Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sea Witch



This whole blog is an experiment.

When I first started it I had no idea what I was doing or where I was heading. I just wrote whatever random thoughts about sailing came into my head such as Sailing Hurts, or recounted recent sailing experiences such as Run Rabbit Run.

In the first few weeks I did try a few oddball things and was occasionally surprised at the response. For example, I wrote a post about Bumper Stickers and provoked some angry rants from folk who disagreed or agreed with some of the sentiments in the stickers I described. Wow!

So I learned that pretty much anything goes. I can write whatever the hell I want and sometimes people will like it and sometimes they will get angry with me about it and sometimes they will be merely indifferent. Whatever!

I did write a lot about sailing. My disastrous racing experiences. My continual deluded thoughts about how to become a better Laser sailor. Personal angles on interesting boating stories I had found on other blogs or elsewhere.

But I also experimented with other subjects. I wrote about Running and Grandchildren. Nobody seemed to mind.

I experimented with types of blog posts and activities that I had found in other niche blog areas. Such things as Top Ten Blogs of the year and Group Writing Projects.

I experimented with different writing styles, different styles of post. I did zany humor, list posts and even lists of lists, a few rants on controversial sailing topics, and a lot of Utter Nonsense.

I think that if I ran out of ideas on different things to do with the blog, different things to experiment with, I would pack it in.

This month I tried two experiments...

Usually I ignore those annoying emails from businesses trying to get me to promote their products or services on my blog. But this month I was tempted by an opportunity to give away a $75 gift certificate to one of my readers in exchange for one simple link in a post on the blog. I was intrigued by how to link the subject of the link "drop leaf tables" to the main subject of this blog, sailing. So I blogged for a few days about "furniture and sailing" which seemed to strike some readers as amusing enough for them to contribute ideas on that topic too. And then I told readers how to win the $75 gift certificate. The response so far, I have to say, has been positively underwhelming. The deadline is 10pm tonight. Maybe this experiment has taught me that all my readers are so rich they don't need 75 bucks. Maybe you are telling me not to run any more giveaway contests. Or maybe I learned that "drop leaf tables" just don't turn you on. (Seriously, you don't have to spend the $75 on a table. Really.)

The other experiment I tried this week was a few days of wordless blogging. Pictures and videos only. Some blogs like The Horse's Mouth do this pretty much all the time; some like Messing About in Sailboats post a lot more photos and fewer words than they used to; and bonnie of frogma, who has been on vacation this week on Cape Cod, has just been posting one photo a day of her vacation activities. So I thought I would join the trend. It seemed to confuse some readers. They wondered what I was up to. Was there a secret code in the choice of picture subjects? It was fun watching the reaction. But don't worry I'm not going totally wordless. Although I may do Wordless Wednesdays or Wordless Weekends. That might be a good experiment...

Scientists say there is no such thing as a failed experiment. Even an experiment which produces different results from what you expected teaches you something. Michelson and Morley "failed" to measure the motion of the earth with respect to the aether. Then Einstein said let "c" be constant and lo in the fullness of time he brought forth Special Relativity... and there was light. The rest is history.

I will continue to experiment.

Get over it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Old Man

Boulter's Weir Kayakers

I Am Not a Witch

It has been a wild and wacky election season in the US this year. Thank god it's almost over. Among some of the wildest and wackiest we have had...

  • A candidate who opened her first election TV commercial with the statement, "I am not a witch."

  • A candidate who boasted, "I made money the old-fashioned way. I inherited it."

  • A candidate who likes to dress up in a Nazi SS uniform at weekends for fun.

  • A candidate who challenged his opponent to explain, "When is it ever a good idea to tie a woman up and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god, which you call Aqua Buddha?"

  • A female candidate who owns a 47-foot powerboat called Sexy Bitch.

Friday, October 29, 2010


Sailing Canoe


Happy Birthday to the Internet, 41 years old today.

The first message transmitted over the ARPANET (the world's first operational packet switching network) was sent by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline, at 10:30 p.m, on October 29, 1969. Supervised by Prof. Leonard Kleinrock, Kline transmitted from the university's SDS Sigma 7 Host computer to the Stanford Research Institute's SDS 940 Host computer. The message text was the word "login"; the "l" and the "o" letters were transmitted, but the system then crashed. Hence, the literal first message over the ARPANET was "lo". About an hour later, having recovered from the crash, the SDS Sigma 7 computer effected a full "login".

From "lo" to Fish on Fridays. We've come a long way in 41 years!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Frostbiting Starts This Weekend



Battle of Trafalgar Updated

Nelson: "Order the signal, Hardy."

Hardy: "Aye, aye sir."

Nelson: "Hold on, this isn't what I dictated to Flags. What's the meaning of this?"

Hardy: "Sorry sir?"

Nelson (reading aloud): "’England expects every person to do his or her duty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion, or disability.’ What gobbledegook is this for God's sake?"

Hardy: "Admiralty policy, I'm afraid, sir. We're an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil's own job getting 'England' past the censors, lest it be considered racist."

Nelson: "Gadzooks, Hardy. Hand me my pipe and tobacco."

Hardy: "Sorry sir. All naval vessels have now been designated smoke-free working environments."

Nelson: "In that case, break open the rum ration. Let us splice the mainbrace to steel the men before battle."

Hardy: "The rum ration has been abolished, Admiral. It’s part of the Government's policy on binge drinking."

Nelson: "Good heavens, Hardy. I suppose we'd better get on with it ... full speed ahead."

Hardy: "I think you'll find that there's a 4-knot speed limit in this stretch of water."

Nelson: "Damn it man! We are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history. We must advance with all dispatch. Report from the crow's nest please."

Hardy: "That won't be possible, sir."

Nelson: "What?"

Hardy: "Health and Safety have closed the crow's nest, sir. No harness; and they said that rope ladders don't meet regulations. They won't let anyone up there until a proper scaffolding can be erected."

Nelson: "Then get me the ship's carpenter without delay, Hardy."

Hardy: "He's busy knocking up a wheelchair access to the foredeck Admiral."

Nelson: "Wheelchair access? I've never heard anything so absurd."

Hardy: "Health and safety again, sir. We have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently abled."

Nelson: "Differently abled? I've only one arm and one eye and I refuse even to hear mention of the word. I didn't rise to the rank of admiral by playing the disability card."

Hardy: "Actually, sir, you did. The Royal Navy is under-represented in the areas of visual impairment and limb deficiency."

Nelson: "Whatever next? Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons."

Hardy: "A couple of problems there too, sir. Health and Safety won't let the crew up the rigging without hard hats. And they don't want anyone breathing in too much salt - haven't you seen the adverts ?"

Nelson: "I've never heard such infamy. Break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy."

Hardy: "The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone, Admiral."

Nelson: "What? This is mutiny!"

Hardy: "It's not that, sir. It's just that they're afraid of being charged with murder if they actually kill anyone. There's a couple of legal-aid lawyers on board, watching everyone like hawks."

Nelson: "Then how are we to sink the Frenchies and the Spanish?"

Hardy: "Actually, sir, we're not."

Nelson: "We're not?"

Hardy: "No, sir. The French and the Spanish are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy, we shouldn't even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a claim for compensation."

Nelson: "But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil."

Hardy: "I wouldn't let the ship's diversity co-ordinator hear you saying that, sir. You'll be up on disciplinary report."

Nelson: "You must consider every man an enemy who speaks ill of your King."

Hardy: "Not any more, sir. We must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now put on your Kevlar vest; it's the rules. It could save your life"

Nelson: "Don't tell me - Health and Safety. Whatever happened to rum, sodomy, and the lash?"

Hardy: “As I explained, sir, rum is off the menu! And there's a ban on corporal punishment."

Nelson: "What about sodomy?"

Hardy: "I believe that is now legal, sir."

Nelson: "In that case ... kiss me, Hardy."

Hey, it's not original. I stole it from John Vigor's Blog which I found by looking at the blogs that my followers follow. So, yes, there is a benefit to having followers after all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Happy Saint Crispin's Day

Growing up in England we were, of course, taught about the famous naval and military battles in our country's history. I guess the syllabus tended to focus on the ones that England won, not the ones we lost. But the English are also prone to celebrate gallant failures, plucky retreats and god almighty cock-ups too. And there's nothing the English like better than a hero who died in a failed endeavor. Scott and Franklin spring to mind.

We also love a battle that has been eulogized by one of our famous playwrights or poets. Or even better if there was a memorable quote from one of our famous generals or admirals made in the heat of battle.

I hadn't realized before that three of the most famous battles in English history all happened this week, two of them indeed on this very day, October 25.

On this day in 1415, Henry V of England defeated a numerically superior French force at the Battle of Agincourt. I forgot to mention; the English also like battles where the underdog wins and we never forget a battle where we beat the French.

The fame of Agincourt was no doubt aided by Shakespeare's treatment of it in his play Henry V. What Englishman can fail to be moved by Shakespeare's words in which the young King Henry rallies his troops before the battle?

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

October 25 is indeed Saint Crispin's Day. And another famous battle - actually an event more in the category of god almighty cock-up - fought on this day was the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War in 1854. Orders were confused and unclear and, as a result, some 600 or so cavalrymen charged into a death trap. As Wikipedia so dryly notes, "The reputation of the British cavalry was significantly enhanced as a result of the charge, though the same cannot be said for their commanders."

The Charge of the Light Brigade was made famous by the poem of the same name written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson who perfectly captured the bravery of the men involved while at the same time heaping scorn on the blunder that led to the charge.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The other famous battle this week may be more familiar to sailors. The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on 21 October 1805. This battle has all the essential ingredients...

  • The enemy outnumbered us. (We love the underdog.)

  • The English beat the French and the Spanish. (O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!)

  • The victorious English leader (Nelson) was mortally wounded in the battle. (Dead heroes are the best heroes.)

  • The score line (ships sunk) was 22-0. (If only the English soccer team were half as good.)

  • There was a famous quotation.

The famous quote was, of course, made in the battle, not afterwards by a poet or playwright. And it's surely the most famous English quotation that was originally issued in nautical signal flags.

Yup, this week was quite a week for battles. Happy Saint Crispin's Day.

Here endeth the history lesson.

I think I'll go to bed now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Welcome to the World of Kiteboarding

The other "sailor" in my family, Tom, my 17-year-old nephew.

He doesn't sail on water but on the unforgiving hard ground of Hereford Race Course in England. It's just across the road from his house and, from what I understand, he's out there kiteboarding on any day when there's a decent wind.

Fitness Equipment

A week or so ago I received an email from someone called Sean at CSN Stores who suggested that he would like to offer a "giveaway" on my blog. A brief exchange of emails solidified the proposal. He would provide a $75 CSN Stores gift certificate for me to give away to readers (in any way I chose) in exchange for my writing a blog post with a link titled "drop leaf table" which, not surprisingly, linked to a CSN Stores page selling some tables.


This is a sailing blog. Why would sailors be interested in drop leaf tables? Indeed, why would sailors be interested in buying anything from CSN Stores which seems to specialize mainly in furniture, home decor, etc. Sean wanted me to introduce the phrase "drop leaf table" as naturally as possible in the flow of a post narrative. Huh? In a sailing post?

But, hey, I love my readers. Without you I would be nothing but an old geezer with three grandkids and a 15-year-old Laser. You deserve that $75 gift certificate. Well, one of you does. So I took up the challenge.

So, how could I work this blog around to a casual mention of drop leaf tables? That's why I started that whole Furniture and Sailing theme last week.

You, my wonderfully inventive readers, responded beyond my expectations. We had a table with an outboard motor, an Optimist bed, and a guitar boat, to name just a few. I wrote a post about learning to sail on your dining table which led, perfectly naturally (I thought) ... to the drop leaf table post.

There remains the issue of why the hell would you want a $75 gift certificate from CSN Stores. What could you possibly want to buy from them?

Well, we all know that physical fitness is important to success in sailing. Right? Especially Laser sailing. One of the 200+ CSN Stores is dedicated to Fitness Equipment.

If I won the $75 gift certificate (which of course I can't) here are some of the things I might consider buying from CSN Stores...

An exercise bench.

Some yoga DVDs.

A rowing machine.

Ooh! She's cute. I don't suppose CSN Stores offer in-house demonstrations?

Anyway. After all my blood, sweat and tears, not to mention brilliant creative thinking, to work the phrase "drop leaf table" into a sailing blog purely for your benefit, the least you can do in return is to enter the bloody draw. There is bound to be something you want from CSN Stores.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


By my calculations I have sailed my Laser on 42 days this year. Next time will be #43. Back in 2008, some of my readers became unnaturally agitated about sail #43.

Watch this space.

If you can bear it.

Four Months

My youngest grandson, Owen, is four months old today. One third of a year already.

He has only warmed up to me in the last couple of weeks. Before that, every time his mother or grandmother handed him to me he would just scream at me. Maybe I didn't smell right? Maybe I had forgotten how to hold a small baby right? In any case, his two older siblings usually wanted some attention from their granddad and I found it easier to amuse a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old than to quiet a squalling baby.

But lately he seems quite happy snuggling up in my arms. He is much more responsive too. When I hold him so he can see my face he will smile and laugh and gurgle at me. I guess my face is pretty funny looking. Even a 4-month-old can see that.

This week I passed two further tests with young Owen. He let me feed him for the first time and he let me change his diaper for the first time. Oh joy! But that is what granddads do in 2010.

When Owen's mother is out of earshot, I have started to explain sailing to him, and make wild promises about sailing adventures we will have together when he is old enough. His brother Aidan (2) is definitely an outdoors type; yesterday he was playing toy boats with me in freezing water in a wheelbarrow in their garden. And their sister Emily (4) loves swimming and playing in the water too.

Life is good.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friends: What's the Point?

As part of today's CSN $75 Giveaway I made it a requirement that anyone entering the draw for the giveaway must first sign up as a "Follower" of this blog in that Google Friend Connect widget at the top of my sidebar. I'm not sure why I did that.

In fact, I have no idea at all what the point of being a "Follower" in this sense is. I have 64 of them at the last count. What good are they?

And I am actually a "Follower" myself of a couple of other blogs. I guess I signed up because the writers of those blogs asked me to do it. I see no benefit to me in being a "Follower" of these blogs either. It makes no difference to how often I read those blogs. I do no use the fact that those blogs show up in my Blogger Dashboard to link to those blogs. I find their latest posts by other means. So what good is it being a "Follower"?

So why did I bribe you $75 to do something which is of no benefit to you and of no benefit to me? I guess I was just imitating - and maybe mocking a little - other bloggers who use bribes like this in their quest for global bloggery domination. For example, here is an example of how one over-ambitious blogger set the rules for her CSN Giveaway draw...

Earn 1 entry for every comment you leave on this blog post from now until 07/26. Leave a comment for each entry completed.

Go to CSN stores and let me know about your experience. (2 Entries)

Post about this giveaway on your blog and link back to me. Leave me your link to show the post. (2 entries)

Grab my Blog Button and post it in your sidebar. (1 Entry)

Follow me on Google Friend Connect, which is located on the right side bar. (1 Entry)

Subscribe to my feed via RSS or email. (1 Entry)

Follow me on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway. (1 Entry)

Click to vote for me at Top Mommy Blogs. Just click the banner on the right sidebar (Top Mommy Blogs) and tell me you clicked. (1 Entry)

Geeze. Life is too short to count so many entries.

If you want to read this blog, do.

If you don't want to, don't.

If you want $75, enter the draw.

If you don't, don't.

In the meantime, can someone (perhaps one of my 64 Google "Friends") explain to me the point of Google Friend Connect and "Following" blogs?

PS. If you go and vote for me at Top Mommy Blogs, I will kill you.

Kitchen Table Boat

Thanks to Chris N. for bringing to my attention this excellent example of furniture turned into a sailboat. Note the navigation lights on the legs, wave guards at the aft gunwale, and even a registration number!

Furniture and Sailing: $75 Prize

For the first time ever on Proper Course there is something of real value here. To thank all of my loyal readers for their tremendous support of and participation in our topic of the week, Furniture and Sailing, today I am announcing a giveaway of a gift certificate worth $75... and YOU could win it.

But first let me suggest to anyone who is having difficulty finding a suitable table to try out the ideas in yesterday's post on How to Learn to Sail on Your Dining Table that you should seriously consider buying a drop leaf table. When you are not using it for learning to sail you can fold down the leaves and it will take up hardly any space. And if you do decide at some future date to convert your table into a sailing vessel, I think a drop leaf table would provide some interesting design opportunities. Did someone say "twin canting keels"?

Now, back to the $75 giveaway. Thanks to the generosity of CSN Stores who, just by coincidence, happen to be the vendor of those drop leaf tables at the link above, I have a $75 gift certificate to give away to one of my lucky readers. But you don't have to spend it on a drop leaf table. You can use it for any of the gazillion items available from the 200+ online CSN Stores. Check them out. You are sure to find something you need there. (Or failing that you could put your 75 bucks towards buying your significant other a waterbed for Xmas.)

Entering for the giveaway is simple. First, you have to be a follower of this blog. If you are not already a follower, go over there >>>>> to the top of the sidebar and sign up immediately. Once you are a follower, leave a one-word comment to this post that best describes what you think of this blog. Awesome? Brilliant? Grippy? Superstantial? Don't hold back. Tell me what you really think.

Helpful hint: you are not going to win if you leave an anonymous comment.

This contest is open to entrants in USA and Canada only. Sorry, CSN don't ship to other countries. Submit your comment by 10:00pm (EST) on Sunday, October 31, 2010. The winner will be drawn at random and announced shortly after that on this blog.
Only one comment allowed per person.

This contest is now closed, and the post is closed to further comments. Winner will be announced shortly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guitar Boat

Thanks to BlueVark (via email) and bowsprite (in the comments to Furniture and Sailing) for bringing my attention to Josh Pyke's Guitar Boat. It's not exactly furniture but sorta kinda in the same genre. Have you seen any other musical instrument boats? (No. Before you ask, bass boats don't count.)

Dining Table

As part of my extensive research in the dark, dim recesses of my basement for material on this week's topic of Furniture and Sailing - making boats from furniture, making furniture from boats etc. etc. - I came across a fascinating article in the August 1938 issue of Popular Science Magazine on How to Learn to Sail on Your Dining Table. Aren't you glad that I'm the sort of anal-retentive person who never throws away any magazine that has an article about sailing in it?

The article is not actually about sailing the ocean on a dining table. It's about using your dining table as a learning aid. All you need is an electric fan to whip up some breeze and some bits and pieces to make a model boat, and you can master the fundamentals of sailing right on your dining table. At least that's what our intrepid table-top sailor E.W. Murtfeldt says.

E.W. explains how you can teach yourself about beating, reaching, running, tacking and jibing with this set-up. You can see what happens as you position the boat at various angle to the wind and what happens when you trim the sails. You can even try out such advanced maneuvers as picking up a mooring.

Wow! Who would have thunk it?

But what if the rest of your family objects to your using the dining table to "play" with your electric fan and little boat with its sail made out of "an old handkerchief or shirt tail"? What if your wife actually wants to use your dining table for dining?

Fear not, dear reader. I will have a solution to this problem in tomorrow's post...

Watch this space (if you can bear it.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Optimist Bed

Continuing with our current theme of using furniture as boats, or boats as furniture, Agnes from Hungary writes...

My friend converted an old Optimist dinghy hull to a bed for his son. His son sails a new Opti and sleeps on an Opti while dreaming about helming the beautiful boat painted on the wall beside his bed. Here are the pictures - before and after resurrection.

Coffee Table

Talking of tables, as we were, Dustin sent me some pictures of a boat that he says he wanted to use as a coffee table. He didn't explain why. It looks to me as if coffee cups would slide off that deck.

Outboard on Table

Thanks to Chris Partridge of Rowing for Pleasure for sending in this picture in response to yesterday's question about Furniture and Sailing. It's not a sailboat but it is a boat... I guess.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Furniture and Sailing

I was wondering... could you make a boat out of a piece of furniture? A bookshelf? A chair? A table, for example?

If it's made of wood and it floats, could you jury rig a sail and some kind of steering oar and actually sail the thing?

Has anybody ever done this? To rescue themselves after a shipwreck, perhaps? Or as part of some crazy fun challenge at a sailing club?

Vice versa, can you convert a boat into a piece of furniture? An Optimist into a coffee table? A Sunfish into a settee?

Just wondering....

What do you think?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bright Spots

I've recently been reading a book called Switch. The authors, Chip and Dan Heath, didn't know they had written a book about sailing. But I think they have...

The subtitle of the book is How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Personal change, family change, business change. Change is often hard. How can we make it happen? It's one of those easy-to-read books you pick up at airports to read on a long journey, full of fascinating anecdotes and a framework of pop psychology.

Of course, the major theme of this blog is the delusion that I can change to become a better sailor. So it's not surprising that as I read the book I was wondering if I could pick up any good ideas from Switch to help with my own personal quest for change.

One suggestion that Mr. and Mr. Heath (they are brothers I think) make early in the book is Find the Bright Spots. When faced with an apparently intractable problem, some situation that isn't going the way you want it to, ask the question, "Where are the bright spots? Are there any examples where things are going right? What's different about them? What can we learn from them?"

Mr. and Mr. Heath tell stories about how this technique was used to create desirable change in such diverse areas as solving the problem of childhood malnutrition in Vietnam, turning round a ninth-grader with serious behavioral problems at school, and helping a drug company find a way to market a supposed miracle drug that just wasn't selling well.

In every case the successful change agent went looking for the bright spots...

Are there any very, very poor kids who are bigger and healthier than the average Vietnamese child? What are these kids' mothers doing differently from the other mothers?

Is there even one class where that problem ninth-grader isn't always getting into trouble? What is the teacher of that class doing differently?

Are there are any sales staff who are selling more of that miracle drug than their peers? Turns out there were two saleswomen selling twenty times more. What on earth were they doing differently?

Powerful stuff. We don't always approach a problem in that way.

For example what is the normal advice on how to improve as a racing sailor? Find your weaknesses and then find ways to work on them and eliminate them. It's what Eric Twiname teaches in his classic book Sail, Race and Win. Just the opposite of Find the Bright Spots.

So, I thought, how can I apply this principle to my disappointing performance at the recent Laser Masters World Championships in England? Should I analyze how to deal with my general unfitness, and overall wimpiness, not to mention also being a crap sailor? No, no, no. That's the old way. That's focusing on the weaknesses, the supposed causes of the problem. Where are the bright spots?

Ummm. The beer in England was good.

Hmmm. Not very helpful.

What about my previous performances at Laser Masters Worlds? Did I do much better in one year than all the others? That would be a bright spot.

As it happens there was one such year. 2007. The Masters Worlds at Roses in Spain. I finished in the top half of the fleet instead of thrashing around with the tail-enders like I usually do. As I wrote in Semi-Respectable Mediocrity I just felt right from the first day that I had better boat speed than most of my opposition. Definitely a "bright spot".

So what was different about my preparation for the Worlds in 2007?

I moved house? Not likely to be the cause. In any case I'm not moving house every year just to do well in sailing regattas.

I ran a marathon in April? Hmmm. May have been a factor. But that was five months before the Worlds and I didn't run much during that summer, so I suspect that any residual fitness advantage had worn off by September.

I sailed more Laser regattas that year than in any other year in my life? I sailed major regattas and little regattas. In January I went to Cabarete in the Dominican Republic for a clinic and the Caribbean Midwinters. In June I sailed the Laser North Americans in Hyannis. I sailed the Newport Regatta and the Hyannis Regatta and the Buzzards Bay Regatta. I sailed the
Championship of Buzzards Bay and the Leukemia Cup. I sailed the New England Laser Masters and in the Ponce de Leon Series. In other words I sailed pretty much every Laser regatta on the local calendar against all the best local sailors and some top national sailors.

As opposed to this year where I sailed the Wickford Regatta and the Buzzards Bay Regatta and precious little else.

Geeze, do you think that could be it? Is it possible that racing a lot improves your racing ability, that sailing lots of regattas for a few months improves sailing fitness and boatspeed and strategy and tactics and all those other skills you need to do well in sailing races?


Sometimes I amaze myself.

I think I'll go to bed now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Racing vs Fun

Some of the comments to my recent posts about how I had only managed to sail half the races in the recent Laser Masters World Championships on account of my general unfitness and overall wimpiness, not to mention also being a crap sailor, were of the general sentiment, "it's not about winning... sailing is meant to be about having fun."

I don't know whether these people have read my blog for very long because, if they had, they would have noticed that I rarely ever win. I wasn't ticked off that I didn't win my division at the Masters Worlds. I never had any prospect of winning. I was ticked off that I didn't have as much fun as I usually do. On the first day I capsized a lot in the first race and was too exhausted to do the second race. In the middle of the week I got sick and missed three races. And on the final day, in spite of a good first race, I was just mentally too tired to do the final race. I was not having fun because I was missing too many races, not because I wasn't winning.

For me, racing is fun. (Usually.) I ought to write a post called Ten Reasons Why Sailboat Racing is Fun. I don't need to win to have fun. I think my feeling on the rare occasion when I win a regatta must be a bit like the one a golfer has when he scores a hole in one. He might have given himself a chance to do it. But he didn't expect to do it. He wouldn't have been disappointed if he didn't do it. He's mightily surprised that he did do it. And he's so happy that he did do it that he buys everyone a drink in the bar afterwards.

If the only way to have fun when racing were to win, then most of us would be miserable most of the time we are racing. Statistically most of us are not going to win most of the time. If we didn't have fun not winning, then we would soon give up.

A very wise man called Stuart Walker once wrote, "Winning is the object of the game, but it is not the object of playing the game."

Think about it.

Play the game.

Have fun.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Random Radial Ramblings

Among the many helpful and supportive comments to my self-pitying post Half a World about how I had only managed to sail half the races in the recent Laser Masters World Championships on account of my general unfitness and overall wimpiness, not to mention also being a crap sailor, was one from Tony...

I feel a little dirty for suggesting this, but have you thought about swapping to a Radial for the next Worlds? San Fran then Fremantle, both will be a battle in the full rig but much more fun with a smaller sail. Might be a good way to rediscover the fun.

I need to go and wash my mouth out now.

Hmmm. What is a Radial, some of my readers may be asking themselves? And why does Tony feel dirty for suggesting this?

The Laser Radial is just a Laser with a slightly smaller rig. It has a shorter mast bottom section than a standard Laser and a radially cut sail with an area of 5.76 square meters as opposed to the 7.06 square meters of the standard rig. I've never sailed a Radial but I suspect Tony is suggesting it because the Radial would likely to be somewhat easier to handle than the standard rig in heavy weather. I wouldn't need to hike as hard to keep the boat flat upwind and it's reputed to be somewhat more stable downwind. I guess. But what do I know? I've never sailed one.

But why does Tony feel dirty for suggesting that I sail a Radial?

I'm only guessing because Tony comes from Australia and I'm more familiar with American and European attitudes to the Radial. You see the Radial is really intended for sailors in the 130-165 lbs weight range. Not surprisingly it's very popular with youth sailors and women sailors. It is, after all, the women's singlehanded class at the Olympics. As a result, there's a bit of a macho attitude, at least in America, that "Real Men Don't Sail Radials." However not every adult male weighs over 165 lbs. One of my English sailing friends, who has also lived in the USA, tells me that there isn't the same negative macho attitude to Radials in Europe; if you are a smaller adult man you will quite sensibly sail a Laser Radial there instead of beating yourself up trying to handle a full rig in heavy weather.

So I will try not to feel dirty like Tony and ask myself honestly, should I be sailing a Radial? Well, one factor is that I'm not a little guy by any means. I'm 6'2" tall and usually in the 195-200 lb range, in spite of my constant efforts to get closer to the optimum 180 lbs for full rig Laser sailors. Aren't I way too heavy for a Radial?

Maybe not. You see, there is another factor. Age. At the Laser Master Worlds competitors sail in age group divisions and you can choose to sail in Radials or Standards (full rigs). So there are Radial Rig fleets for the age groups 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and 65+, and Standard Rig fleets for age groups 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64.

See anything strange about this arrangement?

Yup. The International Laser Class in all its wisdom assumes that the top Laser sailors in the world, those aspiring to win or who may already have won masters world championships, will all sail Laser Radials as soon as they turn 65. There is no division at the Master Worlds for full rig sailors over 65.

Why should this be? Why would they want fat old dudes like me (who may well be even fatter after another three years of my wife's superb cooking) weighing over 200 lbs perhaps, to sail a boat designed for people 40 to 70 lbs lighter? Do they assume that we will all be so weak and decrepit by the time we turn 65 that we won't be able to handle a full rig in 25+ knots in big waves on the open ocean? I'm shocked.

But wait. Isn't this where we came in? Didn't this 62-year-old sailor demonstrate a few weeks ago at Hayling Island that age does matter and that sooner or later, perhaps around the mid 60's for the average bloke, you're better off trading down to a Radial? Maybe. Maybe not.

Not everyone agrees with the ILCA's assumption that you should be sailing a Radial once you turn 65. Some macho dudes want to keep sailing full rigs at the Masters Worlds after they turn 65. And, in truth, they still can. There's actually nothing to stop some old geezer of 80 sailing in the Laser Grandmasters Standard fleet. It's intended for sailors aged 55-64 but, as long as you are over 55, they seem to let anyone sail there. There was at least one sailor over 65 sailing in the Grandmasters Standard fleet at Hayling Island. He may have regretted it though. On that first windy day, he even finished behind me in the first race in spite of my many capsizes (what a disgrace) and he also (like me) chose not to compete in the second race. Would he have been happier sailing against his contemporaries in the Great Grandmasters Radial fleet? I don't know. Only he can say.

(I warned you this would be a random ramble... And it's not finished yet. This might be a good time to take a pee break if you need one.)

It is also true that some sailors under 65 like me who normally sail full rig Lasers on the local circuit, do chose to enter in the appropriate Radial fleet at the Masters Worlds, especially if it is a location rumored to have strong winds (like most of the locations chosen for the Worlds, it seems.) I guess they reason that they will have more fun sailing every race in a Radial than thrashing about, struggling to complete even half the races in a full rig like proud, stubborn idiots like me. But, to be fair, the guys I know who do this are not 6'2" and 200 lbs like me either.

At the Masters Worlds, it's all or nothing. You either sail in a Radial fleet all week, or in a Standard fleet all week. But at Masters regattas in North America they allow a practice called "rig-swapping." (Tony would probably think this is very dirty!) On any given day of the regatta you can choose to sail in a Radial or a Standard Rig (assuming you have both.) Some folk think this is unfair because supposedly it gives lighter sailors an advantage. But the powers-that-be like the policy because it maximizes participation. On very windy days when some sailors might stay ashore, they will still race if they are allowed to use the smaller Radial rig.

The same is true in many local fleets for sailors of all ages, my local Laser frostbite fleet for example. Many of the sailors there (albeit not usually ones that are 6'2" tall and who weigh 200 lbs) will sail full rigs on light wind days and Radials on heavy wind days. Like rig-swapping at Masters events, it maximizes participation.

So am I at the point where I too should become a rig-swapper? That is the question.

Should I assume that I will still want to be sailing in Masters Worlds Championships after I am 65 and at that point I will choose do the sensible thing and sail in the Great Grandmasters Radial fleet with my contemporaries, rather than do the macho thing and sail in the Grandmasters Standard Fleet against mere kids of 55? And, if so, should I buy a Radial rig now and start getting used to the different sail? Should I become a rig-swapper at North American Masters events and when frostbiting, and follow Tony's suggestion of sailing a Radial in San Francisco in 2011 and Fremantle in 2012? That is the question.

Will I be ridiculed by my American friends for sailing a Radial when I weigh 200 lbs (plus any subsequent increments caused by my wife's superb cooking)? Would I feel less guilty about sailing a Radial if I actually lost some weight so I was somewhat closer to the ideal range for a Radial sailor? Or should I just work harder on becoming fitter, fit enough to sail a full rig Laser properly in heavy air without getting exhausted after one race? That is the question. Actually that's another question. Really several questions. But they are related to to the first question.

Should I stop this post now or just keep rambling on? That is the question. No, wait, that really is a different question.

I need to go and wash my mouth out now.

Friday, October 08, 2010


This blog has always been about a delusion. It says so over there >>>> in the sidebar. The delusion that it is not too late to discover how to sail smarter and faster. The delusion that if if I read all the right books and watch all the right videos and practice hard and pick the brains of good sailors and work with good coaches and race a lot... that I will become a better Laser sailor.

I realize now that I was deluded about my delusion.

My experience at the Laser Masters Worlds last month brought it home to me. It's not only a delusion that I can become a better Laser sailor; it's also a delusion that I can even maintain my own (already mediocre) level of sailing ability as I get older.

I thought my delusion was that I was on an uphill slope. Now it turns out that my real delusion was that I even on level ground. In reality I'm on a slippery downhill slope trying harder and harder not to slide down too fast.

Or am I?

You, my wonderfully supportive readers, gave me all kinds of advice on how to deal with my disappointing performance at the Worlds, especially my failure to sail in half the races.

There's the "results don't really matter, you're only doing it for fun anyway" advice. There's a lot of truth in that. But if you spend all that money and travel 3,000 miles and only sail half the races, it doesn't feel like a hell of a lot of fun either.

There's the "switch to a Laser Radial at the next Worlds" suggestion. Some of my contemporaries have already gone down that path. It's worth considering.

There's the "face your failure and learn from it" argument. It's a good point. Every competitor goes through bad patches. The real measure of the athlete is how he deals with disappointing results and what he learns from them. I've been thinking a lot about that in the last couple of weeks.

The good news is that my random thoughts about where I go next with my Laser sailing, what my ambitions should be, how I should train, what kind of races I should enter etc. etc. will provide fodder for a few more blog posts over the next couple of weeks...

Watch this space (if you can bear it.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Dumped: A Parable

Tim thought of himself as a bit of a ladies' man. He thought he new all about women and how to please them. He played the field. He got his share. He was enjoying the free and easy life style of a bachelor and man about town... until he met Hailey.

He fell hard for Hailey. She was exciting. She was special. She was cool. She was hot. She was everything he had been looking for. He was more than pleasantly surprised when, after dating for only two or three weeks, she suggested that he move in with her.

That first week at Hailey's place was mind-blowing for young Tim. They did it every night. Hailey certainly seemed to have plenty of experience in that department. He was in seventh heaven.

Until Sunday. Over breakfast on Sunday morning Hailey dropped the hammer. "I'm sorry Tim, but you're just not much good in bed. You don't have much stamina and you have no idea how to handle the rough stuff. And your technique is just awful. Last night was the last time. I need you to move out. I'm going for a walk now. Please be gone when I get back."

Tim was devastated. Where had he gone wrong? He packed his stuff and headed home to his lonely bachelor quarters.

He called Hailey on Monday evening. "Hailey darling, please give me a second chance. I'm sure I just need more practice. We can practice in the morning, we can practice in the evening, we can practice all night long. I'm sure I'll get better."

Hailey wasn't interested. "I'm sorry Tim. You're not practicing on me."

Before he knew what he was saying, Tim blurted out, "Well, I'll practice on my own then. I used to do that a lot."



Hailey had rung off.

Tim called her again on Tuesday evening. "Hey Hailey, I have another idea. I went to this... umm... shop at lunch-time and bought these books and videos. There's a book by a British guy called Paul with lots of glossy pictures of his technique. And a couple of videos of how to do the rough stuff you like, one by some Argentinian fellow. I can bring them round and we can look at them together and try some of the things in them."

Hailey was unmoved. "I don't want to look at your porn videos, you pervert. Go forth and multiply. And don't call me again."


Tim was at his wits' end. He talked to one of his friends and called Hailey again on Wednesday evening. "Hailey, just listen, I have some ideas. Tony from Australia says we should try a smaller bed. What do you think?"

"You can tell Tony from Australia that I think he has a dirty mind. Now just leave me alone. I don't want to talk to you any more."

Tim was desolate, heartbroken. He didn't know where to turn. He was desperate...

He called Hailey again on Thursday evening. "Please listen to me dear. I have the answer. I met this woman on the Internet. At least I think she's a woman. She lives near San Francisco. She says she can fix my problem. She says I should go out to San Francisco and practice with her and her friends for a few weeks. She says everyone there does it in neoprene and are experts at the rough stuff. And she told me about a couple of variations they do in San Francisco called the Irish Coffee and the Flemish Coil. Sounds like fun. What do you think?


"Hailey? Are you still there?"



Monday, October 04, 2010


On the Saturday after my return from the UK I headed off to race in the New England Laser Masters at Third Beach, Newport, and was looking forward to sailing with my brand new lower mast section which I had recently purchased from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island (a.k.a. the boat shop next to the Laser factory in Portsmouth) for only three hundred and twenty five dollars and eighty two cents including sales tax, after breaking my old mast.

The wind was blowing from the SW at 15-18 knots and it was a pleasure to sail on some nice regular rolling Sakonnet River waves instead of those "nasty, unpredictable, monster, cockpit-filling, boat-bashing, short wavelength, square waves" we had at Hayling Island.

I was going pretty well in the first race and finished just above the middle of the fleet. But in the next couple of races I was awful. I couldn't work out what was wrong. I just couldn't hang with the fleet going upwind, I couldn't point, and in both races I slipped back and back in the fleet as each race progressed. The wind picked up a little for the fourth race but I was so ticked off with my poor performance that I decided to skip the final race and head for the beach. What was wrong with me?

Back on land I discovered that it wasn't me that was wrong. It was my new mast. My new bottom section that I had recently purchased from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island for only three hundred and twenty five dollars and eighty two cents including sales tax, and which I had never used before was now... permanently bent. And not just slightly bent. Bent into a curve of 10-15 degrees.

Now I was really ticked off. How could this happen? A brand new mast used once in conditions that were by no means extreme for Laser sailing shouldn't have a permanent bend like that after one day's sailing.

As luck would have it, the helpful gentlemen from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island were attending the regatta with their van and had been doing a roaring trade selling clothing and boat bits to many of the old Laser geezers at the event. So on Sunday morning I took my brand new mast bottom section (have I mentioned it cost three hundred and twenty five dollars and eighty two cents including sales tax?) across to one of the helpful gentlemen from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island and plonked the mast down on his table and said, "I bought this from you three weeks ago and used it for the first time yesterday. It shouldn't bend like that, should it?"

I was not a happy camper.

The helpful gentleman from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island looked at my mast. I'm pretty sure that he was one of the helpful gentlemen that had sold me the mast but he didn't seem to remember me. Did I have my receipt? Well, no, it's at home, I don't usually bring receipts for every boat part to a regatta. I was pretty sure that the other helpful gentleman from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island at the regatta would remember selling me the mast and eventually he was tracked down and did indeed confirm that I had bought the mast only a few weeks before from Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island.

The helpful gentlemen looked at the mast. They weren't sure they could help me today. Maybe I could come to the shop on Monday? The company has a policy. Bent masts have to go back to the factory to be tested to see if they are within specs are not. If they are out of spec then I could have a new mast under warranty. If not....

I stood my ground. I explained to the helpful gentlemen at Laser Performance Sail and Sport Rhode Island that it seemed to me that I had already "tested" the mast and it had failed the test. You are supposed to be able to sail a Laser in 15-18 knots without giving the mast a permanent bend of 10-15 degrees, aren't you? And, in any case, I want to sail today.

The helpful gentlemen were sympathetic. They would like to let me have the new bottom section that they had in the van but there is that little policy problem. If the factory says my bent mast is in spec then they won't reimburse the shop and so I would have to pay for the replacement mast.

What kind of test does the factory do? The helpful gentlemen didn't seem to know exactly.

In the end I had no real choice but to accept their terms and to agree to pay for a new mast if the bent mast was found by the factory to be within spec (using a test that nobody present seemed to be able to define.)

As a consumer, it seems to me that I bought a consumer product and used it for the purpose for which it was intended in conditions for which it was designed, and it failed to work as expected, and is no longer usable after one use. Naturally I feel that I am entitled to a replacement at no cost to me.

But I can also see the manufacturer's point of view. They build (or sub-contract the building of) Laser masts according to specifications in the Laser Construction Manual which is a document controlled by the designer (Bruce Kirby) and the manufacturers (and which, by the way, is not available to the general public.) If they make a mast section which meets the specifications in the Laser Construction Manual then they probably think that they have met their obligations, irrespective of whether or not the mast breaks or bends on its first outing.

Watch this space. I guess I'll be writing one more post on this subject when I hear the results of the mystery test.