy Invitational in Oregon this weekend. The race committee used a finish line to starboard of the committee boat to keep finishing and starting boats separated. And although the start line was "open" and could be crossed at any time during the race, they did suggest to fleets that it would probably not be a good idea to attempt to sail downwind through the start line while another fleet was starting!

Even so, you had to stay alert at all times while racing and in between races for the boats from other classes, which all added to the fun.

There were 7 Weta trimarans, some sailed singlehanded and some double-handed. They usually started just before or just after the RS Aeros and were of similar speed to us.


There were 9 505s.


Ands there were 18 I-14s who were also holding their North Americans at this event.


I was personally most concerned about avoiding the I-14s. With two crew on the trapeze and a huge asymmetric spinnaker they were seriously fast downwind and, in spite of the suggestion from the race committee, in several races they came tanking along downwind through our start line just as we were starting.  

I did have some fun in one light wind race as an I-14 rapidly closed on me and a couple of other Aeros from astern on a downwind leg. I kindly opened up a gap between myself and the other two Aeros so that the I-14 could pass to leeward of me and to windward of the other Aeros. As his wind shadow cut off the wind from my two competitors the skipper of the I-14 looked across at me and said, "You owe us a beer for that one!" 

Children can be so cruel at my age.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tiller Extensions on the Beach

While I was in Oregon this weekend playing in a little boat, Tillerwoman went to the beach with the Massachusetts tiller extensions.

The photo reminded me of this photo from a 2013 post.


1, 2, 3.

1, 2, 3, 4.

There's another tiller extension in the 2015 photo who wasn't there before!

How did that happen?

RS Aero North Americans

This weekend I went out to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon to sail in the first ever RS Aero North Americans.

To be honest I had such a good time and I am still on such a high that if I tried to write a post today on how I feel about the trip, all you would get is a confusing babble of superlatives.

So today, I will just stick to the facts and let pictures tell the story.

The event was sponsored by West Coast Sailing - "the ultimate dinghy sailing store." Here is their fleet of RS Aero charter boats about to head out to the Gorge on Friday. Most of the 22 sailors brought their own boats but those of us who flew in from England, the east coast or Hawaii chartered from West Coast Sailing.

Here we all are watching Peter Barton go over the finer points of how to rig, tune and sail the RS Aero.

And then it was out on the water for two practice sessions racing around a short course with lunch and a debrief in between them. Friday was sunny and hot with the breeze around 15 -20 knots. That's me in 1516.

Saturday was a little cooler with some occasional showers.  We raced on a zig-zag course with two gybe marks. The winds built during the day up to the point where the race committee decided after four races that we should take a break on shore for safety reasons. I heard that the International 14 sailors (who were also holding their NAs at the Gorge) refused to go out again, so racing was abandoned for the day.

Sunday was a mixed bag of winds of various strengths including a near dead calm in the middle of the day. "The weather's never like this here!" we were told. Another four races were completed sailing windward-leeward courses.

Here are Peter Barton 1515 and Dan Falk 1384 at the front of the fleet.

Here is me in 1516 somewhat further back in the fleet. Do I need more vang?

OK. There you have it. Not too many babbling superlatives, I hope.

Coming soon, posts on...

Something I "achieved" on Saturday for the first time in my life, although not really in a good way.

7 best things about the RS Aero North Americans. (Or some other random number.)

13 reasons to go to Oregon and sail the Gorge. (Or some other random number.)

What to say to people who ask you how the Aero compares to the Laser.

What next for the RS Aero in North America?

Oh, so that's how it's supposed to feel?

A brewery review.

Aero aerobatics.

Aero tweaks.


Thanks to Todd Riccardi and Sean Trew for the photos.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This is Us - Throwback Thursday

I'm going away this weekend - without Tillerwoman - to go sailing in the RS Aero North Americans.

Usually she comes with me, even on my sailing trips.

But she is staying home this weekend - to till her garden. Right this moment she is trying to work out how to deter the deer from eating her tomatoes. We were attacked last night!

It's probably just as well she isn't coming this time. I expect the evenings on this trip will be taken up with sailing talk as 20+ RS Aero sailors from all over the country meet up for the first time and get to talk with each other and with the class manager and the west coast dealer and an RS Sailing sales manager about our shared passion - the RS Aero. She wouldn't enjoy that.

So for Throwback Thursday - here's a rare photo of the two of us, sailing together a few years ago.

This is us.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

How You Can Learn 13 Essential RS Aero Go Faster Tips - And Much More

So here I am - an RS Aero owner for a couple of months - and later this week I am flying out to Oregon to compete in the first RS Aero North Americans in the Columbia River Gorge.

Am I crazy?


Although the good news is that most of the other sailors there won't have been Aero owners much longer than I have.

But the bad news is that some of them are very accomplished Laser sailors from the Pacific North-West who are also very familiar with the conditions in the Gorge. I fully expect to be seeing the transoms of those guys disappearing into the distance in every race.

So I may be crazy to be competing in this regatta, but the other reason I am flying 2,500 miles to race a boat that I don't yet know how to sail properly, is that on Friday there is a one day Aero clinic being run by Peter Barton, the RS Aero International Class Manager. Peter is the guy who has been running most of the lift-off days at Aero events in the UK (and then usually sailing in those events himself and winning them.) So the trip is a great opportunity to accelerate my Aero learning curve and learn all about Aero rigging and tuning and boat-handling and go-faster tips from a real expert.

Peter Barton
RS Aero Class Manager
Balls of steel

But what about Aero sailors who have not yet had the opportunity to attend one of Peter's clinics?

Well there is a way you can learn at least some of what Peter teaches at his clinics.

First of all you need to go and join the RS Aero Class Facebook group. You should do this anyway. It is an excellent source for RS Aero news and tips.

Then scroll down the Facebook page for the group and find the Aero Primer video that somebody recorded of Peter in Lymington and posted on June 29. It has almost 90 minutes of great advice on all those questions you have about Aero rigging and tuning and technique. (The quality of the video is not professional standard but it's perfectly OK for the purpose.)

You will learn (among many other things)...

How tight the battens should be.

How tight your toe strap should be.

Where to sit in the boat in very light winds.

What the maximum vang setting should be.

The correct way to take out your daggerboard.

How to set up the boat for upwind sailing in various conditions.

How Peter sails with only 3 different settings for his cunningham.

4 ways to depower in heavy winds (one of which won't occur to most Laser sailors.)

How technique for sailing an Aero downwind differs from what you would do in a Laser.

Where your feet should be in the toe-strap when reaching in very windy conditions

Where to position that splice in the continuous outhaul and downhaul lines.

What to do with the daggerboard to promote planing.

Sheeting technique for gybes.



Update - 23 July. Thanks to the wizardry of the technical team at Karlos Productions the video is now also available on YouTube.

I expect I will have some adventures to post about next week.

Although I hope it won't be quite as exciting as when the Lasers experienced the Blowout of the Blowout.

I know that at least one of the sailors in this video has ordered an Aero and will be racing in the Aero NAs this weekend.

He's going back for more!

And you thought I was crazy?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Classic Laser in France

I bought my first Laser #93933 - orange hull and orange sail - in the early 1980s.

It seems I must have been obsessed with Laser sailing right from the start because here is photographic evidence that I even found a way to bring my Laser along on family vacations.

Before kids (and before Lasers) my wife and I owned a frame tent and would have camping vacations every summer... in the English Lake District, North Wales, Brittany... When our eldest son was one year old we took the ferry to Santander in Spain and went camping in the Pyrenees with him.

Once we had two sons and a Laser we still went camping but instead of using our own tent we started going to sites that had pre-erected tents. That meant I could put the Laser on the roof of our trusty station wagon instead of the box holding all our camping gear.

I think we went at least twice with the Laser to campsites by the sides of lakes in south-western France between Biarritz and Bordeaux. I sailed the Laser on my own on the lakes but also took the boys for rides, with them sitting in front of the mast like the kids in that photo.

The boy in the photo (nearest the bow) is my younger son. I have no idea who the girl was - just some random girl from the campsite that the boys befriended, I guess.

Note the original Laser rigging including 3:1 vang. Aaah! Those were the days.

I do remember sailing the Laser one day on one of the camping holidays in France, playing around going upwind hiking flat out and - just for the hell of it - dipping my head in the water and seeing how long I could sail along like that with my head under water.

It seems I have always been strange.

I did do a bit of research to see if the holiday company we used - I think it was Eurocamp - is still running the same kind of operation. I discovered that they do offer holidays on campsites in south-west France but now every camp site has to have an "aquatic park" which looks something like this.

Apparently the simple quiet life of camping by a lake and playing with Dad on his boat are not enough excitement for modern British kids.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

US Youth Sailing Championships 2015 - Drone's Eye View

All last week the US Youth Sailing Championships were being held on Mount Hope Bay - right in front of the Tillercottage. There were Lasers and Radials and 420s and F16s and 29ers. Must have been over 100 boats. What a magnificent sight!

Check out this video which has some excellent drone footage of the youth champs. One of those little white dots on the hillside is my house!

On Thursday I drove to Bristol to go for a run on the East Bay Bike Path. As I crossed over the Sakonnet Bridge I saw boats sailing down towards Stone Bridge, probably from the Tiverton YC youth program. Over in Portsmouth I saw more sailing dinghies on Island Park Cove, probably also from TYC. Crossing Mount Hope Bridge I had a good view of the US Youth Champs again with a Laser start in progress just off Common Fence Point not far from Roger Williams University the host of the event. In Bristol Harbor there were more dinghies - from the Bristol YC junior program I assumed.

As I slogged up the bike path I saw a huge fleet of Optimists on Upper Narragansett Bay - a regatta I guess. Then as the path went up the side of the Warren River I saw more Optimists and some two-man dinghies - almost certainly Barrington YC's junior program.

They say sailing is in decline but it didn't look like it on Thursday.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Retired from the World

Most of my Laser sailing friends are competing in the Laser Masters Worlds in Kingston, Ontario next week. Some of them are really serious Laser Masters sailors who train hard and go to most of the big Masters events and have a real chance of placing high or even winning their fleets. Others are just keen club sailors like me, and for them the Masters Worlds is an adventure, a sailing vacation, a chance to have fun on the water and meet lots of like-minded folk from all over the world.

Me sailing in a Laser Masters Worlds with my
serious Laser Master sailor game face on

When I was leaving the sailing club on Wednesday night, one of the other members wished me well in Kingston. Obviously he assumed I was sailing in the Worlds next week because all of my friends are.

"Thanks," I said, "but I'm not going to the Worlds this year. I've done six Masters Worlds and I seem to have got it out of my system. Crossed it off the bucket list. I've retired from Masters Worlds sailing."

And that's about the truth of it. I have sailed Laser Masters Worlds in the USA, Mexico, England, Spain (twice) and Australia. I've had some great times at those events. Had many experiences that were worth blogging about. But I do seem to have lost the desire to go to any more of them.

Not that I've lost the desire to sail. That seems to be as strong as ever. This year I am sailing the RS Aero as well as the Laser and also enjoying the experience of belonging to a sailing club again and racing regularly in the club pursuit series.

And I haven't lost the desire to travel to sail.  At the end of this month I'm off to complete another item on my bucket list - sailing in the Columbia River Gorge. And I've been thinking a lot the last week or so about sailing travel plans for this fall and winter.

I place my six Laser Masters Worlds in the same category as the three marathons I have run. I was excited to challenge myself by doing both. I had some amazing experiences doing both. I am still sailing. I am still running. Just done with Masters Worlds and marathons. I think.

Tillerwoman and I were chatting the other night about which Masters Worlds we each had enjoyed the most. We both chose the 2008 Masters Worlds in Terrigal, Australia.


There were many reasons, not least of which is that we both are very fond of Australia and we took the opportunity on that trip to travel to a lot of other places in the country too. And even though I didn't do particularly well at the regatta, on the last day I had some kind of out-of-body experience that reminded me of all that is good about Masters Worlds sailing. I wrote about in Never Failed to Fail.

I wasn't having a great race but halfway up the second beat I had one of those zen-like moments. For a while I forgot I was in a race and just reflected on my blessings...  
1. I'm in Australia in the middle of the northern hemisphere winter. 
2. The sun is shining and the sky is blue without a cloud in sight. 
3. I'm sailing on the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific! (For a kid who grew up in a grimy working class town in middle England, the idea that one day I would sail on the Pacific Ocean was about as likely as that I would land on the moon.)
 Typical view in grimy working class town 
in middle England where I came from
4. The wind is perfect, the waves are challenging but manageable. Champagne sailing conditions. 
5. I have my health and fitness and can still play this game even at my age. 
6. I'm surrounded by the best bunch of guys on the planet, the other globe-trotting Laser grandmaster zealots.  
I just enjoyed being in the moment and to hell with my position in the race. 

Hmmm. Maybe I am not totally done with Master Worlds sailing after all...

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sailing by Numbers

OK. All you "live in the moment" and "it's all about the fun" sailors can ignore this post.

You will hate it.

It's all about numbers and keeping count of days sailed and year-on-year comparisons.

Hey, shoot me. I like numbers.

I've been keeping track (on posts or pages on this blog) of how many days I have sailed each year since 2008.

This year I sailed 28 days by the end of June.

28 days in half a year! That doesn't sound like very many. Especially as I was aiming to sail 100 days a year in 2008. But let's look back and see how it really compares…

In 2008, I had sailed on 43 days by the end of June, and achieved 94 by the end of the year - and blogged about every single one of those days. See the optimistically titled 100 Days at Sea. But the number of days sailed in the first six months was boosted by trips to Cabarete in January, to the Laser Masters Worlds in Australia in February, and to SailFit in Florida in March. Considering what an awful winter we had in Rhode Island this year I really should have done some similar trips this year. Oh well!

2009 was the other extreme. It was the year I almost gave up sailing. The only redeeming feature was that it did give me a topic for a blog post - 10 Reasons Why I Almost Gave Up Sailing This Year. And I am doing better this year than I did in 2009.

I'm also doing better so far this year than I did in 2010 when I had only sailed on 16 days by the end of June and ended up clocking a total of 46 days of Laser sailing.

I'm also doing way better than I did in 2011 when I had a very slow start to the year, only achieving 10 days of sailing by the end of June. I caught up a bit thanks to a trip to Minorca Sailing in September. but still only made it to 43 days by the end of the year. Hmmm - maybe 40 or so days a year is the new normal?

But wait. In 2012 I got the year off to a cracking start with trips to Cabarete in January and SailFit in March. But then I injured my back in May which slowed me down a bit and I only achieved 18 days by the end of June. After my back recovered I got back in my stride, sailing a lot with friends, taking my granddaughter Emily sailing, doing a few regattas, and finishing off the years with trips to Minorca Sailing and Bitter End Yacht Club. Made it to 64 days by the end of the year. Maybe that is the new normal?

2013 was another good year. Some frostbiting in January and February, back to SailFit in March, lots of solo practice and a couple of regattas and I made it to 32 days by the end of June. August was a bit slow but trips to Minorca Sailing and Bitter End YC again pushed the total number of Laser sailing days to 72 by the end of the year.

Hmmm 40s to 64 to 72!!!! You've got to admit it's getting better…

Last year, 2014, was a very odd year. I went out sailing on my own on a couple of days in January. What was I thinking? But then I didn't sail at all in February, March or April. I picked up the pace in May or June, aided by a coupled of friends who were in training for the Laser Masters Worlds in France and were always happy to have me as a training partner. That got me to 22 days by the end of June. July and August were a bit slower, but once again trips to Minorca Sailing in October and Bitter End YC boosted my days on the water to a respectable 71 days by the end of the year. 70+ days a year is the new normal.

In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit I did start counting days on the water other then Laser sailing in 2014. Maybe it was a recognition after ordering an RS Aero that I was no longer a one trick pony.

Same in 2015. Every day on the water in any kind of craft without an engine counts. Laser. RS Aero. Hobie Wave. SUP. Kayak. Whatever.

So what does it all mean? Well, for one thing, my 28 days by the end of June is my third largest total in the last eight years. Not too shabby.

And for another thing, to amass a largish total of days in the year I need to travel to warmer places to sail in the colder months - Dominican Republic, Florida, Virgin Islands, Australia etc. Not a surprise really.

What remains to be seen is whether owning two boats - a Laser and an RS Aero - motivates me to sail more days in the year, or whether my inherent laziness sets a natural upper limit which I will never exceed.

Onwards and upwards to #43 - which at the current rate I expect to attain in early August.

It looks hot and windy outside. I think I'll take a nap now.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Fatheads and Pinheads

On Saturday of the weekend before last I did some solo practice in my RS Aero 9 at the club. One of the very satisfying things about sailing a new class is that almost every day is a learning experience and I can see improvement in my skills every time I sail the boat.

After sailing I was starting to de-rig my boat when another club member, whom I hadn't met before, came across to chat with me and check out my boat. It happens pretty much every time I sail the RS Aero there.

But he asked me a question which initially had me stumped…

Why is the top of the sail square?

Of course he is right to ask. The tops of the sails of the other classes sailed at the club look like this…

Whereas the top of the sail of the RS Aero looks like this…


I vaguely recalled that I had read or heard somewhere why the top of the Aero sail is like that but in the moment my mind went blank.

I blurted out something like, "I have no idea. I'm not a sailmaker or an aerodynamicist."

Aerodynamicist? Where did that come from? Is it even a real thing? And even if it is, what on earth does it have to do with sailing?

And then in a desperate attempt to sound not completely ignorant about my new boat, I mumbled something along the lines of, "Well, I guess it's a way to add more sail area."

As soon as I said it I knew it couldn't be the whole story. There must be other ways to add more sail area.

But my inquisitor, who seemed to be a very nice chap conceded, "I think you could be right."

I scrambled to think of another reason the top of the sail might be square and vaguely remembered something someone had told me and hazarded a guess… "And a sail that shape spills wind well in a gust."

The very nice chap was either not detecting my total ignorance about sail design or just being polite as he said again, "I think you could be right." And he went off to do something on a boat with a pointy top to the sail.

As soon as I got home I logged on to the Google machine and did some research on why some boats have sails that are square at the top. Maybe I looked a bit of a fool the first time I was asked this question but I wasn't going to get fooled again.

I found this interesting paper by Damien Laffforgue which has a whole section on square head sails vs roached sails.

Among the advantages of the square head sail that Damien lists are these. (My comments in italics.)

1. The surface area of a square head sail will be bigger than a roached sail for the same mast length (luff), but the aspect ratio will be smaller.

2. For the same surface area, a square head sail will have a smaller mast than a roached sail, therefore the centre of gravity of the rigging, and the centre of effort of the sail will be lower, which increases the lateral stability of the boat.

I guess #1 and #2 are two sides of the same coin, so to speak.

3. The square head gives a better aerodynamic efficiency in the upper part where the wind is stronger (velocity gradient.)

Ahah. That's what I forgot when I was talking to the nice chap at the club. More sail area up high where the wind is stronger is obviously an advantage.

4. The square head does not increase the lift but reduces the drag.

I'm not sure I understand this one. Why would it be less drag? More research is indicated.

5. The square head allows a better control of the main sail twist, and self-regulates the sail shape during gusts.

I am not sure I really understand the first part of #5 but the second part is basically what I was telling the nice chap at the yacht club. The square sail top opens up in gusts and spills air.

6. The head of a square head sail is more tolerant for small angles of attack, and then produces less induced drag.

More tolerant for small angles of attack? What does that mean? And there he goes again saying that sailing a square head sail produces less drag. Why would that be?

A little more research discovered that the reasons a sail with a square top has less drag than a sail with a pointed top is something to do with the tip vortex. Here is a good explanation of this effect in an article from Sponberg Yacht Design...

In any given aerofoil planform, the airflow on both sides of the surface are at different static pressures—high pressure to windward, low pressure to leeward—and they would really like to equalize. In a triangular planform, the airflow on the high pressure side gets a chance to equalize sooner, by virtue of the shape, than on a rectangular planform for example, by skewing up toward the tip and off the surface.   
This skewing of flow from the high pressure side, mixing with the flow on the low pressure side, creates a vortex off the tip. The bigger the skew, the bigger the vortex, and the greater the induced drag. 
In his book Aero-Hydrodynamics of Sailing, C.A. Marchaj (pronounced MAR-ki) shows a photo of what the tip vortex looks like.

And I found a slightly less technical explanation of this issue in a comment from Rick White on the Cat Sailor Forum in a thread about the pros and cons of square top mainsails

I believe it was Dave Calvert that started the concept for windsurfers, before he started designing multihull sails. 
The theory is you have a fuller, more powerful area of the sail up high for lighter winds. 
Now, when a puff hits, because of the length of the batten sticking out from the upper mast, the wind uses that leverage to allow the top of the sail to blow off to leeward, thus depowering in the puff, lowering the center of effort, and also reducing the heeling moment. 
Sort of an automatic transmission, it shifts to a high gear in the puffs, and when the puff subside, it shift down again for more power.  
And they definitely work much better than pinheads.

So now you know.

Next time I am asked why the top of my sail is square I will be able to confuse the questioner with aerodynamic gobbledygook about tip vortices and velocity gradients and angles of attack and planforms... and pinheads.

You have been warned.