Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stay Inside the Opposition


I screwed up.

I said I would write a series of posts explaining the sometimes abstruse sailing writings of Dr Stuart Walker in language that the average sailor might understand. But my first post in this series, Big Fleets and Small Fleets, had a sentence that Litoralis (MIT graduate, former junior sailing champion and college sailor) didn't understand. If he doesn't get it, I guess it may have confused a few others too.

So what was the advice that was so hard to understand? I paraphrased it slightly in my post, so let me quote the original sentence from Chapter 5 of Dr Walker's book, Positioning: The Logic of Sailboat Racing (with the words that caused the confusion in bold). In big fleets, Walker says that
rarely is one side of the course obviously advantaged, nor is the wind oscillating so you can play the shifts. So...

you must continuously play the fleet, "taking what you've got when you've got it." "keeping inside and to windward on the tack out from the rhumb line," "ahead and to leeward on the way back," "avoiding the laylines," "digging back in" whenever the opportunity arises.

Wait. What do all those quotation marks mean? Surely the learned doctor is not guilty of the sin of unnecessary quotations. No. He must be referring back to advice in an earlier chapter. Isn't he?

Well, not exactly. Chapter 3 Strategic Principles sorta kinda addresses these issues but without exactly that language. Chapter 4 Racing Maxims is just a list of bullet points covering all kinds of topics and a couple of the points are close to that quoted paragraph, but not the same words. So what the hell is our friend quoting?

Ahah. Here it is. In Chapter 33. Whaaaat? Walker quotes Chapter 33 in Chapter 5 without telling you? Yup. Now do you understand why his books can be such a hard read?

So what the hell does it mean?

Well, it's all about risk management. Let me just emphasize again that this advice is for those situations when you can't be sure that one side of the course is advantaged, or that you have a reliably oscillating wind. Conditions that my friend Mike, from Mike and Charlie, seems to sail in about 90% of the time.

Walker says stay "inside" on the tack away from the rhumb line, and "ahead" on the way back. What he's saying essentially is that whichever tack you are on, you should aim to be closer to the center of the course, the "rhumb line," than your opposition.

And why is that? Think of it this way. You do know that when you're on the layline, however the wind shifts you're going to lose to other boats? (If not, I'll cover that next week.) So, on the layline if the wind shifts you have a 100% chance of losing out. On the other hand when you are in the center of the course there is a much greater chance that a shift will be to your advantage. Between these two extremes, the probability that a wind shift will favor you is on a spectrum: near the layline bad odds; near the center of the course better odds.

So if you don't know what the wind is going to do, by all means move out to the side of the course early, on the lifted shift and/or towards the side of the course that might be advantaged, but when you get a header dig back in towards the center of the course and try and stay closer to the rhumb line than your opponents. That's the way to play the odds.

Does that make sense?

Here endeth the Second Lesson in Walker's Words of Wisdom on Wednesdays.


It would be comical if it weren't... well... Comic.

You may or may not have been following the legal battle currently being fought over the next America's Cup. Rule 69 Blog is one of the best sources, if you're really interested.

One of the crucial points in the argument is whether CNEV, the club accepted as Challenger of Record by Alinghi, is a real yacht club at all or just a sham front invented for the purpose of making a challenge for the Cup. And one of the issues in deciding whether CNEV qualifies as a yacht club under the terms of the Deed of Gift is whether they run an annual regatta on an arm of the sea as required by the Deed.

I'm sure Carol Anne, the sailing bloggers' English language expert, would have something to say on the matter. Especially as she corrected me last year when I tried to claim that the first running of our club's Sock Burning Ceremony qualified as a "first annual" occasion. Carol Anne pointed out that "something can't be annual until it has happened a second time a year later." Yet CNEV is trying to claim that a regatta yet to be run, one that will be held in November this year, is the necessary "annual" regatta.

Scuttlebutt has news on the issue today with some legalistic arguments based on how the rules of the Royal Spanish Yachting Federation apply to the recently published Notice of Race for this future "annual" regatta.

But look at the Notice of Race. Do you see what I see? Come on guys. You can't be serious. The NOR for this regatta whose validity may determine the outcome of the current lawsuits about the America's Cup, and that will in turn influence the timing, format, competitors, boats and much else about the next America's Cup regatta... the NOR is written in that joke of a typeface, Comic Sans!

Nobody in their right mind uses Comic Sans for a serious document. Even the creator of this jokeface, Vincent Connare, will tell you that it was never meant to be a real typeface, just something you used in applications for children or in comic book style talk bubbles. There's even a website dedicated to the battle to ban comic sans.

So for me the question of whether CNEV is a real yacht club is over. They shot themselves in the foot. It would be comical if it weren't Comic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mike and Charlie

Charlie Champion has checked the weather forecast with four different sources on the Internet. He has been down to the local fishing dock and picked the brains of the fishermen about tides and currents and weather and winds. He has been out on the course with a training partner (and maybe a coach in a Mommy Boat) for the last three days. He has spotted when and where the wind shifts and has exhaustively tested both sides of the beat.

Mike Midfleet went out for a blast round the bay in his Laser on the two days before the regatta. He had some fun in the waves. He had a three hour alcoholic lunch on a cool restaurant in the marina one day and went for a romantic stroll on the beach with his wife the other day.

Charlie Champion is confident in his boat handling and boat speed. He knows he can hold his place on the start line with the best in the world. He knows
he can get his bow out in front and can accelerate off the start line faster than any of the competition. He knows he can hold his lane and sail in clear air up the beat. He knows that his superior boat speed will give him the freedom to tack when he reaches the first shift.

Based on the practice race, Mike Midfleet thinks he may be faster than about the half the boats in the fleet. He is not confident in his abilities to mix it up with the best in the world on the start line.

Charlie Champion knows the left side of the course is favored. He sets up for the start close to the pin end of the line. He has a good transit of the mast of the pin boat against a house on the shoreline. He knows exactly where the start line is and that he can hit the line with speed when the gun goes. He protects a hole to leeward by bearing off, pushing his boom out, and glaring fiercely at anyone who seems likely to enter his hole. He sheets in and accelerates a few seconds before the gun. He knows he will be in the first five at the windward mark.

Mike Midfleet has no idea which side of the course is favored but he does notice that most of the fleet heads left in every beat. He has no idea where the start line is; there are so many boats at the pin end that he can't see the pin boat and its flag. Mike allows other boats to come into leeward of him and steal his gap. When the gun goes he is gasping for air.

I think you can guess whether I was more like Mike or Charlie at the Masters Worlds. My strategy, to the extent that I had one at all, was to find a place on the start line that wasn't too crowded, preferably near the right end of the line so that if I did get a bad start at least I could tack out to clear air on the right without taking too many transoms.

It didn't work out too badly. One way or another I usually managed to find a good lane with clear air not too long after the start and arrive at the first mark in the top half of the fleet.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

OK. Time to get serious in analyzing what went well, and what didn't at the Masters Worlds in Spain... and what I need to do about it. It's all been buzzing around in my head the last three weeks and I think I've got it straight now.

So I plan a series of posts over the next week or so talking about how I think I did in various aspects of the racing, and then speculating on what I can do to improve in each area. At the moment I think the topics will be...

  • Starting and Strategy -- not always spoke of in the same breath but they are related.

  • Boat Speed

  • Mark Roundings

  • One Particular Weakness

  • Finishes

  • Fitness

I hope you will join in and tell me what you think of my various errors, weaknesses and screw-ups, and more importantly how to correct them.

Lura pensionärshemmet, dö i din Laser

You may wonder where that tongue-in-cheek piece of advice to older sailors, "Cheat the nursing home, die on your Laser" comes from...

As well as posting it in the title bar of this blog, I also have it as a bumper sticker on my car and occasionally have to explain it to curious gas pump attendants. The bumper sticker was created and mailed out
many years ago to Laser class members of a certain age by Fred Schroth who was at that time Executive Secretary of the North American Laser Class. Fred was an enthusiastic and tireless promoter of the Laser class who was always dreaming up new ideas to grow the class and encourage more people to join the game of Laser sailing.

Actually Fred (now ex-officio) still is one of the best cheerleaders for the Laser game. He runs a famous Easter Regatta and you can find him posting as gouvernail on Sailing Anarchy and The Laser Forum.

But I only discovered last week that Fred didn't actually dream up the nursing home slogan himself. That honor goes to Nils Andersson who contacted me this week via email about an item he read in this blog, and who told me about the origin of the slogan.

Nils was from Sweden and sailed in the 1983 Laser Masters Worlds in the USA. On his return to Sweden he wrote an article about the Worlds for the Swedish Laser Magazine (no blogs in those days). His article ended with the slogan "Lura pensionärshemmet, dö i din Laser" which, you guessed it, is Swedish for, "Cheat the nursing home, die on your Laser." Later he posted the article in English which is how the phrase entered the English-speaking Laser world.

Nils traveled to the US again to sail in the Florida Masters and eventually moved here. He turns 70 in May and is still sailing his Laser around the San Diego area.

Lura pensionärshemmet, dö i din Laser.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Saturday Speedlinks for Carol Anne

It never ceases to amaze me what subjects people will choose for their blogs. One of my favorite sailing bloggers is Carol Anne from Five O'Clock Somewhere. She is an English teacher by profession and occasionally posts informative lessons for us on such topics as confusing verbs or parts of speech.

But can you imagine writing a blog dedicated to nothing else but reporting on examples you see of one particular common error in grammar, spelling or punctuation?

There are several such blogs.

Abuse of the word "literally"

Apostrophe abuse

Incorrect use of lower case L

Incorrectly dotted "i"s
Hmmm, are those quotation marks necessary?

"Unnecessary" quotation marks
I guess she would tell me.

OK. Now someone is bound to point out some glaring error that I have made in writing this post.

Saturday Speedlinks to Sailboat Shots

I'll leave it to others to post shots of action in the Rolex Middle Sea Race or the US Olympic Trials. This week's Saturday Speedlinks are to photos of some more esoteric craft...

First of all, thanks to Magnus Wheatley at Rule 69 Blog we have The Lymington Cow.

And here's another boat you're not going to see at your local yacht club any time soon, a fleet of Flying Takos with custom spinnakers courtesy of Suzanne Zeluco at SZ Designs.

And last but not least...

Eli Boat and his buddies went to Nantucket
To race in a regatta in a little boat and try their luck. It
Is called a Cape Cod Frosty
And though our friend lost, he
Posted this pic. Geeze, that boat's no bigger than a bucket.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that's the worst limerick ever. What did you think I was going to rhyme with Nantucket?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Trim the bowl you idiots! Trim the bowl!

More Goldfish on Fridays

Thanks to Mal and Gary Larson.

Fish on Fridays

Today's Fish on Fridays is devoted to that fan favorite of the silver screen, the piscine superstar of the 26 Emmy Award winning television drama series, The West Wing.

Talking of Emmys, did I tell you that my not-quite-two-year-old granddaughter Emily thinks they are talking about her when they report "Emmy" news on the TV?

Here is a picture of our Emmy.

Here is an Emmy Award

Where was I? Where am I? Oh yes. The West Wing.

Some of you may think that the star of The West Wing was Martin Sheen as the President of the USA, or perhaps one of the members of the White House staff such as Bradley Whitford who plays Josh Lyman, Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn, or Richard Schiff as Toby Ziegler.

No, no, no! We true aficionados of the series know that the real star of The West Wing was Gail the Goldfish.

Gail first appeared in The West Wing in an episode in which one of the White House reporters, Danny Concannon, has a crush on the White House press secretary, Claudia Jean (C.J.) Cregg. Josh tells Danny that C.J. likes goldfish.

Josh means the crackers.

Danny thinks that Josh means a real goldfish.

So in a touching, romantic scene Danny presents C.J., the object of his affections, with a goldfish in a bowl and launches Gail the Goldfish on her career of TV mega-stardom.

Gail became much much more than a prop on a set. In a series of private jokes between the West Wing production team and eagle eyed fans of the show, her bowl on C.J.'s desk frequently contained some object or other that alluded to the plot of each episode.

When war breaks out in Kashmir, Gail's bowl has some little toy soldiers and a Humvee. In an episode about a failed anti-missile-missile test, a missile apparently lands in Gail's bowl. And when the President and the First Lady plan to spend some steamy personal time together in the Presidential bedroom, Gail is seen with not only a pretty pink bed in her bowl, but also another goldfish. Yikes! Goldfish porn!

Gail even has her own fan website.

Beat that Joe Rouse.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


In the past year I have...

I did all of the above without any major injuries and only minor aches and pains.

This morning I pulled something in my lower back while trying to put my socks on. Now I can't even bend over to tie my shoe-laces. I have been hobbling around all day like a refugee from the nursing home.

Is this what it is like to be old? Thank god I still have Tacticat.

You can't post from Espana? Por que?

Andrew Campbell took a break from blogging for a week or so and used the time to qualify for the Olympics. Bonnie disappeared from the blogosphere for a while and has apparently been kayaking in my back yard. And when I signed off before heading to the Masters Worlds, Peconic Puffin asked, "You can't post from Espana? Por que?".

Why don't we post on our blogs when we are most active in our sports?

Are there practical difficulties? Perhaps Bonnie was camping out on some Rhode Island beach? Or in Andrew's case was it just that he needed to focus 100% on his performance in the Olympic Trials and blogging would have been a distraction?

I'm not sure why I don't make the effort to blog about my sailing every night when I'm competing in a major regatta. It might make more interesting reading than some of the drivel I write here. Then again it might not.

There are some practical issues. My current laptop is more of a desktop replacement than a true portable. And with all the other sailing gear I had to carry to Spain for the Worlds I didn't feel like lugging a heavy laptop too. But if I really wanted to, I could always buy a smaller computer to use for writing and blogging when I am traveling. Plenty of bloggers obviously do.

There is always the Internet cafe solution. Who needs a laptop? Find some establishment offering computers and Internet access at a price, and blog from there. Every harbor town in the Caribbean has those places. Cabarete had plenty. Actually I didn't see any in Roses but I expect they were there somewhere. Could do I suppose but it's not quite the same as blogging from your hotel bedroom with your feet up in your PJs after a hot shower.

Actually in Roses, there was some kind of wireless Internet access service set up in a tent near the regatta site. Many of the sailors rushed down there with their laptops every morning. Some of them, of course, were keeping in touch with the home office, running their businesses, or whatever, before setting out for an afternoon of yotting around the buoys.

It wasn't good enough for everyone. We met one sailor we knew on the second morning we were there. He was in the hotel lobby, checking out. He mournfully confessed that he had discovered that he suffered from Internet addiction and that he couldn't possibly spend another night in a hotel that didn't have wireless Internet access in the bedrooms. If he couldn't log in to check his email and other stuff every morning as soon as he woke up he couldn't survive. He was heading off to another hotel with the facilities he needed.

So the practical issues are solvable. I think there are basically three reasons I don't blog when I am away at a regatta.

1. I really don't want to deal with it. I want to concentrate on the regatta and having a good time socially in the evenings. I just don't want to be bothered with thinking of an interesting topic to blog about and composing a readable post. Oh sure, I could write one of those, "I went right, the fleet went left, left was right," kind of accounts of the day's racing. But I don't find that kind of writing very compelling and that's not been my style on this blog. But perhaps you really would like to read a blow-by-blow account of my mediocre racing performance each day?

2. I do like to be able to prove that I can survive for a couple of weeks without daily Internet access. Some times I feel like I might be an addict. From time to time I need to prove I'm not.

3. A regatta is a vacation from everyday life, even if I am retired. And not touching a computer while I am on vacation makes it seem like more of a break. Is that weird, or what?

Do you blog when you are traveling? Or take a break like me? Should I become a traveling blogger? Comments please.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Save Greenland - Eat the Kangaroos

Mmmm. Yummy. Nice plate full of kangaroo meat.

It's the answer to global warming you know.

While scientists in the northern hemisphere worry about the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the subsequent effect on sea levels worldwide, Greenpeace are asking Australians to help solve the problem by eating all their kangaroos.

Apparently kangaroos are a major contributor to global warming because just like cattle and sheep they are extremely flatulent. There are 25 million of them belching and breaking wind across the vast expanse of Australia's Outback. The methane gas that kangaroos produce rises into the atmosphere where it traps heat, increasing the Earth's temperature. And worse, their wide-ranging travels require a constant clearing of trees and shrubs that can absorb such greenhouse gases.

According to an article on, a recent Greenpeace report contends that lopping beef from the Aussie diet and replacing it with kangaroo would cut Australia's carbon emissions some 15 million metric tons a year.

So there you have it.

Toss another Joey on the barbie, mate.

Update: Thanks to that prolific commenter Anonymous for pointing out that I (and the article that I summarized) have got this story totally wrong. The point about kangaroos is that they have a digestive system which produces no methane, whereas cattle and sheep produce huge amounts. And that is why Aussies are being advised to increase kangaroo consumption and cut back on eating cattle and sheep. A more accurate report on this whole business can be found at the BBC: Kangaroos offer clue to global warming. Sorry for the confusion.

Big Fleets and Small Fleets

So here it is. Number One in Walker's Words of Wisdom on Wednesdays as translated, interpreted and otherwise confused by Tillerman...

One of the early chapters in Stuart Walker's book Positioning: The Logic of Sailboat Racing is Big Fleets and Small Fleets in which he discusses the difference in approach that a racing sailor should take when racing in large and small fleets. It's not something I think about consciously very much when racing in different fleets so let's see what he says...

But before summarizing his advice let's understand what Walker sees as inherently different about these two race situations...

  • Small fleet racing often takes place near the shore, or in rivers or bays with strong currents.

  • In small fleets, typically club racing, there are usually only a few races. In a large fleet, a major regatta perhaps, there will be many races.

  • In a small fleet, one place one point may determine the outcome of the regatta. In a large fleet one point means very little.
Hmmm. I could argue with some of that but I guess in general it's true. So what does all that mean for racing strategy?

Walker's main advice is that in big fleets you should be conservative and in small fleets be daring. Why is that I wonder and what are the implications for strategy around the course?

Take the start for example. In a big fleet, getting clear air is what matters. The ends of the line will be crowded and carry all kinds of risks. So make a conservative start away from the crowds, away from the ends, find some clear air and sail fast.

On the other hand in a small fleet, clear air means little because most boats will have clear air. So start at the end near the advantaged side of the course and avoid getting blocked by the opposition from getting there first.

Similar argument for the beat. Walker argues that in big fleets rarely is one side of the course obviously advantaged, nor is the wind oscillating so you can play the shifts. (I guess he is assuming here that a big fleet will be racing in open water away from any effects of land or variable currents that would create those conditions.) So he says that in big fleets, you should "play the fleet". This means you should avoid the laylines, keep inside and to windward on the tack away from the rhumb line, ahead and to leeward on the tack back, dig back in towards the rhumb line when you have an opportunity. (There's at least one chapter in this book about why all these moves make sense.)

Whereas in small fleets on a short course often one side is advantaged (assuming you are near the shore I suppose) so get over there first.

On the reaches he says that in a big fleet you should avoid luffing matches and work for clear air, to leeward if necessary. Whereas in small fleets you need to go as high as necessary to protect a lead from an attacker; that one point may win the regatta.

In other words, in a big fleet go for a "good" finish. Consistency usually wins the regatta. In a small fleet go for the win every race.

Walker has another interesting point about the difference between small and big fleets. In a big fleet someone will "have it right" and be sailing fast. In a small fleet everyone may be slow and nobody even knows it. So if you want to improve your boat speed you need to race in big fleets.

So what do you think? Does that make sense? Is that how you race in big and small fleets? Any other tips for how too handle the different scenarios?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Doctor

Stuart Walker is a brilliant sailor. Soling World Champion. First American to win the International 14's Prince of Wales trophy. He is also a prolific sailing author. I own many of his books.

I have read these books. Cover to cover. Several times. However, I have remembered very little of what I have read.

They are not an easy read. Dr Walker is a brilliant sailor but his writing style is shall I say it kindly... turgid. He uses words, like turgid, that most of us don't used in everyday speech. He sometimes writes long sentences. He uses long words and technical language that he assumes we all know. You have to work quite hard to extract the essential message from every paragraph.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot of good stuff in his books. I dare say that if I could absorb everything he is trying to tell me I would be a far better sailor.

So I'm going to try an experiment. I'm going to translate a chapter from one of Dr Walker's books into a blog post. Paraphrase it into more simple language so that I can understand the basic message... and maybe remember it. Perhaps others may read the post and learn something too.

In fact I think I'm going to do this exercise about once a week. It will be a series. Let's see... Andrew Campbell already has Monday Morning Tactician. Joe Rouse has the much-imitated Fish on Fridays. So my new series will be Walker's Words of Wisdom on Wednesdays.

First instalment tomorrow on Big Fleets and Small Fleets.

Sailing's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries

Forget the Mary Celeste and Baron de Rosnay. There are any number of plausible explanations for those nautical mysteries.

There are greater unsolved sailing mysteries for which science has no explanation whatsoever. I wrote about one yesterday. How can an inanimate piece of line like a Laser mainsheet tie itself into knots with no human intervention?

Logical Litoralis rose to the challenge and wrote a post on his blog on the Science of Knots. Sorry kiddo I'm not convinced.

Apparently a couple of scientists from the University of California (where else?) spent many months and oodles of grant dollars dropping pieces of string into boxes and shaking them around. Surprise, surprise, the string got tangled! I know that. The mystery is how this happens, not whether it does.

One of these two scientific geniuses from la-la-land apparently built a computer program to simulate string bouncing around inside a box and once again, shock, horror, the virtual string tied itself in virtual knots. So what? There is a computer program called Tacticat in which I have proven conclusively that if I make a squirrel start and bang the right hand corner I will win 42.3% of all sailing races. Somehow my percentage in the real world is somewhat lower.

You can tell how far this programmer dude is divorced from reality by this quote from him in a Live Science article. “It is virtually impossible to distinguish different knots just by looking at them.” I rest my case.

Here are two more huge unsolved sailing mysteries that have stumped the world's smartest scientists...

The Great Clevis Pin and Cotter Ring Mystery

This is a clevis pin

These are cotter rings

The cotter rings are used to secure clevis pins. One end of the ring is inserted in the pin hole and then the ring is rotated until the other end of the ring is through the hole.

It should be secure. But it ain't.

For example, the ring in the pin securing the deck block for the outhaul line on my Laser, somehow managed to unwind itself and magically disappear while the boat was sitting on its trailer in my garage for two weeks while I was in Spain. Science would say that this is physically impossible. But it happened.

Then there is the Great Gatorade Bottle Mystery

This is a bottle of Gatorade

Yesterday before going sailing I put a bottle of Gatorade in my sailing bag, zipped it up and placed the bag in my car. It was never out of my sight. But when I reached the launch area the bottle of Gatorade had disappeared. After a (thirsty) afternoon's sailing I drove home and discovered that the bottle of Gatorade had teleported itself out of the bag and out of the car, projected itself across several miles of open water, and landed right side up on the kitchen counter at my house.

Explain that you Californian scientists, I challenge you.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why Practice?

Why practice? Practice sailing. Or any other skill for that matter?

That's a stupid question. You practice to improve your skills.

Really? Is it as simple as that? I can think of at least seven different reasons to practice. And surely if you know the reason you are practicing on any given day it might make your practice more effective, don't you think?

1. To learn a new skill. You've never trapezed before. You want to learn. You may need a coach to explain the key aspects of the new skill and the things to avoid.

2. To unlearn an old habit that's wrong. You've always tacked a Laser facing backwards and you only just realized after twenty years that you should face forwards? It's hard to break old habits. You're probably going to get slower before you get faster.

3. To refine an existing skill. Your gybes are pretty good but not perfect. You need to smooth off the rough edges. Improve your timing. Concentrate on the key issue of speed coming out of the gybe.

4. To improve straight line boatspeed. It's magic, the more time you spend in the boat the faster you become. Persuade someone to tow your trailer from launch site to landing site and sail twenty miles downwind in waves. The magic will work for you.

5. To discover what you're doing wrong. You're always getting your feet tangled in the sheet when sailing your Laser upwind. Well, go out and sail upwind and concentrate on what your feet are doing. Are you looping your feet under the pile of sheet in the cockpit when you tack? Are you lazy about keeping the sheet tidy? You'll never find the time to discover all this during a race.

6. To work on your sailing fitness. You could run. You could bike. You could lift weights. You could watch TV while working out on your hiking bench. But nothing will improve your sailing fitness like a couple of hours on the water.

7. For fun. Hey, you do this sailing stuff because you enjoy it, right? So if you have a few free hours what could be more fun than to take your Laser down to the water and go for a blast? Hey, you might even learn something.

I went out for a practice on the bay this afternoon. Beautiful late fall day. Sunny, warm, few wisps of cloud. Around 10-12 knots with waves just big enough to surf.

Did a bit of #4 and some #5 and certainly #6. But mainly #7. Magic!

Why do you practice?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I Can Tie Knots With My Feet

Tillerwoman and I were having dinner one evening in Spain with one of the other sailors at the Laser Masters Worlds and his wife. The other sailor started telling Tillerwoman this long story about how good he was at tying knots with his feet. As his wife (also a sailor) and I listened and smiled he kept my darling wife rapt with the tale of how he is able to tie knots in his mainsheet with his feet while sailing up the beat so that when he reaches the windward mark there are so many knots in the sheet that it won't go through the ratchet block and he is unable to bear away.

Of course he was kidding. There's no need to tie knots with your feet. The gazillion meters of Laser mainsheet, sloshing around in the bottom of the cockpit in all that water from every nth wave coming over the bow, is quite capable of tying knots in itself without any human intervention. How does it do that? I mean, when I used to teach little kids in sailing classes how to tie knots it took them ages to master the art of tying knots that wouldn't come undone when you pull both ends of the rope. But a Laser mainsheet, supposedly an inanimate object, has the skills to tie itself into knots that can take almost half of a downwind leg for a knotmaster like myself to undo. It's a mystery.

But wait. Every problem is just an opportunity for some marketing guy to pitch a product that will solve the problem. I think Steve Cockerill was the first to sell a "non-tangle" Laser mainsheet. We all bought one. Ha ha. What fools we were. OK, I guess the Rooster mainsheet has a lower knot-tying intelligence than the sheets we used to use before it came along. But it quickly learned to tie itself into knots just like its predecessors. Ho hum.

The latest in anti-tangle knot-free technology is the Bzzz mainsheet from New England Ropes. I think the guys at New England Ropes may have discovered a line with an even lower knot-tying IQ than the Rooster line. But it's still pretty smart and can occasionally manage a double underhand truckers triple hitch without any help from my feet.

There must be a solution. Isn't there some way to dump the sheet in the cockpit when you sheet in so that it won't get tangled? Some Laser sailors like to keep all the sheet at the front of the cockpit. Others are back-endians. It's as pointless a distinction as that between the big-endians and little-endians in Gulliver's Travels, whose major political issue was whether soft-boiled eggs should be opened on the big side or the little side. I've tried both. The sheet wins every time.

So what am I to do? Is there a solution to this problem? Or is it like other unsolvable mysteries such as which came first the chicken or the egg or how does Donald Trump's hair stay in place? I surely hope not.

Help please.

Blogger's Disclaimer

I came across A Blogger's Disclaimer via Team Gherkin (which by the way has a marvellous post today about A Glorious Sunday of Laser sailing in the Spring).

I was struck by one paragraph in the disclaimer...
If someone writes about you and you don't appreciate it, approach them about it. Try to remain calm and polite. Explain that you are entitled to your privacy as well. There are many compromises that can be reached from using vague nicknames to protect your anonymity, or not mentioning you at all. If you are upset because they are writing negative things about you, be reasonable, try to see if there is a way to resolve the issues and mend your relationship with the writer. If that doesn't seem to be possible, stop going to the website. They will eventually get bored and move on.

I try very hard to protect the privacy of people with whom I sail. Sometimes I will use nicknames such as Alphonse, Bertie and Cedric to refer to other sailors or even something as vague as that guy. If the other person has a sailing blog too I may link to that or refer to the name they use on the blog. Sometimes as in the post on Cheating I even write about other people's behavior in the first person so that nobody will think I am pointing fingers at them.

I hope I don't ever cross the line and invade your privacy. I value the relationships I have with other sailors and I would hate to think that fellow sailors may be upset by this blog or are even avoiding me because they think I might embarrass them by writing something here about them. So please follow the advice in the disclaimer and let me know if I do cross the line. We can work it out, I am sure.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday Speedlinks

This week started with the final days of the US Olympic Trials. The Laser class produced a nailbiting finish with the two leading contenders Andrew Campbell and Brad Funk tied on points with a protest to hear as well. Kudos to Brad for having the grace to be the first to blog about that final day (even though he lost the protest and the tiebreaker) in Short of an Olympic Berth by One Boat Length.

As an avid Scuttlebutt reader I enjoy their mix of serious sailing news, discussion of hot topics and the occasional piece of humor. Scuttleblog is a place where the Scuttlebutt team can post stuff that is a bit too opinionated or off-the-wall to fit in the main newsletter. This week they addressed the vital scientific question of what would happen if you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and dropped it from a height?

(No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post.)

Meanwhile Andy Rice has moved SailJuice from Blogger to WordPress (maybe I should do the same with Proper Course?) and is addressing the issue of which classes should be selected for the 2012 Olympics in a superb piece of sailing reporting and analysis Olympic Class Musical Chairs. Eleven into Ten Don't Go.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Fish on Fridays

Back in the day, before Al Gore and I invented the Interwebs, before AccuWeather and Weather Underground, before SailFlow and iwindsurf, before 24-hour cable TV and The Weather Channel, back in the old country, Blighty, Albion, this sceptred isle, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, this precious stone set in the silver sea, this blessed plot...

What? Where was I? Where am I?

Oh yes. Back in the good old days, a.k.a the 70's in England, the best source of weather forecasts was BBC television. And the most memorable face of BBC Weather in those days was the man who went on to become the longest serving weather presenter on British television, Michael Fish (photo above). No -- that's not a photo of me.

Fish who is now retired will be remembered above all for two things...

1. His dress sense. He has won accolades as both the best and worst dressed man on television. You be the judge.

"They were looking for someone young, handsome and well dressed," Michael Fish recalls of his move to the BBC in 1974. While others presented the weather in staid suits the young pretender wasn't shy of suede, wide collars or plaid.

2. The botched forecast for the Great Storm of 1987.

On 15 October 1987, he said during a forecast: "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!". That evening, the worst storm
since 1703 hit South East England causing record damage and killing 19 people. Oops!

Anyway, what has all this to do with sailing? Well, as I was saying, back in the day
the best way for dinghy sailors to find the weather forecast prior to a weekend of thrashing around the nearest gravel pit was to tune in on Friday evening to our friend Michael's weather forecast on BBC TV.

And that is how that certain famous expression entered the sailing vernacular, the phrase which continues to be a regular feature of the work of sailing uber-bloggers Edward and Joe, the tag that to this day continues to be synonymous with excellence in weekend weather forecasting... Fish on Fridays.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


"So is there much cheating going on here?" Tillerwoman stunned me with this question one evening over dinner while we were in Roses for the Laser Masters Worlds.

Cheating? Perish the thought. Of course not. Cheating just doesn't happen at this level of sailing. At least that was my initial reaction.

Cheating? What's cheating? To act dishonestly. To deceive. To deprive by fraud. That's what the dictionary says.

Cheating? In the sailing context the word conjures up such nefarious acts as sabotaging a competitor's boat (by stealing the drain plug just before he sets sail perhaps) or paying a coach to gather wind information from up the course and transmitting it to a secret radio receiver hidden behind your ear. No. I'm as certain as I can be that such stuff doesn't go on at any level of Laser sailing. At least I've never seen it.

But then I started thinking. Well, yes maybe there is a gray area. I guess it all depends on your definition of cheating.

Another dictionary definition of cheating is to violate a rule of a game deliberately. The Laser class rules define cheating as, "doing something that you know is illegal."

Hmmm. Rules. What rules must we follow when we are racing? There are the Racing Rules of Sailing of course. And the Laser Class Rules, which mainly define what you can and cannot do to change your boat and equipment. Also the Notice of Race, and Sailing Instructions have rules that you must follow.

So if I deliberately break any of those rules, I am cheating. Or am I?

What about some of the following hypothetical examples? Are any of these cheating?

  • I am at the favored end of a crowded start line. A boat comes into a gap to leeward of me that is just big enough to squeeze through. She luffs slightly,I try to respond but there is another boat close to windward of me. There is slight contact between me and the boat to leeward. Nobody protests. We both start the race and sail on as if nothing has happened.

  • The sailing instructions say that the regatta will be sailed under Laser class rules but I use a "practice sail" that is made by a sailmaker who is not approved by the Laser class.

  • The end of my boom just brushes the windward mark as I am bearing away. Nobody else sees it. I don't do a 360.

  • The Laser class rules say that the inhaul shockcord must be attached to the outhaul cleat on the boom but I tie it to the mainsheet bain. What the hell difference does it make?

  • The sailing instructions say that all sailors must wear PFDs that are US Coast Guard Approved but I use a British PFD (not USCG approved) because it's small and slim and it's easier to squeeze under the boom when I am are tacking.

I'm sure you can think of other examples. Would you ever do any of the above? What would you think if you were to see me breaking some of these rules? Am I cheating?
Does it make a difference if I think I am not gaining an advantage by breaking a rule? Would you turn a blind eye? Would you call me on it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If I Had A Boat

If I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
I said me upon my pony on my boat

Three Keys

OK. Enough of the woolly philosophizing about whether I was sailing faster or got lucky at the Worlds or whether it's all about winning or not. Time to get real and work out what it was that I did differently this year, what went well and what didn't, and what I need to do next.

So why did I do better in 2007 than I did at the 2003 Worlds?

Well, of course, anyone's current sailing performance is a product of everything they've done and so the answer is everywhere in this blog. But if I had to pick out three things that I think made the most difference they would be these...

1. Cabarete.
The clinic in the Dominican Republic in January, and especially the experience of racing there in the Caribbean Midwinters after the clinic, gave me experience of sailing in waves that was like nothing else I had done before. I heard several of the other mid-fleet sailors in Roses complaining about how unstable they felt sailing downwind in the waves on the first couple of days of the Masters Worlds. I had to chuckle. Anyone who survived the Fifth Caribbean Midwinters will never fear waves again.

2. Focus on the Laser. For many years I have raced Sunfish and Lasers. Sunfish were the dominant class in inland New Jersey. If you wanted large fleets of top-class competition in a single-handed class they were the game. Of all the days I spent racing, probably almost half were in Sunfish.

At the end of the summer of 2006 I sold my Sunfish, and since then have concentrated purely on Laser sailing. I'm sure it's made a difference. Funnily enough Focus was almost the first thing I wrote about on this blog. Took me a while to take my own medicine.

3. Moving to Rhode Island. When I lived in New Jersey most of my sailing was on inland lakes with the occasional foray to the shore for some bay sailing. Since moving to Rhode Island in May, I have spent the whole summer sailing regattas and practising on the sea. Lake sailing is not the same. I'm sure that the past few months of sailing in waves and chop, instead of the flat water of those lakes, have made me much faster in those conditions.

Geeze Tillerman, that's not exactly brain surgery. You're saying that the way to improve your sailing is to sail a lot in the boat in which you plan to race, in similar conditions to the regatta that you want to do well in? You expect people to read this crap?


Monday, October 15, 2007

Storm World

It's Blog Action Day, a day for bloggers around the web to unite in writing about a single important issue - the environment.

The last time I tried to stir up some interest among my readers about climate change it generated a healthy debate in the comments. So this time I'll try not to piss of too many readers.

All of us who live near the coast and especially those of us who set sail on the high seas surely have an interest in storms, and especially in hurricanes. The question as to how global warming will affect hurricanes is still a topic of active debate in the scientific community.

On one side of the argument, climate scientists using sophisticated computer models are finding evidence that warmer seas will fuel more intense (but perhaps not more frequent) hurricanes. On the other side, some weather forecasters who specialize in hurricanes say those climate models are inherently unreliable, and that the data to demonstrate such a connection just doesn't exist.

I've just finished reading Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming by Chris Mooney, an excellent overview of this whole issue. If you care about the topic and want to become better informed you should read this book.

Oops. Did I do the right thing for the environment? How many extra trees are going to be felled when all my readers rush out and buy the book?

Tell you what. Do what I did. Borrow it from the local library.


I'm not very good at foreign languages so can someone please answer the following question for me...

If a British sailor on starboard tack on a beat is on a potential collision course with a port-tacker he will hail, "Starboard!" when a few boat-lengths away to let the port-tacker know he is there.

I discovered at the Laser Masters Worlds that, in similar circumstances, an Australian sailor will shout something that sounds like,


What the hell is he saying?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's Not All About Winning

One of the cool things about this sailing blogging nonsense is the interesting stuff that comes back in the comments to some of my posts. The feedback can give me a whole new perspective on some aspect of the game, especially how to approach it mentally.

So thanks to the folk who left comments on my post on Friday about how to assess my performance at a major regatta and whether or not a score relative to the rest of the fleet was a good indicator of progress or not.

I liked the analogy by the ubiquitous anonymous commenter to the measurement of business performance. To paraphrase what he or she said (and maybe to twist it a bit)... what's the point of worrying about something you can't measure such as your actual absolute level of racing skills? At the end of the day we judge racing skills by how we do in races relative to other sailors. So "pick a metric and stick to it". Sounds good to me. I went up the Worlds fleet so that's all that matters.

From a totally different perspective, Tim asks, "Did you enjoy it?" Well, yes I did, Tim. A hell of a lot. Thanks for asking.

But would I have enjoyed it as much if I had been last in every race? Probably not. So doing well relative to the other sailors is one factor in whether a regatta is enjoyable, but not the only one. So many other things contribute to having fun at an event like that.

The two perspectives for assessing performance, "stick to the metric" and "did you enjoy it?" remind me of conversations I had with a fellow sailor from another fleet at the Masters Worlds...

Before the races started he asked me, "So, are you going to win?"

My reply was, "Oh no. I'm just here to have fun."

He answered something to the effect of, "Yes. But winning is fun."

I'm sure it is. And to be fair he had a much more realistic chance of winning his fleet than I had.

After the regatta was over I bumped into him again. I knew that he had had single digit finishes all week, and had a great chance of placing in the top three in his fleet if he could keep it up on the final day.

"So how did things go today?" I asked him.

Looking a bit despondent he moaned, "Ugh. A learning experience." He didn't look like he was having fun.

So everything's relative. If we do well compared to our expectations we feel good about it.

As I write this, the two contenders for the US Laser Olympic spot for 2008, Brad Funk and Andrew Campbell, are tied on points after the 16 race selection trials. The regatta is over and they are in the protest room with protests against each other. It will all be decided in the room. One goes to China. One goes home after several years of hard work. It's a tough sport at times.

Update: It's over. Campbell won the Trials.

Mommy Boats Redux

Back in June I wrote a post on Mommy Boats, heaping scorn on the increasingly common practice of sailors' at major Laser regattas having assistance from personal coaches on support boats. (Before, between and after the races of course. Outside assistance during races would be against the rules.)

There were even some sailors with Mommy Boats at the Masters Worlds in Spain. I wonder if that's the right name though? If older sailors have Mommy Boats shouldn't they be called Grandma Boats?

Anyway, the debate on this topic rages on in two threads on the Laser Forum and Sailing Anarchy. Both threads are mildly amusing if only for the insight they give into the mysterious ways in which some people's minds work and how they attempt to debate an issue like this. Where do people learn the rules of rational argument these days? Have they all been watching too much cable TV?

Can you spot which participants in these threads...

  • really want to improve the sport

  • are wannabe lawyers

  • are still in third grade (or at least their debating and grammar skills haven't progressed since they were in third grade)

  • are just trolls trying to be provocative

  • are off their medications?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Where is Tillerman?

Conversation between two Laser sailors on the water between races at Roses...

American Sailor: Have you noticed that the guy who writes that Tillerman blog seems to do exactly the same regattas as you?

Me: Yes. Isn't that strange? Wonder if he's here?

Friday, October 12, 2007


How do we know whether our sailboat racing skills are improving or not?

Sailing is not like a sport such as running, say. If I run a marathon one year in 5 hours and then the following year, in similar conditions, I run it in 4 hours and 20 minutes, I can legitimately say that I am running faster.

But in sailing, we can only assess our racing performance by looking at how we compare to our competition. Are we moving up the fleet or down? The problem is that often we are not racing against exactly the same people at every regatta. And their skills may be changing too. So how do we know how we are doing?

For example, I moved up from about 75% of the way down the Grand Master fleet at the Laser Worlds in 2003 to the top half of the fleet in 2007. Why? What could be the possible explanations? I can think of three...

1. Luck. There sure is a large element of luck in sailboat racing. But in a long regatta (nine races over six days in a variety of wind conditions in this case) does luck even out? Are the final rankings determined by luck or are they a good indicator of the sailors' true abilities?

There was an interesting article in the Boston Globe this weekend by Bill James, the famous baseball statistician. He discussed the relative importance of predetermination and randomness (roughly the same as ability and luck) in deciding which team will win in various professional sports. His argument was that no league will thrive if either factor is too dominant. If the same team always wins the league then the players' motivation and team spirit are weakened. On the other hand if the outcome of the competition is a total crapshoot then why should the players try hard at all?

Where does sailing fall on this continuum? It's certainly true that the outcome of any given race can be pretty random. But over a season or a long regatta the same sailors always seem to rise to the top of the scoreboard.

So maybe I got lucky. But I like to think not. In any case, a world champion sailor once told me, "Good sailors make their own luck."

2. The fleet was weaker in 2007 than 2003. If true, that would certainly explain my better result in 2007. But it is pretty insulting to my fellow competitors in 2007 to assume this explanation. I've looked through the names in the two fleets in both years and although some of the leaders are the same it's a very different cast of characters further down the fleet. (Of course in a fleet that is for sailors of ages 55 to 64, there's bound to be a lot of turnover in four years anyway.)

I can see that one sailor right next to me this year was way ahead of me in 2003. But what does that prove? He might be much slower than he used to be.

So it's tough to know whether there is any truth in the "whole fleet is slower" hypothesis or not. However, both regattas were in Spain at almost exactly the same time of the year, so you would expect them to attract a similar crowd of sailors.

3. I'm sailing better in 2007 than 2003. I'd like to believe this. But what was different? Why should I be any better? Sounds like the subject of another post to me.

So what do you think? How should we assess individual progress in this crazy sport? How do you know if you are sailing faster and smarter or slower and dumber.

Fish on Fridays

There's nothing quite like good old English fish and chips and mushy peas. But when I'm in Spain I always make sure to enjoy a plate of grilled sardines.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Real Laser Sailor Blogs

Enough about me. The US Olympic Selection Trials for Lasers and Laser Radials are under way at Third Beach Newport and several of the contestants are blogging about their experiences. So check out the following sites for some news of top class Laser sailing by real Laser sailors.

In the Laser fleet Brian Raney is in 30th place after ten races.

The first race I got flushed off the start. I tried keeping up with the shifts, but it was tough. I just wasn't comfy hiking out. I wasn't working through the chop well. I was deep at the top mark. We were raciing the inner trap. My run was adequate but nothing special. My second beat was another challenge. I finally got passed on the last run to end up DFL. Sad.
Brian you are a winner just by making it to the Trials. Don't lose heart.

Marc Jacobi is currently in 17th place. Hmmm. Just below the mid-point. I know that feeling. Marc, by the way, is one of the most friendly and helpful Laser sailors on the circuit, always ready to pass on tips and advice to back-of-the-fleet duffers like me. He may be middle of the fleet in the rankings but one day at the Trials he led the fleet at the first mark in both races. Wow!

new day, new wind direction and racecourse, this time at the mouth of the river where it meets the atlantic ocean. big swells and lots of wind to start--very similar conditions to what i sailed in a month ago in the same spot during a masters event. armed with that prior knowledge, and backed by observations i made before the race, i had great confidence in my game plan: start at the committee boat, tack right away, and get to the right hand corner.

confidence helps at these times, because in a good fleet it's easy to second-guess oneself, or assume other sailors might know more. it was a bit nerve-wracking to take that tack away from the fleet after a great start at the boat, but in a few short minutes it was obvious that things were looking good. to be conservative i tacked before getting all the way to the right hand corner for the long sail back to the middle of the course. was my research and action plan correct? or would i have the fleet pass in front and take my air?

i knew if the wind held i'd be near the front. as i neared the mark i was sailing faster than the boats below me, and things were really starting to look good. i tacked to get back to the right, taking the wind of front-runner clay johnson and forcing him to tack back. i called the tack back to the mark perfectly and rounded the top mark in first, with a healthy 10 boatlength lead!

managed to extend the lead a bit on the first reach, but top sailors andrew campbell and clay johnson reeled me in on the run, sailing incredibly fast in the big waves. i stayed even on the next upwind leg, and held off regatta-leader brad funk on the run and reach to the finish to score a third!

the next race started in less wind but from the same direction, and my strategy remained the same. got another start right at the boat and tacked immediately, and once again led the fleet to the first mark--what a rush! once again held the lead to the next mark, and once again got passed by campbell and this time funk and emory wager on the run. the breeze really started to back off, allowing the four of us to extend away from the rest of the fleet to finish in that order. how cool to get two top-5 results at the olympic trials!

ok, i'm sore and it's getting late. time to stretch, take a nice shower and hit the hay.

Andrew Campbell is in second place after ten races but definitely in contention for the single US Laser Olympic slot. Of course, I've written about Andrew here before and his blog was one of the Top Ten Sailing Blogs of 2006. Prior to the Trials, Andrew had some interesting observations on the interpersonal dynamics between American sailors as they head into the Trials.

The system of Olympic Trials promotes a funny atmosphere at the training site in the weeks leading up to the selection regatta. Americans who have depended so heavily on each other as training partners, roommates, confidants all of a sudden find themselves necessarily isolated and awkwardly independent of each other while they live and practice. Foreign training partners are brought in and quiet alliances are bonded between groups of two, three and four boats that can be seen sailing together all across the expected square mile racecourse area. Full-time campaigners are shunned by their part-time counterparts who are on site only for the final weeks leading into the regatta, not wanting to give them the benefit of larger training groups. And reciprocally the sailors with training partners make their sessions exclusive from outsiders to ensure self-interested benefit. Aside from waving to one and other, and at times less than that, former friendships are apparently put on hold for the month in attempts to abandon any emotional connection that might only get in the way during the impending regatta.

And then we have Brad Funk who is currently leading the Trials. I had the pleasure of sailing with Brad when he was the guest instructor at the clinic I did in Florida in 2005. Here is his account of the last day of racing before the mid-regatta lay day.

Normally at this stage of a big event, I'm feeling the negative effects of expending a lot of physical exertion and mental energy. If this were a regular ISAF Grade 1 event, it would be all over except for the 20-minute double-points "Medal" race for the top ten sailors. Not this time. There’s an Olympic berth at stake.

Today I won two closely-contested races. The races were run in a shifty 12-14 knot northeast wind which presented many tactical opportunities. No two legs were the same and position on the first leg wasn't where the races were decided. Far from it. The big gains were made on leg 2 which was the first downwind leg, and leg three, the second upwind. Fortunately, I had a good game plan today to deal with these tricky conditions.

Because we’ve now completed eight races, each competitor is able to discard his worst score. And that means that my point advantage over Andrew Campbell has narrowed. Campbell who posted 2-5 finishes today was able to drop his 20th place, while I dropped a 9th. As it stands tonight, I hold a slim three-point margin over him in the low point scoring system.

And then we have the ladies in the Laser Radial Trials. As I predicted (it wasn't exactly hard) it is turning into a showdown between Paige Railey and Anna Tunnicliffe. Anna is currently leading Paige by five points.

Anna was flagged by the judges for pumping on Day Four but still managed to beat Paige after completing her penalty turns.

Our second race was one to remember. Paige won the start and had a handy lead at the weather mark but I overtook her on the run before the judges yellow-flagged me. After my two penalty turns, I chased Paige down on the run to round the leeward mark just two boat lengths behind her. We got into a really good tacking duel on the beat but she still led round the last weather mark. I passed her again on the run but she had luffing rights and carried me out to the side of the course on a big reach until I was able to break the overlap. We duked it out from there. Paige kept attacking but there wasn’t enough race course left and I won that one.
Good luck to all the competitors. It's going to be a close fought regatta in both fleets and I look forward to reading all about it on their blogs and websites.

Update: If you know of any other sailors at the Trials who are blogging about the experience please let me know in the comments. I will add links below.

John Pearce

Semi-respectable Mediocrity

Looking back now on the 2007 Laser Masters Worlds last week in Roses, Spain the races are a blurred confusion in my mind. Some good starts and some bad. Some times I chose the right side of the course and some times I didn't. When I could find a clear lane upwind I was fast; except when I wasn't. All the mark roundings were crowded and some times I gained places with smart tactical moves and other times I didn't.

So instead of a tack by tack summary here is how it went down day by day...

Thursday. Arrive in Roses. The Tramontana is blowing from the north at over 25 mph, the bay is covered in whitecaps, and there is sand in the air everywhere. Nobody is sailing. Yikes.

Friday. Register. Collect charter boat. Complain to Laser dealer about warped trailing edges on foils. No sympathy. He won't fix them. Get measured. All good. No wind. Have lunch with Tillerwoman in restaurant at the marina. Light wind springs up. Go yotting for an hour or so. Life is good.

Saturday. Day of practice race. Going well upwind. Seem to have better boatspeed than a lot of the fleet. Course is shortened but I score a 13th in what would be a 75 boat fleet if everyone were racing. Means nothing of course, but it does wonders for my confidence.

Sunday. First real day of racing. Over 15 knots of wind from ESE with nice rollers. First race I'm in the 20's and second race in the 40's. Hmmm. Maybe there's a chance this time of
achieving my long-standing goal of finishing in the top half of the fleet at a Worlds?

Monday. Weird pain in my back this morning. Similar winds to yesterday. Similar results too. First scores posted show me as 35th out of 75. Definitely in top half of fleet. While I'm standing at the notice board someone comes out of the race office and posts some revised results. Now I'm 36th. Yikes. I need to get away from here. I'm going downhill just standing around.

Tuesday. Weird pain in my back has gone away. Hiking hard in 15+ knots must be good for the back. Lighter winds today and more from the east. Again I score one race in the 40's and one in the 20's though this time my second race is the better one. But overall placing drops to 40th. Now I'm below the mid-point of the fleet. How did that happen?

Wednesday. No wind but luckily it's a lay day. Just for a change I take Tillerwoman on a boat ride to Cadaques. Salvador Dali slept here.

Thursday. Unstable light winds from the east. Long day on the water waiting for wind. Postponed starts. Fleets going before us having abandoned races. Our fleet finally get one race in late in the afternoon and I can do no better than 40th. But my overall ranking goes up to 38th. Go figure.

Friday. Another frustrating day of variable and shifty winds from the east(ish). Lot of waiting around. Finally they get a race started for our fleet and I'm doing really well. Top 15 at the first mark but on the second beat the race is abandoned as the wind gives up the ghost altogether.

Lots of time to work out how I'm going to spin a 38th placing on the blog. Top of the bottom half? Only half a point below the mid-point of the fleet? If this were being used for a gold-silver fleet split I would make the gold fleet as they always put the extra boat in gold? Hmmm. Not a good place to finish the regatta though.

Saturday. Last day of the regatta. One more chance for redemption. The wind is from the east. No, it's gone to the west. No wait, now it's coming in from the north. Eventually it settles to an off-shore northerly around 10 knots with stronger puffs. The first windward mark is close in to the shore just downwind of a mountain. Flat water with lots of shifts and puffs. Great. This is just like the inland lake sailing I know so well. I turn in a couple of finishes in the 20's, my best day of the regatta and surely enough to place me in the top half?

As the closing ceremonies and prize-giving commence on shore they still haven't posted the results of our fleet. As the speeches of thanks from the various functionaries drone on I keep pacing from the ceremony to the notice board and back. Eventually the results are posted. Yes! I did it! A place or two above the mid-point and I finally can say that I have progressed from perennial no-hoper to the giddy heights of semi-respectable mediocrity.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mission Accomplished

I did it!

It took me 26 years of Laser sailing, 16 years of Sunfish sailing, 7 World Championships attended (3 Sunfish and 4 Laser Masters) in 5 different countries on 3 continents, but I finally achieved my goal of finishing in the top half of the fleet at a World Championship.


Not such a great achievement you might say. True. But not all of us are naturals at the sport we choose. And I have been banging away for years trying to raise my game to this level so I feel a moderate sense of accomplishment in having actually made it.

I first wrote about The Goal over a year ago. At that time it was anticipated that the 2007 Laser Masters Worlds would be in Portugal but in December it was announced that they would be held in Roses in Spain. No problem. Different place, same goal: finish in the top half of the fleet.

At my first world championship, the Sunfish Worlds in 1996 in the Dominican Republic I actually finished 102 out of 111 boats in one race. That's a pretty depressing sight, to see 101 boats cross the finish line in front of you. Why didn't I realize then that I had no talent for this sport and give up? I dunno.

Then at the three previous Laser Masters Worlds in which I raced (Cancun 2000, Hyannis 2002 and Cadiz 2003) I had never been able to score better than around 75% of the way down the fleet. Finished every race, beat the tailenders, but I was always one of those back-of-the-fleet guys.

To be honest I wasn't all that confident I would do any better in Roses. In spite of writing here about my Commitment to do better in the 2007 Worlds, I didn't feel that I had done as much practice as I should have or worked enough on my fitness. (Hmmm. Maybe it would be more honest to say I didn't really work on my fitness at all?)

But in the end it all came together OK. I made the top half of the fleet. Not by much to be sure but I definitely moved off that 75-percentile plateau and can start to think about clawing my way even further up the fleet in future years.

Thanks to those readers who left comments on various posts encouraging me in this quest and persuading me that my modest goal was still a worthy one.

Tomorrow (if I can find the energy) an excruciatingly boring day-by-day race-by-race account of how Tillerman clung on by his fingertips to the midway mark of the fleet through a six day regatta, slipping back some days, making gains on others.

A post which only his mother would find of interest.

Pity she doesn't ever use the Internet or even know what a blog is.