Monday, May 23, 2016

Is FUN a Four Letter Word?

On the plane on the way over to Europe a couple of weeks ago I was reading a book about neurology and cognitive science (as one does) called What Makes Your Brain Happy And Why Should You Do The Opposite by David Di Salvo.

It's an easy to read popular science book that is all about how our brains lead us into all sorts of errors and biases and distortions, and how those stupid brains generally get in the way of allowing us to make good decisions and do what we ought to do.

As I read the book I couldn't help thinking how the ideas in it applied to various aspects of sailing.

For example, as I have been putting some effort over the past few weeks trying to persuade people to come and sail RS Aeros at our club's regatta in June (15 boats registered now!) one chapter in particular made me question if I have been going about regatta promotion - and even the promotion of the RS Aero as a class - in the right way.

For me sailing is fun.

So I assume other people sail for fun.

So I have been telling everyone that our event will be a fun and friendly regatta,  in the hope that this will motivate them to come.

But this book made me question whether this is the right way to go about it.

Sailors having fun
Not in an RS Aero

There was one section of the book which discusses some differences between "high achievers" and "low achievers" a concept which surely has some relevance to sailing. I think we all know a few in the former category - the club  champions, the sailors who go off to national championships and do well. And we all know lots of people in the latter category -  the vast unwashed masses of the rest of us who enjoy sailing around in the middle or bottom half of the fleet at our local clubs.

Apparently some researchers at the University of Florida performed some experiments which showed that what makes "high achievers" and "low achievers" tick are very different, and that the two groups need very different motivations to perform up to their potential. One experiment they did really caught my attention. When high and low achievers were told that a test of verbal proficiency was meant to be "fun" the high achievers actually did significantly worse on the task than the low achievers.

Huh? How could that be?

It reminded me of a conversation that my wife and I had a few weeks ago about one of my sailing friends who is definitely a "high achiever" in sailing. Big time high achiever.

"Does S. ever go out sailing just for fun?" Tillerwoman asked me.

I thought about it and realized that I had never seen him just going out for a blast around on the water for fun. It seems like every time we have sailed together he is either racing - or training for racing.

Another high achieving sailing friend told me this week that it had been "ages" since he went sailing just for fun.

Sailors having fun
Not at Massapoag YC

It made me think.

If somebody tells me a regatta is going to be "fun" it will make me more interested to go to it.

But maybe that word FUN actually turns some people off and makes them less likely to want to go to such an event?

More people having fun
Not at Massapoag YC

What do you think?

Is FUN a four letter word?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Captions Please

What is going on here?

Surely you can think of a good caption for this photo?

In case you hadn't spotted it, the boat is an RS Aero. Everyone likes to make fun of RS Aero sailors.

And the cyclist is French. Everyone likes to make fun of the French.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Southern Cross and Country Roads

Something strange and unexpected seems to happen every time I go back to sailing the Laser after exclusively sailing the RS Aero for a while.

I was originally expecting that the Laser would feel clunky and boring after the RS Aero.

I was told that the Laser would feel like a truck after sailing the RS Aero.

To the contrary, when I jump back into a Laser I feel a surge of pleasure almost as intense as what I felt the first time I jumped into a Laser, here in Minorca 35 years ago.

How can that be?

After five days of RS Aero sailing last week, I decided to do some Laser sailing on Thursday. It was the starting practice class in the morning and the weekly regatta in the afternoon and I thought it would be more fun to race with a bunch of Lasers than cruise around the race course on my own in an RS Aero.

The starting practice was intense. It was clear that there was one very good Laser sailor in the class who would be the man to beat. The start line was biased to the boat end for most of the drills and the right side of the course had stronger wind so it was all about winning the boat end of the line. I didn't always do that very well, but on one memorable occasion I did "close the door" on the "man to beat" who was trying to barge at the starboard end of the line. Poor guy he didn't know what hit him. It felt very mean but I checked with the instructor afterwards and he did concur that what I did was entirely legal. I don't recall ever doing this in real racing before, so now I have a new weapon for racing back home. Watch out people!

The "man to beat" and I had some good close racing in the afternoon. We split the first two races, one of them in a photo finish that I took by inches. My concentration was wavering in the third race so he took his revenge for my start line aggressiveness in the morning, and he won the regatta by one point.

What a day! I came off the water with a big smile on the face and was babbling to anyone who would listen about what an awesome day I had had.

So how come I love the Laser so much, even though the RS Aero is a much better boat?

Is there an analogy that can explain it?

I did think of emulating Steve Cockerill and using a comparison to activities with the fairer sex, but I couldn't think of a way to do it (wife and mistress? sister wives?) that wouldn't get me into trouble with Tillerwoman.

So here's another analogy.

I love to travel, to see new places. Most people do. It's exciting, sometimes challenging, inspiring, mind broadening.

But I still love to come home to my beautiful home with its view of the bay and my own big comfy bed.

The RS Aero is my Southern Cross -
When you see the Southern Cross for the first time 
You understand now why you came this way

The Laser is my Country Roads -
Take me home to the place I belong.

Or something like that.

Does that make sense?

Do you still feel a special affection for the first boat you owned?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Proprioception in Sailing

In a comment to my previous post on bikes and cubes, George A suggested that the reason why we lose certain skills if we don't practice them regularly could be due to a decline in "proprioception."

Proprioception. That's not a word you see every day on sailing blogs.

It's not a word I use every day in any context, so I had to look it up.

According to Wikipedia (which is never wrong) proprioception is "the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement."


As a kid I was gangly and clumsy and uncoordinated. I was always knocking things over and breaking things. My father used to scold me, "Tillerboy, you seem to have no idea what your arms and legs are doing!"

He was right.

Or to put it another way I have very poor proprioception.


Of course. That's one of my major problem with sailing too. I have no idea what my arms and legs are doing.

Not only do I not usually have a clear plan of what my arms and legs should be doing while executing a roll gybe, say, but I am pretty sure I don't even do the same things with my arms and legs every time I do a roll gybe (or any other maneuver for that matter.)

Oops moment
Not me

Is it any surprise that my boat-handling is terrible and full of stumbles and accidents and drama and "oops" moments?

So this week I have been working on improving my proprioception in the RS Aero.

On Sunday and Monday I sailed an RS Aero 7 with the Laser training group in the mornings and received a lot of useful feedback from the instructor.

By Monday I had got over that "I have totally forgotten how to sail this boat feeling" that I had on Saturday. Maybe sailing is like riding a bike after all? You don't forget. At least not for long.

Riding a bike
Not me

We were doing long upwinds and downwind on both days. By Monday I had really found my groove upwind and was crushing - totally crushing - all the Lasers and a couple of D-zeros upwind. I love looking back and seeing all those beady little eyes looking upwind at me. Children can be so cruel at my age.

And once the instructor had pointed out to me a flaw in my sail settings I was doing much the same downwind. Now I remember why I bought an RS Aero!

But on Sunday afternoon, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, I went sailing by myself in an RS Aero 9 and worked on my proprioception. I find that if I want to focus on the nuances of boat-handling technique, and experiment with different ways of doing things to see what works best, and train myself to execute maneuvers in a consistent way, then I really need to get out on my own away from other boats and evil instructors blowing whistles and shouting, "Everybody tack NOW!" or "Follow me!"

I explored such burning questions as...

  • how can I make smoother hand swaps after tacks and gybes?
  • does it work better to have the front knee up or down when going into roll gybes?
  • what are the best positions to sit and for my legs and feet upwind in various wind strengths and what's the best way to transition between them?
  • what's the best position for legs and knees and feet for sailing downwind in various wind strengths?
  • And many other similar secrets of the universe.

And then when I had figure out what worked best, I practiced and practiced to try and make all this stuff automatic.

I really enjoyed working on my own on improving my proprioception.

Or perhaps I am just an antisocial bastard.

By the way, don't ask me to explain what that picture at the top of the page has to do with proprioception.

But it does.

Trust me.

So what do you think?

How proprioceptive are you?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Is Sailing More Like Solving Rubik's Cube Than Riding a Bike?

How is it possible to forget how to sail?

At Minorca Sailing on Saturday it was blowing 10-15 knots and I sailed an RS Aero 7 and practiced with about ten Laser sailors from the Advanced Laser Class. I hadn't been in an RS Aero since the Archipelago Rally last October, although I did sail my Laser about a dozen times over the winter.

The RS Aero felt very strange and unfamiliar.

It was almost like going back to the first time I sailed an RS Aero, here in Minorca in October of 2014. In fact, on re-reading that post about my first time in an RS Aero it seemed like I am even more of a klutz in the boat now than I was then. But that might have been because the wind on Saturday was very shifty and gusty demanding quick reactions to every change in wind speed and direction.

We practiced tacks and gybes and "follow the leader" on every point of sail. Upwind I was struggling to keep the boat flat and every tack and gybe was an adventure. Reaching and sailing downwind was a lot more fun. It always is in an Aero.

But after being out of an Aero for over six months it seems like my "muscle memory" for how to balance the boat and do tacks and gybes without drama has deserted me. But then that's why I am here. I figured a couple of weeks pre-season tune-up in an RS Aero wouldn't do any harm at all.

After we came off the water I was comparing notes with the other sailors. After I explained how strange and new the Aero felt to me, one of the Laser sailors commented, "It's just like riding a bike. You don't forget how to sail."

Hmmm. I'm not so sure. I think sailing is more like solving the Rubik's Cube than riding a bike.

Here are two reasons for this assertion...

1. Nobody really needs to be taught to ride a bike. You just practice for a bit, perhaps with training wheels, and eventually it comes to you.

On the other hand not many people can work out how to solve a Rubik's cube without having to be instructed  on the moves to make for each step of the process. Then you have to memorize those moves. Then you practice those moves until it seems like your conscious mind is not remembering the instructions but rather that your fingers "know" what to do at each stage of the process.

Similarly not many people just go out in a sailboat and learn by trial and error how to sail. They take some lessons and learn how to reach and beat and run and tack and gybe and all that good stuff. They learn how to set the sail controls and how to trim the sail for each point of sail. At first they have to think hard about what they have been taught but the more they practice the more it comes naturally.

Much more like learning to solve a Rubik's Cube than learning to ride a bike.

2. Once you know how to ride a bike you really don't forget. Sometimes I don't ride a bike for a couple of years but I can still get back on a bike and my mind knows perfectly how to pedal and steer and balance a bike.

But you can forget how to solve a Rubik's cube. 30 years ago I knew how to do it. I picked a cube up a few weeks ago and realized I had completely forgotten how to solve it. So I found a good website with all the instructions and relearned the process. I practiced the process and now my fingers "know" what to do.  It'a a great trick for impressing the grandchildren!

And if I don't sail for a few months - or even don't sail one particular class for a few months - then when I get back in the the boat I do find I have forgotten how to sail the boat properly. Sure my conscious mind knows the basics like which way to push the tiller or when to sheet in or out. But the automatic ability to sail the boat efficiently and keep it flat when sailing upwind and to do nice smooth tacks and gybes has gone. I need to practice and practice and practice to relearn those skills. That's where I was with the RS Aero on Saturday.

You can lose many of your sailing skills if you don't practice them regularly.

Much like forgetting how to solve a Rubik's Cube. But you never forget how to ride a bike.

What do you think? Is sailing like riding a bike? Or more like solving a Rubik's cube?

More importantly why do we lose some skills if we don't practice them regularly, but not lose other skills that we don't use for years?

Monday, May 09, 2016

RS Aeros at the Massapoag YC Small Boat Regatta

In retrospect, I should have included more actual details in yesterday's post about the upcoming regatta at my sailing club on June 18. I am already getting email inquires about it.

So up there at the top of the post is a flyer about the event.

And here are the links from the flyer for your convenience.

MYC website

NOR and online registration

For charter boats contact Todd Riccardi ( The fee is $50 but don't delay if you want one. They are going fast.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

RS Aeros at the Massapoag YC Regatta

In 2005, a friend and I started a Laser fleet at Hunterdon SC on Spruce Run Reservoir in New Jersey.
This is a Laser
Not me sailing it
Not at Hunterdon SC

My friend suggested we should hold a Laser regatta at the club to help get the word out about the new Laser fleet. I recall spending time early in 2005 contacting people I thought I could persuade to come to our regatta. I felt that if we got 10 Lasers at that first regatta I would count it as a success.

In the end we did achieve our target of 10 boats although I wasn't sure we would until the day of the event.

I wrote about it at The Regatta Cast and The Regatta.

11 years on I find myself the fleet captain of a small RS Aero fleet at Massapoag YC in Massachusetts.
This is an RS Aero
Not me sailing it
Not at Massapaog YC

We are having a regatta on June 18 and I have been contacting every RS Aero owner within traveling distance that I know of and other sailors whom I think would sail in the regatta if they could borrow or charter an RS Aero.

There were 21 boats sailing at the RS Aero North Americans in the Columbia River Gorge last year and there have been a few other regattas in North America with around 10 -12 RS Aeros. So once again I have been shooting for 10 boats at our event as a respectable number to aim for. Although it would be great to have a lot more than that.

Of course it's a bit harder trying to round up 10 RS Aero sailors than 10 Laser sailors, simply because there are a lot more Lasers around.

But thanks to some provision of charter boats at favorable rates by both our local dealer, Zim Sailing, and the RS Aero manufacturer, RS Sailing, and some active promotion of our regatta by the RS Aero USA Class Manager, Marc Jacobi - not to mention the modern wonder of online regatta registration - yesterday the 10th sailor signed up for our regatta. And there are still 6 more weeks to go.

Woo hoo!

If you build it they will come.

And my fellow fleet members have some specific ideas on how to put some more "butts in boats" before the regatta.

Who knows how many boats we will have in the end?

I am sure I will be able to concoct some record that we have broken.

So tell me more about this regatta Tillerman, I hear you say.

Well I could put all the details in this post but it is already way too long so please email me tillermeister at gmail dot com if you want all the info.

Or you could just go to the event page.

BREAKING NEWS: Proper Course analysts are now confidently predicting that the 9th Annual Massapoag YC Small Boat Regatta will be the largest RS Aero regatta ever held in North America east of the Rockies and north of the Mason Dixon line on a freshwater lake in a state whose governor is a big fan of the Dropkick Murphys.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Tips That Could Save Your Life - Or Your Kids' Lives

Two of my favorite bloggers have recently posted some excellent - potentially life saving - advice.

Improper Course
The blogger formerly known as /Pam (now apparently just simply Pam) at Improper Course tells the amazing story of what happened to Peter Stephinson at the Laser Masters Radial Worlds in Mexico - Sailor Down!

Peter is the Aussie Laser foiling guy.

Sounds like he had a heart attack while sailing, died in the emergency clinic, and was brought back to life by the staff there. The step by step descriptions of how he felt as his condition progressed should be a warning to us all.

Peter figures he had about an hour and a half of warning signs before things got really bad. Something I will bear in mind if I ever feel the same symptoms.

Best wishes to Peter on a full recovery and being able to get out sailing again soon.

Do you sail with little kids?

Do you cruise with little kids?

Then check out "Aren't You Worried about Them Falling Overboard?" Real and Imagined Fears of Living Aboard with Three Toddlers by Brittany at Windtraveler who lives on a 44 ft boat with her husband and their three little girls age four and under.

Brittany discusses the precautions they take to keep their girls safe in various situations, while still allowing kids to be kids who enjoy exploring the world around them. Much food for thought even if you decide on managing safety for kids on your boat in slightly different ways.

Warning: Windtraveler has hundreds of photos of three seriously cute kids.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Reasons to go to 2017 Laser Masters Worlds - #3 See-Through Toilet Doors

Continuing our series of reasons to go to the 2017 Laser Masters Worlds in Adelaide, assuming they will be in Adelaide which may just be an Internet myth but they ought to be in Adelaide because I am finding all sorts of cool reasons to go to Adelaide...

#3 is so you can check out the see-through doors on the toilet stalls at the pub in the Kent Hotel in Adelaide.

Yes, apparently it's a real thing.

The whole joint sounds like a pretty wild place because it also has a jungle (above) and a dunk tank.

Supposedly the theory is that the stall doors cloud over when you lock them. But at least one reviewer says they didn't work on the day they were there (or perhaps ever?)  And I also found one report that said they only cloud over to be opaque one way so you can see out while you are sitting on the toilet but nobody can see you.


Is this one of those tall stories that Aussies like to tell unsuspecting Poms and Yanks?

Sadly I couldn't find any pictures online of the see-through toilet doors at the Kent Hotel. I guess Aussies are too shy to take selfies in public bathrooms.  But apparently other places do have something similar.


These ones are at the Cafe Diglas in Vienna.

But who wants to go sailing in Vienna when you could be sailing in Adelaide?

Monday, May 02, 2016

Why I Changed My Name This Weekend

I have been called lots of things in my 67 years on this planet.

My parents gave me a first name which I have never liked very much.

I do have a middle name but I like that even else.

At the school I attended from ages 10 to 17 - what was known as a grammar school in England - I was called by my last name. That was the way in boys' schools in England in those days. That was OK. I have a nice simple English last name which only Americans manage to spell wrongly.

My wife has called me all sorts of things but we don't need to go into that.

I have been called all sorts of things when racing my Laser too.

And here in the blogosphere I go by Tillerman, of course.

Ten years ago, I became Granddad and I thought that was the coolest name ever.

Until this weekend.

We have been in Connecticut celebrating the 2nd birthday of my youngest grandchild, Juliet. That's her on the right in the photo with her big sister Isabel.

Juliet is talking up a storm these days, learning new words and expressions almost every day it seems. Perhaps it was the kids' TV program we watched together about circles and squares and rectangles, and concepts like small, medium and big, but whatever the reason she suddenly decided to call me Big Granddad!!!

It is true that I am a few inches taller than her other grandfather, and Juliet is a very observant child.

I do like my new name.

I am Big Granddad.

Who are you?