Thursday, November 30, 2006

Second Life, Sailing, Golf and Heroin

Two of the bloggers on my first Top Ten Sailing Blogs list -- and still two of the best writers about sailing in Blogistan -- Zephyr and Soulsailor have recently been posting about Second Life, a "3D online virtual world imagined, created and owned by its residents".

Zephyr in Second Life & Sailing tells us that he has been "sitting on the transom of a sloop in a virtual marina sipping a cup of coffee and getting ready for a romping sail". In a reply to comments in a subsequent post we hear that he's "currently looking at Ms. Jacqueline Trueau's 'Defender II' sloop for purchase" and yesterday we learned that he has bought that sloop and that he (or his avatar) is sailing it on the waters of the Nantucket Sim.

Soulsailor in Crapper.. reports that he has "gotten properly addicted to Second Life", and has been racing in some virtual sailboat races. A couple of days later in One Sailing Boot... we learn that he is thinking of buying some land in Second Life and is asking us for advice on which of two properties he should buy: "Seriosuly guys what do you think... if you were hanging out in second life and were gonna come and visit me then where would you wanna go?"

Remember that these cups of coffee, boats, land, marina and houses that are being built, improved, coveted, admired, and bought and sold only exist as bits on servers at Linden Lab the creators of Second Life. I have to confess to being simultaneously intrigued and skeptical about this idea of immersing myself in an imaginary world of such richness and complexity. In response to a couple of comments from myself that must have communicated more skepticism than interest, Zephyr tells us...

At the moment the experience is somewhat limited due to computing power but in my opinion we are seeing the leading edge of a technology that will change the face of everything - the analogy I like to use is think of the gap between the old reel to reel tape player I remember my Dad having in the mid 1970's and the ipod today. We could have never envisioned something like the ipod when we thought the reel to reel was the bees knees but the core concept of portable audio was there and in 20 years or so it was extrapolated out to the ipod...which one could argue is in and of itself just the leading edge of something we can't yet envision. The point being that the excitement around "Second Life" has to do - for me - with what I can imagine being able to to as the technology gets more powerful. As well it's a cool way to interact more broadly with a community of (in my case) sailors.

He may well be right and I'm not sure why I don't immediately share his enthusiasm. It's not that I'm some kind of anti-technology luddite. After all I did spend almost 30 years of my life working in Information Technology, trying to keep up with each wave of change and working out how best to exploit it in our business. And in my personal life, while not being one of those early adopter types who has to own each latest gizmo as soon as it hits the market, I do end up using most popular consumer technologies sooner or later. I have even been known to play a sailing simulator game on my computer.

I think my reluctance to leap with both feet into Second Life is more related to the reason I don't play golf. In my former corporate life I was surrounded by colleagues who were avid golfers. They often encouraged me to join them in the sport. I always resisted the temptation because I suspected that golf would, like sailing, be one of those activities that I would find seriously addictive. My competitive streak would have driven me into wanting to improve my game and I would have spent every leisure hour practicing or playing in desperate efforts to lower my handicap. And that would have cut into the time available for my other addiction, sailing.

I have more time now I'm retired but I am also now addicted to blogging and marathon running as well as sailing. I'd like to be as good as I can be at all three. I'm scared that Second Life might be so engrossing it would cut into the time for my other addictions. Is it the kind of thing that, like heroin, it's so good you shouldn't even try it once?

Has anyone else tried sailing in Second Life? How does it compare to the real thing? What are the rewards of the experience? Will it make me a better Laser sailor? Are Zephyr and Soulsailor thought-leaders we should follow into the Second Life, or simply uber-geeks who need to get out and feel the sun on their backs and the wind on their faces more often?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Warm Beer in Winthrop

Thanks to Winthrop Frostbite Sailing Club for the ultimate comment on frostbite sailing. Follow the link for more of the same.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Laser Sailing and Tai Chi

Zen who writes one of my favorite sailing blogs, Zensekai, has posted some intriguing thoughts on Tai Chi, Sailing and Laser Racing. He argues that Tai Chi helps with awareness of one's environment and in dealing with wind energy and the transfer of that energy to the boat.

So, in racing and sailing we need to be aware of the wind changes, patterns. Taking in the environment, feeling and seeing not just what is in front of us, but small changes in the water, the body of the competition. Looking feeling, sensing, seeing small things while looking at big things...

Not only the wind, but the feel of your boat & yourself everyday we are a little different. The training, forms, breathing, drills helps us stay as centered, balanced as much as possible...aware. Add to that the mind/mental state of being in meditation, calm, but actively aware.

The more aware you are and better able to use that on multi levels the better you sail.
Great stuff. Do go and read the whole article. As far as I can tell from a quick Google, Zen is the only writer discussing this relationship.

Zen also wrote on this topic back in May, linking sailing to Feng Shui and Zen too. The quote below is only a brief extract of his article but for those interested the full post is Feng Shui, Tai Chi, Sailing & Zen.

His summary of how these disciplines are linked is convincing...

All take understanding of changes in energy flow, "feeling" the environment. Letting go of forcing an achievement, letting it happen through you. Balancing the energy of the environment, being one with the flow (or the force as they said in Star Wars), maintaining your center in the moment to archive Harmony/ Peace/ a state of Zen/ a great sail.

Here Master Liang demonstrates Fu Style Tai Chi Chuan Crane Spread Wings.

Image from Liang, Qiang-Ya International WuDang Association

I can see a lot of sense in what Zen is saying but am not sure if it would be the best investment of my training time. What do you think? Should I take up Tai Chi to improve my Laser sailing?

Monday, November 27, 2006

What a Difference a Year Makes

One year ago today I became a grandfather.
It's pretty cool.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Commitment Questions

How do I know if my commitment to training for the Laser Masters Worlds next year is strong enough for me to achieve my goal of finishing in the top half of my age-group fleet?

I started asking myself this because I was struck by the difference between training to run a marathon next year and training for a sailing event. In both sports I have a clear goal but I am much more confident in my running program than in my sailing preparation. My running program comes from a book by Jeff Galloway. The marathon program is a pretty simple formula. Do these runs for 26 weeks and you are prepared to finish a marathon in such and such a time. There are even tables that tell you how to predict your marathon time based on your time to run 5k or a mile.

How much harder it is to plan a training program for a sailing event. Of course one problem is that the nature of my targets in the two sports are very different. In running I am really only competing against myself: can I run a faster time than my previous marathon? But in sailboat racing we are always testing ourselves against other competitors and they are an unknown factor. Who will turn up for the regatta? How hard will they have trained? Will they have improved since the last time we raced together and, if so, by how much?

The running program has workouts designed to develop different skills. Intervals to work on speed. Long slow runs to work on stamina. Races over shorter distances to predict marathon time and also determine the pace to run in other training. And the book tells me exactly which workouts to do when and how fast and how often. How do I know how hard to work on different sailing skills? How much time should I spend on practicing starts vs tacks vs straight line speed? How do I know when I've done enough in this session? How do I even know if I'm practicing a certain skill properly? It's tough to know whether the quality and quantity of training will achieve the desired objective.

Every day when I wake up I know exactly what I need to do in my running program. Today is the distance run. Tomorrow is cross-training. The next day I need to run 45 to 50 minutes. I would like to think that I could do something every day to improve my sailing performance. But how many days a week should I sail? If there is no wind today should I lift some weights or study a sailing DVD or both? There is no set program. No formula for success.

The running program allows time for rest and recovery. One rest day every week to allow the muscles to recover. And as the distance runs become longer in the later weeks of the program there is a mix of weeks with longer and shorter total running times in each week. How do I determine the right pacing in sailing training? How many days a week should I be sailing? Can you do too much sailing? What's the right balance of time spent at regattas vs clinics vs solo practice vs group practice? No book has all the answers.

It has to be fun though, doesn't it? If there were no joy in sailing why would we do it? But is "go out and have as much fun sailing as you can" any kind of formula for success in racing? And if not, what is?

So much uncertainty. So many different ways I could try and improve my sailing performance. Does this sound negative? Have I given you the impression that I enjoy running more than sailing? That the certainty of a formula for training is something I prefer? Nah. None of this is true.

All of this complexity, and variety of ways to train, and options to consider, and uncertainty about the competition... that's what makes sailboat racing the most fascinating, challenging, intriguing, interesting, rewarding game on the plant. At least for me. How about you?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hot Lake Sailing Record

Several bloggers, including Litoralis, reported recently on the discoveries in August by the yacht Maiken of a new volcanic island in Tonga and a huge raft of pumice caused by underwater volcanic action.

Thanks to sNIPEOUT for drawing our attention to some superb photos from NASA of the new island and the pumice raft.

The NASA website earth observatory has the story...
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying onboard NASA'’s Aqua satellite captured the aftermath of the eruption on August 10, 2006 (top), at 1:30 UTC (2:30 p.m. local time). For comparison, the bottom image shows the same area on September 15, 2005.

In the top image, the emerging volcanic island is partially hidden by its own plume. Volcanic plumes often appear drab gray or beige compared to clouds, and plumes from the emerging island move away from it in different directions, one to the southeast, and some to the north. The bright white spot directly over the island may be cloud cover, or it could be steam resulting from volcanic emissions.

The raft of pumice appears to the northeast of the emerging island, and it actually connects, via a thin thread, to neighboring Late Island. The blue-green color of the water around the raft and the new island is probably fine sediment that is making the deep blue water more reflective.
The earth observatory site also has more recent photos of the new island...

On October 4, 2006, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA'’s Terra satellite observed the newly emerged Home Reef. This image shows two views of the volcano. The larger image uses a combination of light visible to human eyes and infrared light. In this picture, dark blue indicates relatively clear water, light blue-green indicates water mixed with sediment, and the white ring around the island shows rocky material. The inset image shows temperatures on and around the island, with bright yellow being the warmest and dark purple being the coolest.

Both images indicate a warm plume from the island that moves in a northeasterly direction before splitting in two. The exact origin of this plume is uncertain. It could result from underwater volcanic activity, but it might also result from solar heating of pumice remaining in the area. The island itself sports volcanic lakes, some as warm as 64.7 degrees Celsius (almost 150 degrees Fahrenheit).

Hmmm - that sounds interesting - lakes with water at 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If I can find a way to ship my Laser there maybe I could make the Guinness Book Of Records for hottest lake ever sailed?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the USA, a traditional holiday started by the passengers from the Mayflower in 1621 to celebrate setting the record for the slowest, most crowded, and most miserable east-to-west transatlantic crossing by a square-rigged sailing vessel of under 200 tons displacement (ratified by WSSRC on 23 November 1621). It is called Thanksgiving Day because the colonists were giving thanks to their friend Squanto for teaching them how to survive in the wilderness, especially the trick of planting a fish-head in the ground with every seed of corn. Historians differ as to whether the planting of the fish-heads was the first successful practical joke executed by an American against gullible immigrants, or a shrewd business move by the local Wampanoag fish merchant who needed to unload a large consignment of fish-heads well past their sell-by date.

So I would also like to celebrate this special day in American history by giving thanks to all the readers of the nonsensical jottings that I write on this blog. Yes, I mean you. Is anyone still here?

And I would like to give a very special thank you to everyone who has helped spread the word about Proper Course to new readers...

To all the bloggers who have put links to Proper Course on their blogs. According to Technorati, as of today, 90 blogs link here. God knows why anyone would go to the trouble of linking here, but thanks anyway. Those 90 links apparently place me firmly in the ranks of the C-list bloggers according to Dave Sifry's latest report on the State of the Blogosphere. I feel extremely proud to have reached these giddy heights of "middling authority" and will try not to let it go to my head.

In the last few months I've noticed that a few real sailing websites (as opposed to unreal sailing blogs) have also been directing readers here. Destination One Design has been carrying the occasional post from me that's actually about sailing in their D1D News ticker. The Laser Class Association of New South Wales has been placing articles from my posts on Dave Dellenbaugh's Top Ten Tactical Tips in its "What's New" section. And talking of non-English language sites, Västkustens Folkbåtsflottilj has been including a feed from here in its Nyheter och bloggar feature. (Don't ask me -- I haven't a clue what anything on that page means but it appears to be about sailing and I think it's in Swedish.) To the editors or webmastes of these sites, many thanks.

Other readers occasionally find me when someone emails them a link to Proper Course. Thanks to Ward Esaak of About Sailing for telling folk about the WD-40 and Duct Tape post in his weekly email sailing newsletter. And a super big thank you to Craig Leweck at Scuttlebutt for telling readers of his very popular email newsletter about a couple of my muddled ramblings this month. Man, the dials really started spinning off the gauges on my site meter on those days!

So as Americans celebrate this special day by stuffing themselves with turkey, watching some game that they call football on television, and by planting ceremonial fish-heads under their lawns... I give sincere thanks to everyone who reads Proper Course and to everyone who helps other readers find their way here.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What's Wrong With Buzzards Bay?

I don't know. What is wrong with Buzzards Bay? Jimmy Buffett seemed to place it in the same category as Three Mile Island and the Ayatollah.

I don't know, I don't know,
I don't know where I'm a-gonna go
When the volcano blows

But I don't want to land in New York City
Don't want to land in Mexico
Don't want to land on no three mile island
Don't want to see my skin aglow

Don't want to land in Comanche Sky Park
Or in Nashville Tennessee
Don't want to land in no San Juan airport
Or in the Yukon Territory

Don't want to land no San Diego
Don't want to land in no Buzzard Bay
I don't want to land on no Ayatollah
I got nothin' more to say

I think I mentioned before that Tillerwoman and I are in the middle of planning a house move from the outer suburbs of Gotham City (where we live because of my former corporate job) to a retirement home somewhat nearer to Cutest Granddaughter in the World, who currently resides in southern Massachusetts.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Before you tell me, I do know that it is bad strategy for retired parents to move to live close to their still-employed children. Bad because the children might suddenly decide to relocate to anywhere in the world just like their parents (UK to USA) and grandparents (Australia to UK) before them.

But we have reasons to believe that CGITW's parents' ties to New England are fairly strong. And in planning a move to Rhode Island we were also choosing an area that we enjoy and could feel comfortable in. And did I mention that Rhode Island is also somewhat known as a great area for sailing?

I see myself sailing the District 7 Laser regattas around New England in the summer, frostbiting with the Newport Laser Fleet in the winter, and getting involved in who knows what kinds of other sailing and boating activities in that area.

So we were looking around at homes for sale in Rhode Island. Found some towns we liked. And then I looked at a map and started wondering what those towns in the south-eastern corner of Massachusetts are like. Marion and Mattapoisett. Close to major highways. On the north shore of Buzzards Bay. Close to Cape Cod without actually being on the other side of those damn congested bridges.

So on a couple of trips to New England this year we explored that Buzzards Bay coast. On one trip we went out with our daughter-in-law and a realtor and checked out some houses for sale. We were very impressed. Beautiful houses. Oodles of New England charm. Boats everywhere. That famous Buzzards Bay breeze.

As we were cruising around admiring the properties, our dear daughter-in-law summed up the area in the vernacular of her generation... "This doesn't suck!"

It certainly doesn't. But what are we missing? What's wrong with Buzzards Bay?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sticky Fingers

While sailing my Laser on Saturday I wore a pair of regular full finger neoprene sailing gloves but for the first time since last winter my hands were starting to feel cold. So on Sunday it was time to bring out the heavy artillery in my sailing gloves arsenal... my APS Dry Gloves.

These are made from natural latex rubber and have a tapered wrist seal that keeps water from entering the glove. With a polypropylene glove liner inside, these gloves keep my hands perfectly warm and dry in the coldest weather.

Things were fine for the first few races, but then a very strange thing started to happen. My fingers started to stick together! Why was this happening? I've never had this problem before. Is the saltwater attacking the latex and turning the surface into glue? Have the gloves picked up some contaminant? Is it just old age? (The gloves not me.)

And more importantly how can I prevent "sticky finger syndrome" in future. Is the answer here? Or here?

I don't know. Any suggestions?

Monday, November 20, 2006


I think I've worked out what I'm doing wrong. Well, at least one of the things I've been doing wrong. All these years I've been sailing at below my true potential because of one simple thing.

It dawned on me when I recalled the other day something I had been told by a sailing coach many years ago. Something about taking snapshots not videos when you are racing. His point was that you need to pay attention to a lot of factors in a race and that you need to keep switching attention among them all, not get focused too long on any one issue.

When I thought back to racing last week I remembered his advice. There was one race where I had a superb start near the favored pin end of the line, heading towards the left side of the course which had previously been the strategically optimal way to go. I was concentrating on my boat speed and the boats around me and not letting the waves slow me down and maintaining a good lane with clear air and feeling good about being the leading boat of all the pack on the left ... And it wasn't until way too late that I looked over my shoulder and saw that stronger wind had filled in from the right side of the course and the boats that had gone right were already 100 yards ahead of me. Aaaagghhh!!!!

Did I look upwind before the start? No.

Did I look around the course after the start? No.

I was just way to focused on boat speed that I forgot about the big picture.

Of course there are a lot of things that a single-handed sailor like me has to be dealing with all the time. Sail trim. Boat trim. Boat balance. What are the boats close to me doing? What are they likely to do? Am I being headed or lifted? What is the wind ahead of me doing? What is the wind on the other side of the course doing? Are the boats on the other side of the course doing better or worse than me? Where am I in relation to the next mark? And so on.

So when I went out to practice on the local reservoir on Saturday I concentrated on using the "snapshot" approach. Switching my attention every few seconds between all the variables. Telltales look OK? Boat flat? What's the wind ahead doing? Where's the next puff? Am I being headed? Big picture wind - where is it strongest?

I'm sure that good sailors do most of this unconsciously. They are constantly receiving and processing this information all the time without having to think about it. But given my tendency to concentrate on one thing and forget everything else I found this snapshot exercise useful.

Then while racing yesterday I tried using the same technique. 2 minute signal - check out the wind. 1 minute signal - check out the wind again. Then once we're racing keep taking the snapshots. Telltales. Snap. Boat trim. Snap. Wind ahead. Snap. Wind over my shoulder. Snap. Wind other side of the course. Snap. Windward mark. Snap. Boats nearby. Snap. Boats other side of the course. Snap.

And it worked. My results were dramatically better than the previous week. I went from about being a third of the way from the bottom of the fleet to being in the top third of the fleet. OK, there's still plenty of room for improvement. But if I hadn't missed that persistent shift on the second beat of the fourth race...

Oh well. There's always next time.


Saturday, November 18, 2006


One of the simple pleasures of my life is checking my Site Meter statistics to see what search engine queries are directing new readers to Proper Course. Here are a few examples...

"where do flies go in the winter?"
Search me. You're not going to find the answer here.

"proper porn"
Proper porn? As opposed to what? Improper porn? What is this person thinking?

"jiggly asses"
It's all too clear what this person is thinking. But he won't find what he's seeking here.

"sock burning"
I never cease to marvel at the human mind. Apparently some people wake up on Saturday morning and have an urge to spend the weekend burning some old socks so the first thing they do is go to Google to find the best way to plan their incendiary indulgence.

"silly awards"
Other people wake up on Saturday morning and think that nothing would make their day more complete than giving silly awards to all their friends, and they also turn to Google for ideas.

"church signs quote"
I guess the guy whose job is to put up those inspirational messages on the church sign has to get his ideas online if god isn't providing him with any help today.

"prayers of thanks"
Hope you found what you were looking for father.

"meaning of jimmy buffett southern cross"
Ohmigod. Somebody is looking for meaning in Jimmy Buffet songs. (Actually it wasn't even written by JB but then a lot of people on the internet are a little confused.)

"pain in right shoulder blade and excessive wind"
Take two aspirins and call me in the morning. Seriously, it's a bit scary if people are coming here for medical advice.

"squirrel wearing speedos"
What? I think I'm pretty broadminded but some fetishes are way too weird for me to comprehend.

"how to remove nipple rings" Carefully please, very carefully. Ouch.

"sticky toffee pudding"
Does this look like a recipe blog?

"laser sailing training regime"
Sir, you are definitely in the wrong place if you are looking to plan your laser sailing training regime by picking up ideas on this blog.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Who Invented the Wetsuit?

So there I was this afternoon, out sailing my Laser on the lake opposite my home, just chilling out and enjoying a sunny fall afternoon, looking at the patterns of the clouds and the gusts on the water, and contemplating the great mysteries of the universe such as if intelligent design is correct who designed the designer, and why does starboard have right of way over port, and is dark energy the same thing as the cosmological constant, and why am I the only person dumb enough to be out sailing on this lake this afternoon? And then the big big question struck me between the eyes...

Who invented the wetsuit? Yeah. Who first thought of wrapping his body in synthetic spongy rubber so he could immerse himself in freezing cold water for pleasure? Because I owe him a big thank you for making this glorious afternoon of sailing and contemplation possible.

So I sailed back to the dock, packed up my Laser, hauled it back to the house, rushed upstairs to my computer dripping lake water all over the carpet, and excitedly clutched the mouse with soggy hand and heavy anticipation. Wikipedia will have the answer, right?

Well apparently not. Who invented the wetsuit is one of those mysteries lost in the mists of time just like what caused the Cambrian explosion and is Geronimo's skull really used in weird fraternity rituals at Yale University?

Here's what Wikipedia has to say...

It is difficult to credit a single individual for the creation of the modern wetsuit. In 1951, while working for the US Navy, Hugh Bradner had the insight that a thin layer of trapped water could act as an insulator. It was a colleague of Bradner who suggested neoprene as a feasible material. However, Bradner was not overly interested in profiting from his design and never marketed a version to the public; nor did he patent his design. The first written documentation of Bradner's invention was in a letter dated June 21, 1951.

Traditionally, most say it was Jack O'Neill (businessman) who invented the wetsuit and started using neoprene, which he found lining the floor of an airliner. However, this is disputed by some aviation experts because neoprene and other rubbers are not fire retardant; therefore, they would not be found on any passenger aircraft. More importantly, it was not Jack, but his brother, Robert, who created the first designs for the company they later founded. Robert and Jack O'Neill went on to found the successful wetsuit manufacturing company called O'Neill. But Bob and Bill Meistrell, from Manhattan Beach, California claim to have started experimenting with neoprene around 1953. Their company would later be named Body Glove.

So now you know.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Worth Doing Badly

I suspect that almost everyone in the world interested in sailing has by now seen the video of Ham-It-Up! Capri 25 Sailing Round Down, an absolutely hilarious film of a crew at the Capri 25 2006 Nationals demonstrating a broach, an unintentional gybe, a man (actually woman) overboard, and all sorts of other good clean mayhem and total incompetence.

It was featured on Sailing Anarchy and picked up by various sailing blogs. Of course the know-it-all armchair sailors on the Sailing Anarchy Forum were all over it, ranting about the numerous mistakes made by this crew, insulting their intelligence, and making various derogatory comments about the physical attributes of certain crew members. (Since when was there a rule that said that people with over-developed buttocks can't go sailing?)

One has to wonder about the motivation of Mr Hammett in making this video available to the world. Is he proud that his team survived these events with nothing worse than wounded pride? Or is it some twisted form of self-deprecating humor (an art form that is occasionally attempted by the writer of this blog)?

Personally I like to think that the video is a celebration of G.K.Chesterton's famous paradox: If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. Most of us that love sailing know what that means. I know that I am not immune from making a few mistakes every time I set foot on a boat. I know I sail badly (or at least far from perfectly) but I still think it's worth doing.

And some of us are not afraid to tell the world about our botched up sailing attempts. Two of my favorite sailing bloggers, Carol Anne at Five O'Clock Somewhere and Edward at EVK4 Bloglet, write blogs that are so fascinating partly because they do not shy away from sharing with us their bad sailing experiences as well as their good days. Bravo to both of you. (But I'd love to see the videos too!)

But what about you? Would you go sailing today if your own inexperience, or unfamiliarity with the boat, or crew shortcomings, or weather conditions mean that you are probably likely to sail less than perfectly? Do you challenge yourself to try new things in sailing, knowing that at least initially you will be making plenty of mistakes?

In other words... is sailing so worth doing that it's worth doing badly?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mystery Object

It's made from carbon fiber with a matte finish. It's lightweight, stiff and strong. It's ultra-low profile design is cut out underneath at one end and it has a 6" curved titanium wear plate. What is it?

Here's a clue. There's not much you can do within class rules to upgrade the equipment on a Laser but one item that is almost unrestricted is the tiller.

Yes my friend, today's mystery object is the Acme Carbon Black Diamond Laser Tiller, apparently the weapon of choice for all serious Laser sailors, at least in North America. There she is. What a jewel!

So, you may well ask, what's the big deal about having an "ultra-low profile" tiller? I couldn't explain it better than to quote the words of one of Acme's competitors, Rooster Sailing who also sell a carbon tiller for Lasers...

The big problem for Laser Sailors is - to get the maximum power out of the rig in medium winds, they need to get maximum leach tension on the sail. This is achieved by using the mainsheet to tension the leach alone. Kicker tension simply reduces the leach tension as the boom is also a pusher into the mast (bending it) as well as a ‘puller’ down’.

So the obvious answer is to use the mainsheet. However, in marginal hiking conditions the mainsheet keeps pulling the boom into the middle of the boat, due to its action from the ratchet block and traveler system which encourages the boom into the centre of the boat (the natural highest place). Some sailors find it easier to just use kicker to keep the boom on the corner, but unfortunately they loose pointing ability and speed due to the lack of leach tension. In an ideal world the traveler should be higher at the edges thus allowing the boom to want to stay outboard. Unfortunately the Laser tiller gets in the way. The higher the tiller the higher the traveler in the middle. So that is why top Laser sailors spend silly amounts of money on a carbon tiller so that it can be as low as possible and still stiff enough not to bang on the traveler cleat.

The other more obvious advantage of a very low profile tiller is that with minimal friction from the traveler line, you have a much better feel for the helm in light winds. Having used the Black Diamond tiller for some time now I have nothing but praise for it. It certainly keeps all the promises that are made for it and it is superior to any other tiller I have used.

The area I still want to experiment with is tiller extensions. Acme make two carbon tiller extensions, the Fatso and Fatso Junior. (What marketing genius came up with those terms?) They are both all carbon construction with a surface that gives excellent grip and both have a comfortable oval cross-section. The only difference is that the Fatso is, well, fatter than the Fatso Junior. Duh.

I'm not sure which one will suit me best. On the one hand I feel that the larger cross-section version may be more comfortable for long days on the water. I did have a tendency in the past to suffer from cramps in my hands when Lasering and thought that one of the causes might be holding a very slim tiller extension. On the other hand, a smaller cross-section extension should be somewhat easier when trying to use the tiller hand with the sheet hand for rapid sheeting such as at leeward mark roundings.

Thanks to the generosity of Alex Maas at Acme Inc. I now have samples of both extensions as well as the tiller so will be able to try them both during the frostbite season. I'll write another post on my experiences later in the winter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Pessimist and the Optimist

Sunday was a miserable day. It was raining. It was dull. I was terrible. When I did get a good start on the left the wind filled in from the right. When I got clear air off the start line everyone else outpointed me and I was soon in the toilet. The waves kept slowing me down. I totally misjudged the adverse tide at the windward mark a couple of times. I'm totally out of practice in sailing in a fleet this large and the competition is way too tough for me. I totally suck. Anybody want to by a second-hand Laser cheap?

Sunday was a magnificent day. Sure it rained a bit, but only in the last race. In spite of not having sailed against such tough competition since July I was getting pretty good starts. However I was not very good at observing and predicting what the wind was going to do next, which is something I can work on in practice sessions and through mental preparation. It was interesting sailing in strong current again after sailing on lakes all summer and I'll soon be judging the laylines in tide a lot better. The waves were big enough early in the day to catch some nice rides downwind and I was slowly getting back the hang of how to deal with them upwind. I noticed I wasn't pointing as well as the rest of the fleet but one of the top sailors pointed out to me afterwards what I was doing wrong: I need to sail absolutely flat in these conditions -- something else to practice. What a great day, a real learning experience and some good input on things I need to work on. And my finishes did improve in every race. Think I need to buy another Laser so I can leave one boat at the club and keep one at home for practice. Can't wait for next Sunday.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Garbology 101

I like to think that I take pretty good care of the marine environment when I'm sailing. But as I'm never out for more than a few hours in my Laser it's pretty easy to follow the rule of taking back to shore any waste materials from my snacks or drinks. (Ummm - except of course the occasional need to water the fishes).

But ocean going ships obviously have a whole different set of issues with which to deal. Check out his article on Garbology 101 written by Mary Ann, aboard the Esperanza, the largest vessel in the Greenpeace fleet. I guess being Greenpeace they have to make sure they are ultra politically correct when it comes to dumping stuff over the side, but if you are as ignorant of such matters as myself you might be surprised as what materials they do toss.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

London Marathon

London, here we come! On Friday I sent in my entry for the 2007 Flora London Marathon to Marathon Tours and Travel along with a hefty deposit check. So now I'm committed.

I have to confess I've been vacillating for the last couple of weeks about whether to run this or not. The only way to be sure of getting an entry, indeed by now the only way to enter at all, is to sign up for a package including hotel and air travel with the tour company. And it seemed like an expensive commitment, especially if by any chance I injured myself while training or for any other reason wasn't in shape to run a marathon next April.

I'm already four weeks into my training program and definitely want to aim to run an April marathon. Looking around on various websites I found that the New Jersey Marathon in Long Branch is the week after London. So after discussion with Tillerwoman we decided to drop the idea of doing London and planned on doing New Jersey instead. Hey, we live so close to Long Branch that we wouldn't even need a hotel. Just show up on the day and run.

But then I had second thoughts again. Does that make it third thoughts?

Two laps around some Jersey shore town?

Or London? Cutty Sark, Tower of London, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, London Eye, Cleopatra's Needle, London Bridge, Buckingham Palace... one of the great city marathons of the world.

So eventually I decided to go for the big one. If I'm going to put in all the effort to train for a marathon, the actual race had better be a truly memorable experience. And as an aging , I don't know how many more years are left in these old legs so I had better grab the chance while I can.

So on Friday I called up the tour company, confirmed they still have guaranteed places available in the race, and sent them my deposit. I'm on my way.

I called up my mother in England this morning and told her my decision. The plan is to visit her and my mother-in-law in the week before the race, and then for Tillerwoman and me to spend four nights in London over the race weekend. Mum kept going on and on about how far it is to run and I had to keep explaining that it's no further than the two marathons I've already completed.

In the end I just had to tell her... "I have to do it while I'm still young!"

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sit Further Forward

Sit further forward ...

In the six summers I spent teaching kids to sail in Optimists and Sunfish I must have spoken or shouted that phrase (or words to that effect) hundreds of times.

Most kids, when they are learning to sail, seem to want to sit as far back in the boat as they can, even right alongside the tiller in an Optimist, and hang on to the tiller for dear life. I guess it's a natural reaction. It must feel a bit more scary, less in control, to hold the end of the tiller extension instead of the tiller and to sit much closer to the bow of the boat. But being the big bad evil sailing instructor who believes that it's much easier to learn good habits than to break old ones, I always endeavored to teach my kids right from day one to sit well forward in their sailing dinghy. Unless you're planing or taking waves over the bow, it's faster.

Sit further forward...

So it was something of a surprise to hear the same words directed at myself while in the Laser class at Minorca Sailing a few weeks back. We were sailing upwind in a fairly light wind, not hiking conditions, and I was sitting at the front of the cockpit. Honest. But I had forgotten that in such conditions I should have had my weight even further forward in a Laser.

Oh, I know in the really light stuff you need to get your weight forward and lift the transom out of the water. On all those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer that I've spent racing -- correction: drifting in -- my Laser on New Jersey lakes in 0-2 knots of wind, I'm as adept at anyone at climbing up in front of the mainsheet and squatting in some painful contortion just behind the mast.

But this situation in Menorca was in a somewhat stronger wind. Butt on the side deck kind of wind. And my instructor, Comet, was telling me to move my weight up alongside the centerboard, not just to the front of the cockpit.

On checking Comet's tip in my home sailing library I see that Ben Ainslie offers much the same advice in The Laser Campaign Manual: "Sit as far forward as possible (front leg in front of the mainsheet)." And in Ben Tan's Complete Introduction to Laser Racing, Rod Dawson in the chapter on Straight-line Speed advises us to "keep the bodyweight forward, next to the centreboard, to lift the transom above the water level,thereby reducing drag" when beating in lighter winds.

So how did I develop this bad habit of sitting just behind the centerboard of the Laser when beating in light winds? It's sailing that damn Sunfish, I'm sure. The Sunfish guru of gurus, Derek Fries in his book Successful Sunfish Racing specifically advises the Sunfish skipper to "situate himself even with the forward edge of the cockpit. There is no reason to sit any further forward". Ahah. That's it. All those years of sailing the Sunfish taught me a bad habit for Laser sailing.

So in my practice sessions since returning from Menorca I've been working on developing the correct style for sailing a Laser upwind in lighter winds. On some sessions I've sailed for a while with my weight up by the centerboard and then moved back to my old position. It certainly feels different. Hard to put into words but the correct technique has a more locked-in-the-groove smooth balanced feel to it. Fast. (I hope.)

This was the one of the things I was looking for when I had the chance to observe some top-notch Laser sailors last Sunday. I was admiring the leader of one race who was sailing upwind, sitting well forward, and also leaning his body towards the bow too. He looked smooth and fast, and it was easy to see that the knuckle of his bow was slicing into the water and the transom was lifted clear of the water.

By contrast another very good sailor a couple of places behind him was sitting a little back in the cockpit and leaning backwards. His bow was actually lifted up above the surface of the water. I couldn't understand why such an excellent sailor was using this style. Did this usually work for him? Everyone's different, it seems.

There's a tiny little problem with moving your weight forward of the front of the cockpit on a Laser. The deck cleat for the mainsheet. It is in exactly the wrong place. Sit forward and that cleat is going to be sticking into a part of your anatomy that shouldn't have foreign objects poked into it. Not too bad if you are wearing a couple of layers of neoprene. But definitely disconcerting if you are only wearing a swimsuit. But you have to do it. I know of at least one Laser sailor who has removed his deck cleats to avoid this... ahem... sensitive issue.

Thanks to the three Laser sailors who commented on my previous post about Laser technique. Would like to hear from any other Laser freaks if you agree with this stuff (or even if you don't) or have any other tips on light wind beating.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

WD-40 and Duct Tape

Thanks to Garfieldt's Blog for this great advice. It really is all you need to know about maintaining boats ...

  • You only need two tools: WD-40 and Duct Tape.

  • If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40.

  • If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Three Ways to Sail a Laser Downwind

Last weekend I was observing the different techniques that the top sailors in our Laser fleet used on a run. The winds were mainly around 5 to 10 knots with smallish waves, not big enough for major surfing but certainly pronounced enough that some gains could be made by using the waves.

Sailor A. Sitting well forward with one knee alongside the centerboard, locked in to the boat. No body movement or steering. Outhaul released so that he had a baggy sail. Boom slightly in front of 90 degrees to centerline of boat. But here's why this guy was going fast and what singled him out from all the boats around him. The leech of his sail was pumping rhythmically every time a tiny wave rocked his boat. He wasn't causing these leech flicks with any conscious movement of his body but they were sure helping him to keep the boat moving fast. You have to get the vang released just the right amount to make this happen. Too tight and the leech won't pump. Too loose and the leech will just be floppy. Totally legal and totally fast.

Sailor B. This guy clearly believed that the way to gain maximum advantage from the waves was to carve big turns up and down across the course to catch the best waves and/or steer through gaps in the waves. He would heel to leeward and trim in aggressively to head up; then flatten the boat; then only a few seconds later he would heel the boat to windward and bear away sharply and release all the sheet he had trimmed in. There was some rudder movement but most of the steering was done by the heeling and trimming. Legal? Probably -- if he had good reasons for all of his radical changes of course then he was certainly entitled to heel and trim to steer the boat.

Sailor C. This guy was sitting in the boat sideways in a knees-up position, not locked in next to the centerboard like Sailor A. He wasn't making major changes in direction like Sailor B but he was rocking a lot. His upper body was moving in and out, and the rig was rocking in response too each of these movements. Occasionally he would even lift his butt off the deck to initiate a major roll to leeward and then sit down again to roll the boat back to windward. There was some discussion on our mark boat as to whether this guy was pushing beyond the limits of Rule 42; my two fellow Laser sailors on RC duty felt that his technique was perfectly legal if he was using it to work the waves. Hmmm -- I wasn't so sure.

So which technique worked best? Search me. Sailors A and C were leading or tied for the lead when I was watching them, and Sailor B is one of the most successful sailors in the fleet over the season. I guess all of these methods will work better or worse depending on wind and wave conditions on any given day. Though I might be cautious about using Sailor C's technique at a regatta where there were on-the-water judges enforcing Rule 42.

Any comments?

Yachting Murders

Before being tied to an anchor and tossed overboard with her husband ... Jackie Hawks also "begged to see her grandchild again," and asked Skylar Deleon, "How could you do this to us? You brought your wife and baby on this boat. We trusted you."
Scary allegations in Santa Ana trial concerning the murder of a retired couple who just wanted to sell their yacht and spend more time with their first grandchild.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Watching Boats

This weekend I did my turn on race committee duty for our Laser fleet. With over 60 boats out racing the starts were crowded...

How many out of the 60 made a start in the front row?

The windward mark roundings were crowded...

Want to risk an approach on the port tack layline in this fleet?

And the leeward gates were total mayhem...

"Don't even think about going in there..."

I had plenty of time to observe the techniques of the fleet leaders -- especially in those areas that my instructor in Menorca told me I need to improve. Two things surprised me...

First, it seemed that I learned a lot more from watching other sailors than I normally do when I am on race committee. Perhaps it was because certain boat-handling issues were fresh in my mind having spend a couple of days practicing just those skills a couple of days last week on my own private lake. (OK -- it's not really my lake -- I share it with the other 8,414,349 citizens of the Garden State -- but for some reason my co-owners allowed me total private unfettered sole use of the lake last week.)

Secondly -- and this was even more of a shock -- it was apparent that even the best sailors in the fleet had very different techniques from each other in the areas I was studying.

Hmmm. What does this mean?

a) There is no best way to sail a Laser and everyone develops a technique that works for them.

b) Even the best guys have faults in their technique, or maybe just bad days when they forget how to sail properly.

c) These guys aren't as good as I thought they were.

d) None of the above.

Some guy called "derek" left a comment a few days ago asking for some clues on what I learned in Menorca. So for "derek", and any other Laser freaks out there, there will be at least three posts this week on Lasering technique (which the rest of you can ignore if you wish).

It's about time we had some serious sailing stuff on this blog. After the comments by someone called "mommy" and someone else called "adrift at sea" on Friday's post, I was beginning to worry that this was turning into a relationship blog. "Welcome to the family" indeed.

Watch this space. This is a serious sailing blog. Really...

Friday, November 03, 2006


Thirty five years ago this evening, two young lady schoolteachers in England were plotting where to go on Saturday night to find some guys.

They saw an advert in the local paper.
They went to a fancy dress party.

One of them met a tall skinny guy.
They clicked.

He introduced her friend to his friend.
Two weddings and some babies came along in due course.

Thirty five years later the first couple are still clicking.
They have a grandchild.
She is almost as crazy as they are.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Sunday in New England

It sure was a wild windy weekend in New England.

I wasn't able to race on Sunday, and for some reason Scuttlebutt thought that a day of non-sailing for Tillerman was newsworthy enough to tell the world about it.

Litoralis wasn't able to race because it was too windy.

Sherry Fowler from Stay of Execution coached her Bowdoin sailing team from the dock at the MIT Sailing Pavilion at the Schell Trophy and said...
It was the most extreme sailing conditions I've ever witnessed. That was the consensus among all the coaches on the dock. It was wild, and wonderful. The audible "oooooh!s" and "oh my god!"s on the dock was a spectacle in itself. There were moments when I didn't know where on the river to look, because there was such wildness, carnage, and excitement in every direction.

The Cedar Point YC Laser Fleet in Westport, Connecticut didn't race. Andrew Scrivan reported...
Who really wanted to sail in a shifty 40+ knots anyway?

It is not often that our series is blown out, but Sunday was clearly a good day to call off. The club clocked a steady breeze of 25-30kts with westerly gusts up to 50kts. Hope to see everyone next weekend at the regatta.

The Cottage Park YC Laser Fleet in Boston cancelled racing too...
Well... right now at Deer Island it's sustained 31 with gusts well over 40, and the forecast is for more of the same. We're postponing the regatta and BBQ to next weekend. There will be a few of us at the clubhouse today, in case people want to bring their boats down and set up for the season. If, by some miracle, we get a significant break in the weather, we'll try to sail a couple of informal races.

Meanwhile collegiate regattas around the area were struggling with the conditions. I've already mentioned the Schell Trophy at MIT but here's a more comprehensive report from the NEISA website...
Day One - Gnarly forecast but it never seemed to materialize. A Division started in Techs and went to FJs after race 8. B Division sailed FJs with storm jibs and then went to full size jibs and then to Tech dinghies.

Day Two - A west wind of 30-50 knots kept the fleet ashore until noon. Both divisions then sailed two sets in Tech dinghies with storm sails on an X course. Breeze backed off to about 30 knots so A division rigged FJs with storm jibs for their final set. After the starting signal the Rivah Chuck turned white with a 40-50 knot sustained blast for 15 minutes. Hooting, hollering and a few swims followed as the FJs ragged their jibs downwind and the Techs never got off their planes. A division was done at 17 races and B division finished off a matching race as the sun began to set in 40 plus knot puffs.

The college freshmen sailors in Vermont competing for the Nickerson Trophy also had an interesting weekend...
Saturday, New England's freshmen arrived to a 15-18 kt. southerly with 1-2 foot waves. The forecasted 25-35 never came - instead, we raced 4 A division races and 3 B division races in a downright weird 5-10 knot breeze that rotated throughout the afternoon roughly 270 degrees from the morning southerly, ending with an easterly that ultimately died during race 3B.

Sunday's forecast did materialize. A 20-30 kt WSW with 4 foot waves outside the breakwater was cranking from about 9:00 am on. The Vermont B boat attempted to test the conditions, and eventually bit it hard downwind, resulting in two stitches in the crew's eyebrow. Racing was called at 11:45.

Meanwhile up in New Hampshire at the Underdog Trophy another race committee was struggling to run a regatta...

Winds from the ESE at approx 8-18 mph and rain to begin the day. At approx: 11:00 A Division sailed 2 races, Windward-Leeward 2 times around. Races took approx. 20-25 minutes each. Very shifty, puffy conditions. B Division sailed two races starting at around 12:15. Shifty, puffy conditions with a number of capsizes. Races took 20-25 minutes each. Velocity in the puffs increased to above 30 mph at end of second B race and the race committee decided to postpone on shore. Conditions worsened on shore with higher velocity puffs in greater consistency and harder rain. At approx. 2:00, racing was postponed for the day based on the current conditions and forecasted weather.


Winds from the WSW at approx. 18 - 20 mph to begin the day. A Division raced one race at approx. 10:15, with building winds and many capsizes. All boats completed the Triangle, once around course without assistance. Velocity in the puffs had increased to 35+ and direction of puffs was very inconsistent direction. High velocity puffs were occurring every couple of minutes. Race committee postponed on shore until 12:30. At 12:30, race committee postponed again to await wind conditions that were suitable for racing. Puffs continued to materialize at least once every 5 minutes with velocities at 35+ mph with some at over 40 mph and direction changes of up to 100 degrees. several teams left the venue leaving 5 teams to sail the B division set. At 2:40, conditions appeared to be settling. Race committee went out to the starting line, observed winds of 18 - 30 mph with 30+ degrees variance for a period of 25 minutes and radioed ashore to send out B Division for a race at 3:05. At approx. 3:30, as B Division was sailing to the racecourse, sustained wind velocity increased to approx. 35+ mph and 4 of 5 boats on the water capsized. Race committee decided conditions were unsuitable to race in, sent the fleet back to shore, and ended the regatta.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Schell 2006

I didn't get to race in New England on Sunday and neither did my son. But some college dinghy sailors went racing in Boston.

Check out the MIT Sailing website for pictures of the Schell Trophy, and links to more photos. According to that site, the regatta was sailed "under extreme conditions both days: on Saturday 28-Oct we had 2+" of rain; even more exciting, on 29-Oct we had constant 25mph winds, with gusts going into the mid 40's!"

The Sailing Lesson

I wrote a post back in May about a famous romance that started on a Sunfish and several readers added comments about their own sailing dates.

On a similar theme check out The Sailing Lesson, a poem by P.B.Adams, part of the collection A Season of Rain. What a writer!!

Change of Plan

Hmmm - looks like I might have to rethink my plans to sail in the Laser Masters Worlds in Portugal next summer.

31 October 2007
No. 202

2007 Laser World Masters as at 31 October 2006. ILCA have not been able to reach a satisfactory agreement with club Neval de Cascais for the organisation of the Laser World Master in Cascais Portugal. ILCA are now seeking alternative venues.

On the direction of ILCA World Council ILCA is now seeking alternative venues and invites expressions of interest from interested clubs.

The venue should preferably be in Europe available between August and the beginning of November to utilise charter boats used at other events during the year. It has to be possible to service the chosen venue with a minimum of 100 Lasers. The provision of charter Lasers is not the responsibility of the host club although the help in transportation costs could be a positive consideration. The site should have parking and easy launching for at least 250 Lasers, the shore facilities should also provide a site venue for catering for these numbers and a choice of accommodation types near by including pension (bed and breakfast), self catering and hotels. At least 100 competitors are expected to arrive by air so easy access to an international airport is also a consideration as well as convenient travelling for European sailors

The racing program runs from Saturday (practice race) then two races daily from Sunday through the following Saturday with a rest day on the Wednesday. This program may be adjusted slightly to take into account local accommodation booking periods

Racing would take place on a trapezoid course in four fleets. A minimum number of organisation boats in the ratio of one boat for every ten competitors is required.

Expressions of interest should be sent to Jeff Martin Executive Secretary via Email: Fax: +44 1326 318968 Tel: +44 1326 315064 by the 30 November 2006.

Questions and request for further information can be addressed to Jeff Martin. It is hoped that the final decision will be made by the 14 December 2006.


Jeff Martin
Executive Secretary

International Laser Class Association