Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Beer Tap of the Future

What marvels the future surely holds.  But one of them is already here.

As an introduction to the New Year and as a small taste of what we can expect in the years to come, I present to all my friends, fellow bloggers (and both readers) the best find at the Volvo stopover - the ultimate beer dispenser - that dispenses with taps, barrels, hardware and requires only an empty container.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Umpire Clinic

In connection with the Volvo stopover, I participated in the ISAF Umpire Clinic. What a great experience - led by Chris Atkins, it started with a full day in the classroom explaining what umpiring is all about and how to do the dialogue. Lots of new information and new ways of thinking about the rules.  The dialogue really helps you focus on the essentials and where problems are likely to arise for both the right of way and keep clear boats.

Then, the next two days were on the water to umpire team racing with youngsters in Optimists.  A great learning experience - driving the RIB around the course in the correct way and following our boats, with a proper dialogue and decision about infractions.  Takes some real concentration and of course we made some mistakes.  But learned a huge amount.

And, by the way, on the first day as we introduced ourselves, there was a young Chinese woman whose name sounded vaguely familiar but I didn't make a connection. However, on the first day she was my training partner on the RIB.  About an hour after we were on the water, one of the other umpires asked her about her penalty at Weymouth - and through a few inept questions from me to which she responded completely matter of factly, I finally realised that it was Weymouth in the summer of 2012.  If you want to see the penalty referred to, you can see it here.  Of course her name is one some of you Laser sailors may have heard of - Xu Lijia - gold medalist in the Radials.  That's her in the RIB above, along with two International Umpires - Costas from Greece and Bernadette from France.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Easy Quiz

This is a very easy quiz - whose boots are these and where are they?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

ISAF Worlds Finals - Judging

I was very lucky getting to hang out with the International Judges and Umpires during this event.  They are a very open, welcoming group of people and I really learned a lot, plus having a great time on the water with some of them.

The main message I want to pass on here is that there is a lot of work behind the scenes for a big regatta and the judges/umpires have their fair share of that.  There is a lot of coordination with the Race Committee and others and without a lot of work by all the event just would not happen. And, as far as I can tell, the judges and umpires are paid nothing more than their expenses.

These folks seem to be a very close community who know each other well and have served together in many venues. But they were very welcoming to me and Omar, the other jury secretary.  Not a bit of snobbery in sight.

I got to sit in on for some of the jury hearings and that was very interesting. There is a certain formality about it, but it was clear to me that the judges were also trying to be as fair as possible within the formal constraints.

The following is a summary of some of the cases and is based on the written summaries available on the website - nothing confidential I heard is included.
  • There were several requests for redress from 49ers for broken equipment in the chartered boats, but since the NOR clearly stated that failure of supplied equipment will not be grounds for redress, there was no redress.
  • There were several port/starboard incidents; a Rule 19.2 obstruction (starboard tackers) issue where a leeward 49er was manoeuvring very slowly and could not give room to a windward port tacker.
  • A starboard tacker 49er whose helmsman was injured after a collision with a port tacker was given redress and was scored points equal to the average of her points in races 1, 2 and 3.
  • A boat that gybed at a gate mark was not given room by an outside boat who was disqualified.
  • A leeward boat at the start line luffed up but did not give the windward boat room to keep clear and was disqualified.
And then for the Medal races, all the judges (with me) went on the water and umpired the events. There were a number of Rule 42 whistles - mainly for rocking.  Aside from that, there was only a poor fellow who missed a mark, right in front of the Committee Boat - with plenty of witnesses.

It was interesting to be with the judges who would often talk through the events unfolding - for example, "Italy is coming up on port and might be getting trouble, France is overlapped now, Finland is luffing up" or "Croatia tacked in the zone but Argentina has not luffed and is fetching the mark".  "Great Britain is tacking, has now finished tacking and is now right of way".  Their experience really shown through in little things - they were always looking ahead, trying to see situations developing.  They would watch telltales, transoms, luffs - many little things that would indicate where the boat was in a manoeuvre or compared to another boat.  That is always the hardest part of any judging process (sailing or in a courtroom) - determining the facts.  

So, next time you are in a regatta, thank the judges and umpires for their selfless contributions and hard work.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

ISAF World Cup Finals - Lasers

At the World Cup Finals, I discovered a couple of things about Lasers that were new to me.

First, in talking to one of the judges about Rule 42, I learned a term I had never heard before - "mousing".  This has nothing to do with a computer but, according to her, it happens on a reach when the sailor makes very slight back and forth movements of the tiller and slightly sheeting in and out at the same time - at least that is what I understood. I must say I have a hard time understanding exactly what it is and why it would be effective.

Second, in one of the medal races in relatively light winds - around 8 - 10 knots - and flat water, the Lasers coming down to the leeward mark to round it to a broad reach to the finish had their centerboards only about 1/3 up or less, as you can see in this video as they round (at least I hope you can see it - Blogger makes the video pretty grainy). The centreboards were like that well before any adjustments were made for rounding.

I had always thought in light winds the centreboard should be higher.

Can anyone shed light on either of the above ?

And speaking of Rule 42, I asked why Lasers dont have the Oscar flag system like Finns and 470s that allows pumping, rocking ,etc. above a certain wind speed.  The answer was that it is a decision of each class, but the general philosophy is that in light winds we don't want our sport to become like windsurfing where only the strongest win with excessive pumping, rocking, etc. That philosophy makes sense to me, but some Rule 42 movements are not really that hard to do and I am not convinced that allowing rocking in light winds would really be unfair to the average sailor.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Amazing Kayak and Canoe photos

This fellow has a very unusual and beautiful way of showing kayaks, canoes and other things.  He uses LED lights to track movements and the boat disappears but the pattern of movements remains.

Worth a look.

Motion Exposure

Thursday, December 4, 2014

ISAF World Cup Finals 1

I was lucky to be able to attend the ISAF Sailing World Cup Finals in Abu Dhabi which brought the top 20 sailors in each of the Olympic class boats for 3 days of competition. I was able to be the Jury secretary, which meant I got to hang out with the 15 International Judges/Umpires and go with them on the water several times.  Needless to say I learned a lot, in addition to having a great time.  The next few posts will be about my experience.

First, there was an interesting experimental starting sequence. Instead of the usual 5-4-1 sequence, it was a 5-3-1, with an unusual (at least for me) "soft black flag".  As the Sailing Instructions, explained it:

Minutes before Starting Signal
Visual Signal
Sound Signal
Class Flag
Warning Signal
P,I,U or black flag
Preparatory Signal
Preparatory flag removed
One long
One Minute
Class flag removed
Starting signal

In addition, during the last 3 minutes, a hand-held numbered flag with a 3, then 2 and then 1 was displayed to indicate the time to the starting signal. And finally, a black/white checkered flag was displayed with the start signal -  although this was a bit confusing since the finish line was between a black/white checkered flag on the committee boat and a similar flag on a pin buoy. 

In this video clip from a 49er start you can see the system (at least I hope you can see it - Blogger makes it pretty grainy).  There is the U flag (see below for what it means) as the Preparatory signal and the small hand-held flag at the back of the committee boat is changed as each of the last 3 minutes goes.

I asked a number of people what was behind this experiment. No one seemed to know, although some said it was to improve understanding by spectators. But the answer I liked best was that it made no difference since all the sailors used their countdown watches from 5 minutes and didn't really look at the flags.  But I wonder - I would think that seeing a flag or hearing a sound signal at 3 minutes instead of 4 could be confusing.

The U flag - the soft black flag - was usually displayed as the preparatory signal and this meant that if any part of a boat was over the line, she is disqualified without a hearing, just as in a black flag situation. However, what was a bit disconcerting was that the Sailing Instructions also provided that "When flag U is used as the preparatory signal rule 29.1 Individual recall does not apply."  This meant that if a boat was over with the U flag flying, she would sail the entire race before being aware she is disqualified. I saw this happen several times.  It would have been a lot more fair to have a notice board at the first mark listing the boats disqualified.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hyères Report 3

My final report on Hyères which I forgot to post earlier:

Friday was more of the same wind and waves, although a bit less of each than previous days.

And everyone is relatively tired since our rest day was cancelled and we had been slogging it out for 4 days straight.

But, at least I can say that in race 1 I finished just behind Mark Bethwaite!  What did I do to improve so much overnight?  Absolutely nothing.  I continued to sail my usual level of sailing and poor Mark, who was, of course, leading, went to the wrong downwind mark (and was followed by at least one other).  I was so far behind that I wasn’t tempted to do so.  Then, as I was about to round the top mark into the reach I saw a boat coming up behind me and couldn’t figure out who it was. Then, I made a bad tack right into a wave that stopped me and put me into irons and then a dry capsize. As the other boat started nearing me – I was amazed to see it was Mark and as he drew near, he tacked and said to me cheerily “Thanks for waiting for me”.  He almost caught up with me on the reach and then passed me on the downwind run. But at least I had a great time going downwind, watching him carve S’s all over the place – far wider and quicker than I normally dare to do - and adjusting the vang constantly.  I tried copying his S’s and it seemed to work to help catching waves – and doing the bigger ones is not a big deal.    The vang and all other controls were too much for me to think about.

Beyond that, it was another learning day.   Aside from the bad tack, I had no real mistakes. In the second race, I did a good job on the run, fetching the mark even though I was sailing by the lee and just on the edge of gybing – but I managed to hold it all together and round the mark.

Saturday was light airs and although I made no big mistakes, it was pretty much the same order as before.  Mark went to the correct marks and, of course, won both races.  I came in last place but with nothing to be ashamed of.  The real highlight of the day was a lovely dinner with five of the GGM Standard fleet – further proof of how welcoming and open these Masters events are.  They were all trading stories of the Olympic campaigns and races they had participated in. I mainly listened.

Then Mark revealed to all the secret of his success. He said that whenever anyone asked him how he does so well, he always replies “The first sixty years are the hardest.”    Hard to argue with that.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Light Air Heel

When I was at an RYA training center (note that I spell the word correctly) this summer, I was told by one of their dinghy racing instructors that on beats in light winds it is good to heel the boat about 5 to 10 degrees to leeward which should allow you to point slightly higher. Most of the Laser books say much the same and a quick Google search shows it seems to be the standard advice.

Since then I have tried it several times, but frankly have not noticed much of any difference.  Of course this could be faulty technique.  At the Masters I didn't notice any of the good sailors trying it on light wind days.  Recently in our Club races we had light winds and I tried it and thought maybe it was helping me point just a bit higher but I was not sure. 

Does it really make much of a difference ? If so, is it only because of less wetted surface and perhaps helping the sail to keep some shape or does it do something else also?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hyères Report 2

For me the real value of the Laser Masters is about the people and even though I have been to only one other Masters, it was nice seeing many of the people from last time and renewing acquaintances.   In particular, I saw Doug from Improper Course and this time he had Pam along who is a delight.   I also spent some time with my buddy Neil from Australia who had visibly lost weight from last year – which he attributes to a lady friend who has him on a very healthy diet.  And, frankly after seeing Neil race this year, I think she also has been adding some vitamins and other goodies.  I made some new friends – a South African living in Qatar, an Australian dentist, John the UK journalist in Australia, and a couple of Greeks.  And the same little group of Great Grand Masters in Standards has mostly the same people as last year. Mark Bethwaite has been, as usual, a perfect gentleman, welcoming me with a kind word at each race.  Although frankly, after battling the waves in 20 knots for several days, I think a few of us will be in Radials next time.  Or maybe just forgo any dieting for a year or so and try to come better equipped weight-wise.

I am also starting to discover the culture of the Masters.  Some of the sailors have a wealth of experience – typically starting at a young age and competing for many years.  Some have done keelboat sailing and return to dinghies for the purity and fun and friendship of it all.  Others are just club sailors who love the sport and come when they can.  As a newcomer to the entire sailing scene, I am very lucky to be able to participate in an event like this and it is very encouraging to be welcomed into this group and included without any sign of being looked down as a newcomer.  People are generous with tips and suggestions and even though often they are discussing past Laser events they have attended with many of the same people, there is no sense of exclusivity or snobbery.  I heard an interesting comment from one of the people involved in events and he said there was a huge difference between the Open competition with all the stars, many of whom are prima donnas and want everything perfect on their boat, and the Masters where everyone is laid back. 

I had an interesting discussion with a Dutch woman who explained that she and her husband had both been Olympic sailing hopefuls and had worked very hard but had never realized their dream. Now their children are very much into sailing and pursuing their own dreams – and not knowing what to do about university/career.  And their parents don’t really know what to tell them.   They don’t want to push them either way.   There is no right answer.

Back to the racing, it was a survival day for me.  And I did survive which I was glad to do. Lots of hard work trying to learn how to cope with the waves and more than one capsize.  But a great learning experience and confidence builder.  I got a bit more aggressive on the starts – which luckily for us is a very long line with plenty of room to start gaining speed with about 30 seconds to go.  But, even with a decent start, it is a bit disheartening to stay more or less even with the stars for a minute or two and then see them turn on the engines and pull away effortlessly – well, I know they are putting a lot of effort into it, but just watching them keeping their boat flat in these conditions, with small tiller movements going around breaking waves, it sure looks effortless. And it is not just weight – Bethwaite can’t weigh more than me.

Finally, we had a moving event today involving Jean-Michel, one of the organisers in Oman and who is helping in Hyères with the boats. He is always available with a big grin and very pleasant. He grew up in the area and his father was very active for many years in regattas and became a judge. However, because he never learned English he could never be part of the Jury for a Laser event, much to his regret.  His father passed away a day or so ago and Jean-Michel had a box of roses near the check-in station and asked any sailor who wished to take a rose and throw it on the water in memory of his father.  I did so.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hyères Report

I am in Hyères at the Master Worlds 2014. 

On arrival I was very happy to re-experience the Mediterranean atmosphere.  I have always had a weakness for the Mediterranean and seeing the landscape and smelling the particular Mediterranean odors was very nice.

Hyères is nice little town and, like all of France outside Paris, has a laidback attitude.  It is also fun hearing the Provençal Midi accent which has a real charm – and reminds you that you are no longer in Paris, Dorothy.

Getting the charter boat and checking in went OK, although at measurement I was informed that the little plastic tips on 2 of my battens were not official Laser tips and had to be changed.  I duly did that, but what on earth can tips on battens have to do with ensuring a fair one-design race?

The first race day was a non-event for the Radials, including the Great Grand Masters Standard fleet which also sails with the Radials.  We spent most of the day watching the AP flag and finally a bit after 3PM, most of the fleets were sent out.

The GGM Standard fleet went to the Radial course area and were started first. We got off in winds around 10 knots and went up to the windward mark, around the offset mark and back down to the leeward gate. We rounded the leeward gate and the wind was noticeably dying.  About a third the way toward the windward mark, the Race Committee called it quits and sent every one home.   The Standard fleet (except us) was more fortunate and obviously in better wind – they got in 4 races.  

The next day we got in only one race and it was relatively light winds.  I came in next to last but it was close with a couple of my buddies.  Then I made my first stupid mistake - in my rush I forgot to take my bracelet off the check in board. A ten percent penalty bumped me down to last. Oh well.

Then, things changed (not the results but the weather).  Yesterday, it was raining heavily in the morning and we finally got on the water in the afternoon with the wind at least 20 Knots and waves to match.  Although I understand this is normal for a lot of my Aussie friends, I am definitely not used to those conditions and, in addition, being in a Standard, I suffered battling against the waves upwind.  But the downwind and especially the reach was a screaming joyride.    In terms of lessons learned – stay away from the marks in high winds.  I  got too close to the offset mark and a wave pushed me too close and my boom grazed it. So, I did my 360 with a tack, then a gybe and then a capsize.  Not a way to win.

Similar conditions today, without the rain.  The wind was a bit less but still a struggle for me.  In the second race I was getting tired and paying less attention. A surf with the boom too far out turned into a death roll/capsize.  I righted the boat and it immediately went over again. I got it back up and realized the problem – my vang had come out of the slot.  So, after lots of fussing around with it I managed to get head to wind long enough to get in quickly.  Now I know why some people put tape or a bit or cord over that. 

Anyhow, it has been quite a learning experience for me with the wind and waves bigger than what I am used to.  But, in addition to the hard work upwind, there is also a lot of fun – those reaches and surfs are amazing when they are in the groove.  They remind me why I like the little Laser so much - screaming along on a reach and catching a wave to boot - hard to feel more exhilaration that that.
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