Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Day at the Races

This last weekend I felt like I belonged on the poster above - another lousy day at the races - and for the second time in a row I could not really put my finger on why.  I won't even try blaming Karma this time. 

On the other hand, I did finish well, so, overlooking the first 90% of the race and 90% of the other boats, I did very well and I guess that is some small consolation.  After dropping behind dramatically I did finally catch two boats that were a good 50 meters ahead.  First, I gained on a downwind leg by avoiding the straight downwind layline to the mark. I came up onto a broad reach and gained some position with the higher boat speed and then gybed back toward the mark, sailing by the lee. In each case I was sailing a longer distance but gaining well on the boats ahead who were just going straight downwind. 
Then, rounding the final mark for a beat to the finish I took a very careful look at the wind on the water. The other boats went off on port tack toward the deeper water where the tide would be against them. I had generally avoided the tide before but I noticed this time that even going toward it would be a mistake since the wind was weaker in that direction. I headed off on starboard and sailed until I overlay the mark just a bit (to compensate for the tide which would still be pushing downwind) and came storming back and finished ahead of both.

So, overall another lousy day, but at least I finished it on an upbeat note.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sailing Urges

I ran across this website on canoe sailing website recently and was intrigued.  I poked around a few other websites on the subject and while I have no plans to run out and do it, I did mentally file the idea in the "would be fun to try someday" category.

It struck me how the sailing urge manages to express itself in so many different ways.  A huge variety of boats, rigs, activities, competitions, locales, etc. exist for all ages with the common denominator of sails, hulls and water (let's not quibble about these words - sails include wings, hulls include foils or simple boards, and water can be liquid, solid and maybe even sand).  Each of us is drawn to some manifestations of the urge more than others, but it is hard not to see something attractive in each of the manifestations.

Are there other sports/hobbies/passions that appear in so many ways?  The only one I can think of might be horses - which frankly have no appeal for me.  My girls growing up did the horse thing, but the whole subject left me cold. I told them I might try if they could find me a saddle with seat belt. However, I can imagine that a horse lover would appreciate the wide variety of horses and horse things - such as rodeo, jumping, cross country, dressage, racing of all sorts, carriages, etc. Certainly the interaction with another species must be part of the overall appeal.

But back to sailing - although devotees of other sports/hobbies/passions certainly can enjoy them as much as a sailer loves sailing, only our passion involves such a wide range of possibilities - variety of equipment, dealing with nature in all her moods, understanding of maps, tides and weather, understanding of rules, etc. etc. 

To each his own passion -  but personally I can't imagine a better one.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gift of Life

A man completed a solo 17-month, 31,000 mile circumnavigation in his 28-foot sailboat.

Laudable, but how newsworthy is it these days ?  You decide.

Ardell Lien pictured above was 71 at the time.  And he had undergone a heart transplant 2 years before. Oh, and a kidney transplant along with the heart transplant.  After almost dying of congestive heart failure.

His slogan: Don't take your organs to heaven - heaven knows we need them here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Headgear Again

The ostensible purpose of today's post is to provide the answer to yesterday's Dhowtful Rigging question.

But the real purpose is to get in another post on sailing headgear.  As can be observed above, in this part of the world, a PFD is only part of the essential gear and a distinctive headgear completes the ensemble. Although stylish, it is not an officially approved OSHA, ISAF, NTSA, NASCAR or other crash helmet, but a hamdaniyah (although in Dubai it is called something else).  This is the everyday headgear, as  distinguished from the more formal gutra which one wears to the office.  The hamdaniyah is just piece of cloth folded and tied around the head and in the regattas some of the local kids wear them - and they stay on even during a capsize.  I would think it also provides some protection against an errant boom, but can't confirm that. More on headgear below.

Back to dhow rigging - to understand the dhow rig (and various other aspects of local culture) you have to think outside the Western box and not make assumptions - in this case, assuming that shrouds stay attached.

That is basically the key - the shrouds are attached only by hooks (see photo above, admiring not only the headgear, but also the hook on the end of a shroud) and can be undone and switched to the other side as needed.  As you can see in the following video of a 22 ft dhow race, as the boats go out there are no shrouds on one side - the side which will be the leeward side.  When the boat gybes - see the video at about 8.30 - the sail blows out ahead of the boat and is sheeted in on the new side - not so different in principle as when the Volvo Ocean Racers roll up their headsail and then unroll it on the new tack.

Traditional manoeuvring on the bigger dhows also involves dipping the front of the sail until the leading edge becomes vertical and then shifting the spar to the other side and pulling the sail around the front while also unhooking the shrouds and bringing them around to the new windward side. The modern racers can tack, although traditionally dhows would often change tacks by gybing around (wearing away) which allowed the sail to billow out front and change sides more easily.

I am not sure, but it looks as if on these 22 ft dhows the shrouds might stay in place once set up, with the sail always outside them.

Another good video is this one of the Groupama team in a 60ft dhow race.  Although alert readers may not recognize Jean-Luc who is sailing without his special Groupama headgear, it is indeed him and I can only surmise that he either wanted to keep his secret weapon intact or he was just bowing to local sensibilities and did not wish to upstage the local headgear. Notice, as in the other video, as the boats are going out the shrouds are only on one side - the side that will be the windward side. And in the action parts - around 4.00 - you can clearly see that the shrouds are only on the windward side.

I have not had the privilege of riding on one of the racing dhows but have talked with friends who have done so and I think I have the above right, but if any alert readers have further info I would be pleased to learn more.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dhowtful Rigging

Living in Abu Dhabi, I have seen many dhows - air-conditioned dinner-cruise boats, fishing boats and racing dhows.  The only ones with working sails are the racing dhows and there are 3 active classes in the region - 1 mast 22 ft and 43 ft and 2 mast 60 ft classes. Beautiful things to see with the billowing white sails rakishly angled.  And a very healthy antidote to the ubiquitous shopping malls and other amenities that are a mockery of Arab culture.

Even today the dhows are all made without any plans - just the watchful eye of an experienced builder, almost all of whom are from southwest India. The modern racing dhows still use wood for the hull, but aluminium or carbon fiber is used for the spars. Sails are modern materials. There is no keel although they use sandbags to lower the centre of gravity.  And race starts are not exactly ISAF Rules - before the start, all sails are down. At the start signal - traditionally flares and smoke - crews rush to raise the sails (manually) and they are off.

The sail is a lateen sail - a modern version of which is used on a Sunfish - and dhows can set an incredible amount of sail. One author gives the example of a dhow with a 20 meter mast which can have a single sail of 650 square meters. A Volvo Ocean Race boat has a mast of 29 meters (from a point 2.5 meters above waterline) with a maximum Main Sail Area and Headsail area of 175 square meters each and spinnakers of 350 meters each.  So the Volvo Ocean Racer's three largest sails including kite are on a higher mast and have only slightly more sail area than a dhow's single sail - which is on a boat without any keel at all, let alone a canting keel.

How does the dhow rigging work?  I snapped the photo above at the Volvo stopover and was mystified - one mast with the long boom (in two pieces) with the sail attached to it and to the bowsprit - all inside the shrouds.  I couldn't work out how they managed to get the sails up, let alone tack or gybe, and end up looking like this:

Can you figure it out?  No fair googling.  Answers tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Head Gear Redux

An astute reader, Tinkerci, solved for all of us the puzzle previously posted at Head Gear of what Jean-Luc, the Groupama navigator was wearing as he nobly stared off into the sunset or somewhere. He was sporting his Petzl E-Lite Emergency head torch, presumably with a long-range whistle that can signal one’s position for rescue and a SOS Morse code illustration on the whistle. 

Jean-Luc is not alone on Groupama in doing so, as the above photo attests. I don't know the name of this fellow gadgetophile, but clearly the Petzl E-Lite is a Groupama thing and wearing it in daylight seems to be part of the ritual (although those clouds in the background do look a bit menacing). 

Could it be something else entirely, cleverly disguised as a Petzl E-Lite? 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Can I Blame Karma?

I had a lousy day in the club races yesterday.  In the postmortem analysis I identified a few things I did wrong but no major disasters.  So, in the big scheme of things, it was just one of those days when my karma was out of whack (yes, I know that karma is never out of whack - it is all connectedness, synchronicity, causality, etc - but I have to blame something external for a lousy day).

Putting aside karma, I did identify a few things that need to be worked on.

We had two races and I had a bad start and a mediocre start, so clearly that is still my one consistent area to work on.

After both starts, I went quickly off onto a port tack to reach the deeper water where I hoped the outgoing tide would give me a boost - tide usually trumps wind Tide Trumps All. Several of the better sailors were initially doing the same thing and I thought that confirmed my own analysis.  But these were pursuit races which meant that at the first mark a number of boats were still ahead (having started earlier) and so to reach the windward mark on my starboard tack, I had to go through a huge amount of dirty air from the earlier boats who were about to round the mark and those who had already rounded and were headed downwind on port. Sure, I had priority over them and even managed to make a couple duck behind me, but I was collecting a huge amount of garbage air.  So, lesson learned - think ahead more about where the other boats will be.

After the race, I went over things with a guy who usually beats me and asked about going right to the deep water. He said he planned to do the same thing and started that way, but realised there was some significant pressure in the middle of the course. In both races he stayed much more in the middle and even with a few extra tacks did very well.  So, next lesson - read the water better and try to look at the bigger picture.

And there is always next week.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bravo Azzam

Wow, just finished watching the Miami in-port race and what a great show it was.  Ian Walker was superb winning it. Franck Cammas was superb in second spot. Ken Read was superb overtaking Chris Nicholson at the finish line.  And poor Iker Martinez - hitting the mark!

Great race.  Go Azzam!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Survival Mode

Take a look at Day 5 of the Finn Gold Cup - 25-30 knots and big waves.  Dominated by Ben Ainslie.  "Survival mode" was how Ed Wright described it - as he was leading until he capsized during a gybe.  I have never sailed a Finn, but it is also a single hander with unstayed mast and single sail and looking at these videos, I am glad our club has a policy of not sailing in wind over 20 knots.

Finn Day Five

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Off the Wall

For some off-the-wall, out-of-the-box, far-out ways of imaging sailboats, check out the ideas (fantasies?) of Yelken Octuri, a French designer whose day job is working for Airbus and has designed a
  • seaplane-convertible sailing yacht
  • sailboat-convertible seaplane
  • space shuttle for a weightlessness honeymoon
  • flagellum oscillator which is an alternate solution to traditional propulsion systems
He claims the first two are technically possible.

For an out-of-the-ordinary vision, go to Octuri

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Current Affairs

I have learned the lesson before and was glad I remembered it yesterday– current and tide trump the wind every time.  We had a long race yesterday and the last part was a long beat against the tide.  Those of us who have enough local experience to know better took the long way around, going quickly to the shallow water across the channel and staying there, beating close to shore.  Some of those less familiar with the waters set a course that kept them in the channel too long, earning a conveyor belt trip backwards.  So, at least I got that part right, although maneuvering in the shallow water required a constant lookout at the depth – I had to pull up the centerboard a few times and at one point, I was being very clever to take a short cut next to a sandy spit but was not quick enough and jerked to a stop as the centerboard dug into the sand – at least it was not rocky.  I was also pleased that I was alert enough to notice during the part where we finally had to cross the channel, that in the eddies behind a small island, the current was in the opposite direction and I sailed straight into it and got a great, if shortlived, boost.

It was an all day race with two legs and a lunch stop in the middle.  The second leg had a downwind start in a relatively narrow channel – never done that before. Very little jostling at the line with everyone on a very broad starboard reach and with a couple of dolphins appearing soon afterward as a bonus. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Love Boat Nightmare

When sailboats heel it is fun, but when cruise liners do so in 7 meter swells and 50 knot winds, it clearly isn't - as seen in this onboard video on the Pacific Sun (shown above in calmer waters) off New Zealand in 2008 when it encountered a storm.

Love Boat nightmare

Getting Trimmed

We participated in team racing recently and it is only the second time I have done it. It is a great format – short courses and a very different mentality – it is only the team results that count and individual skill is less important.  We had 2 versus 2 and so all the complicated calculations about which combination of places were winners were thankfully reduced to the simple bottom line of whichever team has a last place finish loses.   Normally the tactics are what determine results, but of course the tactics matter very little if both members of one team lead from start to finish – and that is mostly what happened to me and my team member – a couple of young teenagers were consistently better sailors and skunked us.

But I did learn a couple of things so I am obliged to say that it was a good day, etc etc – although the truth is that being whipped easily by a couple of kids is not the best way to nourish one’s ego.  Never mind – back to what I learned and pretending to look positively and constructively at a good day on the water and being strengthened because the learning experience did not kill me – you get the drift.

The first thing was that since we sailed boats chosen at random I didn’t have my usual setup with wind-vane and telltales.  I missed having those tools (I am not suggesting the results would have been different, just saying I missed them).  But lacking the tools, I was much more sensitive to feeling the wind on my face and neck.  I was reminded of the story of one of the top sailors – was it Dennis Connor? – who always had his hair trimmed short before a race to better sense the wind.  For me, relying only on my senses did make me more aware of the wind instinctively, but I am not about to get rid of my wind-vane and telltales.  This last week, back in my usual boat, I tried a few times sensing the wind and then looking at the indicators and either my senses or the wind-vane was off.

The second was a very practical lesson in the rules.  One of the aforementioned young whippersnappers was starting by being stationary just behind the line in irons and bearing off a few seconds before the signal.  I was coming up from behind and politely suggested that inasmuch as she was the windward boat it was incumbent on her to move out of my way, to which she demurred.  Being a gentleman (and also suspecting she was right) I did not protest her and afterward took at look at the rules.  I was thinking because I was leeward I could luff her up and force her to move, but I forgot the word “overlapped” in Rule 11.  Just being leeward is not enough.  Her boat was pointed almost head to wind so I could not be overlapped – which is measured by a line abeam from the aftermost point of her hull – until I was almost head to wind myself.  So I was leeward, but not overlapped and Rule 11 did not apply.  ISAF Case 53 puts it simply “A boat clear ahead need not take any action to keep clear before being overlapped to leeward from clear astern.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Play's the Thing

Tillerman's Theme this month is “Play”  and I am jumping into the game.
Of course “mere” play is very important for both young and old, although in different ways. But I started thinking of how curious are a couple of English linguistic choices – the fact that we call a theatrical work a “play” and the verb we use for musical instruments is “to play”.
Hamlet sets the stage for the upcoming mayhem and deaths in outing the previous skullduggery, when he tells us “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king”.  Both the play and the play within the play have little to do with light-hearted recreation we associate with “play” and are in many ways the opposite – cold, calculating, angst-ridden, psychological brooding, not to mention death.   If we were inventing a new language, would we apply the same word to describe the creative pastime of children, a dark psychological drama and a Neil Simon bauble?  Perhaps the commonality is that in acting out a play we are like children trying on different persona, trying out different ways to dealing with people.  And the cathartic effect works because we can experience difficult emotions without the real danger usually associated with them.  But still, very curious to have the same word apply to such different things.
Giving life to music through playing an instrument is certainly more akin to the common meaning of play, but it is quite different in that it takes a lot of skill and endless practice to get it right. For most of us it is far from spontaneous and it is based on a mathematical precision of scales and rhythm.  But it nevertheless taps into something quite deep in all of us – as very ably explained by Michael Tillson-Thomas. Ted Tillson-Thomas
One common denominator to both a play on stage and playing an instrument is an audience. But, in our daily playing, while we may do it with others, it is rarely in the context of performer and audience.
Perhaps it is all just a curious happenstance of etymology with no deep meaning, but I wonder….

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Stealth Entry in the Volvo Ocean Race

I have been following the Volvo Ocean Race, cheering on Azzam, although all my cheering has resulted in their being in last place for the time being.

But, despite my daily following of the race data showing the position of each participant, I was very surprised to discover that there is another participant not showing up on the website.  Of course, given the identity of the stealth boat, that is not very surprising.

You can see for yourself.  Stealth

This video must be authentic since the VOR has not yet entered the Bermuda triangle area.  I think Knut Frostad has some explaining to do.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Boat Project

As part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the Artists Taking the Lead project, a remarkable boat is being built.

People from the South East UK were asked to bring in wood - "pencil or piano - exotic as Zebrawood or as familiar as pine" with a story to tell.  1,200 people responded and each donation is being used to construct a 30 ft daysailer.

The photo above is from the topsides. The launch is set for 7 May in Emsworth on Chichester Harbor and her maiden voyage will be a sail throughout the South East of England during the summer.

Details at

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

IT is It

A banker with an MBA in Finance decides to leave the corporate rat race and make a living working on sailboats.  Not exactly an original story, even if most bankers (and the rest of us) rarely act on the idea.

But working on sailboats usually means the classic tasks associated with keeping a boat healthy and seaworthy.

In the case of one ex-banker, it means installing sophisticated IT systems on the type of sailboats where a typical charter might run $500,000 (plus food and fuel) so that the sailors (passengers?) don’t have to worry about losing internet connections while communing with the bounding main.

The ex-banker is pictured above on a spreader with some typical gear and according to a recent article, his typical shipboard network includes “a Kerio Control firewall, which he configures to filter and prioritize network traffic passing through the VSAT link. The firewall also provides antivirus protection and network monitoring, and a VPN connection that allows his company to perform remote maintenance and support.”

Not the same digital equipment I use on my Laser which is concentrated in my gloves, but it sounds sensible.

This got me to thinking and I sense a business opportunity if I play my cards right.  I wonder if I should approach this gentleman for an exclusive distributorship for the dinghy market.  Any thoughts on that, dear readers?  Class restrictions?

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