Sunday, August 5, 2018

On Board Executive Teams in High End Sailing - 4 keys to Success

10 years ago a friend of mine at the top of the sport in the business of One Design Sailing dropped out of the sport. When he came back, I had never left from sailing 100+ days a year and it was obvious the time away had hurt his details, but not his passion. He quickly got reoriented, got back in the business and won a World Championship in the span of 3 years. Along the way we campaigned a J/24 together and won a lot of events, but never the big one, and when push came to shove we had to break up the band, he had a top Professional past World Champion ready to help and I had to run my family business and start a family of my own.

I have gotten to sail with some really incredible people over the years and some have them proven better at there jobs of sailing than many of senior executives I have met in the business world. Here are some of the things the best in sailing have taught me.

The following are 4 strategies used by nearly all high end teams in sailing, and are extremely similar to executive business best practice.

1. Study, learn and be active in getting better, there is no other way. Videos, practice, and talking to good people are the best, time on the water, but the learners win in sailing, like business!
2. You wont feel like practicing at non events, we are not olympians, but practice is where it is at. Shoot for a 2x practice to race ratio in hours and you will watch your results grow dramatically. Write down all rig settings, sail settings and journal all events in a spreadsheet. I have notes from every major regatta I have sailed in, in detail and review them prior to returning to that location.
3. Your ability to motivate retain and get/be onboard the best crew is part of the deal. Sometimes great team members are holding you back, sometimes its the other way around, try to find a balance and show appreciation for the opportunity and the chance to be on the team. Be on time. Don't roll in late smelling of Rum, fold the sails, wait to eat until all the work is finished.
4. Communication is absolutely the best skill you can have on a boat. Build and maintain your own clearly stated vocabulary you establish and build upon, including your own moves, like a mexican drop, a wing on wing, all of your coordination has to be done in words and be matched with timing and execution. Narrow key words to one word phrases, like, cut, trim, ease, full speed, half speed, luff, flat tack/gybe (no roll in big breeze, waves or being close to other boats). This alone creates a crisp time sensitive communication stream that is adaptable and proactive in very tight spots, and will save you 5-10 pts a regatta.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

How to win races - master of the not so obvious list

1. Show up on time, know the course and don't foul anyone.
2. Do not capsize, and have a reliable plan for what to do, and when to do it, should something happen, this applies to several things.
3. Avoid breaking things by checking them occasionally for wear.
4. Sail fast.
5. Sail less distance.
6. Eat and drink the right amounts.
7. Dont do it if it isn't fun, but remember practicing, boat prep, drills, speed testing, fitness, and losing or gaining weight will make you have more fun.
8. Always try to improve or learn, if you make this fun, it is likely you will win more races.
9. When you are at smaller events or practicing, experiment, so that you learn something about your boat, or yourself.
10. Do not obsess about the results, obsess about how well you sailed overall, about your tacks, about your starts, revisit #8, and soon enough the results will come.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Sailing Optimist

I grew up with a dad who loved to sail and to race, so in many ways I was exposed to the culture of the sport. He often disappeared on weekends to sail his Finn or his Laser. As I grew to the age of 10 or so, I showed a lot of interest in sports, but it was soccer and swimming for me. At this point my dad wanted to spend time with us and sail at the same time, so he bought a 28 foot cruising sailboat, and we spent weekends sailing about the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

I was playing youth soccer and was on a swim team, sports was a key element to me, but sailing was not that interesting, my dad did it, and with my independence well established, spent a lot of time down below reading, popping up to take a swim or to tack.

At age of 11, one of my friends asked me to join him in sailing an Optimist dinghy for a few weeks at a local club. The club was extremely welcoming, without membership I was able to borrow an Optimist and set my own course with some instruction. For the first time, I was able to rig, set up and helm my own boat. For whatever reason, this sparked me. On the mornings we would sail, I was so excited, would count the hours until the time would come. I loved buzzing around the harbor. I learned to tack, to gybe, to dock the boat, launch rig and round marks.

Having a welcoming organization, access to equipment and being mentored to rig, set up, care for and sail on my own boat had a huge impact on my direction and taught me those invaluable life lessons. I can only imagine what this must mean to all kids who get this chance, it is huge!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Role of Innovation in Sailing - Drag Reduction

This post has gotten the most attention and traffic, I have updated it slightly and reposted.

In 2008, the revered and often fabled government space agency NASA was recruited by a highly successful brand of sporting goods to test drag reduction on the companies products. The purpose of the testing was to determine drag reduction on a piece of equipment that would be widely used in the sport, primarily cloth or textile based. The resulting product would give the Olympic athletes in that sport significant advantage for early adoption. The engineers at NASA were given very specific parameters to test the material based on the companies inherent knowledge of the product. The data produced would be generated using all of the processes that NASA had been using for many of its testing protocols for the various traditional applications, rockets and planes. NASA's testing platforms and standards would be implemented. The data and resulting recommendations would clearly would be highly credible and likely lead to the production of an innovative product.

After extensive testing of various materials, the data and its resulting product was patented in Spain, and under the new Madrid protocol for worldwide Patent enforcement, became an exclusive product as far as the patent law would allow.

As a result the athletes that adopted the product early won nearly all of the events at the years summer games in Athens, in many cases establishing unprecedented margins of victory and in the process setting numerous world records. The international sporting authority in question, did not have a rule in place that prohibited the use of the new items, and significantly did not have a blanket rule to prevent the use of something not approved previously. As a result the Americans adopted it widely and quickly (it is not sailboat racing, even though I purposely connected the phenomenon from the sport). Micheal Phelps won 8 gold medals in the sport the product was used in, and broke numerous records doing so. The Speedo LZR suit reduced drag by 1.8-2.2%. NASA quickly discovered that they could run water drag reduction simulations using a wind tunnel on the 60 or so provided fabrics by speeding up the tunnel about 15 times to produce exactly the same drag as water. A similar water test would have been extremely time consuming and expensive. The test was done very quickly, and a suit was produced with similar expedition.

The athletes in question saved 2% of energy expenditure, providing the smallest of spurts required for end of the race kicks. Nearly all of the athletes ended up with the suit at the Olympics. Athletes discovered wearing two suits added to the buoyancy. A single female athlete was singled out and reprimanded for its usage despite not having a rule for it. Since the adoption of the suit, the rules have been much more clearly defined by the international Swimming governing body.

The case has many parallels to the sport of sailing. Sailing rewards innovation in cases where rules don't limit it. Dennis Conner remains the only person to have won the Star World Championships by having won every single race in the series. The Star class is a box rule, not a one design, and does allow for development of equipment in certain parameters. The feat of winning every single race at the supremely competitive Star Class World Championships has never been repeated, and it never will be, if you ask Dennis himself. Dennis had used a new fabric in the sails that produced a significant speed advantage, it was within the rules and he apologetically destroyed the world class fleet.

In the World Series of Sailing, the 1983 America's Cup, team leader and sailings lone Sports Illustrated Cover man Dennis Conner, was both victim to and then benefactor of innovation. Australia II's winged keel took away what had long been, the longest known winning streak in terms of time span in the history of human sporting events and thus in one fell swoop, created a intense culture of competitive innovation in the sport of sailing. When Dennis Conner returned to Australia in 1987 to win it back, he implemented a rigorous  two boat testing program in the condition specific location of Hawaii.

Conner also formed a partnership with company, 3M. 3M, a company whose internal company Mantra is "Failure is a good thing" and has long rewarded its employees to to generate 25% of its revenue from new products every year, delivered a drag reduction product, called Riblets. Conner used this on 1987 Star & Stripes to win the Cup back, and in the process, win a ticker tape parade down Madison avenue in New York.

Would Micheal Phelps and Dennis Conner have won the events without innovation?

One Design classes have to pay attention to innovation and make sure it does price out, or open the door to a massive discrepancies in performance.

Why am I going slow?

Today,  I still get the excited feeling off independence and freedom when I rig up my own boat, or hook up the Laser trailer and drive to an event, even though lately I am off the pace of the top guys locally, begging the question, are my tight pants really a problem?

I had a steak dinner with Andy Horton a few years back in Miami just prior to the OCR. Andy described the effect of his recent change in his Star boat design in meters at the weather mark, all other things being equal. Andy is a very talented (and analytical thinking) sailor. He also explained to me why footing in lifts (and designing the boats that way, with fuller bow sections to aid a speed build) is the key to winning in the Americas Cup boats, v5. I digress, (but actually that is as important as anything I have learned from anyone).

Here is my calculation for a Laser.

I am using something called Sail Area Displacement Ratio (also noted here as SA/D), something that seems to be used a lot to check a boats performance.

Sailor*Total Displacement*SA/D
215 397         20.91
210 392        21.08
205 387 21.26
200 382 21.45
195 377        21.64
190 372        21.83
185 367        22.03
180 362 22.23
175 357         22.44
170 352        22.65
165 347        22.87
160 342        23.09
155 337         23.32
150 332        23.55
145 327 23.79
140 322 24.03
135 317  24.29

Underlying Assumptions
Laser Weighs 130lbs
Spars Weigh   15lbs
Boards Weigh 15lbs
Rigging Weighs 10lbs
No allowance for clothing. You can take your naked weight 185, weigh your clothing and get 195.

First, compare that to a 175 Lbs all up and you get a difference in SA/D of 22.44-21.64= 0.8
.8 as a percentage of 22.44 is 3.56%

Second figure out the % advantage this turns into: a 175 lb sailor has a 3.56 percent advantage downwind and in light wind over someone who is 195 lb based on SA/D.

To complete the circle and get to Andy's turn everything in to meters concept: On a 1 km leg that is 35.6 meters, about 8 Laser Boat-lengths (assuming equal skill) (assuming SA/D is 100% relevant and significant)

If you double the difference in weight from 195 to 155 you get 23.31-21.64 = 7.16%

On a 1 km leg that is 71.6 meters, about 16 Laser Boat-lengths (assuming equal skill) (assuming SA/D is 100% relevant and significant)

So it makes sense almost universally people say 185 is the proper weight for the boat looking at the chart. Most boats have these proper weight ranges for a reason, here is a good example.

It also makes sense that technique and skill compensate for much of the difference in One Design sailing, so the weight range is able to be quite broad.

Monday, September 28, 2015

One Design Class success, what happened to the Farr 40 and 30?

A word of caution, this is a long form piece, so please hang in there, the basic argument is decline in participation is due to expense and lack of enjoyment of the owners.

The Farr 40 and Farr 30 Classes, whats going on?

I am trying to sort out why these 2 monumental classes have risen and fallen since inception in 1997. I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the much debated US decline of sailing. Some of it has been pretty well discussed in the sailing media and in Nicholas Hayes book, Saving Sailing, which laces a heavy blame on the lack of mentoring by people in the sport to people coming into the sport. It is also easy to blame the economy, as well as the proliferation of expense.

The Farr 30 (then Mumm 30, its name identifying sponsor, similar to the arrangement for the Corel 45) and Farr 40 Class started rather ceremoniously in 1996 and 1997. At the time Bruce Farr was the designer en vogue for AC and Volvo and was leading the charge as the premiere designer for all kinds of IMS, keel boat one offs and customs. My office at J/World sat 20 yards from the 2nd floor balcony of yachting greatness known as the Farr offices. Our J/80 equipped dock where I got "paid" to sail in the 10$ an hour sense, included racing, learn to sail, team building and even some of the occasional dead reckoning for bare boat charters to be, was a literally under the Farr offices nose. Occasionally I would run into Bruce Farr getting coffee down the street and literal would blink exhaustively knowing his relevance; perhaps it was equally my rather noticeable insignificance in the sport. He was quiet and kept to himself, he looked like a guy straight out of the TV show "the Office" filling out TPS reports. He wore wire rim glasses and a usually blue 3 button oxford. He seemed unable to make eye contact or be aware of his celebrity status. For me, it was like running into Bill Gates.

The vertically drab and modern looking Eastern Avenue Farr Design office itself was shrouded in all kinds of Annapolis lore and jokes. The shades were drawn all the time. The down the street 2 dollar pitcher night Davis Pub rumour was that Farr design team was unreasonably paranoid that designs and discussions internally could be taped or photographed, or that loose lips were at work in the frameworks of Annapolis' true mecca; the never ending supply of Irish watering holes luring midshipman, sailors and tourists into its other chronic past time, hanging out with a drink in hand swapping scuttlebutt.  They made a deliberate effort to block clear view into any of the desks for fear of revealing the latest keel or hull design of the next Round the World Race. Getting into the office was Mission Impossible. There were several aggressive attractively clad receptionists that would block any access into what clearly was the holy site of yachting at the time. On the second floor what you got was Geoff Stagg, the vastly experienced and knowledgeable yet ridiculously loud for his size sales and marketing side of the business that would ultimately create, politically maneuver and position the two classes onto the map with great fanfare.  Geoff Stagg would run the classes and sell boats to a Rolodex of wealthy owners looking for the latest thing. The true secrets were upstairs behind a different door that virtually no one ever saw. Hence the drawn and never opened shades, and the bar stories.

The 2 seemingly similarly drawn Farr designs of the Farr 40 and 30 were a flat out revelation, high aspect jibs, modern planing hull,  super efficient fin keels with tear drop bulbs, durable, light & exciting. Until then, keel shape was flat out archaic;  barn door stability driven things that looked like slabs of cardboard slapped on the side of a keel boat. Few if any keels were truly developing efficient lift. Farr brought the high aspect ratio into the fore front of sailing ; a vertical and short chord length keel that produced very highly efficient lift upwind and in waves while reducing downwind drag, and small relatively inexpensive efficient vertical leech jibs that were easy for the crew to tack and set, but very sensitive to halyard tension and sheeting angle. The boats were built solidly and despite some release problems with a curing epoxy at the US builder, they did not break and lasted a substantial period. The 30 had an Asymmetric as well large masthead kites that would produce wild 20+ knot planing capsizes in big breezes. The 40 stuck with the tamer and less exciting symmetric fractional, which they would switch in 2008 or so to masthead. Originally it looked like the 40 owners might not be able to handle the bigger kites, so they left the MH kites out of the initial class rules. Both boats were responsive, athletic, fast and crewed by average builds. The owners drove and were meant to be amateurs. The Mumm 30 class introduced with the help of Jack Irish at US Sailing, the Category rating system of rating competitors in the class an as appendix to the then Mumm 30 owner and president of US Sailing Rules; 1 = Amatuers, 2=Marine Professional, 3=Paid for Sailing Professional, the Farr 40s followed suite. At the time ISAF had nothing of the sort, they would later adopt the US Sailing Cat system. A sail button system were assigned at 4 or 5 a year to keep sails from becoming a determining factor. The ground rules were solid and the classes exploded with owners and participation in a fantastically growing Internet boom, and later cheap credit based economy. Owners drove, new technology that made the sport exciting was delivered to weekend warriors used to IMS, J/35s and J/30s. For the first time, pros and amateurs had to work together. It brought a new set of issues, but it seemed to work quite well. Stagg delivered a huge amount of performance and structure to a thirsty market.

Stagg pursued and delivered the both classes into highly structured and recognized ISAF class status. At the time ISAF was getting more and more involved in the need to regulate the sport of sailing at an international level. Although it seemed a bit unneeded at the time, the involvement was vital in getting the boats in front of all kinds of owners worldwide.

My father purchased hull Mumm 30 #47 from Carrol Marine in 1997, the same year we were able to win the 1997 J/30 North Americans at Annapolis Yacht Club, a boat we had sailed locally in a great class structure itself in weekend and local distance races. My father was a past Laser and Finn sailor, and the dinghy like set up of the Mumm was too tempting for him to pass up. The J/30 Annapolis scene was healthy and full of fantastic characters which turned into great friendships over the years, we enjoyed the people and the competition immensely but we were seduced by the the speed and the handling of the Mumm 30.

What happened next was a bit unexpected. We came from a thriving tight local and regional one-design and were dunked into the pond of Grand Prix or near Grand Prix like level crews, boat prep, sail testing and top professionals. Instead of weekend warriors with a parallel priority on fun and socializing, competing was the main focus, travel and hotel rooms in distant locales with hired hands to help. It wasn't the top of the professional sport, but the Mumm 30 as it was known at the time was clearly the jr. level of Grand Prix, with the same type of prep going on. JB Braun, Mark Ploch, Micheal Law, Ed Collins, Jack LeFort Jr.were all original Mumm 30 owners with great understanding of the winning components, then a bit later Vincenzo Onerato, Massimo Mezzorama, Jim Richardson, Phillipe Kahn, Jean-Pierre Dick, Jimmy Pahun, Fred Sherrat, Nelson Stephenson and Deneen Demourkas (I apologize for the spelling).  We were finishing mid fleet or worse alot. We were a bit lost to be honest. We stuck with North Sails and consistently got an above average product. We worked on bottom prep and crew and slowly got better. We moved our mast butt experimentally a few times to dramatic postitive effect, and because the North numbers were very far off our rig set up, I eventually scratched out a tuning guide after reading Vince Brun's article on finding sweet spot with your tuning, then go adjust very modestly up and down for the extremes. We benefitted substantially in the beginning because our local fleet was competitive and flourishing, a total of 10-15 boats that raced almost every other weekend. It turn we started making progress and we starting having a lot of fun. The racing was intense, we were challenged, we had a local outlet, and we traveled to the big events.

The Farr 40 Class meanwhile turned into a full on Grand Prix festival. Pros, sail testing, keel modification, 2 boat programs, Protector Coach boats, rumored "indirect compensation" of amatuers to get around the Cat 3 rule. There were amazing rockstar guest appearances in that class as well as the stars of the sport.  Scheidt, Kostecki, Coutts, Robbie Haines, Cayard, Butterworth, Reynolds. It was a hollywood show all around. The "game" which was meant to limit arms races with lots of class and sail limitations sooned turned into a race to find the best possible exploitation of each rule. The culture in the USA, New Zealand and Australia had been forever altered by one singular event; Dennis Conner had changed the AC game with by using condition specific training and design, 2 boat testing and Olympic style preparation to win the AC cup back in 1987 from Australia that had taken it from NYYC with a radical wing keel design ; he forever changed the culture of sailing in the USA, NZ and AUS, preparation and optimization became the new game, all teams looked for there personal wing keel  or there 2 boat testing and sail material or sail design advance to win an event. Years later Team NZ won back the cup in 1995 with a fantastic new boat and group of young sailors, winning at the game Conner had refined. Sir Peter Blake was superior manager that used all of these devices, sails, mast, hull ; minor incremental break thrus in each area that added up, there was no one wing keel to change the game. Cayard was completely defenseless as Coutts trounced him 5-0 in the '95 final, with a winning margin greater than 2 minutes 30 seconds for each race. Cayard was helpless, beaten by a better managed team he could not overcome with his talent.

2 boat testing had became a sailmaker staple, and a small group of San Diego, CA inspired one-design pros led the charge. Mark Reynolds and Vince Brun (and Dave Ullman later with Pegasus) would spend hours going upwind with an identical partner tuning their boats in a straight line into the weak but steady reliable sea breeze of San Diego. There were others in Europe doing the same. As a result Vince Brun won 3 Major Keelboat World championships in the late 90's in different classes; Etchells 22, Melges 24 and J/24. Reynolds became the most decorated Olympic US sailor in our history and dominated the Star Class (Reynolds in turn won the Farr 40 worlds in 1999 on Le Renard). San Diegan, Dennis Conner had made repeated break thrus with 2 boat testing, regatta site prep, skin or bottom treatments, new material, talented and athletic young sailors and the mental intimidation it carried with. It should come as no surprise that the leaders on the Farr 40 teams, often disciples and mentors of Coutts, Brun, Reynolds, Conner et all, usually the tacticians, began doing the same in the 40s. The game progressed, Farr 40 owners began to run "teams", had managers, or boat captains, and very little was left uncovered, nothing was spared. Legal but often creative interpretations of the rules ensued ; entire new sets of sails bought along with a new boat to get around the annual button issue, elaborate team houses, cooks, private planes and support boats, new multiple boat programs based in Europe, Australia and the USA, keels removed and shipped to guru fairing specialists, paint, polish, water in the bilge, masts, amatuers with no jobs and lots of time and compensation of these Cat 1s with indirect purchases of cars, mortgage payments, vacations. If you sat on a bar stool in Annapolis it was part of the rumor mill. It became a perverted version of its orginal intent, but it was really the "game" as any other top keelboat class, but our performance enhancing drug version of it.

Carbon came in a few years ago and also nailed a coffin into these two classes. Carbon is a fantastic material for sails, it is light, strong and UV stable, and can hold its shape longer than other material if not handled roughly. Kevlar on the other hand, broke down quicker when handled roughly and is not UV stable. The result was that sails with Kevlar had to be over built to stay in shape and prevent UV break down. Carbon on the other hand did not need to be over built and itself was considerably stronger. The real draw back was expense. Carbon is wildly, wildly expensive. A Farr 30 Mainsail that used to last one season and be around $4500-$5000 for around 360 square feet is now $8300 list. Thats is 23$ a square foot up from 13$ a square foot. In 4 years the cost of Grand Prix sails went up nearly 2x. The other factor was than Carbon saild required the strongest fibre for its control halyards. Vectran was the best suited and it to is comparitively  expensive. The results have proven that carbon is a winning fibre, and so, here the classes have suddenly nearly doubled the cost of one the key components to grand prix sailing by simply chasing down a performance enhancer that neither of these two classes banned. It also builds in a nice advantage for those willing to spend the money. Those that took to carbon early, invested in Vectran halyards and adjusted rig tensions (down) a bit jumped in performance.

The Farr 40 class suffered because it got so time consuming and expensive to stay in it and the side benefits diminshed, the socializing appeared cerebral and ceremonious, being competitive meant a whole lot of "team" building. The good managers or hepards of their owners realized they were really coaches and that without a happy owner they had no job security. this realization came perhaps after they already took there off the books checks and cash to the bank. The class was made up of a bulk of well intentioned weekenders with lots of experience who soon got run over by the new style of "team". Coupled with the great recession and a destination location of the Domican Republic that suffered a massive devastating earthquake on the islands other side (known as Haiti), the Farr 40 class had 12 boats at the 2010 worlds. 2 years ago they had over 25. At one point a well known owner published his budget in Sailing World for his annual campaign, it was close to $400,000 - 500,000 a year. In 1974, I dare to guess the Americas cup non inflation adjusted was less for a defender NYYC team. Adding to this in the mid millenium years, the actual AC teams ran Farr 40 Teams. Alinghi. Coutts with Hasso Plattner, Team NZ on Fred Howe's Warpath, Vincenzo Onerato on Mescalzone Latino. It all became interwoven, although there were in fact major differences ; there were no lawyers and a lot less money spent, no design fees, no tank testing, no full time managers, but there were a lot more similarities than ever, 2 boats and repeated new builds, custom design files at sailmakers with team proprietary production, keel gate, and a rather ugly sail recut prtoest that ended Samba's long and successful participation in the class. The charismatic and gentile Vincenzco Onerato also was there, smiling, magnanimously competing with a tight knit group that included the british sportsman Adrian Stead. One has to wonder if the fall of the AC didnt add a few less on the table for the Dominican Worlds. The AC teams were out, and the recession kicked expendable time and income in the groin. Most significantly club and weekend warrior owners recognized quicker that Team style campaigning in a Farr 40 was intimidating, discouraging and not worth their time.

You also can suggest that the new classes such as the Melges 32 and J/70 evolved the concept. Melges added even more value to the game. The boat had the same basic rule structure and took Staggs best practices while dropping the obvious bad ones when he created the Mumm 30 and Farr 40, brought exciting new technology to the table, and was a lot more fun to sail downwind (than the Farr 40, the 30 is really a great boat downwind) at clearly a less expensive level (at least to the 40). The Melges management team was agressive and on top of it, clearly nailing some key advances in calender, scheduling and creating cummunity online and otherwise. Downwind you literally have to hold on as the boat planes in over 17/18 knots true wind. The boats delivered a lot of fun. The 32s also use carbon sails and feature 4 pros, but they can be trailered and it looks like it is working pretty well. The pros are top notch guys and they too, arent just cashing the check. It seems now the roles of a pro arent just the sailing, its well making sure the owner keeps sailing and has more fun.

We were in the significantly less intense version of this team phenomenon when we bought the Mumm 30 in 1997. The Farr 30 could be trailered w/o taking the keel off by a small beefy SUV while the Farr 40 needed the keel removed and loaded on a 18 wheeler. The boat was pretty simple, light, easy to rig, and not hard for a weekend warrior to manage. We occasionally got a gold medalist or Volvo guy taking a paycheck within our fleet, but mostly we had industry pros or sailmakers who were there to support other business. We once had Jordi Calafat on the boat for a weekend pickup jib trimmer, that would be like, having Drew Brees play tight end for your flag football team. We didnt pay him anything other than beer and a hand shake. For the time being we had friends or crew members trailer and help set up. There was even a company that started prepping the boats and moving them for a modest fee, greatly reducing time spent by the owners and sailors themselves. The team would show up with a day or two to practice with the boat in and ready to sail. Our budget was mostly on sails and travel, later we would start paying some professionals modestly, usually collegues or friends. It turns out it is still way more fun to sail with people you like, than people you don't. Go figure.

We were good sailors locally, but things were very different, we went from good to below average quickly. We didnt have matching crew gear or a coach boat but we did have a local sailmaker on board. Sure we had our moments, but mostly we wern't that great. I was sailing a lot of J/24's with Chris Snow from San Diego at the time and I was picking up on a lot of things from the campaigning we were doing. I even spent one long weekend doing the 2 boat testing I mentioned off of San Diego with Chris. Vince would call to check on our prgresss every day. I learned so much in those few days the light bulb had gone off. (We finished 3rd that year at the 2000 J/24 Worlds in Newport with a costly OCS, we had the team to win, just didn't happen. Brad Read organized, ran and won the event. His famous line was thanks for coming to the regatta so I could win it.). The extra guidance from Chris and indirectly from Vince flipped a switch in my head. I realized we had to isolate things into a few areas on the Mumm 30 and steadily work on each ;  we worked on progressing on the sails, bottom and crew work to get to the front, and we worked steadily to get there. I found if i broke it down into 5 areas incrementally and kept trying to improve with notes and practice the whole package got better. Sailing was broken down by speed/equipment/crew and sails, then the tactics. By 2001 we jumped a huge amount. We chose Key West as our big event for the year, rather than the worlds which was usually held over seas and out of our sights and frankly never something we thought we could win.  I would time the crew quality and sail purchase for this event.  We would show up with new sails, great crew, practice and had a great house with friends and family. We won that the class of 35 boats in 2001 in KW and then again in 2004. We got beaten a lot at most events except Key West where we tried to peak, but we were content, competetive and having fun within our means. We seemed know to know what it took to win, and had trouble getting there sometimes, but it wasnt a mystery.

So here we are in 2015, nearly 7 years after the crash of 2009 and the scene is quite different. Boats are flat out traveling less. Fleets that survive pull substantially from local hot spots, while pure grand prix in the USA is clearly at a low point. They are living on local fleets, 2 of which of living in Annapolis. Like many things in this economy, value is king, more for less; buy a smaller more modern one design and have more fun while spending less. Meanwhile Carbon and full time pros are the rule in the Melges 32. (one thing i cant resolve in my head, if bag weights are nominal, is longevity better in Carbon?) I think its easy to say its the money or the recession, but its also the profileration of professionalism and the team. Its take alot more time and work to be competitive, something we have less of, and is harder to justify to our surrounding team of family and co workers.

Update, I am now an active member of the J/70 class, sailing with my dad !

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why do People leave Sailing after College?

I often wonder why college sailors disappear from sailing post graduation. When I left Tufts in '95 I immediately moved to Annapolis via a season spent at Alta running the espresso machine at the Watson shelter, thus successfully fulfilling my generation X obligation to do nothing, if doing nothing was working 25 days a month for Jahn Tihansky at J/World Annapolis, and working 6 days a week serving coffee (pre starbucks, i am that old). I think on the water I made substantially less than 10$ an hour, had a 9 year old laser, and could afford to live on my own minus the car & health insurance payment my parents were still making. At Alta in the endless snow I made 625$ a month, and 300$ was for rent.

On February that year, 1996, the wind had been blowing very firmly out of the southwest for some time, and was packing a powerful burst of somewhat wetter version of the Alta snow I had grown accustomed to, the type that never ever could be compressed into a wet snowball and splattered on a car windshield with its impressive thud, an exemplary piercing signal of youthful malfeasance. I had heard from some patrol guys that this was like Taos NM snow, Sango Cristo moutain chain stuff, whatever that meant. On the chair ride up that morning on Day xxx in a row I had been on the mountain, my impressions were the same, I was fascinated by the differences in, just about everything; the wind, the snow, the light, how it smelled. I had been spending alot of time watching snow in the wind. I recognized snow turning behind trees, the first time ever I had seen a gust behave the way I had often guessed it had when they descended from the top of the Mystic Lake's shoulders. There was a gully about 1/3 the way down the traverse i had grown curious about; i thought SW, wind load= it would be loaded with snow. I had been going to this place very day to watch the snow loading in it. What was boot deep around the edges of the gully easily came up my thighs and hit me in the face as I compressed rather effortleessly 20 turns. There was not much to say and certainly nothing to claim. I was always alone, as I had spent alot of that winter. The snow pelted my hand me down Eddie Bauer shell, the kind with the felt red wool lining, like your dad's old pj's. The snow brushed the edges of my jacket like leaves in the breeze in the New England fall.

College sailors stop sailing because they can no longer simply show up and knock off races in great competition and walk away from the global responsibilities of managing your equipment, time and money. The best sailors post college have to learn to develop boat speed, this involves hefty amounts of travel, equipment and time. I often see post college sailors grossly underestimate the ability of non college stars to beat them with time, equipment and travel, or similary pros who show up with xxx per diems and get schooled by well practiced cubicle cowboys. Underweight and kinetic guys have to learn that roll jibe and tacks wont win regattas, eventually we all learn to tack, jibe and start, go round the marks and boat handle. But time and life events are the biggest factors, and those who commit extraordinary and sometimes isolating time to sailing will do well, as in anything else. It will not show up rigged and waiting at the dock for you with a cute "pinnys" and dye colored sails that big blue probably charged too much for. 90% of the grads bail on the sport within 5 years of graduation. We should probably figure out how to stop that.

Everybody says sailing is on a downturn because its expensive. I say its because the college and high schools grads who do sail don't have time to sail, because they spend too much time working and doing everything else; the main culprit is the biggest commodity we have, time.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Laser Sailing

Each year I  go Laser racing Thanksgiving day.

Cooper River Yacht Club lays host to one of the more unique settings for sailing, just 5 miles from downtown Philadelphia, on a strip of water most could easily chip a 9 iron across. CRYC is one of the few places where you can actually discuss the merits of the trees or the drainage pipe. Newport, Annapolis, Cedar Point it is not, but for long standing sailing talent and ties to the local boating scene and history it is pretty special.

The Club hosts a series of events thru-out the year, Sunfish, Lasers, Comets, Vanguard 15, Learn To Sail and juniors. The frostbite series attracts a vibrant scene of locals, the pinnacle of which is the Thanksgiving Day event, trophy turkey and or Mt. Gay handle. The last few years Cooper River locals have made good; Bob Oberg in Phrf Nationals at Key West, and "Little Mac" John Macausland in the Star Class, myself in the J/24 class.

The parking lot is within 100 yards of the start line full of extended family, so you can drink, eat and hang out and discuss the Eagles football woes. Inside, soup, beer, and Philly soft pretzels await. If there ever is a place to watch sailing this would be it.

There are many times that I have flown far away places to wear fancy foul weather gear and pursue prestigious plates of pewter, but there is no doubt that this day is one of the best days I spend all year, before during and after the sailing.
Link to Photos here;

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


For my summer vacation I decided to not go to another regatta. Vicki and I chartered a 1965 Pilot 35 from Hinckley Yacht Charters. This is the second year in a row that we have gone to Maine, and honestly it is starting to take a serious spot in my mind about what a sailing vacation should be. There aren't a lot of people, there is always a nice southwesterly blowing, the scenery is down right breathtaking; there are great looking boats, active legacy boat builders like Hinckley, Morris and Sabre, and of course I can sail all day if I want, or just hang at anchor or at a mooring. We have found our thing we can do together. The food is fresh, local, from the sea or local soil, and generally we just get off the grid, suck down local produce bought at stands, drown clams and lobsta with fresh basil, olive oil and veggies, and fall asleep in our sleeping bags after long days of sailing and walking around.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Back in Action - Laser Frostbiting

I decided to get out of my office cave and hit the water with my dusty Laser. My first time back in the boat was a fright festival, 20-24 knot southerly at SSA where i went out w/o my life jacket, brain cells clearly not working. I got a little freaked out and reached around for 25 minutes planing wildly and then came in. I was sore and inspired to hit the gym. I decided 30- 40 minutes 4 times a week spinning plus 2-3 weight sessions would help. I have recently had a round of antibiotics and prednisone due to a vicious chest cold, and the two swelled me up like a balloon. So i started the frostbite season at 205 lbs with a gutt (Tom Slingsby, 07/08 Worlds winner sails at 184lbs). I also invested in all kinds of gear to keep me comfortable. Zhik 3/4 hikers, Rooster Shin Tech Long John, Zhik Superwarm top, Gill booots and Gloves. All great choices and I can tell you, good comfortable gear makes a huge difference.

I sailed the entire Cooper River Yacht Club Series, 5 days total and had a blast! All days were 5-10 knots and we had an amazing run of 55 degree sunny days in November. The folks at CRYC are friendly, welcoming and the competition was really good. It also is 30 minutes to my lair in Paoli, PA, a little closer than SSA.

I learned a lot over the 5 days, I worked as hard as ever on my equipment, perhaps my days on the j/24 have taught me it pays to have all lines working smoothly and effortlessly, and to be cut to the right lengths and diameters. I added the new Laser blocks and switched to a 6mm line that runs like a champ at the weather mark on the big ease. I also copied the Paul Goodison cunningham and outhaul setup from his book, took some of his invaluable tips from light air sailing to heart = be smooth, weight placement, heel and vang tension. The other key element for me was to use a focus mantra. This meant to identify the key aspect of each situation and focus on it. Eg, off the line hike and stay of the guy to leeward, this helped me drastically. We have used this on the j/24 alot, mostly it is boat speed, boat speed, boat speed, in that order.

I have to comment that most classes don't have fantastic books published with pictures, diagrams and illicit instructions for each condition. The Laser class must have over 10 books that are really good. The 2 below are my favorites.

1. Paul Goodison, RYA Laser Handbook
2. Ben Ainslie, Laser Campaign Manual

I am happy to have gotten a good result, winning 3 of 5 days and the series in light air, so it tells me that 205 is too heavy, but with good technique it is doable in shifty conditions. I would much rather be 185 though certainly in open water sailing.