Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Goodbye Strange Month

And so the last day of March brings Strange Blogging Month to an end.

"In like a lion, out like a lamb," they say about March, whoever "they" are. I have no idea what that saying means. Or if it has any relevance at all to the topic of this post. But it seemed like a strange thing to say, so I said it.

It's been a learning experience, trying to achieve the goal of writing a post every day on the theme of STRANGE. At times it has seemed artificial, and I have had to stretch and strain to twist a subject around a bit to fit it into the theme. But stretching and straining is good. It's what we do at the gym, after all. (Not that I go the gym.) And I think it's been good exercise to stretch my writing muscles into performing some different, and sometimes difficult, contortions.

Some of you would probably say that this blog has always been pretty strange. There's some truth in that. I do like to point out the absurdities and quirkiness of our sport of sailing (and other matters). I've always said I don't want to write about sailing races in that "I went right, the wind went left, right was wrong" style that is all so prevalent in typical race reports. So this month we've had posts about such varied topics as the role of professionals in racing, the last gasp from the 33rd America's Cup (I hope), the earth's magnetic field, boat names, standing up in sailing dinghies and the evolutionary origins of human altruism and how that affects sailboat racing.

I hope you enjoyed the long, strange trip.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Three Green Sailing Tips

I write a lot of utter nonsense on this blog. Occasionally I enjoy a good rant. Sometimes I argue one side of a case just for the fun of it; I could just as easily have argued the other side. My Dad was the same; he loved a good argument. One of my sons has the same trait. Of the three of us, my son is the only one to choose a profession where this talent may actually be useful; he's a lawyer.

So I don't really expect anyone to agree with what I write here. Which is why it was strange to open the April 2010 issue of Sailing World and discover that Jonathan McKee agrees with me. On three issues, no less! Very strange!

McKee has a column in Sailing World titled McKee's Minute. He says that, in some ways, sailing is inherently a very "green" activity, but that we also have an obligation to do what we can to reduce the environmental impact of our sport. He then makes six suggestions of how to achieve this. Three of them caught my eye because I have discussed them before on this blog in some of my random rants.

  1. Leave the coach boat at home. Better yet, sell it.
    Yikes! I never thought I would hear that from one of the top racing sailors. Isn't this exactly what I was saying last year in Ban Mommy Boats NOW and a couple of years before in Mommy Boats?

  2. Cut down on unnecessary packaging in your lunch.
    I guess I wasn't really focusing on the packaging issue when I wrote Uncrustables!, but it's another good reason not to serve such a processed vile-tasting creation for a regatta lunch.

  3. Maximize your local sailing. Racing closer to home involves less driving and it's cheaper. When you do travel consider chartering.
    This is an issue that's been troubling me for some time. I covered it in $20 Gas and the Future of Sailing, An Inconvenient Truth and Anal-Retentive People Like Numbers. But it's shocking to hear that someone of McKee's stature is giving similar advice.

So Jonathan McKee agrees with me. This is troubling. I thought I was a maverick. I thought I was writing provocative stuff to stir up some controversy and argument. Now I find that one of the most accomplished racing sailors in the world agrees with me.

This is very strange.

I don't know what to do about it...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Run the Reservoir 2010

On Saturday I ran in the 15k Run the Reservoir Race in N. Scituate, Rhode Island. All in all it was a good experience. But in some respects it was bad. And in one respect it was downright ugly.

Good: It was a very cool morning, low 30's Fahrenheit, perfect conditions for running.

Bad: After registering in the church hall, I was hanging out with some other old geezer runners, and I noticed one of them was messing about with an old running sock. I asked him what he was doing and he explained he planned to stuff it down the front of his pants to give his... umm... more sensitive parts... some protection from the cold. Sorry I asked. Couldn't get the image of that sock out of mind. Some runners are a little strange, I think.

Good: Hanging out with other runners just before the start, one very friendly guy started chatting to me. He had run the race before, so I was able to ask him about what to expect.

Bad: The very friendly guy kept telling me that the course was uphill all the way round! Ridiculous! How could that be, when we start and finish at the same point?

Good: Set off at a nice relaxed pace. Around 11 minutes a mile I guessed. A bit faster than my long training runs but still comfortable. The first half of the race was mainly along a forest road that isn't normally open to the public. There were spectacular views through the trees of Scituate Reservoir, the largest body of fresh water in Rhode Island.

Bad: No sailing, no boating of any kind in fact, is allowed on the pristine waters of the reservoir. I felt like stopping for a pee in the watershed just to make a protest. But I didn't.

Good: As we passed the first few mile markers I discovered I was going a little faster than my target pace of 11 minutes a mile...

Bad: ... until we reached the first big hill.

Good: We exited the forest trail and ran on a road on a causeway across the reservoir. Gorgeous views of water to north and south. What a wonderful lake this would be for sailing. I was feeling terrific...

Bad: ... until we reached an even bigger hill. I walked up this one.

Good: While walking up the hill I consumed one of my magic go-faster energy gels. I reached the 5 mile mark in 55 minutes, bang on target pace. I could see a group of a dozen runners about 150 yards ahead of me so I set myself a goal to catch up and pass them over the rest of the race. I was feeling so strong that I was able to accelerate a bit and slowly started reeling in the group ahead. Without pushing myself, I passed a few of them, a couple of teenage boys... two guys about my age, a lady stopping to retie her shoe laces... and then I saw that the next six runners in front of me were all women, separated from each other by several yards. Slowly but surely I started passing them one by one. When I reached the 7 mile mark, I discovered that I had run the last two miles at a 10 minute a mile pace. Woo hoo!

Bad: Then I realized that the friendly guy at the start had not been joking. It was uphill all the way. At least this section was. Or it felt like it. My legs started to feel rubbery, my breathing became labored, and I slowed down considerably. Slowly but surely the women I had overtaken started passing me again.

Good: We finally reached the road back to N. Scituate village. I knew where we were. Turn left at those traffic lights up there and it's a short distance to the finish. Yeah, baby!

Bad: When we reached the traffic lights, the police waved for us to go straight on. Apparently there was a detour around a few extra blocks to make the distance up to 15k.

Good: A tall attractive woman about 20 years younger than me caught up with me and started a conversation.

Bad: But she wanted to discuss the politics of health insurance. She had a theory that runners should have reduced premiums and smokers shouldn't be allowed to have insurance at all. Then she ran off ahead of me, loudly shouted out her name, and followed with, "If I ever run for office, vote for me!" Strange!

Good: I saw the finish. I crossed the finish line. The tall lady with the strong opinions about health insurance congratulated me on a good race, and I returned the compliment. I looked back to the finish line. I wasn't last. There was still a whole bunch of runners behind me, including some guy in a Boston Marathon shirt. I grabbed some water and fruit. Inside the church hall there was hot soup. Yummm. It was a good day. I went home and soaked in the tub, and relaxed for the rest of the day.

Ugly: On Sunday, I was still so tired from the run -- totally "knackered" as we Brits say -- that I didn't have the energy to go Laser sailing. Not only am I slower than I was when I was younger, it takes me a lot longer to recover from a hard run. Very ugly.

The older I get, the faster I was.

What a strange weekend.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

French Nerds Read My Blog

French nerds read my blog! How strange is that possum?

Some of my regular readers may recall that last month, shortly after BMW Oracle had won the America's Cup, I wrote a post pointing out that the real credit for the win should be given to the "nerds" who had designed the monster trimaran that won the cup. I couldn't resist pricking the over-inflated balloon of American pride in the win by pointing out that many of The Nerds Who Won The America's Cup were not actually American but.... yikes.... French!!! In particular I highlighted the roles of
Vincent Lauriot Prévost and Marc Van Peteghem, the two principals in the multihull design firm VPLP.

Today I received an email from Katrina Kelshall at VPLP saying that they had had a good laugh over my post, and that they weren't ashamed to be called nerds. To prove the point, she attached a couple of photos of what Team VPLP were wearing in Valencia for the Cup: "90 x 90 Dare 2 B Square T-shirts". Get it?

French nerds read my blog! How strange.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Growing Older But Not Up

Last night I went to a talk at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol by Nick Hayes the author of the book Saving Sailing. His ideas about creating opportunities for families to sail together as the primary solution for reversing sailing's decline generated a lot of interest and discussion, as I expected they would.

Speaking personally, his talk crystallized for me what had been troubling me since I first read and reviewed Nick's book. While I can understand and accept his analysis and recommendations at an intellectual level, his ideas don't resonate with me emotionally. I don't feel them in my gut like he clearly does.

It's partly because Nick and I have such vastly different sailing experiences. We have sailed different kinds of boats, with different sorts of people, in very different places, for different reasons. Or maybe I'm just strange...

An example. At one point Nick put up a slide that was supposed to explain why different age groups sail, why they enjoy sailing. For my age group, the boomers, the old geezers, he said the prime reason was "Nostalgia". He told tales about guys who spoke passionately of how sailing reminded them of experiences they had shared with their fathers (not necessarily sailing... it could be fishing with Dad) or with mentors who were important to them earlier in their sailing lives. I felt no connection with this idea. Nostalgia? That's not remotely anything to do with why I sail.

Then he put up a graphic that showed the main reason why young people sail (kids under 17, I think.) The keyword here was "Fun".

Yes, yes, yes. Fun, fun, fun. That's why I sail. I wouldn't do it if it weren't Fun. That's what keeps me in sailing.

So what's wrong with me? At an age when my peers are apparently into Nostalgia, I'm into Fun. Am I still a kid at heart? Didn't I ever grow up? Am I strange?

It reminded me of a conversation I had had earlier in the day with my 4-year-old granddaughter as we played together on her swing-set in the sunshine.

I never want to grow up Grandad.

Why Emily?

I told Daddy last night, I always want to be his little girl.

Well you always will be his little girl, Emily. Even when you grow up and get married, Daddy will still think of you as his little girl.

But Grandad, that doesn't make sense. I have to grow up. I can't always be a little girl.

Well Emily, actually you don't have to grow up. You have to grow older, but you don't have to grow up. Look at me, I never grew up.

You're silly Grandad.

Yes Emily, I am silly. That's what I mean. I'm silly. I never grew up.

(Puzzled silence.... )

Am I strange?

Thursday, March 25, 2010


I have never been any good at anything involving balance on one or two legs. I can ski and skate now, but when I was learning it was a real struggle for me to move past the "falling over every few seconds" stage. On my recent vacation in the BVI I went to a yoga class on the beach early one morning. I did OK except when it came to those poses involving balancing on one leg... there was much falling over and embarrassment and apologies to the instructor. Very strange.

Some people like to stand up while they are sailing little boats like Lasers or Sunfish. Bonnie and a friend were doing it in Sunfish this weekend and you can see pictures of them doing it at the strangely titled
i can has banana? or at least onion, sage, rosemary & thyme.

Although it looks strange, it's actually not too hard to stand up in the cockpit of a Sunfish sailing downwind in lightish winds. One of my friends in New Jersey used to teach kids to sail Sunfish by standing on the transom of the boat. That's a bit harder; I forgot how he managed to avoid being swept overboard by the boom every time his students tacked. And my post from last year Eleven Crazy Things You Can Do on a Laser had some other strange tricks you can do while standing up on a Laser. Well, maybe you can do them. I can't do most of them. As I said, I have terrible balance.

Sailing coaches will sometimes make their Laser classes sail standing up. Gary Bodie had us all sailing the Laser standing up in front of the mast in very light airs on Cayuga Lake at a clinic there in 1995. And both times I went to Sailfit Laser clinics with Kurt Taulbee in Florida he had a drill where we had to sail standing up. And not just in light airs or just downwind. He wanted us to sail closehauled in a fresh breeze standing on the side deck. Never did master that one. M
uch falling over and embarrassment and apologies to the instructor again. Very strange.

Why do coaches make you sail a dinghy standing up? Does it actually improve your feel for the boat in the more conventional sitting down position? Does it make you more aware of heel or how to react to puffs? Or is it a good way to amuse (or torture) the class when the winds are too light to do much else?

A friend whose sailing skills I admire even showed off by sailing out to the race course one day on Buzzards Bay while standing on one leg on his Laser. I bet he goes to yoga classes.

But what earthly use is it to have this strange skill of being able to sail a Laser or Sunfish standing up? Sam Chapin did actually come up with one answer to this question in his post LASER SAIL IN LIGHT AIR yesterday. He had this tip...

Sail to the pressure. Get some good polarized sun glasses that help you see the ripples on the water. Stand up now and then for a look around. Practice standing up and still sailing fast with control of the boat.

Good point. I have been known to stand up before the start of a race to check out the wind, but have never tried to stand up and "sail fast with control of the boat" during a race before. I would probably fall over.

Maybe there's something in this? Maybe I should learn to sail standing up? Maybe I should practice some of those yoga poses on dry land first to improve my balance skills?

if you are out on Narragansett Bay this summer and you see some old geezer sailing his Laser while awkwardly trying to assume the Natarajasana pose, it will probably be me.

Am I strange?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Sailors think they understand the wind, but they don't.

You can't see wind. All you can see is the effect on other things. You look at the ripples on the water, your sail, flags, smoke, etc. etc. and you think you understand what the wind is doing, but you don't.

I discovered this strange fact this weekend. My grandchildren came to our house for the weekend so I skipped sailing on Sunday and played with them. And that's when it dawned on me that I had been totally wrong about wind all the time I had been sailing.

Sailors will say things like, "The wind is 10-12 knots from a direction of 135 degrees." There are several assumptions in a statement like that. It implies that there is such a thing as an average wind range and that it is relatively constant in direction. There is a more subtle implication that the wind can be imagined as a horizontal two-dimensional vector.

That's how we think of it when we are sailing. Sure we know that the wind might vary in direction and speed over time, and at various places around the race course. And we might also know that if we sail a boat with a very tall mast that the wind speed may well be stronger and from a slightly different direction higher up.
But we generally think that at any given time and place it has a certain direction and speed, that can be described in a sentence like the one above.

We are wrong.

I learned this while playing with my 4-year-old granddaughter last weekend. One of her favorite things right now is blowing bubbles. I was assigned the job of catching as many bubbles as I could.

When you watch soap bubbles floating in the air you quickly realize that sailors' assumptions about the wind are all wrong. There is no meaningful consistent wind direction. It changes every second. It changes in a few inches. There are vertical, upwards and downwards, components to the wind. Even bubbles that start at the same place within a fraction of a second of each other will be swirled by the wind at different speeds and different directions and to different heights.

Wind is millions and millions of air molecules jiggling and tumbling around and bouncing off each other and into objects like sails and balloons and this molecule here doesn't really care what that molecule three feet away was doing two seconds ago, and certainly doesn't feel much compunction to behave in the same way as it. Wind is quite a random phenomenon.

I don't think I will ever see wind the same way again. On SailX it is a two dimensional vector at any given point and time. In the real world... not so much. It changes from inch to inch and from second to second.

How strange!

If I think like this when I am sailing it could drive me nuts.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Strange Names

Other bloggers have blogged on their blogs about boat names. Some are cute. Some are puzzling. Some are puns. Some are just plain weird.

Much could be said of the names chosen by players for themselves (or is it their boats) in the online virtual sailing community and racing simulator SailX.

Some of them such as Sailorski, MiamiSailing and MOTHSTER have fairly obvious inspirations.

But why BustedGristle? What does that mean?

And why did someone call himself whereiswaldo?

Of course you don't have to register and choose a name. You can sail as a guest and be temporarily allocated a name like Guest_54. It's best to keep out of the way of guests. It's usually someone who is totally clueless or some hotshot sailing anonymously to wreak havoc on his enemies. Either way they will cause you grief. But why did someone call himself UnwantedGuest?

And then there is HamB. No idea what it means. Someone took the piss out of him by creating an ID called EggsB. Strange people these sailxors.

Bluenose is a fine sailing name. Someone strange had fun at his expense by registering as Rednose. Very droll.

Some of the names are not very modest. We have SofaKingFast and BigTwingGuy for example. And the outrageously boastful SexOnThe Reach. I wonder what kind of boat he has? (I assume that 99% of players are male. Women have more sense.)

Some are a little rude... suckmywake, kissmystern and eatmybeno for example, although I'm not really sure what a "beno" is.

And others just puzzle me. Anyone know what 21minsmalone means?

And why would anyone call themselves VomitComet?

Me, I'm just tillerman. Same as here. Some of the other players even ask me about my blog (to distract me during a race usually.)

Yup. We SailX players are pretty strange dudes.

What name would you choose if you played SailX?

Monday, March 22, 2010

You Are On The Menu

It was a tough life for our early ancestors. There were all sorts of scary creatures out there... hyenas as big as bears, saber-toothed tigers, and many other mega-sized carnivores... all on the prowl for a nice juicy dinner of australopithecus. The only way our forefathers survived was by living in social groups and looking out for each other. That's why we are such peaceful, cooperative and social animals today (in spite of what you might conclude if you've been watching some of those Tea Party protests recently.)

At least that's the current theory proposed by many anthropologists. For example, check out Early humans on the menu.

This is a problem if you are competing in a sailboat race. You may think you are trying to win but really much of what you do is based on your inheritance of unconscious dogmas that require you to behave in accordance with principles that were essential to the survival of your primitive, pack-living ancestors. You accept being controlled, you acquiesce in being beaten, and you restrain your aggressiveness. You are embarrassed by winning, you think that the current pecking order in the fleet is OK, and you feel that losing is a satisfactory outcome.

At least that's what Stuart Walker writes in his latest book, The Code of Competition. Walker claims that we amateur sailors are handicapped by an innate need to comply with an altruistic Code of Competition. We can't help it. It's in our genes. It's how our ancestors avoided being eaten by that scary saber-toothed tiger. How strange!

I like the concept. It's yet another excuse I can use for not winning. My genes made me do it.

However, it's not clear to me from the blurb at the above link whether the learned Doctor Walker tells us in his book how to overcome our genetic Mr. Nice Guy problem and win some races in spite of ourselves.

Damn, I guess I'll just have to buy the book to find out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Float Plan

What is a float plan?

Essentially it's a plan left with someone on land which includes details about your boat, route, leaving and returning times, persons aboard and any other important information. You should file one whenever you venture on the open sea. Then if something goes wrong and you don't return when expected, the people who have your float plan can notify the authorities and initiate a search and rescue for you.

What does a float plan look like?

Here's one way to do it. Use an official-looking form like this one. At least it reminds you of what information you might want to include.

But you don't need to use a fancy form. When I venture out on the bays locally on my Laser, my float plan is to tell Tillerwoman where I am launching from, the general area in which I will be sailing, and the time I expect to return.

But here's a 21st century way to file a float plan...

Yup. The US Coast Guard is now suggesting that a good way to file a float plan is to put it on Twitter or Facebook. This has the advantage that you can update it with status reports during your voyage, and all you need is a cell phone capable of sending text messages.

I can see the logic in this, but it still strikes me as strange that a program created a few years by a kid at Harvard to allow students there to connect with each other, and an even more recent creation of some geeks in California originally intended for people to buzz their friends' cell phones with inconsequential messages, are both now being officially endorsed by an arm of the US federal government as recommended tools for public safety.

How strange is that possum?

Tweet me! Maybe I'm getting old...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Are You a Mockingbird?

This morning I looked out of my bedroom window and I saw a bird doing a strange display in my American Native Wildflower Border also known as "that patch of weeds by the side of the house." Tillerwoman announced, "That's a Mockingbird." My wife never ceases to amaze me. She know all sorts of useful facts like how to recognize a Mockingbird; whereas I know mainly useless stuff like how to prove that every number is interesting.

Of course I didn't believe her. "Trust but verify," as a famous marriage guidance counselor once said. So I checked The Google and The Wikipedia and sure enough she was right. Being right all the time is one of her least endearing attributes.

The clincher was that The Wikipedia said that, while foraging, Northern Mockingbirds "frequently spread their wings in a peculiar two-step motion to display the white patches" and that's exactly what this particular Northern Mockingbird was doing while foraging in my American Native Wildflower Border.

Mockingbirds, of course, are famous for "mocking", by imitating the sounds of other birds and, according to The Wikipedia, even imitating car alarms. Tillerwoman probably knew this already.

Strangely, that got me thinking about blogs. I asked myself, is there such a thing as an original blog, or are we all imitating other bloggers? Are we all Mockingbirds?

It's certainly true that I drew inspiration and some ideas for style and content from other blogs that I read just as I was starting Proper Course five years ago. I know I picked up several things from the now defunct blog Stay of Execution written by Sherry Fowler. The title of her blog has at least three meanings: the legal meaning (she used to be a lawyer; a pun on her real name Scheherazade whose namesake was, of course, putting off her own execution by telling stories in One Thousand and One Nights; and surely some indirect reference to Sherry's own life at the time where she seemed to be putting off the inevitable (marriage? settling on a career?) while she spun tales on her blog.

I chose "Proper Course" as the name of this blog because it had some of that same ambiguity as "Stay of Execution". The technical meaning in the Racing Rules of Sailing of course. The sense that the blog would be about the proper course an old geezer Laser sailor was searching for in order to become a better sailor. And, more fundamentally, the proper course I was attempting to steer through life as a relatively recent retiree still working out what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life.

Another blog, also now defunct, from those early days Zephyr made me realize that a sailing blog can be a bit like a sailing magazine with a huge variety of different topics and styles of post. I just looked back at what he was writing about in March 2005 and, among other subjects, he was telling us about a community sailing program, sharing his liking for rum, recounting a personal tale of surviving a boat sinking off Puerto Rico, and questioning why there are so few people of color in sailing today. I like to think I am following in Zephyr's footsteps in my random, drunken walk around the sailing world.

From Edward, at what was then called the EVK4 Bloglet, I tried to pick up his talent for telling personal tales about what were really pretty ordinary days on the water that he made funny and interesting with his screwball sense of humor. Again, just dipping at random into this blog's archives in May 2005, I found a story about a bird's nest on his boat, a sail with his daughter ("I didn't even know 4-year-olds could get seasick"), and an hilarious account of a failed attempt to sail out of the marina. I realized that you don't need to be a hotshot ocean-going racer to write about sailing in a way that is entertaining... and I have been trying to apply that lesson every since.

I could mention other inspirations. The Skip's Blog for its way of using every blog post as a learning experience. Soulsailor's earthy stream of consciousness blow-by-blow racing accounts. (Sorry for no link - I can't find his old blog.) And in the world of writing outside blogging I am sure I have picked up something from reading all of Bill Bryson's books. I just wish I was half as talented as he is at spotting the comic side of everyday situations and then making us join him in laughing out loud at it with his unique mix of whimsy and hyperbole.

I hope I don't literally imitate any of the above writers. I'm not a Mockingbird. That would be strange. But I am sure they have all influenced what I write about and how I write.

What about you? Are you a Mockingbird? Are there any bloggers, or other authors, that you find yourself imitating, consciously or unconsciously? Who are your influences?

Points will be awarded for the strangeness of any comments. After all, this is Strange Blogging Month.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thrice Strange

So Tillerman, how was your boat? Last time we heard from you, you had a strange sinking feeling that your boat had been damaged in the storm last weekend, and you were heading down to Newport to check it out. What happened?

Thanks for asking, dude. I went down to Fort Adams, home of the 34th America's Cup, yesterday morning. As far as I could see, my Laser had not blown off its dolly and there was no damage of any kind. I walked around the boat park and checked all the other Lasers and couldn't see any that were injured. So that's good.

Then, as I was in Newport anyway, I went for my morning run at Brenton Point. I always enjoy running by the ocean. Then back to Tiverton, a bit of yard work in the afternoon, and a glass of wine on the deck with Tillerwoman as we watched a gorgeous sunset.

That's good Tillerman. I'm glad your boat is OK. But this is a bit of a boring post so far. I thought you had taken on the challenge of writing a "strange" post every day this month? This post isn't strange at all.

Yes it is, possum. Didn't you see the title? Thrice Strange. This post is strange in three ways.

Sorry Tillerman, I just don't see it.

I know you don't, mon petit chou. But I didn't say every post would actually be strange. I just said it would be on the theme of STRANGE. The mere fact that we are discussing whether this post is strange or not means that I have written a post that has a theme about strangeness. That's the first reason.

Hmmm. So you say you can write a boring post and then argue with me when I say it's not strange and that makes it strange? That's a stretch Tillerman.

Thanks honey bunny. I like to stretch. And the second reason this post is strange is analogous to the famous proof about why every number is interesting.


Surely you've heard of it boo boo. You know....
0 is the additive identity.
1 is the multiplicative identity.
2 is the only even prime.
3 is the number of spatial dimensions we live in.
4 is the smallest number of colors sufficient to color all planar maps.
5 is the number of Platonic solids.
6 is the smallest perfect number.
7 is the smallest number of sides of a regular polygon that is not constructable by straightedge and compass.

And so on.... every number has something interesting about it.

Stop! This is too much like high school math. I though this was a sailing blog.

Relax big boy. I'm just trying to make the point that every number is interesting.

That's nonsense Tillerman. Even a geek like you must realize that sooner or later you will get to a number that is dull, one you can't find anything interesting to say about at all.

Quite right freckles. But that would make it the SMALLEST DULL NUMBER!!! Isn't that interesting? So then it would be a VERY interesting number. Don't you agree?

But Tillerman, what about the the next dull number?

Well cupcake, now THAT number must be the smallest dull number. So it's interesting too. And so on.... ad infinitum. So every number is interesting.

Wait. What does this have to do with why this post is strange?

Don't you get it squire? If this is the first post this month that isn't strange, then isn't that very strange? Isn't it also strange that we are the only ones discussing this?

I'm still not convinced, Tillerman. Your first and second reasons seem to depend on this post not being strange in order to prove that it is strange.

Well, that is strange I agree, you little stud muffin. But, I think my third reason will convince you.

(Yawn.) Let's hear it then Tillerman.

I've been talking to myself for the last 644 words.

OK, I concede. You are right. You are very strange

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Strange Sinking Feeling

I have a strange sinking feeling. No, not literally sinking. Just an inkling that today I'm going to discover that something really bad happened to my boat at the weekend.

The weather at the weekend was awful. High winds and driving rain. There was a slight reduction in the wind on Sunday afternoon and apparently half a dozen hardy souls actually went Laser racing at Newport. But not me. I stayed at home.

Yesterday evening I received an email from the fleet captain...

The wind gusted into the 50s on Saturday night and knocked more than a few Lasers off their dollies. A few were tossed quite a distance and sustained some serious damage. At least two were all but totaled. By the time the Laser fleet had arrived the parents of the Opti kids had put the boats back on their dollies. So we don't know exactly which boats were damaged. If you can, get down to Sail Newport during the week and give your boat the once over... the word is 12 or so boats were off kilter.

Uh oh. I need to pay a visit to Sail Newport today and check my boat out.

I have a strange sinking feeling that I'm not going to like what I find.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Strange Running Accident

I love my iPod Shuffle. When I go for a long run I like to plug myself in and listen to all my favorite songs delivered up in random fashion. Sometimes, I even find myself adjusting my pace to fit the tempo of each track.

But I don't use the iPod when running on roads in traffic. Even though I always run on the side of the road facing the oncoming traffic, I figure that I want to be able to hear what's going on around me. If some rogue car or motorbike, perhaps overtaking another vehicle, is approaching me from behind on the wrong side of the road and not seeing me, I want to be able to hear it before I am flattened under its wheels. So I only use the iPod in traffic-free areas such as sidewalks, trails in the woods, or one of my favorite running locations, the East Bay Bike Path.

I don't often run on the beach. When I do I tend not to use the iPod because I like to hear the sea. Don't all sailors? But I can imagine that if I were planning a long run on a flat, boring beach I might plug myself in to the device. I mean, there's no danger of being taken by surprise by some vehicle running into me from behind on a beach, is there?


Check out this strange story about a runner who was killed while running on a beach listening to his iPod after being struck from behind by... a single-engined plane making an emergency landing.

It's a strange, dangerous world out there kiddies. Play safe!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ten Strange Facts About the Earth's Magnetic Field

Sailors have a long relationship with compasses and magnetism. I even have a compass on my Laser. But the earth's magnetic field has always struck me as an exceedingly weird phenomenon. Some of the strange things about it include...

  1. That it should exist at all. If it didn't we wouldn't, "they" say. Amazing!

  2. "They" say it is caused by "electrical currents produced by the coupling of convective effects and rotation in the earth's spinning liquid metallic outer core of iron and nickel." A likely story!

  3. The magnetic poles are not aligned with the geographic poles. How odd! Why not? I have no clue. The map above shows magnetic declination, how much the direction a compass points differs from true north, at different points on the earth.

  4. There are actually two pairs of magnetic poles. The "magnetic poles" are the two positions on the Earth's surface where the magnetic field is entirely vertical. The two positions where the axis of the dipole that best fits the Earth's field intersect the Earth's surface are called the "geomagnetic poles." They are not in the same place as the magnetic poles. Seriously weird!

  5. The magnetic poles are not at directly opposite positions on the globe. Crazy! How can that be?

  6. The magnetic poles move around over time. Spooky! What makes that happen?

  7. On average about every 300,000 years the earth's magnetic field reverses itself. Crazy! Who would have guessed that?

  8. But the last reversal was 780,000 years ago. Sounds like we are overdue for another reversal. Watch this space. I will definitely blog about it when it happens. (As long as it's before the Rapture.)

  9. Some animals and birds can detect the earth's magnetic field. Birds use a magnetometer in their beaks.

  10. Some people think the iPhone compass detects the earth's magnetic field. But the real explanation of how it works is here.

How strange is that possum?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It Seems That I Have Always Been Strange

I was beginning to wonder if it was a wise move to take on the challenge to write a post every day this month on the theme STRANGE. I mean, there might be some people who come to this blog to read serious sailing tips like how to roll tack a Laser or serious sailing news about how the America's Cup is coming to Newport. These people might not like a whole month of strange posts.

But then I checked back in my archives. And I realised that I've always been strange.

Four years ago in March 2006 I was posting a weird video of old geezers singing sea shanties, writing about how I had persuaded my old sailing club to hold a very strange ceremony, showing you the soles of my feet, and reporting a conversation overheard in the men's changing room on how to use KY Jelly. Not much serious sailing blogging there.

A year later in March 2007, I seemed to have an obsession with animals. I was reporting on surfing rodents, a land vehicle steered by a goldfish and more goldfish who had learned to do synchronized swimming. All very silly stuff.

It is true that a lot of my posts in March 2008 were devoted to very serious accounts of my very serious sailing in the very serious Laser Masters World Championships in Australia the previous month. But I also wrote an exceedingly strange post about the reproductive biology of animals of the family Leporidae. Warning: photo of inter-species sex.

It is also true that in March 2009 I wrote some very serious posts about my very serious training at a very serious sailing clinic in Florida including one about how I almost very seriously injured my finger. But fear not dear reader, I was still strange on some days. I wrote one very strange and wonkish post about a very strange racing rules situation. And another even stranger post that started talking about "my sisters Ho and Po", had a character called "Mister Dick", and ended up with the worst pun you have ever heard... and it had absolutely nothing to do with sailing. Very strange.

Yes. It seems that I have always been strange. This blog has always been strange. Get over it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Strange Post About Tillerman

At one point I was thinking of turning Strange Blogging Month into one of my traditional group writing projects. If I had done so, then I think Sam Chapin would have won the prize for Strangest Post Ever About Tillerman with LASER STRANG.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It's very strange. The secret has been kept hidden from the average racing sailor ever since Uurrgh invented the sail and Harold Vanderbilt invented the Racing Rules.

I have an extensive library of books about racing and the secret is not even hinted at in any of them. Even Stuart Walker didn't touch the subject.

I have subscribed to various sailing magazines for decades and they have never revealed a hint of this secret. Not even the crème de la crème of sailing magazines, Sailing World, has covered this topic.

I have attended seminars with such uber-coaches as Brett Davis, Brad Funk, Rick White, Kurt Taulbee and John Kolius and they all kept this secret to themselves.

How strange.

But at last, the secret has been revealed by a sailing blogger, Judith Krimski, who writes Center of Effort. Judith, according to her profile, is a highly qualified coach and instructor who coaches adults and kids at various
muckety-muckety sounding sailing locales in Massachusetts. I don't know why she has chosen at last to share the strange mystery of how the top racing sailors go so fast; but she has.

Hidden down towards the bottom of her latest post cunningly titled The Devil's in the details...or NOT! she lets slip the secret...

Wear Clean Underwear

Wow! All these years I never knew. So that's what the top Laser sailors are wearing under their hiking pants... clean underwear! I never guessed.

Seriously. I don't wear underwear when I'm sailing. I didn't know you were supposed to. I never imagined it could make a difference.

For many years I wore one of those skimpy little Speedo bathing suits. As I often change into my sailing gear in semi-public locations such as beaches and parking lots, I felt it more appropriate to wear a Speedo than Y-fronts. That way, I can slip off my jeans or shorts, slip on my wetsuit or hiking pants, and no passing female will ever suffer the shock of seeing me in my underwear. But then I discovered that Speedos are seen as vaguely indecent in polite American society... even somewhat French. So, more recently I have taken to wearing some black spandex shorts that look a little like cycling shorts (without the all-important padding.) I once saw a very famous Laser Great Grandmaster walking down the street wearing similar shorts so I assume they are far more culturally acceptable than the tiny Speedos.

But now I find that I am supposed to wear underwear. And it must be clean too according to Coach Krimiski. Or should I call her Captain Krimski because I see in her profile that she does have a license to captain?

If Captain Krimski weren't a lady I suppose I could ask him (really her) some more intimate details as to what kind of clean underwear is best for Laser sailing. But I could hardly ask a lady, what I really need to know...

... the question that is really bugging me...

... what do top dinghy sailors wear under their hiking pants...

Boxers or Briefs?

Surely some of my expert readers can shed more light on this strange dark secret?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

R/C Assist

Check out the latest iPhone app for sailors. R/C Assist is a tool for race committees which provides complete countdown timer functionality for several of the most common starting sequences used in sailboat racing. It allows your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad to start the races completely with sounds broadcast through an amplifier, or to help your race committee time start sequences and use the proper flags and sound symbols at the correct time. See the support page for full details.

You may remember that back in 2008 I nominated the ubiquitous Ollie Box starting system as the Best Sailing Innovation Ever. I wonder if R/C Assist will be as successful. It's certainly a lot cheaper at $4.99.

Check it out. And by the way the creator of this nifty little tool is B.J. Porter who writes the sailing blog Sail Evenstar.

My Strange Affair with Cats - Part 2: The Cat Herder

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Laser sailor. Occasionally I even give into the temptation to make fun of other kinds of sailboats. I'm ashamed to admit I have even used phrases like "pontoon boats" and "training wheels" to denigrate catamarans. In my defense I only did it to annoy a certain sailing blogger from the other coast. (Is that a defense? Probably not.)

So how strange it was that on my vacation last December at the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands I found myself drawn to the dark side. I felt this weird attraction to sailing catamarans. By the end of the vacation I was (almost) hooked. Very strange.

Part 1 of the strange affair came when I took my wife out for a ride on a Hobie Wave on Saturday, our first full day at BEYC. I wrote about it at Tillerwoman's Rules. My wife never sails with me. My wife doesn't like sailing (she says.) But there we were blasting around North Sound on the Wave and she was laughing and having fun! On a catamaran! So that did at least prepare me to start thinking about the possibility that perhaps I ought to keep an open mind on the question of whether or not there might be some merit to catamaran sailing. But don't tell Joe.

Part 2 of my strange affair with cat sailing came on the following Tuesday when I signed up for something described as "Hobie Cat Out of Bounds." Like every sailing resort I have ever been to, BEYC has a defined area for dinghy and beach cat sailing. It's basically the waters that are in line of sight of the watersports center staff, so if that bald old fool with the English accent who takes out a Laser every morning gets himself into trouble they can see him and go out and tow him in. But on Tuesday afternoon there was a trip to "Out of Bounds!" Woo hoo. I had to be part of that... even if it was in boats with training wheels.

On Tuesday morning I did my husbandly duties by going sea-kayaking with Tillerwoman and then I took her for a ride in a Boston whaler. I was beginning to think she really does like boating after all.

Then, after a somewhat alcoholic lunch, I showed up at the watersports center a few minutes before the supposed start time for the "Out of Bounds Experience!" only to find that the instructor in charge of our adventure (whom I had not met before) was already briefing the other participants. Hmmm. How did that happen?

So I never really discovered the instructor's name. I think it was James. As far as I could gather the plan was to sail upwind past Saba Rock, across Eustatia Sound where the evil kite surfers play (don't get me started) and where we real sailors are not usually allowed to go. Then we would all gather near Eustatia Reef until James would lead us through a secret gap in the reef and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Then a long downwind roller coaster ride past Richard's Branson's private island, Necker. There was some mention of a stop for a drink on some sand spit out there on the wild, wild ocean but I wasn't listening too closely and figured I would just follow James, or whatever his name was. Then round the NW corner of Prickly Pear Island staying in the channel to avoid another reef, back to BEYC and return to my stash of rum.

At least that was the plan.

There were six Hobie Waves in all. James (or whatever his name was) on one. Two boats each with a couple on. And three of us sailing single-handed: the guy who won the second Hobie race on Sunday and who seemed to know what he was doing; me, who had no clue what he was doing; and a lady - her name was McGill and she called herself Lil but everyone knew her as Nancy.

So we all set off in a stiff NW breeze to cut through one of the two narrow gaps past Saba Rock and then out in Eustatia Sound. I think James said some final words about trying to stay together. Fat chance. Poor guy. He really was herding cats.

It occurred to me as I set off upwind that I had never sailed one of these machines solo before. I had always had the trusty Tillerwoman as ballast on my previous Hobie adventures. But what could go wrong? It seemed that I had little to worry about because "guy who won the race on Sunday" and I were soon through the gap and beating up Eustatia Sound. The wind was significantly stronger up there than in the more sheltered "in-bounds" sailing area and there was a nice steep chop somewhat reminiscent of my home waters on Narragansett bay.

I looked back. James seemed to be having trouble herding the other cats. One of the couples caught us up but the other couple and the lady known as Nancy were definitely lagging. So we noodled around trying not to get tangled up with the evil kite surfers and their razor wire kite strings (don't get me started.) Eventually James managed to corral all six cats into approximately one group and herd us through the invisible gap in the reef.

On the other side the waves were significantly bigger and there was some crazy dude standing up in a tiny little motor boat taking photos of us. Ahah, the BEYC resident photographer. Buy a picture of yourself sailing a tiny little pontoon boat on the big scary Atlantic Ocean for 35 bucks. Upwind it's all open water from here to the Azores, people.

James waved vaguely in the direction of the Turks and Caicos Islands which I took to mean that we could start sailing downwind. Woohoo. What fun! These little boats with training wheels were a hoot riding down the waves. "Guy who won the race on Sunday" and "the lady everyone knew as Nancy" and I were soon way ahead of the other three boats. Actually "Nancy" was in the lead, and "Guy" and I were sort of following her under the possibly mistaken assumption that she knew where she was going. It did occur to me that we were heading a bit too far to the north. Was she really going to make a break for the Turks and Caicos? Shouldn't we gybe soon and head for the corner of Prickly Pear? What did James say about stopping at a sand spit?

I guess the boats with two people on board were inherently slower downwind (something to do with physics I suppose) and James was doing the the prudent thing by keeping an eye on the tail-enders. Still, I would have been a bit more comfortable if I was sure that "Nancy" knew where she was going, but I assumed there was safety in numbers and that I had better stick with her and "Guy". Eventually "Guy" and I both figured out that we ought to wait for James and the other boats so we gybed and waited near the shore of Prickly Pear. James caught us up and admonished us for missing the sand spit we were supposed to stop on. What? I saw no sand spit. Geeze with all the spray on my sunglasses I could barely see the bows of my little pontoon boat. In any case, I figured James ought to be worrying more about "Nancy" who was still heading out to sea on starboard tack and, if somebody didn't stop her, probably would make landfall in the Turks and Caicos... in about three days.

The two boats with the couples on caught us up so our little party (minus Nancy) rounded the point of Prickly Pear Island and started sailing up the channel into North Sound. (I did remember that part of the briefing.) Apart from the fate of Nancy, things seemed to be under control again... until the mast of the boat being sailed by one of the couples came crashing down.

Uh oh. That's a problem. What are they supposed to do now?

I have to give it to James. He was calm in a crisis. Cool as a cucumber, he took out his VHF radio and called up BEYC to send out a rescue boat to tow in the de-masted catamaran. Guy and I carried on sailing so I never did quite see how James managed to deter Nancy from her apparent plan to break the Hobie Wave single-handed long distance passage world record while he was also looking after the disabled boat and crew.

Of course Guy and I raced each other upwind across North Sound. He was damn good and I couldn't catch him but I more or less held my own.

Went back to our cabin and showered and sat on the deck and drank some rum and chilled out for an hour or so. Bored Tillerwoman with a blow-by-blow account of my exciting afternoon and by telling her about twenty times why the Hobie Cat Out of Bounds Experience! was the best thing ever at BEYC.
I was beginning to be strangely attracted to these little beach cats. What is wrong with me? I am a Laser sailor. (At least I thought I was.)

Wore my brightest Hawaiian shirt to the West Indian buffet dinner. Was complimented on my shirt by attractive young woman. Saw Nancy (thank God she was still alive) and tactfully complimented her on her downwind speed. Listened to very mellow steel band.

And so to bed.

And dreams of long rolling waves... and cats. How strange is that kitty?

Sshhh. Don't tell Joe.

To be continued...

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Waldseemüller Map: The Strange Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name

In 1507, a German cartographer named Martin Waldseemüller drew a map of the world that had two momentous innovations.

Firstly, only a few years after Columbus had sailed to what he always thought was the east coast of Asia, and several years before Europeans are supposed to have first learned of the existence of the Pacific Ocean, the map showed the New World as two continents surrounded by water.

How strange is that possum? How did he know? How could he have known?

The second innovation was that, in honor of the recent voyages of Amerigo Vespucci to this New World, Waldseemüller gave the name "America" to the new lands.

A thousand copies of the Waldseemüller map were printed and the name America caught on all over Europe, but all copies of the map were thought to have been destroyed or lost... until one copy was rediscovered in Germany in 1901. More recently this single copy was bought by the US Library of Congress, where it is now on display.

The story of the Waldseemüller map is recounted at length in a remarkable book: The Fourth Part of the World by Toby Lester. But Lester's book is more than just the story of one map; it is the account of how Europeans, over centuries, changed and refined their views of the geography of the world and learned how to more accurately represent the world in maps. It's a tale of planetary exploration, and simultaneously the history of European intellectual awakening as seen from the perspectives of geography and cartography. If you have any interest at all in the voyages of the early European explorers or in maps and nautical charts and navigation, you will find this book to be a fascinating read.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Strange Blogging Month

Some regular readers of this blog may have noticed that every post this week has had the words "strange" or "stranger" or "strangest" in their titles. Some of you may have wondered why.

The reason is all to do with something called NaBloPoMo which stands for National Blog Posting Month. NaBloPoMo is a group of people who commit to updating their blogs once a day for an entire month. It started off as a goof based on National Novel Writing Month, the challenge of which is to try to write an entire novel during the month of November. Not everyone can commit to an endeavor of such magnitude, though, and so National Blog Posting Month was born. However, after doing a November NaBloPoMo for a couple of years in a row it seemed that a lot of people had found their momentum and wanted to keep going into December and beyond. So now NaBloPoMo is something you can do any month of the year.

I've never bothered with NaBloPoMo much before, mainly because I average about one post per day anyway. But NaBloPoMo also has a theme every month. It's purely optional but if writers want an extra challenge they can try writing a post every day on that theme.

The NaBloPoMo theme for March 2010 is STRANGE(R).

As I sometimes write some pretty strange posts I thought I would take up the challenge of writing a post on the theme of STRANGE(R) every day this month. It's not been too difficult so far... though I do admit it was a bit of a stretch to use the word STRANGER to introduce posts about professionals in sailing and the pros and cons of using a gym.

So that's why I'm acting strange this month.

Normal service will be resumed in April.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Strangest Excuse Ever for Losing a Sailing Regatta

I've sailed in a huge number of sailing regattas over the last 30 years. I have won very few of them. I have lost most of them. Usually I have had some creative excuse as to why I lost.

But I have never used the excuse that Fred Meyer, the Vice-Commodore of Société Nautique de Genève, dreamed up this week to explain why his club lost the second race and as a result the whole regatta in the 33rd America's Cup three weeks ago.

"From a rules point of view, it is not even clear whether there was truly a race or not on that day."


You sailed a race. You lost the race. Your boat made no request for redress. You lost the regatta. You handed over the trophy to the winner. Now, three weeks later, you say it's not clear there was a race?

Geeze. What's wrong with the Swiss?


Friday, March 05, 2010

Strange Self-Referential Paradox in the Racing Rules of Sailing

Thanks to Jos (who writes the best blog on the planet about the Racing Rules of Sailing) for drawing our attention to a strange paradox in the Racing Rules.

It's in Rule 18, the Rule that applies at marks, the one that says when you have to give another boat room to round the mark. All racing sailors know the basics of this Rule: you have to give room to a boat clear ahead or inside of you. But Rule 18 is actually quite complicated. It has lots of sections and subsections. Rules mavens can argue for hours about 18.2(b) and 18.3(a). If you like that kind of stuff you will love Jos's blog Look to Windward.

I won't bore you with all the details, so here is a highly summarized version of Rule 18.


18.1 Rule 18 applies when blah blah blah. It does not apply
(a) in this situation
(b) in some other situation
(c) in yet another situation
(d) or even in this one.

18.2 Blah blah blah
18.3 More blah blah blah
18.4 Yet more blah blah
18.5 Even more blah blah blah.

So Rule 18.1 lays out four situations when Rule 18 does not apply. But if Rule 18 does not apply, then Rule 18.1 (which is part of Rule 18) does not apply either. So Rule 18 does apply. But then Rule 18.1 applies so Rule 18 does not apply....

My head hurts just thinking about it.

It's a typical example of how a statement that references itself can create a logical paradox.

Another example would have been if God had written the Ten Commandments slightly differently on those tablets of stone he gave to Moses. Think about what would happen if He had carved in stone these words...

7.1 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
7.2 Commandment 7 shalt not apply if the woman is really hot and your wife is out of town.

If 7.2 applies then 7 does not apply in which case it's not adultery. But wait, if 7 does not apply then 7.2 does not apply either so 7 does apply. So you're going to hell anyway buddy. Or are you?

All I can say is that God was smarter than the drafters of the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stranger to the Gym

I'm a stranger to the gym. I never go to the gym. I am not even a member of the gym.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the importance of physical fitness to improving my performance as a Laser sailor. After all, this blog is mainly about "the delusion that it is not too late to discover how to sail smarter and faster." And I have written several times here about how my comparative lack of fitness is often a limiting factor in how well I do in races.

Stamina, strength, flexibility. I need to improve them all.

Cardio, weight training, yoga. I should be doing them all.

Actually, I do do a bit of all of the above. I like to run and do a bit of cycling as cardio exercise. I have some free weights in my basement man cave and do work out with them once or twice a week. I do some yoga stretches when I remember.

But I don't do enough. So, I often ask myself whether I would be more motivated to exercise more intensively and more regularly if I joined a gym.

I tend to address this question to myself at the start of every winter. During the warmer months with longer days, I do exercise more. I sail a lot (most years.) I run a lot (if I haven't injured myself while running.) I cycle. I swim. I do a lot of work for Tillerwoman in the garden. I go for long walks behind my lawnmower.

But then some winters... I hibernate. I allow the bad weather to become an excuse to run less, sail less, and cycle not at all. I eat more. I drink more. I sit in front of a computer more. I typically put on too much weight. I become less fit.

So every spring I have to start all over again getting fit for Laser sailing and it usually takes me until September or October to regain something close to my fitness and weight of the previous year... and then the weather becomes colder and the cycle starts all over again.

And, about that time of year, I ask myself... should I join a gym?

I read a lot of bad stuff about gyms. About how their business model is based on persuading enough people to sign up to pay for a year's membership dues knowing that a large percentage of those won't actually use the gym for more than a month or two after signing up. I think I might well be one of those people who would be in that large percentage.

I ask myself why I would be more motivated to jump in a car and drive 15 minutes to a gym to lift weights, rather than walk down to my own basement man cave and lift weights.

I ask myself why, if I wanted to work out on a rowing machine or a stationary bicycle, it wouldn't make more sense to use the money that I would spend on a year's gym fees to buy such equipment and put it in my basement man cave. But then I think of all the homes I have visited where it is clear that the stationary bike or treadmill hardly ever gets any use.

In any case, I prefer real running to running on a treadmill; and I prefer real biking to spinning my wheels in one place. And it turns out that my prejudices are based on hard scientific evidence; real running and biking and rowing outdoors are better for you than fake
running and go nowhere biking and pretend rowing indoors according to Winter Training - Faster and Safer Indoors? Of course, if you let the weather outside stop you from exercising at all it's a moot point.

So what do you think? Do you need to join a gym if you are serious about exercise? Does belonging to a gym improve your motivation to exercise? Or can you achieve all the fitness you need by doing some exercise at home plus some running and biking outside?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


You move to a new part of the country. You join the local Laser frostbite fleet. You know a few guys in the fleet but most of the fleet members are strangers to you. Who are these people?

You recognize the names of one or two of these strangers who always seem to be at the front of the fleet. You vaguely remember reading about them in some sailing magazine. You are sailing in the bottom half of the fleet most of the time and after a few weeks you are getting to know some of your fellow "bottom-halfers". But those guys in the top half are still strangers to you. Who are these people?

So what do you? You do what anyone would do. You google them. You do searches on ten of the names who always seem to do well in the races and you end up with a list something like this...

  • Professional coach and writer, twice Rolex Sailor of the Year, over 20 World or North American Championships including Star Worlds
  • Sailmaker, multiple national and eight World championship titles, crewmember in several America’s Cup campaigns
  • Leader of the structural and mechanical design team for the masts and wing for BMW Oracle, and current Laser Masters World Champion
  • Boat builder, former Snipe US National Champion and North American Laser Masters Champion
  • Project manager spar and rigging company, former US Sailing Match Racing Champion
  • Ivy league college sailing coach and former intercollegiate All-American
  • Former US Sailing Singlehanded National Champion
  • Current Laser Great Grandmaster World Champion
  • Cape Cod Frosty Intergalactic Champion
  • J24 World Champion
Wow. Seems like all these "strangers" are either sailing professionals or sailing superstars... or both. Intergalactic indeed!

Wait. Professionals? People who work in the sailing industry? People who are paid to know how to make sailboats go fast?

How do you feel about professionals in sailing? It's been a bit of a sore point in the sailing blogosphere this week after Nick Hayes (the author of Saving Sailing) said that "pros have no place in the vast majority of sailing as it is done today" and that most amateurs don't think it is great that they can compete against professionals.

But you do think it's great that there are so many excellent sailors in your Laser fleet. You don't care how they earn their living. Nobody is paying them to come out and race every Sunday through the winter in a Laser. You appreciate that all the boats are identical in Laser racing, nobody can buy boatspeed, and the races are decided on the skills of the sailors (and a bit of luck.) You like the fact that you can compete directly against the best sailors and learn from them by watching them, talking to them, and reading their "words of wisdom".

You wonder why Tillerman wrote this whole post in the second person. Who is this "you" he is talking about?
Is it me? Is it you? Why is he so strange this week? And why is he now writing in the third person?

What do you think, dear reader, about the role of professionals in sailing? What do you think when you find out that you are racing against professionals?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Strange Secret of How You Can Run Faster by Walking More

It seemed like a gorgeous spring day in Rhode Island today -- sunny, no snow, hardly any wind -- so I went for a long run on the East Bay Bike Path, a 10 mile run to be precise. Well, strictly speaking it wasn't a run because I was walking for 25% of the time. I was using Jeff Galloway's unique training method based on taking "walk breaks." I ran three minutes and walked one minute, and repeated (almost) ad infinitum until I had completed 10 miles.

Why does Galloway recommend walk breaks? Here is what he says...
By using muscles in different ways from the beginning, your legs keep their bounce as they conserve resources. When a muscle group, such as your calf, is used continuously step by step, it fatigues relatively soon. The weak areas get overused and force you to slow down later or scream at you in pain afterward. By shifting back and forth between walking and running muscles, you distribute the workload among a variety of muscles, increasing your overall performance capacity.

Walk breaks will significantly speed up recovery because there is less damage to repair. The early walk breaks erase fatigue, and the later walk breaks will reduce or eliminate overuse muscle breakdown.

His method is not only about using walk breaks during training. He recommends them when running races at long distances such as the marathon and half-marathon too. He says you can and will run such a race faster by talking walk breaks.
Most runners will record significantly faster times when they take walk breaks because they don't slow down at the end of a long run. Thousands of time-goal-oriented veterans have improved by 10, 20, 30 minutes and more in marathons by taking walk breaks early and often in their goal races. You can easily spot these folks. They're the ones who are picking up speed during the last two to six miles when everyone else is slowing down.

Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it? Slow down to go faster? Strange.

Does it work? Well, it worked for me.

I ran my first marathon in 2005. I used a traditional marathon preparation program that involved running longer distances each week during the training up to a maximum of 20 miles. Then on race day I just ran at what I thought was a comfortable pace, but I ran out of gas at the 20-mile mark, my leg muscles kept cramping, I spent several painful episodes sprawled on the side of the course trying to ease out the cramps, and I hobbled and staggered the last six miles of the race to finish in an appallingly slow time.

I ran the same race again in 2006. This time I used the Galloway system, taking regular walk breaks during the long training runs, the longest of which was 28 miles. During the race I took a one minute walk break every mile. I arrived at the 20-mile mark five minutes earlier than when I had run all the way the previous year. More importantly I didn't suffer a repeat of the agonies of the last six miles from the previous year, and I finished the marathon almost 30 minutes faster than I had in 2005.

So, it worked for me. I'm a great believer in the Galloway system now.

I'm not training for a marathon this year. My plan is to be prepared to run a half-marathon by early May, and then if that goes well to run some more half-marathons through the year. Last weekend I sat down and planned out which half-marathons in New England would fit around the Laser regatta schedule. Sailing is still my priority!

The 10 mile walk/run went well. Galloway says that you should do the long training runs at least a couple of minutes per mile slower than your target race pace. His theory is that these runs are to build stamina and you will achieve that no matter how slowly you run. And you will recover much faster from a long slow run. At my age, I like slow. Slow suits me just fine.

It's the first time I've run that far in six months. Right now I'm feeling a bit weary, but in a good way. All those endorphins coursing through the body sure make you feel good.

So that's the strange secret of how you can run faster by walking more.

How strange is that possum?