Saturday, May 28, 2005


I used to tell myself that I ran to keep fit for sailing. But if I am honest with myself, I now run for its own sake. How did this happen?

At first when I started running over 20 years ago I just used to jog around the block. After a few years I entered a friendly 10k race one spring in my home town. My old competitive spirit reared its ugly head and from then I was hooked on road racing and cross country. Mainly 5 ks and 10 ks but the occasional longer race. It got so bad that I even chose to do a running race sometimes rather than a sailing regatta. Sick.

Last year things really got out of hand. After a very active summer of sailing activities, the pace of my life seemed to be winding down. So, looking for a new physical challenge I decided to train to run a marathon in January. My training wasn't all that scientific but somehow I managed to stumble around the marathon course in just over 5 hours.

This year I'm going to run the Disney World Marathon again. But I'm going to train for it more thoroughly and hope this will result in a faster marathon time. There's that old type A personality coming out again.

I've decide to use Jeff Galloway's training program. I've bought and studied his book. Galloway's theory of marathon running is that you can actually do better by taking a walk break every mile. It means that different muscles get used and the running muscles get some time to recover each mile. This should avoid the agonizing cramps that many experience in the last 6.2 miles of a marathon. Been there - done that - don't need to do that again.

My eldest son is mildy amused that anyone could write a whole book about running. "What is there to say?" he asks. "Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat for 26 miles. What else is there?"

Jeff's system involves 4 days of running a week and 2 days of cross-training. I like that. I will bike for one day of cross-training and count the hardest day of Laser sailing each week as the other day. And under the Galloway system there is only one really long, hard day of running each week during training - which for me will be psychologically easier than the 3 medium hard days per week that I had to do last year.

I need to start the program in July so now I am training to train. The first few weeks of the program involve running 40,20,40 minutes on 3 days and then a longer run of an hour or so on the weekend. I've already built up to that level but without the hill running that Galloway recommends in the program proper. And I will aim to do this amount of running per week from now until July to create a base level of fitness before starting into the full program.

I don't plan to turn this into a running blog; there are enough of those for goodness sake. One of my favorites is Running Chick with the Orange Hat. I love her description of the last 6.2 miles of the marathon. She really captures the agony and the ecstasy. At one point she loses faith in Galloway.

Dammit. Jeff Galloway’s book made it sounds like walking through the water stops would leave me with all sorts of energy for the end of the race. I’m still waiting. Where the hell is that energy I was promised!! He's a big, fat liar-head.

But I still have faith.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Engineer

I had the opportunity this week to tour the site of one of the leading high tech suppliers to the yachting industry. If you're a designer of America's Cup or Volvo yachts you know these guys and they know you.

The engineer who was my host was a tall, good looking, well mannered young man. Think Matt Damon only more handsome. He introduced me to his colleagues and showed me around the plant. He politely answered all my dumb questions as we visited the areas making the company's traditional product lines.

Then we entered the part of the building where he is installing the equipment to manufacture the company's next generation product. His face lit up as he enthusiastically demonstrated the equipment. It was fascinating to hear about the process of design and development and about all the details of manufacturing and product that have to be optimized. The engineer explained how this line will be technically superior to the competition's products and he proudly pointed out a couple of features that have some functional purpose but also add that special "cool" look that helps sell things in the real world.

The young man's energy and confidence were inspiring. He casually mentioned that he hadn't eaten lunch for weeks - because once he starts work in the morning on some aspect of commissioning he is just to engrossed to stop. So as it was now getting late I took him out for dinner.

It was obvious that the engineer was passionate about his work. Much more fun than spending 6 months redesigning a car door handle for Ford he explained. This was his first job out of university and he had always wanted to work for a small company, in an inherently interesting field, and build "cool stuff." He was living his dream.

How refreshing to spend time with a young person who has found his passion. A man who through sheer force of personality, energy, confidence or raw ability has persuaded his employer to let him run the sexiest project in the company. A guy who is clearly going places.

His parents must be proud of him. They are. The engineer is our youngest son.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


I'm a perfectionist. It's a curse not a virtue. It can make you into a demanding parent, an over-critical boss and an annoying spouse. I only hope that with age I am realizing the risks and reining back the perfectionist tendencies when they are in danger of causing damage. Perfectionism is a disease. Is there a Perfectionists Anonymous?

My perfectionism rears its ugly head whenever I am on race committee. I hate to see sloppy RC work by others. And I also want to manage perfect races when it's my turn to run the show. Of course perfection is unattainable but it doesn't stop me from making myself miserable trying to get there.

I was on race committee duty for Wednesday night racing. It was cold and windy and rainy. Awful weather. Only 5 guys showed up to race. The hard core. My assistant was late. That's another problem with begin a perfectionist; it makes you place an excessive value on punctuality. Then when she arrived she announced she had to go and change. I paced up and down making male chauvinist comments about waiting for women. How could we be perfect if we were going to be late getting the races started?

We motored out the course, checked the wind and dropped the buoys. The wind was shifty so a course that was perfect one minute would be wrong a couple of minutes later. Aaagh. Even the wind is conspiring against me.

My aim on Wednesdays is to keep the races rolling as quickly as possible. Minimum waits between races. If the RC hustles we can sometimes complete the maximum of five races before the wind dies or the light fails. Ahhh - a number to aim for - I won't be perfect unless I achieve five.

So the routine is to compromise in favor of keeping things moving rather than having things perfect. There's no time to futz around moving marks to respond to small windshifts. My course remained pretty good for the first four races but my first three start lines were less than square. No time to fix them - keep the ball rolling.

It was bitterly cold. And wet. I was wearing thermal underwear, two layers of warm clothing, waterproofs, lifejacket - and I was still cold. Somehow the rain was getting inside and soaking my clothes. Even more reason not to prolong the agony.

Our start procedures were spot on. Signals right on time. Early starters spotted and called back. At least we got one thing right.

We got the hang of laying a nice square start line for races 4 and 5. But in the middle of race 5 the wind shifted a long way. I contemplated moving the finish to a better upwind location but was too slow to react so the final leg was a fetch. Aaagh - beaten by the wind again.

Overall I gave us about 6 out of 10 for our performance. But I did overhear one of the sailors talking to another and praising our RC work. Overheard praise is the best kind. You never know whether to trust the sincerity of someone praising you to your face.

God it was cold. Changed into dry clothes. Then off to the Sunset for hot onion soup and mushroom pizza. Perfect!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Rainy Day Stories #12 and 35

The weather this week is cold and rainy. But it doesn't matter because I've been catching up on a number of administrative chores that are necessary for us all to enjoy racing our sailboats.

I'm involved in the organization of two regattas over Memorial Day weekend and I volunteered to write the sailing instructions. What other sport issues its competitors with two pages of tightly worded legalese before a friendly, amateur, holiday weekend event? Sure, some of it is necessary - sailors need to know the arrangements specific to this, signals, times of races etc. And I suppose we issue them in written form to avoid any confusion. But why does every set of sailing instructions always start with the words to the effect of "this regatta will be governed by the Racing Rules of Sailing......"? What rules do they think will be using? The rules of baseball?

So I've also been contacting people to remind them of the Laser regatta. It's the first Laser event we have hosted at this club so it's something of an unknown quantity. You never know how many folk will show up but you have to make plans for food and other arrangements on some assumption. My nightmare is that nobody shows up. But my favorite movie is Field of Dreams. So I have to believe, "if you build up they will come".

The company supplying the trophies for both regattas has screwed up. They got the inscription on one trophy wrong. Twice. This is a company that I've used a dozen times before with excellent results. And all of sudden they seem to have turned into sloppy, careless, idiots who don't check their work or think about what they are doing. Perhaps the guy doing my work has some issues....divorce, illness, drugs, sailing withdrawal symptoms....Who knows?

And this is the week I should be editing my newsletter. But I haven't made much progress yet. One of my contributors has written an article about landing on a lee shore complete with detailed diagrams of recommended techniques. He drew the diagrams using Autocad on a Mac; I produce the newsletter using MS Publisher on a PC. You think it would be easy to convert them to some standard file format and transfer them via email? Of course not. Moore's Law of Negative Productivity ensured that we would waste several days failing to transfer the files. Eventually I had to scan them off a printed copy he sent me.

If it wasn't cool and rainy I'd be even more frustrated at the time wasted when I could be out sailing or cycling or running. But the weather outside is awful. So....back to work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sailors' High

I wish I had the ability to write about sailing last Sunday. I don't. But I'll try.

I find it easy to write about the quirky curious things that draw my attention from day to day such as rattlesnake catchers or nipple rings or deodorant fragrances. It's so, so much harder to describe to someone else why I have such a passion for sailing. But if I could capture my feelings on Sunday you would understand it.

It wasn't the weather. At least not the sky. A bright warm sunny day certainly has the ability to lift my spirits and make me feel glad to be alive. But Sunday was cool, and damp, with dark, low, black clouds scudding across the sky and the threat of rain always present. If you had planned to go for a hike or do some gardening or go for a bike ride you would probably stay inside and watch the baseball on TV and get depressed.

But the weather was part of it. Or more precisely, the wind, of course. For a sailing day to be one of those "glad to be alive" days the wind has to be just right. And it was. I'm not good at knowing what a wind speed is in knots. I tend to relate the windspeed to how you sail a Laser in that wind. Sunday was a hike as hard as you can day. A feel so much pressure in the hiking strap you think you'll tear it out of the boat day. A day of wild planing reaches with the board humming and the spray flying that just last and last and last. Are you starting to get a feel for it yet?

And it wasn't the competition. I wrote a few days ago that I get more of a kick out of sailing if I have the challenge of competition. Now I think that's not entirely true. I enjoy sailing a racecourse more than just cruising around aimlessly. But the truth is that our new Sunday Laser fleet is not giving me much of a challenge yet. So every race was one of those ideal "win the start and extend your lead" races.

But the satisfaction was not from beating the other boats - I knew I could so where's the feeling of achievement in that? I admit that coming first sure beats coming in last. But racing in front of the fleet has another payback. You are sailing in clear air and can focus on watching the wind and eking out every ounce of boat speed. You are not distracted by other boats tacking on your air on the beats, or sitting on your wind on the runs, or luffing you up on the reaches. The wind is all yours to play with and exploit. Looking for the gusts, going for them, finding them and taking off on another wild, crazy ride. That's part of the pleasure of special days like last Sunday - you're alone, playing with the wind, not with the other boats. Of course boat to boat tactics are a pleasure all of their own. But Sunday was different. I owned the wind and nobody could prevent me from indulging myself.

I hope you're starting to understand. But I haven't begun to capture the full nature of the experience yet. The essence of the enjoyment I get from sailing a Laser is in the sheer, physical thrill of moving fast on this 14 ft slab of fiberglass. I know, it's not even really fast when compared to most 21st century thrill rides. Just a few knots. But it feels fast because you're so close to the water and you're working every muscle of your body to hurry, hurry, hurry. It's more exciting than skiing flat out straight down the steepest slope you can find. It's more breathtaking than diving off the highest board at the pool. It's just a bigger buzz than anything else I've ever experienced.

Then on top of that there is the feeling of mastery. I know just how to handle this beast. How to settle it down when it's feeling quirky. How to speed it up when it's feeling sluggish. How to keep it in the groove of fast and high, fast and high. How to let it go when it wants to accelerate in a puff. It - I've never called it she or given it a name - it is a wild beast, a bucking bronco that wants to throw me off but I know its tricks. I'm in control - but only just. I'm living on the edge.

So the thrill is all those things - solitude, freedom, speed, effort, risk, mastery. And more. There must have been something showing on my face or in my body language because the race committee seemed to be sensing I was out there, in some world of my own, on a high. As I passed the committee boat on the run of the last race I'm sure one of them said to me, "You de Man".

Runners talk about the "runners' high." There's all sorts of discussion about whether it exists or not and, if it does, its chemical cause. Endorphins they say. On Sunday I definitely experienced the sailors high. And it lasted a long time. I woke up at 4am on Monday morning and the memories of the afternoon were still bouncing around my brain. It was so intense I couldn't get back to sleep.

I wish I had the ability to really tell you about sailing last Sunday. I don't.

Perhaps the little kid in the snakecatcher story had the right answer. "Why do I do it.......Because it's fun?"

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Idiot Wind

The part of the reservoir that we sail in on Wednesday nights is at the center of a big Y shape. To the SE is the main area of the reservoir near the dam where we sail on Sundays. To the NW is the bay where our clubhouse is. And to the N is a long bay where one of the streams that feeds the reservoir enters.

Sometimes we get good steady winds for racing on a Wednesday evening. Sometimes we don't. This week we didn't.

I launched and sailed out to our race area just after 5pm. The wind immediately died. It filled in for a few minutes from the S. Then from the W. Then from the NE. Then it died again. Nick, who was race officer came out in the 14 foot skiff we use as a RC boat on Wednesdays. "What's the wind doing?" he asked. I told him.

My friend Ray and I lounged in our boats and watched to see if the wind would settle down from any particular direction. Nick started driving round, testing the wind direction and hopefully dropping buoys. Every time he set a windward mark the wind either died or changed direction. Ray decided it was hopeless and went home.

Just before 6pm the rest of the fleet started sailing out to the race area. At 6pm, when racing should start, there was no wind in the normal area but I could see some ripples on the water in the cove up to the N and so more or less decided to forget about racing and just go and sail up there in the cove for fun.

After a while it looked like Nick was about to start running a race having set a course in what he thought was a westerly. So I started heading back towards him. I arrived at the start area just in time to get a perfect start at the wrong end of the line. First lesson for racing in light airs - never stray far from the line. It was one of those races where the wind very cleverly shifted so that, although we sailed a triangular course, not a single leg was a beat. The last leg was one of those excruciating sails in hardly a breath of air where you just sit still and hope that the remnants of the wind will somehow nudge you across the finish line. Sometimes on Wednesday evenings you have to take what you can get.

By the time of the second race the wind had shifted 180 degrees from the original direction so we raced the same course the opposite way round. Made a great start. Again every leg was a reach. Finished third just ahead of Who is that guy?

By now the wind seemed to have strengthened to 5 or 6 knots and settled in to come out of the NW. Nick quickly reacted and motored off to set a new windward mark up towards the clubhouse. In order to keep things moving he called for a windward leeward race twice around. The wind went right making the first leg a close reach again and I nailed the start, winning the committee boat end of the line. Rest of the race was a disaster - couldn't point - was slow on the runs - got caught on the outside of a pinwheel at a leeward mark - fouled somebody - but hey I'm just doing this to practice starts.

The sun was almost setting behind the hill when Nick started the final race - another windward leeward race to the NW. I couldn't believe it - the wind finally stayed in same direction for 5 minutes and we had the first beat of the night. Got another great start and then was progressively passed by most of the fleet.

It was getting dark by the time we got back to the launch area. Nick received heartfelt congratulations from one and all for making the best of a bad job. Then off to the Sunset for beer and pizza. Which is what some of us really come for anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Choices, choices, choices

I went to the supermarket and remembered while I was there I needed to pick up a new stick of deodorant. I found the shelves and tried to make a choice between the various options.

Not gel. OK. Stick is good. Clear or Invisible Solid? Invisible sounds good.

But then I am faced with a bewildering choice of fragrances. Hell - I'm a guy. Am I supposed to care what I smell like? And the names aren't any help at all. They all seem to describe the smell of fresh air whatever that is. Or be aimed at sailors or mountaineers - which is fine for me but what is the other 99% of the male population supposed to do?

They have names like Cool Wave, Pacific Light, Wild Rain and Arctic Peak. I suppose they are all chosen by MBAs in the marketing department drawing 6 figure salaries - and then validated by focus groups. "What's your immediate reaction - Arctic Peak or Broccoli Armpits?".

Surf, Breeze, Frost. What do they tell me about how they will make me smell?

Or perhaps I am supposed to choose one that supports my own image of my masculinity? Just in case someone sees my deodorant in my bathroom do I want them to see me more as an Arctic Peak kind of guy - adventurous? outgoing? - or a Frost kind of guy - cool? terse? poetic?

After much consideration, and to bolster my new found confidence in heavy air sailing I choose Storm Force.

Ahhh. That feels better. I'm a new man. Definitely adds half a knot to my boat speed in 30 knots of breeze.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Snakes Alive!

When I started this blog I was hoping to communicate to others my passion for the sport of racing small sailboats - and to do it in a way that exposes the comic side of the activity too. It's not easy to explain a passion for a sport to outsiders. It's even harder to inject humor into ones writing. And I am well aware that my writing skills aren't nearly adequate for the challenge. I admire writers who can capture the essence of a sport in an entertaining and amusing way. Now, when I read a book or an article about sport or outdoor activities I am asking myself, "What makes this writing so gripping...or humorous..or informative?" I don't want to copy any other writer's style but I do want to learn from the experts.

The other day I picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated: Fifty Years of Great Writing at our local library. I've just been dipping in it, sampling writing about every sport you can imagine from baseball to boxing, hunting to horse racing. This morning I came across an hilarious article written by Jeff MacGregor about the annual Rattlesnake Derby in Mangum, Oklahoma. Now there's a real challenge - to write about why catching deadly snakes, is for some folk, the most fascinating thing on earth.

MacGregor has a mastery of descriptive writing that makes you feel you are actually there; and a sharp, sarcastic style that pokes fun at his subject. For example, as a writer about sailing I struggle to find original ways to describe wind. Here's MacGregor on Oklahoma wind, "a white-noise constant that blows grit up your skirt at 10 or 20 or 30 mph all day, every day." And here's his description of the taste of snake meat - "every rubbery, molar-binding, cheekload of barbed rib bones and fast-twitch-muscle meat resists, bites back. This is one oily, ornery little tenderloin. It's an angry flavor, metallic and full of resentment - like having a tiny jailhouse machine shop in your mouth." Great stuff - how does he think of a metaphor like "tiny jailhouse machine shop"?

MacGregor set himself two objectives for his journalistic assignment at the Rattlesnake Derby. 1. Find out how. 2. Find out why.

The "how" part of his job was easy. He concludes the answer is "A) Find a snake; B) Pick it up fast with a stick."

The "why" part is harder to understand. A poll of the crowd reveals little: "hale fellowship, good exercise, communion with the out-of-doors, thrill of the pursuit, fresh air, etc." As he points out this is just as true of quail hunting or lawn bowling "but with a greatly reduced chance of being bitten comatose by a pit-viper." I could add that you could apply the same list, more or less, to sailing. But it only starts to explain the real fascination.

So MacGregor continues his pursuit of truth. He goes snake hunting with the first ladies of Oklahoma and Arkansas. He visits one of the participants in the Derby who is in hospital after being bitten by a rattlesnake. He watches the Derby Princess being photographed with the Longest Snake of the Tournament around her neck. He even eats Southern fried rattlesnake "so you won't have to." The "why" these people hunt snakes is still a mystery.

Then he interviews a nine-and-a-half-year-old veteran snake hunter and asks him why he enjoys snake hunting...

"I don't know," he says......"Because it's fun?"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Different Strokes For Different Folks

EVK4 asks...
In the keelboat world, you have racers and cruisers. Do Laser and other dinghy people ever go out for an afternoon sail? or is it just racing racing racing?I have always assumed dinghy racing people translated their superior boathandling and trim skills to larger boats when not racing, but you haven't once written about that. Do you enjoy the sailing or the racing more?

Good question. Yes - a lot of people who own Lasers and other dinghies enjoy going out for an afternoon sail. In fact, if you look at the number of Lasers or Sunfish sold, and compare that with the number of active racers, you would have to conclude that the vast majority of such boats are used for recreational sailing. Or hardly used at all. Which is perhaps a more likely explanation. In the town where I live it seems to be a status symbol to have a Sunfish on some trestles by the side of the house. Some of them never leave the back yard all summer.

Do I go out and sail recreationally on the Laser sometimes? Yes - sometimes. And I enjoy it to an extent. But, for me, it does not compare with the challenges of competition. Maybe I'm just a type A personality.

As for big boats....Yes, I know some Laser racers that also enjoy cruising, or recreational sailing, or racing in bigger boats. I've tried them all. But, again speaking personally, I just don't get the same kick out of it. Perhaps part of the reason is also to do with my warped personality. Frankly I've never been much good at team sports - and being part of a crew on a big boat is all about teamwork. Every activity I get pleasure from are basically individual activities - Laser sailing, running, playing guitar (solo), writing. I don't recall exactly but I suspect my school report card should have had a comment "Does not play well with others."

But thanks for the question. Maybe I will try and write about some of my recreational sailing in the Laser. Or tell some of the stories about what went wrong on the few occasions when I tried big boat sailing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Race Committee

The race committee work on the last two Sundays at our club was.....well let's just say "less than perfect". At the time it made me angry when mistakes were made and racers got confused. Especially because, both weeks, new members of our budding Laser fleet were sailing at the club for the first time. After having spent time encouraging these people to join our fleet it's personally embarrassing when our race committees make us look like a bunch of bumbling idiots.

But I have to assume that the volunteers on race committee are trying their best. And that the solution is to provide everyone in the club with better training on how to be a successful race committee. A great resource to use in such education is this publication from US Sailing - Join the Race Committee Team.

I like the way it emphasizes the need for teamwork; that it explains how everybody in the team should have a clearly defined role that plays to their skills and strengths; and I especially like that there are several scenarios in the book that describe almost second by second what each person in the team should be doing and saying during a typical (successful) starting sequence.

Should be compulsory reading for anyone serving on a race committee.


I've been checking out what is bringing people to read this blog.

There are the expected visitors who find me via the links from two of my favorites sailing blogs, Zephyr and EVK4 bloglet.

Then there was a flurry of hits last Friday from a variety of domains. I assume that Proper Course must have been listed for a while on Next Blog or Recently Updated.

But most interesting to me is when a Google search finds one of my postings. Most of these searchers must be disappointed as they are clearly not looking for a relaxing read about some old geezer sailing his Laser. Usually they are a search for one of the more bizarre phrases in my blog. Such as "Where do flies go in the winter?" Or "female goosebumps". Boy, that guy must have been disappointed. A surprising number of the searches found a hit against one of the sundry items in my post about Bumper Stickers.

But the one that got me really worried was the one from the domain that was searching for the phrase "So Many Christians So Few Lions". Now why is someone in the US Department of Justice looking for websites that have a slogan like that? Has the religious right infiltrated the Bush administration to an extent beyond our (and perhaps their) wildest dreams? Is there a secret team working in the basement of the D of J trying to hunt out people who dare make fun of religion? Did John Ashcroft really retire - or is he spearheading an undercover task force aimed at restoring Amerika to its true faith?

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Fixing a Hole

I was driving to the lake to go sailing on Sunday morning. One of my sons had brought his new girlfriend to spend a couple of days with us and we had all got on fine. I was looking forward to sailing and the sun was shining. Life was good.

I was playing the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album on the CD player in the car. "Fixing a Hole" was blasting out at full volume.

"And it really doesn't matter if
I'm wrong I'm right
Where I belong I'm right
Where I belong"

The lyric took me back to the year Sergeant Pepper came out. My friends and I were at college and were playing the record in a break between studying for final exams. The idea of "it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right" seemed especially perverse in the context of the high pressure exams facing us and always caused hysterical laughter.

Then I realized it fitted perfectly with my approach to practicing racing starts that I'd been writing about in last week's postings. It really doesn't matter which side of the start line I'm on as long as I'm close to it. If I'm wrong I'm right. OCS is OK.

Uh oh. Just blew straight past my exit off the Interstate. Have to head a further 4 or 5 miles to the next exit and make a U turn. Definitely a senior moment. Silly old geezer.

"I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in
And stops my mind from wandering
Where it will go

I'm filling the cracks that ran through the door
And kept my mind from wandering
Where it will go"

Indeed. The old mind is wandering a lot these days.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Nipple Rings

Whoa. What's that title got to do with sailing?

Let me explain. In the summer I teach a sailing program to kids. And to work on this program I have to be a qualified US Sailing instructor. And to keep my instructor qualification current I have to renew my American Red Cross CPR certification each year.

So on Tuesday evening I showed up for my annual CPR refresher course and exam. The instructor was a really sweet man. A bit gushy - he introduced himself to me twice. He was about my age and was wearing cargo pants with a definite permanent wedgie.

The course was going fine but we began to have doubts when he advised us to keep a teddy bear in the car so we could practice CPR any time we wanted. Hmmm. Then he told us a story about how his "room mate" had saved the life of someone bitten by a black mamba snake. Very useful I am sure but we don't get many black mambas on our lake in New Jersey.

Part of the course was revising how to use an AED - an automated external defibrillator. This involves attaching two pads to the patient's bare chest in order to apply an electric shock. This process really got our man into some interesting areas. He reminded us that, of course, on a woman patient one would need to remove her bra. Fair enough. Then he showed us a glimpse of his hairy chest and pointed out that chest hair would need to be removed, with a dry razor if necessary. "Otherwise the smell can be really bad." Our imagination filled in the rest. Then he really freaked out the class when he reminded us that, if the patient had nipple rings, they would have to be cut off, "Or you might get sparks..." Stunned silence. We thought about that for a minute and then one of the female students asked with a visible shudder, "Cut them exactly?" This really got our friend going - he discussed different gauges of nipple vs stainless steel.....techniques for chopping off the same.... Fascinating stuff.

I just pray that if I ever need to use the AED on one of my teenage female students I won't have to use all my new found knowledge on removal of said rings.

Crossing the Line

Sometimes you don't know where a line is unless you cross it occasionally.

For example, If you are working hard and getting straight A's at school, you won't know how little work you can get away with until you slack off and get some B's.

Or, if you always arrive for work early you won't know how late you could come and still not get noticed by your boss until you push the limits and incur her displeasure occasionally.

That's basically my problem with starting sailboat races. I'm so concerned not to be over the start line that I hardly ever get close enough to it to get a good feel of where it really is. (For non-sailors mystified by this problem, just remember that the start line of a sailing race is an imaginary line on the water between two moored objects which most of the time you can't see when you really need to because of all the other idiots milling around in boats that are in your way. And if you don't start on the line then you will almost certainly have a terrible race).

So my solution is to push the limits in our Wednesday night series. I will be on the line - and even over it a few times - until I get a better feel for how to be just on it.

First race it worked like a dream. The pin end of the line and the left side of the course were favored, and there was a crowd at the pin. I parked a couple of boat lengths to windward of the crowd, reached into the hole at 5 seconds to go and was off in clear air. One of the crowd was over early and most of the rest were gasping for air. Hit the first shift, tacked and led at the windward mark and all round the course. Wow. Is this what I have been missing all these years? Can it really be this easy? How do you spell hubris?

Tried the same approach in the second race. But the boats to leeward of me were closer. I reached over them at the start anyway and was off. Ha!!. Of course I was OCS. The race committee called me over. In returning I fouled one of the other starters. Did a 720. Restarted. The rest of the fleet was already halfway up the beat. Oh well. At least I'm in clear air. Sailed fast and just managed to catch the fleet and ended up second to last. Didn't really mind as I'm resigned to at least one OCS a week while I'm improving my starts.

Last race the wind was swinging right and the extra pressure on the left had disappeared. Got on the line early and luffed by the committee boat. Had a nice hole to accelerate into and was off in clear air. As expected the wind continued to shift right and I was first at the windward mark. This time my luck didn't last as the wind died halfway up the final beat and a couple of boats who had hit the right corner were able to reach into the finish in the light airs and pass me.

All in all a worthwhile experiment and one I shall continue all season. Two great starts and one disastrous one. If I cared about my series scores the end-result wouldn't be much better than my usual string of OK-ish to mediocre starts. (Our scoring system doesn't allow any throwout scores). But that's not the point. I am even proud of my OCS - it shows I am really pushing the line. I think this is going to work.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Racing Start

The picture above clearly illustrates how important it is to get a good start in a sailing race - and how tough it can be.

How many Lasers can you in the start area in the picture? 35 maybe? And how many are on the start line in the front row? A dozen perhaps? Actually there were 56 boats in that start - some them are so buried that you can't even see them.

So out of 56 boats, over 40 are going to be starting in bad air and are never going to recover from their poor start.The photo was taken of a typical start in the Laser frostbite fleet last winter at Cedar Point Yacht Club, Westport, CT.

Mental Game

The Yankees won again on Wednesday. A wild high-scoring game. Awful starting pitching from both sides. Yankees were 5-0 down before they came to bat. But they got those runs back in the first inning and then went on to win even though their starting pitcher gave up 9 runs. A classic come-from-behind win just like the Yankees of the late 90s.

So now they've won five in a row after their worst start to the season in 80 years. What changed? It's still basically the same guys. They didn't get stronger. They didn't develop new skills. The only thing different is mental attitude. Somehow they started believing in themselves. A couple of well-pitched games and the batters relaxed and started scoring runs again. So much so that even when their pitcher let them down, they had the confidence to go out and score more runs than he gave up.

As Yogi Berra said "Baseball is 90% mental -- the other half is physical." I'm sure it's just as true of sailing. I start reading "The Mental Edge" by Kenneth Baum, determined to work seriously on my mental game this year.

Happy Birthday Yogi - 80 today. And thanks for the sailing tip.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Getting Unstuck

I've been thinking about how to get "unstuck" from my current plateau of sailing performance. It seems to me that my biggest weakness is my starting technique. I am much too cautious at starts. I tend to approach the start line (from downwind) late. Sometimes I don't get into the front row. And even if I do line up in the front row I am too hesitant to accelerate well and beat the boats to windward and leeward of me. Essentially I'm too worried about being over the start line early that, most times, I don't get a good start. Then I'm sailing in bad air, and have to tack out and duck transoms to find a clear lane. Other boats are dictating my strategy and I'm just losing distance on the leaders all the time.

I know that when I get a good start, the race is a different experience. I am sailing in clear air and going fast. I can see up the course, see the wind on the water and can decide which side of the course looks best. And I have the freedom to go that way.

So how to break out of my bad habits? The seminar in Florida was a great help - lots of practice starts when the results didn't matter and we could experiment with different approaches. The trick is to establish a more aggressive starting style and not slip back into old habits in "real" races. I decide that one way to wire a better habit into my brain is to use our Wednesday night Sunfish series just to practice starts. I will be up on the line every time. I won't even worry about being over early (or in racing terminology OCS - On Course Side). In fact if I'm not called OCS at least once every week it will be a sign I'm not really trying.

After all, my real focus this year is Laser sailing. And my bumper sticker does say, "LASER - other boats are just practice".

The Yankees won again on Tuesday night - another close game - another save by Mariano. Life is good.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Yesterday I gave my lawnmower its annual maintenance. Or to be more precise I did the maintenance that should be done annually but which, in truth has been neglected for almost 10 years. Now the poor machine is caked up with oil and dust and grime and 10 years of accumulated grass clippings. It rattles and shakes and I am sure there are a few bolts missing.

I could have neglected it for another year but I was feeling good. Sailing went well on Sunday and the Yankees had won two games in a row. We're on a roll. A winning streak. I forgot that I am the biggest klutz in the world, ignoring the fact that whenever I attempt some mechanical task like this I usually break a tool, break the thing I am mending, or injure myself. Or all of the above.

Full of optimism I attempt the first task, removing the nut that holds the blade. Hmmm - seems pretty tight. I try everything in the klutz handbook to remove it. Adjustable wrench. Bigger adjustable wrench. Hammer the handle of the adjustable wrench. WD40. Socket set. Torque wrench. More WD40. Hold the blade with my foot and lever with all my weight. More WD40. Hmmm - it's really stuck. I guess that's to be expected after 10 years of use and rust.

So I give up for a while. I go to the computer and do some email. I seem to remember that in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", Pirsig has a whole chapter about "stuckness". How one little screw with a chewed-up head can make an expensive machine worthless. His solution, as I recall, is all about letting go of the subject-object duality or some such Zen-like concept. Now how do I do that again?

Then I think back to the days when I used to manage two groups of computer technicians. One group were arrogant, bearded, sandals-wearing nerds who had slightly higher technical knowledge than the other group of polite, mild-mannered, smartly dressed yuppies. The second group occasionally had to ask the arrogant, bearded, sandals-wearing nerds for advice. The usual response was "RTFM" - meaning Read The Manual. Oh - maybe I'd better try that. I dig out the lawnmower maintenance manual from the back of the filing cabinet. "To remove the nut, hold the blade with a padded glove....". I try it. It comes undone straight away. Duh.

The rest of the job goes like a dream. I strip the mower down. I clean it. I oil it. I clean the spark plug. I sharpen the blade. I replace the missing bolts. I reassemble it and even manage to get everything back in the right order. I look on the ground. There are no parts left over!! The engine starts first time!! Life is good.

On Monday evening the Yankees win again. It's a close game and Mariano Riveira doesn't blow the save. Life is good.

Now, if only I could solve my "stuckness" problems in sailing as easily.......

Monday, May 09, 2005

Exercise Machine

I woke up this morning.....(this sounds like the start to one of those cheesy old blues song).

Anyway I woke up this morning....aching all over. I guess that sailing a Laser for 3 hours after not sailing one for 2 weeks will do that to a middle-aged unfit body. Seems like every major muscle group is aching. Calves, quads, lower back, shoulders, forearms. For some reasons my biceps hurt the most. Ouch.

But it's a good ache. Just like the overall ache you feel after a strenuous workout at the gym. Ha ha - how would I know that? I'm just guessing this is how I would feel if I had the moral strength to actually (a) join a gym and (b) go for a workout there on any day except New Year's Day.

There's no doubt, sailing a Laser for a few hours in over 20 knots does give you a great all body workout. Maybe somebody will invent an exercise machine that achieves the same effect. Of course to make it realistic and simulate the strategy and tactics of small course racing you would have to have a computer hooked up to it so you could be playing a game of video chess at the same time. And then to really give you a feel for sailing, one of the gym attendants would have to stand by the machine and throw a bucket of icy cold water over you every 10 seconds.

On second thoughts I think I'll stick to the real thing.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Feeling Good

Today was one of those days that make you glad to be alive.

I arrived at the lake and helped a new member of the Laser fleet rig his boat. The wind was whistling in the rigging of the boats in the boat park - probably gusting in the mid-20s. I was raring to go. After 8 days of heavy air practice I was feeling confident.

One of the other sailors came by - a man whose ability I respect enormously, and he asked if I was going out. I was flabbergasted. Is there any question? Of course I am.

When we get out to the race area there are whitecaps all over the course and a few of the less experienced sailors have already returned to shore. The beat is a gut-wrenching, thigh-burning, back-aching grind but it's fun. Downwind the boat just skims over the wavetops. In these conditions, I think the boat goes faster on a lake with little waves than on the sea where it slows down as it tries to go over each wave. Halfway down the run in the second race, a humongous gust hits us. The boat starts to death roll but I throw my body over the side and keep steering. For what feels like 10 seconds I am suspended like that with only the gunwhale in the water as the boat skids downwind heeled at 45 degrees on the edge of control. Somehow it flattened and then it's a wild wild ride all the way to the leeward mark. I look behind and everywhere I see upturned hulls with centerboards pointing to the sky. Man this is fun.

When I get back to shore after racing, I am still pumped up. It seems that my early season practice in Florida and N. Carolina has paid off. Now I am loving the heavy stuff. I'm feeling good.

On the car radio on the way home I listened to the end of the Yankees game. For the second day in a row they have had superb starting pitching and have shut out the Oakland A's. Life is good.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Three Year Rule

Since I retired from "real" work about 5 years ago, I've taken on various voluntary jobs - and one paid summer job - in sailing. At various times I've been district regatta scheduler, newsletter editor, fleet captain, sailing instructor, club secretary, junior series organizer and publicity chairman. Most of these are rewarding in their own way but I've found that the satisfaction payback goes through a definite cycle. I'll use the newsletter editor job as an example.

In the first year it was all new and interesting. Having no skills or experience in newsletter design or editing, I did a bit of research. Everyone seemed to say that consistency in design was important. My predecessor had produced a newsletter with a hodgepodge of visual styles and fonts. So after a bit of experimenting I settled on a simple clean design with a minimal number of fonts. I made sure I had interesting articles and I spent the time to make sure there were no mistakes. And, like Mussolini, I made the trains run on time.

I thought these were pretty basic things, but I got some satisfaction from learning new skills and getting the fundamentals right. And I received a lot of positive feedback and thanks from my readers.

After about a year I started to get a bit more ambitious. Introduced more humor into the newsletter with quirky clip-art, punning headlines and the occasional article by myself highlighting some lighter aspect of the sport. It was fun seeing how creative I could be; my professional life had not been one that rewarded a sense of fun. My efforts seemed to be appreciated as after two and a half years in the job I was awarded the prestigious club trophy for Outstanding Service. Wow.

But now that I've been doing the job for just over 3 years, the psychic payback is diminishing. I don't feel that I'm trying any new things. I think I'm still doing an OK job but the monthly cycle of producing the newsletter is starting to feel more like a chore.

And then I realized that some of the other jobs went through the same evolution. Year 1 - new, exciting, challenging, learning, getting on top of the fundamentals. Year 2 - creative, exploring, pushing the boundaries, seeing how good it can be. Year 3 - mastery, but less challenge, leading to disillusionment.

So I'm thinking of making myself a new rule. Whatever voluntary job I take on I will never do it for more than 3 years. After 3 years I will look for something new. That way I will keep challenging myself to learn new things and I will not become some boring old fart stuck in a rut.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Who is that guy?

On the first Sunday of our sailing season last week I was on race committee. Before the races, I spotted a new face rigging a Sunfish and went over to introduce myself and to welcome him to the club. He had a brand new Sunfish and told me he hadn't sailed a Sunfish before.

Hmmmm - I was skeptical - something didn't quite add up. He was dressed in all the cool gear for a racing sailor - skin tight rash guard, low profile buoyancy aid, wrap-around sunglasses. Usually new sailors wear some geeky gear that looks like they bought it at a garage sale. This guy at least looked like he could sail.

Then I looked at his boat. The Sunfish is a strict one-design so there's not much you can do to the boat. But the top racers in the class know all the tricks and this boat had them all. Thin sail ties instead of the clunky clips. A painted rudder suggesting that some work had been done to improve it. Gooseneck and halyard in exactly the right positions. Either some expert had set this boat up for him or he had done some serious research.

"But you've done some sailing before?" I asked.

"Oh ....some.....mainly in scows" he replied.

Sure. As we motored out to the course in a brisk northwesterly I could see him surfing the little waves on our lake like an expert. He got a bit confused by our idiosyncratic starting system but once he started he was off like a bullet. Rock steady upwind, round the windward mark, catch a wave and planing all the way downwind. The wind got stronger and he got faster. He was blowing away excellent sailors from our club who were sailing supposedly faster classes. Hmmmm - he may be new to Sunfish but this guy has done some serious racing before and knows how to sail fast in the heavy stuff.

Our mystery man showed up for our friendly Wednesday evening Sunfish racing this week. The wind was much lighter but he was just as impressive. He gave no quarter on the start line using every legal tactic in the book to ace every start. Then he was away in clear air in every race. Given the fluky conditions he didn't win every race but he sure dominated all evening.

Over beer and pizza (which he couldn't join us for) everyone in the fleet was asking "Who IS that guy?". So the next day I googled him. Ahah. Someone of that name won a national championship in E-Scows a few years back. Our friend was being too modest.

But then I thought again, No - he is not being too modest. What are you supposed to do if you move to a new part of the country and join a new sailing club and start racing in a new class? You can hardly brag of your previous sailing achievements to everyone you meet. "Oh yeah - I was on the winning America's Cup boat with Dennis Conner in '92 and I beat Buddy Melges in the Nationals in '86 and I'm currently ranked 3rd on the Swedish Match Tour". (I made that bit up - that's not our guy's resume - but you get the idea). No - you just have to let the folk at your new club find out for themselves and let your performance speak for itself.

Meanwhile the wires are buzzing. Who is he? What's his name? Is he coming to this regatta? I think the local hotshots are sweating a little.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


At the club where I sail in the summer months we are trying to start up a Laser fleet. I offered to take on the role of Laser fleet captain for this year. Over the winter, through some minimal publicity on the web, I managed to identify a number of potential fleet members. They all indicated that they were interested in racing Lasers at our club this year and I have been keeping in touch with them by email during the last few months.

Now that the season is starting I have been harassing via email - no I mean gently encouraging - these sailors to come out and race with us. The weather is still a bit chilly for summer sailors so I don't expect a great response for a few weeks. But the excuses that these sailors come up with for not sailing are fascinating to me.

Some plead family or work commitments - mother's day, wife's birthday, doing a course this weekend. Fair enough - sailing is only a game - family and work come first - at least for some.

Others say they have injuries that prevent them sailing for now - broke my thumb, tore a ligament. Hmmm - maybe. On the other hand I always seem to have some kind of minor injury these days and I don't let them stop me from sailing.

But the one that wins the grand prize is "I had a heart transplant and I'm still in rehab". This brave soul then inquired politely if we had rescue boats on the water during racing at the club. I don't know whether to admire the guy's courage and determination in wanting to get back into Laser racing after a heart transplant or to worry about what we will do if he has a medical emergency of some kind while racing. On the other hand, he probably has a 20 year-old heart, whatever his chronological age is, so he could be fitter than any of us.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Heavy Air Fear

I'll tell you a secret.

Though I love to brag about how much I enjoy heavy air sailing in a Laser, "Man it was crazy out there....must have been blowing 30......whitecaps and spray everywhere......there were capsizes and broken masts all around me.... you could ride a wave for was the best ever" ..... really it scares me shitless.

But it's a good scary. Like the feeling you get when you get to the top of a black ski run and you have to lean forward to actually see down the slope. And then you wish you hadn't. Or the moment when you go over the top of a roller coaster and see the next downhill stretch. There's something about the human brain that actually takes a delight in being scared, living through the frightening experience and then coming out the other side laughing. But there are limits.

I could see for days ahead that the third day of the Laser US Nationals was going to be real windy. A cold front was forecast to cross the Carolina coast bringing cooler temperatures, heavier winds and thunderstorms. On the morning of Saturday the forecast was for 35mph winds, 7 foot swells and lightning. Not exactly ideal conditions for racing in a 14 foot dinghy.

I arrived at the club and it was howling. Did anybody really think we would actually race on a day like this? Nobody was rigging their boats. But the race committee was loading their supplies on to their motor boats. Still nobody was rigging a Laser. At about the last possible moment when you could still rig, launch and get out to the course in time for the first race, some brave soul hoisted a sail. A few other idiots including myself followed suit. By the time the first race committee boat blew a horn and left the dock, about half the Lasers were rigged. But nobody launched.

Then an amazing thing happened. The top two sailors in my age group approached me and said they didn't want to sail and would I agree not to sail too. I should explain that in the Laser class you are seen as old and over the hill when you turn 35. Laser sailors over 35 are known as "masters"; this does not imply mastery; it just means you are an old geezer. So, to recognize our decrepit, incompetent, weakling status the Nationals was offering a trophy for the first old geezer in each 10 year age range over 35. At this stage I was lying third in the regatta in the "incredibly old and we are amazed they actually are still alive" age group.

I could see what was going on. If the leading two sailors didn't race and I did, then, depending on how many races were sailed today and tomorrow, there was an outside theoretical mathematical chance that I might actually win the decrepit, incompetent, aged weakling award. Hmmm. How to respond? I didn't really want to sail either. But it was too good an opportunity for mischief.

The leader in our age group - a sailor whom I regard as being in a totally different league to myself - was saying with a touch of nervousness in his voice, "After all, it is supposed to be a pleasure craft."

I looked thoughtful. "I don't know. I was really looking forward to getting some practice in the heavy stuff. Should be fun." The other two looked dismayed.

In the end I relented and shook hands on our agreement to strike. Are we an old geezers union now?

I headed off with the love of my life for some simple tourist pleasures - a beer and a burger for lunch in a pub by the river, and visits to an aquarium and a Civil War fort. In the end, all racing was canceled for the day as I suspected it would be.

It is good to know that other old geezers feel the same about heavy air as I do. Perhaps the youngsters do too - though they would never admit it.

Monday, May 02, 2005


In his book 'Sail, Race and Win' Eric Twiname says that too many sailors rely on racing as virtually their only way of learning. Unfortunately more racing does not necessarily mean better results. The reason is that the way to improve a technique is to experiment. You have to try out different ways of doing things to find a better way. And in the short term that experimenting makes us worse. So most people are reluctant to experiment too much during a race. Twiname's suggestion is to use some races purely as opportunities to experiment with different sailing techniques and accept that you are going to do worse than usual at first.

It was in this spirit that I entered the Laser US Nationals at Wrightsville Beach, NC last month. I knew in any case that my results in a regatta at that level would be nothing to write home about. (Or blog about). And I knew that one of my weaknesses was sailing in heavy air and especially sailing in waves. So I decided to use the regatta to work on various techniques for sailing in those conditions and not even think about my scores.

After each start I tried to get a clear lane where I could practice working my boat through the waves without being distracted too much by other boats. I tried various ways of steering through waves. I experimented with using body movement to help the boat get cleanly over each wave. And I played around with various sheeting techniques. After a while I seemed to be going faster. But the one thing that improved - even though I wasn't really concentrating on it - was my tacking. In particular to ease just the right amount of sheet in each tack and come out of the other side of the tack with the boat consistently under control. I realized that I hadn't had a consistent way of easing out and sheeting in - even though I've been tacking Lasers for over 20 years.

Weird. Is there some rule of learning that says that when you concentrate on one thing you actually improve another?

Downwind on the first day of the regatta when it was blowing in the high teens I was really concentrating on staying upright. After a while I got used to the pattern of the waves and wasn't spooked that some wave from an unexpected direction wasn't go to roll me. Prayer seemed to help a lot too.

On the second day when the wind was a little less I really got to enjoy working the waves downwind. I played around with sailing at different angles trying to improve my feel for what was "hot". I began to believe that IF I could sail in these conditions every week (instead of on boring flat inland lakes); and IF I could do that for 20 years; and IF I had started sailing waves when I was 20 years younger...I might actually get the hang of this.

The last day of the regatta it was really honking by the end of the only race. High 20s probably. I just tried to use whatever had worked well earlier in the week. Although I had said that I would not think about my results, it turned out that that last race was my best one of the week. Which is always a good way to end a regatta.

So perhaps I did learn something after all. Thanks Eric.