Saturday, December 7, 2013

Oman Last Days

The Laser Masters in Oman are over and I am just thrilled at having been a part of it. It was great. If any of you have a chance to do one of these, grab it.

Fifth race day

The fifth race day was almost another carbon copy of the previous day, but with an even longer AP.  In fact, both the Grand Masters and Great Grand Masters Standard fleets got in only one race.  Once again, the unruly youngsters had general recalls which slowed things down.

In our only race I had a decent start and clean air. I tacked right once again and most of the fleet did likewise.  But I was having trouble dealing with the chop today - not sure why, since it was no worse than other days.  But my boat speed was decidedly off - I think I was not keeping the boat flat enough.

I watched Mark Bethwaite and could see that his settings were about the same as mine but that he was keeping the boat very flat. He kept his bum over the side constantly but was not hiking his trunk much.  He was not block to block, but not far from it.  Very little obvious body movement.  No doubt a lot of subtle stuff.

Final race day

Very light winds. Since we had to start the last race no later than 3 PM, we were sent out even though there was still not enough wind to race. We hung around for about an hour and finally go going, with the windward mark moved closer and managed to get in one race.

I got a good start and with the light winds was able to concentrate on keeping the boat flat. I did some sheeting in and out over the small waves and it helped. I rounded the top mark ahead of a couple of boats and had a decent downwind. One of the boats got slightly ahead of me, but I managed to overtake him before the leeward mark. From then on, I managed to finish ahead of 2 boats which meant I finished the regatta next to last - hooray,  I was not last! I was very pleased, but also realised how much work I have to improve for the first week next October in Hyères.

Then socialising in the evening after the awards ceremony.  The photo above with Neil, a new Aussie friend - both on the water and off.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Oman Race Day 4

It is like Groundhog Day here for the weather.  Everyday the same as before. So, once again relatively light winds building during the afternoon with a bit of sloppy chop.

Today we had the longest AP and just barely finished 2 races before dark.  It didn't help that the youngsters in the Grand Master Class were not properly disciplined and had a general recall, further delaying things.

The first race I got a decent start at the Committee Boat - there was a gap near it and sailed into it and accelerated to the start line. But I was too close to another boat and was getting dirty air so I tacked immediately.  I was 4th to the first mark, feeling quite good that I had held on that far.  Downwind I lost a couple of spots to boats that had gone further left.

Near the top of the next windward mark I got rolled by 2 boats - not sure what I was doing wrong, but I think I was pinching a bit. Anyhow, I got to the last downwind mark in a cluster with 2 other boats and we battled it out for avoiding last place.  I rounded behind the other 2 but almost touching their sterns and we then headed for the finish. I was lucky in that one of them (as he told me later) initially headed for the wrong mark and was quite a bit behind.  I battled the other one and almost caught him, finishing just a few seconds behind.

The second race was better - once again I had a large gap at the Committee Boat and this time I took full advantage, accelerating along the line, listening to the countdown on the Committee Boat and rounding up just at the signal.  I wish I could do all starts that way.

The chop was getting sloppier and it was harder to work through the waves. I am getting a bit better each day in dealing with the waves, but clearly a lot of work to do.  At the top mark I was about 7th or 8th but we were all fairly close.  Going downwind, I caught a few good waves but didn't pass anyone.  By then I was starting to get tired - and I assume the others were also.  But I put some effort into the next upwind and it paid off. I gained a spot and was pleased to discover the top mark was the finish line. I rounded ahead of 2 boats, making for a good end of the day.

Sailing back into port just as the sun was setting, I had a nice chat with the fellow I had nipped at the line - an Aussie who has been coming to these events for many years and just another example of the great camaraderie one finds.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Oman Race Day 3 - Mainsheet Misery

A very nice day with the wind about the same as yesterday but without the swell. So, just right for me.

The first race went relatively well - I actually beat someone.  I got a relatively poor start, getting sandwiched between two boats on the line and drawing lots of dirty air. I tacked away as soon as I could and went right. I was the next to last at the top mark but it was fairly closely bunched and I was not more than about 30 seconds behind the lead (Bethwaite, who else?). And, I am glad to report that I did indeed round the offset mark before heading downwind.

There was no swell, but the chop was fairly messy, with little waves. I tried to negotiate them as best I could and I am getting a bit better at it, but it is clear there is lots of work ahead.

Downwind, I managed to catch a few waves, mainly by bearing off to sail by the lee. I didn't pass anyone, but didn't lose any spots either.  I finished second to last, but almost caught 2 other boats who finished a few seconds ahead of me. So, I was pleased.

The second race started well, with a clean start with good air. The chop was steady and I was working the sheet quite a bit. We were on the second beat and I was in the last group but was holding my own. Then halfway up the second beat I noticed that the covering on the  main sheet had been worn through and the inner core was now in direct contact with the blocks. I was wondering if it would hold for the rest of the race. But the mainsheet gremlin had other tricks up his sleeve.  About 2/3 up the second beat I tacked and noticed the mainsheet was twisted around the block. OK, I thought, just untangle it and get on with things.  But I couldn't untangle it - a loop had passed through the block and was stuck very tight. I tugged everywhere and it wouldn't budge. Finally, I signalled to a safety boat to come over and they tugged on it also, even using a screwdriver, but to no avail. Finally, we just cut the mainsheet and I limped back into port.

So, taking stock of the first 3 days of racing, I am convinced more than ever what a great event this - the things I have learned so far from my friends and people I have just met is amazing. Admittedly, I have never taken a formal course and I am sure much of what I am learning is relatively standard for experienced Laser sailors, but for me it is really great.  And I am also realising how much our lack of open water sailing at our club in Abu Dhabi is a handicap to developing skills.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oman Race Day 2

Another great day here in Oman.

The AP was up for a couple of hours during which I had nice chat with Doug of Improper Course. Finally the wind filled in a bit and we got in 2 races. Relatively light wind but some swells that made it interesting. I am not used to swells since our club in Abu Dhabi sails in a bay protected from the ocean.

In both Great Grand Master Standard races, I came in the same place as yesterday but today it was last place since the fellow I beat yesterday was not sailing.  But it was a lot of fun and a great learning experience.

In the first race, I had a mediocre start and then I pulled a really stupid stunt that made me instantly remember Jay Livingston's excellent post yesterday Why Race if You're Losing Badly?  In my concentration I rounded the first mark and headed off downwind, completely forgetting there was an offset mark about 50 meters away from the top mark.  I didn't even realise I had missed it until the same fellow who has luffed me up yesterday was kind enough to ask me near the downwind mark if I rounded both top marks. I immediately said yes, but as I thought more about it I realised I didn't.  So, even though I was in last place I informed the finish boat that I was DNF, having missed the second mark.

In the second race I got a very good start and went left with Mark Bethwaite and others. All day I was trying to use the technique he had told me about sheeting in and out with the waves and while I certainly need a lot more practice, I did feel several times what I think it is supposed to feel like - it keeps the boat moving smoothly and dampens the slamming of the waves.  I think one thing to keep in mind is to keep the heading constant and play the sheet - sometimes I was tending to round up and bear off a bit with the waves, but I realised that if I kept the heading steady it felt much more smooth.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oman First Race Day

My first 2 races in a Worlds - what a great experience !

The wind was pretty light and the Great Grand Masters had their own starts - yesterday we were lumped together with the young folks in the Grand Masters.

In both starts I got away with no major issues. In the first race about half went right and half went left.  I went right but left paid off better. Coming to the downwind mark the race was shortened and I must admit that I was not sure what the flag meant telling us that a mark had been removed and were to proceed to the next mark - but there were plenty of boats ahead to follow.  Mark Bethwaite finished first. No big surprise there.

In the second race I decided to shadow Mark and see where he went and how his boat was tuned. He started at the pin end going left.  I was amazingly able to keep up with him for about half of the beat and then he turned on his motor or something and his transom got smaller and smaller.  Needless to say he won the second race.

I was doing a bit better, coming in ahead of 2 other boats until I made a stupid mistake - an Aussie was luffing me up and I tried to duck him and misjudged it, and bumped him. After taking my 720 I ended up in the same position as the first race - next to last.

And then the best part of the day followed as I was de-rigging my boat. Mark Bethwaite came by and recognised me and started chatting - totally down-to-earth and friendly.

I told him I was trying to figure out how his boat was tuned and that I couldn't see much difference in mine.  He told me that for beats in light winds he puts on the vang about 10 cm from block to block and then eases the main sheet in and out at each wave.  I will try that tomorrow, although I expect it takes years of practice to get right.

Oman - First Days

I arrived in Oman Wednesday evening and am starting to discover what a big regatta with top sailors is all about.

Since Thursday was Thanksgiving in the US the American contingent had organised a little get together complete with turkey and they were kind enough to invite me along.  In fact, it was Doug from Improper Course who extended the invitation and we had a nice chat after dinner.

And Pam, I can assure you that Doug's encounter with the Asian woman at the entrance to the restaurant was apparently resolved in a completely civilised way to the satisfaction of all and the woman in question will not be pressing charges.   She appears quite sanguine about it all. So, not to worry.

Friday we got our boats measured and then I was able to take advantage of the workshop here to have their very efficient workers repair some nicks in my foils and give the hull a work over.  Great service, although I am afraid they have removed one more excuse I was hoping to rely on to explain my results. But never mind.

Today was a practice race with the wind relatively light - around 8 or 9 knots.  And very shifty, with 20 degree shifts.

Our fleet (the Standard Grand Masters and Great Grand Masters) had 4 general recalls.  Which is just as well since my first 2 starts were not in a good position. Luckily by the 3rd try I got to the front and held a place.  In the race I made no major mistakes and was very pleased that I did not finish last - so, while not covered in glory, I was very happy to realise that my skill level is sufficient to at least be on the water in this type of event and even pass a few boats.

This evening was an Arabian evening with camels to ride and Omani headdresses for all.

Tomorrow the first 2 real races. Light winds predicted. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Off to Oman

I can hardly believe it - I will be driving to Oman in a few days with a colleague, towing 3 Lasers to the Masters Worlds.

Then out on the water in the wake of Robert Scheidt and so many super sailors from the Worlds and on the water with many world class Masters. I am amazed that I will be there.  A few years ago I would never have dreamed I would be doing this.   It has been through sheer luck - my age and sailing as part of the UAE - that I am able to go, but I will take it.

I will be in the Great Grand Masters class - the only category with no upper age limit, or as a friend puts it, the coffin class !

Hopefully all the storms are out of the system and Oman will return to the type of sea breezes that we experience in the UAE.

I have never participated in a national or international regatta other than those in the UAE and I will be absolutely thrilled to experience what a big regatta like this is all about.

Am I intimidated? Anxious?  Of course I am.  Improper Course blogger Doug who has been posting all week from Oman just posted that as Masters started to arrive early "7 of the first 9 to arrive were current or former world champions who have collectively won close to 40 world championships".  Wow, this is some serious business.  I will be seeing a lot of sterns. In the distance. 

And the physicality of it will be a real challenge for someone like me who is in decent shape but not in serious training. Six race days with 2 races each day of at least an hour each.  That is enough to tax anyone, let alone those in the Great Grand Master class. So, I will pace myself.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Current Trumps Again

I have written several times about the importance of current trumping wind and  how important that is to keep in mind.

In a recent race in a different area, I decided to do something contrary to the usual logic of always choosing the route to minimise adverse current.  We had to beat toward a headland on the right side against incoming tide, and then round the headland.  I intentionally chose to beat against the current in deeper water on the right, away from shore, because the shallow water on the left next to shore was clearly in the shore's wind shadow and the wind away from shore in the deeper water was much better.

And for awhile it seemed to be working. I was making big gains on the other boats and, to that extent, the strategy worked.  I was becoming almost smug. But since we all had to go around the headland on the right side of the beat my smugness soon evaporated.  As the shallow water boats (who were behind me) finally came across the deeper water to go around the headland they had a much better angle and did so on one tack, whereas I was on the right side and had to tack a couple of times right in the worst part of the current.  So, in the end I rounded the headland several boat lengths behind.  I was correct in thinking I would make better VMG with the better wind for most of the beat, but I had not factored in the difficulties in rounding the headland on the right side.

So, from now on I will always take the lesser current unless I am 110% convinced there is a good reason not to.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mini Australienne

The French are fanatics for solo offshore racing and nothing embodies this more than the Mini Transat, which is very little known outside France.  It is a solo, transatlantic race in a boat 6.5 meters long.  There are two classes - Série which is several one design classes and Proto which has very few rules other than length (6.5m) and width (3m).

The Mini hull is a mini version of the Open 60 (the boat used in the Vendée Globe) and many new ideas eventually used on the Open 60s started on a Mini where it is obviously less expensive to experiment.

To qualify one must have completed at least 1000 miles on various Mini race courses, including one solo, plus a 1000 mile non-stop race -  and there is always a long waiting list of entrants.  Only about half of the applicants were accepted in the 84 places that started.

Through friends in France I met a spunky young Australian entrant, Katrina Ham.

She arrived in France without knowing how to speak French and with no real contacts, but she was determined to enter the Mini.  After qualifying and scraping everywhere to find the contacts and funds necessary she succeeded and now, finally, is off racing. And a large dose of help came from my friends Amanda Grey translation and English language teachers and Eric Lanoe, the owner of Le Borgne Chantier  - an excellent shipyard where I keep my "yacht".

I was in France for the start scheduled on 13 October and through Amanda I had finagled a spot on the Leborgne sponsor boat for a closeup view.  I was really looking forward to seeing it all - but a series of depressions in the Bay of Biscay kept rolling in and the race committee delayed the start until 29 October - and after the race was underway then added a stop in Sada, Spain to avoid another depression.  Even this modified first leg was then cancelled before it was over with the Race Committee instructing everyone to proceed to Gijon, an intermediate Spanish port to avoid more unexpected bad weather. They are still there waiting expectantly for news of the next start.  Katrina says it was the "Most difficult sail I have ever done".

The photo above is Katrina shortly after the (first) start with all boats having at least one reef. Another shot of her in the gusty conditions.

  Pictured below is her boat in the Le Borgne shipyard in the early stages of renovation/preparation.

During the first leg, Katrina was near the back of the fleet but there is a lot of racing ahead.  To learn more about her you can visit her website and Facebook page.

She is generally taciturn, until the subject is sailing and then she lights up.  I still remember a great story she told me. I was telling her about getting to see the Volvo Ocean race in both Abu Dhabi and in France and she told me that she and some of her Mini buddies saw the Volvo race ending with Franck Cammas and his French team victorious.  But, as they watched the victors come in, they simply commented - "Too many crew, too little sail".

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gunwale grabbing

The wind was relatively light today and so I practiced some roll tacks and gybes and even succeeded in doing a few almost decent ones among a bunch of not so great ones.

The eureka moment on the tacks came when I realized how important it is to reach across with the tiller hand and grab the uphill gunwale.  By concentrating on getting the hand across quickly and grabbing the gunwale with the tiller still in my hand, several good things happened.

  • First, it helped in leaning forward and ducking under the boom. 
  • Second, it kept the tiller from getting tangled in the main sheet. 
  • Third and probably most important, once I had the gunwale, I felt (relatively) poised and in control of the heeling boat - I could easily put my weight either way when I wanted to instead of jerking across hoping it was the right time.  
  • Fourth, it allowed me to keep the heeling longer.  
  • And finally, it helped steer through the tack
Above is a screen shot of Jon Emmett  reaching over for a gunwale grab.  As an alert reader pointed I originally posted a screenshot of a gybe instead of a tack.  I have corrected it with the screen shot above.  And here is another example

Sunday, September 29, 2013

My First Match Race

I took part in my first match race yesterday and had a great time.  It is so completely different from fleet racing.

We raced in Beneteau First 7.5s with symmetrical spinnakers.  And we had 3 ISAF Umpires - the 4th one scheduled to come was unable to come because apparently he gave priority over us to some commitment he had with some other match race on San Francisco Bay which lasted longer than anticipated.

My main take away from the weekend was how concentrated everything is in match racing. The races were short and every second was filled with concentration. It was like a fleet race that had only a pre start and crowded mark roundings. You concentrate on boat speed of course but strategy/tactics are constantly taking up much of the bandwidth of the skipper and crew.

We were fortunate to have a skipper and main trimmer who were both experienced match racers and we learned a lot from them.  We ended up in 2d place after losing the final that was a real boxing match.  We were Yellow and got off to a good start with a penalty on Blue near the start line. We were virtually even to the top mark where got into a real tussle as the downwind started.  We drew a penalty (I think it was because we were leeward right of way and apparently changed course a bit too quickly) which cancelled Blue's penalty. The Blue skipper then wisely sailed away from us to make it harder for us to draw another penalty and we went after him, focussing on drawing a penalty.  We drew together and were inches ahead of Blue and we were working to keep him from establishing a leeward overlap.  In the twisting and turning we saw the Yellow flag go up and our frustrated skipper was yelling at the umpire - "no overlap, there was no overlap" but in the excitement we had not realised that Blue had gybed quickly onto starboard just before the incident and we were still on port.  So, we now had a penalty and our only chance was to lengthen the race and hope for a cancelling penalty on Blue. We got below him and luffed him upwind away from the leeward mark. We kept going for quite a ways upwind but finally could not get close enough to draw blood and he was able to head back downwind and beat us.

Great fun and some good adrenalin rushes. I am ready to do it again.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Current Trumps

I have written several times about how tide trumps most else in a race and I was reminded of this once again last weekend.

I had a great start and was feeling pretty good - almost keeping up with our Kiwi sailor to the first mark, until he eventually turned on his Laser engine or something and became a distant speck on the horizon as he usually does.

And I was also feeling a bit smug because I was staying ahead of a rival (admittedly he had not been sailing for several weeks - but I wasn't about to let such a detail interfere with my smugness).  Then, he passed me when I did a sloppy upwind mark rounding and it was basically downhill from there.  I did everything I could think of to catch up and did so at one point, crossing just in front on a beat.  But the tide was running with the wind and that proved to be my undoing.

The windward mark was a channel marker which meant that to round it we had to sail quite high and point over to it, while being swept down by the tide.  My friend sailed about 50 meters higher on starboard before tacking to head to the mark and that made a huge difference by keeping him in the shallower water longer.  I tacked sooner, thinking I had enough to compensate for the tide and, in one sense, I did since I fetched the mark (barely). But I was struggling and pinching some of the time, while my friend was chugging away.

Live and learn - or rather re-learn a lesson I thought I had already learned.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dinghies vs Others

I have started crewing on a Farr 30 which is a great boat, but I come home sometimes reflecting on the experience.  Admittedly, part of my reflections are due to being a novice and trying to learn how to do bowman duties and feeling pretty clumsy about it all. But, even so, I often come back to the same basic question - are keelboats really sailboats?

Of course they are under any definition you care to come up with, but I can't avoid the feeling that dinghy sailing is so much more  - something.  There is a visceral difference between keelboats and dinghies.

In dinghies you are constantly up close and personal with sailing. You are closer to the water and wind and your body is an integral part of controlling the boat.  I would never say you are really in control all the time because that would really be tempting the wind gods who know better, but let's just say that your physical presence is so much more directly integrated into the process.

On a keelboat, you have plenty to learn and think about but there are long stretches where, after a particular maneuver you go sit on the weather rail and have a nice chat with another member of the crew.  When the skipper decides to bear away and pop the kite, there is a bit of concentrated fussing about and with any luck it goes up untwisted with the head and clews in the right places and opens up beautifully. Then all quiet for a while until a gybe comes to befuddle the new bowman.  I managed to  do one thanks to an experienced hand talking the me through every little step and we avoided catastrophe.

I enjoy sailing keelboats and appreciate the social/team aspect very much - and, of course, there is so much to learn about the boat and trim. But I just can't help feeling there is something more basic and authentic about dinghies.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

VM Not so good?

I have gone practice sailing several times with a friend who has about the same level of Laser skills as me and we have good sessions - doing windward-leewards around buoys, some reaches out to the channel to be abused by the current and wind holes, etc.

But what I cannot understand is that most of the time during these practice sessions I sail better then him  - pointing higher,  better mark roundings, flatter boat, fewer capsizes, etc.  - but when it comes to race day he does better.  Last weekend, we had 4 short races and I beat him in the first race, the second race I was ahead but touched a mark and he passed me as I was taking my penalty, and then he beat me in the 3rd and 4th race even though I made no big mistakes.  And the prior weekend we split 2 races.

So, what gives? Is he relaxing during practice?  Am I choking in the races? Except for touching the mark last week, I had no dramatic mistakes.  Admittedly in one race I went more right and he went more left on a beat and crossed ahead of me, so I guess that could count as a mistake. But the first and second places in the race also went right, so it seems like boat handling/speed could have been my problem or maybe he caught a nice lift.

I have been concentrating on pointing better in races by anticipating the puffs and staying as close to the wind and flat as possible with hiking and small turns using body weight and small rudder movements where necessary. It has definitely helped and I can see that I am pointing as high as our top sailors, but I wonder if I am pinching a bit and letting overall VMG suffer.  My leeward telltales stream nicely but sometimes my windward ones flop around.

I found a good article on VMG and, even though it involves trigonometry, I will try to read and understand it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dolphin's Fault

Everyone of my Laser capsizes has been entirely my own fault, due to poorly performed gybes or tacks.

How nice it would to be able to honestly say that I capsized through no fault of my own - like this sailor:

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I practiced for an hour today and came back refreshed, invigorated and even a bit inspired. It was an hour that reminded why I feel the way I do about sailing.

Nothing really dramatic happened - the wind just like it was the other day when I was struggling, but this time I did the same exercises and made no big mistakes.  It just felt good. I felt strong and in control (well, most of the time).

And I did a couple of exhilarating beam reaches just for the sheer pleasure of it and the boat responded - some might say the warbling and high-pitched hum were just the self-bailer and a vibrating foil or sheet - but I am convinced the boat was singing.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Tune

Last weekend, the wind was a bit stiffer than normal - around 15 knots, gusting to near 20.

I had one decent and one lousy race. Good starts (positive point) but horrible gybes, a couple ending in a near capsize.

Coming back in I thought about it and realised that I was sheeting in far too much in preparing the gybe - overreacting to concern (fear) about the higher wind, thinking wrongly that it would be helpful.  Of course, it was just the opposite because as soon as I gybed the boom was too far in (and I wasn't letting it out) and the wind just pushed everything on around, rounding up quickly into a near capsize.

So, with the wind today about the same, I went out to practice gybes and especially sheeting to less than than 45°. One of our better sailors joined me and we practiced going around 2 buoys about 50 meters apart.

I was not sheeting in too much but still managed to do a couple of bad gybes, including one capsize. Frustrating. Which was mistake number one today - letting the frustration get to me.  As my friend drily noted as he watched me on my second capsize - "You're spending more energy cursing than you would in just righting the boat".  He was absolutely right.  So, instead of wallowing in self-reinforcing negative thoughts, I managed to get on with things -  the first bit of progress today.

Going around the buoys we were gybing from close hauled and so I then concentrated on wide approaches turning/bearing off smoothly, sheeting out to a very broad reach and then, with the boat balanced, gybing. It worked OK but my friend told me to sheet in a bit as the gybe is about halfway through, with the last part the jerk to clear the main sheet.  I did so and concentrated on smooth turns and it all seemed to click.  For the first time ever, I did several gybes that seemed to be part of a smooth, natural turn - not a shambles of reactions, fits and starts, praying it would not go wrong.  I still have a lot of work to do to improve them but I came ashore feeling I had done 2 things right - recognised and gotten over a mental attitude and gybed in tune with the boat.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Forward Foot

Now that Ramadan is here again I have shorter working hours and can easily get in an hour or so of sailing after work.

I went out today to practice and while it is starting to be rather toasty (around 42) I managed by pacing myself and drinking a camelback of rehydration drink.

With the wind relatively light I decided to concentrate on getting across the boat more efficiently on tacks and gybes. I was feeling clumsy about it and sometimes even catching my lifevest on the boom or sheet and just generally feeling clutzy and sometimes late in getting where I need to be.

I found the obvious solution was to concentrate on my forward foot.  When preparing the tack or gybe I put the back foot across, on top of the hiking strap.  The forward foot stays against the windward side of the cockpit and when the boat heels to windward in the turn, it is the downhill foot and all I have to do is think about pushing off with it - up and to the other side, ready to hike out.

It seemed to work.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Brittany Kayaking

During my recent vacation in Brittany, I rented a kayak for one day.  Bonnie would probably not approve of the type of kayak used - it was not a "decked" one (I don't know if that is what you call them in English - in French they are referred to as "ponté") but a sort of one piece molded thing. You sit on it, not in it. It kept us afloat, but obviously you could not do a roll in it.

We started out in Baden and, carefully timing things to be going with the tide both ways, paddled over to the the Conleau part of Vannes and back.  Nothing dramatic, but a nice paddle including a stop at one of the many islands on the way.  We saw several large jellyfish that I wasnt familiar with - their main bodies slight bigger than a basketball and very solid looking. A guy at the kayak place said they are harmless.

But the most interesting part of the day was observing the French at the kayak rental site. In the morning, we saw several young men preparing to rent kayaks and all were bedecked in costumes, the best being the above young man dressed up as Obelix (the PFD looked like a real paunch).  I have no idea why they were dressed up, but he was happy for us to take his photo.  However, he did confess when we asked that his cigarette was not a Gaulois.

Then on returning there was a wedding party of some dozen people renting kayaks, including a long dragon boat.  They all had straw hats with the bride and groom's names on them and they had all clearly been partying before they got to the kayaks. They were taking the boats over to a nearby village and I suppose there were some sort of continuing festivities there to greet them.  We watched them take off in various states of efficiency/sobriety. The women on the dragon boat were singing lustily and it looked like they were having a great time.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Brittany Sailing

I have not blogged lately since I was on a one week RYA Coastal Skipper Course in Brittany. I had a great time and learned a lot - although I still have to sharpen my recognition of all  those day shapes, sounds, lights etc.  Admittedly, we rarely encounter minesweepers where we race our Lasers, but from now on I will be prepared to instantly recognize the dayshapes and lights of one (my alert readers will certainly recall that they are three all-round green lights or three balls, one at the foremast head and the other 2 at the ends of the fore yard) and casually announce to the other racers - "Ahoy, mates, that is a minesweeper bearing down on us - ColRegs note that it is dangerous to approach closer than 1000 meters."

Although I learned a lot, most of it had nothing to do with a Laser.  Our boat had 2 sails and all sorts of lines, sheets, halyards, pennants, etc that you don't see on a Laser.  In addition, we had to pay close attention to water depths because pulling up the centerboard was not really an option - since it is solid steel and permanently bolted on.  One advantage for the boat however is that the sails can be lowered and furled without removing the mast.  It took some getting used to.

We sailed out of Vannes, going through a gate in a highway that is opened only at specific times into the lovely Golfe de Morbihan and then around the Baie de Quiberon,  Sauzon on Belle Isle (pictured above), Isle de Houat, Isle de Groix, Lorient and lovely places in between. The sailing is really great - nice wind, and mostly protected from the Atlantic swells. The weather was, of course, a bit different from Abu Dhabi and on 2 days we wore foul weather gear. We had one day of Force 5 with gusts to Force 6 and sailed with 2 reefs.

Dave, the instructor, was a Brit who created an RYA school in Brittany 2 years ago with his wife and and he was a very good instructor.  He had a habit of coming up with little quizzes all the time and one that I particularly remember was "what are all the ways of communicating that you are in distress"?

We got most of them, but he had to help us with one (paragraph (h) of Annex IV of the ColRegs):

  • flames on a vessel (as from burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc.)

Apparently the flames and accompanying dark smoke make a great signal, if they are properly confined to the aforesaid barrels and don't set the boat and sails on fire.   Not so sure that would be a good one to try on a Laser.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Slow Progress

Today we had our race further out, in more open water than we normally sail in.  We had wind against tide and so the waves were also more than we usually have. It was an excellent learning experience for most of us.

I intentionally set myself the goal of doing things deliberately and in no haste and while I finished in the bottom half of the fleet, I did not capsize once (a number of boats did capsize) and I handled the waves well. Not well in the sense of using them to gain speed - although I had several exhilarating surfs downwind - but well in the sense of keeping my cool and not letting fear/panic take over at any point.  I gybed successfully, even remembering to try to gybe coming down waves because the apparent wind is less.  One key was to sheet well in before starting the gybe.

So, all in all a good day - confidence restored. Now I need to learn better how to beat into waves. I was going too straight, having too many waves crash into me, slowing me considerably and filling up the cockpit to boot.  I need to learn how to bear off and come up in time with them better.  

I also experimented with footing a bit and that seemed to help. I was having trouble overtaking another boat until I tried footing and it worked well - I was crashing less into waves and easily caught up and then passed him.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Grande Parade

The Grande Parade du la Semaine du Golfe took place last month in southern Brittany and it was, as always, a grand event. I was planning to go and participate with my yacht, but pesky work plans scuttled that.  Maybe next year.

Each year there are over a thousand boats of all sorts and sizes - tall ships, classic boats, modern boats - taking part in the weeklong event. The culmination is in the Grande Parade with most of the boats going through the opening to the Golfe du Morbihan while thousands of spectators watch.  As you can see in these videos, the boats have very little sail up, but are really zipping along due to the tide, which is not surprising since the tides are over 2.5 meters and go through the opening to the Golfe which is less than one kilometer across - which means that the tides can be as strong as 9 knots.  Obviously the Parade is timed so it coincides with the incoming tide.

Video 1

Video 2

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mental Attitude

Today was the final day of the Laser clinic with Kostas Trigonis and I came away impressed with how honest and insightful he is. And I am not referring to his knowledge of sailing, although needless to say he knows sailing extremely well.

I am referring to his constant harping on how important is attitude, determination, not worrying about mistakes, etc.  I admit that when I first heard this message I was a bit impatient, thinking he should just shorten this obligatory inspirational fillip and get right into technique.

I was wrong.

No one can teach you if you are not really willing to learn - and that comes down to attitude, putting aside fear of mistakes, putting aside giving up, knowing when to push and when not to.  As he said several times, out on the race course you cannot hide.  Maybe in our day jobs we can get by with things and cover up a lot, but not sailing a race.

Today was windier than previous days - around 14 - 15 knots. Our group of eight sailors had 3 experienced ones and 5 including me, who, while not really beginners, were not in their league.  And this windier day showed very clearly, as Kostas pointed it out very graphically with examples and videos - that the main problem with our second group was, not so much a lack of technique, as behavioral/attitude issues.  For instance, one of our group gave up far too easily at the first obstacle. Another one - me - got too upset at the first mistake and, instead of putting it quickly behind, let it poison the rest of the session, preventing learning.

One common mistake today in the higher winds (although fortunately I didn't do it) was to leave the boom too far out on downwind. The further out the boom is, the more course change is required to get the wind behind it to gybe it over - if it is too far out, the boat will be on a broad reach the other way before the boom comes over and when it does in windy conditions, it is likely to push the boat around from the broad reach into a capsize. However, if the boom is trimmed into 45 degrees before starting the gybe, then very little course change will bring the boom over and stability can be maintained.

The higher wind and one part of the course with some strong current did increase the fatigue factor. As Kostas pointed out, fatigue is an enemy of learning - when fatigue sets in the body reverts too easily to old bad, ingrained habits.  He said if you are practicing and you succeed at a particular maneuver, do it at most 3 times and then stop doing it. Otherwise you risk doing it badly eventually and then you are left with the feeling that you are a lousy sailor.

On the one hand I was frustrated today with several capsizes and not having been able to master such winds.  But, although I don't like to admit it, I am convinced that the errors were, indeed, mostly mental. I did several decent gybes but capsized on others. Clearly I had the technique for some but others failed - the only explanation can be the mental attitude on those.  In fact, after the race, the fellow sailor manning the Committee Boat told me he very clearly saw me hesitate during a gybe just before capsizing - something Kostas had clearly warned about - once you start a gybe, do not hesitate, but continue through it.

During the debrief with Kostas after, I told him that I had listened to his remarks on the first day about mental attitude but didn't really understand them until today.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Simple Things

Today was the second day of the Laser clinic with Kostas Trigonis.

Again, he stressed again how important attitude and mental elements are. Interestingly he said he never had a coach himself and he regrets it - it would have made things easier to become a world champion. But not having a coach meant he succeeded by driving himself and by making many mistakes and correcting them.

At the end of the day, I came away with several things.

First, I understood how to correct the placement of my feet in tacking and gybing.  We first viewed Jon Emmett's video on tacking and gybing and Kostas stopped it and showed each step and what was happening.

For me, he pointed out that on both tacking and gybing I had my feet together in the middle of the cockpit, which means I simply ducked my head and crossed over, with very little maneuverability or power. Kostas explained that the first thing to do for either a tack or gybe before crossing over is to separate your feet, with the back foot at the back of the cockpit and the front foot at the front, and turn the forward shoulder slightly away, with the body slightly leaning forward. Your feet then help you push yourself over as the roll brings the opposite side of the boat up.

I also realised in gybing that I was not letting the boat do the work.  The first step is to sheet in as the turn starts, then lean back slightly to hike to leeward to continue the turn and bring the boat up and allow gravity to help the boom come over as the mainsheet is hanging down (as seen in the screen shot from the Jon Emmett video), making only a slight jerk necessary to avoid lassoing the transom.  As Kostas repeated to me at the end of the day, the most important thing for me in the gybe is to feel the rhythm and be more relaxed about it.

We had a number of short races and in one of them I did well - because before it began I said to myself, this time I don't care about speed or winning, I just want to make as few mistakes as possible and do everything slowly and evenly.  Kostas said this to us many times - that winning, even for world-class sailors, is simply about minimising mistakes.  I had read/heard this before but rarely do I really remember it.  This time, I slowed down, making every maneuver slow and not rushed.  And it worked.  But in the next race I was unfortunately back to my old ways and capsized. Oh well.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Outside the Box

Today was the first of a 3 day Laser clinic at our Club with Kostas Trigonis, a world champion Tornado sailor and ex-Olympian 470 sailor and the cousin of one of our members.

We had seven of us on the water and today we did a number of drills - sausages, upwind-downwind races and 3 mark races - all over very short courses with Kostas taking a video of much of it.  There is a  wide variety of skills in the group but we had a lot of fun and were thoroughly tired after about 2 1/2 hours - the summer heat is beginning now and today was about 41. That drains energy.

In the debrief after with the videos, the mark roundings were shown to be a very common problem - not going wide and coming out close. As Kostas said, if you are on a bicycle or in a car and you want to turn left you first go a bit right and then turn.  Why did the marks have such a magnetic power, pulling everyone close?  Another common mistake - during the mark roundings, many of us (I plead guilty) had a tendency to be looking down in to the cockpit at the sheet, hiking strap, the mainsheet block, water bottle or whatever was so interesting there - instead of doing the obvious and natural thing that you do when you are turning on a bicycle or in a car - looking where you are going.  

He talked about staying in the box of the laylines, of course, but he had an interesting example where going outside a bit could be clever.  He gave the example of a port tacker headed for the upwind mark with a starboard tacker coming his way. If the port tacker is right on the lay line and has to duck the starboard tacker, then he falls behind. If however the port tacker is slightly above the layline he can bear off a bit as the starboard tacker approaches and give him a false angle. Very often inexperienced sailors will fall for this and think that the port tacker is on the layline headed for the mark, and will tack.  Then the port tacker may well be able to come up to the layline and reach the mark before the other who will have to tack twice.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stopper Knot

The Laser is a physical boat - what else would you expect from an Olympic class?

But that does mean that an aging body has issues to contend with and at our race yesterday mine contended.

It was our Monthly Mug which is one 90 minute race and we had great wind (16+ knots) and a tide that was one of the stronger ones I have experienced here. Even though it was with the wind it managed to create various swirling, choppy patches with the added bonus of wind holes -  a real washing machine at places.

Rigging up, I pushed hard on the top part of the mast to get it into the bottom part and my hand  slipped and cut a couple of fingers - not an auspicious beginning.

But never mind - I had a good start.  Doug's recent advice about getting into clean air quickly was fresh in my mind and concentrated on that.  I headed for the pin end and was alone there, finding plenty of clean air. I tacked onto port after a couple of minutes and easily crossed ahead of several starboard boats that started close to the Committee Boat. I was third to the windward mark and doing OK. Then downwind across the channel.  I had a new Rooster sail and it had a fold all along the luff when going downwind with all the controls were off. I put on a bit of vang and that got rid of the fold but I am not sure it helped the overall shape.  After the race I asked our bosun about it and he said that the Rooster sails are very stiff in the beginning and with a bit of use the problem should disappear.

Still doing OK and then on a routine gybe I capsized for no particularly good reason. Oh well, I thought, just get it back up and carry on.

Nope - as I started to right it, expecting it to swing into the wind as usual, the boom remained horizontal and would not move.  Something amiss. As it came up more, I saw that the stopper knot in the mainsheet had come loose and the sheet had come entirely out of everything up to the boom becket and had wrapped itself in such a way that the boom was now held almost amidships.  I realised I could not right the boat with the boom swinging free which meant it would certainly blow over again.  Luckily our RIB was not far away and I motioned for him to come over. While he helped a bit, I spent the next 15 minutes or so in a very frustrating time of undoing the mainsheet and re-rigging it in the boat on its side. Having to undo knots in the sheet a couple of times. And thinking to myself, I am getting too old for the crap.  Or some such nonsense.

Finally things were resolved and the pack was coming by after having gone around a couple of marks. I joined them and just sailed the rest of the course for fun and practice with a DNF.

Afterward I was tired and sore. Of course I expected that since I had not sailed or been to the gym for over 2 weeks. But I was wondering if the Laser (or any physical dinghy) is still the boat for me. There are so many things to like about dinghies but it is also a fact that their physicality will become increasingly a potential source of frustration.  Of course most of that frustration would be the result of attitude - like thinking I am competing with athletic sailors 40 to 20 years younger - which is certainly not an intelligent thing to do. And certainly part of a vain wish to rebel against getting older.

But also while a Laser represents a very pure form of sailing right in the midst of the elements, its single sail simplicity also leaves a gap. I enjoy working with headsails and spis.  I may start doing some 2 handed dinghies along with the Laser.

And triple checking that my stopper knots are tight.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Illegal Sculling?

Here is a great video of Lasers rounding a leeward mark with one, then numerous capsizes as the boats pileup, crashing and generally committing mayhem.

At least the commentators have a sense of humor - at 1:22 they ask if one of the boats is illegally sculling as he tries to back off from being on top of another boat's transom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Back on the Water

After eight weeks of letting a hernia surgery heal, I was finally back on the water last Friday.  Needless to say, I was a bit rusty and way out of shape.  Skipping the gym during eight weeks is no way to prepare for Laser sailing.

Our Club didn't race on Friday so I just went out in nice breezes of 10 - 12 knots for a re-orientation session and went through the basics to make sure I hadn't completely forgotten things.  I did have a couple of dry capsizes, but overall seemed to have the basics still under control, even doing some nice gybes.  In the third gybe, the traveller block broke and I had to go back to install another one.

I was only out about an hour and a half, pacing myself and just trying to get a feel for things.  I can't say there were any real epiphanies or eureka moments, but I did feel that that I paid more attention to how the boat felt as opposed to the simple mechanics of maneuvers. Still a very long way to go, but I was pleased that at least I was not totally absorbed in the basic mechanics.  That is progress.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Towing a Laser

This weekend I was driving a RIB with another fellow during our race and with a very strong tide flowing, I saw that one of the Laser sailors was getting very tired fighting against it.  I drove over to her and she asked if we could tow her part way back to where the tide was not so strong.  We did so without incident but I wonder if we used the best technique.

We had a tow rope on the RIB but didn't use it - we simply went alongside and as my colleague held her boat, we asked her to undo her main sheet and tie one end around the mast while we secured the other end to the RIB.  She remained in the Laser with the daggerboard down, leaning forward to be below the boom and she steered it.  We let out only enough of the towline to keep her in the calmer water behind our RIB.  When we reached a more sheltered area, she came alongside again and as we held her boat, she took back the main sheet and rigged it again and continued back to the club on her own.

Is there a better technique? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Sailing Philosopher

Daniel Dennett, a philosopher and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University is featured in an article in the New York Times. He is quoted as observing that

“Philosophers can seldom put their knowledge to practical use, but if you’re a sailor, you can. I just get a kick out of that.”

One may wonder about his use of philosophical knowledge when he named his 42 foot cruiser for Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates who had a reputation for being an argumentative, quarrelsome, nagging woman.  Perhaps those characteristics would be attractive to a philosopher. However, she apparently didn't limit herself to mere debating - a famous story about Xanthippe involves her emptying a chamber pot on Socrates. 

What does that say about Dr. Dennett and his boat?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Small Whirlwinds

I have never been on the open sea in a little boat, but the ideas is definitely less than reassuring.

But, recently I read about a 74 year old Swede who will soon be embarking on a solo, non-stop sail around the world in a ten foot boat (yes, feet, not meters).

Sven Lundin, who goes by the name Yrvind (whirlwind), has been in the news over the last six months as he prepares his ten foot boat.  He is no stranger to really small boats on big seas. In 1980 he was awarded the seamanship medal by the Royal Cruising Club after he soloed a 20 foot sailboat around Cape Horn.

His current project is documented on his Website and in numerous articles and all I can say is that I wish him good luck. The boat is not exactly a rakish beauty - more of an enclosed bathtub. In addition to food, he is packing 220 pounds of books plus a Kindle (to be recharged with a foot operated mechanism).  It is also equipped with a seatbelt to keep him safe during rough weather and he says "I'll be completely safe. It's like a ping-pong ball in the sea, it never breaks."

I was intrigued to discover there are a number of brave souls who have gone on long voyages in tiny boats.  A good overview is in this list of micro cruisers whose first entry is, very fittingly, Captain Bligh. Admittedly his boat was 23' but still quite an exploit with 18 men.

Another one who really stands out is Hugo Vihlen who sailed across the Atlantic first in his 6' boat April Fool and then in his 5'4" boat Father's Day.  He wrote a book about each.

There is some criticism of these ultra-tiny boats - that they are little more than drifting flotsam and not really sailboats.

There was even a race planned called Around in Ten that hoped to organise a race around the world in boats of ten feet, but it never materialised.

I will stick to a Laser close to shore.

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