21 October 2009

Lovely Moment

In the morning when the rising sun first reveals the turquoise and purple in the water on the south shore, but it is still slightly translucent.

19 September 2009

Racism: it's not black and white

This is a nice article by Charles Blow of the New York Times: Here We Go Again

In the "political discourse", too many people are focused on blaming everything on racism, or, refusing to acknowledge the role of racism.

Blow writes:

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted in January of last year found that 60 percent of whites agree that they underestimate the amount of discrimination that there is against blacks and 59 percent of blacks agree that they overestimate the amount of racism against them. How can we measure truth when everyone’s twisting it? A better question might be how much racial prejudice are people aware of and willing to acknowledge.

An ABC News poll released in January asked, “If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say that you have at least some feelings of racial prejudice?” Thirty-eight percent of blacks answered yes, as did 34 percent of whites.

Update: check out Bob Herbert's counterpoint in the same paper:

Did we really need Jimmy Carter to tell us that racism is one of the driving forces behind the relentless and often scurrilous attacks on President Obama? We didn’t know that? As John McEnroe might say, “You can’t be serious.”

17 September 2009

R.I.P. Keith Young

Keith Young has just passed away.

I knew Keith as a fellow candidate for the UBP, during the slog up to the 2007 election and the time since. I will remember Keith for his warmth, infectious positive attitude, and his low-key but unmistakable passion for making Bermuda better.

In Bermudian politics, which is filled with self-interested egomaniacs and tired old blowhards, Keith stood out for his genuine commitment to his family, his neighborhood, and his Island.

We need more people like Keith, not fewer.

My deepest regrets to his family.

10 September 2009

"Bermuda Night Sold Out"

From the PLP Blog, we learn that "Bermuda Night" at Fenway Park in Boston was sold out. That's great news, and it sounds like it was a good event.

But, if you know anything about baseball you'll know that every night is sold out at Fenway park well ahead of the baseball season, regardless of what the event is.

Love the spin ball...

09 September 2009

505 Worlds Wrap-up: 68 out of 99.

Well, as they say, better late than never. I

To jump to the chase, here are our finishes in the 9 races. Bracketed finishes are discards:

68 9005 BER Douglas De Couto Gareth Williams 67 [99/DNF] 59 77 [99/DNF] 41 79 52 45 total points: 420.00

We lost a tie-break for 67th. Full results available here. (sorry for the strange link, I couldn't figure out how to link from the official site as it's a pop-up).

Net-net, it was a grueling, tough regatta that tested us mentally and physically. Although I can't look back and say it was 'fun', like a 'vacation' is 'fun', I have to admit that I achieved my goal of 'mid-fleet', without completely embarrassing myself. And, there were a few hoots and hollers. Importantly, Gareth and I were able to make a strong finish that popped us up into the 60s, and put us ahead of some competitors I was targeting in the boat park -- people about whom I thought 'we can beat them', which is satisfying. That result is in no small part to taking some of Gareth's advice on starting. As someone told me, as is always the case, now we are ready to do a worlds in San Francisco. Maybe next time...

It is over a week and a half since the last race and the last day of the worlds, and it feels like forever. Being back in Bermuda and in the office is a whole different world. Too be honest, it's been a bit of a relief: I get a full lunch every day, I don't have to put on a wetsuit, and my arms are not nearly as tired. Oddly enough, my back seems more sore now!

So let's see what I can remember -- in our last installment, I left us at the beginning of the second last day: two races & one night to go until the end of the regatta, a Friday and a Saturday.


Friday was forecast to be a light air day, so they pushed the start back to 1:30pm to give the breeze time to come in. It turned out to be a hot, clear day on the beach, an everyone was lounging around, waiting for an AP, and delaying the awful act of putting on the wetsuit in the hot sun. The committee boat was hanging around off the beach, and as they looked like they were ready to go, parts of the fleet started suiting up. Old pros that they are, the RC popped the AP from the committee boat once about 1/3 of the sailors had suited -- those wiley coyotes! If they had raised the AP on shore, they would have to give a 2 hour gap between lowering it and starting the race; by raising it on the water (but while floating off the beach where all the sailors could see it), they only need to give a few minutes. Sure enough, the breeze started filling in verrrrrry slightly, the RC put up the 'Follow Me' flag, and the fleet went into the water for a 45-minute tow out to the course.

Wise skipper that I am, I neglected to tape up the transom flaps before launching. Typical M.O. in SF had been that taping them up was unnecessary, as a) we'd spend most of the time with water sloshing into the boat anyway, and b) we'd be planing most of the time as well. Of course, that was not the case on this day. The end result involved Gareth in a compromising position straddling the bow of the boat while I tried to recycle some used tape to seal up the flaps -- which of course were now wet. Lesson learned...

To be honest, I don't remember most of the race, but here goes. I believe this was the day I said to Gareth, 'If anyone hits the gatekeeper launch, it's going to be us'. Luckily, it wasn't us, but we had an awesome front row start, lots of speed, some space to leeward, etc. One minor problem: the boat to leeward of us was my sailmaker (Ethan Bixby, finished 14), and the boat above us was Mike Martin, you know, they guy who won 6 out of 9 races. Plus he had a 2nd. So, although it was a great start, it ended up being a you-know-what sandwich, with us as the you-know-what. After falling back 15-20 boatlengths, we finally bailed out and tacked to the right about 1/3 of the way up the beat. From that point on, it was simply a question of trying to sail fast, execute maneuvers, and get around the course. This was a 52.

This race had actually had a great moment on the first downwind mark rounding. We came in a massive pack but managed to find a slot inside for the mark to our left, and zoomed around with a great lane while the pack wallowed in a lull. Unfortunately, next time around this was not the case... we touched a boat that had somehow gone from our inside to our outside and then magically appeared right in front of us as i was rounding. I thought they had been gone, but apparently not.... anyway, a few strong words, a 720, and we ended up heading the other way with no wind, no lane, no speed, and very bad karma. Actually, maybe that was another race or rounding -- I can't really separate them all out anymore.


Now on to the last race, on Saturday. I had almost decided to blow off the race, and spend the day being relaxed & derigging early; but, I am glad I did not as it was probably our best race. In keeping with the "let's hit the gatekeeper" starting M.O., we had a great start in just-starting-to-get-windy conditions (of course, after SF, my whole definition of 'windy' has now changed). Funnily enough, it always seems to pick up about 8 knots between your upwind tuning checks and the first gun, leaving you to pull on a lot of strings without getting to try them out. Great suggestion from Gareth: put on the flattening reef. This was good and saved us a lot of grief later.

After the start, we were neck and neck with the boat underneath us for a very long time. However, despite a slight lift, the other boat was better at the speed/point tradeoff, and we were forced out. This time, however, we made it much further, and had much better lanes. After we tacked for a clear lane, we headed right, with the strategy of leading other right boats back. When we finally did this, it was magnificent to be sailing on starboard tack, looking up at the top mark, and not seeing any boats in front of our bow. This was not a sight we enjoyed very often. Sure enough, they did all eventually come charging out of the left, but apparently we rounded the top mark in the 20s. From then on, it was our race to drop places. The usual suspects prevailed: a place or two at the hoist, a slow reach, a missed jibe or bad jibing angle, extra tacks to clear for a lane at the mark, missing a shift, not concentrating, etc. For most of the race (and others) we could count on ok boat speed, probably at the 50th percentile level, meaning I think we were faster than at least half of the boats there (weight & new boat & sails helped). Of course, we didn't have the best height. This meant that with enough runway & assuming we didn't pick the wrong direction too badly, we could pick up a few places upwind if we fell too far back into the pack. However, for this last race, we didn't have it for the last beat - I couldn't quite find the grove steering, with the right balance of being powered up, yet not forced into pinching and having to jerk the tiller around. Anyway it still ended up being our 2nd-best finish, 45th, plus we had the experience of being able to look back at big packs of boats for lots of the race, and actually racing in the pack with boats around us. Exhilarating!

The End

The rest of the day was a blur. Gareth had brought Heinekens out to the race course for a celebratory drink on the way home (props to Gareth), but it was too windy to really enjoy them and actually make any progress to windward. At the beach, we rushed to derig, and I was stressing about getting derigged and the boat cleaned up in time to load the truck with the other East Coast teams. I needn't have worried. Loading the truck was a long painful process that meant most of us were very late for the banquet & prizegiving. In fact, Sarah and I weren't even able to attend as we had to leave the city at 8.30pm to head to the airport, return the rental car, and get organized for our flight.

The boat is now sitting at the American Yacht Club in Rye, NY, thanks to the hospitality of the local fleet, and I am figuring out what to do next.

Thanks for reading,


28 August 2009

"One More Night"

Today is the second last day of the worlds, and we are flying out tomorrow night at midnight. One race today, later start at 1.30pm due to reduced wind, and one race tomorrow.

Yesterday was a light day, with racing not starring until 1.30pm and boats having to be towed out to the starting area-- it's a long tow!

The first race was one of our best, and the second race was one of our worst, full of unforced errors by the skipper (that would be me). Due to the light wind and the fact that our dacron jib has been repaired with a piece of webbing on the leech, we took our new, never-before-used, mylar jib. Very sexy.

Race 1 started in about 10 knots with a 1.5 mile beat. I don't recall what our plan was, but we ended up blowing the start and had to tack and clear to the right, taking a lot of sterns. We must have been sailing pretty well as we ended up lifting above the rabbit. I think we had much improved boatspeed against the fleet, and we were working very hard to keep moving fast without giving up too much leeward distance. Certainly the new jib helped... We rounded in a big middle pack, managed to successfully set the kite & execute our maneuvers, and even could figure out the lifted tack. Short of calling the favored end wrong on the reaching finish & giving up one boat, we had a great race and finished 40th. Imagine if we had a front row start... w.r.t. the finish, we finish through a gate to leeward and then reach on port to the finish. We followed the fleet up to the windward end of the line, but it would have been faster to reach straight to the middle -- less distance & faster speed too.

Gareth and I worked well as a team that race, no doubt the fact that we were not physically at our limits really helped. Gareth was really great at giving info so we could cut through the fleet on port at the start.

For the second race, I managed to blow that start as well. Still setting up too early but not pulling the trigger until it's too late & other boats are giving us bad air. Mike Martin setup to leeward of us, reminds me of the old adage, if you don't know who the marshmallow is, it's you... For those who don't know, the marshmallow is the bad/slow sailor you like to start next to who makes it easy to sail past/over/under/faster than into clear air.

The plan for this race was go right for reduced flood current. In retrospect this was wrong, the play was go for velocity which by now was finally starting to increase, and the pattern is that it gets strongest between Alcatraz & Treasure Island first... that is the left. So we rounded in the bottom third, with a not very great run... In fact there was a huge hole at the leeward gate & I managed to do a very bad mark rounding, forced outside, and giving up 10 boats or so. We did work left here, out of necessity, but that meant we went up the port layline through the boats reaching down. Awesome. Managed to touch a boat at the jibe, so that was a 720. More boats passed. I think we may have salvaged something on the beat, again coming up through the port layline with boats bearing down on us with spinnakers up -- awesome again. This time I miced on the offset mark while setting up controls for the down wind (ram off, trap twings off, vang off, board up a touch), and we touched the offset mark. So... 360, see you other boats later. All the time the breeze was slowly building, and I was getting a little bit tired & making bad decisions. For the last beat, it had filled right in to 15-18, and although I had dropped the rig back a bit on the run in anticipation, it wasn't quite enough. Gareth made the call for us to drop back more, which was a great idea, as we were now zooming along, and this helped us catch some tail-end boats from the right due to good speed.

Unfortunately, with the tide I mis-called the layline for the finish, had to throw in an extra two tacks. Twice. The second time I tacked right in front of a ducking port-tacker and fouled him. This was as he was trying to duck us & cross another starboard tacker, who was fouled. We crossed the line, jibed for the 720, capsized, finished the 720, and refinished, losing about another 6 boats, Total cluster. Total circles that race: 5. Awesome. And, the third boat insisted on protesting the second boat (the one I fouled), so they had to protest us, which meant hanging around at the club until 8pm and missing dinner with our hosts. The protest was thrown out because we did the 720s. Feeling bad about my shitty sailing, I gave the guys I fouled some rum. They are young guys who will know what to do with it.

My one main lesson from that race is to not try to make aggressive shortcuts when the downsides are so big with a large fleet. Instead, focus on getting a good lane for yourself, and setting up well ahead of time for roundings & finished. Net result, 79 or something stupid like that.

27 August 2009

Worlds Race Day 4: preview

Today is worlds race day 4, the last 2-race day on which to attempt to achieve our goal of finishing both races.

Yesterday was the lay-day, where all we did was relax & rest, didn't even look at the boat. Sarah and I planned to head out over the Golden Gate bridge & see some natural beauty, etc., so long as it wasn't windy & it was warm.

However, the day was a lot like our sailing days: we got around the corner from where we are staying and clutch failed on the 20-year old Jeep we are borrowing. Can't blame the truck, we've been driving it pretty hard over the hills the past 10 days. So... the first half of our day off was spent hanging out with the tow-truck driver, a very nice guy who gave us a guided tour of the city.

Eventually we rented a new car (silver Dodge Charger, now we ride in super-style), and made it out to Sausalito for a relaxed lunch, followed by a walk in the Muir Woods. Stunning redwoods, I recommend it if you ever get the chance & desire to commune with nature a bit. We topped the day off with drunks & burgers at the St. Francis with my shore team who were doing the Wednesday night racing there.

What's on for today? According to Sailflow, not too much wind until later in the day, so we will likely have problems with boat speed & will need to work hard to keep the boat moving & pointing. It actually helps to have other boats around as they 'keep us honest' & motivated.

Other issue is the start. Early on I was setting up to early & being jammed up above the gate launch, with much maneuvering to try & slip in behind. Recently I have been setting up with a good hole, but not going early enough & boats are swooping down over the top of me. I think I need to punch out more and reach down under the gate launch to achieve max speed.

We will also seek continuous improvement on downwind crew work -- we are finally getting the kite up quickly thanks to new halyard setup (5th time lucky), and I will work on steering & keeping the boat stable during hoists, jibes, and douses.

I've learned to put more board up & let off a lot more vang on the downwind to avoid being overpowered & to stay in control. But, I feel I may be doing too much of it as we are not as powered up as much of the time as I would like. Like everything else, not too much, not too little, juuuuust right!

That leaves tactics & strategy -- going the right way -- which we have undoubtedly not been paying attention to here. Maybe if it's less crazy today I will get some of the numbers to make sense.

Wish us luck!

26 August 2009

Worlds Lay Day

Today is the lay day. That means no racing and a break.

My main goal today is to relax, not see the boat, and spend time with Sarah who flew out here last night. We hit the sack early, slept 10 hours. Left Gareth at the club drinking with other sailors. He's earned it!

Today's blog post is in multimedia format, brought to you by by Sail Groove and Marine Media Alliance.

This below video is me taking about how yesterday went.

Sailing Videos on Sailgroove

The basic theme is that we are essentially last, the exact details will depend on how many races we actually finish. But, no major damages.

24 August 2009

Worlds Day Whatever: Worlds Race Day 1

Today was worlds race day 1. We have yet to meet our goal of finishing both races on a two-race day, but are getting further down that course on the second day before wiping out for good.

It's been a few days since I last blogged, here's what happened.

3rd and last day of NAs: not good. Flips, bad starts, slowness, strong words, etc. Plus, not being able to finish the last race. But we've moved on...

Next two days: free. Gareth off to SoCal to see friends, I was domestic: paperwork for worlds, housekeeping, saw a movie, etc. Went sailing with my friends Jeff & Danielle. You'd think I'd be done with that, but it was easy: hardest part was keeping one hand on the boat and one hand on my beer. It was a Friday night beercan race out of San Francisco Yacht Club, which is, oddly enough not in San Francisco: it's on the other side of the bay. Very beautiful place, if you get a chance to visit or sail there.

I thought I'd give a short picture essay of what's been happening.

Even though we have eaten a lot of food like this:


we've seen a lot of this:


That's the centreboard & bottom of the boat. Note the Sharpie marker for size comparison. Now imagine 2 x 200+ pound guys on it righting the boat. Scary. Because the blade is so high aspect ratio, it needs speed to work. If not, you just stall and go really slow. So the key is to bear off even if you think it's the wrong thing to do: you will go faster, the blde will work REALLY WELL, and you will magically start pointing higher and going faster.

At least we haven't done something like this:


or this:


There are several masts broken like that, including Mike Martin who won the NAs and race 1 of the worlds. So no-one is immune, but we are working on staying safe & sound ourselves. Between today and the first day of the NAs there are probably no more spare masts left in the boat park.

The good news is that there is only one race tomorrow, at 2pm. The bad news is that there is only one race tomorrow, at 2pm. The wind builds all day, until by 2 it's cranking pretty hard. So we will get to head out in the thick of it.

So, final synopsis of our situation is:

* Sometimes we can go fast upwind, enough to be in the top half pack, when there are boats around to keep us focused and honest and we aren't too tired

* We have good starts 2/3 of the time

* We have a lot of downwind work to do. At least we have decided to remove the spinnaker halyard/ram puller concoction, and I can actually pull up the chute right away. That eliminates a lot of time in the 'death zone': running downwind in waves with the tiller between my knees.

* This event is physically grueling.

* We are having fun, even if we feel like we've been in a salt-water washing machine

20 August 2009

Worlds Day 4: NAs race day 2, it went better

We started the day by trying to sleep in a little better, have a relaxed breakfast, and then drive down to the club and not faff around with anything on the boat (since theoretically we did all that the day before).

OK, but:

- Ran into someone Gareth used to sail with in Bermuda, while eating breakfast in the coffee shop. Small world, but had to cut it short.

- Took a slightly different route, got stuck on one-ways going the wrong way from the club, and there was traffic since we were later.

It all worked out in the end, it turns out we had plenty of time, but I was a bit stressed -- all my carefully worked out plans were for nought!

I just had to faff around a bit worrying about tides & my mast ram calibration.

One the way out we realized that one of the turning blocks for the spinnaker halyard was melted away to just the pin on the sheave -- this was actually a replacement for the original block which had too much friction. And I thought I was just being a wimp, but in reality I was melting up all that plastic. We were able to rig it to not use that block, and the spinnaker was much easier to pull up.

My main goal today was to be in the right gear when the wind came up & get a good start. in the first race, we didn't get a good start, but were able to tack and clear behind some sterns. There was a bit of a righty and this worked for us, plus with a lane we got up to the mark in the middle somewhere. Where we really lost ground was downwind: hoisting & jibing the kite, sailing fast with it, etc. I am still too slow and being tired after the beat only makes it worse... Apparently though we finished 36th, which is 12 better than the first race yesterday. As Gareth says, keep this up and we will be winning in 3 races!

On the second race we got a great start: punched way out and sailing next to some of the big guys for a little while. "Looking like heroes". Although we had great lane and speed, you could see that it was still not enough -- basically some boats around us were cracked off more and cooking past us, while I was not depowered enough. I did find out that our board is not calibrated right, so we probably had it too far down going upwind -- sounds like it should be down while going upwind, but as you get over-powered you crack the board up a few inches as you rake back. We also put in a flattening reef, which is a line about 8-12 inches up above the clew, which keeps the boom out of your heads & the water when it gets a little crazy. We did get to the mark in a big pack, lots of traffic (30-40 boats worth), and bounced around trying to get through to the layline. There were some sterns we should have taken. The lesson there is all about traffic management & picking your route well ahead of time.

Then I got my tiller extension stuck to leeward on the hoist & capsized. So we packed it in and went to the beach rather than sail around in last for another hour. Good thing we did, because the trap twings popped out due to the spinnaker faffing around the mast in the water, and the spinnaker had several large rips in it (first day out too...). We had to sail in half of the way hiking out. Not so fast.

Boatwork at end of day:

- replace spinnaker/ram turning block -- we are now using an all-metal wire block with ball bearings, this one ought to last, third time lucky, right?

- pop out trap lines & replace them (Gareth working diligently on that now)

- mark CB positions

- get sails to sailmaker for repair tonight

- bolt in pole fork end that broke at BBR and was lashed in there

Outstanding boatwork before worlds:

- put trap lines back on

- replace junky spinnaker sheet turning blocks

Tomorrow we'll finish both races!

19 August 2009

Worlds Day 4: NAs race day 2, morning preview

Just got up, it's cold, foggy, and windy outside. We are staying way up on the top of a hill in SF, so it's different here from the beach. Key items for this morning: big breakfast (I was hungry sailing out to the course yesterday...).
Think I mislabeled the mast ram numbers, so will need to fix those to make sense.

By the way, good news is that yesterday we actually took some ropes & blocks off of the boat. Always nice to simplify some things...

Key kit here seems to be carbon. Large number of the people have carbon booms & poles. Many have a double-pole system. Key with that is it's not just two poles, one on each side: you have separate guys & sheets, and the guys are pre-wired into the pole with an eye, so there is no putting the guy into the fork. The crew only has to whale on the pole launcher line to put the pole out after the jibe (after letting the old one in before the jibe...)

Will try for pix today.

Worlds Day 3, NAs race day 1: Shotness

Shot. Busted. Beat. Done.

Two races scheduled for today starting at noon.

Results here , live & replay tracking here.

First race was 2 hours long, started in 12-16kts and ended up at 20-25, maybe more. We were totally busted. Finished the race in a bit of survival mode, looked at each other, had a snack, and evaluated the situation. I suggested to Gareth that we at least sail down and start the next race and see how we go. He looked at me like I was crazy, so we went in. Which was in and of itself a 45 minute beat in what seemed to us to be building wind for 2/3 of the time. I felt bad for skipping the second race but there were already 15 or more boats on the beach by the time we arrived. In fact, out of maybe 60 starters in the fleet, only 25 either started or finished the second race. There were several broken or bent masts, and probably a few broken spirits.

We were 49th. No capsizes, no swearing, no injuries, and nothing serious to be fixed on the boat. Other than too many ropes that have to be managed. Plus we got a hot shower and a beer when we got back while others were slogging away on the race course.

Here's how it went down:

* Our biggest problem was fitness and gear shifting when the wind built. We tuned up before the race in about 12-14 knots or so, and although the start was lousy, managed to get a lane and get going. The plan was to go right as that's the pro-forma thing to do here, but although we felt reasonably fast (esp. given our inexperience), we wound up on the outside of a left shift and rounded not very well. As the wind built I never changed the rake, which is the main gear change for more wind. As a result we were super over powered, beating ourselves up & getting tired, and not going fast. Plus, I think we did not have the board up enough. As far as numbers & tactics go, yeah, we weren't doing that for about half of the race.

* Second was hoists. There is no getting around the fact that I do not pull up the spinnaker very fast. This is slow on mark roundings. You don't want to be wallowing around going downwind trying to hoist the kite, it's much better to have the crew on the wire and try to pass some boats. Realized sailing out (super beautiful scenic sail past Alcatraz, by the way) that if you hit the spin halyard cleat with your foot the wrong way, it uncleats. So I need to observe foot placement discipline.

* Second beat we picked up a nice left shift and passed maybe 10-15 boats, but had a really hard time hoisting and staying high enough on the reach to the jibe mark. Short answer: lift up the board! When wire-running downwind, want board down to keep crew on wire as you try to slide low, but trying to hit the reach mark were just totally overpowered. And the main hits the spin sheets so can't go out.

* Jibing, I am not rotating the spinnaker enough, plus I need to do something with the sheet so it doesn't wrap on the end of the boom. Very slow & dangerous...

* Third beat, is when I started envisioning the cold beer & hot shower back on land. This is when we were just done by being overpowered.

* Apparently there was a run after that. My memory is not so clear... Very interesting criss-crossing other boats both down wind and upwind while reaching along. That would be a spectacular collision.

* Slog to the finish, trying to hike but not doing a very good job of it. Not sure why I didn't feel the need to depower -- some complex about not wanting to put my head in the boat and adjust it. Not like I can see anything else anyway going upwind, so what's the problem?

* Goals for tonight: after taco bar and beer at the club, we are sacked out. Gareth is already asleep.

* Goals for tomorrow: less time messing around with boat, get out there, get numbers for the beats, stay 'in-tune', pull up spinnaker quickly, rotate well on jibes, and have a good start. How hard could it be?

Apparently this was an average day. At least we are getting what we came for!

18 August 2009

Worlds day 2: boatwork...

Today's main problems to solve were threefold:

1. Buy a paddle.

2. Bolt on extra lead and have it inspected by a measurer.

3. Go sailing.

The third was not achieved and we didn't leave the boat park until 8pm. We started the day helping Adam move some heavy pipes, etc., because we needed to go to his office to pick up boat parts like McLube and mylar tape and blocks for the shrouds, that were being delivered there. Then we went to buy a paddle. Next thing you know it's 11.30 and we are at a West Marine down by the airport. Now we were truly stuck in the vortex...

We didn't get back to the dinghy park until 1.30pm, after lunch and picking up my shades from the apartment. Gareth went to work McLubing and mylaring and generally making my boat look like we know what we are doing. I worked on drilling holes in the lead, drilling holes in boat, and joining the two with screws. This took a long time due to the trickiness of getting the nuts on the bolts. This also required taking out the mast, and once that happened, it was clear we weren't going sailing. Disappointing.

Anyway, at that point we decided we could epoxy, so we screwed in new turning blocks for my shrouds, the old ones were the wrong type installed the wrong way, and when we took them off, little ball bearings went all over my boat, since they were all busted up. So glad to be changing that before those blow up 3 miles downwind of the beach.

Importantly, Gareth also redid the chafe guard on his trap twings, the 'old' one (i.e. has 90 minutes of sailing on it) had chafed through already... So this was good, it means he is less likely to fall off of the boat tomorrow.

Had dinner with the two Danish guys next to us in the boat park, and now we are beat.

Tomorrow is going to be crazy.

I haven't had a chance yet to study the tides or even really get the local knowledge.

Not to mention get used to sailing in heavy air.

Wish us luck!

p.s. It's cold here! Jeans & jacket & hat all day.

17 August 2009

Worlds Day 2: now we are sailing (and measuring)

The plan for today was simple: show up early, do some minor boatwork, measure in (as much as possible, given I don't have a class registration sticker or measurement certificate), and go sailing in the afternoon.

Mostly, that's what happened, although running around for the measurement was a bit stressful. Probably didn't help that we started the day off going the wrong way down a street -- that's why that guy was beeping at me! The coffee just hadn't kicked in yet.

We got the club shortly after 8, popped out the rig, put on transom flaps (poor man's style with plastic & tape, not the carbon fibre ones everyone else has), chafe-proofed the trapeze lines -- they are basically day-glow string that is as strong as wire -- and put the sails in line for measurement. I also sent Gareth off down the beach with the boat for it to be weighed and have the spars measured.




We are sailing off a beach next to the club, which is OK, but it's basically wide open to the public, and a 10-minute walk from the club.

Anyway, the boat was 2 kilos underweight (with 10 in it already!), so we have 2 kilos of lead we need to bolt on tomorrow. Also, we are missing a paddle, so add that to the shopping list tomorrow morning.

By the time we got through all that, put the boat in its correct spot by the beach, and got the rig in, it was time for lunch. More boatwork, Gareth tweaking the spin halyard blocks, I was busy putting shock cord on my mainsheet, taping on the tuning guide, etc.

So by 4 we were ready to go sailing -- by now it was super windy with the classic SF Bay wind pattern ramped up to max, and we were both a little nervous. Would something blow up? Would we be able to handle it? How many times would we flip, etc.

We did not get off to a great start, sitting on the beach with the sails up but no vang or cunningham attached. We were tweaking that with my new 3DL mylar main flapping away at full speed, adding years to its life -- that wasn't pleasant. But we launched without any incidents.

It was sweet. Because the tide was coming in with the wind, the water was quite flat, and after going upwind for a bit, we popped the chute and jammed downwind. It was like riding in a limo -- hardly any waves, and moving quickly. I think we even managed a jibe or two without incident.

Of course, between the tide & reaching under the kite, it didn't take long before we needed to head back upwind. Which took about 80% of our sailing time... We were raked about 3/4 of the way back, and spent most of the time with the main out to the corner, or with the top totally inverted. But the boat was flying upwind, and I was working on not pinching, and not being afraid to let out the main to stay flat. Of course, it always feels good by yourself, so the test will be when we are lined up against other boats.

We capsized twice -- once on a tack where I didn't get the main out, and also on a spinnaker hoist. Trying to steer the boat between my knees as it accelerates down waves, while hoisting the kite, is obviously a technique I will need to learn the finer points on.

We only were out for an hour, as the fog seemed like it was coming in, and we didn't want to beat ourselves up too much, but that sail made up for all the other BS. Enjoying a frosty one at the club bar after, we could watch the sun set behind the Golden Gate bridge. Magnificent.

Tomorrow: shopping, picking up boat parts, boat work, a sail, and a relaxing night!

16 August 2009

Worlds: Day 1

Today was the first full day in SF. The plan was: unload truck, stick mast in & do some simple rig work, buy wetsuits, and go sailing. Along the way we would find the measurer and get that sorted out.

Here what really happened:
  • Guys showed up early to unload the truck, so it was done by the time I showed up at 10am.
  • Gareth was a little late from a party last night, but since the truck was unloaded I told him to take his time.
  • Futz around with covers and tools and moving stuff to the storage container.
  • Measure the rig & black bands, am found by the measurer, he will want to do it all again anyway.
  • Chat with arriving 505 sailors. Gareth knows everybody. Or at least they know him from when he was living in the container at his previous worlds.
  • Put the mast in, forget the forestay, tip the boat over and install it.
  • Pack up tools & sails & car.
  • Eat lunch.
  • It is now 2pm, not sure how that happened.
  • Spend an hour getting lost in SF trying to find the surf shop. At least is very pretty and beautiful weather
  • Find surf shop, all their suits are very expensive.
  • Find another surf shop, basically by luck on our way back to the club. I buy the cheapest thing that fits, but Gareth likes what he has relative to what's on sale -- they are only selling full-body suits with long arms.
  • Back to the club, it is now 4.30pm, we have n hour to work on the boat before heading back to meet our hosts and get keys, find the place we are staying, etc.
  • In one hour manage to stick on the mast ram calibration scale. Obviously this involved lots of talking to other 505 sailors about various topics, such as "what does this rope do"...
  • Back to where we are staying, clean up, find grocery store, eat food, write blog posts, and realize body is telling me it's 2am in the real world...

The boat: BER 9005

As far as I can tell, this boat, BER 9005, is one of the newest 505s in the world. There may be one or two that have more recent sail numbers. Doug Hagan was rigging up USA 9004 across the parking lot from me today.

It's built by Rondar, out of glass & carbon & foam & gosh knows what else they put in them these days. I didn't think I was buying a carbon boat, but apparently they all have that in them these days.

It has the key feature of being brand-new and watertight. Remember that new-car smell? It's like that. When I open up the inspection ports to the buoyancy tanks, dust comes out... That's how watertight it is. Let's hope it stays that way for a long time.

It's a launcher boat -- pretty much all new ones are.

Generally, I've got very simple systems for the 505. I wanted to start with where my last boat left off, and not add a system unless I knew what I was going to do with it.
  • Single aluminum pole & aluminum boom. Lots of guys have carbon booms & poles, which are now allowed under the class rules, some are trying double poles. I figured, I'd never sailed with double poles, why start now, and why pay the extra expense for carbon when I will never be able to really fix it right in Bermuda & the boat is wicked underweight anyway.
  • Standard endless spinnaker sheets. A few teams are using lazy guys & sheets, so there isn't a twing, but instead a separately adjustable guy attached near the shrouds. I do have guy adjusters, a purchase on the guy turning block at the back of the boat, allowing me to pull the guy off the forestay even under load, without having to retie the jibing knots in the spinnaker.
  • Superspar M2 mast.
  • Ram-up is rigged to pull the bottom of the mast forward when the spinnaker halyard is pulled tight; this helps prevent mast inversion under heavy pressure from the kite (since the spin halyard exit is about 80-100cm above the hounds). This of course is also the system that the spinnaker halyard is getting jammed in. if it keeps acting up, I am going to knock it in the head. I can pull ram-up on myself, thank you very much.
  • High aspect ratio Waterat blades, carbon tiller. The blades are wicked narrow compared to what I used to have. I think they are less forgiving about stalling & pinching the boat, and need speed to work well. But when they do, they really work. Hopefully I will get my driving technique in gear for them.
  • North 3DL main & Jib. I used to have Norths on my old boat, and am comfortable with the sailmaker, etc. Although many teams are using Glaser sails.
  • Fixed jib track with manual adjustments -- no continuous adjustments or in-out sideways adjustments. That's just something else for me to get wrong right now.
  • Most things are rigged with very small carbo blocks, and thin dyneema or vectran or similar line.
  • 20 kilos of corrector weights... maybe I could afford to beef up some of that rigging...
  • Mo
I think that's it. Very simple compared with what some of these guys are running. Hopefully much more info about that kind of stuff later one.

Message from our sponsors

I'd like to take this post to thank some of the people who made this crazy project possible, either directly or indirectly.

- All the 505ers who answered my emails about boats etc., especially Jesse Falsone whose email tipped me over the edge into buying a new boat.

- Tyler Moore for agreeing to do the rigging. As was said to me at BBR by someone, "rigging boats isn't the easiest way to make money".

- John Wyles for organizing the truck to SF.

- My good friends Kenny and Suzanne in Boston, for cooking me dinner and agreeing to store the boat in the driveway for a few weeks. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but they live in Brookline, so it's probably illegal...

- My SF shore crew, Adam & Alicia, Danielle & Jeff, for helping me organize housing & logistics, making me pancakes, and loaning me vehicles.

- My employer -- somehow they pay me enough money that I could buy a new boat, while also giving me enough vacation that I can come to SF for two weeks. Not sure how that works...

- And everyone else who has put up with me talking smack about this recently. You know you're just jealous.

BBR Retrospective

Last weekend we did a 'warmup' at the Buzzard's Bay Regatta, out of New Bedford. In many ways this regatta soothed my nerves a bit, because I had never taken the covers off of the boat. So there was a lot of uncertainty.

We drove down there (about 75 minutes south of Boston) on Thursday night with the boat behind a U-Haul pickup truck, dropped the boat off at the club, and went to stay with our hosts. The first race was scheduled to start at 10.30am the next morning, so I was a little worried it wasn't going to happen for us.

Up bright and early, we miraculously were able to get parking right next door to the club. Even more miraculously, we were able to get the mast in the boat and all the lines just about connected, and the mast rake calibrated in time to make it out for the first race.

Let me tell you, this is no mean feat. There have been days in Bermuda where we haven't been able to get 8119 off the dock in two hours, with fussing and messing with strings. This is a testimony to the guys (Tyler Moore and Peter Alarie) who rigged the boat, that it went so seamlessly.

The only problems were, the job cloth was missing, and the centreboard downhaul.

Of course, halfway out to the race course we figured out there was a downhaul for the CB, and on the second day w figured out that the jib halyard was adjustable with a handy cleat. So those weren't problems after all...

The goals of this event were three-fold:

1. Get the boat to a place where it could be trucked to the worlds

2. Make sure all the pieces of the boat fit together

3. Practice sailing together in a regatta.

Goal 1 was wildly successful, the boat is now in SF.

Goal 2 was also successful, pretty much everything worked, although there are a few nits, for example our spinnaker halyard jams sometimes, and the spinnaker doesn't like to come out of the tube. I chalk most of that up to the fine tuning that you can only do after you have been sailing a bit -- knowing what chafes on what, and where you need to spray the McLube, and so on.

Goal 3 was successful, in that we practiced together, but illustrated we have a lot to learn. On a pure boat-handling basis, we are far above where I was the first time I sailed a 505, and far better than where we started, but we need to work on communication & synchronization in the boat -- that can only come with time.

On a boat-speed basis, given that we have a brand new boat & brand-new sails, I was a bit disappointed -- we could keep up with most of the people at least some of the time (we even passed a boat downwind once, new for me), but in some clinch situations, couldn't keep the bow up while maintaining speed, etc. Basically, we need to 'find our gears' -- for the wind condition, be dialed in, not overpowered, & driving correctly (e.g. I am still in the habit of trying to point when the boat needs to go fast and then height will come). We also need to work on what to do, say, to switch to point mode at the start. This was inevitable given that we have never tuned up against another boat before, not the least the new one.

That leaves the skipper factor. None of our starts were stellar, many were poor. It's been a while since I drove in a sailboat race, and it's clear that my concentration level needs to kick up a notch. I'd be good on the first beat, e.g. in phase, with a plan, but then spinnaker trouble would blow it all out of my head, and halfway up the second beat I'd be thinking -- "WHY are you going this way, when the whole fleet is going the other way, and you just passed three boats by going the other way..."

So overall, it went exactly as I expected, although not as well as I had dreamed it might...

Gareth was a great team-mate, really good at helping put the boat together and figuring out what goes where. The weather was good, the beer was cold, and nothing really broke (except the mirror on the U-Haul truck).

So I call the event a success...

14 August 2009

This is not an Optimist Regatta

This is not an Optimist Regatta -- and by that I am not referring to my well-known sunny personality.

There will be no yummy mummy to pack our lunch in the morning. No daddy to put the boat in the water for us. And no famous sailor to debrief us at the end of the day. Unless you count Danielle & Adam, veterans of the International One-Design fleet around the world, now based in SF... But I am bringing rum & ginger beer, with which I hope to coax tips out of some of my fellow sailors. Luckily, the 505 fleet is known for being generous & gregarious... There will be a 1-hour sail out to the race course across the San Francisco Bay, and a 1.5-2 hour sail back upwind, when it's windy at the end of the day.

There is no getting around the fact that, in the big picture, we are woefully under-prepared. We have practiced, but less than 20 times, and Bermuda in June & August is not known for its wind. We have a new boat, but we have already broken the end of the spinnaker pole. And, as for fitness, did I mention that I am recently recovered from a slipped disc? No big deal, I have a bottle of Advil & a heating pad.

Hence our first team motto is 'In over our heads'. And the second one is 'More money than sense' -- at least concerning me...

So why are we doing this?

To be honest, despite all the stress in dealing with the logistics, and the pressure of the racecourse, it all is worth it once you are planing upwind with a neutral tiller, cutting through the water. Or you turn the top mark, pop the chute, and start whooping as the boat skips down the waves, spray in the skipper's face. And who can pass up a chance to sail for 2 weeks in San Francsico Bay in 505s, the cadillac of dinghies?

Why Nicotine Patch?

Why Team Nicotine Patch? It helps to know that the first boat (7839) was christened 'Cigarette Girl' by me, outside of my friend's (first) wedding reception in Larchmont, in the process breaking a champagne glass she probably had to pay for (sorry!). Why Cigarette Girl? Well, it's not a very good story, but it does involve a frenchman and women selling cigarettes on the back of sailboats. I can't remember why...

So Nicotine Patch is the name proposed to me by Howard, who, I believe, is the first person I have ever stepped into a 505 with. The hope is that the patch will help me get over all the problems of the original cigarette...

In the beginning...

In the beginning, there was grad school. And the realization that sailing Lasers was really not going to be the way forward, at least as far as meeting fun people and having a good time goes.

A little research, and then there was BER 8739. I acquired this boat from Ted Ferrarone. Judging by his 505 trading activity over the past few years, I think it marks the beginning of his role as a "fleet enabler", providing liquidity to the 505 trading pool. I raced that boat actively in the summer of 2002, with Alex Mevay (fellow MIT Sailing alum, and future mini-Transat racer, to give an idea of the sort of company I keep), putting many miles on the Saturn in the New England / Canada area, and even hitting Florida twice for the mid-winters with unsuspecting friends as crew.

Grad school finally intervened, and the boat was stored in the bat cave for a few years whiel I graduated. When I moved back to Bermuda for some reason I decided to take that boat with me. Thanks to the help of a good friend, a little mis-communication, and the trade of a used Saturn to my brother-in-law for driving my boat to NJ, the boat arrived in Bermuda. It ended costing me more to ship the boat than to buy it, but at least it got its own container. Except for the mast. Which got run over by a forklift. And of course, was uninsured. That boat is still in my garage, with the deck half-stripped, and lots of new epoxy after the shroud tackle ripped out of the boat...

Not much happened in Bermuda with me and 505s, I was busy doing other things, but once I caught onto the idea of the 2009 worlds last year, I decided to by BER 8119 -- no more wooden foredeck, 'modern' bow launcher, etc. That was good until I ripped out 8119's shroud tackle as well. Turns out his boat had other problems as well, leaving me with two 505s in the yard.

Fast forward to March 2009. At this point I was crewless, my then crew having decided to move to New Zealand to learn how to make wine (can't blame him really...), and injured with a slipped disk, thanks to a Viper regatta in Miami.

So, will it all work out? Stay tuned...

505 Worlds 2009: Team Nicotine Patch -- "In over our heads".

I am sitting in Miami Airport, on a 4 hour layover on my way to San Francisco for the 2009 505 World Championships. The next two weeks marks the end of about 18 months of talking smack, day-dreaming, and generally doing a lot of stressing out (actually, my normal situation) to get to this event.

What did it take to get to this stage?

Crew? check. One Gareth Williams, rugby player, two-time 505 worlds crew, secret weapon.
Boat? check. One brand new Rondar, only sailed 3 days, BER 9005.
Sails? check. One set North kevlar/mylar 3DLs and spinnaker.
Tools? Ummm. Three screwdrivers, two pliers, and a leatherman. Does that count? I have duct tape and dyneema rope too...
Knowledge of what we are doing? That's why I brought Gareth.
Friends with houses in San Francisco? check. Re-check at the end of two weeks...

This is the first of a series of blog posts detailing our adventure. Stay tuned...

06 April 2009

Tragic lack of judgment

This weekend has left me in a very negative mood, despite the great weather, spending time with family and friends, and crossing a few big TODOs off of my list.

The reason is that I am beginning to doubt that anyone on this island has an iota of good judgment, or could add one plus one and get three... I mean two.

1) Saturday 11:45am, I am heading east in my car just west of Barnes Corner. I am required to come to a full stop in my lane to make room for an SAL cement truck that is passing a stopped bus while at full speed. He gave me a thank-you honk. Heck, at least I am still alive.

2) Saturday afternoon, I am now heading west in my car on Middle road just past the end of Ord Road. I am required to come to almost a complete stop to make room for a passing car. That car was passing not one, not two, but three cars.

I have no idea what happened on Saturday night to those poor people on South Shore Road -- but with experiences like mine on Saturday, it's not hard to make some educated guesses.

3) This is unrelated to road safety but in the news this morning I learned that Government did deliberately mislead seniors about FutureCare to avoid over-subscription. Has the Government done anything in a straightforward, up-front, and honest way recently? The right thing to do would have been to admit they could only accept X seniors, open applications to all eligible, and have a lottery or some other criteria. That would avoided leaving seniors feeling confused and cheated.

In a similar vein, I now see that Government is mooting a congestion charge, presumably using the Electronic Vehicle Registration (EVR) system. Does anyone remember the promises that this would not be used for congestion charges? Of course at the time it was obvious to see that was likely not the case -- in all of the system manufacturer's press releases, the only application mentioned for EVR was congestion charging and tolling.

17 February 2009

Julian Hall makes $200k/year

Heard on the radio this morning that Julian Hall now makes $200,000 a year as a special consultant to the Ministry of Works & Engineering, up from $119,000. I would love to know what he does for them. At least this time it's a local Bermudian consultant...

16 February 2009

What did he mean? Sally Bassett & South Africa

I wrote a letter to the Royal Gazette about Rolfe Commissiong's latest tempest in a teacup (original link to my letter here, Rolfe Commissong's response here):

February 11, 2009

Dear Sir,

In today's article on the unveiling of the Sally Bassett statue, you quote Rolfe Commissiong as saying that the Governor's remarks were "insensitive and racially invidious", because the Governor drew a parallel between our statue and South Africa's Blood River Monument. It is unfortunate that Mr. Commissiong cannot see that there is more than one way to make a point.

As Government's race relations consultant, he has the unenviable job of helping our island understand the past and present of race relations. But, he only knows how to do this one way: by verbally whipping whites. Predictably, this is not getting the desired response from everyone; we all know that honey draws more flies than vinegar.

To me, the Governor was making the point that despite the atrocious events of apartheid, and the importance of the Blood River monument to apartheid's creators, even South Africa's post-apartheid government could see fit to leave the Blood Rver statue standing. And, if this is the case, whites in Bermuda can try to understand the importance of the Sally Bassett statue, even though they find it an unpleasant reminder of history.

Douglas S. J. De Couto Ph.D., J.P.


12 February 2009

It could be worse

Apparently the bad economy is causing ex-pats to leave Dubai in droves, according to the NYTimes.

11 February 2009

The Assimilated Negro

Just came across this blog: The Assimilated Negro. It's funny & pointed & you should read it.

Dynamics of Diversity

A friend recently pointed me to this pamphlet on the "Dynamics of Diversity".  It's about "insiders" versus "outsiders", and although it's aimed at corporations or other organizations, I think it provides a useful way to look at our actions and relations to others when thinking about how to improve race relations.  For example, whites can be though of as the insiders and blacks as outsiders, to use the common stereotypical view (we're off to a good start already here, aren't we?), but it can also apply to women vs. men, or other divisions or groupings.  Within each group people can be of a different type on a ladder of types.  Insiders can be "unintentional offenders", "intentional offenders", "avoiders", or "change agents".  Outsiders can be "assimilators", "separatists", "fighters",  or "change agents".  The goal is to move along the ladder toward being a change agent...

Where are you?

09 February 2009

Truth on Tourism?

I am so confused about what is going on with tourism and air arrivals.

From the Royal Gazette tonight: "Air and cruise arrivals were both down for 2008, Premier and Tourism Minister Ewart Brown announced today."

From the PLP blog, their blurb is titled: "Tourism weathers the economic storm".

Apparently not...

The PLP also writes, "The free publicity and affirmation of Bermuda from an international superstar like Beyonce is worth it's (sic) weight in gold." Well, it wasn't free, we paid a lot of money to get her here.

All I can to say is show me the numbers so I can make up my own mind.

Sally Bassett Statue

Tonight I was able to spend a brief time at the dedication of the Sally Bassett statue at the Cabinet Office. It was a nice ceremony, if a bit cold outside: African drumming, a blessing, singing, a reading from a play about Sally Bassett, speech from the Governor, Jennifer Smith, etc.  Not many whites.

I am still trying to figure out exactly the Governor's speech. He gave three examples of memorials around the world that were not exactly welcomed in their location.  His first example was perhaps the most controversial: the Blood River memorial in South Africa, erected by the South Africans to commemorate the Boer victory against the Zulus. It was thought that with the end of apartheid and the change in government, that memorial would be removed but apparently it still stands, although it is not pleasant to all.  I suppose then the Governor's words were not that complicated: sometimes we need to remember things that are not pleasant to us.

At the same time, I have to agree with other commentators that there are many other statues that could have been erected that would draw support from whites as well.  We ought to have the Sally Bassett statue, but perhaps we can have one about the end of slavery as well. In my view although this government and many of their supporters are correct when they say that "whites" need to face up some unpleasant facts of Bermuda's past, I think they ought to throw some carrot in with the stick... 

We can look forward to another sculpture this year, commemorating the Theatre Boycott. This one was commissioned by the Corporation of Hamilton, and is due to be unveiled sometime this year (which was one reason the Corporation could not accept the Sally Bassett statue for City Hall).

15 January 2009

How will Obama change how we talk about race?

This NYTimes article describes how Obama is an ice-breaker for many people to talk about race in a better way. I am not so sure it's been a net win for us here in Bermuda. Perhaps I'm getting cynical -- I didn't even take the time to fully read Rolfe Commissiong's latest piece in the Sun. Oh, and by the way, Obama would win for the UBP in Paget West.