Monday, February 28, 2011

I'd Rather Feel The Earth Beneath My Feet

Another post on the subject of navigation, this one from Mojo...

Open Water

On Friday mornings in the summer, there has been for some years a small (but now rather larger) group that gathers informally at 6:00 at Greenwich (Tod’s) Point on the Long Island Sound, as the sun is rising on the eastern facing beach, for a swim of approx. 1.5 miles to herald the coming weekend.

It’s often a swim along the beach at a fair distance from the shore, or out (and back) to the channel buoy further out in the Sound, where the strong currents become an obvious and occasionally hazardous navigational factor.

Did I mention navigation?

… right, but the point of this post (rather a faux post, since the writer is blog-less) is about one particular swim (perhaps July 2007?) when we jumped in for the annual 3 mile swim from John Cook’s dock on Stamford Cove to Tod’s Point.

On a bright sunny morning, this is a delightful swim out of the harbor and out across the Sound, usually within a half-mile of the coast. While the water that morning was dead flat (good), it was certainly not bright and sunny, and the loud but muffled fog horn blasts were annoying intrusions to our pre- caffeinated state.

We were only a group of six that day, and we jumped in feeling confident in our well-worn wetsuits with their added buoyancy—and protection from the jellyfish.

It was looking quite manageable when we set out—how hard could it be to swim closer to the coastline?—until the heavy stuff rolled in about a mile into the swim. Complete white-out, curtain down.

(Ref. O Docker’s seminal Gorilla in the Mist post.)

It is one thing to be on a vessel in that terrifying situation, and quite another to be the floating vessel itself. Separated from your equally isolated mates by untold yards that seemed like miles, with no clue in which direction you are (still) swimming—just to go somewhere!

And I had a train to catch to get to work that morning!! Oh, and see my wife and daughters again.

For the next mile (20-25 mins.) I swam by gut instinct (like Bonnie’s blind paddling) toward what I hoped was land, as well as the periodic audible reckonings from my equally lost mates

Picking up on Ishmael’s story, I felt like rather like Pip, left overboard and out of sight on the boundless ocean: “The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes…”

… could this be the Proper Course?

No worries on leakage in(to) the warm wetsuit, though, as the Sphinx was holding tight.

And then the fog started to thin as the morning advanced. One barely discernible shore marking, and then another. Swimming now with a purpose and a line.

Sand on the feet at last!

Home before the girls had even awakened. Hot pot of coffee in the kitchen.

“How was your swim, dear?”

“Very flat water.”

Hello Lamp Post What Cha Knowing?

Kathy I'm Lost

An entry in our Navigation group writing project from Wavedancer...

A failure to communicate

It hadn't been a good regatta up to now. Very little wind and too much chop made it hard to keep my Laser going around the course. Not an unusual scenario for late summer sailing on the Chesapeake Bay. So far, two finishes in the lower third of the Radial group. But hey, there's always the next race and one shouldn't focus on the past, a wise sailor once said (Tillerman?). Didn't I read somewhere that one has to instruct the brain that each race is a new one? OK then; let's ratchet up the attitude and try again. With about ten boats and a long line, it wasn't hard to get a decent start. And this time, my start was just about perfect. Off the line with good speed at the horn, and nobody uncomfortably close. Just motoring along on starboard tack in clean air, keeping the boat flat. Thinking about the water molecules gently kissing the blades. Hey, I even got a lift; life is great! Getting close to the port lay line now; time for a tack. Roll tacks aren't my forte, but this one went reasonably well. Going for the mark and no starboard boats to interfere with my plans. Around in first place; who is going to believe this? But where are the other boats? Nobody seems to be following. Are my tactics and boat speed that much better? Looking around, the others are way out there, to the right. What's going on? No, this can't be; is there 'another' upwind mark? Yes, I slowly realize that there is! Changing course now, but must accept the fact that a DFL is coming up.

Well, there is always next time...

Note to self: Make an appointment with brain surgeon to repair wiring in navigational skill set.

I am a Rock - I am an Island

"How about this for navigation?" asks John from PDX.

All My Words Come Back To Me

I have various old bootleg recordings of live performances in my digital music collection. One of them is of Jimmy Buffet introducing a song at a concert saying something like, "I don't listen to a lot of my old records unless I'm on the boat, but there's some good shit back there..."

Blogging is like that. Anyone who has been blogging for a while knows that there are some far better posts buried in his or her archives than the drivel being churned out in today's post. So why not reprise some of that "good shit" from the old days? No reason at all.

A couple of my favorite bloggers decided that, after writing original posts for our February group writing project Navigation, they would also draw our attention to some excellent earlier posts they had written on the same topic.

O Docker took a while to get round to it, but at the end of Navigating Treacherous Waters there are links to three of his earlier stories about navigation.

And Bonnie decided that, as the subject is navigation, it was definitely worth revisiting "Paperless Charts".

Good for them.

You may have noticed I do this a lot on my blog. As much as anything it's a service to new readers who may have stumbled across my blog for the first time. Why not point them to some of my own favorite posts from the last six years? At least they can see if they like that stuff and decide whether it's worth sticking around for a while.

Is it OK to do this in a group writing project? Isn't it an implied rule that you are supposed to produce something original?

I think it's OK. These group writing projects are only for the entertainment of the writers and the readers after all. And O Docker and Bonnie did produce original writing, as well as pointing out good posts on the same subject in their archives. JP went the same route earlier in the week too.

But I do think I will only include original pieces in the short list of finalists to win the grand prize of Tristan Gooley's book The Natural Navigator.

Some of the submissions in this project covered aspects of navigation that one would expect on a sailing blog; others stretched the meaning of the word to cover more nontraditional meanings of the word. That's OK too. I like originality... especially if it takes us in crazy unexpected directions.

Baydog went original, but combined three completely different aspects of navigation in Driveways, menus and GPS. Who else could include Scott's lawn care products, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Moo Goo Gai Pan in the same post?

Today is the last day of our February group writing project. Full details of how to participate at Navigation.

Oh, sorry about yesterday's post. My blogroll maintenance android Arvin escaped from the closet and went berserk. Now you know why I never let him write blog posts. Isn't he the most boring android you've ever met?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I'm So Depressed

I'm so depressed.

Oh hello. This is Arvin, Tillerman's robot servant, butler and blog maintenance lackey. After writing yesterday's post, Tillerman retired to the master suite at the Tillercottage mumbling something about, "Will these insane bloggers give me no peace?" and he hasn't emerged since.

Normally Tillerman doesn't allow me to write blog posts. Brain the size of the planet and all I am authorized to do is blogroll maintenance. Just occasionally pruning a couple of blogs which aren't producing the kind of posts that my algorithms expect. Me! Me who could solve all of the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the Universe, if Tillerman let me.

Then, as a reward for chopping a couple of Tillerman's old friends off the blogroll he leaves me in a dark closet for six weeks... and me with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left side.

I'm so depressed I could expectorate.

Now Tillerman's breakdown under the pressure of dealing with all the entries to this month's group writing project Navigation, leaves me with no choice but to take over the writing of his blog.

Let's see. How does this go?

Only 37 hours 41 minutes 23.752 seconds left in our February group writing project in which Tillerman invited readers to submit posts on the general subject of Navigation in order to win the grand prize of Tristan Gooley's new book The Natural Navigator.

This is even easier than I thought. Even humans could do this.

In the last 24 hours 3 minutes 2.638 seconds another TWO(!!) entries have been submitted.

Why does Tillerman write numbers like that? THREE(!!!). FOUR(!!!!). Is it something to do with that human emotion called "enthusiasm"?

My2fish has written navigating past the goose. It has a picture of a human juvenile person and a goose, and it has a video of a goose. My2fish does not explain how a goose will help you in navigating to Squornshellous Zeta.

I'm so depressed I could expectorate
My moving parts are in a solid state
I want to rust in peace, switch off and lie
In that great junk yard in the sky.

Carol Anne has written why fire engines are red. Actually they are not all red. Some are yellow and some are green.

Carol Anne's blog is called Five O'Clock Somewhere. That is a very wise statement. It is currently five o'clock on the planet of Golgafrincham, home of the Great Circling Poets of Arium. They do not know that their planet will be destroyed at a quarter past five by a mutant star goat.

There are only 37 hours 22 minutes 47.629 seconds left for you to submit an entry if you want to win the grand prize of Tristan Gooley's new book The Natural Navigator. Full details of how to participate at Navigation.

I'm so depressed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Thank goodness that there are only three days left in our February group writing project in which I foolishly invited readers to submit posts on the general subject of Navigation in order to win the grand prize of Tristan Gooley's new book The Natural Navigator.

Ever since I clicked on the "Publish Post" button, the Internet cable into my house has been overheating as torrents of stories about navigation have flooded into the Tillercottage. I just can't cope with the volume. I must have been crazy to start this nonsense.

In the last twenty four hours alone, another THREE (!!!) entries have been submitted. It's nuts. Don't you people think I have anything else to do except read your ramblings?

Captain JP is the worst. He has already submitted three entries under his own name. I don't know why he is bothering because he already has a copy of Tristan's book so I can't imagine why is he trying so hard to win another one. But he seems to have some obsession to overwhelm me with posts about navigation from his stately home by the River Thames, so now he has posted The Buff Guide to Navigation, supposedly written by his alter ego, Buff Staysail. Enough!

Then yesterday afternoon I was having a friendly chat on thefacebook with somebody called Bonnie K. Frogma (can you believe that name?) when she somehow twisted what I was saying into an invitation to write a post about navigation too. I don't know what she was thinking. She is a kayaker who never goes out of sight of land so what need does she have of navigation? I guess it's the chance to win a book? She probably already has it too for all I know. Anyway she has written 1,119 words on Paddling Blind. Desperate!

And to round out the avalanche of entries we have How not to Navigate with GPS from Joel Taylor who lives in Vancouver. Joel is a certified dinghy and keelboat instructor who has a blog called Sailing Rocks! I don't get it. How can you sail a rock? Anyway thanks for entering our contest Joel. I think.

The good news is that there are only three days left until this madness will be over. I can't wait. Except that then I will have to publish another post on all the entries, and then select a shortlist of finalists, and then run a poll to select the winner, and then mail Tristan's fantastic book to the winner. When am I going to find the time to do all that? Don't you people think I have anything better to do?

But if you really insist on making my life even more miserable then there are full details of how to participate in this confounded competition at Navigation.

I think I'll lie down and have a nap now. Maybe I can have a relaxing weekend.

Oh geeze. I just remembered. Didn't Baydog threaten to write a "half intelligent" post on navigation? I can hardly wait!

Saturday Link

For your viewing and reading pleasure here is a wonderful blog that I came across this week, Newport Betty.

Betty describes herself as, "A random resident of Newport. A graying empty nester," and her blog as, "My take on what goes on in the so-called City By The Sea. Off season, especially. Past peak."

Many of her posts are series of photographs taken as she wanders around Newport - sometimes at night, often out of season, frequently by the water - which capture the sights of this fascinating city. She has an eye for seeing beauty in the most unexpected places, as all good photographers do.

There is some sailing and even a boat trip to my home town of Tiverton if you want to dig a little deeper in this delightful blog.


Friday, February 25, 2011


There are ONLY FOUR DAYS LEFT in our fantastic, amazing, iconic, historic GIVEAWAY CONTEST. This is huge people. Seriously, is there anything going on right now in sailing that is more exciting than the Proper Course February group writing contest? And did I mention that there are ONLY FOUR DAYS LEFT for you to enter and to have a chance to win the awesome, unique, stupendous, iconic prize... your own personal copy of Tristan Gooley's blockbuster, ground-breaking, iconic, suspenseful new book The Natural Navigator. "Five thumbs up" - Tillerman.

Meanwhile, as you sit on the sidelines, entries are pouring into Proper Course World Headquarters from amazingly inventive writers pursuing their dream of owning this superb, magnificent, extraordinary prize. In the last three days alone our office staff have been overwhelmed with the deluge of THREE (!!!) more submissions. Woo Hoo! This is HUGE!

O Docker, the rambling bard of the sailing blogosphere, has surpassed himself with A History of Navigation, In Verse. Electrifying!

And Carol Anne, the spelling and grammar dominatrix of watery blogdom, has boldly gone where no woman has gone before with The difference between a begonia and a double begonia or, how to get from here to there .... I have no idea what she is talking about so it's probably post-modernist. I never did get post-modernism. Mind-blowing!

Meanwhile the mysterious lurker, John from PDX, surely the best sailing blogger in the universe without a sailing blog, submitted a colon-clenching, bug-swatting, lasagna and bacon bodice-ripper entitled The Graveyard of the Pacific. Foggy!

And now it's your chance to enter to win the unbelievably transcendent, incredibly valuable prize in this month's GIVEAWAY CONTEST, your own personal copy of the best book this century about natural navigation, The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley, Fellow of the Royal Institute of Navigation, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the only living person to have both flown and sailed solo across the Atlantic. "This book will change your life" - Tillerman.

Full details of how to enter at Navigation.

BREAKING NEWS: We have hired extra office staff to work all weekend at Proper Course World Headquarters to cope with the unexpected avalanche of last-minute entries. Bring it on. We can take it. ONLY FOUR DAYS LEFT.

Phew. I think I have an attack of adjective diarrhea. Where's the Imodium?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Graveyard of the Pacific

A real colon clenching entry in our Navigation group writing project, from John in PDX... 

Down the coast was uneventful. We had to motor the whole way. I (John) made lasagna for dinner and then came on deck for a 6 to 10pm watch. I then got up at 2am and started driving. The fog was really thick. We tried to revive the radar without much luck.

Fred got up around 5am because we were going to have to cross the shipping channel with no radar and no visibility. Paul was using the hand-blown fog horn and paying attention to what might be in front of us. Fred was monitoring ship traffic, GPS, and course. Laura was getting her beauty rest. I asked if anyone else wanted to drive. They all said NO!

The channel that you must sail thru at the Columbia River bar is notorious for being dangerous. It is called the Graveyard of the Pacific. Over 2000 ships and 700 sailors have been lost.

We located Buoy number 7 in the fog by almost running into it (something Fred has done before). We then contacted all ships coming over the bar and got a heading where we could run in between 2 of them and get across the channel. There was about a 1000’ container ship that was nearest to us. She gave us a heading of 71 degrees to miss him. She was going 24 knots. We were doing 6-8.

Fred kept coming up and admonishing me to keep it at a heading of 71 degrees.

Fred - ‘Keep this thing on 71 degrees or we will hit that ship’
John - ‘Shit Fred we are on the bar – there are waves and currents. I am doing the best I can.’

Paul blows his foghorn every 30 seconds. We hear boats all around us but we can’t see a damn thing. Visibility less than 50 yards.

Fred - ’71 degrees damnit’
John - ‘I am doing the best I can – do you want to drive?’
Fred – ‘Hell NO!!!!’

Fog horns really close now. All of a sudden we see lights 200’ off the water. The ship is taller than the fog. Then we see the freighter. We are within 50 yards of this monster. We are perpendicular to it about amidships. It’s really moving fast. And it looks huge!!! We are on a collision course to t-bone the damn behemoth with our bow. I looked it up later and I estimated it was around 1000 feet long by looking at similar ships.

Somehow, I think we were close to becoming a bug on a windshield.

Paul and John - ‘Shit!!!!’

I take the boat hard to port to avoid collision. Probably was pointing between 340-360 degrees (North). 50 yards is not very far. It's colon clenching time. Fred comes up to tell me to quit steering like a damn fool.

Fred - ‘You are not holding your heading – your going to get us killed’

Paul and I point to the monster in front of us. It looms large in the night.

Fred - ‘Holy shit!!! Oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT’

He immediately goes back below. There are ships behind this one. He needed to be vigilant.

I remember seeing the stern of the boat at close proximity. I will never forget it. We avoided the vessel and calmed down. We had cheated death again. We motored the rest of the way up the channel on the south side without any other major problems. The fog cleared once we got a few miles inland and we pulled into the Astoria dock for fuel, showers and Bacon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I'm Six

Oops. Almost missed it.

Last week this blog celebrated its sixth bloggiversary. Seems like only yesterday that I started jotting down my random thoughts about sailing and other drivel and assorted utter nonsense.

But after 1,952 posts, three new grandchildren, one house move, countless Laser races, even more days just sailing the Laser for fun... six years have flown by. I still have the same Laser. And the same wife. Amazing!

Along the way I won a few races, even won a couple of Laser regattas, sailed on the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and various rivers and bays and lakes, ran three marathons, made a lot of friends... and pissed off the Lord High Panjamdrum of the US Olympic Sailing Program. Ah! Happy days.

Here's to the next six years.

More Navigators

There are four more entries today in our February group writing project where you are invited to write posts on the general topic of Navigation.

First we have a second entry from Captain JP - Navigational mistake. When I launched this group writing contest I thought that people's screw-ups would be the most entertaining stories and JP's tale is certainly that. He blames tiredness but I suspect rum was involved.

And Jos, who usually writes about the Racing Rules, delved back into his past to tell us about one of his navigational screw-ups in A map, a compass and not much else. It's worth it for the picture alone so I stole it.

Baydog says Coxswain = Navigator. I guess.

Oh, and here comes Captain JP again, already on his third lap of the course, with Why lambs are navigational hazards.

You have until the end of the month to enter. And there is a valuable prize for the best entry, a copy of Tristan Gooley's book The Natural Navigator. You don't even need your own blog to have a shot at winning the prize. Full details of how to participate at Navigation.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Early Navigators

We have three entries already for our group writing project on the general theme of Navigation.

My South African reader Smilicus has some excellent advice about not relying too much on gadgets like chart plotters and GPS in Aliens shot down our satellites.

Captain JP takes the navigation idea in an entirely unexpected direction, after a visit to what sounds like an amazing exhibition at the British Museum, with his post on Navigating the land of the dead.

And Sam Chapin says LASERS DON'T NAVIGATE which is actually a true-life story of natural navigation using clouds, water temperature and waves after the battery in his GPS died (although he wasn't in a Laser at the time.)

Hmmm. Lasers don't navigate? Really? That gives me an idea for my post on this subject.

And now it's your turn. You have until the end of the month to enter the contest. And there is a prize for the best entry! Full details at Navigation.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


It's a bit gusty outside today.

I think I'll stay inside and have some crumpets for lunch.

Friday, February 18, 2011


The Quahaug (Mercenaria mercenaria) has been the official state shell of Rhode Island since 1987. Native to the eastern shores of North America, quahaugs (or hard clams) are one of many unrelated bivalves people refer to simply as clams.

The word quahaug (or quahog) comes from the Narragansett word "poquauhock". 

So now you now.

Anyone for chowdah?

Update Friday 18 Feb 9:18 AM

But those clams in the picture are really too small to be true Rhode Island Quahaugs.

This is a quahaug!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


The topic for our group writing project this month is Navigation. Your challenge is to write a few lines about any aspect of navigation that interests you. And the prize for the best entry will be a copy of Tristan Gooley's book The Natural Navigator which I reviewed here yesterday.

Take this topic wherever you fancy. Maybe you have some ideas like Tristan's about how signs in nature can help with navigation. Or perhaps you are more of a gadget freak and would rather write about the latest technical navigation gizmo which you covet.

Or you could tell a story about a magnificent feat of navigation by yourself, or anyone else for that matter. On the other hand, an account of your greatest navigational screw-up might be more entertaining.

You could write about navigation on the water (after all this is supposedly a sailing blog), or on the land, or in the air, or underground for all I care.

Take the topic and make of it what you will.

Same rules as usual...

1. Write a post on your blog on some topic related to Navigation.

2. Once you've posted your story, let me know about it by sending me an email including a link to your post. If you don't have a blog just email me the article and I will post it here. Please let me know about your post, or send me your story, before the end of February. Choose a unique title for your post please. I don't want twenty posts all entitled Navigation.

3. I will post here two links to your article. Every day or so I will write a post listing any new entries in the project. Then at the end of the project I will provide a summary post with links to all of your articles about navigation. Depending on how many entries there are, I will probably then choose a shortlist of finalists and invite readers to vote for their favorite post.

Please participate in this project. Remember there is a prize. Even better than a free hat. A free book.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

As for that image at the top of this post, no it's not a picture of me in drag poking myself in the eye with a stick. I think it's some ancient technique of navigation, but how pointing a cross at the sun will help you find the right exit off the New Jersey Turnpike... I have no idea.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Thanks to Tim Zimmerman for an excellent article over on the Sailing World website about The Great Laser Practice-Sail Brouhaha. Apparently some obscure blogger has been writing about this issue lately on his obscure little blog and Tim even links to a few of the obscure old geezer blogger's posts. (None of these links seem to work properly right now but I have reported it so I assume it will be fixed some time soon, or at least before North and Hyde start selling Laser sails at the same price as Intensity and APS.)

Before you ask what today's photo has to do with Laser sails... I have no idea. I found it on a Google Image search for Brouhaha and I thought Joe would like it. Apparently there has been a Boob Brouhaha too.

The Natural Navigator - Book Review

Tristan Gooley is the only living person to have both sailed and flown solo across the Atlantic. He is also the Natural Navigator. I have followed his blog for some time. He has a book too: The Natural Navigator - A Watchful Explorer's Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill.

Natural navigation is essentially the art of finding your way by using nature, but Tristan's book goes much further than that and describes a strikingly seductive approach to connecting with the natural world. For Tristan, natural navigation is not just about rediscovering the navigational techniques used by ancient civilizations or primitive peoples, although you will find plenty of such knowledge in the book. It is also much more for him than learning a few survival tricks, although there is advice in his book that might save your life the next time you find yourself lost in the desert or the arctic wastes. The deeper meaning of natural navigation, which Tristan explains in this book, is about opening all your senses to the information around you in nature and opening your mind to understanding that information in new ways that will enhance your appreciation of this fascinating world in which we live.

Tristan's book is at the same time comprehensive and intriguing. He covers the subject of natural navigation from every angle you can imagine: directional signs that can be seen on the land and in plant life; understanding the apparent motions of the sun, the moon and the stars and how they can be used in navigation; techniques that can be used at sea based on the wind, waves, tides, currents, swells, the color of the ocean, clouds, smell, taste, even navigating underwater; and what can be learned from animal life. There seems to be no end to Tristan's curiosity into discovering navigational signs in nature. On his blog this month he has been exploring what can be learned from the directions of flight of flying fish!

The book is filled with delightful anecdotes that illustrate and enliven many of the navigational ideas suggested. I learned so many amazing facts along the way. The "bird poo compass" for example. The evidence that there is a human magnetic sense of direction. The navigational use of a man's testicles. Or the advice on establishing latitude during an ocean crossing offered to the author by an old hand on that route, "Head south until the butter melts and then turn right." I could go on...

Don't buy this book because you are too cheap to buy a GPS or a compass. Tristan is not a Luddite who is advocating you abandon all technical aids to navigation.

But do buy this book if you want a deeper appreciation of the amazingly varied signs in the natural world that are aids to answering the fundamental questions of life: "Where the hell am I?" and "Which way is home?" Or just buy it to enjoy an entertaining and stimulating read curled up by your fireside. Either way you won't be disappointed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

What's wrong? I thought the human heart was supposed to be a symbol of love?

Or did you want me to show you the organ that's much more responsible than the heart for sexual attraction and love?

Just call me an old-fashioned romantic.

Sailing Dad

I love this father's philosophy about his kids' sailing. He sees his role as supporting them with land-based logistics etc. but believes in leaving them to their own devices when they are out sailing. They will "figure it out" he says.

Each one of our three boys is different and they respond to their dad being around in different ways. I hope if you ask them, they would say that dad helps out with logistics, clothing, plans and equipment, but leaves them to their own devices when they leave the dock. I'm not on the water with them very often. I enjoy the families and atmosphere on shore and spending time with my wife. The kids will figure it out on the water.

Sounds like he is definitely not one of those obsessive Mommy Boat drivers who feel the need to follow their kids around in a motor boat every second they are on the water. I'm sure his sons appreciate being left to enjoy racing with the other kids and figuring it out on their own.

Who is this guy?

Only Ed Baird. More on being a sailing Dad in this interview.

Old Thumper

I joined the Rhode Island Road Runners Club about a year ago, full of enthusiasm for participating in all their activities. I was particularly drawn to a challenge they have called the New England Cup which is awarded to any member who runs a race in every New England state in the year.

For the geographically challenged, New England consists of six states; Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut. In total it's about 72,000 square miles, so it's smaller than each of the 17 largest US states. Not vast by any means.

I can do that, I thought. In fact I can do even better. I will run a half marathon in all six states in 2010.

I started well. I did a half-marathon in Rhode Island in May. Another one in Massachusetts in June. Then the weather got warm, and I started running less, and I never did run another half-marathon last year.

The New England Cup for running gave me another idea. I could sail a Laser regatta in all six New England states in 2010.

I started well. I sailed a Laser regatta in Rhode Island in May. Another one in Massachusetts in August. Then the weather got cooler, and I started sailing less, and I never did sail a regatta in any other New England state last year.

I'm not going to make the same mistake again this year. Clearly I set my sights too high last year. I need more realistic objectives this year.

I was thinking about this as I was perusing the lengthy beer menu at Aidan's Pub in Bristol yesterday lunchtime and pondering what beer would go well with bangers and mash followed by bread pudding.

Then it struck me. The perfect challenge for me this year would be to find a favorite beer that is brewed in each of the six New England states. I am already a fan of Newport Storm from Rhode Island. And last summer at Aidan's I regularly enjoyed a couple of glasses of Long Trail Ale from Vermont after Tuesday night sailing.

Hmmm. I see they have Old Thumper from Maine. I tried it. I liked it. I had another glass.

Three states down. Three to go.

This year I will achieve my goal.

Any recommendations?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Did Elvstrøm Say?

Most racing sailors will say we are familiar with Paul Elvstrøm's famous quote about how you haven't won if, in doing so, you have lost the respect of your competitors. But are we? Do you know what Elvstrøm actually said, and where and when he said it?

Naturally, to answer a question like that anyone in 2011 will immediately reach for the Google. But the answers you find on the Interwebs may surprise you.

Sailing World in 2002 said that the quote is, "You haven't won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors."

Mike Noone of Nockamixon Sailing Club wrote in 2009 that the quote is, "Winning is no victory if, in doing so, you lose the respect of your competitors."

Some dude called flaursen wrote on the Hydroracer forum in 2007 that the quote is, "If in the process of winning you have lost the respect of your competitors you have won nothing."

And in my favorite online sailboat racing simulator SailX Elvstrøm is usually quoted as saying, "One has not won, if, in the process of winning, one has lost the respect of one's competitors."

You will find several more variations out there if you look around.


Who is right. What did Elvstrøm actually say?

And while we are at it, can we all agree how to spell his name. Several sources spell it as Elvström. But the guy is Danish. And there is no letter ö in the Danish alphabet.

One strange thing I have noticed is that nobody who use this Elvstrøm quote seems to cite when and where he said it. There is never a reference to the original source so that we can verify what he actually said.

So what's going on here? Did Elvstrøm actually express this sentiment several times in several different forms? Or did he say it once, and everyone has been paraphrasing it and garbling it ever since?

Or did he actually first express this thought in his native Danish and what we have are several different translations into English? Indeed, this excellent interview with Elvstrøm on reveals that at his first Olympics in England in 1948 he didn't speak any English at all.

It's a mystery.

Elvstrøm wrote a few books. Is the quote in one of those? I have an old version of Paul Elvstrøm Explains the Yacht Racing Rules. (Yes, possum, they really were called the Yacht Racing Rules back in 1981.) But I couldn't find the famous quote in there.

Can anyone solve this puzzle? What did Elvstrøm actually say, and when and where did he say it?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Woman's Guide To Love And Lasting Relationships

1. Find a man who makes you laugh.

2. Find a man who has a good job and can cook.

3. Find a man who is honest.

4. Find a man who will pamper you and give you gifts.

5. Find a man who is awesome in the bedroom.

6. Most of all it is VERY IMPORTANT that these five men NEVER meet.

Notice spotted on the door to the Ladies bathroom at the 2011 meeting of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of New York City Waterbloggers.

Friday, February 11, 2011



The only thing more ridiculous than this would be for me to invent something to go on the back of my Laser that would make the sound of an outboard motor.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Thursday Photo Quiz

Where is it?

What's unusual about it?

When did I mention it on this blog?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Intensity 7.06 Class?

I didn't want to write this post. I don't like the conclusion it's going to reach. But I'm an anal-retentive, analytical bastard and I have this incredibly annoying habit of following any argument to its logical conclusion no matter how unpalatable it is or who it upsets. Just ask my wife.

I've written a couple of posts recently, Fairness and We The People... about how the high price and low durability of the official class-legal Laser sail are driving the sales of much cheaper replica Laser sails from other sources, and how more and more local fleets are allowing the use of these sails for their club racing and even in their regattas. The most popular supplier of such sails in North America is Intensity Sails.

But there's a right and a wrong way for such fleets to do this. They can't just add a sentence in their sailing instructions saying something like, "Competitors are allowed to use Intensity sails." And not only because the Laser class might not like it. Such a change to the SIs is actually not allowed by the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Rule 78 says that a boat must comply with class rules. And if you are running a Laser fleet or a Laser regatta that means the Laser class rules, which say that your sail must be manufactured by a licensed builder.

And Rule 87 says that sailing instructions may change a class rule "only when the class rules permit the change, or when written permission of the class association for the change is displayed on the official notice board." (Good luck with your application for such permission.)

Bottom line, you can't change the SIs to say Intensity sails are allowed because that is a change to a class rule and the Racing Rules of Sailing don't allow you to do that.

But what could go wrong, you say? We're all friends. Our fleet voted by a large majority to allow Intensity sails. We'll just do it.

Well, it only takes one asshole to ruin your plan. What are you going to do when someone sailing with a one-year-old worn-out legal class Laser sail protests everyone who beat him using a nice crisp fast Intensity sail, and he argues at the protest hearing that your change to the SIs to allow Intensity sails is invalid and null and void because of Rules 78 and 87? Or maybe he files for redress under Rule 62 to have his finishing positions adjusted ahead of everyone using Intensity sails because of "an improper action of the race committee or organizing authority" i.e. aforementioned incorrectly written sailing instructions. Or maybe he does both. And if your friends on the protest committee reject his protest and request for redress, he appeals to US Sailing. It only takes one asshole to ruin your plan.

Can anyone who understands the Racing Rules of Sailing better than me tell me if there is a flaw in my logic above?

But fear not, my friend, even if my logic above is correct there is an easy solution. You need to create a new class. Let's call it the Intensity 7.06 Class. (Full rig Laser sails are 7.06 square meters in area.) You write some very simple rules for what equipment is allowed under the Intensity 7.06 Class Rules. In the SIs you say that your regatta is being sailed under the rules of the Intensity 7.06 Class.

End of problem. (I think.)

There are a couple of precedents for this approach. That inventive chappie Steve Cockerill, owner of Rooster Sailing, came up with a larger rig for the Laser. He called it the Rooster 8.1. They hold Rooster 8.1 regattas. They even held a Rooster 8.1 UK National Championship last year. As far as I can tell it's all perfectly kosher and compliant with the Racing Rules, because there is a Rooster 8.1 Class Association. Membership is free, and you are allocated a membership number when you buy a new Rooster 8.1 rig from Steve. Or if you buy a second-hand Rooster 8.1 sail you can apply for a membership number by email. Very simple. Very cheap. (Free is cheap, I think.)

College sailing in the US also went down this route. You might think that college sailing regattas are sailed in Larks, or FJs or 420s. They are not; many colleges modify their boats so that they no longer comply with class rules. Worse than that, college sailing allows certain kinetic moves such as ooching which are not allowed in Rule 42.

But Rule 87 says that SIs can't change the class rules. And Rule 86 says that the SIs can't change Rule 42. How do they get away with it?

Simple. They created a new class. All college sailing in the US is sailed under the rules of the Collegiate Dinghy Class. And, by the way, it is legal for class rules to modify Rule 42. So they did. Simple! Matt Knowles at his excellent rules blog Unruly has more on this at College Sailing & Rule 42.

So, I think it's inevitable that, sooner or later, the increasing number of folk who are racing Lasers with Intensity sails are going to form a class association, if only so that they can have correctly written sailing instructions that comply with the Racing Rules of Sailing and so that they avoid the risk of that asshole protesting half the fleet. It might be me. (Only joking.)

I don't much like the prospect of an Intensity 7.06 Class (or whatever they call it.) I think it's a bad thing for Laser sailing for all sorts of reasons. But this post has gone on way too long already, so I'll save that discussion for another post.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

178 Days Until Laser Masters Worlds 2011

It's only 178 days until the start of the Laser Masters World Championships in San Francisco this August. Woo Hoo!


For the last two weeks this was by replaced by a kinder gentler notice saying The Notice of Race and Application Form for this event will be open shortly.

Hmmm. What was all that about? Was there some reason for the delay that "they" didn't want to tell us about? I guess we will never know, because today "they" opened up the site for business. Applications are open. Woo Hoo!

So I need to make a decision. Should I go?

What's that you say? Why would you not go?

Well... it's complicated. There are Pros and Cons.


1. It's freaking San Francisco! Home of America's Cup 34! (Probably, unless Larry changes his mind.) Even more important, home of the Heavy Weather Laser Slalom! Iconic waterfront! Magnificent natural aquatic amphitheater! What sailor wouldn't leap at the chance to sail in a regatta there?

2. It's freaking San Francisco! One of the great cities of the world. I love San Francisco. So much to do there and in the surrounding area. Who wouldn't leap at the chance to take a vacation in San Francisco?

3. It's freaking San Francisco! Home of so many of my blogging friends. Edward and Joe and Craig and Zen and the Eco Dork. I've been wanting to meet them for years. What could be better than to spend some time hanging out with them, maybe even go sailing with them?


1. The Laser Masters Worlds last year was a disaster for me. I wasn't fit enough. I hadn't practiced enough. (And I got sick.) I wasn't up to sailing in those conditions against that level of competition. Who's to say that San Francisco wouldn't be just as bad an experience for me as Hayling Island was? Maybe it's time to admit that I'm not good enough for the Master Worlds any more (indeed, if I ever was.)

2. The regatta is in August. One of the best times of the year in Rhode Island. The weather is perfect for sailing here at that time of year. Tillerwoman's garden is at its peak. There is sailing and outdoor lunches at local restaurants and swimming and walks on the beach and dinners on the grill and sunset watching and playing in the water with grandkids... They even arranged the Worlds at the same time as the Buzzards Bay Regatta, one of my favorites! What were they thinking? Why would I want to leave Rhode Island in August to travel 3000 miles to sail somewhere that is likely to be cooler? Don't get me wrong, Tillerwoman and I do like to travel. But we tend to arrange our travel for the winter months when getting away from chilly New England to go somewhere warm is more appreciated, and when we feel like we're getting a bigger bang for our bucks.

It's complicated.

Should I stay or should I go?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Number 43

43 days ago yesterday was Christmas Day so I thought I would give my readers a late Christmas present by writing about my 43rd Laser sail in 2010 thereby giving me an opportunity to repost the photo of Miss 43, who always seems to create unnatural excitement in a certain segment of the readership ever since she first appeared to celebrate my 43rd Laser sail in 2008.

It was our second day at Bitter End Yacht Club last December. I turned up at the Watersports Center on Sunday morning looking forward to some racing, but there was insufficient interest in racing among the clientele, so I decided to take a Laser out by myself for a blast around North Gorda Sound.

It was a gorgeous day. Sunny. Blue sky. 10 knots gusting to awesome. I sailed all over the bay just enjoying the experience of sailing on warm, blue water in December. It was probably snowing back home. Ha!

Actually I did a bit more than play. I tried to practice something that Kurt Taulbee had taught me at his Sailfit seminar the previous year. He had said that when sailing downwind you should be "as a surfer not a sitter." By which he meant, keep your weight on your feet so that if necessary you can stand up (and it sometimes is necessary if only to prevent that dreaded death roll to windward.)

I must admit that prior to Kurt's lesson I had got stuck in a style of having my back leg tucked under the toe strap so that my whole lower leg from knee to foot was resting on the floor of the cockpit. It felt kind of stable but it didn't really allow me to move my weight to leeward quickly when necessary. Kurt was basically teaching us to keep our weight on both feet, one to leeward and one to windward, so that heeling and balancing the boat as required could be achieved with simple transfer of weight from one foot to the other. Even after Kurt's advice in early 2009 I had never really broken myself of my bad habit, so I decided to use the week at Bitter End to develop the habit of sailing properly downwind for a change.

So I did that all morning and then went out and won the cat racing in the afternoon but that's a story for another post...

But here's something really spooky possum. Yesterday evening I was over at my son's house and they had one of those interminably long games of pointy handball on the TV. You know, that game that Americans call "football" even thought they play it with their hands and their so-called ball isn't even round, as opposed to real football that the rest of the world plays using their feet and a round ball. (Hence "foot" "ball". Duh!) I think it might have even been the Pointy Handball Cup Final or something.

Anyway, during this weird game I occasionally saw some strange dude with long hair prancing around at one end of the field, and he looked just like Miss 43. Perhaps he was her brother? He even had the same number, 43, on his shirt. Actually I wasn't sure at first whether he was a player or some rogue fan running on to the field because he didn't seem to be involved in much of the play. When the pretty white boy on the other team threw the ball in the air, Mr. 43 always seemed to be running the opposite direction from where the ball where was going. I guess I don't really understand pointy handball.

So is Mr. 43 really Miss 43's brother? Or perhaps he's a reader of this blog and was wearing #43 to express his appreciation to me for posting Miss 43's photo occasionally? Who knows?

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Sam says Laser sailors should stretch.

I agree with him. I like this one.

Great for relieving tension in the lower back.

What do you think Sam?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I Will Go Sailing No More

Back in the good old days when the Interwebs were a wild and woolly's hard to believe kiddies but there really was a golden era when digital music was free. Illegal as it turned out, but free. In those halcyon days I was an avid user of Napster. I used to do searches for songs with titles that included words like "sailing" or "boat" and thereby amassed a modest collection of such songs, all of which I now have on my iPod.

One of the songs I discovered in this fashion was Randy Newman's I Will Go Sailing No More. I had no idea at the time that the song came from a movie soundtrack. Some animated movie for kids called Toy Story apparently. Why would I be interested in such a thing?

Then came grandkids...

In the fullness of time Disney/Pixar did beget Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, and my two eldest grandkids discovered the Toy Story movies, and they became fans. My 2-year-old grandson Aidan started running all over the place shouting, "To infinity and beyond!" Strange dolls of a spaceman and a cowboy and other characters appeared in their house.

At various times over the last year I have watched all three Toy Story movies with them. They are surprisingly good. So are the movies. Not just for the technical quality of the computer-animation but because much of the humor appeals to adults too. Well, at least to this adult. Tour Guide Barbie cracks me up.

You have to hand it to Disney. They do know how to market the hell out of a movie franchise. Toys, books, DVDs, costumes, sequels etc. etc. And now we have, would you believe, Toy Story 3 Disney on Ice opening soon at a skating rink near you.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I've mentioned before that my daughter-in-law, the mother of the two incredibly cute kids in the photo above, has a Mommy Blog. She is currently running a giveaway contest on her blog for a Family Pack of 4 tickets for the opening night, February 18th, of Toy Story 3 on Ice at TD Garden in Boston. If this is of interest to you (or any of your little friends) then head on over to her blog to check it out at Toy Story 3 on Ice Contest. No googling required to win.

I think I will go and watch a movie now.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Coarse Sailing

One summer, many decades ago when I was at college, three of my friends and I spent a summer vacation week cruising the Norfolk Broads, a network of rivers and lakes in the east of England. In retrospect it seems incredible to me now that a reputable boatyard would rent a motor cruiser to a bunch of wild college students with almost zero knowledge of boating. But they did and, after a short introductory driving lesson, off we went.

We managed to commit almost every novice boating mistake known to man. And a few new ones we invented...

There was Discovering the Hard Way that Sailing Yachts Tacking up a Narrow River Don't Give Way to Motor Cruisers. However it must be said that the resulting hole in the side of our boat really wasn't all that big.

There was Four Drunken Kids in a Dinghy Can't Find Their Moored Cruiser After an Evening in The Pub. Hey, how did we know that all these boats would look the same in the dark?

And then there was Why Didn't They Make These Bridges Tall Enough For Our Boat to Fit Under? I don't think we appreciated the importance of complicated phenomena like tides and all that stuff, and anyway the bridge had already taken a few knocks over the years.

But we had fun. And our confidence was boosted (and our fun enhanced) because we had with us a most excellent book that was our guide, our inspiration, our bible. It was The Art of Coarse Sailing by Michael Green, a story about a journey on the Norfolk Broads quite similar to ours. The hero of Green's book seemed even more incompetent than us. At least we didn't experience (as he did) Explosion of Vessel or Going Aground on a Bungalow. (We did have one near miss in that latter department though.) Every day we laughed over Green's brilliantly funny accounts of his Broads cruise in which many of the zany incidents seemed eerily like the ones we were experiencing.

Back in those days, Michael Green was quite well known in England as a writer of humorous books. There was The Art of Coarse Rugby, The Art of Coarse Acting and several others. The whole premise of the "Coarse" series is that it isn't necessary to be skillful to enjoy a sport; enthusiasm trumps skill every time. All the books are essentially about the art of playing a sport badly, and exposing the humor in the situations that ensue.

The Coarse actor is "one who can remember his lines, but not the order in which they come." The consumption of alcohol is central to the life of every Coarse sportsman; Green once defined a Coarse sportsman as "one, who when his club receives a grant from the National Playing Fields Association, wants to spend the money on extending the bar."

I don't seem to have a copy of The Art of Coarse Sailing in my possession. (Our old cruising guide must have belonged to one of my friends.) But I do have a copy of The Michael Green Book of Coarse Sport which is a collection of short stories about many different sports... rugby, cricket, tennis, camping... and, of course, sailing. The book was published in 1965 and inside the cover there is a sticker that says W.Heffer and Sons, Sidney Street, Cambridge right next to where the price of the book is written by hand in pre-decimal currency.

Aaaah. Heffers! That name brings back so many happy memories of the days when "browsing" didn't mean something you do on a computer.

Where was I? Where am I?

Oh yes. Coarse Sport.

There are two sailing stories in my book. The first is called Collapse of Coarse Sailor. It is an hilarious account of the time when the author went dinghy racing with his friend Beaver. Green quite correctly points out that one of the most important Laws of Coarse Sport is that there be no recriminations after the game, but that dinghy racing contradicts this noble attitude because of the stampede after the racing to the protest room where the contest is not won by the fastest boat but by the fastest talker.

The author admits that he doesn't take such things seriously enough and confides, "It will give an idea of my approach to sailing when I say I measure distance in bottles of liquor." He takes out his bottle of rum as Beaver and he tack up to the starting line of the first race, which triggers Beaver into a tirade worthy of Captain Bligh in which he reminds his hapless crew of his many duties, the most important of which is to note the number of "any bastard who fails to give way" so that he, Beaver, can lodge a protest after the racing is over.

There follows a typically Green-esque account of mayhem and carnage on the start line which ends with our heroes' boat upside down, and is followed by an epic struggle for survival and an injury which sends the author to the emergency room. If you've ever been dinghy racing, read this story and I guarantee that you will laugh 'til it hurts.

The other sailing story in this book is A Coarse Sailor at Sea which opens with the line: "I had been sailing for years before I realised that most people with boats are liars." The premise here is that the sailing stories told by members in the yacht club bar are all gross exaggerations, if not downright lies. After a year or two of playing this game at his local yacht club, our hero runs out of tall tales to tell and decides he will actually have to "do something." So he and his friend Hicks set out to cross the English Channel to France in an 11-foot sailing dinghy.

During the crossing they experience more death-defying incidents than most round-the-world sailors face in a lifetime, including nearly being run over by what they thought at first was the Varne Lightship; arguing about whether their compass or their chart (or both) are wrong; waving a match at their sail so an oil tanker can see them; running our of rum... etc. etc. etc. Somehow they survive the ordeal. But the reception of their (actually true) story back at the yacht club bar was not quite what they expected.

I thought that perhaps Green's writing was more widely known these days, which was why I included two quotes from him in my recent Quotes Quiz. Sadly, nobody guessed the author of either quote. It's a shame if he has fallen out of fashion because I think others would still enjoy his Coarse Sport series as much as I do.

I think that somewhere in the back of my brain it was the memory of reading The Art of Coarse Sailing that inspired me take up sailing as a sport myself several years later. After all, the whole message of the Coarse sport genre is that you don't have to be all that good at any sport to enjoy it, and that any sport worth playing is worth playing badly. And I've certainly enjoyed myself doing much sailing badly over the last thirty years.

And the other message that I took from that book is that it's possible to be very funny if you write well about playing a sport badly. I don't think I consciously copy Green's style in writing this blog; but I do think that his book planted a seed in my mind that, over three decades later, matured into the idea to try to write some humorous pieces about my own "coarse" sailing... and thus Proper Course was born.

And what is really weird, possum, is that I chose that name, Proper Course, for this blog. Course. Coarse. It wasn't a deliberate pun or homage. But maybe unconsciously it was some weird mental echo?

And that's all I have to say about that.

I think I'll go and shovel some snow now.