Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dock Owners vs. Canadian Geese, Sea Gulls, et. al.

Canadian Geese are certainly not popular in my neck of the water. Their most serious crime seems to be …..is there a delicate way to say this?…..their incredible talent for producing feces. If there were a machine to produce the stuff, it would be hard to build one more efficient than a Canadian goose. An offshoot to this propensity is the potential for increasing the bacteria count in the water to a level such that swimming is not healthy. In their defense, except on golf courses, they do not seem guilty of actual verbal or physical assaults to humans near the water.

Sea Gulls have a similar, though lesser, ability, and are therefore easy to lump into the same category as geese.

Many self respecting property owners are not willing to put up with such foul behavior, and they have many weapons with which to wage war against these pests. The fake owl seems to have become a useless and obsolete weapon, but a new iteration of the same idea is the fake floating swan. From a distance, they are pretty convincing. Had me fooled the first time. I wonder if geese and gulls can figure out that they never move.

The primary beach protection is a short fence a few feet from the water line running the length of the beach. I love to kayak around the lake and see a small group of geese gathered on the land side of one of these fences. It seems that geese can attack by air as well as by sea.

The favorite for docks seems to be a device something like a helicopter rotor. It turns about four inches above the surface of the dock. It consists of a stiff wire on a pivot in the middle with small, red plastic wind catching devices on each end. These rotate with any appreciable wind and would presumably cut any presumptuous goose off at the knees. As long as the owners don’t attempt to walk on their own docks, these contraptions work fine.

A more sinister scheme involves the use of string in a web pattern. It looks like any birds foolish enough to come in for a landing would get entangled in the web with dire consequences. The threat of such a catastrophe seems sufficient to deter all wildlife.

A more appealing approach is the floaty toy alligator tied to the dock. Even birds hailing from North of Tallahassee instinctively know they should not be messing with gators, and having not ever seen a real one, the inflatable produces sufficient fear.

A far more innovative design has the look of a large hawk-shaped bird flying in random patterns about eight feet above the dock. Essentially, it is a kite disguised as a predatory raptor. It is suspended on a string, attached to a tall bendy fiberglass pole. It is a really clever and elegant design.

Call me a peacenik, hippy, or what you will, but I find that I am a conscientious objector in this war. I don’t like cleaning up after geese and gulls any more than the next guy, but do we really need this attempt at species cleansing? Can’t we share the lake with the indigenous wildlife? The geese and gull haters need to realize that their attacks are not surgical; all species of birds are affected by their assaults. Those who frighten off geese and gulls never have the pleasure of seeing other birds. I am visited by many different species of ducks, the occasional cormorant or kingfisher, and my favorite, great blue herons. Although I am not a placard carrying animal lover, I am not willing to accept collateral damage in a war against goose poop.

I would rather have the blue herons and put up with some mess. With that being said, I see six geese, who somehow got an advanced copy of this posting, out there on my dock right now... taunting me. Damn, I need to go clean my dock.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fishy Strategy 2 - The Desperation Strategy

Saturday I had a race much like the one I wrote about in Fishy Strategies last week, except that this time roles were reversed. Instead of leading, I was in third. Instead of losing unexpectedly, I won unexpectedly. Instead of being disappointed and confused when perfectly logical strategies failed, I was delighted that my desperation strategy prevailed.

Upon rounding the leeward mark (to starboard) it was clear to all that there was a big left hand shift. The lead boat went about seven boat lengths on starboard before tacking to port on what appeared to be a layline. The second boat and I tacked almost simultaneously, also trying to get onto the lifted tack. As I distractedly fiddled with some tangled line, I managed to steer up into the other boat’s wind shadow. I had no options now except to employ a desperation strategy, tack onto the header, and get clear of the opponents. Sailing the header, I noticed a new wind line approaching. I figured that I should wait until I could get into that wind line, then at least I could sail fast, and hope that I could catch somebody.

As luck would have it, the opponents gradually got lulled and headed, leaving them far short of the port tack layline. On the other hand, I had more wind and held my layline. I crossed both boats easily and marveled at the power of luck and the changeability of lake sailing.

(Desperation strategy sidebar: A common scenario on our lake is that the second boat picks which way he wants to go, the boat ahead goes with him to cover, and the third boat splits tacks in desperation, hoping for better puffs and more favorable shifts. The third boat wins a lot of races.)

But upon further reflection, this seems to be the same situation as in the previous post, with the same result. The lead boats did exactly the right thing by sailing the longest tack first, until things changed. As soon as I was in a better wind line, the situation was different, and they should have tacked to cover. It is so hard to do that when you are lifted 35 degrees, almost laying the finish, and would consolidate a loss of several boat lengths. It is especially difficult when you know the boat behind is employing the desperation strategy more than any other.

The common theme between these two posts seems to be that being in the new puff is the wining strategy. This harkens back to the problem of oscillating shift vs. persistent shift. I think the key here is time. When sailing on a windward leg for a relatively short amount of time, any shift has the potential to be the last shift, and therefore it is a persistent shift in the context of that leg of the course. The correct strategy for a persistent shift is to sail the header first and to remain further toward the shift than your competitors.

Well, I have it all figured out now…..at least until the wind shifts.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Simplified Race Management Tricks

On Saturdays, we race Lasers on short courses and do as many races as we can in two hours. We typically have 5 – 8 boats, and we do this with a one man race committee / rescue boat.

This would be no big deal if wind conditions remained steady. Once the course was set, our one man race committee could run the starting box, call the start line, and call the finish. But we race on a lake, where frequent and large variations in wind direction are the norm. Courses easily become out of square, sometimes making for no tacking windward legs. A mark boat sure would be handy at times, but we have developed a few tricks to compensate for the lack of one.

The most important is the use of marks that are drag-able by sailboats, thus allowing the sailors to readjust the course. We use the marks I use for high school sailing. They are from a business called Mark Trap (contact Dougheil22@hotmail.com), and have a tall staff that is easy to grab and hold while sailing. The anchors and rode are the second part of making them easy to move. Ours have four pound sash weights from old windows, and they strike the right balance between light enough to move and heavy enough for the marks to stay put. (An equal weight of chain at the bottom works just as well.) It’s not necessary to have any appreciable scope on the anchor lines, so having the minimal workable line works best.

Lately the wind has been so inconsistent that I just set several possible windward marks and a couple of leeward marks close enough to make a fairly wide gate. At the three minute signal, the winner of the previous race has the duty to call the course for the next one. Last Saturday, we also had a gybe mark, and over the course of nine races, we had we had five different courses.

The last in our bag of tricks is something I learned from another high school coach. I call it the ball trick. Instead of dead ending the committee boat anchor line to the boat, I tie it to a 12” buoy. If I need to move the committee boat off the anchor, I just throw the line into the water and go. I can move marks, drop new marks, or rescue a boat in a hurry. If I don’t get back for the finish of a race, at least there is a mark in the water for the boat end of the line. When I do get back, I can get tied up and properly positioned in a fraction of the time it would take if I had to set an anchor from scratch.

Using these simple techniques, our one man race committee can pull off nine races in two hours in fluctuating conditions. Thank you, Race Committee.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fishy Strategies

It’s the last race of a light wind Thursday night, where courses are short (10-12 minute races), no one keeps score, and the racing is casual. It’s the leeward mark rounding and I am 2 -3 boat lengths ahead of the only possible competitor. The wind on the lake has been more right than left all night, but it has become typically less shifty as it lulls toward sunset. I have been protecting the right most of the night even though it hasn’t produced a noticeable boat speed advantage. As I harden up around the mark, it appears that wind has gone far enough to the right that I am on the starboard tack lay line for the finish. What should I do? What strategy do I use for this last 3 minutes of the race?

The wisdom of Dave Dellanbaugh and Stuart Walker offer several maxims of good advice.

1.“Sail the longest tack first.”
2.“Sail toward the favorite side.”
3.“Avoid lay lines so you don’t over stand.”

My thinking is “sail the longest tack first,” and I’m sure it’s a lay line I don’t want to over stand, so I tack and head straight for the finish line. My competitor splits tacks in desperation, and as I watch him sail away without getting any closer to the finish, I think I’ve made him go the wrong way, and I’m adding several more boat lengths to my lead. Six boat lengths ahead, on the lay line, with a 3 minute finishing leg – what could go wrong?

A five degree header and the wind getting a bit lighter – still no problem, right? That fateful gurgling noise as the boat behind gets a little puff and picks up speed – is it time to tack? I ‘m going slow, he’s going fast, I would be on port, if I can’t cross, he will be in control– I decide to stay put and wait for his little puff to fade out. Naturally, it doesn’t fade enough, he lays the finish, I tack weakly near the finish and can’t cross, he wins.

What have we learned here? Strategies 2 and 4 are better than 1 and 3? Although it worked out that way, it could just as easily gone the other way. If I had continued into the header, let him round and tack before I tacked, we would be about bow even with him on the lay line and me over standing. The drag race to the finish would likely be determined by how quickly I responded to his tack. If he got his bow out, which is likely when he tacks first, he would have the edge.

I think the lesson is that even the best strategies, like fish, frequently have an extremely short shelf life, especially on a lake, and in light wind. I think I made the right move by tacking at the mark where I made some gain. But the wisdom of strategies 1 and 3 expired and started to smell as soon as the boats were in different wind – about 1 minute later. At that moment, sailing toward the favorite side and covering became imperative. One set of strategies worked for 1 minute and the other set for 2 minutes. Shouldn’t these things come with a warning label – not guaranteed to work for more than 1 minute?

Any loser in this situation would be disappointed that his perfectly good strategy had a shorter shelf life than sushi in the hot sun on a 90 degree day……. and on that Thursday, I was that loser.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ducks in a Row

Living on a lake and having a modicum of common sense and competence in water safety, makes me an accidental rescuer from time to time. Usually it is inept sailors for whom the difficulties of conditions exceed their overestimated sailing skills. Occasionally it is happy go lucky boaters who become swimmers separated from their craft or unable to get their boat right side up. Two weekends ago was my first wildlife rescue.

Late morning, as I was headed out to the dock for a few peaceful minutes of gazing at the water, I seemed to startle a family of ducks. The parents were uncharacteristically small at about 12” long, probably a pair of grebes, so my wife speculates, but the eight ducklings were mere 3” balls of fuzz. They may have been out for their very first swim. They were definitely way off the scale for cute, fuzzy, little animals. I slowed my advance to give them time scurry around the dock and down the lake, out of harm’s way from humans.

Around noon, as I was giving the cute, fuzzy animal sighting report to Mrs. Yarg, I noticed that about twenty yards past my driveway a car had been stopped for several minutes. The driver was out of the car, staring at the ground and walking around in little circles. The nosey neighbor part of me couldn’t resist seeing what was so interesting about a little patch of road. As soon as I was out the front door, I could hear the driver on his cell phone asking if any DPW workers were around and working on Saturdays. As he continued, he reported that some ducklings, undoubtedly my ducklings, had fallen through a grate and down into the catch basin.

When I arrived along with another nosey neighbor, the driver relayed the story of stopping for the crossing of the ducks, and then watching in horror as one duckling after another disappeared through the grate behind their parents who continued to march toward the wetland across the street.

Mobilized for rescue, each man produced a long pry bar, or reasonable facsimile, to use in grate lifting. (Why each man, especially the driver, would have these tools handy, I don’t know.) Nets of various sorts were retrieved from cars and basements for use in fishing out ducklings. Something resembling a lacrosse stick seemed to be the best tool.

We should not have been surprised that the ducklings would be frightened by an assault from humans with sticks and nets. Only two were captured in the initial assaults, while the others swam down the pipe toward the catch basin on the other side of the street. This necessitated the opening of a second catch basin, a narrowing of the street for passing cars, the directing of traffic, and an extended fishing expedition for the remaining ducklings. Many of us got at least one duckling save to our credit, and eventually all were rescued and escorted across the sidewalk and into the wetland. The parents waited just out of sight for their missing ducklings, and quacked frequently from the safety of the wetland so that the little delinquents could find them.

The humans left the scene feeling good that cute, little, fuzzy animals were saved, and that we humans had accomplished an act of kindness.

Today it was reassuring to see a duck family with uncharacteristically small parents and eight considerably bigger ducklings.

Nice story……….but really, how can those ducks be so stupid? Why do the parents walk over a catch basin grate? The grates are at least 300 feet apart; what are the odds of randomly walking across one? After one or two ducklings drop, shouldn’t someone re-evaluate what’s happening? Don’t ducks have some survival instincts? Was it attempted infanticide? Shouldn’t DSS take those ducklings away from their parents?

Are there morals to this story?
Ducks need to think outside the row, humans need to think outside the box and the boat?
There are pitfalls to being a follower?
Ducks are Daffy?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

Last Sunday the forecast was for 17 MPH winds all afternoon. The direction was Southwest, our most stable and dependable direction. Perfect conditions for Laser sailors who are manly men, who conquer challenging conditions, and who wrestle the boat into performing at peak performance.

Sadly, that is not really me. I’m not in the shape I should be for serious or even semi-serious Laser sailing. I always mean to do something about that, but for a number of reasons, it doesn’t happen (Another list? Damn you and your lists, Tillerman!). I’m too short to get enough leverage to hike as successfully as others at my weight. I’m a little light for a full rig in a big breeze and a little too heavy for a radial. Examined positively, I’m an inbetween-er; examined less charitably, I’m an old, out of shape, chicken shit.

For a while now, I have been wondering at what point (wind velocity, not physical deterioration) I should switch to a radial. World Champion Great Grand Master, Peter Seidenburg’s advice to me was about 20 MPH, where he is as fast with a radial as the quality sailors with full rigs. I don’t play in his league, so I look at it as the point at which I sail faster with a radial than I sail with a full rig, and the point at which I have more have fun with the wind as opposed to getting beat up by it.

Sunday was another experiment with that quandary. After 20 minutes of wind evaluation (or really just indecision), the wind tended toward big, and I tended toward small, and picked the radial.

Two full rig guys dropped out before the first race. I got a great start against four full rig guys (and the Sunfish guy), but tried to tack in a big header, wrapped the mainsheet around my foot, over rotated the tack, and capsized. Less sail area doesn’t cure stupid or clumsy. Watching the race from behind on the downwind leg, I had a great view as a big gust death rolled one boat and then proceed down the course to capsize the leader just as he hardened up around the leeward mark. Back in the race, I just had an easier time keeping flatter, watching the squirrelly puffs and shifts, and generally keeping my head out of the boat than if I had been constantly fighting the wind. By the end of the second windward leg, I had passed the remaining hardy souls valiantly fighting the brave fight of full rig vs. big breeze. It ended up with only two lasers and the Sunfish guy left at the finish. My little radial won by a full leg of the course, and the Sunfish was only edged out at the finish by the laser who had capsized at the leeward mark. I love it when the little sail beats the big ones – when David beats Goliath.

That day, I made the right call. It seems that “old age and treachery” won out – “discretion was the better part of valor.” It just makes sense that as the boat approaches maximum hull speed, more sail area is no help. In Lasers, the flatter the boat up wind, the faster it goes. When it’s all I can do to keep flat with a radial, more sail would be a liability. Off the wind is another story. On a reach, the radial just can’t keep up. But most courses these days are windward leeward, and it seems that straight down wind the small sail isn’t much of a liability. For me it’s a question of keeping my head out of the boat. If a full rig produces enough boat handling difficulties to prevent looking back for the puffs or the waves, then it won’t be faster. Sailing the wind and the waves works much better for me than more power.

One of the really great features of the Laser is the ability to change sail area; we should take advantage of it more often. Every big boat sailor matches sail area to the conditions as standard operating procedure. Laser sailors, except for the big guys, have that option and should use it more… at least according to this old, out of shape, chicken shit.