Showing posts with label Mental Fitness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mental Fitness. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

27 Things To Do on your Laser or Sunfish While Waiting Between Races

A reader asked what you should do when waiting between Laser races at a regatta.

Good question.

Personally I hate waiting for anything.  But it's an inevitability at many large regattas. We wait for wind. We wait for the RC to adjust the course. We wait for other fleets using the same course to get their starts off. We wait while other fleets using the same course have a gazillion general recalls.

etc. etc. etc.


So what to do.

1. Hydrate. Very important on a long day of racing, especially if the weather is warm. Sometimes the RC will hand out water and sometimes you have to bring your own drink. Whatever. Drink something between every race. Dehydration will degrade your racing performance and make you feel weird too.

2. Pee. You did read #1 I hope. After drinking gallons of water, eventually the time will come when you have to get rid of it. We all do it. But if you are a man and are going to stand on the transom of your Laser and unzip and wave it around, then sail a distance away from your fellow sailors. We all have one. Well most of us do. But we don't want to see yours.

3. Eat something. Whole screeds have been written on what to eat during exercise that lasts several hours. Sometimes we race more hours in a day than it would take us to run a marathon. Nutrition experts will lecture you on what to eat and what not to eat. My own personal advice would be to find something that works for you and stick with it. Personally I like Clif Bars and those energy gels that long distance runners use - especially the ones with caffeine. What do you like to eat on the water?

4. Stretch. Some people are quite skilled at doing all those fancy yoga stretches on a Laser but I never seem to manage them without falling off the boat. I should practice this more.

5. Watch the other fleets starting. As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot by watching."  What's the bias on the start line? Which side of the beat seems to be paying? Stuff like that.

6. Plan your strategy for the next race. What are you going to differently?

7. Chat to your friends. Talk about baseball or where you're going for dinner. Tell some jokes. Sail over to that weird looking dude and ask him if he's Tillerman. Talk some trash about other sailors. You could even ask some of the good sailors what they did in the last race. You might learn something.

8. Relax. This is my favorite. Get your bum in the cockpit and stretch out. Sometimes other sailors even think I am asleep. Maybe I am sometimes.

9. Watch out you don't get run over by a mommy boat. Especially if you are asleep. Enough said.

10. Pull up your hiking pants. They always slip down when racing. At least mine do.

11. Check out your boat. Is anything working loose? Coming untied? Falling off? Ready to break? Maybe you can do some emergency maintenance before the next race. You do carry an emergency kit don't you? Seriously, I was in a race this season where another Laser sailor had his mainsheet break! You think there might have been a few warning signs first?

12. If there's no wind and it's a hot sunny day and it looks like there is going to be a long wait, then strip off, hang your sailing clothes on the boom to dry, and work on your suntan.

13. Put some more sunscreen on.  Preferably before #12.

14. Play. You did bring a frisbee and a water gun didn't you?

15. Have a beer. I have raced at places where the RC hands out beer to Laser sailors between races. Personally I have never indulged until all the races were over. My sailing performance is bad enough without being under the influence too. But whatever rocks your boat.

16. Pose for the photographer boat.

17. Work out exactly what you are going to write on the protest form about that fooking idiot who fouled you in the last race.

18. Get yourself fired up for the next race. Talk to yourself. Mutter your mantra.

What else?

Update Sep 19: This post was first published on Sep 17 as Waiting - 18 Things. An anonymous commenter suggested another 9 things to do (some with photos to illustrate them) that are so good that I have added her contributions to the list and changed the title of the post. 

19. Check all the GoPro cameras and other gizmos on your boat and body.

20. Use one camera to make better photos then the photoboat (and charge nothing.)

21. In case you misinterpreted the wind for the race you just finished, change the 'boat mode' eg the mast rake or goose-neck (Sunfish!)

22. Clean your sunglasses.

23. Cool your feet.

24. Read a newspaper (or SI or ..)

25. Do Yoga exercise.

26. Discuss your sailing with your coach.

27. Do some swimming

Thanks to Hertogenbosch for her contributions to this post. (Note the  new policy on this blog: anonymous commenters will be assigned genders and names at random by the blog owner.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


A major part of sailboat racing is learning how to manage risk.

How to play the odds.

When to take a risk to make a large gain.

And when to play it safe to avoid making a huge loss.

I'm not usually very good at this aspect of the game. I think I'm usually too conservative on the race course and don't take risks when I should. One aspect of my game that I think I usually play too safe is the windward mark rounding. My usual modus operandi is to approach the starboard tack layline six to ten lengths from the mark, find a gap in the parade of boats on the lay line, sail through it and tack. I hardly ever come on in port on the layine or within three boat lengths of the mark, and hardly ever try to tack below starboard tackers and risk not laying the mark.

But on Sunday it was different.

I was racing with the Duxbury Laser fleet again and the winds were forecast to be 15 gusting 25 but I don't think it ever actually was that strong.

I was still suffering from some lower back pain from the previous Sunday so I determined that I would race for an hour or so and then call it a day. Didn't want to overdo it.

As a result I didn't care too much about the results, so I had a mindset that I was prepared to take some risks. Roll the dice and see what happened.

The boat end of the start line was favored and I knew some of the sailors in this fleet would be fighting each other for the position next to the boat. I chose to play it safe at the starts and get a position a little further down the line with room to accelerate that was away from the mayhem at the RC boat.

As a result I was usually on the left of the leaders going up the beat. Sometimes sailing a bit faster than them (mantra: bow down) but not fast enough that I could tack and safely cross them all until they tacked. On the shortish course that often meant I was close to the port tack lay line before I could tack.

Normally this would be where I would start to panic and start looking for gaps in the starboard tack parade and bearing off to find such a gap and giving up way too many boats in the process of trying to make a safe windward mark rounding.

But on Sunday it was different. Some times I came in the port tack layline and managed to tack cleanly in front of the approaching starboard tackers. Some times I was further away from the port tack lay line and I chanced it tacking under a starboard tacker. Risks I would never normally take. It worked out every time and I rounded the mark in the lead, or in the leading pack every time.

Hey. Maybe I should try this more often?

I had good speed upwind and downwind. My leeward mark roundings weren't too shabby either. After four races my scores were 1,2,1,1.


In line with my plan of only sailing for an hour or so, I decided to call it a day. Some wag later asked me if I had got tired of winning.

Not at all. But I chose not to risk hurting my back again by sailing for too long.

It's all about managing risk.

Monday, September 01, 2014


Athletes in all sorts of sports believe in using mantras. But are mantras any help in sailing?

What is a mantra? An inspirational phrase that helps with your performance. Something to help keep the mind focused on what is important while you are competing.

Many runners use mantras. There is an excellent Runners' World article about it - The Magic of Mantras. It reminds us that a good mantra should be "short, positive, instructive, and full of action words."

But mantras are very personal. Different strokes for different folks. And even in a sport as apparently simple as running, a runner may use different mantras in different stages of the race and for different purposes.

Some examples of mantras from that article I linked…

To remind you to start out easy in a long race - "Pass no one."

To help you stay focused and forget how long a marathon really is - "One mile at a time." I could never have completed my marathons or half marathons without using this one.

To help you focus on good running form  - "Lighter, softer, faster, relaxer." Hey, they don't even have to be real words as long as they work for you.

Some sailors use mantras too. Christine Neville wrote about it in one of her posts about racing at CORK a couple of weeks ago. She felt she had been thinking too much about getting away from other boats to find clear air, so on this day she used mantras like "keep it simple" and "go as fast and direct as you can."

I really need a mantra to help me when I'm sailing a long windy beat to take my mind off my aching quad muscles and keep me focused on hiking hard and keeping good hiking form and sailing fast. I wonder what would work?

"It's meant to hurt." Maybe not. Too negative. A mantra should take your mind off the pain and adversity and keep you in a positive frame of mind.

"Tougher than the rest." Not true - but it would probably work.

"Grind them down. One at a time." Ha! I like this one. Just focus on sailing faster than the boat next to me until I have him in my bad air and he is forced to tack away. Children can be so cruel at my age.

But sailing is such a complex sport. We need different mantras for different wind conditions and different points of sail and different strategic and tactical situations and to avoid different mental traps.

"Keep your head out of the boat." is a very useful mantra of course.

And something like "Keep calm. Forget it. Carry on." is a good one for dealing with the aftermath of all the things that can go bad on the race course including capsizes, collisions with buoys, collisions with other boats, collisions with bridges, falling out of the boat, being pulled out of the boat by another sailor's sheet around your neck, chopping your finger off etc. etc.

What about you?

Do you have some favorite sailing mantras?

Monday, June 02, 2014

Who am I?

On Sunday I had the choice between driving over three hours to a regatta in New Hampshire, or driving about an hour to join some friends sailing in a local fleet in Massachusetts. So being lazy I chose the easier option and went to sail with my friends in Massachusetts.

I arrived at the same time as another Laser sailor whom I vaguely knew - we had sailed in some of the same regattas last year - but we had never spoken. So I introduced myself and he replied, "Oh yes. You're the Facebook Guy"


Facebook Guy?

Where does he get that from? We're not even friends on Facebook. Although I guess he has seen the odd Facebook post from me in sailing related groups or something. But I'm not that much of a Facebook fanatic, am I?

I'm not the Facebook Guy.

This is the Facebook Guy.

Anyway I unloaded my boat and rigged it, and my friends showed up and we launched. I was one of the first boats out on the course so I practiced a bit and the race officer blew a few practice starts for us. It was a glorious sunny day with about 8-10 knots of breeze and it actually felt like summer... at last.

It was way past the time that racing was supposed to start but some Lasers were still making their way out to the course so the race officer ran a "practice" race for us. The pin end of the line was favored and I nailed a pin-end start, led the fleet out to the left side of the course (which turned out to be the favored side all afternoon) and I was first at the windward mark and went on to win the race. That felt good.

Once the real races started I was usually around the middle of the fleet - as per normal - but I wasn't far away from the leaders and I was having fun.

The afternoon was passing quickly and somehow in the sixth race (or maybe the fifth or seventh - I had lost count) I played the left side again and won a "real" race.

Man, that felt really good.

So good in fact that I decided to call it a day. The wind was dying anyway and I didn't think they would get many more races in. (Only one as it turned out.) And by quitting while basking in the glow of victory I would enjoy that feeling all week.

I sailed back to the dock and derigged my boat. As I was packing up, a couple walked by and the man looked at my Rhode Island license plates and said with an incredulous tone, "Surely you didn't drive all the way from Rhode Island to sail here?" There may have even been a bit of a sneer on his face when he said "here."

Hmmm. I know Rhode Island is almost like heaven - sailing heaven anyway - but there's no need to put down other perfectly fine places by the ocean. So I explained, in my defense, that I had come "here" to sail with some friends, so the couple accepted by excuse and walked on.


Guy Who Drives All The Way From Rhode Island To Sail Here?

That is not who I am.

This is Guy Who Drives All The Way From Rhode Island To Sail Here.

This is who I am…

Friday, May 30, 2014


That clever fellow Nick Hayes, author of Saving Sailing, has an article in the June 2014 issue of SpinSheet magazine titled Don't Sell Your Boat, Mister. In it he challenges a man who is trying to sell his Laser because he thinks has no time to get out on the water even though "the desire is there." Nick goes a bit deeper than the usual "live in the moment" memes with some insights from a Harvard social psychologist and some excellent advice on how to organize your life to be happy now, not at some vaguely imagined future idyllic time. He outlines a way to live such that "hours magically appear for things that bring happiness - like Laser sailing on a Tuesday night."

One of his arguments for creating time to follow your desire now, not postponing it for a couple of decades, is that perceptions of the source of happiness change as one ages. And he uses Laser sailing as an example of this saying that when you are in your fifth or sixth decades Laser sailing doesn't make the list as sufficiently restorative or rewarding or even fun. The implication being, presumably, is that you should go Laser sailing NOW while you still have the desire.

Of course Nick knows that not everyone feels like that about Laser sailing in later years because he adds as a sly afterthought, "Don't tell that to the Laser sailing grandfather of six, Tillerman."


Does desire for Laser sailing decline as one ages?

I guess I look at it from a position that could give me a distorted view. I have been racing my Laser in the UK and the US and several other countries for over 30 years so I see plenty of people in their 40s and 50s and 60s (not to mention a few in their 70s and 80s) sailing Lasers. I see the ones who kept their desire.

Sure everyone gives up Laser sailing eventually. But I see the ones who stop Laser sailing because their knees or backs or hips give out - or they die. And, sure, I also see ones like the man in Nick's article who give up Laser sailing because they say they are too busy with family and career to sail.  I guess I just don't see the ones who once had the desire but lost it before they really got round to taking up Laser sailing. I'm not saying they don't exist; just that I don't mix in those circles.

To be honest, I do find my own desire for some aspects of Laser sailing waxing and waning as I get older.

Some winters I am enthusiastic about frostbiting. Other winters I'm not.

Some years I get all excited about doing major regattas like a Laser Masters Worlds or North Americans. Other years I can't be bothered with all the faffing around that is involved in sailing major events.

Some years I like to travel a lot to sail. Other years I just want to enjoy sailing in my own (metaphorical) back yard.

But I have never yet totally lost the desire to sail my Laser.

Yesterday evening three of us went Laser sailing on the Sakonnet River launching from Third Beach. Two of us are in our seventh decades, the other is in his eighth decade. One of us drove ninety minutes to be there. It was a glorious sunny evening (if a little chilly for late May.) The wind was in the south and was stirring up some waves on which you could occasionally catch some rides downwind. We did some rabbit starts and chased each other round and round a short windward leeward course for about ninety minutes. Afterwards we all agreed we had had a marvelous time and that this spot was one of the best imaginable places in the world for some Thursday evening Laser sailing fun. And that we would damn well do it again next week.

We still have the desire.

Sshhh! Don't tell Nick Hayes. (But do go and read his SpinSheet article and buy his book.)

Monday, May 05, 2014

Three Things

Three of my favorite sailing blog posts from the last few days….

Why People Don’t Protest Each Other (and Why They Should) from Damian at The Final Beat.
One of my own personal beefs. The title explains perfectly the topic of this post. And Damian has some excellent suggestions for dealing with the issue.

The fear of sailing from John Vigor's Blog.
I've written a few posts myself over the years about the fear of sailing and how to deal with it, mainly in the context of heavy air sailing in Lasers. John addresses it from the perspective of ocean cruising and discusses why fear makes sailing attractive to some people and what its uses might be.

Top 10 signs it's time to leave the island by Behan on Sailing with Totem.
Absolutely hilarious. Behan and her family are sailing the world on S/V Totem and have been parked in Langkawi in Malaysia for a while. Actually I think they have only been there for a couple of months but you wouldn't guess if you only read this post!


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Jersey Pump

I thought I would write a post about the importance of the Jersey pump in my life.

No, no, no.

I haven't taken to wandering around the boardwalk in flowery pants and a tank top and making gestures at the passers-by.

I am referring to a certain product called Jersey Pump.

Jersey Pump is a protein supplement designed to "fuel the gladiator in you" whatever that means.

But I have never actually tried drinking Jersey Pump. So I can't really comment on whether it will "increase your stamina and build lean muscle mass."

No, no, no.

I am here to praise the creativity of the motivational messages crafted by the person who is posting to Twitter with the handle @JerseyPump.

It appears to be the corporate twitter feed for the folks who sell the stuff in the orange bottles but there is very little direct pushing of the product. To be honest there is some macho weightlifters' trash talk. At least I think that's what it is. I don't circulate in trashtalking macho weightlifter circles very much these days. Tweets like these….
To be honest the main reason I wear tank tops is to avoid a concealed weapons charge  
I've got 99 problems and idiots curling on the squat rack is one of them 
Gloves to lift weights? Don't you mean bitch mittens?   
I'm too big? Not possible! You're too small. 
I eat dumbbells for breakfast  
More Plates=More Dates 

I don't even know what most of those mean.

But along with those are some real inspirational messages that I actually find useful in pushing me to stop reading twitter feeds from protein supplement marketeers, walk away from the computer, and actually go for a run or work out on the hiking bench or even… yes even lift some weights.

If you keep saying tomorrow, you will run out of time.
Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.
I will do what you won't today, so I can do what you can't tomorrow.
Of course it's hard. It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.
If you want something you've never had, then you've got to do something you've never done.
Your body is the baggage you carry through life. The more excess baggage the shorter the trip.

Thanks to @JerseyPump I am determined to be fitter at the start of this year's Laser sailing season than I have ever been before.

This year will be different.

As long as I don't put my back out again while weeding or sitting at my desk.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Looking Back at Laser Sailing in 2013

It's Throwback Thursday so let's take a look back into the dim distant past of… 2013.

It was another funny old year…

In January and February I did a spot of frostbiting with the Newport Laser Fleet. There was the day we sailed in the fog, there was the day I got ice on the deck and a big smile on my face, and the awesome day when I almost began to feel that I might not be too bad at Laser sailing after all.

Then there were three consecutive weekends in February when even I didn't think it was suitable for Laser sailing, but towards the end of the month I actually broke my own record for how early in the year I went out for a bit of solo practice. I must be nuts.

In March I went down to Florida with some friends to train with coach Kurt Taulbee at SailFit.

This is me

I learned a lot, especially on the day when I helped one of my friends (and myself) overcome Heavy Ar Fear by being the idiot to be saying, "It looks great out there. I'm going sailing. Who's coming with me?"

On returning to chilly Rhode Island I did a bit more frostbite racing and another eight days of Spring Training in March and April. I was pretty pleased with myself at the end of April thinking that I had prepared as well as I reasonably could for the upcoming season. This Year Will Be Different. Right?

I did some more solo training in May. Well sort of. You could also describe it as going off on my own for some rowdy raunchy loud hysterical crazy fun.

This is me too

Then I sailed four regattas over the summer of 2013 and learned something at all of them.

At the 2-day Wickford Regatta in May I learned that all my on-the-water practice in March, April and May had paid off. I was fit enough to be able to complete every single race and I still felt strong right up to the end of the final race. This was major progress compared to 2012 where I was frequently missing the last race or two on every day at the regattas I attended. Even better than that, I was passing boats on reaches and runs, probably due to some of the work I did with Kurt at SailFit. So that was all good.

The 2-day John Bentley Regatta at New Bedford YC in June would have been special whatever happened on the water,  because it was in memory of a sailing friend we lost way too young the previous December. But I did learn a lot too, mainly about Managing Arousal and Anxiety. Or how not to be a slug or a crazed squirrel. On the first day I realized afterwards that I had been too much like the crazed squirrel. And on the second day I started like a slug, but found a couple of ways to energize myself, get myself in "the zone" and enjoyed a rewarding day of racing in perfect Buzzards Bay weather. I don't remember a day I had more fun racing. And I finished in the top ten! So that was all good.

This is a slug

The 2-day New England Masters at Sail Newport in September was a big learning experience too.  On the first day, the learnings included….

1. Mid line sag is real
2. The other sailors have no idea where the start line is either.
3. The other sailors are really good at accelerating off the start line.
4. I suck at accelerating off the start line.
5. In a large, close fleet it's not a good idea to approach the mark on the port tack layline.
6. I hate bridges.
7. Don't capsize
8. I need to learn how to do capsize recoveries faster.
9. Don't screw up
10. When I don't race for a couple of months, I screw up.

But apart from that it was all good.

On the second day, I learned that Doug's advice on Improper Course about Sailing in the Middle of the Fleet (a primer for the mid-fleet average sailor) really worked. I was 6th out of 48 in one race (woo hoo!) and won a trophy for third place in the "incredibly old geezers - they really ought to be in the nursing home instead of blundering around the race course getting in everyone else's way" category (woo hoo again!) So that was all good.

On the other hand, at the 3-day North American Masters in October it was not all good. For some reason I was not prepared - certainly not mentally and perhaps not physically either - for the regatta. I had been looking forward to it all year but my heart wasn't it. I sailed badly. I quit early. The experience did cause me to think a lot about what kind of sailing events I do and do not enjoy and how that will affect my choice of regattas this year; and also to work out what I will need to do to prepare for a major event like this in the future. So that was all good. I really should blog about it one day.

Wait. What happened in July and August?

In July I went Laser sailing locally ten times, including one afternoon sailing with my son on Mount Hope Bay when we made a landing on Spar Island and claimed it for the British Empire.

This is my son on Spar Island

And in August we spent a lot of time with the family and I only sailed my Laser four times.

Oh wait. I almost forgot the highlight of the year - the trip to Minorca Sailing in September. This year one of my local sailing friends and his wife joined us there and we all had a blast. Well, I had a blast. I think the others did. I learned a lot and won the first Thursday regatta, and won the pursuit race, and won the second Thursday regatta. And there were sardines. There were definitely sardines. It was all good.

These are sardines

And then in December, Tillerwoman and I had another wonderful vacation at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the BVI. We sailed catamarans a lot together. I sailed a Laser and won both the Laser regatta and the Hobie regatta on the Sunday we were there. There was kayaking and swimming and running and hiking. There was rum. There was definitely rum. It was all good. I really should blog about it one day.

This is me relaxing at BEYC

Wait. What happened in November? I have no idea. Apparently nothing.

According to my notes, I went Laser sailing on 72 days in 2013. It's not 100. But it is more than 43 so most of my male readers are happy.

Oh. I almost forgot the best day of the year. October 12.

Andrew James
5th grandchild
3rd grandson
Born 12 Oct 2013

It was all good.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


Yoga can be difficult for the beginner.

But it can improve your Laser sailing immensely.

One pose that all Laser sailors should master, is Savasana, also known as the Corpse Pose.

It will prepare your mind BEFORE a major regatta. Do Savasana on the boat ramp while the keen guys are waiting to launch.

It will relax you and speed your recovery AFTER a hard day of sailing. Do Savasana on the floor of the bar at the yacht club while the other sailors are still arguing over their beers about how Rule 18 applied at the 3rd mark in race 5.

Here is how to do Savasana..

Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms at your sides. Rest your hands about six inches away from your body with your palms up. Let your feet drop open. Close your eyes. Let your breath occur naturally. Allow your body to feel heavy on the ground.

Working from the soles of your feet up to the crown of your head, consciously release every body part, organ, and cell. Relax your face. Let your eyes drop deep into their sockets. Invite peace and silence into your mind, body, and soul.

It's tough to get it right, but it's worth it.

I think I'll take a nap now.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cómo Corregir los Malos Hábitos

How do you fix a bad habit?

Can you fix it simply by saying "do it this way not that way"?

Well, that certainly doesn't work for me.

If a sailing coach points out to me a flaw in my technique, a way to do things better, I am totally incapable of telling myself, "Oh, that's a good idea. I will start doing it the way he says."

Well, I can tell myself that but I will still find myself doing it the old way when I'm not thinking about it.

The bad habits of 30 years are hard to break.

Case in point.

On the first day at Minorca Sailing our instructors pointed out to me two flaws in my tacking technique.

The first flaw was that after I have done a tack I was sitting down on the deck on the new tack, after crossing the boat, too far back.

And the second flaw was that  I was doing the hand swap after the tack all wrong.

I probably need to to explain Laser tacking technique to my three readers who don't sail Lasers to explain that last point.

When you sail a Laser you hold the sheet in your front hand and your tiller extension in your back hand. When you tack you cross the boat (facing forwards) and keep the tiller and sheet in the same hands as you hike out on the new tack. The tiller and sheet are now in the wrong hands. And the hand holding the tiller extension is now behind your back. So you take the hand holding the sheet to pick up the tiller extension. Once you have hold of the tiller extension with the new back hand you pick up the sheet with the new front hand. Then you can drop the sheet with the new tiller hand. And you are all set! Magic!

Got that?

Or did you drop off during that incredibly boring explanation.

Wait. It gets worse.

After doing all those things in that incredibly boring long paragraph the tiller extension is still vaguely banging around near the back of the boat so you need to bring it forwards so you are holding it in front of you like all those really good Laser sailors you see on YouTube are. I had never really thought about the fact that there are two ways to bring the tiller extension in front of you. You can bring it under your arm or you can swing it over in front of you. And I had thought even less that there are actually two different ways that your new tiller hand can pick up the tiller extension. You can pick it up palm up with the thumb towards the aft of the boat. Or you can pick it up palm down with the thumb towards the bow of the boat. And I had thought even less than that that if you want to swing the tiller extension over you need to do the palm up thing. And if you want to bring the tiller extension forward under your arm you need to do the palm down thing.

Got that?

I'm sorry, but that second long boring paragraph was even longer and more boring than the first long boring paragraph.

Wait. It gets better.

What the very helpful instructor at Minorca Sailing noticed was that I was grabbing the tiller extension palm down and was then doing the swing over thing, with the result that my wrist was now twisted into some anatomically impossible and potentially very painful contortion so that I now needed to grab the tiller extension again with my new front hand, let go of it with my new back hand, twist my back wrist around to a more anatomically possible and less painful position, grab hold of the tiller extension again with my back hand and let go of it with my front hand. I had replaced a simple elegant hand swap maneuver with some incredibly ugly quadruple clutch monstrosity. No wonder my tacks were so slow! No wonder I so often flubbed my tacks.


I lied.

That third long boring paragraph wasn't really any better, was it?

Anyway, after the instructor told me that on the first day, I tried to do better. I experimented with palm-up-swing-over and palm-down-under-the-arm methods. But then in the races on day 2 I found myself reverting to that ugly, risky, slow quadruple clutch nonsense. 

I find this all the time. I can do things a new way if I am thinking about that and nothing else. But if I am dealing with all the brain overload of real racing and trying to think about whether I am on port or starboard tack, and whether I am going to cross that guy, and who has right of way, and whether I am on a lift or a header, and is there more wind on the left or the right, and should I put on more downhaul or more vang, and why isn't the autobailer working, and why is that guy pointing higher than me, and where the hell is the next mark, etc. etc. etc. then I really don't have the bandwidth to think about palm-up-swing-over vs palm-down-under-the-arm.

So I skipped racing on the third day and practiced nothing else but doing tacks and gybes using palm-up-swing-over and palm-down-under-the-arm.

I discovered that my old fault of not sitting down forward enough after the tack was the reason that I wasn't doing the under-the-arm thing. It was much easier if I was far enough forward.

I discovered that palm-down-under-the-arm worked best for me on tacks and palm-up-swing-over worked better for me in gybes.

I practiced doing the hand swap on tacks and gybes the right way over and over again all afternoon. I was trying to rewire my brain to do something a different better way after possibly 30 years of doing it the wrong way.

I suspect I will need several more practice sessions like that before it is totally unconsciously automatic and that I never revert to the old bad habits.

What about you?

How do you break bad sailing habits.

After that I took the beautiful Tillerwoman to Ca Na Marga for dinner where I enjoyed Pizza Mar (with tuna, shrimp and anchovies) followed by one of the house specialities, figs with ice cream. I really can't remember what she had.

This post was way too long.

I think I'll have another beer now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Managing Arousal and Anxiety

"Arousal" seems to be the flavor of the month in the sailing blogosphere. It's a hot topic in sports psychology generally and mental fitness for sailing in particular.

Mark R. of Slipper Musings has been.... well, musing on the topic on and off for weeks.

For example, in this post he reported on a couple of sailors discussing their problems with arousal levels. Either they were too low because they just couldn't get psyched up for light air sailing, or they were too high when the kite was launched.

And a few weeks back, Jay Livingston of Laser Sailing Notes wrote in Anxiety is Helpful about the same issue. Anxiety is often treated as a negative emotion but Jay encourages us to turn it into a positive. Too little anxiety and we feel flat, we have low energy, we don't care. Too much anxiety and it becomes disruptive, we tense up, we try too hard, and we make mistakes.

The issue is often present in graphical form like this...

The message is clear. If arousal levels are too low or too high we won't perform well on the race course. We need to find that middle zone of arousal if we want to achieve our optimum performance level.

I even found one article on the topic that had a chart which used the example of a slug to illustrate the problem of too low an arousal level; and a crazed squirrel as a metaphor for how you act if your arousal level is too high!

This is a slug

This is a crazed squirrel

So if we want to succeed at racing we need to be aware of our arousal levels.

But what do we do if we discover that we are feeling like a slug or a crazed squirrel? How do we manage our arousal or anxiety to stay in that optimum zone of maximum performance?

One of my favorite books Mental and Physical Fitness for Sailing by Alan Beggs, John Derbyshire and John Whitmore has many chapters that are essentially addressing this question. All sorts of methods are suggested, all essentially about how to relax when we are acting like the crazed squirrel, and how to energize ourselves when we are feeling like the slug. Maybe I will write another post (or three on) some of their ideas.

A couple of personal examples on this topic from the racing last weekend...

I mentioned that on Saturday, although it was by no means very windy all day, I was starting to get cramps in my arms. I took this as a sign that my anxiety levels were too high. I was getting frustrated about how slow I was sailing upwind and how low down the fleet I was finishing. And without doing it consciously I was tensing up, pulling harder and harder on the sheet rather than letting the ratchet block do its job. Stupid. I didn't even know I was doing it until afterwards.

I was very tired after racing on Saturday and was still feeling the after-effects on Sunday morning. I started to develop a headache as I sailed out to the course. As I waited for the first start I was definitely feeling like a slug.

But somehow I accidentally discovered a couple of ways to energize myself and get out of the slug zone and more into the optimum performance zone.

One thing I did was to start thinking about the people just ahead of me in the rankings after the first day of racing. Could I beat a few of them? I didn't see why not. They're not better than me. I can do it. Essentially I energized myself by using the competitive side of my personality. And it worked. On Sunday, in every race I beat every sailor who had finished behind me in any race on Saturday; and in some races I finished ahead of three different sailors whom I had never beaten on Saturday.

The other thing I did to kill my inner slug was to watch a couple of the fleet leaders as they powered off the start line in the first race. How is he hiking? How straight are his legs and his back? How far forward in the boat is he? How is he dealing with the waves hitting his bow? How is he moving his body? How is he steering through the waves? I guess I was planting some positive images in my head of of how to sail better and then I just stopped thinking too much about it and let it happen.

And the weird thing was that I stayed "in the zone" for all four races. I didn't get tired while racing, even though it was windier than Saturday. Those two little things at the beginning of the day seemed to reset my mental attitude to just where it needed to be. I was still on a high as I packed up my boat and hung out with other sailors after racing.

But enough about me. What about you?

Are you ever the slug or the crazed squirrel?

What causes it?

How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stuckness and the Art of Boat Trailer Maintenance

A couple of weeks back I decided to do a bit of minor maintenance on my boat trailer the day before heading off to a regatta in New Hampshire. Unfortunately I am not good at anything practical or mechanical. So, in the process, I managed to make the electrical problem with the lights on my trailer far worse that it was when I started, and managed to introduce a new issue with one trailer bearing that wasn't there before.

Robert Pirsig wrote about this many years ago in his classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I wasn't very old when I first read the book, but I felt he was talking about me when he addressed the issue of "stuckness."  From an early age I have been an expert at creating stuckness and being frustrated by it.

Using an example from motorcycle maintenance, Pirsig explains the essence of stuckness...

A screw sticks, for example, on a side cover assembly. You check the manual to see if there might be any special cause for this screw to come off so hard, but all it says is "Remove side cover plate" in that wonderful terse technical style that never tells you what you want to know. There's no earlier procedure left undone that might cause the cover screws to stick. 
Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn't just irritating and minor. You're stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It's absolutely stopped you from fixing the motorcycle.

I've been there so many times. I had a wiring problem. I tried one thing to fix it and broke something. I tried something else to fix it and broke something else. This is always the way when I try to fix something. Eventually I end up with a worse situation than when I started, without the right part, or the right tool or, more often, without any clue as to what to do next.


Back to his motorcycle example, Pirsig writes...

This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent. You don't know what you're doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.
It's normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge hammer if necessary.


I have what is effectively a small sledge hammer in my tool box. It's amazing how many times I reach for it in such moments of frustration. If something is stuck, surely beating it with a hammer will unstick it?

It's not that I'm stupid or incapable of rational thought. It's just that my brain freezes up in situations like this.

I am also a very impatient person. When I get stuck I become even more impatient.

I should have learned by now that the secret in such situations is to take a deep breath, slow down, go for a walk, have a beer, maybe sleep on it, and eventually a solution to unstick the stuckness might appear.

But often it doesn't.

Pirsig says...
The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What's really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train. 
Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality, in mechanical work as in other endeavors.

I don't begin to understand what those last two paragraphs mean.

I didn't understand them when I first read them almost 40 years ago. And I don't understand them now.

If I did understand them, I might be a much better person.

If I did understand them, I guess I might not have missed the regatta because of my bloody trailer problems.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Racing and Blogging

If you are a sailboat racer and you write a blog about your racing, does the blogging impact your racing performance?

And, if so, is it in a positive or a negative way?

When I first started blogging about sailing, I naturally assumed that there would basically be a one-way flow of information from the sailing to the blog. But now I'm not so sure. I've become aware of all sorts of ways in which there might be feedback from blogging to sailing.

But does blogging make me a better sailor or a worse sailor? In what ways might my blogging affect my sailing?

1. Goals. If you set yourself goals for your racing and publish them on your blog, then you are pretty well committed to making a serious attempt to achieve them. It's one of those commitment devices I wrote about a few years back.

Personally I'm pretty good at NOT telling the world about my racing goals. At least not before the actual racing. But I did slip up back in 2008 and write about my goal to sail my Laser 100 days in that year. Going public on the goal certainly did serve as a motivator to get out there and sail more days. Holy Shit - it's the end of April and I've only done 23 days! But in the end I failed. Only made it to 94. So what does that prove?

On the other hand, in 2007 I did blog about my goal to finish in the top half of the fleet at a world championship. And I did it! So what does that prove?

2. Learning new skills. If you are trying to improve a certain skill and you write a few blog posts about that skill, like say "how to do a kick-ass Laser roll tack", does the mere act of writing it down help you to learn that new skill? Does it implant the technique in your memory? Does even just doing the research for those posts help you to learn how to do better roll tacks?

You would think so, but given my total failure to become a better Laser sailor in the eight years I've been writing this blog I somehow doubt how effective this method really is.

3. Mental attitude. If you read any book about sports psychology, you will learn that self talk is a big deal. What you tell yourself you are is what you become. Tell yourself that you are confident at doing killer starts and you will start doing killer starts. At least that's the theory.

My problem is that I like to write self-deprecating humor. Laugh at myself. Tell the world I am fat and old and unfit. Make fun of all my crazy mistakes on the race course. It makes for some amusing blog posts (I think) but am I sabotaging my racing performance? Can I portray myself as a clumsy, incompetent, accident-prone sailor on a Friday, and then go out and be a top-notch racer on the Saturday?

But let's turn that one around. Another thing that those sports psychology books always talk about is how to overcome an error in a performance. Apparently if some people make a major mistake in a race, say blow the start, or capsize, or hit a mark, they have enormous difficulty in putting it out of their minds. They become angry at themselves and start sailing even more atrociously.

But not me. If I do something really bad  like getting strangled and pulled out of the boat by another sailor's sheet or breaking my gooseneck when I am winning a race my immediate reaction is to laugh and think, "This will make for a really funny story on the blog." I'm so happy to have such a disaster to write about. Much more interesting than winning the race. So then I can forget about the incident and get on with actually trying to win the next race.

There are probably all sorts of other examples of how blogging feeds back into sailing but Tillerwoman almost has the dinner ready and it's Toad-in-the Hole!

Got to go.

Please feel free to complete these thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Four Things

One of our sail-blogging friends is thinking that his sailing days may be over. The adversities of advancing age are catching up with him and his wife, and they are trying to sell their boat. Or maybe not. He doesn't seem sure what he really wants to do.

It made me think about my own situation. I am lucky right now that I have good health and reasonable fitness, and some of the things I enjoy the most are outdoor physical activities such as sailing and running and gardening.

I was reminded of some advice I read a few years ago (can't remember where - can't find it on the Google) about how we should choose the activities and interests to pursue in retirement. It was suggested that we should think of two dimensions - physical vs mental and social vs solitary - and try and choose at least one activity that would combine every combination of those two dimensions. In other words do some physically challenging things with other people and some by yourself; and do some mentally rewarding activities with other people and some by yourself.

I think the logic was that it's good to get some exercise but as you get older your ability to pursue physically demanding pursuits may wane because of illness or injury or just old age, so if that's all you do you may find a huge gap in your life when you have to give them up.

Similarly it's good to get out and socialize with friends, but as you get older you may find your friends dying before you, or you may not be able to see them so often for other reasons, so it's good to have some rewarding activities that you can follow on your own.

Also it's good to exercise your brain. But if that's all you do, what's going to happen if and when your mental facilities decline?

Seemed like good advice.

Not sure how well I've been following it...

Physical and solitary - running is very much in this category for me, although some people make it more social.

Physical and social - in spite of being a single-handed sailor, one of the things I do really appreciate about sailing is the ability to hang out with sailing friends before and after sailing, preferably over a few beers.

Mental and solitary - when I'm feeling lazy this is my natural place to go. Reading, sudoku, browsing the web, playing SailX.

Mental and social - Hmmm. This appears to be the missing quadrant in my life. What am I supposed to do? Join a chess club? Take nuclear physics classes at a local university? Enter the Senior Olympics Spelling Bee? This one is a puzzle to me. Or does blogging count?

What about you?

How are your four things?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ask the Tillerman #1

In response to my request to Ask the Tillerman some questions, a reader named Was it Was asked, "Am I normal in enjoying a bad start because I get to overtake more boats, than have a good start and watch boats go past me?"

Ain't that life for the mid-fleet sailor?

Happens to me all the time.

I guess the truth is that the 15-20 guys at the front of the fleet really are faster than me. And then there are 5-10 guys at the back of the fleet who, incredible as it sounds, really are slower than me. So, contrary to popular wisdom, it really doesn't matter whether I get a good start or a bad start.

If I get a good start I might round the first windward mark in the top 10, but then the fast guys will pass me and I will end up somewhere around 20th. If I get a bad start I might round the first windward mark with the tail-enders but then, even in a short race, I will pass a few boats and end up around 20th.

OK. Sometimes, once in a blue moon, I might get an amazingly good start and luckily go the right side of the beat even though all the good guys favored the other side and then I might round the first mark up with the leaders and might even finish in the top 10. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally.

So is it normal to enjoy a bad start, asks our friend.

Well, one way to look at it is if most of your starts are bad starts you had better enjoy those races else otherwise you would be miserable most of the time you are racing, and then you might do do something incredibly stupid and desperate like taking up golf... or even cruising.

And a start is just one moment in the race. Good or bad the moment is soon over. So why not enjoy spending the whole race passing the boats at the back of the fleet rather than suffer the frustrations of getting passed by all those really annoying fast sailors at the front of the fleet?

In fact, the more you think about, why even bother to try to get a good start?  Last time I did RC duty I noticed there was always a bunch of boats hanging out above the layline for the boat end of the start line not making any serious attempt to be on the line when the gun went off. They just waited until the rest of the fleet had started and then they rounded the committee boat and followed the fleet up the course. Were they deliberately getting bad starts in every race? And, more to the point, were they the smartest sailors there? Had they found the real secret of how to enjoy racing?

I have read advice somewhere, in one of those totally useless books which purport to teach you how to win races, that sometimes you should deliberately be OCS, and not go back to restart, so that you can get the experience of sailing in clear air and being able to decide your own strategy for the beat without getting bounced from tack to tack by all those annoyingly fast sailors at the front of the fleet. I think the point is to motivate you to try hard to win the starts so that you could sail like that in every race. Fat chance!

No. I think the opposite is the best advice.

The secret of happiness is to start last and spend the race overtaking other boats.

Which is a rather long way round of saying in answer to the original question.... YES.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Spring Training - Random Thoughts on Practice

Since attending the 4 day Laser clinic at SailFit back in March, I've managed to fit in a number of solo practice sessions in Rhode Island. Seven sessions so far in fact.

It makes sense. What's the point in going to a clinic in January or March and learning lots of things I need to improve, and then not working on those issues right away? I have done very little practice in March and April in other years. What was I thinking?

It makes sense. When is the time I really need to practice? Before the sailing season starts. March and April are the time. Spring training, so to speak.

I've been spotted a couple of times by fellow sailors who said that they would really like to join me. I invited them to come with me the next time I went sailing. They had some excuses.

Truth is I'm finding that the best way to practice is on my own.  Trying to change my bad habits into good habits is not easy. I need to to focus on one thing at a time and work at doing things a new way. When I sail with somebody else, inevitably we end up doing some kind of informal racing which is not conducive to working on new techniques. Sometimes you have to go slower before you go faster.

Or maybe I'm just an antisocial bastard.

Of course the water is cold this time of year. But I pick my days. I don't go out on my own at this time of year when the wind is over 20 knots. I wear a lifejacket (of course), a drysuit and take a VHF radio with me in case something really bad happens. And I sail on an enclosed harbor in sight of people on shore. And I tell Tillerwoman where I am going and how long I expect to be out. So far so good.

I'm not really planning to die on my Laser. Not just yet anyway.

I'm basically working on about 8 things that Kurt Taulbee pointed out to me at the clinic. I usually work on 3 or 4 of them in each practice session.

A couple of other bloggers have given me food for thought about how to practice...

I'm not quite as organized about my goals as Mark of Slipper Musings seems to be. But I do like his charts and color coding. Check out Process Goals.

And I'm not as much into the Zen of sailing as Jay of Laser Sailing Notes seems to be. But I did like his post about Mindfulness. As Jay says..
The purpose of practice is to develop a habit of awareness, to be able to hold your attention longer and longer on specific details. On the water you will be more mindful of you, your Laser and the wind.
And so I spend my days sailing up and down Bristol Harbor and doing practice starts and practice mark roundings and convincing myself that it's all doing some good and that I'm still not too old to learn to sail smarter and faster.

This Year Will Be Different.


Sunday, April 07, 2013

I Have Stumbled on the Answer

I haven't sailed for a week or so.

I haven't even blogged about sailing for a week.

But I have been thinking about sailing.

I have been thinking that one reason that I suck at racing is that I don't concentrate on the right things when I'm racing.

Some of the things I should be thinking about when I am racing...
  • Which side of the course is favored?
  • What is the current doing?
  • Am I on a lift or a header?
  • What is the wind doing?
  • Where is the next gust?

Some of things I am actually thinking about when I am racing..
  • Do I need to adjust my sail controls?
  • Can I cross this starboard tacker?
  • What are my telltales doing?
  • Why am I underpowered?
  • Why am I overpowered?

In other words, I am spending way too much time with my head in the boat and worrying about how to sail the boat faster and dealing with the boats in my immediate vicinity, and too little time thinking about the big picture of how to get to the windward mark in the lead. (Ha ha! Well, at least to get to the windward mark in the top half of the fleet.)

It has become clear to me that I have penetrated to the very core of things and I have stumbled on the answer...

Leonard Cohen has a very similar revelation about 7 minutes into this video...

Am I overthinking this?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mama Never Told Me There'd Be Days Like This


Mama never told me there'd be days like this.

How could she? She wasn't a Laser sailor.

I've had my moments when frostbiting this year.

Like last week when I had a decent day (for me) and finished in the top half of the fleet.

Or the even better day in February when I led the fleet around the windward mark in one race.

Yesterday was not a day like that.

Mama never told me there'd be days like this.

I just couldn't pull off a good start to save my life.

I just couldn't seem to find any upwind speed.

I was slow downwind.

And I couldn't work out why.

On the good side I did ace all the crowded leeward mark roundings (even if I do say so myself.)

And I passed boats on every one of the final short beats to the finish line.

Some days you're the windshield.

Some days you're the bug.

Yesterday I was the bug.

Mama never told me there'd be days like this.

But Doug / Pam of Improper Course did tell me there'd be days like this.

Look at the top of their blog.

There is this picture (attributed to Demetri Martin who wrote a book called This Is A Book.)

Yesterday was just one of the downward squiggles on the relentless journey to the top right hand corner of life.

Doug / Pam did tell me there'd be days like this.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Heavy Air Fear

Every dinghy sailor knows that they have an upper limit on the wind strength in which they are comfortable sailing.

For some it might be 18 knots; for others it could be 35 knots.

What goes through your head on a day when you go down to the bay and it appears to be blowing harder than that limit?

What do you say yourself to get you in the mood to go sailing?

How important is what other sailors say to your decision to sail or not?

Do you want other people to encourage you go out and test yourself against your limits or to encourage you to give into your fears?

Do men and women have different approaches to this issue? Is there a testosterone factor?

How important is peer pressure?

Do you want to be the guy who says, "It looks great out there. I'm going sailing. Who's coming with me?"

Or are you more likely to be the sailor who asks him, "Are you crazy?"

Does it make a difference whether this is a race day, a training day, or just a fun sailing day?

Do you think about the last time you had a bad day from sailing in too much wind, or about how much you will regret it tomorrow if you don't sail today?

Do you think about how hard it will be if you test your heavy air limits, or about how you might learn something about sailing in windy conditions?

What's stopping you from going sailing in these crazy winds - your lack of heavy weather skills, or your mental attitude?

If it's a skill deficiency, how are you going to ever improve if you don't go sailing today?

It it's mental attitude, how can you change your attitude?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Words of Wisdom Aren't Crap

Last Monday I wrote a typically rambling and incoherent post in which I questioned why the "words of wisdom" we often hear from winners of regattas are often simply well-known basic principles about boat-handling or tactics or strategy, "wisdom" that has even been published in sailing books before. They are not the super-secret magic go-faster tricks that many of us are hoping to hear. I speculated on various reasons why this may be so.

Today I was accused of asking "whether words of wisdom are just crap."

No. I don't think words of wisdom are just crap.

Having pondered the matter over a few glasses of good Scotch whisky in the intervening week, I think I have finally seen the truth.

The reason why all sailing regattas are won time and time again by the same few sailors, less than 5% of the total number of competitors, is that the rest of us non-winners simply fail to apply and execute those basic racing principles as consistently and well as the winners do.

Sure the winners may have excellent boatspeed, may even know the odd go-faster secret, but when they regurgitate the same old well-known principles such as how to get a good start, how to sail a beat in shifty, puffy conditions, or how to sail fast in waves downwind... they are really doing us non-winners a huge favor. They are telling us what we need to hear. "Get the basics right and you too will have the chance to be a winner."

Yes, it may also be true that we non-winners aren't as fit as the winners, and that we may not have practiced as much as the winners; but the fundamental reason we don't win is that we don't have the right habits, the habits of applying those basic principles every time in every race.

So how do you change habits? How do you develop good habits? Read any book on the subject or just do the 21st century thing and google it. You will get the same answers. All the experts will talk about the same things...

Write it down

Positive self-talk




In other words, the more you write about and think about and imagine what you want to do, the more likely it is that you will actually do it.

So no, I don't think words of wisdom are just crap.

Actually I think I need to read and study and write about and blog about those words of wisdom even more. Because then I might actually remind myself to apply those basic principles of how to win sailboat races, and convince myself I can really do those things well.

So I'm going to start blogging even more about words of wisdom, about all the well-known advice on how to race well, about how to win.

It might do me some good. It might even do some of my readers some good.

Watch this space...