Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pulling Over

I was out practicing gybes recently and doing them rather badly, catching the transom too often and even lassoing the boom a couple of times with a half hitch.   I tried to break the gybe down into steps I  had learned and methodically do them right.  But somehow the mainsheet kept ending up in places it had no business being. I was sure I was sheeting it in at the right time - just as the wind starts to push the clew over. I was holding the sheet near the block and raising my hand quickly - but it didn't seem to be enough, so I tried a couple of other things. First, I tried what one of my Australian friends had suggested - hooking the sheet near the boom with a finger as it comes over, drawing it down to take out the slack.  But that wasn't very satisfactory. Then I thought maybe I was being a bit timid in raising my hand sufficiently - worrying about the boom coming over and not taking out enough slack. So I tried pulling sideways instead of up and it worked quite well. I was able to pull without thinking of where the boom was and also by pulling to the side I was not interfering with crossing over.

So, for now, I will be be making lateral moves and pulling over.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Was Dinghy

We have read a lot about the travails of the Laser, its trademark, its baby-pram owner, etc.  The blogosphere  is abuzz with speculation about what might happen to the name, the brand, the Olympic status, even the boat itself.

I have it on good authority that a serious contender to replace the Laser is a radical new dinghy from the UK that actually traces its origins centuries ago.

The exact design is not yet unveiled, but reports are that a festive announcement/launch is planned very soon so that people can take it for a spin during the upcoming holiday season.

Amidst all the tightly guarded secrecy, I have only been able to glean one small nugget of information - the name is rumored to be the "Was".  A strange name, but perhaps we will learn more soon about its origins.

In any case, I look forward to its arrival and during my holiday plans I definitely plan to go Was Sailing.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Good and Bad

We had our Monthly Mug race yesterday and overall it was positive for me, but with a reminder of how easy it is to forget some basics.

I had a very good start. The wind was light and so I remembered not to stray far from the start line.  More importantly, I made a point of studying the wind patches on the first beat, even standing up a couple of times to get a better view.   About 5 minutes prior to the start, I saw a large hole below and slightly to the right of the windward mark. So, I decided to start at the pin end and to stay on starboard tack as long as the wind held up on the left side, completely avoiding the hole. But by about 2 minutes to go, I saw that the hole had shrunk drastically and the left side was not so clearly an advantage. I decided that neither side was particularly favoured although the remnants of the hole on the right could still be a factor.  While some of the others were waiting further back -  too far back - I was able to get a nice start almost at full speed at the pin end.

The wind on the left side remained fairly consistent and I also saw that the  double handed class that had started 5 minutes before us was getting some nice pressure to the left of the windward mark, so I stayed left.   It worked nicely and I was able to round the windward mark in first place. Then we went under a large highway bridge which we do not normally do, and rounded a another mark further to windward on the other side of the bridge. I was doing very well, paying close attention to the puffs, tacking to stay in the pressure.  Coming back on a run under the bridge I ran into the evil troll living under the bridge and was stopped dead in his black hole with no wind, and strange eddies just downwind of the bridge.   Several boats behind me saw my predicament and managed to jibe away, merrily sailing around me.  I slipped into fifth place.

On the last beat I made a basic mistake - despite how many times I have observed (and even blogged) that tide trumps wind every time, I went left into better breeze but against the tide in the channel - which I thought was not yet strong enough to pay its due.  Unfortunately the laws of nature did not change to accommodate my mistake and I paid the price.  A boat that had been at least 50 meters behind had gone right to shallower water and when we crossed had caught up and looked as he would pip me at the finish line. However, at least I ended the day by doing something right.  I was overlapped slightly to windward of him, both of us on starboard, pointing (and occasionally pinching) as high as we could to just make the finish line.  I realized that the tide would push us both just below the finish line, so about 50 meters from the finish line I quickly tacked on to port for about 20 meters and then tacked quickly back. My colleague delayed too long and was pushed below the finish line and made a desperate tack onto port - only to find me coming across on starboard, informing him at high volume that I was doing so.  He tried tacking to cross the line, but went into irons with the tide pushing him back below the line - and finished several minutes behind me.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Several of us drove to Dubai yesterday to compete in our annual Team racing regatta with the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (which they usually win by embarassing margins).  But it was finally cancelled because of very squally conditions (lightning, thunder, gusts to 35 knots) which is quite rare for the Emirates.  So we drove back to Abu Dhabi and by then the weather had settled into blustery conditions and I took out a Laser to practice, doing a number of gybes - and only lassoing the boom once.  I did however perform a new trick - somehow the knotted end of the mainsheet reached up to the boom and caught near the outhaul.

I was lucky in having one of our best sailors also out practicing and he gave me some great tips.

In practicing beating in the blustery conditions it was easy to be overpowered in the gusts and I was dealing with it by putting on lots of outhaul and cunningham, hiking hard and easing the main sheet so it was often not even close to block to block.  He  suggested I first let off just a bit of outhaul and pull even tighter on the cunningham in order to get the power lower on the sail where it would have less leverage than higher up.  I did this and it worked.  He said in a keelboat one would also tighten the backstay.

Then he said I should concentrate on keeping the mainsheet block to block and deal with the gusts by heading up just a bit and only let off the mainsheet if absolutely necessary.  I did this and for a short while I was even outpointing him - that felt good, even if it didn't last.

I had also discovered a week before that pushing the tiller away can be effective to avoid a capsize as the boat rounds up quickly.  The natural inclination when one feels the boat rounding into a sure capsize is to pull the tiller in a vain attempt to bear off, but all this does is push the transom up and accelerate the turn - resulting in a dunking. On reflection I think this was a point made in one of the Boat Whisperer videos, but I didn't understand it at the time.  At any rate, when I started rounding up too quickly I found that if I just give a quick little push away of the tiller it flattens the boat quickly and I usually manage to recover.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Extreme Speeds

The New York Times web version has a front page video in its extreme sports series - about kite surfing champion Rob Douglas seeking to regain his world sail speed record that was recently broken by the Vesta Sailrocket.

I had mixed emotions reading it - it was great to see sailing on the front page of the NYT but sailing at extreme speeds in specially constructed canals several inches deep is so far removed from the sailing that most mortals do that it seems to me a poor way to promote the sport to the general public.  As someone says at the beginning of the video, it is like driving a Formula One race car.

Which reminded me of a debate I used to witness with respect to sponsorship of Formula One races in general.  From a marketing point of view, is it a smart investment?  Sure, there is great brand exposure but are the colossal sums likely to pay off by really convincing enough consumers to purchase a particular brand of car, tire or whatever?  Personally I would not make much connection between the hyper-sophisticated machine on the Formula One track and the car or tire I am considering.

Back to sailing, one could say that the new America's Cup is pretty far removed from our weekly dinghy racing but it is really just pushing an existing format/activity to another level - admittedly out of reach of most sailors, but I personally applaud the new format and think it has a much better chance of attracting spectator interest than the traditional America's Cup.  And I really enjoy watching it with the graphics.

Another thing that annoyed me about the NYT video - particularly as a front page exposure to sailing -  was its heavy dose of sensationalism - featuring clips of some kite-surfing idiot who jumped over Brighton Pier and an even bigger idiot who took a bone smashing jaunt in hurricane force winds.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Otherwise Occupied Again

As I reported before I had neglected my blogging in September for a good reason - the marriage of my daughter.

It happened again - my other daughter  - and I plead happily guilty.  Needless to say, the same emotions ran high and it was an experience to cherish.

Although they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in this part of the world, I certainly have plenty to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hiking Strap

As I mentioned in my previous post, I drove a safety RIB in our race last week and was able to closely observe the top Laser sailors do things that elude me.  Our Kiwi, who won the race, had borrowed my Laser and since for some reason it doesn't win races with me at the helm, I thought it worthwhile to study his technique.

His Scottish competitor was better downwind, but on the beats the Kiwi was clearly superior.  Afterward, he said that with the wind at 12 -14 knots he thought it would be a good opportunity to use his fitness - and he did, with a lot of serious hiking resulting in a particularly flat boat upwind.  His competitor had more finesse downwind but was not in as good shape physically and was visibly tired on the last long beat.

The following day, I took my Laser out and discovered an important element in the Kiwi's success (in addition to good abs) - he had loosened the hiking strap drastically compared to where I keep it, which allowed him to hike with his bum far over the side of the boat.  I had noticed that he was hiking with his body very low to the water and the looser hiking straps certainly allowed that.   Trying the loosened straps, I realised how much easier it is to get weight (yes, I refer to my bum) further out with more leverage.  However, in this position, hiking pants with a hard pad is absolutely necessary - without them, one's hamstrings quickly become sore as they press against the gunwale.   The only thing I don't like about the loosened straps is that in lulls it is harder to get your weight back inside and I had to occasionally grab the strap itself to pull myself in.  But overall, I am a convert, at least for stronger wind.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Death Roll Stance

We had nice race wind last weekend with 12-14 knots.  I was driving a RIB safety boat and got to observe the Laser race leaders more closely (when sailing, I usually have a distant view of their sterns).  The Scottish fellow who lead most of the way (but who was overtaken on the last leg by our Kiwi) was impressive with his downwind sailing - working the small waves very adroitly. And at least twice he seemed about to succumb to a death roll but recovered nicely.

After the race we got into a discussion about downwind runs.  He said that for optimal performance you need to keep the boat just on the edge of control - with the vang off and the centerboard up.  With the twist in the sail, gusts will be pushing directly on the top of the mast and accentuating the leverage and setting up a death roll - so you have to be ready to react quickly.

He asked me how I would sit downwind and I showed him - sitting at the front of the cockpit to get the transom out of the water - but mainly sitting on my bum.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said - OK, now if I apply a little force here (pulling me slightly back toward the side of the boat) what happens? Quickly losing my balance backward, it was obvious.  

He showed me his stance for downwind in all but the lightest of breezes.  You basically face almost forward, with a four point stance.  Assuming you are on port tack, your left leg is bent, at the front of the cockpit, with about 3/4 of your weight on your left foot in the front left corner of the cockpit and some weight on your bum which is against and slightly sitting on the left side of the cockpit. Your right knee is behind, against the other side of the cockpit and your right foot is under the toe strap (from right to left) with your right foot touching the left side of the cockpit, ready to push against it.  You are nicely braced and balanced on four points - left foot, left bum, right knee and right foot.  You are ready to shift your weight to either side.

I tried it the next day and it works nicely for me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Different Disasters

After reading the many posts describing Sandy's wake - especially in New Jersey - I am very thankful to be able to report that I don't have much to report on, other than life more or less as normal. We had another regatta over the weekend and I crewed with another colleague in an RS400.  No major mistakes and relatively good starts. Third place overall.

I really felt for those in the Northeast and their hardships and am very glad that Baydog, FrogmaGeorge and others came through without a major disaster scenario.

Of course there were people who lost their lives or their houses and many communities suffered devastation that will have long lasting effects.

I had an interesting conversation last night over dinner with a Lebanese friend that caused me to reflect a bit.  We talked a bit about the ravages of Sandy and he said that a friend from New York had described the situation to him as like a "war zone".  He said that for someone from Lebanon, that was a bit much.  He wasn't meaning to belittle the real suffering, but he meant to distinguish between a natural disaster and a human-made war disaster.  It made me think - living any disaster is bad enough, but how hard it must be to live a human-made war disaster - lasting an unknown and often very long time, perhaps involving enemies who were once neighbors.  And no opportunity to come together as a community to repair the damage, let alone hoping for any government help - and being mostly ignored by the rest of the world.  How utterly soul destroying that must be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Old and New

Last weekend we had a regatta and I crewed for a colleague in an RS400. Lots of fun and we did get a third place.  A few good spinnaker sets and a few not so good.  Those asymmetrical spinnaker reaches are a blast.   One OCS.

But the best part of the weekend was after the regatta finished.  We were sailing back and also sailing back were about 10 dhows which had just finished a regatta of their own. They were in a single file line heading to go past a reviewing stand where I assume some local sheikh was passing them in review.

It was a lovely sight with their voluptuous white sails set on a broad reach.

We passed one and the crew was singing, accompanied by a man playing a hand-held drum.

When they had passed the reviewing stand, each one dropped its sails and then a chase boat brought them their anchor.

As explained in an earlier post, the dhows start the race with sails down and raise them at the starting signal. They leave their anchors to be picked up by an attendant motor boat and then at the end of the race they head into the wind and drop their sail. The motor boat then comes up alongside and heaves the anchor overboard and throws the anchor rope onto the dhow.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Prize Winning Speech

The following speech recently won a first prize at a Toastmaster's evening. 

Maybe some of you can relate to it.


What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back to you?

A stick.

No, in fact, tonight I’m not going to talk to you about Contests or jokes.  No, tonight I am going to talk to you about something that in fact is not a laughing matter at all.  It is…my honey’s obsession – the bounding main, the open sea.  Because my man is a sailor.

I didn’t know he was a sailor.  I thought he was a lawyer.  But lawyers who sail call themselves sailors, not lawyers, and it is the witchery of the bounding main that does that.  It makes all men who love water and boats, sailors.  Their neurons get all squashed up and they think a sheet is a rope and that seasickness is fun. 

You think you’re having a perfectly interesting conversation with them and they stop and freeze, sort of like a setter flushing quail.  All you have to do is follow their line of sight to find the boat in the landscape.  And it doesn’t even have to be on the water; sailors get like that even when they see one on a trailer on the N 165 going at 110 km an hour.

I didn’t get it at first when early in the courtship he proposed romantic weekends in seaside towns.  My kids figured it out before I did.  I was once delightedly looking at a photo of the new man in my life looking at me with love in his eyes, and my young daughter looked and said, oh look how he’s looking, Mom, you must have been standing in front of a boat.

My man, my sailor lives in Abu Dhabi, where he belongs to the sailing club and races little boats called dinghies every weekend.  He misses me though, and his dearest wish is that we sell everything we own and sail around the world for the rest of our lives.  His second dearest wish is that I would get on a boat with him. So I decided one day to give it a really serious try.

The entire sailing club got involved.  Pam said “here are my kneepads, you’ll need these, my knees are shot since last summer on the boat”, and John found me a helmet, saying “you’ll need this so you don’t get a concussion from the boom”, and Sue lent me these funny gloves with no fingers, telling me I needed them to not get rope burn, and as for my sailor – he was as happy as Captain Ahab sighting Moby Dick as he put me in a strange outfit sort of like an overall, except it had a hook right here.  We sailed off to start the race, half the club on the shore to watch us, and as we waved I said to my sailor, sweetheart, what is this hook for?  “The trapeze” he told me.  The trapeze?

Have you ever seen those action shots of world-class sailors where they are suspended from a wire, leaning backward over the water to keep the boat from tipping over?  That’s called the trapeze, it seems.  And this is what my sailor wanted me to do.

You have to stand up on the gunwale, that is, the side of the boat, and hook the wire attached to the mast to the hook on your overalls, and for a heart-stopping moment you have to let go and drop back, trusting that it will catch you before you fall into the sea.  Well, I let go, and it caught me.  So far so good.  In fact I was so thrilled I yelled to my sailor:  “Look!  Look!”  I felt great!  A champion!  On the cover of Sports Illustrated! And he grinned and yelled back, his hand on the tiller, his hair in the salty breeze, his eyes squinting in the sunlight:  “And we’re making great time too!  We’ve left those stragglers behind!”

However, ladies and gentlemen, let’s not forget that the boat in the meantime is not static.  It is not only moving forward; it is dipping back and forth over the waves and rolling over at a sharp tilt.  My victory was short-lived; in fact it only lived about three seconds before I was not standing on the gunwale, I was dancing on it, and then skittering on it, and then I wasn’t on it at all.  Like an enormous pendulum, the boat swung me around on my wire in a half circle around the front of the boat.  My sailor looked up just in time to see me whizzing past him across the bow to smack into the sail and capsize the boat.

Ladies and gentlemen, I will not trouble you with the details of my struggling out from under the sail and the ropes; or helping heaving the boat back up again; or being unable to get back up into it because my muscles were quivering so much; or the sailing club member fishing me out of the sea by the seat of my pants to heave me into a rubber dinghy, and mercilessly tossing me back in the boat to help sail it home. 

No, rather, when I was finally dry, warm and with a frozen daiquiri and a plate of peanuts in front of me in the bar, as I listened to all the sailors talking about what a great time it was, I thought to myself…I wonder if I could get him interested in something simpler…like boomerangs.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Wingsail Lasers Next ?

An alert Sunfish blogger, My2Fish, has posted a video of a wing sail on a Sunfish. Amazing.

Lasers next?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Round Sails

Thanks to alert reader, O Docker, for alerting me to Jacques Cousteau's turbosails (turbovoiles), which were inspired by the Flettner Rotors.  They are not the same, but similar in that they are vertical ovoid shaped cylinders (not round), but with moveable flaps attached.  The cylinders do not rotate.  Instead they have grills on two sides which can be opened or closed and can be oriented to the wind so that low pressure develops.  In addition, they have an aspiration system that sucks air from the cylinder, making the air flow more closely around Turbovoile.

Cousteau's first boat, with a single Turbosail, was the Moulin à Vent, which he sailed from Tangiers to (almost) New York where it encountered winds over 50 knots which broke the Turbosail which fell overboard. A second boat, the Alycone, pictured above, was constructed in 1984 with two Turbosails and it made several circumnavigations.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Round Sails

Although I am not an engineer by trade, my interest in sailing has lead me to be fascinated with fluid mechanics (without the math).  The problems of cavitation cavitation  and super-cavitation were new to me until I saw some interesting articles about developing high-speed sailboats.

We all are told that sails act like airplane wings (or AC45/72 wings) that rely on the Bernoulli effect to create lift in the direction of lower pressure produced by the air moving more quickly over the curve in the sail.  Sometimes I am able to use that effect to move my Laser.

I recently ran across an interesting technique to do the same thing in a very different way - the use of the Magnus effect which, as my erudite readers will know, is the effect "in which a spinning cylinder past which an external stream is flowing receives a lateral thrust due to the lower pressure on the side of the cylinder where the cylinder’s motion is in the same direction as the streaming flow."  In other words, a spinning cylinder has lower pressure on one side which will create a force in that direction.  

So, to harvest this phenomenon on a boat, one simply makes a vertical cylinder, sets it to spinning and it acts like a wing or sail.  These cylinders are called Flettner rotors after Anton Flettner who was the first, along with a colleague, Prandtl, to have put such (patented) cylinders on 2 ships in the 1920s. 

A German wind-turbine company, Enercon, built a ship in 2010 using Flettner rotors, along with conventional propulsion. You can check it out (in German) in this video which has a good animation of the Magnus effect.

In the 1930s Thom reported significant increase in lift by adding discs to the cylinder. However, before any of you decide to add Thom discs to the Flettner rotors on your boat, you may wish to consult the findings reported by the Turbulence Mechanics Group of the University of Manchester which "failed to confirm the much enhanced lift coefficients that he reported."

Friday, September 28, 2012

One Upmanship

We had 4 short races today and I was mediocre for the first three.  First race a poor start, jammed in the middle of the line and catching lots of dirty air. Second race was better with a decent but not great start and middle of pack. Third race better, finishing in top half.

Then the fourth race - an excellent start, just clearing the committee boat at the start and tacking immediately and before anyone else onto port toward the tidal current flowing strongly upwind.  Good beat upwind keeping the boat nice and flat and lengthening the gap with the others.  Good tack onto starboard on the lay line and a nice rounding of the windward mark in first place. Wow, that felt good.

Then, downwind, being careful, going a bit to the left to get out of dirty air and sail by the lee a bit. Then, with others building up behind,  I decided to go right to get out of dirty air and head toward the right side of the finish line. Going well, staying ahead of others and savoring the impending win.  Crossing the finish line I was surprised to see the others gybing around the mark and heading off upwind.

At which point I realized that I forgot there was another sausage to do. Oh well. I did the other sausage and finished the race next to last.  All the great technique wiped out by not thinking.

But the best was when I got to shore and was telling others about my goof and one of the sailors said - you want to hear something even more stupid? I said I couldn't think of anything worse and she replied "I saw you going off to the right and thought you had a brilliant tactic in mind - and I followed you."  I laughed and said "You win - that was stupider".

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Otherwise Occupied

I have been remiss in blogging recently, but I do have an excuse - and a very good one.

My daughter got married and I had the absolutely wonderful experience that so many fathers have had of walking his little girl down the aisle. And it was even better than I thought it would be - all the clichés about how proud a father is, about how amazing it is that the little girl has grown up into a radiant woman, etc etc etc - are all absolutely true.  

Walking down the aisle, I had a very hard time keeping things together - a rush of emotions swirled around and I kept telling myself to stay composed and put one foot in front of the other so as not to take anything away from her.

And the amazing thing is that my other daughter will be married in a few weeks - so I get to have the wonderful experience all over again !  How lucky can a guy get.

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.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Yacht

I have not blogged during the last week because I was in France where I went to launch my yacht following a refit.  Although some of you readers may keep yours in Cannes or Monaco, mine is in Baden in southern Brittany.

Although I forgot to take my Abu Dhabi Sailing Club burgee I nevertheless managed to get my yacht properly fitted out and ready for a seasonal launch.  I accomplished the mise à l’eau using a borrowed trailer and with a couple of friends we got it down the slipway unscathed and launched it.  No champagne, but it was gleaming with a new paint job and it was a proud moment.  I provisioned it for the initial cruise by stowing 2 sandwiches and a bottle of water in one of the little open lockers under the forward seat/thwart/mast support.

Unfortunately a stationary high pressure system provided lovely, cloudless skies with wind that was coquettishly fickle, ranging from none to occasional tantalizing breaths that were more exasperated sighs than real breezes.   And the tides in the Golfe du Morbihan are not for wimps and more than once I was making going backward, waiting for enough breeze to make some headway.

But I enjoyed a nice shakedown cruise and everything worked out.  I made only one obvious mistake – noting a strange vibration coming from the dagger board, I realized I had inserted it backwards.  Luckily my crew was a first time sailor (photo below) and he didn’t realize just how stupid this was - I didn’t bother to remedy his ignorance.

My yacht is a classic French vessel belonging to an internationally recognized class –  a Vaurien
(Stock photo - not my yacht).
Designed by Jean-Jacques Herbulot, the first one was seen at the Paris Boat Show in 1952, built of plywood.  Herbulot is a French sailing legend, who competed in 4 Olympics and designed 70 boats (at least that is all his widow could remember when asked).  Almost every French sailor will have sailed one at some point. 

Over 36,000 have been built.  It was commissioned by Philippe Viannay, the founder of the famous Glenans sailing school, who wanted an affordable dinghy for his school - which would be the same price as 2 bicycles. The name was said to be inspired by the name of a dog belonging to Viannay and literally means “worth nothing” (vaut rien) but is usually translated “good-for-nothing” or “rascal”. 

My yacht is kept in a friend’s boatyard and I was lucky to be able to speak with Eric, one of his master woodworking craftsman who owns 3 Vauriens, including a wooden one.  He took a few minutes off from his work to give me some tips on dealing with the complexities of rigging my yacht’s sophisticated mainsheet system which starts with passing one end through a hole in the port side of the transom and knotting it  – then passing the running end through the block at the end of the boom and finally through a second block on the starboard side of the transom and then into the helmsman's hand.  This is direct sail control – no fussy traveller, jamcleats or other unnecessary paraphernalia to interfere between the yacthsman and his mainsail.  The jib sheets dispense with blocks altogether and rely on simple fairleads leading into jam cleats.   (A heads-up to the Harken marketing department - concentrate your efforts elsewhere.) 
The mainsheet system can be seen in this photo of the above-mentioned first-time sailor - an action shot I took for his mother to show how valiantly he mastered sailing on his first day out  - and never mind the limp mainsheet and total lack of any wake or ripple on the water.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Switching Boats

The last 2 weekends I have not raced my Laser but have taken out a Kestrel, a two-handed dinghy - both because I have meaning to learn how to helm a 2 handed dinghy and also because of the very high heat/humidity that totally exhausted me on the Laser the weekend before.

When I sailed the Laser, I was far from very good, but at least I had gotten to the point where I was less worried about the basics and could concentrate on trying to improve. Getting used to a new boat with two sails plus spinnaker, lots of fiddly controls and another person aboard definitely took me out of my (relative) comfort zone.

For both weekends I prevailed on a more experienced Kestrel helm to crew for me and let me helm, with him available to give me tips.  It was much appreciated and by the end of the second weekend my comfort level, while still in the less than really comfortable zone, was much better.

Concerning the heat issue, I am now convinced that I had trouble mainly due to the high humidity which is usually a factor mainly in August but which was quite high recently.  The proof is that in my first weekend out on the Kestrel, the humidity was still quite high and that, coupled with my stress in trying to manage the new boat, forced me to retire before finishing the first race.  Yesterday the humidity was not high (I can always tell it is high when I step out of an air-conditioned building and my glasses immediately fog up completely) and I finished 2 races in the Kestrel without being overly tired at the end.

Back to learning the Kestrel, I enjoy it a lot.  First, it is really nice not worry about the main sheet lassoing the transom during gybes.  On the other hand, I did capsize once during a gybe because I forgot to straighten the tiller and we just kept coming around into a perfectly executed dry capsize for my experienced crew who saw exactly what was happening and managed to be over the side and onto the centerboard before the mast touched the water- I was in the water of course.  But that lesson was quickly learned and I doubt I will soon make that mistake which is so basic and easy to avoid.

Learning how to trim the headsail and mainsail and coordinating tacks and gybes is fun and quite different from a Laser.

And thinking about how best to work as a team with the crew takes concentration. As is true for most relationships, good communication is the key.

So I enjoy it, but this afternoon I took the Laser out for a spin just to keep in touch.  I really enjoy the little boat - somehow you feel closer to the wind and water.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Expatriate Sailors

I was reflecting the other day on how international our sailing club is -  we have about 20 regular sailors and they hail from 
  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Barbados
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • England
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Lebanon
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Scotland
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • USA 
 I like that.

Expatriates are really almost a separate nationality - no longer the same as they were in their passport countries, expatriates usually have more in common with other expatriates of all sorts than with their original compatriots.  I have lived most of my adult life as an expatriate and have been blessed for it.  Of course expatriate lifestyles have negatives as well as positives, but no one can deny the available richness that is an integral part of it.  I say "available" because some expatriates choke off this invigorating oxygen by closing themselves in, but that is their problem.

It is true that the older I get the more some of the old hometown tugs at heartstrings - no doubt due in no small part to sentimental memories that are more yearnings than real memories.  But if I had it to do over again I would choose the expat lifestyle again in a heartbeat.

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