30 December 2008

One More Best Day?

Is it OK to have two best days? Maybe it was the peace after motoring for an hour and a half. Maybe it was just the break from Christmastime frenzy. Or maybe it was the memories of pottering about Alamitos Bay with my young bride. Whichever, the first time in many years sailing alone with Kecia has to count as a best day. With the kids safely tucked away at Gung Gung and Po Po's, we ventured out into a strong flood tide aboard Lapras, and perhaps suffering from the need for some kind of year-end accomplishment, we set the goal of making it to the Carquinez Bridge and back. Wind and tide conspiring against us meant we would have to motor the three and three quarter nautical miles to pass below the new span. A nice little trek, actually, out past the old C&H suger plant, and the feeling of busting out of the Strait and kissing the waters of San Pablo Bay made it worth it, I guess. With the day wearing on, however, it was time to spin around and motor back up the Strait. Now with the current at our backs and the cold East wind at our faces, we made quick but very chilly time. "You know, we had better shut the motor down and unfurl the jib so that we can say we went sailing today," I said as we pulled abeam of Port Costa. 20 seconds later, the engine was off, jib unfurled, and peace was found.

As we approached Benicia Point the wind "built" to about four knots. Added to the nearly two knot flood we had enough wind for a gurgling wake. And that was it--not another sound on the Strait this chilly weekday day.

16 December 2008

Best Day

At last count, I'd sailed 30 days this year--a little better than once every two weeks. Now with just two weeks left in the year and waiting for a break in the rain to get out again, I'm thinking back on the best days sailing in 2008. It's been a good year, really, with great days on Mothra, Feraligatr (the Megabyte), Dean's Vanguard (Moe), Lappy the dory skiff, and the new Catalina 250, Lapras.

So, which was most memorable, most 'worthwhile'? Was it the racing? Bay Champs with Dean, winning my first regatta in almost 30 years, returning to the High Sierra Regatta after 20 something years? All great days in their own way, but not the best. No, the ones that make me tingle just thinking about them were just simple days out sailing with family and friends, the best of which came in my favorite time of year, late Summer. The return of Mothra was a turning point in the year reminding me that sailing with family is one of the greatest joys in life. Then a couple weeks later piling on three more to make seven might just have been the best of all days, certainly the most crowded. I called it perfect at the time. The weather was great, the scenery fun, and everybody had a good time. The best day in the Megabyte was also a day out with friends. Dean and I grew up with Mitch on the same street, but I can't remember if we'd ever sailed with him before. Well, we did this year, and is was a blast. Two in the Vanguard and one in the MB chasing each other all over the Carquinez Straight. Fun! Definitely the best video of the year.

But the best of all? Just a couple of weeks ago . . . one hour in the smallest boat with barely enough wind to push it . . . the eleven foot dory skiff that's been in the stable longer than any other--since I built her in 1997 . . . and my boy who a few weeks earlier, in tears, talked me into not selling her, at the helm. Iain has steered boats before, but this was the first time he really sailed one. He took the mainsheet in hand and trimmed the sail as naturally as he handles the tiller. Unlike previous times, he didn't want to give the controls back or turn back early.

He was sailing his boat.

22 November 2008

First Sail Redo

A couple of weeks back, I reported on our first official family outing on the new boat. While certainly not matching what one might envision as the perfect day on the water, it was none the less a day on the water and as a few of my readers have reminded me, that's more perfect than most days. Well, we made up for it this past weekend with a proper perfect day on the water--in November no less. The high pressure that settled in over the West last week gave us an extra week of summer-like temperatures mixed with anti-Summer-like light easterly winds. Perfect for a comfortable crawl against the flood tide with the jib poled out and a quick current-assisted beat home.

Notables from this day:
  • Managed to get the boat out of our awkward end slip without scaring ourselves. The trick is to be patient and wait for the boat to fully pivot after shoving off the dock before applying power with the outboard.
  • Sail handling was more comfortable as I'm finding the rhythm of this boat's mass and loads. I have a few thoughts for rigging improvements, but overall things work pretty darn well in the as-built configuration.
  • Iain continues to amaze me with his natural feel for the helm. "Would you take the helm and steer for that hill over there?," is all the instruction needed.
  • We have some very nice new nextslip neighbors in the Marina. They have a 20-something foot outboard powered dory cabin skiff thingy. Pretty nice looking little cruiser, actually. Just returning from a two night trip to Angel Island. Turns out they are long time sailors who recently decided on a stint with a power boat (yeah, kinda weird timing for that.) I'll have to invite them out for a sail sometime.
Oh, and the boat has a new name:

18 November 2008

Now that would be a crazy party!

I've never considered myself to be all that into heroes. Impressed with certain human endeavors, yes. Respectful of great accomplishment, of course. I just don't recall ever saying, "so-and-so is my hero." OK, Tillerman didn't say we had to invite our heroes to dinner, but as I've been thinking these past few days about who would be on my sailor or sailors, living or dead, real or fictional dinner party list I started to realize that I might just have quite a long list of sailing heroes. As the list grew, I also realized that this would likely be one totally out of control bunch. Party on!
  • Despite having grown up in Southern California I've never sailed a beach cat or surfed standing up (I do it Obama style). Still, I have to have Hobie Alter on the list as a serial water sport innovator.
  • OK, I guess some have disputed that he wrote the book by himself, but he certainly sailed the boat on his own. Wouldn't it be great to have Joshua Slocum at the party? No, really.
  • While we're talking authors, let's invite Richard Henry Dana Jr. Now that dude had some stories to tell!
  • Olin Stevens, William Garden, L. Francis Herreshoff (yeah, I like his stuff better than his dad's), Joel White (let's invite his more famous dad, too), and Phil Bolger. Hmmm, that's an eclectic bunch and I go through stages every year or so of who's my favorite. As of this moment, Mr. Garden gets the nod (Dang, that's a bad pun.) And what the heck, I love boat design so much that I'm inclined to invite a few more designers. Let's include Bill Lapworth (after all, I spent 18 years of my life sailing aboard his Dasher design) and Bill Tripp (amazing how good he could make an ugly boat look.)
  • Whoa, almost forgot C. Raymond Hunt. For all his contributions maybe he deserves his own bullet. Doesn't it seem unnatural for one person to be responsible for the 110 (another amazing beautiful ugly boat feat), the Boston Whaler, the deep-V power boat hull, and my favorite 12 meter--Easterner (or News Boy as I new her as a boy-huh?)
  • I was in the junior program with him at BYC when we knew him as Nicky "Scandonee". Now Nick Scandone is an Olympic champion, and dying. We're almost exactly the same age. He's done so much already. Inspiring and sad.
  • Edward Teach. I don't really know why. Certainly wouldn't call him a "hero", but a guy with his beard on fire has got to spark some kind of dinner conversation, no?
  • My Dad. One of the great things about my dad was that he never showed a hint of fear. Looking back now, I can remember some sailing circumstances that should have been absolutely terrifying for me yet seemed perfectly normal like the time 150 miles off the coast of Mexico with the bilge so full of water that I floated up out of my lee side quarter berth every time the boat rolled over a wave. My dad had a way of staying in complete control (or at least giving the impression that he was) and keeping the crew's confidence high. We just pumped the bilge and kept on pounding our way to a first place finish in the Guadalupe Race.
  • And finally, I would have to invite my longtime sailing buddy, Dean. It seems all my sailing adventures have involved him in some way. As interests and circumstances change independently we keep connecting back together for a new chapter in the sailing life.
Looking back over this list, I see that many of these heroes are dead. Perhaps those living wouldn't accept my invitation to dinner, but that doesn't have to stop me from reaching out to tell them how much I appreciate what they've done.

Expect More

With all the new boat activity, some travel, and a bunch of other stuff, I'd only managed to get the Megabyte wet once since High Sierra. I certainly wasn't well prepared, then, for the annual Turkey Shoot regatta hosted by Lake Washington Sailing Club the weekend before last. No matter; I had to get out there as this regatta represented coming full circle on my first year racing a singlehanded dinghy since I was a teenager. Prior to the racing, I reflected back on my experience on Huntington Lake. I had determined that my performance had been most hampered by poor starts and generally pathetic first beats putting me too far back to have any hope of catching the leaders. So, I set the expectation that I would focus my energy on getting off the line with speed, finding just the right height/speed groove, and making good decisions up the first leg.

Well, guess what? It worked. I was first around the top mark in each of the first three races. the problem was that in only one of those three races did I manage to hold onto the lead. In the other two, I managed to find other ways to screw up and dropped to third. Dang. Maybe I should expect to win every leg? hmmm . . . That used to work when I was a competitive runner. I would visualize every detail of the race from a quick start all the way through to a strong finish. Then I just had to replay it for the real event.

How much of winning is simply expecting it?

13 November 2008

Better than the Hornet

I was about to say that last Thursday was the first time that I had slept on a boat in some 20 years, but then I remembered our overnight adventure on the USS Hornet the year before last (Yeah, it was on that same ship that the Apollo 11 astronauts had their first earthbound snooze following their space cruise.) Well, enough about the Hornet, this is about sleeping on the new boat. Just about froze my buns off but overall quite comfy, especially compared to a WW II aircraft carrier. The best part? The morning. As the sun rose up over Mt. Diablo it flickered yellow in through the companionway. A pot of water on the stove and I soon had nice cup of coffee to warm my hands. All was dead quiet in the Marina, and from my end slip I could see out across the old railroad berm and onto the river. Still water, crisp air, beautiful.

Update: just realize this blog post trailed off into some blissful whatever, and I forgot to mention that we actually got out for a nice sail that day, too. After warming up a bit, I got to work on the boat installing a track and car on the mast to support the new whisker pole. Dean came down to visit a bit later and convinced me that we needed to go out and test it. We did. It worked great.

25 October 2008

First Sail?

Hardly worth recording the event as we had more current than wind on the Strait today. Still, had a nice little motor cruise up to the Benicia Bridge and back and lunch aboard in the marina.

16 October 2008

We Done and Gone It

Mothra is officially ticked especially since I started salvaging some of the equipment off of her for the Catalina 250 we brought home last week. Yep, new (used) boat.

With help from Dean and Marcel we stepped the mast and launched her Sunday afternoon. All went well if a bit slow as we checked and double checked everything. Yes, I did remember the masthead fly! We put her in at the steeper of the two Benicia ramps--only had to kiss the water with the rear axle on my truck to get the boat to float. After splashdown, we motored up the Straits to the marina and tucked her into her new berth.
So what's next? I missed the Tillerman's bucket list writing project; so, how about a "fun things to do with a new boat" list?

  • Teach the family how to really sail, to be able to handle the boat without me.
  • Go cruising!: Up the Delta for the 4th, marina hopping, Ayala Cove, the same fun places that I went when I was a wee little dude on the family boat.
  • In general, just enjoy sailing a really comfortable boat that isn't simultaneously a restoration project.
  • Do a little PHRF racing: maybe The Delta Ditch, a beer can or two, Vallejo Cruise, Three Bridge Fiasco, fun stuff like that. And hey, I think the Catalina 25/250/Capri 25 Nationals are going to be on the Bay next year!
  • Occasionally venture away from home waters. At 4200 lbs., I wouldn't call this thing a trailer-sailor, but it is trailer-able. A week on Monterey Bay would be nice or maybe haul her all the way to Newport Beach and help Dean cross off a bucket list item--sail to Catalina.

03 October 2008

Don't Tell Mothra

I've had my eyes on another girl. There, I said it. Even when my mother asked me about it a few nights ago (scary how mothers can sense these things), I flat out denied it. I feel so ashamed. It's time to be open and honest about my passion, my desires, my needs. blabber, blubber, blah, blah, blah. Enough drama.

It seems a photo from a recent outing aboard Mothra caused me to reflect on why I sail anyway, how I purchased Mothra, and what comes next. Mothra was picked up as a low investment fixer-upper with which to tryout this sailing thing with the family. If the kids had hated it, no big loss. Well, two years later it's clear that we all like sailing and are starting to imagine other fun things to do with a boat like some cruising up the delta or even just camping out at the marina Saturday night, and that leads to dreams of more comfortable floating accommodations.

Mothra, an O'Day Mariner, is a fantastic day sailor with a little cabin we can squeeze into. In fact, this is exactly what George O'Day had in mind when he sculpted a new deck mold for the successful Phillip Rhodes designed R-19. If it were just one or two of us headed out for a nice cruise (like these folks), it might be perfect, but 4 is pushing it, especially when two of them are sleeping over the potti. So, time to consider making the step up from a day sailor that one could sleep on to a proper little cruiser that a small family can still easily manage.

Recently, we've looked at one of these Catalina 250's, and the family seems quite excited:

30 September 2008

The Racecourse is No Place for Schizophrenia

I have to wonder if this is somehow related to that "what would Ben do?" thing, maybe the opposite of it. Good sailors know what they need to do, adjust that to what they can do, and then execute, maybe pushing the limits a bit. Through our haphazard Vanguard 15 foray into PHRF racing last week I learned that it is also very important to make your intentions clear to others. Being the dedicated bunch of dinghy sailors who launch every Friday night just down the other end of the marina from Benicia Yacht Club apparently we'd been casually invited to join in the BYC Thursday night beer can races, but (apparently) unbeknownst to that night's race committee. Or, maybe they had figured we'd join in some way other than showing up with our own boats? :-) In any event, the race committee wasn't keen on having us officially entered (something about "liability"), but they hinted that if we were to happen to cross the starting line they wouldn't try to stop us. In my opinion, that was the beginning of a bad idea.

In order to avoid messing with those officially racing, we chose to start one minute after the first class (the slowest of three) and get well clear of the line before the next class started four minutes later. This maneuver plus the fact that not all of our class chose to cross the line "properly" was the beginning of the confusion we caused for all the real racers. "What are those little boats doing out here? They're not racing are they?" I believe this contributed to a couple of right of way incidents following. The first was a simple port/starboard thing except the 15 foot Vanguard on starboard, not wanting to mess with the real racers, attempted to relinquish it's rights to the 33 foot keelboat on port. This just confused the big boaters and it got messy ending in shouts of "Hey, we're racing here!" and "So are we! (sort of)" The second was a clear leeward mark overlap case again with the 15 footer with rights over the really big boys from class A who had by now caught all the slow boats ahead. With an appropriate amount of yelling, the little guys likely could have defended their position without incident, but being insecure about the not-really-racing thing, they just bailed out and didn't bother rounding the mark. OK, still might have been the right thing to do, but I wonder if our big boat friends would have shown a bit more respect for us had it been clear that we were racing just like them.

I hope the nice folks at BYC invite us out again, but I somehow doubt it.

16 September 2008

Megabyte Mk II Reaching Fun

Thanks to Mitch scribbling on my Facebook wall, we got out for a little fun time in the racing boats. No high intensity short course racing stuff, just a Vanguard 15 and a Megabyte Mk II chasing each other across Carquinez Strait, stopping in for a blow in Martinez, then down around the mothball fleet only to get chased off by the floating rent-a-cop. A good breeze made for some fast reaching fun. After our Martinez stop, I swapped places with Dean. First time in the Megabyte for him, and he looked like a champ.

It was great to have Mitch along. I could tell that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. It's hard to sail fast and catch up on old times at the same time, but it was all good and leaves me eager to get back out there again soon. Seeing each other once every year or two is clearly not enough.

10 September 2008

7 Humans in a 19 Foot Boat -- Perfect

Well, after not having Mothra in the water for 11 months, she's now gotten wet twice in 9 days. This time, she faithfully carried three adults and 4 happy kids for a trip down around the mothball fleet. With Dean aboard, I decided to try the bigger spinnaker. Wow, it's quite a bit broader than the old one. Turned out to be too hard to handle on the tight reach we needed to sail to get under the bridge. Should make for a great ride on a dead run, though.

All in all, a pretty nice afternoon sail with friends. I'm amazed at how many people can find a comfortable place to sit on such a small boat. It's also nice to have such a variety of places to sit and enjoy the ride. Down in the cabin, standing through the foredeck hatch, to leeward with the water sloshing by a few inches away, atop the cabin, on the weather coaming, all the way aft, . . .

03 September 2008

Feeling the Start

Trying to get caught up on the sailing log here, and I have to admit that I'm a week and a half behind--not that my bevy of global readers would know anyway. Come to think of it how would anybody know if this blog were really all just made up? If it were fiction, would it still be a blog? Sorry, so much chatter about social computing at work these days, it's starting to mess with my humble blog.

OK, what was I was going to log here? Oh yeah, Fleet 76 a Friday and a half ago--the last one for me before the Benicia boys shutdown for the season? Starting among other aggressive sailors was the learning opportunity of the night. Key learning: don't get to the line too early thinking you can just sit there and defend your spot (especially with a strong current running.) With the small fleet, there was plenty of room to maneuver around, and the aggressive skippers who kept some speed up were able to quickly drive around--above or below--those who tried to camp at the favored end. It made me think back to a particularly poor start at Whiskeytown a couple of months back. I was really tired and just kind of lolled around until about 20 seconds before the start. I had managed to position myself at a good spot on the line, but when it came time to get serious, it seemed like I had lost all sense of timing and boat speed. I was late crossing the line, in a funk up the first beat, and last around the top mark. Intellectually, I had a good start planned, but brain, body, and boat had fallen out of sync. It would seem that knowing how to start was insufficient without feeling how to start.

27 August 2008

Creature blog

Giant moths and more bunnies. Remind me. What was this blog about again? Dean's been beggin' for a picture of my new hiking bench. So, here it is. It's an exact replica of the side deck on the Megabyte. Yeah, I thought is was pretty geeky to go to the trouble to make it that way, but I've discovered it offers a significant added benefit. Not only do I get the exercise, I'm also finding my body mechanics are improving. With my fingers behind my knees I can feel the right way to spread the droop hiking load across multiple muscle groups and contact points so that my knees don't ache. Cool! OK, so as you can see in the photo, I do my off-water sailing workouts in the backyard with the bunnies. Is that weird?

And what's a Feraligatr anyway?

25 August 2008

Carnage = Fun?

Small boats go bang. Big boats go bang, crunch. Good thing we were in small boats. Fun racers stay clear. Racer racers push the limits. Good thing we had . . . both?

Just another Friday night with Vanguard 15 Fleet 76, well except for the little incident in race 5. It all started when a racer racer pushed it close enough to not leave room for error. Seems his tiller extension decided to lodge itself in his PFD as he tacked at the starting line causing the boat to pirouette and collide broadside at near full speed into the poor sap just to weather on the line. Not a happy time, but thankfully no broken boats or injured sailors. Well, maybe some injured pride for the poor guys in the next boat in line who threw in a last ditch gybe to avoid the carnage and flipped their boat when the boom hit the water! As for my vantage point, I had the pleasure of crewing for Jamie (learned some new tricks!) who had made such a great start that we were well clear of the melee. We did pull up to check on the survivors before continuing on :-)

All-in-all, made for some good discussion over parking lot beers.

Return of Mothra!

I did a bad thing and forgot to take the family sailing for eleven months in a row. What was I thinking? Hard for me to believe, but S/V Mothra hadn't been wet since last September's knockdown episode with my sister. That also happened to be just before I brought the Megabyte home and began focusing so much of my limited sailing energy on learning to sail and race that thing. Well, enough was enough--time to get the whole family out for a nice Summer sail. I took the day off work on Thursday, pulled old Mothra out of the side yard, and hauled her 'cross the bridge to Benicia. Beautiful day: 80 something, 8 to 12, favorable current.

The picture here gives me tingly flashbacks to a time when I was the boy standing at the helm. I particularly remember the family cruise down the coast of Mexico in 1976. I was considered too young to stand a proper watch during our non-stop passage from Newport to Cabo; so, I was called upon to take over at meal time. Like my son now, I was also too short to see over the cabin top when seated. I would stand with the tiller between my legs, scanning the empty horizon, and coaxing the boat down the face of each successive wave some 300 miles offshore. It was just me riding 32 feet of mahogany with nothing but water in sight. My moment was only disturbed by the family returning on deck from their meal.

It's not right to deny my kids the joy of sailing. So, it'll be a little less Megabyte, a little more Mothra . . .

17 August 2008

Driver's Ed

Forgot to compliment Dean last time we were out for Fleet 76 Friday Night racing. His driving is getting really good. Four races, four great starts. On the line at speed making us the first boat up the beat. Even better than the starts were the mark roundings gaining at least two boatlengths over whichever boat was chasing us at each weather mark. Seems he's picked up some of Marcel's tricks--gets the boat pointing downhill in a hurry. Fun. Just wish I were available to crew at Tomales Bay in October. It would be good to see if/how we've improved relative to the Treasure Island boats.

27 July 2008

Bunnies and Beer

This is about sailing, really it is. Light turnout for Fleet 76 Friday Racing this past week. Only enough folks in town to fill three Vanguards; so, rather than trying to field a proper race committee, I offered up my Megabyte as bunny for rabbit starts. It worked out pretty well, actually, and I got some good practice sailing high and fast trying to hold off the pursuing 15 footers. After a nice moderate and warm breeze to get things started, the wind really began to freshen. A few quick, just for fun reaches across the straight with everybody hollerin', "wahoo," and it was time to head for the parking lot for the beers.

All in all, a very nice way to end the work week.

14 July 2008

HeyItWasGreat, NoReallyItWas.

David and Megabyte are taking the drive
Today to the mountains, will arrive by five
Expectations are high on Huntington Lake
To generate content for Heyitwasgreat.
But, how great can it be when you finish mid-fleet?
How great can it be when you suck wind every beat?
When your head hurts from the high altitude,
When campsite neighbors are so loud, how rude!
How great can it be when a Laser beats you in the end
(Intend no offense to Tillerman and friends.)
When your mom gashes a hand on the bear box,
When your daughter barfs peaches on her white socks.
So, how great can it be?
Just perfect actually.

Well, at first, I felt that I would have to skip the heyitwasgreat writing project on account of my somewhat disappointing race results at the High Sierra Regatta this past weekend. After all, how could finishing dead-mid-fleet be great? So, it wasn't great the way I had hoped, or maybe it was the way I had hoped: family, friends, learning, sailing on new water!!

It's been 36 years since the family made the trek from the Bay Area south to Huntington Lake for the High Sierra Regatta, and this time I was the dad racing the boat. My mom came along, too, with Bill, and had lots of good stories to tell of things I'd long since forgotten. "Did you know that after rounding the weather mark, I would always pour a cup of tea for your Dad for the long run back down the lake?" I wondered if it was just an English thing (the boat was named 'Limey too' after all) or if it was a gesture to psych out the other Mercury Class competitors. The trip was also made special by cousins Rod and Dody with Garret and Addy making the drive up the hill from Fresno to join us for a night of camping. Rod left me the most touching blog comment on Monday. Made me cry all my racing woes away and remember how great it all was. Thanks for that, Rod.

Of course it was also great to race against Dean and Charles again and Mack and Craig for the first time. In fact, the whole Folsom crowd was something special from incredible shore-side support (wading out in the cold lake to help launch and retrieve us), hosting parties before and after racing, and swapping stories of what works and what doesn't on this lake--apparently, I got those two mixed up. And, hey, I even recognized Benicia sailing bud, Murray, half way down the run. Had a nice little chat as I sailed by.

Family and friends, that was great. So, what did I learn? My starts still suck; my tacks still suck; I can't read windshifts; my tactics are naive; and that all leads to being a hell of a long way behind after a 3-mile beat to the first mark. The good news is that I was pretty dang fast downwind. That practice steering the boat with body movement is paying off.

But what about the drive? Well, this is what TK shared with us:
If you want to be a really great sailor, you have to get off your home lake and travel the boat . . . The rival lake that always cleaned our clocks in the regional regattas had sailors who traveled all the time! I had the drive, but what I needed to do was drive!! White line fever!!! And I did. I hit the road and regattad more than almost anyone in the class. Frustrations. Growing pains. Always another lake to figure out . . . And then it crystallized. All of a sudden everything got easier. Starting in big fleets. Figuring out the breeze and the local lake effects. Staying with the really fast guys. And I started to win. Even a lot.
It was and will be a drive worth taking. Thanks everybody for a great weekend!

06 July 2008

Progress Report

Well, next weekend is the next big regatta on the racing calendar--The High Sierra Regatta. A few weeks back, I reflected on lessons learned at Whiskeytown and set a few training goals. So, how has it been going? Well, time will tell come Sunday afternoon, but here's how the preparation has gone:
  • Racing tactics: I've been skimming through all my racing books studying, especially, upwind tactics. The good news is that Mssrs. Walker, Bavier, Elvstrom, and Pinaud all say basically the same thing. Of course, it only matters if I can remember their advice and put the principles into practice on the racecourse . . .
  • Downwind speed: I got two good downwind practice sessions in. One in moderately heavy air and the other in fluky light air. I learned to ease up on the heavy tiller grip and let the helm go neutral, steering the boat with my body, and not trying to fight the waves. It all felt fast, but we'll see how it goes relative to the other boats this weekend.
  • Tacking: My first practice session was too windy to focus much on roll tacking mechanics. instead, I worked on driving the boat to weather in a steep chop. Good thing this boat has bailers as I just about filled the cockpit a couple of times punching through green water (slow). In the second two practice sails, I managed to get the mainsheet handling figured out with a good ease as the boom crossed over setting up for a nice pump out of the tack. Still cant get the boat roll to feel right.
  • Getting in better shape: This has not gone well. Maybe the added ballast will come in handy if it blows hard at the lake, but if I'm not strong enough to put it to use, it'll more likely just slow me down. Dang. Forget all the lame excuses, I just need to get focused on making better choices to improve and sustain my health and strength.
Well, enough on the prep work, the exciting part lies ahead. I'm really looking forward to returning to Huntington Lake. It was 25 years ago that I raced a Thistle there and almost 40 that I watched from the shore as my dad raced his Mercury. It'll be my kids watching the dad race this time. If I win, they'll be excited. If I don't, I'll get the opportunity to explain to this new generation that there is more to sailboat racing than winning. I like to think my dad won the Mercury class, but honestly, I can't remember, and I know he (we) went back year after year regardless.

Wish me luck.

19 June 2008

Odds Are

The final conclusion and the decision must be the result of a calculation of the odds that indicate what action will create the least risk of loss and provide the greatest chance of gain at the moment. The odds are often long; it is essential to know them by knowing everything which affects them.
--Dr. Stuart Walker, The Tactics of Small Boat Racing

Know the odds and "everything that effects them." That everything must include your own ability, I think, but how do you protect against self defeat from underestimating the odds that you can do what you know you need to do? Is the answer to be aggressive? Tillerman offers up a great post this week in What Would Ben Do? asking if being aggressive is the key to success on the race course. T-man really got me thinking about this . . . I'm not sure it's simply a case of being aggressive as it is knowing the odds, being capable of playing them, and then being aggressive in your execution. In the case of Ben Ainslie, he knows his odds are better than they are for the rest of us slackers so he can execute more "aggressive" moves with confidence.

But the real question that Tillerman asks is how do we get to be more like Ben? Just be more aggressive? Maybe so. Know your odds, or course, but push yourself a bit farther. Dean and I experienced this last year at the Vanguard 15 Nationals. Neither he nor I had sailed in a proper regatta in about 20 years! We rather meekly made our way through the first few races trying not to get in anybody's way, but as the regatta wore on and we gained more confidence in our ability to point the boat where wanted to, we began to mix it up a bit more. I don't remember which race it was, but we had decided we would start at the favored rather than the uncrowded end of the line. Wow, did it ever get crazy fast. This was sailing with sharks. It seemed as if boats were flying all over the place, tacking where there was no room to tack, yelling and maneuvering. It was amazing how fast everything happened at that end of the line. Yet, we emerged from the melee in pretty decent shape. As we advanced through the 12 races of the regatta I can't say our finish positions improved much (we made too many other mistakes), but we had a lot more confidence that we could jockey with the more experienced crews. We had improved our odds of winning.

Of course, our dramatic crash in race 8 in 25 knots at the weather mark was partly the result of miscalculating the odds of our ability to pull off an aggressive mark rounding (inside a capsized boat.) At the time, I thought my skipper had made the wrong choice, pushed the odds too far. After all we capsized didn't we? Thinking back on it now from this new perspective, however, I'm glad we went for it. If we hadn't, I'd still be lamenting the chicken move going the long way 'round that allowed 3 boats to get by. We were aggressive and pushed the odds, and I feel good about that. I forgive you, Dean ;-)

14 June 2008

Taking a Turn (and observing what's fast)

Full disclosure: this blog post will add nothing new to what is already generally known about how to get a boat quickly around a race course. However, getting the chance to observe some of these principles up close and in person really helped my understanding of them.

Last evening after my Megabyte practice session (more on that later), I volunteered to take a turn on race committee duty for Vanguard 15 Fleet 76. It was a beautiful thing: 15 knots of wind, a mild flood tide knocking the chop down, and all four skippers that showed up brought one of their children along as crew. Call it father-daughter/son night. The perfect setup for fun, teaching, and relationship building. Joel and I being the only two without a son or daughter on hand volunteered to run the race committee/crash boat. From that vantage point, and in between all the yelling and cheering we were doing to encourage the skippers and young crew, I observed several things that equal fast:
  • Hit the starting line on time and at speed. The boat that did this all four times won all four races. Now this is obvious, right? But, seeing how this lead boat was able to subsequently cover and control the next boat was pretty amazing.
  • Crisp boat handling and crew synchronization is the entry fee. Nothing new here either, but to watch a boat drop two lengths behind just because the jib was brought in slowly after a tack really shows how important basic boat skills are. And, practice will make perfect. By race 4, all the boats were going faster as the skippers and crews got it together.
  • Also on the boat handing topic is balance. What appeared to distinguish the top two boats from the bottom two was the ability, call it agility, to find the right balance of hiking with an inexperienced and lightweight crew, and mainsail trim to keep the boat flat. It was windy enough that none of the boats could keep the main sheeted in all the way. The fast boats got their butts over the side and kept them there while adjusting the pressure on the mainsail to trim the boat flat.
  • Steering with the sails at mark roundings is very fast. The one boat that did this well came out a length or two ahead at each rounding.
So, like I said, sorry to bore you with what you already know. What I have to offer is the encouragement to take a turn at race committee or crash boat duty some time. Seeing these lessons play out will give you a real appreciation for the fundamentals in a way that you'll miss while busy trying to race your own boat.

03 June 2008

Lessons from Race 4 and Some New Training Goals

The Whiskeytown Regatta this past Memorial Day weekend was the first of the two big lake sailing events I have on the calendar this year. I could go on about the rain all day Saturday, the beautiful lake, the great people hosting and competing in the event, and on and on. Actually however, I can't because I'm suffering from blogger's block. But now, thanks to another challenge from Tillerman, I have some more lessons to share and a few new goals as I get prepared for the High Sierra Regatta (HSR) at Huntington Lake. In the end, Whiskeytown all came down to race #4
  • Well first off, I didn't even know there was going to be a race 4. With two bullets on Saturday, and a 3 point lead over the next two boats, all I had to do was finish in the top four on Sunday and I'd have it covered. Ooops, two races today. Charles got his stuff together and domintated the fleet with two bullets of his own. After a second in the first race, I had to claw my way back from 4th at the weather mark to 2nd at the line in race 4 to preserve the win. HSR Goal: Understand the sailing instructions, and if fortunate enough to get the lead, protect it better!
  • I was generally fast upwind, and slow downwind. HSR Goal: Go faster downwind. I'll need to get some practice sailing the boat more on the edge and finding a more neutral helm.
  • After hiking hard on Saturday (remember, fast upwind) my legs especially the knees were already sore and tired out by Sunday. HSR Goal: get in better shape! Started building a hiking bench last weekend. This next one is the HIGH Sierra Regatta; so, need to get in better cardiovascular shape, too.
  • My tacks suck. This was particularly apparent after blowing the start in race 4 and having to tack my way out of a mess only to find myself falling more behind. HSR Goal: Learn to roll tack properly. So that's it, next day on the water: practice roll tacks upwind for a while then turn around and practice boatspeed back down.
  • My starts were mixed. Good starts on day one led to wins. Poor starts on day 2 led to all kinds of problems on the first weather legs. My intensity at the line seemed lacking (was I too tired out?) HSR Goal: Study good starting technique and stay focused!
OK, enough on the learnings from Whiskeytown. I'm really looking forward to the High Sierra. A few more goals to make it special:
  • Help recruit a few more Megabyte skippers to show up (we had 3 at Whiskeytown). Sounds like we might get a couple guys from Arizona to come on out. That would be great.
  • Have a fun time with family and friends. This is a camping regatta and the the whole family is going with me. That will be fun.
  • And hey, sure would be great to win the regatta. I'll have my work cut out for me. Charles is the two time defending champ with 6 straight bullets! I can't make any of my Whiskeytown mistakes if I have any hope of keeping up with him again.

11 May 2008

Welcome new readers!

Well, Dean's pointing me to Tillerman's group writing project has pointed other Tillerheads to this blog and pointed me to a bunch of other interesting blogs. Am I finally discovering what is really meant by the term 'blogosphere'? I appreciate the comments from Team Gherkin and EVK4. Sometimes the littlest connections via things like boat names or shared gybing ineptitude or similar local waters bring on a real feeling of community. Thanks, Tillerman, for hookin' us up!

Check these out:
Tillerman's Proper Course
Team Gherkin
EVK4 SuperBlog
Andrew Sadler

10 May 2008

Gybes better, tacks not so much.

Well, the gybing and capsizing practice from last week is sure paying off. My local Vanguard 15 fleet allowed me to mix it up with them this past Friday. Very kind of them to welcome me onto the starting line sans Vanguard. I'm trying to be sensitive to not turning their tight one-design Friday's into an open melee. Both for them and for me. I love crewing on their boats, and the post race parking lot chatter is focused on tactics and techniques that worked best that night rather than on which boats were most favored by the particular wind and current conditions. But about the gybing practice. Wow, I felt so much more confident in the boat knowing that I could throw down a gybe when I wanted and get the boat back upright if needed. this was especially useful in the pre-start maneuvering and for a quick gybe rounding the top mark to get over the the favored side of the downwind leg. Certainly more practice needed to get really good at it, but I'm on my way.

Next up, tacking. Chasing the Vanguards around revealed how slow my tacks are. I was clearly giving up two or more boat lengths every time I flopped over.

06 May 2008


Dean turned me one to another great sailing blog, Proper Course. Definitely worth a read. A recent post calls for a group writing project on learning experiences. I think Dean realized that a lot of what I blog about is just that; so, I sent a couple links in. Should be fun to see what others are learning through their sailing experiences.

05 May 2008

Learning is gud.

A few weeks (months?) back, I wrote about the need to suck it up and learn new things. This past Friday, I had a chance to really put that into practice. With a couple of big regattas planned this Summer in potentially very windy venues, I was getting a bit worried about my ability to gybe the Megabyte (recently named "Feraligatr" by my son) in a blow and recover from the inevitable capsize once in a while. Well, I studied up on Laser gybing techniques online and in books, visualized the movements in the Megabyte, and then went out for some practice. I hit the Carquinez straits in about 12 to 15 knots, sailed up wind for a while, turned around, and repeatedly gybed back and forth about 20 times (until I eventually ran aground!)

After a bit, the wind started to build, and I headed out across the straits. Got some great practice sitting well aft and getting the feel for helm and trim balance as I surfed past a couple of Hobie trimaran thingies like they were standing still. Then, with my new found gybing confidence, I started throwing a few down eventually crashing when I missed a behind the back tiller hand-off. OK, then, time to start the capsize recovery practice! No problem. Back in the boat and going in a minute or so. I returned to the marina and then repeatedly capsized in front of the dock practicing various maneuvers for getting the thing back up. I feel much better now. A few more practice sessions, and I'll be ready to push the boat in whatever Whiskeytown Lake throws at us.

If that wasn't enough, the Fleet 76 crowd started showing up an hour or so later. Turns out Marcel needed crew; so, it was back out on the water for some more learnin'. It was great to observe Marcel's focus and approach on the race course. He's always looking for the wind advantage, always tuned in to what's happening around him, and always seeking that last bit of speed even when he's got the race won. Great stuff. I'll put some of that to use the next time I'm out racing.

29 April 2008

Se retrouver en plein champ

Bay Champs. That's French isn't it? Whatever. Dean and I sailed in the Bay Champs Regatta last weekend hosted by the Fleet 53 gang out of Treasure Island. Dang they have a lot of Vanguard 15s there. 14, included two of us from Fleet 76, hit the water for this one day regatta. This was the first time Dean and I had sailed together since the Fall Dinghy last year, and without any practice time before hand, we suffered two next to last place finishes to kick off the 8 race event. We managed to climb back into 9th place overall, one point out of 8th. Not bad, I guess. The highlight for us was a brief moment of greatness. A good start, decent tactics (no major mistakes) and some hard hiking got us to the weather mark in second place. After rounding, we surfed past the one boat in front and found ourselves leading the pack for the first time in about 20 something years. Cool! Unfortunately, a tactical error on my part, mistaking the start line buoy for the leeward mark and calling for a premature gybe, cost us several boats and we found ourselves once again in "the middle of the field." There's a French saying for that, you know.

Rockin' Friday Night

OK, just trying to get caught up on documenting each sailing event. Not much to say about Friday, April 12. The wind was so light (and the current strong) that none of the Fleet 76 boats even made it to the starting line. Dean and I did our best rendition of rockin' and rollin' the boat to generate headway. Fun exercise, I guess, but a lame replacement for actual sailing.

05 April 2008

Out and Back, Happy Fleet

Last night was the opening for the Vanguard 15 Fleet 76 Friday night series. A great bunch of sailors building a healthy fleet through camaraderie, knowledge sharing, and some feisty short course racing. I gave up my crew position for new guy Murray who discovered the Benicia V15 fleet via our "outreach" at the RYC Regatta last weekend in which he raced his Laser. Not wanting to miss out on a good evening sail, I rigged up my Megabyte and headed out to join the fray.

Turned out 20 knots gusting 25 with a 2.5 knot counter current was a bit much for me. I poked my bow out the harbor entrance, immediately jumped to a plane, and went screaming out across the Carquinez Strait. Wow, quite a ride! But alas given that the committee boat was doing double duty as crash boat, I choose to return for an early beer rather than disrupting the V15 races with the committee attending to my likely need for a rescue. Apparently a good decision as from the shore I watched two of the six double-handed Vanguards go inverted and need help.

Flat Stanley gives it a try:
From David Anderso...

04 April 2008

South Shore Flashbacks

Some of my fondest sailing memories are of warm Wednesday evenings racing small boats out of South Shore Yacht Club in Newport Beach. Must have been sometime around the mid 1980's. Dean and I would race his dad's Lido 14. I don't remember a lot of on-the-boat details other than it was great fun, always close competition with Paul Blank, and without fail, there would be a pack of Oreos on board to munch on. Once off the boat, Mrs. Fulton would be waiting with all the fixings to make for a great after sail BBQ. We'd just hang out talking about the sailing and eatin' burgers--all without a care for tomorrow. Once in a while we'd get the extra special treat of a tub of sister Cindy's molasses cookies!

What brings this all back nearly 25 years later? This past Sunday, Dean and I both entered our boats in the Richmond Yacht Club "Big Dinghy" pursuit race, he in his Vanguard 15 with son, Jake, as crew and I in my Megabyte. It was a great afternoon of sailing, and lo and behold, a whole clan of Fultons awaiting at the docks to welcome us back! I got the exact same loving hug from Mrs. Fulton as I did those many years before on the South Shore docks. And, Mr. Fulton was their ready for engaging discussion of wind, tides, boats, tactics, all that good stuff. But life does move on and this time the youngsters enjoying the after race snacks and listening in on the sailing chatter were Dean and Peggy's three kids. Won't be long before they're the ones out racing and we'll be at the dock warming up the BBQ.

I just wonder if Dean and Jake had any Oreos on board. They didn't share any with me.

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09 March 2008

Crying babies for crew

OK, this post is a little out of date--been a super busy week. March 2nd was the annual Sail-a-Small-Boat-Day at Richmond Yacht Club. A great event designed to get more people into more small boats. Volunteers add their boats to a list (I put up the Megabyte) and interested skippers signed up for a ride. We had a good crowd and a whole range of interesting boats: U20s, FDs, C15, Finns, 29ers, I14s, an MX Ray, a Hoot (are those guys still in business?), and others. Seemed to be a fair amount of interest in my Megabyte from "hey, what is that?" to "can I take my kids out in it?" Actually, a couple of dads each took two little kids out with them for a ride. I think the youngest was about two--she came back wet and crying. ahhhh. The bigger kids all seemed to enjoy the ride--they came back wet and smiling. The Megabyte has a pretty decent forward cockpit for a medium sized person to ride along. All was going well until I let the "I'm a Laser sailor" guy try it. He flipped. Luckily, no babies on board with him.

18 February 2008

Esta Susana en casa?

Wow. Google that. Seems a lot of seriously messed up people have that introductory dialog stuck in their brain and it's driving them crazy. What's this got to do with sailing? I have absolutely no clue, but after a couple of Singha's after a couple of hours "sailing" with no wind in a couple of small boats, Dean and I spontaneously broke into, "Esta Susana en Casa?" "Si, Esta con un amiga." And, so on. That's creepy.

Sailing was interesting. We had about 2 knots of current in the river and about 4 knots of wind. Then, about 2 knots of wind. We were actually sailing backwards despite trailing a wake behind us. Provided a good chance to play with sail settings in light air--this time, with the old standard Megabyte rig. I had everything set loose. Off the wind, this produced a big crease going from the tack up and out to the end of the top batten. Very ugly. Pulling the vang on pretty tight bent the mast and cleaned that up. It's apparent that this sail is cut for when the mast is bent a lot. Upwind, I played with the traveler, vang, and cunningham. what I found looked good was no vang, traveler all the way to weather, and enough cunningham (quite a lot actually) to pull the draft a little farther forward in the sail. I tried using the vang upwind, too. Overall that improved the shape, but took all the twist out. In any case, one of the things that's so cool about this boat, old rig and new, is how easy it is to tweak. Now, figuring out just where to tweak it to, that's the hard part. Interesting stuff.

"Ay caramba! Cuando arreglan mi quarto, no encuentro nada!" No idea what I'm talking about? I guess you didn't take high school Spanish.

10 February 2008

Less Fussing More Sailing

One of the joys about small boat sailing should be the ability to chuck it in the water and go. Less time futzing with all the gear and setting things up means more time sailing (and practicing those high speed gybes!) Well, I finally finished futzing with my trailer. Now all the gear stores in, on, or under the boat on the trailer. All I have to do is hitch it up to the truck and go. The boat stays mostly rigged under the cover, and the launching dolly is strapped on top fully assembled and ready to go. When I get to the water, I can rig it in about the same time as it takes to get naked and pull on the wetsuit and all the other get up.

From Megabyte Trailer
From Megabyte Trailer

We Can Learn

"I can't do it. I can't do it!" My little four year old hollered yesterday as I tried to help her along on her bike without training wheels for the first time. "Of course you can, sweetie. We just need to practice a little more." I was struck by how little confidence she had and then remembered my own recent experience being pressed into a situation for which I had little prior practice.

Last Sunday was the third edition of the monthly Small Boat Midwinters at Richmond Yacht Club. As was the case last month, Sunday came on the tail end of some Winter storms, but this time we had some lingering strong winds and rain. When the heavy squalls rolled in, I was hurtin'. This boat is a bit too big for me when it's blowing like that. After a really bad start in race 1, I managed to finish second about a boat length behind a 17 foot Daysailor--a boat that is supposed to be slower than mine. It was really blowing hard for the second race, and I had a hard time keeping the boat moving well to windward. The Daysailor and a Flying Junior had a nice lead over me at the first mark. Then as I rounded, the "MonsterByte" leapt onto a plane and went screaming after the more stable and modestly canvassed boats. As I approached the leeward mark, I had the lead, but was freakin' over the impending gybe. "I can't do it. I can't do it!", my mind was hollering. I guess I coulda chicken gybed it (spinning all the way around and tacking), but went for it instead. Ended up spinning out but lucky not to capsize. Then, the rudder cavitated as I tried to get her pointed downwind again. Needless to say, the DS and FJ got past. Anyway, that was it for me. It was really starting to honk, and I didn't feel like going swimming in a "fun race." Went home and watched the Superbowl instead. What a wuss.

I was personally bothered all week by that poor gybe and early retirement from the day's racing. That is, until our little bicycle lesson yesterday. I realized that gybing a boat like this in a lot of wind is really hard if you haven't done it before. But with a lot of practice I should be able to pull off a planing reach to planing reach gybe and blast on past that Daysailor next time. And that will be thrilling, not scary. Kinda like learning how to ride a bike, I guess.

20 January 2008


Flat, fast. Weight aft, slow. No hands, fast (and fun.) 3 knots, hard Cunningham, fast. 6 knots, hard Cunningham or none, undetermined . . .

Yesterday, I finally had the pleasure to meet Steve Berger after a couple of months of online exchanges relative to setting up the new Mk II rig on our Megabytes. He had invited me out for some boat-to-boat on the water tuning. I'd never done this before in any boat--it was great and surprisingly fun despite the light and variable winds. I think we both came away with a better feel for our boats, how slight changes in hull and rig trim can affect boat speed.

Next on the agenda as I learn to work this boat around the race course? Basic boat handling--maintaining speed through tacks and control through gybes.

09 January 2008

Small Boat Midwinters!

The weather was pretty dang good in Richmond this past Sunday considering the storm that blew through here a couple of days earlier. We got 8 to 10 kts. with no rain and nice flat water inside the breakwater. I pulled off 6 bullets, but that's not saying much considering the only other boats in the Open class were FJs and CFJs which rate slower than the Megabyte. They could just about hang with me upwind, but I smoked them going downwind.

Although not in the same class, we shared the starting sequence with the three-boat Snipe class. The Snipes seemed to be well sailed and made for closer competition than the FJs. I was able to beat one of them each race and another a couple of times out of six. Upwind, they were markedly faster than I was. I certainly couldn't point as high as these sloop rigged boats. Downwind, I gained slightly but not enough to catch them.

Hopefully we'll see a few more Megabytes from Fleet 3 at the Feb edition to make for some closer boat to boat racing.