Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maltese Laser Clinic

I just spent 4 days at a Masters Laser Clinic in Malta with Sailcoach.  This is my first Laser clinic so I can't really compare it to others in the market, but I was 100% satisfied.  One of the other masters at the clinic had previously done Laser clinics at Minorca, Dominican Republic and Greece and he said this one was the best.  I am not surprised.

First, Malta is spectacular sailing - both in the harbor surrounded by beautiful old forts, churches and citadels.  Check out the photos on their website.

View from the yacht club with the Irish flag raised on 17 March.

It was really nice (and, I admit, occasionally a bit distracting) to look up and see the lovely old architecture all around.  Going outside the harbor is also very nice with some waves to play or contend with.  We had one day outside the harbor with 20+ knots and close, choppy waves - I didn't handle that well.  After about 20 minutes in the washing machine, 3 of us Masters returned to the harbor where the wind was the same but the waves were absent.  So, clearly for me the waves were the problem, not the wind.

But the best part of the program is the Sailcoach personnel.  It is owned by Trevor Millar, a genial Irishman who constantly went above and beyond the call of duty in making it a very pleasant stay for the masters - he took us to great little restaurants we would never have found on our own (including a great wine bistro in the old city with superyachts, including the Maltese Falcon, parked nearby) and personally transported us from and to the airport.  And since our stay included March 17, he even took us to a St. Patrick's Day party. And with a smile at all times.

Trevor has been coaching for over 35 years and used to be based near Toulon, France but moved to Malta 3 years ago. He coaches Olympic sailors and some, shall we say, not yet Olympic Master sailors like me.  And we were lucky because every day, we had short races with the Olympic sailors he is currently coaching - who were very nice and fun to chat with after.  Most of the races were organized so that all had a good experience.  They were windward-leeward with 2 laps and we all started together. Of course, the Olympians pulled away from us relatively quickly (except for one Irish master who generally kept a respectful distance behind them and even beat 2 of them in one race when he caught a gust they missed). Then they would round the leeward mark and stop, waiting for us to catch up (no, don't ask how long they had to wait) and then we would all do the second lap together.

Our instructor was Miguel - a rather laconic but very friendly and enthusiastic Portuguese sailor.   My colleague who had done the other Laser clinics made the point that at one of them the instructor devoted most of his time to the top 2 or 3 sailors, neglecting the others. That was not the case here - Miguel was very attentive to everyone and seemed genuinely interested in helping each of us - both on the water and in the video debriefs.   And he was very insistent on basics - returning constantly to the basics. He said that was especially important, even in training the Olympic athletes. Of course they are looking for refinements in techniques and small details to adjust, but sometimes it was the most basic thing that had to be looked at again. For instance, one of the Olympic sailors was not satisfied with his speed and tried all sorts of things, until finally, closely re-examing videos with a fresh look, he and Miguel noticed that he was actually pointing a bit too high and losing speed.

Miguel was assisted in debriefs by Alex, a Moldovian Olympic hopeful. He raced with us every day and offered tips on the water and did one video debrief that was very thorough. A very likeable fellow.

The accomodations were in a simple but adequate hotel that was a pleasant 15 minute walk away along the waterfront.

Am I better sailor now?  Well, at least I understand a number of things I was doing wrong and picked up some tips that should be helpful.

I am ready to return.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Weird Weather

I recently took the week off from my day job to be on the Jury at the Asian Sailing Federation Championship in Abu Dhabi. It was really a great experience to spend a week with top International Judges and see some great sailing at an Olympic qualifier for Lasers, RSX and 49ers from almost 20 nations.

But, the week saw some absolutely weird weather in Abu Dhabi - with rain and even violent storms.  I have been in this country for almost 7 years and never seen anything like it - and colleagues who have been here their whole lives say the same thing.  The photo above is just before the storm hit - as you can see it went from day to a very dark sky instantly. Bits of debris were flying through the air and it was a really quite a spectacle.

Lots of rain also - which is a problem for a city which typically gets rain only a few days a year.  Just as when it snows in a southern city in the US, with no snowplows or salt, nature takes charge.  There was flooding of some areas and in the hills further north, the wadis were very full.

Needless to say, all racing was cancelled due to the thunderstorms and winds gusting to over 50 knots.  But by the next day calm had returned and it was back to the light winds we had been coping with all week.

For the medal races I was on the team umpiring the FSx and the 49ers and 49er FX- but not the Lasers.

One lesson I learned from being on the water all week is how important it is to always remember to fully complete penalty turns.  As I witnessed in a couple of cases, it is easy in the heat of the moment for a sailor to forget where he started and blithely head off with one gybe or tack short.  So, if you are doing penalty turns, make sure you don't. Do something like saying to yourself "gybe 1", "tack 1", "gybe 2", "tack 2".  Or "starting on starboard" and knowing you have to finish on starboard.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Tacking into Irons

Our race last Friday was in winds of around 15-17 knots which is more than we usually experience, but nothing that should have been too difficult.  And the wind was with the tide, so the waves were relatively small.

But, I had completely forgotten how important it is to avoid getting into irons when tacking - and I paid the price.

The first time was about 30 seconds before the start - I was coming in on port and meant to do a quick little tack into a big hole at the line.  But, with my mind apparently elsewhere, I did a slow tack right into a little wave and stopped dead. Not fun. Everyone else was heading toward the line and I was going backward.  Instead of trying to simply do the classic push-push, I panicked and did something stupid and capsized. I don't remember what I did, but no doubt I was concentrating on the other boats and, at least at the moment I tacked, I should have had my head IN the boat.   After righting the boat, I had the presence of mind to push the tiller over and back down, turning away from the wind and finally get going - but almost a minute behind everyone else.  

And it was not over.  After rounding a leeward mark with at least a modicum of dignity, I decided to tack and again some stupid thing happened - into irons.  At least I didn't capsize, and had the presence of mind to push-push right away. So, I didn't lose a lot of time - only a lot of self-respect.

Then, thanks to my friend's misfortune of a broken hiking strap, I avoided a potentially difficult gybe near another passing of the leeward mark.  The wind around the mark was getting particularly squirrely - it kind of funnels/bounces off some nearby buildings. I was thinking about how to gybe without a swim when he capsized about 40 meters in front of me and turtled.  With the wind strengthening, I was very quickly heading straight for him on starboard and I came up a bit to avoid him and the wind caught me and rounded me up quickly.  I said to myself - this is fate - I will just keep going and tack instead of gybing. And it worked.

By the end of the race, I did pass a couple of boats and a few retired, but overall it was a race to forget.  The next day the wind was about the same, so I went out and practiced tacking and gybing for an hour.  It was worth it getting back to basics.  

Now if I can just remember the importance of quick tacking next time we have some wind.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tides are Like Pimples

I still struggle with tide tables and other calculations related to tides and currents. Now I have just learned that what we have always been taught about what causes tides is incorrect.

An interseting video that is part of a fascinating series of videos about physics explains What Physics Teachers Get Wrong About Tides.  The series is largely about quantum physics, but this video explains things only with Newtonian physics.

It starts out saying that the standard diagram we have all seen about how the moon (and to a lesser extent the sun) causes a bulge in the water on each side of the earth in line with it is correct, but the typical explanation is not correct.  The incorrect explanantion is that the moon pulls the water on each side as if it were taffy, whereas in reality the bulges come from the downward pressure of the tidal vector at ninety degrees to the bulges - like squeezing a pimple at the edges and forcing the fluid up in the middle.

How poetic.

Anyhow, the tides still work the way we know them to work and I still struggle with tide tables.

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