Friday, May 29, 2009


Today’s topic is another debate on the eternal question, “Can one have too many small boats?” (At least it is not one of those Tillerman inspired lists, although I suppose I could set it up that way if I really wanted). When sailors give the obvious answer - “you can’t,” I think they are talking about having five or six. It’s easy to justify that many few. But with each additional boat, the rationale becomes sketchier, so maybe the question should be “Is there any straight faced justification I can offer for this boat that will offset the pains of maintenance and visual blight of off season storage.”

A year ago, I needed 10 justifications, but already this year it’s up to 13. Hello. My name is Yarg, and I’m boat collectaholic. I think there is an excellent reason for each and every one of them, but 13 does seem a bit excessive. This may be the wrong support group if I really want to quit, but I’ll trust you, my reader (should that be plural?), to tell me if I’ve gone too far.

Let’s start with the rowing craft- two kayaks and one rowing shell. Kayaks are for peaceful paddling with the Mrs. or for the Mrs. and her friends. The rowing shell provides a great way to exercise. All have been used already this year, and all store easily on a nice rack.

The two Sunfish are quite old and very heavy, but my wife will sail with me if we both go out in Sunfish. Boats that are good for a marriage are a must have. I couldn’t get much money for them anyway.

Five (or six, depending on how you count) Lasers might seem more than necessary, but I can explain. One is almost new and is my summer boat. Another doubles as my son’s summer boat and my winter boat. Winter sailing offers no way to rinse off salt water, so I can’t subject a new boat to that. The third is leftover from my buy, fix, and resell episode. It’s named “Loner” and is loaned to new Laser sailors and out of towners as a fleet building aid. The fourth is my “original” Laser and is being kept just in case I can get my wife to sail with my son and me. (She tried it once – this could work out.) The fifth is really just a hull that my son found washed up on the beach and no one has claimed for almost a year now. (Don’t ask me how someone can let their Laser float away on a small lake, and not go looking for it for a year.) But that hull is better than the “original” Laser hull, so I think I should keep it just in case. Or maybe its owner will come claim her. The sixth Laser belongs to my niece, so it shouldn’t really count. She’ll use it a few times this summer, so makes sense to keep it here near the water.

The 19’ Flying Scot is what I sailed for years before I met “original” Laser. It’s minimum legal weight and fast, so it would be a shame to part with it. I sail it a couple of times a year, and even finished third in a light air regatta a year and a half ago. I look at it as my retirement boat in case my knee gives out again or if I just get old, and it has potential as a father and son boat. And every now and then I really miss a spinnaker.

The latest acquisition is a small power boat that I used for coaching this spring. It’s great to have a coach boat set up the way you want it, and I confess that zipping around in a power boat is more fun than a sailor should admit. I suspect this one is going to be a challenge come winter. Sunfish, Lasers, and kayaks keep a nice low profile and can hide behind bushes, but for the power boat I guess I’m hoping that a big green tarp will be environmentally friendly, whereas a big blue tarp would be an eyesore.

I’m done collecting boats. No more. I have said that in the past, but I think I’m really through this time. Unless…. I stumble on a late model Sunfish rigged for racing. It would be fun to do some racing in the New England Sunfish fleet – nice people – terrific sailors.

I know many of you have a seldom used boat that you just can’t part with sitting around the yard. How do you justify it?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

11 Reasons to Love High School Sailing

It seems Tillerman’s list writing project has taken over this blog, so here is another one. I passed along the writing project challenge to my team of high school sailors. They were given the title (with number blank), and this is a “best of” their responses. Photos are my contribution.
  1. High school team race sailing is a constant challenge and the most unpredictable sport in the world. Only in HS can a 1 2 3 start keep the coach on edge in fear of a miscue.

  2. You can never really get the smell of victory out of your gear.

  3. You have to use your brain. Strategy is arguably more important than physique and you can have real life experience as a “lawyer” in the protest room.

  4. Only place where the approaching starboard boat tacks out of your way, and mark trapping the entire fleet in a fleet race doesn't get you thrown out

  5. Away events aren’t in the town next door, but on a lake, river, or ocean where the scenery is always beautiful.

  6. You get to sail in the first event of the celebration for Volvo Ocean Race coming to Boston.

  7. Meet so many interesting people who I would most likely not had the oppertunity to meet if it wasn't for High School sailing. (and spelling and grammar don’t count in sailing – coach's comment).

  8. Bad jokes linking boat parts to body parts never seem to get old

  9. When the wind's heavy, it feels like you're flying on water. When the wind's nonexistent, the team makes up games like Poag Ball.

  10. Bus rides.

  11. The sailing team becomes your other life. Or just your life.

In the process of compiling this, one of my sailors showed me another great high school sailing list, You might be a high school sailor if…

Friday, May 22, 2009

Five Ways to Improve your Regatta Score Without Really Sailing Any Better

This little reflection is prompted by Tillerman’s list project and by having watched my sailing team lose a fleet race regatta for the second time this year as a result of a protest. In years gone by, I have watched us lose to other teams with sailors who consistently start better and sail faster. It’s almost impossible to beat those guys (a problem I share with Tillerman in good, maybe even mediocre, laser fleets). Now, our team sails just as fast as the other sailors, but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with moves that undermine the 98% of the day spent sailing well.

  1. Start where they ain’t. Out of the crowd at the favored end emerges one big winner and lots of big losers. The guy who starts in the clear spot probably will not be first, but he will be among the top few. If he jumps on the first shift he might just be first, but even finishing in the top few all day usually wins a regatta. Even we mediocrities are likely to stay near the front of the fleet as the big losers fight for open lanes and freedom to tack on the shifts for the entire first leg of the race.
  2. Avoid close encounters of any kind. Being near other boats introduces the possibilities of fouls, protests, both warranted and unwarranted, and bad air. At least 90% of fleet racing is about racing the course. The other boats are moving obstacles that make it a little more challenging to get around that course. Unlike team racing, in most situations, other sailors are not adversaries who you should challenge to a duel (until the last part of the race or regatta). In fleet racing, duels frequently have two losers.
  3. Admit guilt. If you foul, do your penalty. Protests are unpleasant and time consuming; disqualifications are far worse. Debate the rules over a beer (or a coke if under 21) after the race.
  4. Avoid that guy. Every once in a while, there is a guy who is a screamer and a self-proclaimed rules expert who protests anyone within two boat lengths of him. If you cross him on port he will say he had to avoid. If you lee bow him you tacked too close. Sailing anywhere near him results in an argument or a protest. He is a distraction at best and a protest at worst.
  5. Avoid that poor guy. Sometimes you find yourself in the back of the pack with a sailor or two who has yet to master some of the boat handling fundamentals. (I am painfully remembering a frostbite incident when I was that poor guy.) Rounding a mark outside him can cost you several places as you are trapped outside while he is losing control of his boat, not turning up to windward, and letting all the boats behind get inside and to windward. When you are leeward of him, his inability to point causes him to sail down and pin you out. He also refuses to tack on headers, taking you the wrong way with him.

None of these things requires you to sail any better, but heeding them will make you look better on the results page.

Friday, May 15, 2009

12 Ways to Sabotage Your Start

At one time or another I have tried all of these, and they really do ensure a lousy start with a great view of lots of transoms.

  1. Never practice
  2. Don’t bring a watch
  3. Bring a watch that is so hard to set you only get it set at the 1 minute signal
  4. Ignore winds shifts, particularly lefties that crush you if you’re not up on the line
  5. Try the “squirrel” start in a good fleet (see Tillerman's Dead Squirrel)
  6. Start on port on a short line with a good fleet
  7. Start next to the best guy in the fleet so you can admire his technique as he squirts out under you or rolls you
  8. Try to win the boat to show those 10 other guys trying to win the boat that you are better than they are
  9. Try to “come in with speed” from behind a wall of luffing sails and disturbed air only to learn the there is no speed in disturbed air
  10. Luff the boat to windward, create a giant hole to leeward, and have the best guy in the fleet come in on port tack to fill the hole on your lee bow
  11. Be the first to get to the line, luff, stall, and then, while going backward, try to accelerate with 1 second to go
  12. Be the OCS boat at the committee boat that blocks the view of the other OCS boats who then avoid being called back

Monday, May 4, 2009

Learning to Embrace the Racing Rules of Sailing (RRS)

After coaching high school kids, watching them struggle with the RRS, and serving on too many protest committees for my liking, I observe a 7 stage process high school sailors follow as they simultaneously develop their sailing skills and try to learn and use the rules. It might be true for adults too, but probably with less yelling (in most cases) and a little more civilized behavior. Girls, with some notable exceptions, also follow the pattern with more civilized behavior.

  1. Intimidation. Both the rules and the more experienced sailors are intimidating. There are too many rules to learn, so the kids focus on three right of way rules - starboard port, windward leeward, clear ahead and clear astern. The only goal is avoiding collisions. In most situations the one who yells the loudest intimidates the other and gets right of way. Hollering “PORT” with enough authority is likely to get the starboard boat to forget the opposite tacks rule and to tack away, and the starboard boat is a long way from knowing about Rule 2, Fair Sailing.
  2. I’m not gonna take it anymore! Tired of being bullied, sailors figure out when they have right of way, and they have heard something about tacking too close and room at the mark. They are confident in their grasp of a few bits of the rules, don’t back down to loud yelling, and end up in the protest room talking about the rules they don’t yet fully understand.
  3. I AM the right of way boat! Empowered with the idea that they are the right of way boat, sailors command other boats to move out of the way while ignoring the sailing realities of clear air and the abilities of boats to change positions in real time and space. One of my favorites occurs on a beat when a boat is being overtaken by another boat slightly to windward. Our stage 3 sailor waits until the opponent is ¾ of a boat length ahead, then hollers “leeward” and comes up hard. Most often the windward boat avoids, letting the screamer sail into a totally blanketed position, and rolls our bewildered stage 3 sailor. Sometimes there is contact, a protest, and a DSQ for Stage 3 for failure to give windward room to keep clear. Another high school classic is the exclamation “don’t go in there” when they have room at a mark. The hollering occurs 90% of the time at this stage, but the screamer leaves so much room for the next boat that he only occasionally closes the gap to shut out the other boat..
  4. There’s no justice! Now our intrepid sailor has been in a few protest hearings and has suffered a disproportionate share of DSQ’s. Life is not fair. A few more of the rules come into consciousness, but now racing is to some degree a matter of matching cunning and power with the other competitors. Aggressive or passive behavior is determined by sizing up the other guy, by what he just learned at his last DSQ, and the sailor’s psychological response to stressful situations. Sailor behavior is totally unpredictable. There are a fair number of protests, and lots of discussions about the rules, mostly on an ad hoc basis. Somehow a better understanding of the rules emerges from this chaos, and the rule book as a whole is starting to make sense.
  5. We need a team lawyer! Our developing sailor has a decent grasp of the rules but now realizes that the facts according to the protestor are frequently different than the facts according to the protestee. Kids realize that they need to clearly explain themselves and present a coherent version of the incident. Being able to cite the appropriate rules also wins points in convincing a protest committee that one knows what he’s talking about. In the early part of this stage, the focus is on writing up the protest, which becomes a team effort with the best lawyer on the team helping the others. Toward the end of this stage a wonderful thing happens – the sailors start to clarify things with each other on the water! They talk about the overlap several boat lengths before the zone, and they negotiate luffing with statements like “you have to give me room to go up.”
  6. Master’s Degree in RRS. At this stage the silly protesting stops. The sailors know the fundamentals of the rules and how they apply in most situations. Protests occur when two boats justify their actions using different rules, each appearing to have validity, thus creating apparent contradictions or ambiguities in the rules. We had an interesting case recently. At a windward starboard mark rounding, boat A is stalled, setting a mark trap. Boat B comes in from port and tacks to windward of A and claims mark room as a result of an instantaneous overlap. How can a starboard boat who reaches the zone first lose mark room through no fault of his own? After the protest committee decided that B didn’t really have the overlap (and got us off the hook), we consulted an expert who said that if B had really done what he said he did, he would have been entitled to mark room. Wow! We all learned something new.
  7. Ninja Master. It seems to me this is the pinnacle of team race or match race sailing. Tactics and rules merge. In every situation, certain tactical moves are both allowed and limited by the rules, and sailors have to instantaneously process all information and act on it. I doubt that anything but lots of experience gets a sailor to this point. Maybe this is why I like team racing so much. It is an amazingly complex sport.

It’s a lot to ask of high school kids to evolve through these seven stages and to end at such a remarkably high level. Most adults I sail with are more at stage six than seven. Dave Perry, Dave Dellanbaugh and others write entire books on stage six situations, and readers are infrequently able to process information quickly enough for stage 7 performance.

What is amazing to me is that good high school sailors, college sailors, and the world class team and match racers reach such a high degree of mastery at such a young age.