October 17, 2015 § 1 Comment
Had we heeded the forecaster’s gloomy wind warnings, we would not have started the race, but 20 sailboats slipped over the line at 18:30 and inched up the 21-mile course. An hour—and two tedious miles—later, a red sun set leaving a starless sky. Two hours and barely four miles in, the fog came down like a black velour lining a coffin. Wet. Dark. Deadly. Read more in Sailing Magazine.
January 6, 2015 § Leave a comment
Barbara McVeigh was, for a time, the Communications/Outreach Director at one of the most innovative community sailing centers I’m aware of, a place call Sailing Education Adventures, in Marin, California.
We’ve been emailing back and forth for years about how SEA links sailing and experiential learning. I’ve been impressed by the organization’s fearless nature- and science-based curriculum, a distant outlier among community and sailing programs that typically focus on skills or racing.
And I was concerned to learn in early 2014 that Barbara was moving onto a new career: independent documentary filmmaking, and that her contributions at SEA were coming to an end.
Instead, Barb upped the ante. She’s challenging everyone who teaches and advocates for sailing to think much bigger.
Her short film “Racing with Copepods,” directed by Carlos Grana, and featuring Kimball Livingston as narrator, begins like any intro to a sailing program with dock talk and PFDs. But soon, the shackles binding conventional thinking come off, and we’re watching kids blast across San Francisco Bay aboard planing dinghies on a destination adventure to collect beach samples and dig in mud. Then they’re casting nets off the transom of an ocean-going research sailboat to collect and study microscopic organisms with scientists as crew-mates. Eventually, the kids explain the links between the Copepods – tiny speedy jumping swimmers – and themselves. They share the water. And the water, therefore, deserves our care.
It’s not a new story that sailing is a great platform for teaching and learning things like leadership, character and inquisitiveness. What’s new is that the connections made to and from sailing by creative mentors like Barbara are limitless. Almost anything you want to learn, you can learn through sailing. And almost anything you want to teach, you can teach through sailing. The key is to make the environment for mentoring. Then, sailing doesn’t need saving. It does the saving.
August 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Who among us doesn’t know a dude like this: a sailing friend with a drinking problem who doubles as a drinking friend with a sailing problem?
Much drinking goes unnoticed by many of us sailors. Perhaps it’s time we noticed. Read how and why in the September 2014 issue of Spinsheet Magazine…
May 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Seen first in Spinsheet Magazine.
There has been a lot of recent chatter about creating diversity in sailing. US Sailing gave the subject top billing at their latest conference. On the surface, the theme of the year, sailing’s cause célèbre, seems to be that if America’s skin is darkening, evidenced by the last two elections and demographic trends, so too should sailing’s. This is inarguably true, but let’s not underestimate the enormity of the task ahead.
Search the words “sailing” or “yachting” on Google and often they’ll come attached to a string with words like “elite,” “club” or “exclusive”. While there are outliers among us, sailing isn’t starting from a position of authority on the subject of enthusiastically engaging people other than old white men like me to participate.
Diversity isn’t something you brand and then switch on. It’s something you are. You don’t become diverse when you market to people who are different from you and hope they show up. It’s a condition where different people agree to be together because experiences, both in lifetimes and across generations, prove that it’s worth it. It’s not a temporary meeting at a neutral safe harbor. Once it starts, it continues. Once engaged, diverse groups manage the tensions that come from mixing alternate viewpoints. It’s hard to stay together, but truly diverse groups do.
November 6, 2013 § 4 Comments
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October 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
Seen first in Spinsheet Magazine.
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.”
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.
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