Showing posts with label Frostbiting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frostbiting. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Snowy Day Laser Sailor Blues

Bob Dylan sailing some boat that's not a Laser

Oh, the Tillerman writes his nonsense
Up and down his blog.
You'd ask him what the matter is
But you know he's such a dog.
Yet the sailors treat him kindly
And they all give him a break
But deep inside his heart
He knows he's just a fake.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Well Judy she's going to Mexico
With her hiking boots and her hats
Speaking to some Canadian
Who will teach her how to sail fast.
Maybe I should do a clinic
To learn those downwind moves
But I'm shoveling all this snow
And I'm running out of booze.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Meka tried to tell me
To stay away from the Clif Bars.
She said they're full of sugar
That will put inches on my arse.
And I said "Oh I didn't know that
But then again I don't know shit
About nutrition and diet and vitamins
And stuff that makes you fit."
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Petey died last week
And now he's buried in the rocks
But everybody still talks about
How badly they were shocked.
But me, I expected it to happen
I knew he'd rile the nuts
When he fought to clean  the river
And make it safe for ducks.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Now the fleet captain came down here
Showing videos from his GoPro
Handing out free tickets
To the Providence Boat Show
And me, I nearly got convinced
And wouldn't he have sniffed
If I had spent thirteen thousand dollars
And bought that RS100 skiff?
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Now the horse he looked so baffled
When I asked him why he dressed
The ladies with their fishes
And nothing on their chests.
But he cursed me when I proved it to him
Then I whispered, "Not even you can hide
You see, you're just like me
I hope you're satisfied."
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Now Doug, he gave me two cures
When he said, "Your sailing's such a shambles."
The one was hiking workouts
The other was sailing angles
And like a fool I mixed them
And it tangled up my mind
And now, my tacks just get uglier
And I have no sense of time.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Then Baydog says come see him
In his Barnegat lagoon
Where I can watch him sail for free
'Neath his New Jersey moon.
And I say, "Aw come on now
You know I sail a Laser,"
And he says, "You'd better sail a scow
And buy a fancy blazer."
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Now the snow lays on Thames Street
Where the frostbite madmen quaff.
They tell their lies so perfectly
I really shouldn't scoff.
And here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to just once
Win a race in all this ice.
Oh, Mama, is this really the end
To be stuck inside of Newport
With the Laser blues again?

Snow in Newport and nobody sailing a Laser

Apologies to Bob Dylan for mangling his lyrics.

And apologies also to JudyDougBaydogMeka Taulbeethe anonymous fleet captain of the MYC Sunfish FleetPete Seeger and Joe Rouse for taking their names in vain. And thanks to them for being good sports and teaching me so much about sailing and blogging and cooking and fitness and banjo playing and how to appreciate pictures of ladies in tiny bikinis holding big fishes.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Ice Breakers

I didn't sign up for frostbiting this year. I thought I would take one winter off and return to Laser racing in the Spring with even more enthusiasm than usual.

On the other hand, I did go out for some solo practice on my Laser on a couple of days in January in Rhode Island.

And I can't help reading the accounts and looking at the pictures and videos of the sailors who are braving the elements to race Lasers or Sunfish through the winter here in the north-eastern United States.

The sea has been freezing over in some places. Here is what it looked like at Sea Cliff YC on Long Island on Saturday.

Photo posted on Twitter by @wetpantssailing

But all that ice didn't deter the hardy Sunfish sailors on Long Island.

Here is a video of the Sunfish frostbiting at Sea Cliff yesterday - Superbowl Sunday. The video is from the YouTube Channel of sunfish82634 and was also posted by Lee.J.Montes to Facebook. (I have a sneaking suspicion that sunfish82634 and @wetpantssailing and Lee.J.Montes may actually know each other quite well.)

"Neither ice nor snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these sailors from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." I think that's how the quotation goes, isn't it?

I have never done frostbite racing in Sunfish but I have broken through ice to go Sunfish sailing on a few occasions on New Jersey lakes.

Long-time readers of my blog (both of you) might also like to know that the beach in the video is exactly the same place that we launched from on the day I wrote about at Turkeys and Chickens. The conditions were different on that day. There was no ice and the air was full of flying koalas. At least that's what I wrote in my post.

Watching this video made me quite nostalgic for both Sunfish sailing and frostbite racing.

If I actually try to do anything rash based on either of the aspirations in that last sentence… please shoot me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Laser frostbiting at Winthrop MA last Sunday.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Caption Contest

Or, if you prefer, suggest a caption for this second photo which was taken shortly before the first one.

Thanks to Myc Sunfish and the Barrington frostbite fleet videocam for the shots.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Zen and the art of coming full circle

I feel like I'm coming full circle.

When I first started sailing in England, I raced my Laser at my local club on Taplow Lake, near Slough.

Then some of my fellow Laser fleet members persuaded me to go to some local "open meetings" (which is real English for what are called "regattas" in American.) But we only sailed one day events and never more than an hour's drive from our home base.

Then I moved to Rutland which is as near to heaven as you will find on this earth. I sailed in the Laser fleet at Rutland Sailing Club. My two sons learned to sail in Optimists there. I never felt the need to travel anywhere else to sail, except in my last year in England when I did travel to the UK Laser Masters, a two day event on the south coast, at Swanage.

In 1989 we moved to New Jersey. I shipped a Laser and two Optimists to NJ with our furniture. The problem we discovered was that there was hardly any Optimist or Laser sailing near where we lived in North Jersey. At first we sailed our Laser and Optimists every week in the summer in the local club in Mountain Lakes in the "open" fleet. But handicap racing wasn't as much fun as one design racing so I also started racing Sunfish, which is what everyone else in our club and in that area of the state raced.

But I was itching for some real competition in Lasers so I started to travel to Laser regattas on the Jersey Shore and in Pennsylvania. And then further afield to Maryland and Virginia and New York and even to Canada. I did some longer regattas lasting several days. Usually my wife and kids came with me on the longer trips and we did a bit of exploring in combination with the regattas.

I was racing Sunfish a lot too on the local circuit in North Jersey. Then one day I read an article by Brian Weeks in the Sunfish class newsletter that basically said, "Even you, yes even a duffer like you Tillerman, can qualify for the Sunfish Worlds." That was intriguing so I thought I would give it a shot. Apparently the way to qualify for the Sunfish Worlds was to sail Sunfish Regionals and/or the Sunfish North Americans and if you did well enough you would get selected for the Sunfish Worlds.

By this time the family owned three Lasers and three Sunfish. In the summer of 1995 my sons and I traveled to Ithaca, NY with three Lasers for a one week clinic with Gary Bodie. And the next week we traveled to Lewes, DE with three Sunfish to sail in the Sunfish North Americans.

I think I finished just inside the top 40 at the Sunfish NAs, so imagine my surprise when, a few months later, I received a letter from the Sunfish Class Office inviting me to sail in the 1996 Sunfish Worlds in the Dominican Republic. So my wife and I went off to the DR for a week so I could sail in the Sunfish Worlds and we had a wonderful time. And the next year I was invited to go to the Sunfish Worlds again (based on that top 40 finish at the NAs in 1995 again as far as I could tell) and we went to Cartagena in Colombia for the 1997 Sunfish Worlds, which was an eye-opening experience.

You see where this story is going? As time goes on I was traveling more and more, and further and further, to go to longer and longer regattas. It was all a lot of fun.

I was also sailing various Laser Masters regattas around North America, so I thought why not go to the Laser Masters Worlds? The Sunfish Worlds had been fun; Lasers could only be more fun. Tillerwoman and I went to Mexico in 2000 for the Laser Masters Worlds where I was humbled by the high standard of competition but still enjoyed myself. I had got the bug. We traveled to Australia for the Laser Masters Worlds one year and to Spain for Masters Worlds a couple of times too. I started going to Laser clinics in places like Florida and the Dominican Republic. I was one of the globe-trotting old Laser geezers and was starting to make friends with Laser sailors all over the world. I was also driving 3 or 4 hours every Sunday in the winter to sail in the Laser frostbite fleet at Cedar Point YC in Connecticut.

Then I moved to Rhode Island, which is even more like heaven than Rutland.

I didn't realize at first how lucky I was.

From May to October there is usually some Laser regatta every weekend somewhere in New England, often less than an hour's drive from my house. From November to April there is Laser frostbiting every Sunday in Newport, only about 40 minutes drive from my house. And for many months of the year I can go somewhere during the week any day I feel like it and just sail my Laser on the sea by myself.

It's starting to feel like I am back where I started in England. There is more than enough opportunity to sail and race my Laser close to home. It's not like when I was in New Jersey and I had to travel some distance to find any real Laser competition.

As a result I am finding that I am losing my urge to travel very far to Laser regattas. Driving and flying are definitely not my favorite occupations. Why spend a whole day driving to Canada or Virginia (and another whole day driving back) when I could race somewhere much closer to home? Why stay in some crummy motel when I could do a three day regatta down the road and sleep in my own bed every night? And why bother with the expense and hassle to travel to some international regatta on the other side of the world? I am beginning to forget why I ever did.

It feels a little unadventurous.

It feels a little lazy.

But it feels right.

It feels like I've come full circle.

If you are a racing dinghy sailor, did you ever get the travel bug as bad as I did?

If you had the travel bug, did you ever lose it?

Do you like sleeping in your own bed?

Monday, April 01, 2013

8 Reasons Why Running is Better than Laser Sailing and Other Random Thoughts on the Same Theme

The other day I was looking at the Facebook page of world famous Laser Master sailor John Dawson-Edwards.

Apparently in October last year he celebrated his 66th birthday and after thanking all his friends for their birthday greetings he commented, "My first year as a Great Grandmaster is over and I never went sailing!"


Another Laser sailor bites the dust?

Apparently cycling is John's passion these days.

Actually I seem to remember he was always a keen cyclist.

Except now he races his bike but not his Laser.


I'm not a bike racer but I am a runner.

And I've been thinking lately about why running is so much better than Laser sailing...

  1. Running is a lot simpler and cheaper than Laser sailing. To run all you need is a pair of sneakers and some season-appropriate clothing. To go Laser racing you need a boat and a new sail and lots of fancy rigging and a drysuit or a wetsuit and hiking pants and hiking boots and a compass and a starting watch and a wind indicators.... there's no end to the stuff you need. 

  2. You can run anywhere any time. No wind - you can run. Blowing 30 knots - you can run. Stuck in some motel in some godforsaken state in the middle of the continent with no water in sight - you can run. 

  3. In running races you can measure your performance against the clock, against your own previous times. In sailing it's all relative. You might be going fast for you, but if there are 20 other guys going faster, all you know is that you didn't even make the top 20. 

  4. It's a lot easier to fit running into a busy schedule. I can step outside my front door, go for a 45 minute run, come home and shower, and be sitting in front of the TV drinking a glass of whiskey 60 minutes after I started. Laser sailing at best consumes a half day, and sometimes a whole week. Who has that sort of free time these days? 

  5. Girls. A lot of girls run. I think I read somewhere that these days 60% of the participants in half-marathons are girls (of all ages.) That's a lot more girls than you meet at Laser regattas. Of course I'm happily married, but if I weren't then running would be the ideal sport to meet lots of girls. 

  6. You don't get wet when running (unless it's raining.) 

  7. You don't capsize when running. 

  8. Runner's high. 

I woke up in the middle of last night.

I started thinking about my plans for the month.

There are four weeks left in the frostbiting season.

One Sunday I'm down to do RC.

One Sunday is our wedding anniversary. Actually not just any anniversary. One that ends in a Nought. The family are all coming to help us celebrate. No sailing that Sunday.

Another Sunday there is a 5k running race I would really like to do.

Another Sunday there is a 10 mile running race I would really like to do.

Oh shit.

I think I might be going the way of John Dawson-Edwards.

Anybody want to follow a running blog called Proper Course?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mama Never Told Me There'd Be Days Like This


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

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

I've had my moments when frostbiting this year.

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

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

Yesterday was not a day like that.

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

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

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

I was slow downwind.

And I couldn't work out why.

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

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

Some days you're the windshield.

Some days you're the bug.

Yesterday I was the bug.

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

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

Look at the top of their blog.

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


On Sunday I went for my tenth Laser sail of the year.

It was blowing around 12-20 knots and it was frigging cold.

At first my face and fingers were cold.

I thought my face might drop off.

Then my face and fingers went numb.

That's better, right?

There were just over 20 Lasers racing.

I sailed pretty average but not terrible.

Made the top 10 in a couple of races.

Some decent starts, some mediocre starts.

Some decent mark roundings, some major screw-ups at mark roundings.

You can lose a lot of boats if you don't lay the windward mark.

But I was working hard and sailing as well as I could all afternoon.

My finish overall was in the top half of the fleet, which is always gratifying in a fleet this strong.

I was pleased that I could keep sailing hard for all seven races without feeling too tired or getting cramps or my fingers falling off or my face falling off.

It gave me a lot of confidence that I will go into the coming season with a much better level of fitness than I did last year.

This post is sponsored by the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association.

Mrs. John Derek likes Andalusian horses.

She was in a movie called 10 back in the 1970's.

I remember it.

For some reason.

That's a picture at Mrs. Derek the top of this post.

Hey, if I don't get to my 43rd sail this year, at least you had some eye candy.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Not In Our Stars, But In Ourselves?

I have been writing on this blog for almost eight years now about how bad I am at Laser sailing but how, in spite off all the evidence, I still have this delusion that I will find a way to become smarter and faster at Laser sailing.

I have almost convinced myself that it really is a delusion.

And then one day something amazing happens.

And I start to wonder if I might actually have it in me to become a semi-respectable almost good Laser sailor.

Sunday was one of those days...

For most of the week the forecast for Newport was looking crappy with very light breeze and snow. But, as so often happens, the forecast was wrong; the snow was no more than a few flurries overnight, the sun was shining and we had a shifty northwesterly in the 6-9 knot range.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I never have high expectations of doing well at Newport. There are some seriously good sailors in this fleet. I approach frostbiting with the mindset that it is a chance to have a bit of fun and to get some practice in the winter months so that I am not too rusty when Spring comes around.

In that spirit I chose to try out some different starting approaches in the first three races. In the first race I got up in the front row pretty early and did my best to protect my space and get a "bow out" start. That worked OK but I couldn't hold my lane for long and soon had to tack for clear air. In the second race I cruised along behind the line on starboard tack with about a minute to go looking for a suitable gap in the line of boats, and in the third race I tried doing the same thing on port. Neither approach was very successful.

OK. Lesson learned. Set up on the line in plenty of time.

I was around 20th or in the high teens (out of 27 boats) in those three races. Not terrible, but not all that good either.

It seemed that the wind had been dying all afternoon. Before the fourth race I stood up in the boat and looked up the course. Most of the smart sailors had been heading left (towards the Fort Adams shore) all afternoon but it looked to me like the wind was very patchy and light over there now, whereas there seemed to be a consistent stronger breeze on the right side of the course. So I set up to start at the boat. Several other people had the same idea and I ended up following another sailor's transom off the line. But I was right next to the committee boat and I immediately tacked on to port.

I concentrated on going fast for a minute or so, and when I looked around I could see that I was easily leading the boats going right, and that the boats heading left did look to be going more slowly than us. So I kept going.

A bit later I looked over to the left again and it still looked lighter over there, so I kept going.

After a while I got a bit of a header so I tacked. It looked like I might cross everyone on the left so I kept going.

I stayed on starboard until I had crossed everyone on the left side of the course, then tacked for the mark and rounded in first place!

Woo hoo!

How did that happen?

At that moment, if were a praying man I would have probably offered up a prayer to my God along the lines of, "OK. Thanks very much God. But if it be Your plan to wipe me out one day with a massive heart attack while I am sailing my Laser, then can You please just do it now? It's never going to get any better than this."

But I'm not. So I didn't. And She didn't.

Of course it was all downhill from there. The guy who rounded the windward mark in second place caught up with me on the run. He went for the lefthand mark at the leeward gate so I went to the right one. Somehow I didn't do a great job on the final beat. I thought I was in good shape for at least a third place finish but ended up scoring a fifth. Oh well! Not too shabby.

In the fifth race I tried the same trick. Actually won the boat end of the start line and went right again. Didn't work out so well and rounded the windward mark in sixth place, which on any other day I would have been ecstatic about. This time I somehow manage to hold on to sixth around the rest of the course and finish in that position.

In the final race I was starting to get a bit tired and didn't sail so well and could only manage to finish in 12th place, which on any other day I would have been pretty chuffed about (as we say in Real English.) And 12th out of 27 was how I finished overall for the day, listed among company that I don't often share.

So was I lucky in that fourth race?

You bet I was.

I was lucky that I trusted the judgment of my own eyes about what the wind was doing and didn't follow the conventional wisdom of heading for the land when the wind is in this direction. Sometimes a little local knowledge (or even a lot of local knowledge) can be a dangerous thing.

I was lucky that the wind stayed stronger on the right and weaker on the left.

I was lucky that I found a nice juicy header at just the right time to cross the fleet.

I was lucky that nothing on my boat broke. (It's amazing how often something does break just when I'm having an extraordinarily good race.)

I was lucky that I didn't do anything clumsy or stupid like falling out of the boat or knocking myself out on the boom while tacking.

I was lucky that my sheet didn't tie itself just before the windward mark into one of those triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knots, which it has a tendency to do at times.

And yet...

I checked out the wind. I formulated a strategy. I executed the strategy. Isn't that what you are supposed to do?

So was it all luck?

Might I actually be not too bad at Laser sailing after all?

"The work goes on, the flaws endure, but the hope still lives and the delusion shall never die."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind

Last week was the coldest week of the winter (so far) here in Rhode Island.

On Thursday morning when we drove over to my son's house to babysit our grandsons, it was 4°F.

I went for a run later that day when the temperature was 19°F with the wind chill making it "feel like" 4°F.

I used to have a rule that I wouldn't run when it was less than 20°F. After that run on Thursday I still think that's a good rule. Brrrrr!

But it's surprising how quickly you acclimatize to the cold weather. When it "warmed up" at the weekend to the high 20's it really did feel warm. Well, comparatively warm.

So I started thinking back to January and February in 2010 when, for reasons I can't explain, I really got hooked on Laser sailing in the middle of a New England winter and wrote posts like Brain Freeze and  I Love Winter (which got me into a lot of trouble with CUSOSPUSSTAG but that's a whole other story.)

The forecast for Sunday was for around 10 knots maybe gusting to 20 knots, and for temps in the high 20's maybe even 30. So on Sunday morning I woke up all excited about going frostbiting again. I hitched up the Laser trailer to my trusty Subaru and headed down to Newport.

It was a gloriously sunny day with a puffy shifty north-westerly. (Is there any other kind of north-westerly.)

It was very reminiscent of that I Love Winter day. Similar conditions. Similar feelings.

When I'm frostbiting on days like this and I am doubtful if I will be able to hang in there for all the races, I always get this feeling of a (small) victory as soon as I have launched. Hey, I went sailing today! If I only sail one race I can count it on the journey to 100 days sailing this year. I am already a winner.

I did get a little pain in my fingertips after the first race. But I soon shook it out.

And I did get a mild attack of the dreaded thumb cramps at the end of the third race. I was going to sail in if I couldn't get rid of them. But after a bit of hand stretching I was fine, and I completed all six races.

The air temperature was 31°F. The water temperature was 35.6°F. I never felt cold all day. But there was ice all over the deck when I sailed back to the beach with a big smile on my face.

I have written before how one bad experience can almost put me off Laser sailing for months. The reverse is also true. Sailing on a spectacular day like Sunday has awoken my enthusiasm for sailing in the coldest months of the year again. There's something very special about dragging your boat across a snow-covered beach to launch and then sailing in sub-freezing temperatures. As I said, I can't explain it. It's one of those things that you just have to experience to understand.

And I didn't feel cold at all.

I love winter!

Ice on foredeck after sailing

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Most weeks in our Laser frostbite fleet, the winners (or near winners) offer up Words of Wisdom on the fleet Facebook page. Looking back over the WOW in the last few weeks it is surprising (or maybe it really shouldn't be surprising) how many of the winners attributed their success, at least partly, to their starting tactics and technique.

So without further ado, for your education I offer these words of wisdom from Fleet 413 hotshots on STARTS...

Stuart Streuli 
a. Research: A couple of years ago, in a silent auction, my friend won a clinic with Scott Ferguson. For those of your who don’t know Ferg, he’s one of the great sailors to have sailed with 413. He’s a little busy now designing Oracle’s masts, so he hasn’t sailed with us a few years. But he was always up there when he did. He had a very specific routine he went through before each start. He would always check the breeze, the line bias, and get line sights for both ends. It seems simple, but when Moose is firing off races in quick succession there isn’t a lot of time between races, so it takes some discipline to get it all done. The line sights, or transits [shore based reference points you can line up with either the pin or boat end and which will tell you when you’re on the line] are key, even on a small line. I don’t use them every start, but they’re the only accurate way to know how close to the line you are. The more you use them, the better a feel you get for the line, and the less you actually have to use them. Often times, the best use of a transit is to determine how far off the line you are at 20 seconds.  
b. Set up early: In light air and flat water, it’s possible to hold your position on the line for a while and if you want to start at or near the favored end, you must get there early. I was setting up on starboard near the line right around a minute to go. Make sure to ease off your vang—if it’s tight—once you start luffing. A tight leech makes the boat really hard to control . 
c. Protect your hole, keep the bow out. Aggressively protecting your space to leeward is really important. Put the bow down (ideally without the sail filling, so keep the main sheet loose) when anyone comes on port (or sailing behind the front line on starboard) hoping to poach your space. The doesn’t always work, so then it’s a matter of trying to keep your bow even, or slightly ahead of the people who are around you. The one exception to this rule is if someone comes in with a head to steam and steals my space to leeward. Because we were so close to the line from 30 seconds onward, anyone with some speed would eventually slide forward and then when we got inside of 15 to 20 seconds they would have to peel away early to ensure they were not over, re-opening that space to leeward. In that case, I remained patient and let them slide through and away.  
d. Pull the trigger: This simply takes practice. Make sure all your sail controls are set. Outhaul and Cunningham I set before the start. Vang, I pull on just before I start to sheet in. Then it’s a matter of knowing how much time and space you need to get up to speed and using what you have to get going as fast as possible and as close as possible to the line at the gun. I generally have found that the big swoop down to a reach to accelerate and back up to close-hauled isn’t fast simply because there’s so much rudder involved. Subtle movements are better, especially in flatter water when the boat accelerates so easily.

John Kirkpatrick
I attribute my good starts to a variety of things. Most of all, I use a consistent pattern for every start. I check the wind and favored end of the line, then I set up early, slightly to windward of where I wanted to start. Additionally, I didn't hold back and pressed the line on every start. 

Ed Adams
It is very dangerous to try and win the pin in strong breeze, as you drift sideways so much in the last 30 seconds. It's even more dangerous in a unstable breeze, where a left shift before the start makes it hard for anyone to fetch. In those situations, it is much safer to set up high and early closer the midline, so you don't risk not fetching. The weather end is a relatively easy start when it's windy, and is preferred unless you really want to get left.

Stuart's discussion pretty much says almost everything there is to say about starting technique. I should try and remember all that and do it all more consistently.

John says it in fewer words, but I like his comment about "pressing the line" on every start. I should do better at that.

And Ed's expert insights on a couple of situations when it may not be optimal to go for the pin even if favored are worth remembering.

Do you have anything to add on this topic?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Preventing Rust

When I lived in England, we raced Lasers all year round (unless the lake froze over.) We didn't have a "frostbite" season as such. As I recall there weren't as many days of racing each week in the winter, and there weren't quite as many people racing, but some of us just kept going all year.

When I moved to New Jersey in 1989 I discovered a different culture. A lot of clubs worked on the principle that the sailing season lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day, end of May to beginning of September, not much more than three months really. The serious sailors might do some regattas in May and September too, but that still meant they only sailed for about five months of the year.

This all felt very strange to me. Not least because if I didn't sail from October to April I was incredibly clumsy and uncoordinated when I started sailing again in May. I was "rusty."

I tried to prevent the rust forming by sailing on my local lake by myself, or with a few friends, on warmer days in the winter. Some times I even broke the ice at the edge of the lake to reach the open water. But it wasn't the same as real fleet racing every weekend. I couldn't stop the metaphorical rust from forming.

Then I discovered frostbiting. I heard that there was a Laser fleet in Connecticut that raced 10 weeks from October to December, and another 10 weeks from March to May. It was over 75 miles away but it was worth it. It was my rust preventions strategy. If I sailed 20 weekends over the winter I wasn't quite as rusty every year in May as I used to be.

In 2007 I moved to Rhode Island. The Laser frostbiting fleet here in Newport doesn't even take a break in the middle of winter like the the one in Connecticut did. They sail every weekend from the beginning of November to the end of April (except for Easter.)  The perfect rust inhibitor.

It was in the spirit of rust prevention that I headed down to Newport yesterday. The weather was predicted to be cloudy and around 50 degrees F. What we used to call in England "a perfect summer's day."

There were just under 30 Lasers racing. I didn't do all that well. Was just outside the top 20 in three of the races, and just inside the top 20 in the other three. But I was practicing my starts and tacks and gybes and windward mark roundings and leeward mark roundings and upwind speed and downwind speed and strategy and tactics and Rules knowledge... "Starboard... STARBOARD... yes YOU.... WHAT ARE YOU THINKING????"

Sorry. Got carried away a bit there.

During the first race we could see a few wisps of low cloud near the course. During the second race the fog descended, and it stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. You couldn't see the racing marks until you almost ran into them... if you were lucky. Some sailors probably sailed off into the fog and didn't realize they were in trouble until they hit the shore in Jamestown on the other side of the Eastern Passage.

Anyway it was fun. And the fog reminded me of sailing in England.

And maybe it will help with the rust prevention?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Review of 2012

2012 was another funny old year...

In January I went out racing with the Newport Laser Frostbite fleet early in the month and had a very confusing day which I wrote about at Say What You Like About The Deaf. This was also the month that I accidentally got into one of those stupid Internet fights with some hip, young bloggers selected to cover the Volvo Ocean Race in Abu Dhabi. Why do some people not understand my sense of humor? Anyway I forgot about all that nonsense by jetting off to the Laser Center in Cabarete with a bunch of local Laser sailing friends for Just Another Week in Paradise. Aaah! I feel like I may need another Cabarete break soon.

In February I had a day out in Boston and wrote Two Things about the New England Boat Show. And in the depths of the New England winter I was dreaming about the  Top 9 Sailing Destinations on the Planet. Didn't sail a Laser even once. Ugh!

In early March, I went down to Florida with some sailing friends for a 4 day Laser sailing clinic at Kurt and Meka Taulbee's SailFit. We had a blast and I wrote about it at Mashers Gone Wild. In other news I was philosophizing on 7 Reasons Why Human Beings Love The Beach. March must have been comparatively mild because I did go Laser sailing locally three times too.

For reasons that seem to have slipped my memory, I only sailed my Laser once in April, and even that day was a pretty pathetic attempt as I had to invent 30 Reasons Why I Only Sailed 3 Races Today. On the blog we had a group writing project about sailing destinations and, thanks to some inspiration from Anna Railton I wrote the ultimate, definitive Laser Sailing: The Rules.

Early in May I went out for a Tuesday evening sail in somewhat windy conditions and hurt my back so badly that it basically screwed up the rest of my season. I wrote about it at Scary Play and Playing Hurt.  In fact for some crazy reason I was writing posts on the theme of "play" every day in May. Two of my favorites are Playing with Dad and Playing with Grandkids.

In June I eased rather slowly into Laser sailing again, not wanting to make my back injury any worse. You can read about it at Back. We had a group writing project on photography for bloggers which elicited an amazing response. And Tillerwoman and I had A Nice Day Out In Newport watching some chaps in helmets race catamarans.

In July I sailed my Laser nine times but the highlight of the year was definitely the afternoon when I took my granddaughter sailing for the first time. Read about it at Sailing with Grandkids - The Hook and When Daddy Was a Little Boy. I love my grandkids, of course, but I also wrote about another love of mine in A Love Story.

In August I sailed my Laser nine times too, including the three day Buzzards Bay Regatta which (unusually) had great sailing winds every day. I was working pretty hard - see When I'm 64 - but was still nursing my back injury by skipping some of the later races each day. I also wrote a long rambling post about different ways of Learning concluding that my favorite way is the fish and chips and beer method.

In September I sailed the New England Masters at the start of the month, always one of my favorite regattas. But I was "knackered" as we say in real English after only two races on Day 1, (definitely wasn't fit this summer) but I did manage to complete all the races on Day 2. It's sad to say that my 2012 racing season was so messed up by the slow recovery from my early season back problem, that that was the first day at a regatta that I had been able to finish all the races. Oh well, better late than never. Later in the month Tillerwoman and I headed off on a trip to visit family in England and then on to the Mediterranean for some sailing. Somehow I also managed to find the time to write one of those rambling philosophical posts about Sailing and Luck.

We spent the first half of October at one of my favorite places, Minorca Sailing. I raced a lot and won sometimes. I did gazillions of drills and learned a lot from the instructors. Some days I just had a blast on my own. I actually sailed Lasers on 14 consecutive days, sometimes twice a day. I guess my back was finally better? On my return home I sailed in my last regatta of the season, the Fat Boys in Bristol, completed all the races and actually managed to come 3rd and 5th in the final two races. Wow. I finally got back to form just as the season was ending? Such is life.

In November I did a bit of frostbiting at Duxbury and Newport, and finally worked out, after over 30 years, why I still persist in sailing a Laser even though it's hard and I have never been very good at it.

"If it's amazing, it won't be easy. 
If it's easy, it won't be amazing. 
 If it's worth it, you won't give up. 
If you give up, you're not worthy."

 (with apologies to Bob Marley who almost said this.)

December brought some more frostbiting at Newport and then off for ten days at the Bitter End Yacht Club where I received some very sad news.

When I counted up how many days I had sailed a Laser in 2012 I discovered that the total was 64. Not too shabby (but still a long way from my old aspiration to make it to a 100 days one year.) In spite of the back injury leading to an incredibly below average summer of Laser racing and training for me, I made up a lot of days on our trips to the DR, Florida and the BVI, and especially with that 14 days of consecutive Laser sailing in Menorca.

There were some great days of sailing in 2012, but that day in July when I sailed with my granddaughter for the first time was the best of all...

Happy New Year to all my readers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Incredibly Below Average Day of Sailing

"Sorry for an incredibly below average day of sailing today," wrote our race officer in a message publishing a link to the results of frostbiting on Sunday.

I know what he means. The winds were extremely light and patchy and shifty. It was a real challenge to set courses and run fair races in those conditions, but all things considered he did a damn fine job, as he always does.

But let's look on the bright side. Just as half of Americans are of below average intelligence, so are half the days of sailing in Newport, yes even Newport, below average.

And I learned a lot...

In the first race I learned that if I am on a run in incredibly light air and the wind dies altogether and my light wind cassette tape wind indicator hangs straight down, it doesn't help at all to do a couple of random gybes just to see if it makes any difference, especially if I am totally crap at doing roll gybes like the kids do that can actually accelerate the boat (leaving aside the issue that that would be totally illegal anyway.)

In that same race I also learned that if the 20 boats in front of me are going around the left hand leeward gate and I can't work out why they are all doing that, then there probably is a very good reason why they are going that way but it can't be all that significant a reason or I would have spotted it, so I might as well go round the right hand gate and sail in clear air instead of sailing in dirty air from 20 boats, and if I do so I can easily pass 10 boats on the final short beat.

In the second race I learned that in very light winds the boat does actually go faster upwind if I sit on the daggerboard in front of the mainsheet.

In that same race I also learned that if the wind goes hard left just before the start and I go off the right hand end of the line, then I may be going relatively fast doing my scrunched up yoga imitation squat on the daggerboard but that doesn't help much when there are 35 boats inside me on that shift so I was toast anyway.

In the third race I learned that if I can make a decent start and then tack away in a clear lane to a little more pressure on the right I might just get lucky and round the first mark with the leaders.

In that same race I also learned that if the final beat is longer than normal there are people in this fleet who are seriously fast and will be able to pass me, and I will end up 15th but, hey, that's not too shabby in a 45 boat fleet and it will be my best finish of the day, so look on the bright side.

And I learned that the progress I had made in the summer in learning to do not at all bad almost decent roll tacks was totally irrelevant because doing roll tacks in a T-shirt and shorts is totally different from trying to do roll tacks in a clunky big drysuit and clunky oversized hiking boots - (oversized in order to fit over my drysuit bootees and thick socks.)

So it was all (well mainly) good.

And I see my overall score for the day was 22nd out of 45 boats.

Which by my calculations is above average and incredible.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Wisdom of Crowds?

Last week everyone was buying into the idea that Sunday was going to be an "epic" day of frostbite sailing in Newport. 

It was going to be warm, way up in the 50s!!! (That much was true.)

It was going to be blowing 12-15 knots from the S or SW.  "All" the forecasts said so. Champagne sailing conditions. Woo hoo!

When I arrived at Newport at around 11:45am there as no wind at all. Zero.

One of my friends was very confused. What's going on? All the forecasts say there should be 15 knots.

Well. Not quite all the forecasts.

As I wrote last year in All Weather is Local (I Hope), just because the overall wind forecast for Narragansett Bay is X it does NOT mean that your little corner of or sheltered harbor off Narragansett Bay will see X. And the higher the resolution of the weather model you use, then the more likely you will be reading an accurate forecast for where you actually sail.

True, most weather forecasts had been forecasting 10-15 knots from the S or SW for Narragansett Bay on Sunday. But when I checked SailFlow on Sunday morning and looked at the WRAMS 2km model (instead of the default that SailFlow uses) it did predict that there would hardly be any wind at all at Rose Island before 4pm.  Rose Island is the closest SailFlow site to our sailing area in Brenton Cove but it is outside the harbor so, if anything, I would guess it has more wind than our racing area.

Here is what was actually recorded at Rose Island.

We raced from just after 1pm to about 3:30 pm. There was no wind at all as we rigged from 12-12:30pm. We launched in a SE zephyr just before 1pm. There was a very light breeze from the SSE for our first race. Then the wind went round to the SW but shifted back to the S as we started our second race around 2pm. And then there was a reasonably steady and slightly stronger S wind for our third and final race around 3pm.   I think the winds we experienced where we were racing were actually even lighter than the winds recorded at Rose Island.

What do you think?

Is there a wind forecast that you trust?

Do you have the same suspicion as me, that for short course racing the higher resolution models are more useful?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Sailing the Seven C's

I signed up to sail with the Newport Laser Frostbite Fleet (aka Fleet 413) again this winter. I missed the first week of racing when I went back to sail with my new friends at Duxbury so I first showed up in Newport on their second Sunday, a couple of weeks back.

I have to confess that what I remember from previous years of sailing with Fleet 413 early in the season like this is that there have usually been huge fleets (sometimes around 60 boats) on relatively small courses meaning chaotic starts, overcrowded mark roundings and lots of "interactions" with other boats (not in a good way), leading to what has not always been a very rewarding experience for me. I wrote about this in 2008 in At Last and in 2011 at Ida. On such occasions I have always felt like a fish out of water, as they say.

On the other hand I have immensely enjoyed sailing with this fleet later in the winter when the fleet size is down and I am more attuned to the challenges of this style of racing again. In fact, I think on those days when I have raced with the fleet on the first or second week of the season, I have always given up before the end of racing on each occasion. I know. I'm a wimp.

There were (only) about 35 or boats racing on my first day with fleet 413 this year, but in the first couple of races I still went through the same experiences that I had had in other years. I was not mentally tuned in to racing even in a fleet of this size on such a small course. I was getting blown away at the starts in spite of my best efforts to win a front row start. All the way up the beat it was hard to find a good lane and I was constantly meeting other boats and having to make those "should I tack, should I cross, should I duck" calls. The flat water and medium winds meant that most of the fleet was arriving at the windward mark at pretty much the same time leading to yet more close encounters at the mark.

I was getting round the course without any major issues but I did not feel in control. Things did not feel right. There were just too many damn boats coming at me from all directions and my brain was working overtime to cope with all the traffic and avoid hitting anybody. There was no bandwidth left over to actually think about actually racing. If I had to chose two words to describe my mental state in the first two or three races it would be clumsy and confused.

I was tempted to call it a day after three races. That little voice in my head was saying. "Hey, you had a good workout. You got some practice. You're not really having much fun. Why do any more?" But then the other voice said, "You know you really enjoy frostbiting once you get back into the swing of it.  The only way to get comfortable with racing in a fleet of this quality and size is just to keep on doing it."

So I lined up on the start for the next race, determined to be more aggressive and to accelerate off the line with, or even slightly bow out on, the boats around me. And I did. And I had a lane I could hold. And I was able to gain on the boats around me. And I was actually able to choose the moment for my first tack when I wanted to do it and find a good lane going back to the middle of the course. And I was able to make sensible tactical decisions going up the beat and play the shifts a bit and position myself properly relative to other groups of boats, instead of just being bounced around like a ball in a pinball machine. And I arrived at the windward mark in a not totally humiliating position and was able to find some clear air on the run and position myself for a good tactical leeward mark rounding. I was really "racing" again instead of just sailing around the course trying to avoid crashes. I think I finished around the middle of the fleet in that race. Woo hoo! Now I was actually feeling confident and almost competent.

That good state of mind didn't last too long as towards the end of the afternoon I started becoming more and more physically tired. I think it was in the fifth race that I considered quitting again. But then I asked myself, "If you were running a half marathon and you were this tired after two hours of running and you still had a few miles to go, would you quit? Of course not. You expect to be more tired in those last 3 or 4 miles so you push on through. So why don't you do the same with sailing?" So I carried on.

The  race officer announced the last race and I mentally raised a cheer. Actually I may have audibly raised a cheer. Part way up the first beat I started to get severe cramp in my left forearm. Probably caused by my old bad habit of holding the sheet too tightly. It was excruciatingly painful and I considered leaving the race and sailing back to the beach. But the stubborn voice in my head was causing trouble again. "Hey, when you used to run marathons and you sometimes got cramps in the last six miles, did you quit? Of course not. You massaged away the cramp and kept on going all the way to the finish line." So I kept going.

Approaching the windward mark I realized I had a knot in my mainsheet. It wasn't one of those triple buntline carrick bend double surgeon's clinch knots inside a double fisherman's alpine butterfly rolling hitch that I have written about before. No it was just a simple "slip knot".

I tugged and tugged and tugged at it. That's supposed to undo a "slip" knot, right? That's why it's called a slip knot isn't it? I still hadn't undone it when I arrived at the mark and couldn't bear away with the knot still in the sheet so I had to luff up and use both hands to undo it and by the time I had done so I was at the back of the fleet. Again.

I tried to ease the cramp in my arm on the run, but was not entirely successful. I can't remember exactly how I managed to  sail the long final beat. I tried holding the sheet and tiller in the same hand. I tried cleating the sheet. I know I wasn't hiking properly and was pinching too much. It was a very defensive (and slow) mode of sailing. But I did finally cross the line and I wasn't even last. Woo hoo! I can beat a couple of boats even with one arm tied behind my back (almost literally.)

So it was a good day. I did feel very satisfied about finishing all the races. Seems like I may have finally conquered that "quitting" issue that I attempted to justify back in August with my post Sailing Philosophy with Crappy Chart

The old Tillerman is back. 

But if I had to choose two words to describe how I was feeling in those last couple of races it would be conked-out and crampy.

Am I crazy?