Saturday, June 30, 2012

AC Graphics Wizard

I came across a NY Times video about Stan Honey. I did not know about him, although I have really appreciated the wonderful LiveLine graphics that are used for the live Americas Cup racing broadcasts, showing marks with the mark zone, lay lines, ahead-behind lines, etc which make watching them really understandable and enjoyable, plus the addition of electronic course boundaries which adds a new dimension that was not even possible before.  What is really amazing is that all this is done from the vantage point of the helicopter shooting the race live, with marks which are boats that can change position any time at the whim of the race director - all accurate to 2 cm.

For more, see this very interesting article for an insider's description of the wizardry onboard the America's Cup Committee Boat.  Also a Sailing Anarchy thread which includes some very useful videos in the middle.

Honey is the man behind all that, as well as other sports graphics.

His CV is jaw-dropping - he started in tech companies and then became a professional sailor - as navigator on ABN Amro One when it won the Volvo, as navigator on Groupama 3 when it set the 48 day circumnavigation record and is currently a consultant to Oracle One and Director of Technology for the Americas Cup.

Friday, June 29, 2012

20 Quid

I recently posted that when I acted as race officer at our club I decided to cancel a race halfway through so I could join our safety boat in helping some of the sailors in conditions they were not prepared to handle. I asked readers for their input and several readers had some excellent comments.  Anonymous suggested a grading system, Tillerman suggested extra rescue and coach boats and Doc Häagen-Dazs basically agreed with Tillerman, but noted that in his venue (in the litigious US) races are never abandoned so that no one can accuse the Race Committee of negligence in not abandoning a race where someone gets into trouble.  Thanks to all.

In my club the discussion has continued. I particularly like the suggestion of one veteran member - simple, elegant and practical. 

"In my old club we had a simple solution. 1 rescue = 20 quid in the RNLI jar. The
only exception was youths."

The crispness of that solution reminds me of how he sails. He is a laconic fellow and when he takes his Laser out, there is just as little wasted effort. And he routinely beats most of us, although a young Kiwi has recently joined who looks to be of the same caliber.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How Would You Handle It?

In my last post I described how as Race Officer for the day I decided to cancel a race halfway through so I could join our safety boat in helping some of the sailors in conditions they were not prepared to handle.  Since then there has been discussion over beers about the day and while everyone supports the decision, a legitimate question has been raised about how to handle the situation where some sailors go out into conditions they should have avoided.

In our case, the wind was around 17 knots and the water was relatively flat since we sail in an area protected from big waves. The tide was coming in but nothing severe. But there were several sailors who were relative beginners and they were not able to handle the conditions well and 4 boats were either towed back or had a more experienced sailor sail it back.  Whereas the rest of the fleet was enjoying sporty, exhilarating conditions and some felt cheated the race could not finish.

So, how should that be handled ? Certainly the helm of each boat is responsible for the decision to go or not go depending on conditions. But that may not be enough.  Should the Race Officer make an independent judgment? If so, based on what?  Intuition? Feeling?  Should there be several categories of proficiency with only the higher categories allowed in certain conditions?

In the past we have tried a system where on a blustery day we had all boats go out just a little way and do a couple of tacks and gybes next to the Committee Boat and if someone felt uneasy or was judged by the Race Officer as not ready, they would return.

But of course, one never learns to handle conditions without being in them.

Another possibility is more safety boats on the water, both coaching and rescuing if necessary, but in a small club that has it limits.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Abandoned Race

I was the PRO at our weekly race yesterday and while we had to finally abandon the race due to conditions, I was glad that overall we were prepared and reacted well to the conditions.

The weather forecast predicted that winds would reach 17+  knots by 4 PM.  At our 3 PM briefing this definitely looked exagerrated with winds of 10 to 12. However by around 4 PM the forecast proved to be accurate and some of our less experienced sailors were struggling and one of the experienced sailors saw his gooseneck rivets give way as he hardened up rounding a mark.

As the wind picked up, our safety RIB was helping one Laser which had drifted close to a rocky shore and on the Committee Boat we saw three other boats capsizing in quick succession and the one without a gooseneck drifting toward the beach. We easily made the decision to abandon the race and spent the next hour helping various boats until all were safely home.

What could we have done better?  We should have spent some time before the briefing going over contingency plans for higher winds, which is the normal policy - we neglected this since the forecast seemed to be overstated.  Wrong.  We tested the walkie-talkies we use for communicating between the CB and RIB and verified that they were fully charged, but it would have been better to keep them closer to hand on the water to faciliate communication.  Finally, at the last minute we forgot to load the boarding ladder on the CB and this made it harder to bring people on board from the water.

Overall a reminder that safety and preparedness must remain the top priority.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

La Jument

I have not contributed to Tillerman's blog photo assignment Blog Photos, but I did run across an amazing photographer who specialises in lighthouses.

The above photo was taken by Jean Guichard and you can see more on his website at Lighthouse Photos.

The photo is of a well known French lighthouse named La Jument located on Ouessant (in English Ushuant) offshore Brittany.  It is an area well known to mariners and is the site of some of the strongest currents in Europe with 7 knots normally and up to 9 knots.  There is a French saying "Qui voit Ouessant voit son sang" (He who sees Ouessant sees his blood).  It is referred to as "l'île de l'épouvante" (the island of terror) and "l'île des naufragés" (the island of the shipwrecked).

Getting back to the photo, it was taken in 1989 during a force 10 storm and the nonchalant gentleman at the door is the lighthouse keeper, Théodore Malgorne, who heard a helicopter containing Guichard (what the hell kind of pilot would take him out in such weather?) and apparently thought it was a rescue helicopter.   At any rate, he made it back inside in time and was unharmed.  And Guichard got an incredible series of photos - the above is one and you can see the rest on his website.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Back to Basics

I had my first ever paid dinghy sailing lesson last weekend - a couple of hours with our young sailing instructor watching me do the basics and giving advice.  Very worthwhile - nothing beats an objective observer giving good input.

He helped me improve my gybes (OK, to be accurate, he helped my gybes become slightly less chaotic improvisation). Basically he corrected 2 things. First, I was sheeting in  before gybing, thinking I was being prudent (OK, chicken), but which only slowed things down. He urged me to go faster and keep the speed up with a relatively slow turn.  For the gybe itself, he urged me to watch the sail and when it just starts to lose its shape, straighten the tiller and to wait for the clew to start to flap before giving the little jerk on the main sheet as I crossed over.  I practiced broad reaching around a gybe mark, keeping the speed up through the gybe. I caught the sheet on the transom a few times before concentrating on the clew as he suggested - then it went fine.

On my reaches, I knew intellectually that the boat should remain flat, but after watching me he took a little video which showed me that what I thought was flat was far from it.  The flat boat must be the priority. For overpowering, hike out first and stay hiked out, letting out the sheet if necessary and bearing off during lulls in order to keep boat speed up.  Of course the extended hiking part quickly takes its toll on the abs and thighs, but it works great while the abs and thighs last.

For downwind, he suggested sitting back in order to keep the bow up - which is contrary to what others say. Not sure I agree, but his logic was that the risk of the bow plowing into a wave is worse than the smooth transom dragging a bit.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Mixed Results

An average race day - finishing in the middle of the pack. Worth describing one mistake and one success.

First, the mistake - a totally unnecessary DFL start.  Set up nicely luffing and waiting, watching our best sailor to see what he was doing - same as me, luffing on starboard and waiting.  Then, about 30 seconds to go, I bore away. Not because there were 30 seconds to the line but simply because I saw another boat doing so. Not the best sailor, but another one.  Instead of remaining focussed and going ahead with my own plan, I listened to some primordial instinct screaming at me - "Go, Go - that boat is bearing off so it must be time for you to do so. Can't you see? Someone else is doing something different, so you must be wrong in what you are doing!" So, I gave in to the panicked nonsense and it got me to the line with 15 seconds to spare. With a herd of charging starboard tackers behind me and the pin almost upon me, I had to gybe around and cross behind the starboard tackers as they crossed the line leaving a ton of dirty air for my benefit.  Not a glorious moment.

Now for the good part. I played a gybe mark very well and got the best of a sailor who often beats me. We were sailing almost directly downwind on starboard and I was to windward and even with him. It became clear that he would enter the zone overlapped inside me.  So, about 5 or 6 boat lengths before the mark I came up to get a little room, then gybed, which slowed me down enough so that as soon as I gybed on to port I came up to gain a little extra speed and was able to go behind him and overlap him before the zone. Calling for water, I easily passed him and, having already gybed, rounded the mark onto the new broad reach without slowing down. He had to come up to give me room and then gybe. I gained at least 3 boat lengths.  It felt good.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


You may not know it, but I am the world champion Laser helmsman of all time, including before the big bang and after the end of the universe.  To be more accurate, not simply the all-time champion of the world, but also the solar system, galaxy and all galaxies and the entire universe.  And not just the Laser, but all sailboats.

But, to be fair, the above statements apply to you also.

You missed that news flash?  If so, simply go to the seventh and eighth dimensions and all will be revealed.

I am not saying I really understand much of this, but as you aficionados of string theory know, all fundamental particles are simply vibrations (excitation modes) in 10 dimensions (unless you subscribe to the Bosonic theory which requires 26 dimensions).  What the hell does all that mean?

I found a fascinating website and animation that provide a way to try to conceptualise the idea of dimensions beyond our usual 3 dimensions.  Tenth Dimension Website and Tenth Dimension Animation

Mind-boggling stuff.  But, if I understand at least a little bit of what they are saying, we live in a world (or whatever it is) that is part of all possible permutations of beginning and end and causes and effects and all infinities and once one gets the hang of it, one should be able to go to any spot anytime anywhere.  So, for example, an out of shape, competency-challenged Laser sailor could jump to the spot where he is the galactic champion.

Sounds more efficient than doing drills, capsizing and practicing endlessly for minimal results.

See you on Mars or K-Pax, or wherever, in an excitation mode, where I will finish ahead of you, or vice versa.

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