To race or not to race (when teaching sailing)…

September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Sailing School Race

There are competing philosophies at sailing schools. Some teach almost exclusively through racing, while others reject racing altogether. Only a few straddle a racing middle ground. Advocates on either side are entrenched.

Racing-focused schools tend to be led by sailors who see a world in which competition frames everything: career, culture, success, leadership and new ideas. Racing happens to be a fun way to learn—until it’s not—and then the losers inevitably leave. Schools like this depend on a numbers game.

Schools that avoid racing tend to be led by sailors who see a world in which competition is unnecessarily exclusive and limiting, especially when it is focused on young people. Losing can hurt, so these schools try to prevent people from feeling loss. These schools depend on a critical mass of annual donors to stay afloat to counter high transience.

Perhaps the problem isn’t the racing, per say, but how we adults define competition.

Read more in Sailing Magazine.

SailingMag

 

 

The Gadget that is Fueling a #SailingRevolution

July 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Sailing Gadget that Changes Everything

Undoubtedly, the most popular small boat sailing gadget today is the tiny, light, gasket-sealed digital movie camera, which has sailors worldwide starring in their own homemade YouTube and Vimeo hits, like the one from which this screenshot was taken. It might seem, at first blush, as if the digital movie camera is one dimensional and might not have the same utility as the powerful racing and navigational computers found on big boats. But I’ve come to think that videos may be far more important to sailing in the long run. In fact, camera technology is helping to fuel a sailing revolution where real, up-close experiences matter and where contagious, authentic enthusiasm for the sport can go viral anywhere in the world.

Read why in Sailing Magazine.

SailingMag

 

 

Every year Zephyr 2.0 seems to have more sailing fun

January 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

Dave Erwin and friends on Team Zephyr 2.0 star in their own sailing movie. Nobody has more fun than this crew in New Orleans. #gosailing.

Video >> David Erwin, NOYC
Music >> Terry McDermott Music

“What pushes middle school students…

October 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

…is the unexpected experience of someone taking them seriously.” - Paul Tough

This simple but clear idea is one of many nuggets in a terrific book that I recommend to anyone interested in mentoring or making a difference with young people. Teachers, sailing school and junior program directors would be well served to read How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough. Get it here:

Doug Drake Days

October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Seen first in Spinsheet Magazine.

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In my town there is a regular summer sea breeze. It doesn’t set up every day, but it is persistent and predictable enough to have caused the locals to coin the expression “cooler by the lake,” now a de facto advertising slogan for Milwaukee. Sailors have another name for it.

A local 470 sailor who helped organize our community sailing program in the ‘70s passed away recently, and in his honor, his friends deemed these special days “Doug Drake Days.”

Blueprint loving the sea breeze

Blueprint loving the sea breeze

On many warm summer days there is very little wind in the morning. Starting at about 10 o’clock a.m., as the sun warms the land, the air over the land heats and rises. The cool air over open water fills in for the rising hot air over land and a breeze builds from the southeast that lasts until dusk. Some days it is countered by a western gradient breeze; that is, the wind tracking with larger systems. This usually results in a battle of the breezes that can frustrate sailors. More often, gradient winds with some easting mix with and augment the thermal air that wants to go east too so as it builds it shifts. On days like this, the 3pm forecast is for 12 to 15 knots of wind and 1 to 3 foot, sparkling, blue-green waves from about 130 degrees. As an added benefit, the lake’s warmer surface water is pushed towards shore by the sea breeze and the swimming is fine. You know it’s going to be a Doug Drake Day when you spot the puffy clouds popping up over the shoreline as vapor forms with the rising and cooling air.

Doug had lucked into enough of these days in his long sailing life to know what to expect of them and he used them to his advantage. He had a storied racing career, in part, because he was a master of the sea breeze. For example, on one end of our bay, a solid southeaster sets up a starboard tack lift that Doug coveted and used to win many races. Sometimes, depending on the strength of the heating effect, the sea breeze can drop in from the outside or the inside. Other times, the sea breeze can be the only movement of air over water bouncing up and down in narrow, fleeting bands. Finding and staying with it is the best chance for successful sailing. Old timers, like Doug, did it  best. While sea breeze may seem elusive and fickle, years of observing it gives advantages to the observer.

I’ve developed a shallow habit to try to understand the wind, and for a time, hoped it would speed my sea breeze reckoning. Like many modern sailors I routinely visit a handful of weather and wind forecasting websites many times before going out for a sail. I prefer the sites that show a map of the region, color coded for wind velocity, and with arrows to show wind direction. I print the pages showing what to expect for at least as many hours as we’ll be on the water.

But while wind models do well predicting wind speeds and angles from large, jet-stream-driven high and low pressure systems, they struggle mightily with local thermal conditions. Most models can’t show sea breeze effects for two reasons: (1) they haven’t integrated enough sensors and data sources into the weather computer networks, and (2), the variables that cause local conditions and changes are hard to program into software that thinks regionally. For example, how does a programmer in Texas account for the heating from concrete roads and buildings in a shoreline city in Wisconsin? A couple of thermal degrees over a couple of miles can matter a lot. It’s a simple question of resolution. Weather models are generally low resolution, and local factors that set up local conditions often happen in finer resolution than the models can handle. A local forecaster has the benefit of his/her own observations to be able to override the model’s coarse prediction, but rarely from a position on the water.

In this year’s Race to Mackinac, forecasters attempted to tackle the resolution problem by using a derivative of Nate Silver’s now famously accurate statistical election prediction method, combining many weather models and the voices of many local forecasters into a crowdsourced prediction. The forecast called for small high pressure systems mid-course that would bring light and variable winds on the lake, and that would force the fleet to either the east or western shore where the only decent breeze would be thermal. The models were generally right at a high level, but still lacked local precision. For example, sailors wondered how far from shore was ‘in-shore’ and what would happen the next day, or around the next bend. A quarter mile and fifteen minutes mattered during the race, but couldn’t be seen in the model.

Eventually computers and software may catch up. The day when all sailboat instrument wind readings will be sent to the internet to be integrated with other data may not be far away.

However, call me curmudgeonly, I prefer Doug Drake’s decades-proven, hands-on, environmentally-aware approach. Instead of swiping and pinching my semi-informed iPad hourly to guess where the lift might be, I hope to be there, on the water sailing; feeling and seeing the sea breeze enough times in my life to eventually be able to silently join forces with it.

#gosailing.

A #sailingrevolution on SFBay

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Anyone, any gender, any age, can sail anytime on San Francisco Bay because of amazing volunteers at organizations like Sailing Education Adventures. What are the keys? It’s fun, inclusive, affordable and challenging.

Visit http://www.sfsailing.org to sign up. #gosailing #sailingrevolution

2013 Queen’s Cup: Hurling and Furling

July 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

Chris Gribble: Rafiki sailing the 2013 Queen's Cup

Rafiki sailing the 2013 Queen’s Cup
Photo credit: Chris Gribble

This was no Sidney-Hobart. But the 2013 Queen’s Cup was tiny reminder of the toughness of sailors.

Queen’s Cups are usually downwind and flat. Recent races have been warm and generally dry. I like to recall the year we wore shorts all night and flew kites exclusively by moonlight.

This year race organizers picked Ludington as a finish destination adding distance and northing to the course to shake it up. It worked. A solid and cold north wind came on with an icy rain burst and then the wind built and clocked east during the night, knocking the fleet onto 30 degrees of heel. It wasn’t unruly, but it was cold and wet enough to cause blue lips, shivering and some to wonder why they had eaten that last dockside burger with onions. The sea-state gradually built to 4-6 footers (late finishers said 8) with the gradient neared 22 knots at about 3 am. If you had chosen left, you could crack off a couple of degrees, but if you were south of the rhumb, you were close-hauled all night. Cooking, eating, dry clothes, or napping in a warm berth were mostly wishful thinking. One friend deemed it “hurling and furling.”

The on-the-water highlight, if you were lucky to have been looking up, was the brief appearance of ghostly white dancing spires of the Aurora-Borealis. One sailor said it was the best 15 minutes in 22 hours of misery. Shortly after the first finishers tied up at Ludington (where organizers had organized well) Facebook lit up too with tales of cloudbursts and fog, wind and spray, sleeplessness and vomiting, and a general agreement that next year would be just as much fun.

Talk about tough.

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Congratulations to the winners.

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