Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back Soon

I'm off to Spain to do some yotting. Normal service will be resumed in a couple of weeks.

How to Pee on a Laser

"You're a good sailor and you seem to be a bright guy but we need to talk. There are several ways a man can pee between Laser races but hanging your body over the side in the water and doing it like a girl is not one of them."

Whaaaaaat? Who is this fool addressing me in such manner? Doesn't he know that to pee the way he does, waving his appendage in free air, and shooting a stream of urine over the transom I would have to...

  • remove PFD

  • remove spraytop

  • remove shorts over hiking pants

  • unhitch hiking pants from shoulders

  • pull down hiking pants... OK you get the idea -- I don't need to get graphic about the rest of the operation...

So jumping over the side of the boat and peeing in my pants and letting the sea water rinse through the neoprene is the fastest and most convenient option. Anyway, since when was the way you pee on a Laser a test of one's manhood?

Meanwhile those charming chaps who sail Sunfish are discussing on their forum how to poop during an eight-hour race. So that's what the inspection hatches are for?

Seriously B. Congratulations on qualifying for the Olympic trials. But you pee your way, and I'll pee mine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ocean Grandad

The greatest pleasure this summer has not been all the Laser regattas in which I have sailed or even settling into our new house by the sea. It has been the opportunity to spend much more time with my granddaughter now that we are living closer to her.

We haven't taken her sailing yet but her mother and father have been getting her comfortable with the water through sessions in their backyard pool and numerous visits to the beach. When they are not around I have taught her other ways to have fun with water such as shooting Grandma with a water pistol.

Of course we all think she is the brightest and cutest baby there ever was. And she does seem to be very articulate for her age. One of her favorite words is "ocean". I suspect that is what she was saying at the time the photo above was taken of the two of us.

However, much as she loves the water, she does occasionally get confused about the relative sizes of various bodies of water. On seeing Mount Hope Bay this weekend (the bay in front of our house which is about 7 miles long and 2 or 3 miles wide) she proclaimed that this was "Grandad's Pool" and that all the yachts sailing on it on a breezy sunny Sunday afternoon were "Grandad's boats."

I wish.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I have a shelf full of awards in my office. Plaques, plates, cups, mugs, glasses. Some more esoteric items too. The tangible recognition of 25 years of Laser racing. Mainly trash really. Why do I keep them?

The object of a race is to win. But if that were the only reason we raced most of us shouldn't bother. Most of the time we don't win. I very rarely win.

Regatta organizers know people like to receive awards. So they find ways to give as many as they can afford. Top five in the regatta maybe. Then how about some prizes for special categories? First female. First junior. First old guy. We were having some fun a few days ago speculating on whether Laser regattas should have an award for First Fat Boy too.

But wait. Now there's a problem. What if someone in one of these special, "handicapped" categories happens to place in the top five? Should they win two awards? Or should we give the award for First Fat Old Guy With No Hair to the first gentleman in that category who did not succeed in winning any other award?

Some organizers go one way. Some the other. You can argue for both methods. Does it really matter?

Truth is that most of the Laser awards on my shelf are those special category awards. Lots of First Master trophies. Usually they mean, "first old geezer who wasn't good enough to win one of the real awards". Oh well. They still look good there on the shelf gathering dust.

In one regatta this summer -- in retrospect probably the event in which I sailed best -- when the dust settled on the last day I realized that I was actually the first oldster not in the top five. The Notice of Race said awards would be given for First Five and First Master. Woohoo. I'd better stick around for the awards ceremony instead of hitting the road and trying to beat all the traffic going home from the local beaches.

It was a long wait. As always the awards ceremony started later than expected. So I had to hang out at the bar and have a few beers. And it was a multi-class regatta so then we had to wait for the awards for the Optis and 420s and whatever. Regatta organizers give lots of awards in the kiddie classes. Quite right too.

Ah now we have the Laser awards. First of all the real winners. Real sailors. This year's College Sailor of the Year. Some guy who was in top 5 at CORK. A District Champion. Guy who came second in the Masters Worlds a few years ago. Real sailors. Totally out of my league.

Then on to the special awards. I edge to the front of the crowd so that I can leap forward and modestly accept my award for "first old geezer not good enough to win a real award". But they give the First Master award to the old guy who was also in the top five.

Momentary twinge of disappointment. Put a brave face on it. Smile and applaud the worthy winner. No big deal really. He sure deserves it more than me.

So is there any point in having these special category awards or should we all just race as equals for the top three or top five place awards?

I know some of the top female Laser sailors don't like winning the Top Female award. They want to be considered as equal to the men and find it patronizing when they are congratulated for being the first woman in the regatta. Especially if they are the only woman in the regatta!

Some of the kids sure are fast too. And some of the old guys can hold their own against almost any competition. So why not scrap all the special categories and just have awards for the folk who really are the best sailors on the day?

What do you think?

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Bloggers have been having fun this week with Talk Like a Pirate Day. I resisted the temptation this year (at least until I wrote the title for this post) though I do confess to being a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. And there is even a skull and crossbones flying on my granddaughter's swing set in my back yard.

I have to admit that I had always assumed that pirate crews were pretty much anarchic organizations. Those PotC movies reinforce that stereotype with the running joke that the much invoked Pirate Code is "more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules, matey."

But then I came across this recent (apparently serious) academic paper entitled An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization by Peter T. Leeson of the Department of Economics at George Mason University. In the paper Leeson, citing numerous historical texts and using game theory, argues that...

  • Pirate crews developed a system of checks and balances to constrain abuse of the crews by their captains.

  • Pirates used democratic constitutions to minimize conflict and create piratical law and order.

  • Pirate governance created sufficient order and cooperation to make pirates one of the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.
Well, blow me down. Eat yer heart out, Jack Sparrow.

An Inconvenient Truth

I take it for granted that sailors, kayakers, surfers, windsurfers... all of us who enjoy playing on the water using natural sources of power... have some tendency to care about the environment. Surely we are attracted to these sports because we love the experience of being close to nature and escaping from the mechanical world of trains and cars and planes... not to mention jetskiers and stinkpotters.

I know it's a leap from that assertion to assume that we all share a concern for global warming and accept that it is mainly caused by human activity and that each of us ought to be doing something about it by reducing our carbon footprint. But some of us do think that way.

This week, for example, Michael who writes Canadian Ckayaker was worrying about Playground Earth and suggesting that kayakers like him should make only one overseas flight a year to paddle, present or teach about paddling.

Hmmm. He's making me feel guilty. In the next six months I am already planning two long overseas trips by air to go sailing, one to Spain and one to Australia. It's partly a quirk of the sailing calendar. As it happens two Laser Masters Worlds in countries that I want to visit are coming up close together. And I'm also thinking of at least one more trip this winter to train for Australia (and find those mushy peas in Sosua).

So it got me to thinking. How much carbon dioxide am I creating from my various sailing trips. Using the carbon calculator at What's My Carbon Footprint? ...

Typical local weekend regatta: 100 mile, 4 gallons of gas -- about 80 pounds CO2.

Drive to Florida and back for midwinter regatta: 2,800 miles, 120 gallons of gas -- about 2,400 pounds CO2.

Fly to Spain and back: 6,000 miles -- 2,340 pounds CO2.

Fly to Australia and back: 20,000 miles -- 7,800 pounds CO2.

To put that in context, the estimated annual per capita U.S. average resulting from home energy, transportation and household waste emissions is around 16,000 pounds of CO2.

Maybe Michael has a good point. What do you think?

Added: Some thoughts on the subject by Tim Coleman.

Friday, September 21, 2007

All I Ask Is a GPS and a Radar and Displays

Zephyr was sharing some Masefield with us earlier this week. I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.

A quick Google unearthed this parody by an unknown author on Panbo: The Marine Electronics Weblog. As someone who sails a very simple boat, on which we are not even allowed to use a digital compass when racing, I had to chuckle.

I must go down to the sea again, in a modern high-tech boat,
And all I ask is electric, for comfort while afloat,
And alternators, and solar panels, and generators going,
and deep cycle batteries with many amperes flowing.

I must go down to the sea again, to the autopilot’s ways,
And all I ask is a GPS, and a radar, and displays,
And a cell phone, and a weatherfax, and a shortwave radio,
And compact disks, computer games and TV videos.

I must go down to the sea again, with a freezer full of steaks,
And all I ask is a microwave, and a blender for milkshakes,
And a watermaker, air-conditioner, hot water in the sink,
And e-mail and a VHF to see what my buddies think.

I must go down to the sea again, with power-furling sails,
And chart displays of all the seas, and a bullhorn for loud hails,
And motors pulling anchor chains, and push-button sheets,
And programs which take full charge of tacking during beats.

There's more at Panbo. How many "amperes flowing" do you need to enjoy a day on the water?

Fish on Friday

Aaaah. Fish and chips and mushy peas. Good old English Friday grub.

But wait. Where did you steal that photo from, Tillerman? Where can you buy this delicious dish? Debby's Pantry.

And where is that? Sosua in the Dominican Republic.

Whaaaaat? That's just down the road from Cabarete, home of the world famous Laser Caribbean Midwinters.

You mean I can have awesome wind and waves and world-class Laser coaching... and English fish and chips and mushy peas?

Sign me up Ari.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


From the sublime to the ridiculous... or perhaps I mean the other way round.

Last week I was waxing lyrical about the charms of Third Beach, Newport and the pleasures of sailing from an out-of-season tourist beach with a bleak parking lot and a simple boat ramp. No "swanky yacht club" fripperies for me.

This Sunday I went to the other extreme and did sail a regatta out of what must surely qualify as one of the swankiest of America's finest swanky yacht clubs, Eastern Yacht Club in Marblehead, Massachusetts. It sure was different from the bleak parking lot. But, you know, it was still a hell of a lot of fun.

Eastern is one of the grand old dames of American yachting. Founded by a group of Boston gentlemen in 1870... three successful defenses of the America's Cup in the 1880's... Burgess, Herreshoff were members... have a trophy from Nelson's flagship... etc. etc. It doesn't come any swankier than this.

The regatta was the first week of the Ponce de Leon Dinghy Series. Apparently an event founded by some other masters sailors and named in honor of Ponce de Leon who, like us, was also searching for the fountain of youth. What a cool event. Mixture of oldies and kids. Casual laid-back relaxed atmosphere. Lots of short-course races. Friendly race committee.

The wind was lightish. The tide was running fast. Most of the fleet were pushing hard on the start line with a few general recalls. Plenty of shifts and puffs to keep you thinking. The leading group usually arrived at the windward mark in a bunch.

I was going well. I'd discovered a mode of sailing in these conditions that worked well upwind in a couple of beats last weekend. And a tip on downwind settings from one of my ex-Olympic campaigner friends the previous weekend gave me good downwind speed.

It was all about getting off the line in clear air and hitting the shifts right. Some times I got it right. Other times I didn't. I was usually in the first three or four boats at the first mark but once I was last. When the day was over I had three second place finishes and a bullet in seven or so races. Turned out to be good enough for second place overall with a former All-American and College Sailor of the Year in my wake.

After racing we all gathered for beer and chowder (sorry chowdah -- this is New England) on the deck at Eastern. A peek inside the clubhouse at the elegant lounges confirmed my ranking of Eastern as one of the swankiest of the swanky.

But it felt like a cool place. There was an Optimist regatta going on at the same time. There was measurement going on for the Sonar Worlds this week. Clearly this is a place where one-design racing really matters. (Is there any other kind that really matters?)

My son sailed too. The ladies of our party went off and explored Marblehead and, by all accounts, had a good day too. I think I'll be back next year to sail in Mahvellous Marblehead.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Kissing Your Sister

Apologies to some of the regular users (I use the word advisedly) of this blog who have noticed that I haven't posted much in the past two weeks.

Truth is that I had been doing some other writing about sailing during that time. A writing assignment that could potentially have led to a regular paid job writing about sailing on the web. Things were going along fine. My prospective employers seemed to like the stuff I was producing. But my heart wasn't in it. I felt like I was living in a box. I had to adopt a more serious voice, less irreverent, more informative, less quirky, more educational... No way could I have posted about Fish at Chicks or other similar utter nonsense in that place.

So I told "the man" that I wasn't interested. I was searching for a simile to describe why that other assignment wasn't working out. I could go through the motions. I could do what was required. But my heart wasn't in it. There was no excitement. No frisson.

Ah yes. It was like kissing your sister.

So now I'm back with my old lady, Proper Course, with whom I can flirt, experiment, confide, rant, complain, exult, be silly, be crazy, have fun...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fish at Chicks

Puffin wants Fish and Chicks. I can go one better. Here is Fish at Chicks. The lobster roll at Chicks Seafood Restaurant in West Haven, CT. Is a lobster a fish? Whatever.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Third Beach Newport

Last weekend I had the pleasure of sailing in the New England Laser Masters at Third Beach, Newport. What a place! What a regatta! What a great crowd of sailors! I've sailed this regatta a few times, once before at this location, and I have to say it's one of my favorite events on the calendar.

Third Beach and the Sakonnet River are practically my home sailing grounds these days. If I were to sail south a few miles from the bay in front of my window as I type, I would be off Third Beach. Visitors from less favored locations such as Long Island Sound were green with envy. The waves. The relatively reliable winds. The ease of launching and quick access to the race area. What could be better?

Third Beach is also the location of the US Olympic Trials for the Laser and Laser Radial classes next month. Some of the Olympic hopefuls are already training there, including Andrew Campbell who posted on his blog on Monday Postcards from Newport: Life on Third Beach.

Andrew noted the positive aspects of the site...
The sailing area is close to the beach. Ten minutes after pushing off the beach and you are in the racing area. The southwesterlies and southerly seabreezes produce three to five foot waves and plenty of breeze. The cold northerlies that will be here as autumn sets in will also give us wind with less exposure to the Atlantic Ocean, but good sailing conditions.

but also mentioned some other issues (such as no running water to hose boats off after sailing) and how he and his training partners are dealing with them.

This ain't no swanky yacht club, or even a purpose-built dinghy sailing center. It's just a parking lot and a launch ramp at a public beach.

And then in today's Scuttlebutt newsletter, a dude called Ted Beir wrote a note to the editor after reading Andrew's blog and being shocked, shocked, shocked...

After reading Andrew Campbell's description of the Laser Olympic Trials venue in Newport, I was appalled. Is this all the better we can do for our Olympic sailors? Surely with the fine yacht clubs and sailing schools there, US Sailing can find a venue for training and trials with better facilities than an abandoned tourist parking lot and beach. Shame, shame! I bet the Brits have better for their preparation events.

So who's right? I guess it all depends on your point of view. Personally I don't need all the accouterments of "fine yacht clubs" to rate a sailing venue as world-class. The five key factors for me are...

Wind. Third Beach is at the southern end of Rhode Island where the Sakonnet River opens to Rhode Island Sound so if there is a sea breeze you will get it here first.

Waves. The beauty of Third Beach is that the racing area has waves and, depending on the wind direction and strength and how far you want to sail south, you can choose how lumpy you want your water to be. But you will find more bumps here than almost anywhere on the sheltered bays in Rhode Island, or almost any of the other dinghy sailing venues on the east cost of the US for that matter.

Easy access to the sailing area. With all due respect to such venues as the Hyannis Yacht Club and Sail Newport, the regattas I did there this year involved as much as an hour's sailing to reach the race area. Not so much time for real fun.

Parking for the car near to the boat and a short distance from there to the launch. Don't even get me started again about New Bedford.

Ease of launching. A short ramp, a wide beach and a sheltered bay. What more could you ask for? Colt State Park in Bristol is pretty good but the ramps there are almost unusable in a strong westerly.

All the rest is fluff. Maybe Lasers sailors are weird. Or maybe I'm weird. But yacht club lounges, showers, restaurants, bars, trophy cases... I can do without. However, a freshwater hose would be nice.

What about you? What should there be at your ideal sailing location?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Weekend Wahine

In homage to Joe Rouse, here is a picture of the Turbo Electric Vessel Wahine.

Fish on Friday

Edward at the EVK4 SuperBlog started it. We both miss The Horse's Mouth when Joe goes on vacation. How are we going to get through the day without our Fish on Friday?

So, in order to keep the spirit of Fish on Friday alive...