Monday, August 27, 2012

No Grits?

With the recent surge of blogs about NJ food, bacon (crispy and otherwise), chowder, crabs,  scallops, corn, tomatoes, etc, I thought it only appropriate to alert readers to a mouth-watering blog on 50 of the world's best breakfasts.  It has some scrumptious looking dishes, many of which include a generous dollop of cholesterol as a bonus.

A number of the comments criticised some of the entries as inauthentic.  I must say that the choice of blueberry pancakes for the American version was curious.  I like blueberry pancakes well enough but for a true stick-to-the-ribs, hearty breakfast balm one must have grits.  Of course the other goodies - eggs, pancakes, waffles, bacon (crispy of course), etc. - are great but they don't soothe and nourish like grits, especially with a little butter and just a hint of salt on the top.   When my Mom would serve some up with a smile on her face, everything was right in the world.

Since the best American dishes are regional, labelling something as "American" is inevitably arbitrary unless one chooses the lowest common denominator of some sort of IHoP generic fodder. So, I can accept that a compromise must be made, but neglecting grits for America (while featuring them in the Bahamian breakfast) is a serious faux pas.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Eid Mubarak

During the Eid holiday about 10 of us got together informally for some practice on 2 afternoons. We had a great time and  learned a lot.   Our Kiwi sailor -  a talented young Laser sailor - teamed up with our Danish sailor - an ex-officer of the Danish Royal Yacht Club -  to set up a small course for us and then followed us in the RIB giving advice and hints.   They even followed it up with a written debrief the next day. And all that just because they are great guys and want to help.

Needless to say, we have a lot of room to improve. Let's start with the starts -  as our Kiwi noted in the debrief "Overall I would have to say good and bad."  At our skill level,  we do not easily stay stationary just behind the line for a minute as he urged us to do, especially with a current flowing. At the first race we all tried it, without too many collisions, but unfortunately after that we too easily resorted to old ways of timing a run away from the line and back, which may be okay for a few boats but is utterly worthless in a larger fleet.  

He tried to be positive when he noted that "a number of you were over the line in several of the races, which for training purposes is a positive. It means you are pushing the boat and yourself and need to perhaps work on time on distance." Very kind.

Since the course was intentionally very short, we all tended to stay relatively close together and mark roundings were “interesting”.   We had several tangles as port tackers arrived at the windward mark, tacking just in front of starboard tackers, completely oblivious to Rule 18.3.  

We had a gate for the leeward mark  and on one of the runs our petite Radial sailor apparently thought it was an obstacle and insisted on pushing several boats outside the gate until several of us explained to her at high volume that she needed to go between the buoys. 

At any rate, 2 lovely afternoons with a fun group and 2 guys who embody the spirit of what makes an all-volunteer sailing club a great place to be.

(The title of the blog is what Muslims say to greet each other during Eid and means Blessed Eid.)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ramadan Sailing

Since we sail every weekend year-round, we always have at least 4 race days during Ramadan, the Moslem holy month when Moslems fast during the daylight hours.   Our club is mostly ex-pats and we have only one sailor who fasts (he very generously does PRO duty for all 4 weeks even though in August it is 45ºC and more).

Out of respect for fasting Moslems, all restaurants (except a very few in hotels) open only at sundown and in our club food and beverages can only be served before sunset in restricted areas that are curtained off from general view and no alcohol is served before sunset.

Which means that our usual practice of lying to each other about our performance in the afternoon's  races over a cold beer has to wait until sunset.  On the other hand, most businesses are on reduced working hours - my working hours are 9 to 2 - and we often get together during the week for a sail.

Ramadan is an interesting time - the pace of daily life slows down and the month can be hard on the fasting Moslems who lose sleep by having several meals at night and enduring the hot summer months without any liquids during the day.  Ironically, it is not unusual to put on weight during the month of fasting because the meals at night can be quite elaborate and it is customary to invite friends and family often.   The religious aspect is very personal, of course, but the shopping malls treat it in the same way they treat Christmas in the West - superficial reference to the real meaning and a big push on materialistic gift-giving.

Yesterday was our last Ramadan race for this year and I helmed a Kestrel with a novice sailor as crew - needless to say our maneuvers were less than crisp.  And I capsized twice - once because I was not paying sufficient attention during a gybe.  I reported in a post of a few weeks ago about my mistakes in a bad gybe in a Kestrel and I would have thought I had learned something from that experience, but today I was distracted by giving instructions to the crew and trying to keep the boat level as he crossed over too quickly (see, you can always find some way to blame the crew) and the boom actually caught me on the head which didn't help my concentration.

The other time the tiller extension got jammed against the transom. I had flipped the extension back before tacking and it flopped down into the corner of the transom, effectively locking into place. So, I was just doing a routine tack and suddenly as I tried to straighten out the boat, the rudder wouldn't move - so the boat continued merrily rounding, tipping further over until the inevitable.

Then to add insult to injury on the final leg I somehow entirely forgot about the reaching mark and went straight for the downwind mark and finish.  At least my competing Kestrel helm had the bad sense to follow me - 2 DNFs.

The second race started ingloriously with the above-described gybing capsize about 1.30 before the start which meant that by the time I started the other Kestrel was halfway to the windward mark - ouch!  A very tiny bit of satisfaction in catching up slightly on the second beat since I used the outgoing tide to help me - but far too little too late.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Little Talks

Today's post has nothing specific to do with sailing, although since the subject covers everything in the world, I guess that could be enough to justify a relation to sailing.  But if you really want to read only about sailing, you can skip it.

An elderly gentleman in a continuing care retirement care facility in upstate New York agrees to give a few little talks to other residents.  He proceeds, speaking slowly with a slight accent, occasionally pausing as he gathers his thoughts, changes the old-fashioned transparencies displayed on a screen, stuffs a pencil into the breast pocket of his rumpled jacket - and reminisces about some of his old acquaintances -  such as Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, etc.

The topic is Quantum Mechanics Made Relatively Simple and the elderly gentleman is Hans Bethe, a renowned nuclear physicist who was a key figure in the Manhattan Project, advisor to several U.S. presidents and a Nobel laureate.

What I really enjoyed was watching this 93 year old scientist, who had lived among the greats in the rarified world of nuclear physics, presenting lectures enthusiastically to an audience of other residents and making it comprehensible without being condescending or involving too much math.  In terms of content, it is mainly historical which is well done with photos and anecdotes. Personally I would have liked to hear more about the theories themselves, but I won't quibble and presenting the theories through a story of trial and error and human actions probably makes it more readily grasped.

It is clear that the gentleman is enamoured of the subject and has all his wits about him, even if his delivery is no doubt a bit slower than it would have been in years past.  But it certainly appealed to me - seeing someone enthusiastically passing on to others his passion with a quiet authority that allows him to distill things to a point few would dare without a thorough mastery of the subject.  It is especially poignant that he does so in his twilight years and is a clear manifestation of the universal urge to pass on something to the next generation.

I learned something I (and probably many others) had misunderstood about the uncertainty principle.  Betha emphasizes that quantum mechanics - just like Newtonian physics - makes "exact predictions of all observable quantities" and that it "is completely misleading to say that quantum mechanics makes things uncertain".  Basically quantum mechanics, including the uncertainty principle, applies only at the atomic level, but not in the world we experience.

There was one charming slip in his third lecture.  Intending to refer to Gilbert Lewis, a chemist at Berkeley, he said "C.S. Lewis" -  I have no idea if it was a delicious Freudian slip or just a simple error, but I know which version I prefer.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gybe or Jibe

When I turn away from the wind and the boom comes across and I end up like the above - what am I trying to do?

Gybing, jibing, gibing or jybing?

OK, I made up "jybing", but still one frequently sees "gybing" and "jibing".

Not to be confused with "gibing" which does not refer to the maneuver itself, but which is derived from a verb used to describe the opinion rendered by an observer on my maneuver - it is used in the sense of "taunting".  "Gibing" also can be used in the sense of "being in accord with" but I have never experienced that meaning from any of my observers.

Speaking of things you do with a boat - is it a maneuvermanoeuvremanoeuver or manœuvre? 

At any rate, back to "gybe" or "jibe", the ultimate authority for all human knowledge, Wikipedia, says both are acceptable but gybe is more common in Brit English and jibe in American English.

Does anyone have anything to add to this? Are there any other differences or nuances?  If one gybes instead of jibes (or vice versa), does one stand a better chance of not ending up like the above?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Everyday Seamanship

Here is a video of two men going out to their anchored ketch in a RIB at Pitcairn Island.  (Are they descendants of the Bounty mutineers?)  They needed to move their ketch to safer water.  After several attempts to climb aboard they succeed.

I enjoyed it as a look at everyday seamanship - not as dramatic as Olympic racing or extreme cats racing, although watching the boats disappearing behind the big swells certainly creates some suspense.  Just an honest look at mere mortals performing everyday seamanship.  Several of the comments criticised some aspects of their seamanship but it looked to me as if they perform a creditable job of launching the RIB in breaking surf and the older gentleman generally does a good job of steering up to the leeward side of the ketch and picking up his younger helper after each dunking.   Nothing hurried or panicked. Just taking care of business.

What are your thoughts about their seamanship ?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Good Problems

I raced a Kestrel again yesterday and there were two things that I thought would be a problem but actually turned out to be good learning experiences. And I beat the other Kestrels on the water.

First, I had a novice sailor with me as a crew.  I didn't even bother taking the spinnaker pole, but luckily no one else used a spinnaker either because they also had novice crew, and so that wasn't a problem.  Having the novice crew, I was forced to explain very carefully beforehand each maneuver step by step which meant I had to plan and think ahead.  Sure, I am supposed to always do that - approaching a mark I should always be thinking about the next leg and how to round the mark, where the other boats are approaching the mark, etc, etc - but sometimes it is easy to get distracted and I take a shortcut in this department.   But having a novice crew meant that I could not allow myself the luxury of being so sloppy and I had to verbalize everything - "OK, we are getting near the mark.  Do you see any other boats? coming from where?  when we get to the mark we will go just to the right of it and sail a short distance beyond since the tide is pushing us back and then tack very soon after. Remember that means you will let the jib sheet off and as we go around you will watch out for the boom and go to the other side and bring in the other jib sheet, but we will be on a reach so don't bring it in too far - got it?"

Second, the wind indicator which is inserted in the head of the sail got stuck and was not able to turn at all, so I sailed without any indication of wind direction other than the telltales on the sails.  I initially thought thought this would be a disaster but it wasn't - it actually made me pay more attention to how the boat feels. Going upwind I did pay a lot of attention to the jib telltales but reaching and running I relied mostly on how things felt.  Sure, I probably got it wrong more times than I would have with a working wind indicator but I was surprised at how often I seemed to get it right. And the more that happens the better it will be.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Special Commentator

Don't miss a hilarious video posted on Sailing Anarchy today with a very special running commentary on the finish/start of a Laser race - priceless.  Don't miss the end. Can also be seen here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Petroleum Wind

As sailors we are well acquainted with the centuries old idea of using the wind to move things (except when they capsize).  Harvesting energy from wind today is increasingly fashionable and visible with wind farms everywhere.

But we usually think of wind as the product of the weather - heating, cooling, isobars, coriolis effect, etc. 

But here is a proposed bridge in Lisbon which takes a more imaginative look at a wind to harness - ironically produced by the burning of fossil fuels in internal combustion engines.

The proposed bicycle bridge across a busy highway has 2,188 lightweight rotating panels which produce electricty. As traffic goes by under the bridge the turbulence produced turns the panels.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympics 1988

Amidst all the Olympic hoopla I came across an interesting story from the 1988 Korean games in which a  Finn sailor, Lawrence Lemieux from Canada, was doing well and had a good chance at a silver medal.

He was winning the fifth race in very challenging conditions - winds gusting to 35 knots. He dropped back to second because the waves were so high he simply didn't see a mark.  But then, he noticed 2 Singaporean 470 sailors nearby who were in trouble.  Their boat had capsized and they had lost their rudder and were unable to right it.  One of them had been thrown away from the boat and the other clung to it, with his hand cut badly.

Lemieux sailed over to them and managed to get the one out of the water onto his Finn and then sailed to the overturned boat, keeping both safe until help arrived.  He returned to his race and finished 22d.

He did not get a sailing medal but was award the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for sportsmanship. 

In a recent interview in the FT he noted that sailing "is not the most popular sport in terms of media coverage. 'You spend your life working really hard internationally and you get very few accolades. So that’s the ironic thing; 25 years after this rescue, we’re still talking about it.' ”

His surname seems appropriate.
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