Friday, March 27, 2009


The Laser daggerboard has a black (sometimes blue) plastic stop that prevents the daggerboard from sliding right down through the daggerboard trunk into the oceanic depths. Actually if you have a shockcord running from the front of the board to some fixed point on the boat to help hold the daggerboard up, this will also prevent aforementioned disastrous loss of daggerboard.

The chartered Laser that I used in Florida a couple of weeks ago did not have the black plastic stop on the daggerboard. It must have broken and fallen off. It happens. This left a nice clean hole with sharp edges through the daggerboard where the stop used to be.

On the second day of the clinic, just before the start of the last practice race, I pushed the daggerboard down prior to starting my approach to the start line. Unfortunately the tip of the forefinger of my left hand slipped into that nice clean hole with sharp edges in the daggerboard just before I pushed the heavy daggerboard down into the trunk. Even more unfortunately my finger (with the tip still inside that nice clean hole with sharp edges) disappeared into the tiny gap between the daggerboard and the trunk as the board slid down into the trunk further than it would have done if the black plastic stop had been in place.


I stared at the impossible sight of my fat juicy finger in that tiny gap. I thought, "Now that was a stupid thing to do." My finger hurt. A lot.

I pulled up the daggerboard not knowing what I would see. Was the end of my finger still attached to the rest of me? I remembered some story I heard some years ago about a kid chopping off his finger on a Sunfish when they redesigned the daggerboard with a nice convenient hole for a handle.

I pulled up the daggerboard. There was a lot of blood. Deep red blood. My finger hurt a lot.

I looked at my finger. The end was still attached to the rest of me, but the whole of the fleshy part of the finger pad was ripped off and only slightly connected to the rest of me. I pressed the wound closed and thought, "Now that was a stupid thing to do." (Chopping my finger, not closing the wound.)

I waited until the coach had started the race and then hailed and waved for him to come over to me. There was a lot of blood dripping all over the deck. I asked the coach if he had a first aid kit on his boat. He did. He patched up the end of my finger with some antiseptic cream and a dressing and wrapped it all up with black vinyl tape. This was strangely nostalgic and reassuring as my late father used to use black electrical tape to wrap up his wounds. (He was an electrician so I guess that black tape was always handy.)

I sailed slowly back to the beach. Blood was oozing out of the black tape all over the deck. One of my fellow sailors took my boat and said he would de-rig it and put it away for me. I felt guilty that he had to hose all that blood off my deck.

I phoned my wife. "Ummm, don't panic but I've had a bit of an accident." She rushed over from the hotel. The coach gave us directions on how to find the local hospital. I felt a bit woozy. I thought, "Now that was a stupid thing to do." (Chopping the finger, not feeling woozy.)

Morals of this story...
  • If you sail a Laser with the daggerboard stop missing, don't ever put your finger into that nice clean hole with sharp edges.

  • Even better, if you sail a Laser with the daggerboard stop missing, block up that nice clean hole with sharp edges so you won't accidentally put your finger in the hole.

  • Don't do stupid things.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


So I thought I knew how to do a roll tack in a Laser. You just roll the boat to windward before the tack, cross the boat, and then flatten it after the tack to accelerate on the new tack. What could be easier? For years I was doing these sorta kinda OK roll tacks, throwing the body to windward to start the roll, and hoping everything else would follow.

However when I watched a true expert do a roll tack I sometimes suspected that my roll tacks weren't quite right but I never did figure out why. The first inkling of what was wrong came at the clinic in Cabarete a couple of years ago when coach Brett Davis talked to us about such radical (to us) ideas as maximizing distance to windward in the tack, keeping the sail drawing all the time, not doing a "pre-heel", and not forcing the boat to roll to heel to windward with an aggressive body movement. Brett's advice was simply to let the boat come up into the wind while maintaining your body in its normal upwind position, and then as the boat comes through head to wind just letting the roll happen naturally.

Points of clarification...
  • If Brett is reading this... sorry if I mis-stated what you said. Hey, it was two years ago and my memory isn't what it used to be.

  • I said "us" rather than "me" in the above paragraph because there was at least one Laser sailing god there who also found some of Brett's advice to be new information to him. Hey, I'm not the only old geezer Laser sailor who was never taught how to do a roll tack properly.
Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes, let the good times roll. No, that's not right. Let the roll happen; don't force it.

So I tried to change my roll tack approach. At the Sailfit clinic last year Kurt Taulbee reinforced the same points, along with some other tweaks to my roll tack technique which would only confuse this post if I tried to cover them too. Another day perhaps.

So what I discovered was that that this "just sit still and let the roll happen" worked fine above a certain wind speed. Once the wind caught the other side of the sail it induced the roll and Bob's Your Uncle. Is that an expression familiar to anyone outside the UK? Never mind. You get the point. (Actually Bob is my uncle. I had two Uncle Bobs in fact. Both deceased now.)

Where was I? Where am I ? Where is this post going?

Anyway, the problem I discovered with this "wait for it" roll tack method is that in very light winds the roll didn't happen. So then I ended crossing the boat with my hand pulling on the old leeward rail trying to induce a roll that I knew was too late and all wrong and it felt ugly but hey what the hell I have to make the boat heel somehow so that I can then flatten it and get some kind of acceleration on the new tack.

Are you still there? Does this make any sense?

Anyway, at the Sailfit clinic last week coach Kurt Taulbee spotted my problem and explained that if the boat isn't rolling then I need to do a "shoulder bump". A "what"? Kurt explained that a shoulder bump is a sharp backward (outboard) movement of the shoulders to induce the roll, after which of course you have to move your body across the boat in the opposite direction to which you just "bumped". Hmmm.

So I tried doing some "shoulder bumps". But Kurt explained I was doing them too early. I'm supposed to wait until the boat reaches head to wind and the sail is no longer drawing and then do a quick "bump" to pump the sail and induce the roll and then cross the boat.

Point of clarification: if Kurt is reading this... sorry if I mis-stated what you said. Hey, it was two weeks ago and my hearing isn't what it used to be.

Anyway, I tried. But the habits of 25 years are hard to break. The problem is that my brain knows that the boat will roll on top of me if there were only a couple more knots of wind so it's counter-intuitive to make it roll harder especially as I then have to move my aching old body back inboard in the opposite direction from the "shoulder bump".

But I'll get there. I will.

New objective for solo practice session this summer: master the shoulder bump.

Is this post more or less wonkish than Tuesday's?

Hello? Anybody there?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Only Wonks Need Reply

Warning: Wonky Racing Rules stuff coming up in which Tillerman will perform the contortion of patting himself on the back because a Racing Rules god has decided he was right all along...

Regular readers of this blog (all 671 of you - goodbye to the 2 who left - what did I do to upset you?) will recall that back in November I posed a real life Racing Rules situation that seemed to me to be a paradox, or perhaps a flaw in the Rules, in which two boats made contact when they were overlapped on starboard tack and each was to "leeward" of the other (as "leeward" is defined in the Rules.) The post was Both Leeward and Both Starboard, and this was the situation...

The paradox arises because Lasers on a run often sail extreme "by the lee" angles and the Rules define the leeward side of such a boat as the side on which her mainsail lies.

The original post attracted a lot of comments with many sailors trying to resolve or explain away the paradox in a number of ingenious ways...

Some pointed out that the blue boat was clearly the "give-way" windward boat under Rule 11 until just before the contact, and thus she should have kept clear under Rule 15 'Acquiring Right of Way'. In the real life situation that happened to me (I was the red boat) this was probably true, so in Demolition #1 I constructed an even more extreme example of the paradox in which both starboard boats could each claim to be the leeward boat for a long time before and up to the point of contact.

That post generated even more comments. Some of my readers seemed to get a tad angry at my wonkish exploration of Rules conflicts that, in their view, bore little relation to real life. Others fell back on quoting notable Rules experts who had written that a good "rule of thumb" is that when two boats on the same tack meet when one is beating and one is running, then the running boat is usually the windward "give way" boat. I don't disagree that this is a good "rule of thumb" that works most of the time; my point was that in this situation, given the way the Definition of "leeward" is currently written in the Rules, the "rule of thumb" doesn't help. Both boats are leeward... and both are windward, depending on how you look at it. Who, if anybody, has right of way under Rule 11?

I was planning more posts to explore this paradox but somehow got sidetracked by Christmas Tree Allergy and other stuff.

Then a few days ago I heard from Mr. Gerald Byrnes of the wittily, if somewhat lazily, titled blog (Enter Title Here). Mr. Byrnes was lucky enough to attend a Racing Rules seminar at the Arizona Yacht Club featuring the renowned Rules expert Mr. Dick Rose. Mr. Byrnes took the opportunity to ask Mr. Rose about "Tillerman's conundrum" and Mr. Rose was kind enough to answer him. Mr. Byrnes has described the answer in Conundrum Explained.

Now, bear in mind that I am reporting this third-hand, but, according to Mr. Byrnes, Mr. Rose opined as follows...

The boats are overlapped, since neither is clear ahead or clear astern of the other. The next step would be to figure out which boat is leeward, or in the lee of the other. The definition of leeward when sailing by the lee is the side the boom is on. Because the boats are meeting, neither the upwind nor the downwind boat is in the other's lee. This situation makes all but rule 14 non-applicable. If a protest were to come up for contact between boats in this sketch, the odds would be for the committee to toss both boats for failure to obey rule 14.

Point of detail: I am sure that Mr. Byrnes and Mr. Rose are well aware that although Rule 14 does require boat boats to avoid contact if reasonably possible, neither boat can be penalized by the protest committee unless there is "damage or injury".

OK, so the good news is that Mr. Rose agrees with me (I think). This is one of those rare situations when boats meet but the Racing Rules do not clearly specify that one of those boats has right of way and the other has to keep clear. No more argument on this point please. (Actually I am still a bit confused by Mr. Rose's reported assertion that neither boat is in the other's lee. I could just as easily argue that each boat is the other's lee. But never mind. The key point is that the situation is symmetrical. Either both boats have right of way, or neither does.)

And the bad news is that this is very confusing and potentially dangerous. Is it really desirable that two boats can be approaching each other almost head-on like this and the Racing Rules give no guidance as to who has to change course to avoid contact? Mr. Rose implies they should both change course. But think about this for a moment. The running boat probably can't sail an even more extreme angle by the lee so would probably choose to head up to avoid contact. The beating boat presumably likes the tack she is on so she may well choose to bear away in an attempt to duck the running boat. In other words they would turn towards each other and still be likely to crash. Not good.

So what's the solution? Do the Rules or the Definitions need to change? Can anyone suggest a simple modification to the Rules that would remove this potential paradox without causing even more confusion in other situations?

Only wonks need reply.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sailfit Revisited

Last week I attended one of Kurt Taulbee's Sailfit Laser sailing seminars in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Regular readers of this blog (all 673 of you, whoever the hell you are) will recall that I also did this last March. Hey, there's no law against enjoying the same experience twice if you get a chance.

Actually this year was somewhat different. It was a semi-private clinic for a group of sailors organized by some friends I met there last year, along with some other refugees from the wintry north-east whom we knew (plus one local sailor). So it was even more fun to do some Laser training with old friends, not to mention that there was another non-sailing wife there so Tillerwoman had a companion when we were all out sailing.

The format was pretty much the same as last year so I won't dwell on that too much. If you want more info on how the seminar is constructed, check out last year's posts...
You might think that you wouldn't learn much by listening to the same lectures and doing the same drills a second time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Kurt is an excellent coach and gave every participant in the clinic plenty of individual feedback on their sailing. There was quite a range of sailors with different abilities at the seminar and Kurt was able to give specific, helpful advice to all of us. A couple of guys were relatively new to Laser racing and he helped them with some of the basics such as hand-over-hand sheeting and how to swap tiller and sheet hands when tacking; at the other extreme we were joined on Sunday by Emily Billings, who recently qualified for the US Sailing Team, and Kurt was also able to give her some pointers on improving her technique.

We started each day at 8:30 am with a talk and discussion on the topic of the day, and (after the first day) plenty of video taken of our sailing the previous day. It was useful to see our own faults and to compare our styles with the other students. Then off to rig the boats and launching around noon. The on-the-water drills and practice raced lasted for three to three and a half hours. And then after putting the boats away, more video feedback until about 5:30 pm. Phew. One sailor cracked us all up on the first day with his persistent bleating between the drills of "When do we break for lunch?" Never, apparently.

I learned a lot. I have 25 pages of notes from the 4 days... and I didn't even bother to write down stuff that I already knew or remembered from last year. Among other things I learned...
  • how to make a Laser do two tricks that I would have thought impossible

  • that I've had the totally wrong approach for the last 25 years to sailing upwind

  • that I need to change what I do with my feet when sailing downwind

  • that I am totally clueless about how to position my boat on the racecourse

  • and two new ways to injure myself while Laser sailing that I would never have imagined possible before.
On top of that, the weather was hot and sunny, the company was congenial, and Tillerwoman and I discovered several superb new places in Clearwater for evening refreshment. On Monday we caught a Yankees spring training baseball game in Tampa (which the Yankees won 12-0 even without the help of A-Roid) and I'm hoping that my sailing injuries will heal soon...

Life is good.

More details in future posts. Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Enough with the boring theorizing about why I'm not a faster sailor than I am.

Enough with the looking forward to some far distant date to go sailing.

Enough with the endless rambles about physical fitness.

Enough with whining about winter.

I'm off to Florida to do some Laser sailing with some friends and we're going to have warm weather and fresh breezes (in spite of what Weather Underground thinks) and we're going to sail all day and get sunburned and then sit by the sea and eat some fish and drink some beer and then drink some more beer and then sleep all night and then get up and do it again and again and again.

This blog is temporarily suspended.

Winter is finally over.

Gone sailing.


Monday, March 09, 2009

I Blame Winter

Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on physical fitness (or lack of it) in response to my posts So What's Your Excuse? and It's the Fitness Stupid. I suppose I had rashly and arrogantly assumed that all of my readers share my own conflict between the flesh and the spirit, wanting to be fitter but struggling with the motivation. I had expected everyone who responded would have as pathetic an excuse as myself. But it turns out there are (at least) three radically different attitudes to fitness among my readership...

  • Some don't worry about fitness and laugh at those who do. "Tillerman! My diagnosis is that you're either masochist or suicidal, or both."

  • Some people told humbling stories about their former super-fitness and/or about how major accidental injuries had changed their lives.

  • And some struggle with the motivation to stay fit (as I do) and have even more creative excuses such as "my jump-rope is kinked" or "the boat ate my bicycle".

All in all though, I think I like best the excuse from Carol Anne that I quoted in my original post. If you read it in context you will see that what she says actually makes sense, but there is something that appealed to my own sense for the humorous power of the ridiculous in her comment that she couldn't exercise because "the burglars stole the television and the remote for the VCR."

Anyway enough about you. Back to the real subject of this blog. Me.

I blame winter.

I blame the fact that when god created the universe she saw fit to tilt the earth's axis of rotation relative to its orbital plane at an angle of 23.44° thereby causing the phenomenon known as seasons and, in particular, the cold gray depressing monotony known as The Northern Hemisphere Winter.

Everything is fine with me in the warmer months of the year. I sail a lot. I run a lot. I do all sorts of other healthy outdoor activities such as mowing the lawn, digging the garden, maybe occasionally a spot of cycling and swimming and, best of all, purposefully moving hunks of meat and other delicacies around on my barbecue grill. Life is good. Every week I feel fitter. I achieve a healthy weight. I wear Spandex and Lycra sailing gear and don't look totally ludicrous.

Then around October or November each year it all starts to go downhill. The days are colder so I sail less. It rains more so I run on fewer days. I don't even think about cycling or swimming. I eat more. I drink more. I take Tillerwoman out to lunch at waterside restaurants and consume vast quantities of fish and chips, and bangers and mash, and strong German and Irish beers. I gain a few pounds. Every month I feel less fit.

By December and January I am in near total hibernation. I rarely go outside except to drive to the liquor store and back. I eat vast quantities of turkey and Christmas pudding. I awaken my dormant tastes for whiskey and rum and various mixed drinks. I work out with my blender. I take up time-wasting sedentary pastimes such as playing Sailx, or trying to figure out what the hell is the point of Facebook. (Never did find out). I gain a few more pounds. I become even less fit.

February is a total write-off.

Then in March I realize that it will soon be the sailing season again and I start a desperate attempt to regain my former fitness.
I weigh myself several times a week and realize that I am much too heavy to be fast in a Laser and, even worse, that I'm actually several pounds heavier than I was this time last year. I buy a new pair of running shoes and, after staring at them a few weeks, actually put them on and head down the road a few hundred yards before collapsing into a pool of sweat.

And then the seasons of Tillerman repeat themselves. Except that every year I slip back a click or two on the ratchet block of life. My weight falls in the summer but never quite back to where it was the previous year. My running times improve during the warmer months but never quite back to my former personal bests. Every season my sailing skills progress from awful in April to so-so in September, but I never manage to raise them to a totally new level.

Yes, I blame that
23.44° of axial tilt. It has a lot to answer for.

But this year will be different. I have the solution. Watch this space...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

So What's Your Excuse?

I haven't yet finished my own muddled ramblings, that I started in It's the Fitness Stupid, about why my lack of fitness is the key to my mediocre sailing performance (and on what I'm going to do about it), but some of the comments on that post made me chuckle. It seems that I struck a chord and that some of my readers are also struggling with how to motivate themselves to exercise more. We all have different reasons or excuses for why this is harder than we would like, but these two are some of the best I have heard so far...

  • I once bought a couple of books about fitness but they are somewhere in the garage. Smilicus.

  • The burglar stole my TV and the remote for my VCR. Carol Anne.

So what's your excuse for not working out, or for getting as fit as you want to be? Please leave your answers in the comments to this post or if you have your own blog, and feel so inspired, write a post on your blog about it. There will be a prize for the most creative excuse: I will write a post here, just for you, on any subject you chose.

Go for it. What's your excuse?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

It's the Fitness Stupid

As it says over there >>> in the sidebar, one of the recurrent themes of this blog is my delusion that I am not yet too old to discover how to sail smarter and faster. At various times I have deluded myself into thinking that I would be a better Laser sailor if I...
All to no avail. I'm just as mediocre a racing sailor as I was when I started writing this blog four years ago... or for that matter as I was twenty years ago.

It's time to finally face the truth. The real reason why I am not as good at Lasering as I would like to be: it's the fitness, stupid. Laser sailing demands strength and stamina and flexibility and agility and I don't have enough of any of the above.

Take, for example, my spectacular screw-ups on the last two days of the 2008 Laser Masters Worlds in Australia, as described in gory detail in How Many Times I Have Fallen and Never Failed to Fail. The posts are about two days of racing at the end of a long regatta. It's clear to me now that the reason I made stupid mistakes at mark roundings that ruined both days for me was, very simply, that I was tired. If I had been fitter then
  1. I would have been hiking harder and sailing faster on the beats and reaches early in the races, and so would not have been (literally) tangling with the tail-enders late in each race.

  2. I would not have been so worn out near the end of each race that my decision-making became so distinctly dodgy and my boathandling so blunderingly bad. (Not to mention my awfully asinine alliterations.)
Yeah. The problem is my fitness. If I can fix that I can be a much better Laser sailor.

So what to do? Well, there were some slightly helpful answers in the comments to my post on 565 Days and Counting, in spite of the somewhat flippant tone of most of the commenters on that post. Anybody would think that I'm not serious about this Laser sailing lark.

So, with a little help from my friends, I think I've worked out the solution. But this post is already too long, so to read the answer you will have to wait for another day. Which gives you a chance to give some more sarcastic and derogatory advice in the comments...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This is Awkward

Call me Xe. Yeah, that's right. Xe. Pronounced Zee.

I always have to explain that damn stupid name to people I meet. Blame my Dad. He was a high school chemistry teacher in Virginia and called all his kids after the symbols for the elements in the periodic table. Don't feel sorry for me though. Save your sympathy for my brother Er and my sisters Ho and Po.

It's been a long strange journey from Virginia to where am I today. Lying in this stinking swamp just outside the city with my men waiting for the order to attack. I can't tell you who we work for. It doesn't exist, not officially. Let's just say we are in "private security" and we undertake various special assignments for a branch of the US government that you've never heard of and that doesn't exist officially either.

We trained in Colombia for this mission. But that's not where we are now. Some fat white dude calling himself Mister Dick came to the training camp and gave us a pep talk two days before we embarked on the sea journey. On board ship the final orders were handed out to us platoon leaders. Seems our battalion's role is to take over the National Defense Ministry in this godforsaken excuse for a country. But I still don't know exactly what our platoon's target will be. I have a map showing the ministry buildings and the codes that will be used to notify us which part of the complex is our responsibility. The huge concrete ministry campus is built around a maze of quadrangles and there is a letter code for each one.

The radio is crackling. I hear the orders for the other platoon leaders. I'm next...

"Xe, seize R quad."

This story, fictional of course, was written as an entry in the group writing project proposed by Carol Anne of Five O'Clock Somewhere, "This is Awkward".