Friday, July 31, 2009


Sometimes sailing is a contact sport, so be careful. This is what happened last weekend when I was run over by another Laser.

I was just minding my own business before a start when I was attacked from behind by a run away Laser. The out of control boat leapt right over my transom and was stopped by my arm before it could do any real damage.

Thank God no boats were harmed!!!!

I know the other guy feels worse about this than I do. Maybe we should have both have a beer at the White House.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Congratulations, Intensity Sails

From the full page anti-“counterfeit” sails propaganda in the latest Laser Sailor, it looks like you have become far more than a minor annoyance to the powers of Big Laser. You are now a force to be reckoned with, an “increasing trend,” and an “aggressive internet” marketer. Big Laser is out to get you. I think they are afraid of you.

It’s fine that Big Laser wants to reiterate the case for single source equipment as a means of maintaining lasers’ “one design” quality. But it is unfair propaganda to call alternative sails “counterfeit.” The word counterfeit implies an intention to defraud. Every ad I have seen for these sails clearly states (usually in capital letters) that they are NOT CLASS LEGAL. I have never met anyone using these sails who have been confused about this. There is clearly no fraud here. My I suggest a new logo to make things clearer?

There is a giant disconnect between a professed concern for class legal equipment and the needs of laser sailors to have high quality, reasonably priced sails. As the article concedes, these low cost sails are helpful in putting more boats on the water and growing local fleets. Ironically, at the local level, unofficial sails have been a primary means of meeting the goals of “one design” classes: equal boats and minimal reward for greater spending on better equipment. These sails have been wonderful in promoting better and more competitive sailing at my club. So now Big Laser needs to draw a line in the sand, implore regional regatta organizers to forbid non class legal sails ( don’t they do this already?), and try to scare us all into believing that by saving some money we will undermine the Laser class.

Why don’t other classes have this situation? Did upstart Intensity Sails (and others) cause this problem? I don’t think so.

Big Laser has no one to blame but themselves. They have sown the seeds of the alternative sail industry. They gave it sunlight and nurtured it. For starters, they (the class association, Laser-Performance, North Sails, and the dealers) conspired to create a marketing system where they each get a cut of every sail sold – apparently a big cut. Thus, they have guaranteed high prices. Next, they missed all opportunities to improve the quality of the sail design or the sail cloth as the industry has progressed during the past couple of decades. Lately, they have stonewalled resolving “the well documented failings” of the sails. Haven’t they been implicitly begging for someone to jump into the market with a better or lower cost product?

They argue that the “strict one design” nature of the class is worth a “slight premium.” You bet it is! But that “slight premium” is a matter of a $600 sail (incl. battens and sail bag) versus a $200 sail. Not very slight. If the premium really were “slight,” there would be no appreciable unofficial sail industry.

All this said, I don’t have a problem with requiring single source equipment at big events. Those are the rules. It’s pretty simple. But Big Laser has no business disparaging either the producers or consumers of good stuff cheap. The market place is sending a clear message that the monopolistic practices of Big Laser are not working for substantial numbers of the Laser sailors. It’s about time that the class association and the suppliers began working for the members and the customers.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Three Race Regatta?!

This past weekend, I was the PRO for the Flying Scot Wife Husband Regatta. It’s one of three annual national Flying Scot regattas, but it’s only three races – on purpose – not due to bad weather. Really- just three races scheduled for a two day regatta.

I might disparage the class for being wimpy, but the other two national regattas, the North American Championships and the Midwinters, have eight and seven races respectively. Maybe Jimmy Buffet has it right with “there’s always a woman to blame,” but I didn’t hear the men complaining or asking for more races. It seemed like the folks who raced really liked the format just the way it was – three races. Except for one guy.

This regatta’s that guy complained vigorously when we called the boats in for lunch without having had a race on Saturday morning. I was concerned with the quality of the races and was waiting for the best wind of the day in which to run Saturday’s two allotted races. He got in my face and informed me that he hadn’t come all this way to sail around all morning and not race. He claimed we could have had several races already. He sounded like the local Laser sailors bitchin’ about all the waiting and the small number of races. It warmed the cockles of my heart. I told him how right he was, but it was after all, only a three race regatta.

I sent him to the regatta chair, who reminded him of how long ago it was published that this was a three race regatta. The regatta chair walked him back to me, and then gathered around some of the class brass for a discussion of the situation. It seemed that some other Flying Scot sailors had felt the same way as that guy, and so they hadn’t come. It was also clear that as many or more of the class wouldn’t come unless there were no more than three races. They did show up. Lot’s of them.

Aside: According to the regatta chair, that guy was not a member of the Flying Scot Sailing Association and didn’t even own a Flying Scot.

The concession to that guy was to have an extra race (that would not count) at the end of the day for all those who wanted more racing. I announced our intention to hold this extra race to each of the 34 participating boats as they crossed the finish line in the second race. After all three fleets had finished, we quickly set up a new course (as the wind had shifted). Boats had scattered so it took a couple of minutes for the boats to reassemble – both of them. That guy was joined by some other guy who was sailing single handed after dropping off his wife at the dock. I delegated taking the finishes to one of the other power boats, but it looked for sure that that guy was finally going score a victory after having come in second to last in the previous race.

So….The idea of a three race regatta was overwhelmingly popular with 98% of the participants. Go figure. I don’t see it, but, hey, each to his own. If the group agrees on a way to have fun, then that’s the way it should be done. Even though a three race, two day regatta seems completely daffy to me, our participants were a terrific group of friendly, patient, and appreciative sailors. I had a good time working for them and would do it again any time.

As for that guy, I hope he finds sailing happiness. Maybe when I see him again, he will be sailing a Laser with a big smile on his face.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Whitewater Rafting – The Out-of-Raft Experience

Concurrent with Tillerman’s Write a Review group writing project, I planned a little rafting trip as an interesting activity during a visit with my dad in South Carolina. I thought the two would dovetail nicely, and I could write a simple review of the trip and the company who ran it, Wildwater, Ltd.

It should be made clear here that Mrs. Yarg and I are complete neophytes at rafting. She has never been, and I have been only once before. I should also confess that we are not thrill seekers or adrenalin junkies. Planning and surfing in sailboats is enough for me. As a couple, golf and the nature watching version of kayaking are fine with us; skydiving and rock climbing are not.

Anticipating doing the review, I began writing in my head. I found out later that that review had already been written by an Atlanta newspaper and appears on the Wildwater’s website, It contains all the basics:

  • Wildwater Ltd. is widely considered one of the best commercial rafting outfits
  • The trip has laughs, excitement, and splashy outdoor fun
  • The guides are young Bohemians with an encyclopedic knowledge of the river
  • All safety precautions are taken – PFDs, helmets, safety talk about feet first swimming and safety ropes
  • The Chattooga is designated a "wild and scenic" river
  • Rapids have colorful names like Corkscrew, Last Supper, and Deliverance

And everything in that review is correct. But our experience of the trip was more aptly described by our guide’s term – out-of-raft experience.

It all begins with the reservation when they ask which trip you want to go on. The question is: Class III rapids or class IV rapids? Our knowledge of rapid classes is limited to Meryl Streep running a class V in The River Wild. We don’t want that. One of the kids working in the office says, “You want the Class IV. Class III is a little boring.” Class IV it is.

I looked up the definitions later and this is a Class IV (italics are mine):
Class IV/Advanced..... Intense, powerful rapids; turbulent water; may involve long, unavoidable waves, holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure; may require "must" moves above dangerous hazards; risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high; group assistance to swimmers requires practiced skills

Other fun facts not fully appreciated at the time of registration:

  • This is the river on which Deliverance was filmed
  • The Chattooga contains the steepest section of river commercially rafted in the Southeast
  • What I used to think of as small waterfalls are more properly classified as Class IV rapids

All through the safety talk, I am thinking these commercial rafters sure take all the precautions and cover all the bases, but overdo it a bit with a “scared straight” tone. Insisting that we wear PFDs and helmets to cushion falls in case we slip while walking on rocks while not rafting seems a bit much.

The first part of the trip on the river meets all expectations. There is excitement, splashing, and good wet fun. The guy next to me, Don, seems to have been rafting many times and wants all the excitement he can get. With a bump on a rock that is far from extraordinary, Don flies out of the boat into the cool water and seems to enjoy the unfettered ride until the burly guide deftly plucks him back into the boat.

Our guide’s path down the river seems a bit less expertly chosen than Meryl Streep’s or even Burt Reynolds’ and Ned Beatty’s, but I try to make some allowances for reality being different than movies. After getting stranded on submerged rocks a couple of times, and having the guide jump out to wrestle the raft free, Don says “I don’t think he’s the best guide.” After some casual questions from Don, the guide reveals that this is only his second year of rafting, but reassures us with a description of the rigorous training program for guides.

We follow rather simple paddling instructions as the guide does all the brain work and steering. “On this next rapid,” he explains, “everyone has to lean as far as they can to the right.” As the raft seems to climb a rock sideways just before a several foot drop off, we all lean hard right to counterbalance the tilt of the raft. The raft then does a 180, making right left, and we find ourselves leaning hard to the low side of the raft causing both Don and the guide to hurtle into the water. Unpinning himself from between the raft and the rocks, the gasping guide struggles to get the raft marginally under control as we do a spin or two while hauling in the swimmers.

Mrs. Yarg and I exchange concerned glances. We are beginning to worry that the brains and skills of the operation may not be as brainy and skilled as these two trusting neophytes had hoped.

I always thought of whitewater sports as an exercise of skill and grace through a turbulent and chaotic situation. I also thought the object of the game was to thread the raft between the rocks without hitting them. Apparently I was wrong. I have a new respect for the ruggedness and abrasion resistance of inflatable rafts.

As we approach what appears to be a rather long but manageable set of rapids, we watch the boat in front of us intentionally doing 360s down the rapids. As we enter the whitewater, the guide asks if we want to do 360s too. Mrs. Yarg succinctly says “no,” at which time the guide starts spinning us. At about 270 degrees, we roll up on a rock, and Mrs. Yarg and I are ejected over backwards into the river. Repeated capsizes in my Laser have taught me to remain calm in these dunking situations, but the ensuing rapid horizontal movement I experience is new and unsettling. I come up grabbing at the first thing I see which happens to be Mrs. Yarg who, fortunately, has succeeded in latching onto the raft. After floating at high speed with feet up to repel sharp objects and a few ricochets off sunken rocks, the subsequent yanking haul in doesn’t seem so bad. I suggest to the guide that perhaps 360s should be limited to a horizontal plane.

Unlike a sailboat capsize, I don’t see any of this coming. One second I’m in the raft, and the next second I’m upside down in the water. The thought that there are real risks involved in this is finally starting to sink in.

Now the guide is starting to preface his instructions for the upcoming rapids with “There is no reason to fall out of the raft, but when you do…” followed by instructions on which side to swim toward (as if one were in control) and where the rescue ropes will be. Rescue ropes? Yikes!

It turns out that the complete out-of-raft experience includes rescue ropes – beautiful thick yellow ropes thrown by skilled, heroic young men. Yep, you guessed it. The next launching at the second of the famed Five Falls is pictured below. My new best friend, Don, can’t resist diving over me as he, Mrs. Yarg, and I share a triple out-of-raft experience.

As I surface, I realize I am running the rapids without the benefit of a raft. I’m happy to see Mrs. Yarg surface nearby, but no blue rafts or rest stops are ahead on this highway. A golden voice comes out of the trees and shouts, “Catch this!” as that wonderful yellow rope drops two feet in front of me. Without needing additional encouragement, Mrs. Yarg and I lunge for the lifeline, me at the end and she, mid rope. I thought sure that she would provide the pivot point and I would be whipped into the jagged boulders at river’s edge, but our knight in shining PFD runs along the rocks to gradually slow us down until we reach a reasonable take out point. I have never seriously practiced throwing a coil of rope even though I know it might be useful in sailing rescues. I now have a new found regard for this awesome skill.

Nursing scrapes and bruises where thigh met rock and snorting the river water out of our noses, Mrs. Yarg and I shakily anticipate our next attempt to survive the fun we’ve signed up for. Standing on the rocks at the shore and looking at the waterfall I am about to go over is stimulating the fear instinct in me. I am not going to give into it, but all trust in our leader is shot, and the remaining two of the Five Falls are approached with some dread. The guide tells us that he will exercise all caution on the next two, and our approaches will be “textbook.” Why the hell didn’t we try textbook before this?

When there is real trouble ahead the guide hollers “Get down!” and we all duck toward the center of the raft. In this last section of the trip, we continue to cower with heads down long after the “get down” period is over. Somehow we survive the rest of the trip without incident. The guide's official final score for our five tourist raft is seven “swimmers“. (He doesn’t count himself, and the tourists’ count is higher.) I can see from his face that this is well above average. In talking to other guides I find out that the swimmer tally is highly variable, but I am left with the firm impression that the swimmer number should not exceed the passenger number.

In the end, it seems there are several versions of Wildwater Ltd. and their rafting excursions. I guess that’s what outdoor adventure trips are all about. I think that before my next trip I will share with my guide the view that the sport is more elegant when the driver avoids the rocks rather than hits them and when he keeps the passengers in the raft rather than out of the raft. I’m sure an occasional “out-of-raft experience” is an integral part of the sport, but surely there must be a more reasonable balance between swimming and boating.