Friday, June 30, 2006


Thanks to Joe for doing an excellent job of blog-sitting for the last few days and also to all the readers who wrote comments on his posts. I may invite him to write an occasional post as a guest blogger in future if this topic of race management is of interest to some of you.

While Joe was blogging for me, I spent the first three days of this week assisting with some beginner sailing lessons for kids at the lake club where I sail in the summer. It turned out to be an incredibly frustrating experience.

I worked the last three summers as head instructor at another club and was invited to run these lessons too. But as I wasn't sure if I was going to be available I told the club not to rely on me, to find another lead instructor, and gave them a vague promise that I would "help out" if I was still around. The instructor in charge of the classes is a nice guy but has much less experience at teaching sailing than I have and has a very different style and approach to sailing instruction. That was the cause of my frustration.

Almost every thing he did in running the sailing classes was different from how I would have done it. I kept thinking, "No, no no. That's not the way to teach this. There's a better way." Or wanting to tell him, "Look at the wind. We shouldn't be doing this now. We should be doing that." But it was his show so most of the time I kept my mouth shut and made myself useful supporting his program. But I was still frustrated.

I'm not a good follower of a leader with whom I fundamentally disagree. I kept telling myself, "He's not wrong. He just has a different approach. Go with the flow." When I could I made polite suggestions to him on what I thought the class should be doing or on how to teach a particular skill. Some of my suggestions were accepted; a lot were not. I fumed quietly and just concentrated on helping the kids as best as I could.

Every night I came home and ranted to my wife about what had happened at the classes and how I disagreed with it and why it didn't work as well as it would have if they had just done things my way. Strangely I rarely used to do this when I had a job in corporate America and felt much worse annoyance at my occasionally incompetent bosses. But I remember my father used to do this almost every night after work. Am I becoming my father? Probably.

So it was a vexing three days but it did make me realize that through six years of working as a sailing instructor, three in charge of a junior program, I have developed a personal philosophy of how sailing should be taught to kids. It was the contrast with someone else's different approach that brought my own views into focus.

Fundamentally, teaching sailing is all about balancing three aspects - safety, learning, and having fun. Sometime these seem in conflict with each other but in a well designed course they don't have to be. There are tricks of the trade on how to maximize learning while running activities that let the kids have a whale of time, and all the while maintaining a safe environment for them.

I'm going to write at least one post on how I think this should be done. I promise to try not to rant; but I don't guarantee I'll succeed.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Communicator

Hi there Tillerman friends - yes, it's Joe again today, blogsitter for hire and race committee expert. Tillerman sent me an email and said he is totally wasted after three days playing at the lake with some kids but says he will be back tomorrow.

I thought I'd talk today about a very important subject for race officers - communication with the racers. It's vital that any communication from the race committee to the racers is clear, timely, unambiguous and accurate.

Here are some ways provided in the Racing Rules for us to communicate to the boats racing:
  • Notice of Race
  • Sailing Instructions
  • Signal Flags
  • Sound Signals
  • Course Boards

Here are some ways NOT suggested in the Racing Rules for us to give instructions to racers:
  • Telepathy
  • Ouija boards
  • Instant messaging
  • Waving your arms around
  • Talking to the competitors

Yeah - I have heard that in their current courses for beginner race officers, US Sailing has gone all touchie feelie and are telling students that it's OK to pass on information to the racers verbally and answer their damn fool questions on the water and generally treat them like they are real human beings. But they're wrong.

Anything you as a member of the race committee say to the racers is likely to be misheard, misunderstood, misquoted and may be used in evidence against you at a redress hearing. So don't do it. If some boat sails past the stern of the committee boat and some idiot on the boat hails, "How many minutes to our start?" or "Which buoy is the windward mark?" or "How come the general recall flag is still up?" just stare blankly at them and pretend you didn't hear them.

Yes, this advice still applies in "friendly" club racing. There's no such thing as friendly club racing. When you're on the race committee you have no friends.

As an example let me tell you about the time when I did my duty as PRO at my home club a few weeks ago. There were several one design fleets racing and the order of starts for the various fleets is indicated by a board on the side of the committee boat. They have a fleet of Sunfish and usually the Sunfish fleet starts last because most of the members despise Sunfish sailors. But just for fun I decided to start the Sunfish first and quietly set up the signals on the board to indicate that. It was obvious as we went into the starting sequence that many of the Sunfish sailors hadn't actually realized that they had the first start as they were respectfully staying well clear of the start area as per normal so real boats could start first.

One of my race committee team reached for a loud hailer and was about to hail the Sunfish sailors to bring their attention to the fact that they had the first start. Of course I wrenched the instrument from his hand and forbade him to do any such thing. If they can't be bothered to read the RC signals they deserve to miss the start. As expected, half the Sunfish fleet missed the start and there was much grumbling and cursing at the RC team -- which we ignored of course.

I understand that after racing some of the Sunfish sailors approached the club commodore and complained about my RC work. Can you believe it? Weekend warriors who sail some sorry excuse for a sailing craft dared to complain about me! I believe the phrase "arrogant bastard" and slurs on my ethnic origins were used.

The commodore called a special yacht club committee meeting to discuss the issue and I am pleased to announce that I was completely vindicated. The club secretary sent me a very kind letter telling me that the committee had decided to appoint me as "Honorary Race Committee Chairman Emeritus" in honor of my thirty years of service to the club and that as one of the privileges of this office they would like to excuse me from performing my race committee duty at the club in perpetuity.

Of course, I couldn't accept. It's in the club rules that all members must perform at least one RC duty per year. So I wrote back and graciously refused their offer and said that although I much appreciated their recognition of my vast expertise I wished to continue carrying out my annual RC duties just like any ordinary club member.

That's the kind of guy I am.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Mentor

Hi there folks - it's Joe again. Tillerman emailed me and asked me to keep going with the blogsitting.

I thought I'd write a few words about my philosophy on mentoring and coaching of race committee staff. When I am invited to be PRO at a yacht club for a regatta then usually the host club provides all the volunteers to be my race committee. I see it as my role not just to run a perfectly managed series of races but also to develop the race management skills of my volunteers.

So when I first meet up with the volunteers, usually on the morning of the first day of racing, I ask them about their previous experience at race committee work. Then I assign them to jobs on the committee that will help them develop new skills.

For example, a couple of weekends ago there was a fellow with a speech defect on the RC. So I assigned him the job of timekeeper so he had to call out the times for all the signals to all the other team members. He seemed a bit embarrassed to be doing this at first and it is true that his stutter did cause some confusion as he called out, "T....T....T....Ten seconds to P....P....P....Prep S....S....S...Signal" by which time it was already three seconds past the time for the signal. But it was gratifying to see how his speech improved as the day progressed and I even mocked him a bit as I called for "General Wecalls". He seemed to take it all in good humor and I am sure my therapy was good for his confidence. That's the kind of guy I am.

On the same team I had a little old lady who said she had never driven a powerboat before. So I assigned her to drive the mark boat. She did whine a bit about the assignment but I persuaded her would be good to get some experience. It was unfortunate about that incident with the commodore's Flying Scot but I am sure that the yacht club insurance will cover it and as it sank out of the channel it is not really a hazard to navigation. The little old lady should be out of hospital next week and I understand that with some minimal plastic surgery the scars on her face will be barely noticeable. I'll ask my secretary to send her some fruit. That's the kind of guy I am.

Over the years I have developed the skills of dozens of RC volunteers in this way. I know that this method of challenging individuals to stretch and try new things is working because the yacht clubs I work at are usually confident to run the same regattas the following year without my help. Even though I always offer my services they always say that they can manage without me. I'm proud of that record.

As you can see, I'm still running with the puffy shirt theme. Some guy or gal called evk4 (what kind of name is that) said "it's funny because it's true". What's true? I still don't get it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Boss

Hi there Tillerman fans. This is Joe the PRO. I'm blogsitting for Tillerman for a few days. He asked me to write about race management.

First thing you need to know as a sailor is that the PRO is boss. (PRO stands for Principal Race Officer. I think you guys in England call this person Officer of the Day or some similar gay ass phrase.) Let me say that again. The PRO is boss.

What does that mean? It means that when I'm running the race committee you don't argue with me or make stupid frigging "suggestions". You know what I mean. Yes YOU. Do NOT sail by the committee boat and point out that the start line is biased. Do you think I don't know that? I can see the frigging wind better than you can. Do NOT tell me that that last sound signal was five seconds late. I didn't pick this frigging race committee crew and you should be grateful there are any sound signals at all. Just concentrate on your sailing and leave running the races to me.

You see if you piss me off I will pay you back. I could call you OCS at the start whether you were or not. Or I could hail you OCS about 30 seconds after the start. Or maybe I will signal an individual recall and hail a few boats as over the line and just forget to hail yours but record you as OCS anyway. Yeehaw. See how you like that. So don't mess with me baby.

Any questions? I thought not. You guys learn fast.

PS. Yes, that is a picture of Jerry Seinfeld in a puffy shirt. I have no idea what that has to do with race management. I don't look like Jerry Seinfeld and I don't wear a puffy shirt. If you want to know what the connection is, ask that Andrew dude who commented on Tillerman's post about blog sitting yesterday. It was his idea. I just don't get it.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Blog Sitter

I will busy for the next three days helping to teach a sailing course for kids. Apparently I agreed to do this during a very confusing telephone conversation.

As I may not have time to post articles on this blog I have asked my friend Joe to "blogsit". Joe is a very well respected race committee volunteer in this area and is much in demand as a Principal Race Officer for all kinds of sailing regattas. He has agreed to write a few posts passing on some advice on effective race management. If you have any questions about race committee work, feel free to pose them to Joe via the comments.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A Prayer of Thanks

Let us give thanks for our daily blog traffic, for the sources of our readers and, on this special day, for the life and work of Saint Darren of Problogger who taught us to be thankful.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

O Great Google in the sky, we thank you for directing to Proper Course truly three fifths of its blog traffic through the awesome power of search. We thank you too for the trickle of traffic from your archangels and

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

We thank you Great Google for your hosting of your blogger servants here on earth who bring us traffic from links on their sites.

For Brother Edward who toils mightily among the heathens of Berkeley. We thank you for his gifts of traffic and pray that you will forgive him for owning a Newport 28.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

For Sister Carol Anne who brings the blessings of the English language to the peoples of the deserts of New Mexico. We thank you for her gifts of traffic and pray that she may find peace with her crew.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

Oh Great Google we thank you for Saint Antony of Mercia and his gifts of traffic. We thank you for his blessings of humor and pray that his soul will find clear air on the great Sea of Rutland this weekend.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

We even thank you for Father Joseph, for his talents of imagery and his gifts of traffic. We marvel daily at his magnificent icons of Laser sailing and his awe-inspiring stained glass windows celebrating the beauty of the female body.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

And we thank you for OG, the Mother Superior at the mission to the Moreton Bay Penal Colony, who, with the help of her acolyte Johnsee, teaches the joys of sailing to the innocent children of the wretched convicts. We thank you for her gifts of traffic and pray that she will Live, Sail and Die in the true faith.

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

Last but not least we thank you for your humble servant Cardinal Martini and his gifts of traffic to our blog. We pray that you will ease his pain and soothe his anger at Brother Bill and Sister Cindy. We beseech you that you will turn His Eminence away from political ranting and direct his thoughts to blogging about sailing. For verily one of the mysteries of your creation is why Cardinal Martini is ranked as the number one sailing blog in the Gospel According to Technorati when the red-hatted jerk never writes about sailing on his blog at all and if he isn't going to write about sailing why doesn't he get his freaking ass off that list so folk can find real sailing blogs on Technorati?

Lord read my blog and let your links come unto it.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Sailing Gear Blog

Found one!

A few days I posed a question as to whether there were any websites that carried non-biased reviews of sailing gear. Several of the people who responded pointed to Practical Sailor, which carries some product reviews, and others came up with various technical solutions for such a site.

Today I discovered Navagear a blog powered by TypePad and written by Aaron Tinling a self-confessed gear geek. He wrote reviews of sailing hardware and electronics on the site from December 2004 to July 2005 and used categories to enable easy navigation within the site. Sadly Navagear seems to have been dormant for almost a year now.

However, it is the nearest thing to the concept I was imagining. Where do we go from here?

Sailing Romance in Victorian England

Weatherspoon, Esq. (of the Oriana, R.Y.S.). "I say, Tom, what's that little craft with the black velvet flying at the fore, close under the lee-scuppers of the man-of-war?"

Honourable Binnacle (of the Matilda, R.Y.Y.C.). "Why, from her fore and aft rig and the cut of her mainsail, I should say that she's down from the port of London, but I'll signal the commodore to come and introduce us."

Looks like not a lot has changed in 150 years. John Leech sketch from Punch first published in 1852 via John Leech archive.

For more on this topic see...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Sailing in the Zone

Thanks to everyone who responded with comments to my post on Why is Sailing so Frustrating? As several of you pointed out in different ways, it's because sailboat racing is so complex and difficult and unpredictable that we love it so much. If it was easy to win all the time it wouldn't be any fun.

Some of you talked about that special feeling of being "in rhythm with the ocean" or of being "in the zone". And that's where I was heading with that post. Some days we are in the zone and everything goes well; and some days we're not. And we never know precisely why.

In the zone. What are other words to describe that feeling? Focused. Relaxed. Confident. Smooth. Competent.

What's the opposite? How do you feel when you're not "in the zone"? Distracted. Tense. Anxious. Clumsy. Outmatched.

Perhaps you have a better way to define it?

I was being a trifle disingenuous in my earlier post in implying that
I could never figure out what it is that I am doing mentally or physically to trigger those days when everything goes right on the racecourse. I do have some clues as to what works for me to create one of those rare days of sailing in the zone.

Practice. Oh no, it's not what you wanted to hear, I'm sure. But it is true that if I've spent some time before a regatta just sailing by myself, focusing on boathandling technique, repeating key moves such as tacks and gybes and mark roundings over and over again, there's a better chance that on the day of the racing I will be able to trust my muscle memory to sail the boat and can focus my mind on more important things like timing the start properly and wind strategy.

Go for a Run. This is a weird one. Some of my best races have been after a hard run on the previous day. Or even a moderate run early on the day of the race. I can't explain it except to say that there is something about the feeling of satisfaction and relaxation after a good run that occasionally triggers the "in the zone" experience when sailing. Maybe its the endorphins?

Sail Naked. Well, not exactly. But I have noticed that the less I wear (within reason) the better I sail. My best ever achievement in our North Jersey Sunfish series, when I won a regatta against people I considered much better sailors than me, was on a chilly, damp October day. Most of the competitors were wearing long wetsuits or foul weather gear. I was wearing a shortie wetsuit and no hat. Perhaps all that extra bare skin gave me extra sensitivity to the wind?

In our frostbite Laser series I usually try and stay as warm as possible -- wearing several thermal layers under a drysuit, ski-hat, glove liners and latex gloves, socks inside drysuit latex booties inside hiking boots. I'm not cold but I am clumsy. Several of the top sailors in the series wear wetsuits, will never wear a drysuit in the coldest conditions, saying that by wearing less they feel more in touch with the boat.

Last Sunday I had all three of these triggers working for me. I practiced on the reservoir on Thursday in conditions that turned out to be similar to the racing on Sunday; I went for a 40 minute run on Sunday morning; and, because it was a super-hot day I was sailing in shorts and T-shirt, no shoes, no gloves, no hiking pants. And I did have one of those "in the zone" days.

But, these things don't always work for me. And they probably won't work for you.

So do you have any tips on this topic? How do you get "in the zone"?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

United States Naval Academy Sailing Philosophy

Another perspective on sailboat racing, from the United States Naval Academy Sailing Philosophy (emphasis of middle paragraph mine) ...

We teach sailing and seamanship at the naval academy for one purpose: to make competent seamen of our midshipmen, who will then be the naval leaders of the future. We aren't interested in making yachtsmen of them.

We enter races to find an atmosphere which, like combat, stretches ability and endurance to the limit and allows character to emerge which can reach beyond those previous limits for that extra margin required for victory, where decisions must be made instantly and be coupled with competent execution of complex evolutions. Where numerous variables must be integrated to derive tactics and strategy in interaction.

And we send them to sea to learn the fundamental characteristic of the professional seaman: a deepseated sense of humility in the face of nature and her master. But we never lose sight of our objective -- to produce the best possible officer for the fleet, whether he or she is assigned to a surface ship, a submarine or an aircraft.

Captain J.B. Bonds, USN

Quotation from Bluewater Sailing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why is Sailing so Frustrating?

Why is sailboat racing such a frustrating sport?

Why is that on some days you can see the wind perfectly, just know without thinking exactly which side of the course to be, can time all the shifts right and are always sailing on the lifted tack; and other days you have no idea what to do strategically and are always going a different way from the fleet leaders?

Why is it that on some days your timing of starts is perfect, you are always in the right place on the start line, sailing fast and crossing the line just as the gun fires; and on other days you are either way back behind the line in the third row or over early?

Why is that on some days your boat speed is excellent and you can sail higher and faster than the opposition; and on other days you are slow and sluggish and unable to point and are wallowing in bad air the whole race?

Why is it that on some days your boathandling is smooth and flawless and on other days you sail like a clumsy elephant with ten thumbs?

Why is it that you can never figure out what it is you are doing mentally or physically to trigger those days when everything goes right on the racecourse?

Why is sailboat racing such a frustrating, rewarding, annoying, satisfying, addictive sport?

Some Days
Laser Sailing at Lake WhippersnapperLearning to Love Light Air
Broken Neck

Other Days
Wheeze Uck
Dead Squirrel
More Dumb Mistakes
SlowSailer Racing Association

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Reviews of Sailing Gear

One of my readers sent me an email. He is a relatively new sailor and after some complimentary remarks about Proper Course (thanks Matt) he asked whether I was aware of any good websites that include non-commercially biased reviews of sailing gear.

Hmmm. Good question. I'm not aware of such a website. Are you?

One issue is that what sailing gear is best for you depends on what kind of boat you sail and also where you sail. A Laser sailor will need different gear from an Etchells sailor. And what you wear to sail in Schleswig-Holstein in the winter will be different from what you need in Brisbane in the summer.

I don't think any of the non-boat-specific sailing forums such as Sailing Anarchy have much information on sailing gear. However, I don't follow SA all that closely as its threads tend to degenerate into hysteria and abuse so maybe I'm missing the good stuff, if any. I follow a couple of class-specific forums, for Lasers and Sunfish, and occasionally there are threads there on sailing gear. But only for what suits sailors of those boats.

So I started thinking. Could the group of sailing bloggers that read each other's blogs somehow develop a shared base of unbiased reviews of sailing gear?

I'm not sure of the best way to do this but here's one idea. If one of us posted a question
such as, "What kinds of sailing watches have you tried, which do you prefer and why?" would you write a comment in reply or a post on your blog to share your knowledge?

Or do you have other suggestions on how to create the kind of knowledge base that Matt seeks?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Laser Sailing at Lake Whippersnapper

On Sunday my son and I raced in the Laser fleet at the small lake club near his home in southern Massachusetts. The winds were 5 to 10 knots out of the SSW though we heard that it was blowing smallish dogs off rusty chains on nearby Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod.

The course for the first race is a two lap windward leeward with a downwind finish. I pull off a decent start near the favored boat end of the line and start working the puffs and shifts up the beat. The Whippersnapper outfoxes me at this game and is leading the fleet at the first windward mark with me following him about seven to ten boatlengths behind. Downwind I can see a puff coming down the left side of the course so favor that side and pull level with him. But then the wind goes soft and shifts right and I execute an ugly gybe and he pulls ahead again. I finally get behind him and sit on his air -- didn't someone write some comments on a blog on how to do this? By the leeward mark I am right on his transom but choose not to pull any risky tricks at the mark rounding as the rest of the fleet has closed the gap in a gust from behind them.

Now the game is on. He covers me closely up the first part of the second beat. Before the races I had asked him who was good in the local fleet and he had pointed out one guy as the local light wind guru. Hmmm - I see that guy behind us digging in to the right side of the course. Does he know something? I look upwind and there is definitely more pressure on the right side but I need to escape this cover. I throw a double tack and the Whippersnapper falls for it it. Now I am heading right and he is heading left. I sail into the gust and it turns out to be a huge righty shift too. I finish the beat with a healthy lead over Local Wind Guru in second place, and hold the lead down the run to the finish.

The second race is a five leg windward leeward, three beats and two runs with an upwind finish near the club. Once again I start near the committee boat just to leeward of most of the fleet. There are some little puffs out to the left but there is also a no-go area on this side marked off with some white buoys. At first the wind is shifting right and the fleet is lifted inside me. But then I reach one of the puffs and it's a nice header so I tack. Still can't cross the fleet and there is more pressure up near the no-go area so I tack and head back left again. Into the gust just short of the first marker buoy, a bigger header, I tack back and cross the fleet. It's a close cross with the Whippersnapper. Tack or Cross? Cross. Thanks son.

I don't know if it is a question of better boatspeed or just having the freedom to play the shifts better from upfront, but from then on I just extend my lead around the course and end up winning the second race too, a healthy distance ahead of some kid with weightlifter's biceps.

After racing I can see that the club members don't quite know what to make of the Tillerman family. Last week the Whippersnapper blew them all away in heavy air. And this week he shows up with this decrepit old grizzled grandfather figure and he beats them too.

Biceps Kid comes over and starts chatting about where we usually sail and Whippersnapper fesses up to his college sailing background.

A woman who was on race committee walks by and tells me that I was so smooth and that my tacks were a pleasure to watch. Blushes. Geeze - I don't think a member of the opposite sex has ever described me as smooth before. I thank her and congratulate her for her excellent race committee work.

One of the Laser sailors walks by with a puzzled look on his face and mutters, "Where did you learn to sail like that?"

"Oh, I've been doing this for a while," I confess... modestly I hope.

Another member of the yacht club stops by. The commodore perhaps? "We're not inviting you here again," he jokes. At least I think he was joking.

Happy Father's Day. Indeed.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sailing Blog Readers

Here are pics of some of the folk who have passed by recently and left comments on this blog.

What a fine looking bunch they are. And what a talented group. One of them has won national sailing titles, one won the trials for the USA sailing team for the Pan-American Paralympic Games, and one sailed to Ireland "and has the chest hair to prove it". A couple of them even make a living at sailing. All of them write blogs too though by no means exclusively about sailing.

Can you imagine them all in the same crew on some yacht? Who would be the skipper? Who would you trust with your life?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sailing Sketches

The originality and ingenuity of blogging sailors never ceases to amaze me. We have podcasts, video blogs and photo blogs, serious blogs and funny blogs, racing and cruising and voyage blogs. Carol Anne is still publishing her novel about sailing and wizards every Wednesday, and Ant is trying to start a SkypeCast for sailor bloggers.

Then just when I thought I'd seen it all I came across Plutos the Bubblemans' which claims to be a "low down, second hand, third rate, piss poor quality, shoddy shower of shameless sketches."

The author is having "a bit of a yot around the bottom of Greece & around the Islands with some friends" along with
1 No. Pencil : HB (used)
1 No. Pen , Bic Medium, Black.
1 No. pad of A4 paper white.
1 No. Brain, Soiled, bitter & broken..
Several of the local Beer Tokens.
and a spare pare of underpants.
He has been sending back sketches of his travels including the following samples.

There are more here and here and here. Always something new.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Teenage Testosterone and Bikini Babes

Continuing the series of posts on how to motivate teenagers to sail. Previous posts in the series touched on how parents need to give their kids some clear air and how the pressures of competition affect kids' enjoyment of the sport.

Last year the yacht club where I was working as head sailing instructor paid a professional videographer to make a video of the junior sailing program. As well as some superb footage of on-the-water action, the DVD includes interviews with all the kids in the program. One of the question the video guy asked every kid was some variation of, "Why did you join this sailing program?"

There were really only two answers that the kids gave. One was basically, "My parents made me!" I guess one day I'll write something about how to handle that whole issue. But many of the kids answered something like,"My friends were in the program last year and they told me how much fun it was and so I asked my Mum and Dad to let me join them this year."

As adults we don't always realize that one of the main reasons that kids enjoy sailing is because they just like hanging out with their friends and doing fun things together. Sometimes the motivation to be with their friends even influenced which sailing class my students signed up for. It certainly affected decisions such as who they wanted to team up with for sailing games or who they wanted to crew for.

On the other hand I have seen kids turned off sailing because their parents tried to get them involved in an adult sailing activity where there was no opportunity to socialize with other kids. The example at the start of my Teenagers post was exactly such a case.

Once again, in the case of my own kids, I think we avoided this mistake more through good fortune than through any special planning on my part. When my sons were old enough to learn to sail we were lucky to be living near Rutland Sailing Club in the U.K. which had an excellent junior sailing program with kids ranging in age from 7 to 15. Then when we moved to the U.S. there was a sailing club on the lake in our town, which though less formal than Rutland's program, had plenty of other kids that my sons could socialize with as well as sail with. I don't think they would have stuck with the sport if their only option was to race with a bunch of grumpy old men like me.

We also lucked out in that we spent a couple of Thanksgiving holidays at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands. There were a lot of kids there at the holiday season and the resort laid on special activities for the kids, organized by Sail Caribbean. Once again I'm sure my sons enjoyed it more because they could have fun on and off the water with other kids of their own age.

That club where I worked as an instructor the last few summers ... most kids stop coming to the Optimist classes once they are 13 or 14 and are then expected to crew for adults in the club in the weekend races if they wish to continue sailing. But the club is smart enough to realize that teenagers are looking for an opportunity to socialize with each other so they also run a kind of youth club which meets one evening a week for campouts, sleepovers, movie trips, scavenger hunts and whatever it is that teenagers like to do when they hang out together. (Always with discreet but constant adult supervision, of course). Several times I would arrive for work on a Friday morning to find the floor of the yacht club littered with sleeping bags containing bleary-eyed teenagers -- including my assistant instructor. I'm sure this club provides exactly the kind of socialization that the kids need to keep them involved with the sailing club through those potentially stormy middle teenage years.

In the original comments that triggered this thread about teenagers and sailing, Ward wondered if he needed "the lure of a crew of naked women" to motivate his teenage son to sail and Carol Anne made a passing reference to how a "Dutch track star in a bikini" was somehow part of the solution to keeping her son involved in the sport.

They may be right. The power of attraction of the opposite sex can do wonders. One of my sons met his first date (or at least the first we knew about) through the sailing club. My other son, while working as a sailing instructor at a summer camp, met a young woman with whom he had a relationship for many years. And on those vacations at BEYC my sons became friends with a girl from Illinois and kept up a long-distance friendship with her for several years afterwards with occasional visits to each other's homes.

So if your teenage son is getting disillusioned with sailing and everything else I have suggested has failed, one solution may be to persuade some teenage girls to join your sailing club. Never underestimate the impact of the combination of teenage testosterone and babes in bikinis.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Living Slow

A perfect sunny summer afternoon fading to the soft light of evening with the sun sinking over the lake. Margaritas in the blender. Rack of lamb with portobello mushrooms over hot charcoal on the barbecue. Tillerwoman's homemade tabouleh. Bottle of Merlot. Scents of rosemary and summer flowers wafting on the breeze. Music from that mix I made for our wedding anniversary a few years ago. Grilled bananas with our special rum and butter sauce. Setting sun making shadows on the wall. Life is good.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


This weekend is the date of the Summer Sailstice, a festival of sailing that as far as I can see has no point whatsoever other than to encourage people to go sailing on a day when anyone remotely interested in the sport in the northern hemisphere would be sailing anyway. According to their website...
Summer Sailstice is the global holiday celebrating sailing held annually on the summer solstice, the longest sailing day of the year. This international event was founded to connect the global sailing community in a fun, creative, multifaceted, multi-location sailing holiday.
Which of course is total nonsense. If it's a "global holiday" it's not the "longest sailing day of the year" for anyone south of the equator. It's the shortest day of the year for them. The founder, John Arndt, apparently sails on San Francisco Bay so that probably explains everything.

Sunday is also Father's Day which is when we all celebrate having fathers (something quite hard to avoid, though with gay marriage and IVF and all that I guess its possible) or being fathers (which is actually relatively easy to achieve judging by world population trends). Several websites perpetuate the myth that Father's Day was supposedly invented by Sonora Smart of Washington in 1909 while listening to a Mother's Day sermon at her church. Whereas we all know the real truth that it was actually created by the electronics and hand tool industries in order to boost sales of their products.

Tillerman will be celebrating the weekend by driving up to Massachusetts to see cutest granddaughter in the world again, and of course her Mum and Dad, the Laser sailor recently renamed by one of my commenters as the "whippersnapper". We hear that CGITW has recently learned some new tricks including manic hyperkinetic body shaking in an effort to turn over her Exersaucer so we can't wait to see that. And Whippersnapper has been racing at the sailing club at his local lake and humiliating the other Laser sailors there with his awesome racing prowess. So if the weather forecast looks good I will take up my Laser and there will be another Whippersnapper vs Tillerman Laser showdown to celebrate Dadstice Day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Before he was fired from his job as anchor of CNN's NewsNight, Aaron Brown always ended each broadcast by reading the weather report for the following day from the Chicago Sun-Times. The forecast was always one word, an adjective, that was off-beat and kooky but surprisingly informative, a word such as "peachy or "illuminating". For example, I see that according to the Sun-Times website yesterday's weather in Chicago was "meek" but today it will be "yummy".

Winds have characters like that. Saturday's wind in New Jersey was by no means meek or even yummy. How shall we describe it? Lively? No, way too tame a word. Frisky? No, still not strong enough. There's only one word that will do: vicious.

You see what I mean? A sustained 15 knots with gusts of anything up to 30 knots that would come in from any point of the compass from west to north. Unpredictable. Aggressive. Vicious.

I was originally planning to sail in the Brant Beach regatta at the Jersey shore. But the weather forecast on Friday was calling for 35 knot gusts at the shore on Saturday and I figured there was a chance that the regatta organizers would call it off on the morning of the event. Or, even worse, keep the sailors hanging around for half the day and then call it off. In any case, I was feeling in more of a mood for play than competition on Saturday so instead of spending two hours driving to Brant Beach I took the much shorter drive to our local reservoir.

On the drive I was feeling under the weather. Still a bit ashamed of ducking out on the regatta, of being too lazy to get up at 5:30 in the morning to be able to arrive at the regatta on time. Legs more than a little tired after Friday's 8 mile run that I had started at a faster pace than I could maintain and had run out of steam at the 6-mile mark. Hay fever from grass pollen playing havoc with my sinuses. Not to mention suffering from lack of sleep because of the wind howling in the treetops around our house all night long.

How would Aaron Brown describe my mood? Melancholy? Bummed-out? Murky? I like murky.

When I arrived at the lake the surface of the water was covered in whitecaps and huge gusts were sweeping down the lake. Nobody out sailing except for a couple of windsurfers. I unpacked the Laser and started rigging.

Anyone who has ever rigged a Laser will know that one of the trickiest things to do in a blow is attach the clew of the sail to the outhaul. Basically you have to hold the boom in one hand, grab the clew of the sail which is flapping wildly with your other two hands and then attach the hook or shackle to the clew with your fourth and fifth hands. After struggling for about five minutes with my grossly inadequate allotment of two hands I finally got the damn thing hooked up.

I stepped back to take a breather and then one of those vicious 30 knot gusts came in from the side (I had the boat head to wind of course) and knocked the boat (and the dolly it was tied to) over on to its side on the grass. The sheet was running free, the vang wasn't yet attached, but there was still enough force in the wind to "capsize" the boat on land. Hmmm - that's never happened before - sailing in this wind is going to be interesting.

A windsurfer who was rigging a few yards away came over with a worried look on his face and asked if I needed any help. Oh no, I told him nonchalantly, it's easier to rig it this way. Who was I kidding? Actually, I did discover it is much easier with the boat on its side with the mast horizontal to attach the clew tie-down strap. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I managed to complete the rigging without further incident and headed out for a sail. At first I found it almost impossible to keep the boat upright and moving in this wind. No sooner had I trimmed the sail properly and balanced the boat than one of those 30 knot gusts would hit me from a random new direction and I would be scrambling to keep the stick thingie pointing at the sky. After 30 minutes or so it started to become a little easier, only a little, and I started sailing with more, a little more, confidence. I consoled myself with the thought that although I may not have been sailing well, at least the experience would serve me well for sailing in slightly less vicious winds.

I practiced a few gybes and tacks but it was the beating that turned out to be the most adventurous endeavor. Once I was hiking hard with toes under the hiking strap there was no defense against a sudden slam-dunk header. The boat heels to windward, my body goes underwater and the soles of my hiking boots are pointing at the sky. I've learned from experience that if I hang like this for a few seconds the boat will right itself and I can start sailing again.

After about 90 minutes of flailing around I went in for a breather and a snack. Some of the windsurfers told me that they were planning to sail around to the next bay in the reservoir so I joined them on the trip. We headed downwind to the entrance to the bay and then beat up through the narrow gap between two headlands. The wind was being channeled through this gap and was even stronger than nearer the launch area.

Man it was hard work beating up into that bay, but worth it. Even stronger winds and bigger waves for wild planing reaches. What a fantastic afternoon. A couple of other sailboats were out now but none of my buddies from the sailing club. It was their loss.

On the drive home I was feeling terrific. A good day on the water will do that for you. Those aches in the legs from a too-hard run had disappeared and been replaced by that satisfying all-over ache that said I had just sailed a Laser all-out for several hours. Hayfever, what hayfever? Sleep deprivation, no way, I was pumped up. Later that evening I saw on a sailing forum that Brant Beach YC did call off the regatta on Saturday because the winds were too high. Yeah. For once I made the right decision.

WWAS -- What would Aaron say? How to describe my mood? Exultant? Ecstatic? Buoyant - yes, there's a good nautical word. Buoyant.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

I was shocked to discover today that Jill Murray, the author of Exponential Blogger, apparently thinks that I am a cult -- or perhaps it's you dear readers who are the cult. I think she meant it in a positive way but I'm not sure.

J. Gordon Melton said that his working definition of a cult is a group that you don't like, and according to religious the meaning of the world cult varies from the positive - devotion or homage to a particular person or thing - to the very negative - a small, evil religious group, often with a single charismatic leader, which engages in brainwashing and other mind control techniques, believes that the end of the world is imminent, and collects large amounts of weaponry in preparation for a massive war.

I promise you that I'm not collecting weaponry of any kind (unless you count an unreasonably extensive arsenal of sailing clothing and accessories) and I have most certainly never been described as charismatic, but, just in case, please, please... whatever Tillerman may ask you to do in the coming months, don't drink the Kool-Aid.

Encouraging Your Sailor

I posed some questions in this post about how parents can avoid putting too much pressure on their kids to excel at sailing. And I pondered rhetorically how the kids of champion sailors such as Gary Jobson can cope with sailing in the shadow of the achievements of their parents.

Turns out that Gary Jobson has already addressed this subject in an article titled Encouraging Your Sailor first published in Yachting Magazine. He also touches on a question often posed to sailing instructors and much hashed over in sailing forums, "At what age should my kid learn to sail?" Gary has some excellent advice in the article -- do read the whole thing -- but the tips that I thought were most helpful were ...

  • Explain that the difference between winning and losing is not that important.

  • Demonstrate that most sailors experience many defeats before achieving success. (Personally I was a great example of this for my kids.)

  • Emphasize restraint when winning.

  • Don't always race. Kids love games.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Australian Battle Group

Do you ever feel like taking out your aggression on a fellow boater? Here's your chance to indulge that ultimate fantasy in a group where it's OK to sink your mate's boat.

Check out
The Australian Battle Group a society of Aussies who "build and sail 1/144 scale Radio-Controlled Model Warships from WWI and WWII which are armed with CO2 powered cannon and armoured in thin balsa. These vessels engage each other in combat on ponds across Australia, endeavoring to punch holes in each others hull with their cannon until one of the vessels sinks or flees. Yes, the cannon really do fire, the vessels really do take damage and sink, and yes, it is legal in all states and territories of Australia without a gun license."

Does that look like fun, or what?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Sailing Blog Question

A commenter to one of my posts this week said, "As a non-sailor I really enjoyed this piece, good writing transcends subject matter; don't you think?"

Leave aside your feelings for a moment about the totally undeserved compliment to my writing, choke back your nausea at my self-serving repetition of it, and ponder the following questions ...

Do you think that generally he's correct? More specifically, can a blog about sailing attract an audience of non-sailors? If you were going to write a sailing blog in a way that would be interesting to non-sailors what would you do differently from if you were only writing for fellow sailors? Is it possible to write a blog in a way that it would be of interest both to ardent sailors and to non-sailors? And if it is possible why would you bother to do it? If you are a non-sailor what would attract you to read a sailing blog?

And this one is from the "my wildest dreams" category, could a sailing blog even attract non-sailors to try out the sport?

Comments please.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Blowin' in the Wind

Dear Tillerman,
What is the best kind of wind direction indicator to fit to your boat? A standard burgee or one of the fancy pointy things?

Dear Tim,
In the immortal words of well-known Minnesota sailor Robert Zimmerman, former owner of the Bequia schooner Water Pearl, "You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows."

And after you've been sailing for a while you really won't need a wind indicator, pointy or otherwise, to know which way the wind blows - at least in medium and heavy wind.

But light airs are a different story. When it's one of those hazy, lazy, patchy-wind days of summer and in some places there is a knot or two and in other places there isn't a breath ... Well, then you do need a very sensitive wind indicator to be able to detect the slightest zephyrs so you can trim your sails accordingly.

I favor using cassette tape, one indicator at the top of the mast, and one in front of the mast of my Laser at eye level. I use the lower one most of the time but if that one is hanging straight down I look at the mast-head fly and sometimes it gives me a clue of where the new wind may be coming from.

But here's the real secret. You have to use the right cassette tape.

I tried using a recording of the aforementioned Mr Zimmerman's Idiot Wind. Bad idea. "Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull." Enough said. I also tried using some tape of his Blowin' in the Wind but judging by the results I must have accidentally used a section of Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall. Easy mistake to make.

Lately I have been having success with tape from Eric Clapton's Unplugged album. The tape is always on top of my sailing toolbox in case I need another piece.

At first I used a piece of Rollin' and Tumblin' but it made the boat very unstable - hate those death rolls. And the time I tried Before You Accuse Me I ended up in the protest room. And using Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out was a total disaster. All too prophetic, I fear. DFL.

But if you can stay away from those three tracks you will get good results, I promise.

If you can't lay your hands on any of the special light airs go-faster Clapton Unplugged wind-indicator tape, I can supply it at a special reduced rate of $5 per foot. Just send your bank account details to my email address and I will arrange the transfer.


Thursday, June 08, 2006


The kids gather for the regatta. For many of them it is their first time. This is a big deal for them. They look around at the other kids. Some of them are bigger, have fancier sailing clothes, have all the latest gizmos on their boats. Everyone is nervous. They don't know what to expect.

The races are run. There are wind shifts and gusts and collisions and capsizes. The scores are tallied and trophies are awarded. There is a winner. And there are the rest. For most of the kids it has been a day full of fun, excitement and laughs, meeting old friends and making new ones, making mistakes and learning something new, small triumphs and minor disappointments ...

But one kid is different. She is over there with her parents screaming and shouting and stamping her feet. For some reason she thought she was going to be the winner of the regatta and she isn't. It wasn't her fault of course. It's not fair. Nothing her parents or her coach can say will calm her down. She's red in the face and tears are streaming down her cheeks. She hates sailing. Sailing stinks. She's never going to sail again.

Maybe she'll get over it and be out sailing again next week. Maybe she won't.

As a (former) parent of junior sailors and organizer of junior regattas I've seen this scenario several times over the years. In my teaching of sailing I worked hard to avoid it. I taught my students about sportsmanship and how to behave whether you win a race or whether you don't. Even after our practice races I made sure that the kids encouraged the losers and congratulated the winners. We discussed how just completing the end-of-season long distance race and entering your first regatta are major achievements to be proud of. You don't have to be first across the finish line to be a winner.

But my efforts haven't always succeeded. For some reason, a kid will get the idea in his or her head that they have to win this race or that regatta and that if they don't it will be the worst thing that has ever happened in their lives and when they don't win they break down and make an embarrassing emotional display in front of all their friends.

Where does this pressure come from? Are the parents pushing them too hard? Or is it something that the parents are doing in a very subtle way, creating a culture of expectation of excellence in their kids in everything they do? Or is it something inherent in some kids' personalities?

This expectation that you always have to win may make some sense in other pursuits. If you really are the smartest kid in your class and you work hard you probably will be the valedictorian. If you are the right body type and you train harder than any of the other kids then you probably will win the cross-country race. But, in sailing, nobody racing in tough competition can expect to win all the time; there's just too much luck involved in our sport.

It must be especially hard for the children of sailing champions. I've no idea how the kids of the Gary Jobsons or Dave Dellenbaugh's of this world cope with trying to live up to the achievements of a famous father. I've seen this problem locally too. The son of our local champion has been sailing with his father since he was 3 or 4 years old. They entered some fun races together. The kid's hand was on the tiller but Dad was calling all the shots ... trim, ease, tack now, duck this boat. They won some races. The kid got the idea that sailing is easy and that he's as smart as his Dad. This year Dad bought the kid his own boat and he started racing on his own. He found out in his first race that sailing isn't as easy as he thought and he didn't realize that it took his Dad 30 years of hard work to become as skilled as he is now. The kid had a meltdown and has vowed to give up sailing.

Somehow my own sons managed to avoid all these pitfalls. They sailed throughout their teenage years and,
now in their twenties, are still sailing. When they were younger they entered some junior regattas; they each won some and lost in others. Sure they enjoyed their victories but I never saw them being too disappointed when they didn't win. How did they learn to cope with losses? In this particular case I think it was through sheer luck rather than conscious effort on my part as a parent.

The luck in this case is that I am no more than a mediocre sailor myself. Yes, I am passionate about sailing and yes, I know a fair amount about it. But in my own racing, through clumsiness, forgetfulness and sheer bloody incompetence, I almost always finish somewhere back in the fleet. I'm sure my sons noticed this. I hope they noticed that even when I finish in the middle of the pack I'm also having a good time. I hope they learned the right lesson from this observation: sailing is fun no matter where you finish in a race.

I know there are some readers of this blog who sailed as kids and became champion sailors in their countries. I wonder whether you felt pressure to perform as kids. How did your parents support, motivate or challenge you? Some of you readers are parents of kids who sail now. What can parents do to avoid putting so much pressure on their kids that sailing isn't fun any more?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Proper Course has no goals.

Blogging is not a game that is played to win.
It is a game that is played just to play.

This blog is not sailing towards a destination.
It is just wandering among the islands.

Each day a new island appears on the horizon. Fresh experiences, sensations, impressions. An unfamiliar thought about sailing occurs spontaneously, naturally. Sometimes it is an isolated island of an idea alone in the ocean. Sometimes it is an archipelago of thoughts and I can hop from island to island. I don't have fixed rules in my mind about what's good, what's bad. A rocky volcanic island, a coral reef, a sandy spit. Each is fascinating in its own way. I just explore the island I'm on at that moment. Sometimes a few friends share it with me.

I pick an idea I like.
I write about it.
Then I move on.

There is no end to the journey.
It is an endless cruise.

Proper Course has no proper course.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Learning to Love Light Air

The last couple of weeks of lake sailing in New Jersey have been in light, fluky, patchy winds. Some of my sailing buddies are getting grumpy and are grumbling about the conditions. But, much to my own surprise, I'm actually enjoying the very different challenges of racing in the light stuff. It's as if a light bulb has gone on in my head and I finally "get it". Actually I think the bulb used to be on a few years ago but the circuit was blown by a knottage overload and someone just replaced the fuse.

Perhaps it started when I saw my son's positive attitude to racing in light airs at the Laser regatta a couple of weeks ago. Whatever the reason I went to Wednesday night Sunfish racing last week with a determination to enjoy myself whatever the winds might be. I went out to the course area an hour or so before racing started and checked out the winds. No doubt there was more wind on the left side of the course near the more open part of the reservoir.

So in the first race I pulled off a good start near the pin end of the line and worked the left side of the course. It worked! At the windward mark I was in third place (in a fleet of eighteen boats) just behind the two best sailors in the fleet, Doug and Scott. I hung with them downwind and went out to the left again on the final beat.

Now let's see. What Would Dave Do? I'm now out on the left side with most of the competition to my right. Only Charlie seems to be going further left and he's no threat. Dave would say Evaluate Risk -- if you're happy with your position now is the time to consolidate. So I head back over to the right side, crossing Doug and just ducking Scott. What did Dave say about the finish? Oh yes, make Gains at the Finish if you are close to other boats by finishing on starboard tack. I tack on to starboard. Scott has to tack beneath me. Doug has to tack below him. Ha! I have them pinned -- they can't tack for the line. Just need to sail until I can lay the finish line and I will win my first race in this series this season. Oops - what's this? Here comes good old Charlie on port tack crossing all of us. I guess he rolled the dice, banged the corner and beat us all. Oh well, second is not too shabby in this fleet.

Laser sailing on Sunday was also in light patchy winds with huge holes. In the second race I was leading at the first windward mark but on the reach the wind died and shifted ninety degrees and the whole fleet caught up with me. I was in last place at the leeward mark.

OK, let's see what I can make of this. Do a roll tack and stand up in the process, taking a good look upwind. Hmm - I see a little puff on the left side of the course. Do another tack and try and get in front of it. Yes, definitely extra pressure and I start to gain. Stand up again. I see a wind line over on the right. Tack and start working over there. Oh yes, this is better, now I'm moving. At the windward mark I'm back in first place with a solid lead and hold on to it to the finish.

OK. I admit it. I only wrote about the best races each day. There were other times when I made the wrong choices and saw nearly the whole fleet pass me by heading for the side of the course where I was "sure" there was no wind.

But that's the beauty of light air sailing. It's mainly a mental game rather than a physical one. But also a game of chance. I suppose playing poker might be a near analogy. You have some information to predict what the chances of certain outcomes will be; and you know something about the psychology of your opposition. But your information is incomplete. All you can do is assess the probabilities, make your bet and see what cards turn up.

Maybe that other Tillerman blog could teach me something after all.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Parent Shadows

You had this beautiful baby 15 years ago. He was the apple of your eye. As he grew up you taught him to walk and swim and ride a bike. As soon as he was big enough you shared your passion for sailing with him by taking him for rides on your boat. When he was ready you taught him how to sail. The two of you enjoyed many years sailing together and life was perfect.

Then all of a sudden the kid is as tall as you, he's sprouting a beard and he's into video games, playing the guitar and... girls. Sailing is taking a back seat in his life. Y
our own IQ (at least in his eyes) has dropped to around 70 and if he does deign to go for a sail with his old man he thinks he knows a damn more about sailing than you and isn't shy about letting you know. You love your son and want to spend time with him sharing the joy of sailing. But when you sail together there's no joy in it any more for either of you. What happened?

Sorry to break the news but this is perfectly normal. Your son is growing up. At this stage he is becoming more independent, wants to experiment and try out new things, needs to start making his own choices in life. It can be a stressful time for teenagers and their parents, and the sad news for us sailors is that sailing together can exacerbate the situation. You and your adolescent are thrown together in a small space, dealing with stressful situations. Whether you're racing or dealing with a sudden squall while cruising, sailing demands quick decisions with the skipper calling the shots. Sometimes there's no time for dealing with arguments from an adolescent testing your tolerance.

Look at from his perspective. He wants to make his own decisions, be in control. (Why do you think kids of this age enjoy video games so much?) He craves excitement and challenge. Tootling round the bay for the umpteenth time with Mum and Dad just doesn't turn him on any more.

So you need to rethink what your real objectives for your offspring are. Is the most important thing in the world that he spend every Sunday afternoon for the next three years being your spinnaker trimmer? Or do you want him to grow into a well-adjusted adult capable of taking responsibility, making sound decisions, dealing with challenges.. and maybe, just maybe, having an appreciation for the rewards of sailing? If it's the latter -- and of course it is -- you need to start letting go, giving your son more freedom, more space.

Before any of you feminists complain that I am only talking about boys here, let me explain. Teenage girls were a mystery to me when I was a teenage boy. I never had a daughter so teenage girls are still a mystery to me. Some of what I discuss in this series of posts on teenagers and sailing may apply to girls. Some may not. I haven't a clue.

I mentioned in my first post on this topic that I felt that the main reason that my own sons kept sailing through those teenage years was through luck rather than any particular skill at parenting on my part. The first stroke of luck was that I started off my racing career in a single-hander, the Laser, and when we moved to the USA in 1989 we ended up living close to a sailing club that was also dominated by single-handers, the Sunfish. My kids learned to sail in England in Optimists and so, in our new home, it was natural for them to graduate to Sunfish and Lasers too.

Without thinking about it we had headed off one of the major issues that affects parents who sail with their teenagers. Yes, we went to the same sailing club, sometimes to regattas and clinics together. But we weren't actually sailing in the same boat together. So there was no opportunity to argue about how dumb Dad was for choosing the wrong side of the beat; and no chance that the teenager would become annoyed because Dad was telling him that he was pinching all the time. Sure we had our tensions and arguments. But the very nature of our sailing meant that, for the most part they didn't directly affect our enjoyment of sailing.

The other beauty of sailing single-handers was that it meant the kids had the freedom to sail, or not to sail. The Sunfish fleet I mentioned actually meets on the lake across the road from our house. So if Dad wanted to get up early on Sunday morning and go out sailing at 9 o'clock and one son wanted to lie in bed and show up at noon, that was perfectly practical. If Dad was going to a regatta and one or both sons wanted to sail in it too,we could do that. But if a son had more important (to him) stuff to do that day, that was OK too; he wasn't depriving Dad of a crew by skipping sailing.

If you're not a single-handed sailor this solution may not be practical. At the club where I taught sailing for several years they had a different way of handling the problem. I headed up a junior sailing instruction program in Optimists and Lasers which kids attended until they were about 15. Afterwards if kids wanted to continue sailing their only option really was to crew on one of the club's one design classes - Thistles, Stars, E-Scows. Some kids crewed for their parents; many crewed for someone else - an uncle, a grandfather, a friend. It hadn't really occurred to me before I wrote this post but I see now that this probably was a way that had evolved to deal with the tensions of parents and kids sailing on the same boat.

So that's a couple of ideas on how to put some distance between yourself and your teenage kids but still be able to enjoy sailing together -- well sort of "together". I'm sure there are other ways.

Carol Anne at Five O'Clock Somewhere wrote a very perceptive post a few weeks ago about Man Shadows, the virtual wind shadows that many sailing women feel from the men in their lives. Parents cast shadows too. Make sure you give your teenager some clear air.

The next post in this series on how (not) to motivate your kid to sail is about the pressures of competition.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cheat the Nursing Home

I'm not really a morbid person.

Yes, it is true I wrote a post yesterday about eleven different ways to get yourself killed while on or in the water.

And yes, I do have a bumper sticker on my car saying Cheat the Nursing Home. Die on your Laser. It's a joke, OK?

But as we seem to be on the theme this weekend of exiting this life while having a good time on the water, let me draw your attention to this article in the Fairfield County Weekly, in which Alan Abel describes a business that offers elderly people tired of life the opportunity to end it all aboard a luxury cruise ship. The ship aptly name The Last Supper is operated by Euthanasia Cruises.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Do Not Read This Blog

If you are planning to go out on the water this weekend do NOT read this blog. If you do you will probably end up being so worried about your personal safety that you will cancel your boating plans and curl up at home on a sofa with a good book. On no account click on this link. STOP. Too late. You went and clicked didn't you?

For the 2% of readers who resisted the temptation to follow the link, let me explain that Boating Safety Law and News has been reporting almost every day in the last few weeks about different ways in which you can get yourself killed or critically injured on the water. I assume you are wary of such dangers as your boat capsizing or being struck by a barge, and I know that you are much too careful to drive your jetski into the side of another boat. I'm sure you aware of the risks if you don't wear your lifejacket and of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning if your cabin is not well ventilated. And we all know that it's not a good idea to drink and drive, whether your vehicle is a car or a motor boat.

But have you ever worried about a fellow boater pulling out a semi-automatic pistol and shooting at you? Have you thought about how dangerous it is not to have your boat properly lit at night? Have you considered that you could be critically injured after being struck by a kayaker? Or that you might meet your end while snorkeling and being struck by a hit-and-run driver?

OK, by now I've probably scared you enough. You're ready to play it safe, stay on the shore and just play with your radio-controlled model boat. Think again. The most bizarre way to get yourself killed while boating occurred when a Florida man used an inflatable to go and rescue his stalled radio-controlled boat and another RC boat punctured his raft.

It's a dangerous world out there kiddies. Play safe on the water this weekend.

Friday, June 02, 2006


"Sailing stinks. I hate sailing. I'm never going sailing again."

On Wednesday night, after sailing, I discovered that the son of one of my best sailing buddies had had a bad sailing experience at the weekend and had emphatically declared that he was retiring from sailing for good. The kid is about 11 years old.

Earlier this week in response to this post, Ward from said ...
I would sincerely like to have answered by anyone whose children are safely past adolescence: How many years' hiatus from sailing with his father does the average teenager require? For the first season ever, mine apparently just wants to play (1) World of Warcraft online and (2) his guitar in his free time. Is the lure of a crew of naked women my only current hope, or is this the part where I am supposed to lean back and not let on that I miss his company?

And Carol Anne from Five O'Clock Somewhere said ...
I'd second Ward's request for a discussion on dealing with teenage offspring as crew. I don't have the problem of mine losing interest in sailing (you don't need naked women; a Dutch track star in a bikini works wonders), but there are some, uh, interesting dynamics at work.

Judging by the record number of comments to my post about Sailing Romance, you guys are somewhat interested in this whole question of sailing and its impact on personal relationships -- or vice versa. So I will write some posts on the topic of being a sailor and parent of teenagers who also sailed.

I won't make these part of the Ask the Tillerman series because that is a spoof agony column where I write pathetic attempts at flippant humor. It seems that this is too important a subject to treat in that way.

Let me first make clear my qualifications, and lack of them, for addressing this topic.

I do meet Ward's criteria of having children past adolescence. More importantly both of my sons learned to sail at the age of 7 or 8; sailed and raced throughout their school years, including those tempestuous teenage years; retained an interest in sailing through their years in college with one of them being an active intercollegiate racer; and now in their twenties with all the typical pressures on people in that age bracket -- building a career, dating, entry-level salaries, graduate school, marriage, mortgage, baby, fixing the leak in the roof -- are both involved to some degree in sailing at an age when many people give up or take a break from the sport.

I have also seen many other kids who weren't as fortunate as mine, both from the perspective of my work as a sailing instructor and as a friend of other sailing parents. Sadly, I've seen numerous kids turned off by the sport or who simply lost interest in sailing.

On the other hand I don't think I have any magic secrets. I count my own sons' continued interest in sailing -- no teenage hiatus there -- as amazingly good fortune rather than any particular parenting prowess on my part. Like most of us I stumbled through the years of being a parent of teenagers without an owner's manual, made a lot of mistakes, yet somehow survived.

But now I look back and realize how lucky I was, how lucky we all were. My kids stayed active in sailing and still enjoy it so we must have been doing something right. I think it's going to take several posts to tell the whole story -- the good, the bad, and the downright ugly -- and to discuss what works and what doesn't so I'll sprinkle them in with other posts over the next few weeks.

Some of the topics I want to discuss are ...

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Please don't take my previous post on physical conditioning too seriously. You can have too much of a good thing.

On the Value of Physical Conditioning

The June 2006 issue of Sailing World has a superb article by Stuart Streuli on how coach Scott Ikle transformed the college sailing team at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York into a national sailing power. According to Sailing World, "Ikle turned a former club team known more for its social prowess than its regatta results into one of the toughest, if not the toughest in the country." Last year the team won the national intercollegiate coed dinghy and team-racing championships in Austin, Texas.

The article describes how Scott emphasizes the importance of goal-setting, planning, mental preparation, mandatory physical workouts, structured practice - and a policy of abstention from alcohol during weekend regattas. Yikes - this program really is serious.

But the quote I liked best was Coach Ikle's thoughts on the value of physical conditioning ...
I see it as positive self-esteem; if you work hard you feel good about yourself. A lot of sailing is mental. If you feel good about yourself and you feel prepared, there is a good chance you can do well.
Do you agree? Is physical fitness important for the sailing that you do?

OK - I'm off to have a run and then lift some weights.