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.


Congratulations to the winners.

Sailing with other people’s kids

September 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

First published in the September 2012 issue of Spinsheet Magazine

Spinsheet - Dan Phelps, family sailing, kids and sailing, saving sailing

Image courtesy: Spinsheet, credit Dan Phelps.

It was two in the morning, blowing at least twenty-five knots, when a huge breaking wave hit us on our starboard stern and threw the boat sideways. The boom buried and we were knocked flat in a full broach. Tim was seated aft on the port side and slid underneath the lifelines feet first. He was shoulder deep in the water hanging on to a winch with one arm. Someone blew the guy and the kite ran free. As it collapsed, the boat recovered and in a flash, Tim used the upward momentum to one-arm his way back on deck. A few minutes later we had the kite wrestled aboard, and we went with a smaller headsail.

An ashen-faced Tim, a kid that we’d picked up earlier in the season from the club junior program, leaned over and pleaded, “Don’t tell my mom.”

Earlier that day, a modest broad reach had gradually built to a playful 10-knot surf, and then, at about midnight, a full blown, nuking, bare-knuckle run made more tempestuous by an 9-foot following sea. Syrena’s bow would nudge down and briefly hesitate as her stern lifted on the leading edge of a breaker, and she’d launch and careen down the face of the wave sending spray to the height of the first spreaders on both sides, sometimes for many minutes. Each surf broke another speed record. We consistently saw mid-teens, and we peaked near 20-knots on one wet slalom. This was what our B-32, a little ULDB (Ultra Light Displacement Boat), was designed to do.

We were racing hard, but we had both eyes on safety. As the wind piped up, we made certain that every person was wearing full weather gear, a PFD, a light and whistle, a harness, and we were all tethered to jack-lines. We were de-powered, running with our chicken-chute strapped down, and the boat loved it, like an unleashed puppy, until the roque wave took us down.

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Sailing isn’t a sport

August 16, 2012 § 21 Comments

Sailing isn't a sport

Look it up. According to my dictionary, a sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” And while many sailors I know will say that they enjoy racing sailboats, sailing is so much more than just a lowly sport.

When was the last time you saw tennis played in a pelting, thundering rain squall?

Sailors do it all the time.

When was the last time a basketball player studied emergency and rescue procedures to keep fellow teammates safe and secure?

When was the last time you saw soccer players standing by quietly for hours and sometimes days, waiting for mother nature to join the game?

When was the last time you saw a hockey player invite grandma onto the ice?

When was the last time you saw a quarterback use a star to navigate, the moon to light the field, or pause to gaze upon the aurora borealis during a game?

When was the last time you saw a sprinter stay on the field for hours and hours after the race just to be on the field?

And when was the last time you heard any of these sports-people say that they would play to the very end?

Sailors do it all the time.

No, sailing isn’t a sport. Sport should be so lucky.

– Nicholas Hayes, 2012


April 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

Watching from the dockIf you’re a seasoned sailor, you probably don’t feel much trepidation when you’re preparing to leave the dock. You’re familiar. You speak the language.

But nearly everyone else in the world does.

Sailing is one of those things that almost everyone would like to try, but few do, in large part, because of trepidation.

It can seem daunting. Imagine imagining what it might feel like to sail when you’ve never done it. You might be panicked about the motion, not knowing the names of things, not having the right clothing or safety equipment, feeling helpless when someone asks you to do something using words you don’t know, like “ease the sheets” or “trim the guy”.

But a small, unpretentious publication captures that transcendent moment when one who aspires to sail meets the one who will help them realize their dreams. It begins with an unusually firm handshake, an authentic meeting of eyes, the confidence of basic english, and the trepidation melts away so that the grand adventure can begin.

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Explaining lift

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

Wind Tunnel

I enjoy volunteering to teach sailing classes in the winter months at the Milwaukee Community Sailing Center. Last Thursday was Sail Trim Theory 101.

I’ve tried many ways to explain”lift” in a classroom setting, like imagining the feeling of making a wing with your hand out the passenger window of a fast-moving car…

A friend (Mark Waltz – who sails on the venerable Golden Goose) suggested an iPad App call Wind Tunnel ($1.99), and we tried it this time. It seemed to work well. You can see pressure and speed and particles in the abstract. It’s easier to demonstrate angle of attack, the stall, and the effects of too much or too little camber in a sail.

The big bonus, I think, is that while the load and drag calculations are relative not real, they do offer a rich visual and numeric way to show and think about how a main and jib sail are better than just a main or jib sail.

Thanks to everyone who came to class this week. Hope to see you at the Advanced Class (201), this Thursday, at 6pm at MCSC.

Here are the slides from 101, for anyone interested.

Sail Trim Theory 101

Sail Trim Theory 101

Sailing is Hard. That’s Why It’s Good.

September 1, 2010 § 4 Comments

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – September 2010

Let’s say your dimwitted former room-mate, who owes you $500, calls and says, “Dude, I’m at the airport, how do I get to your house?” You give him simple instructions, like “go west on I-90” and “turn left on Main”. He parks himself on your couch, inhales 6 slices of your pizza, naps, and then asks to borrow $100. You hem and haw but oblige and he leaves.

Simple is what simple gets.

Sailing isn’t simple. Done well, it might be among the most complex pastimes we might select. True, almost anyone can learn to tail a winch, raise a mainsail, or tie a figure-8. But in concert with others over long periods of time, sailing takes more than basic instruction. It takes an environment.

I sail with teachers. My wife (who manages the pit), our headsail trimmer, and one of our bow crew are all teachers.

Teachers make great sailing mates, partly because they have summers off. More importantly, they understand how people learn. We often apply best classroom practices to sailing as a team, so that every member can learn and achieve. We have pre-sail goal-setting chats. We swap roles routinely. We challenge newcomers to learn one new skill and then another. We ask natural leaders to step up, share, and then let go. And we debrief afterwards to answer questions and share new ideas. Then we build on the experience the next time. We do these things whether racing, gunkholing or just bombing around. I’m sure you do many of the same things, and you may do much more.

The point is that it is possible to offer an ideal environment for developing confidence, building skills and then mastering sailing’s complexities, but it requires more than rote steps. Most important is the creation of real free space in which all can learn and solve problems both collaboratively and independently, with optional guidance and support when needed.

I like to describe it as mentor-led immersion; like learning a language by moving to the country of origin, but having someone who speaks your tongue available in a pinch. It takes work to make and keep something like this going, but it’s worth it for everyone.

I’ve written extensively about why we shouldn’t try to “sell” sailing as simple or easy, because it’s not. Research shows that sailing schools or clubs that promise “easy” often run into trouble keeping their students for more than a few sessions. So-called “keep-it-simple-stupid” super-structured curricula fall short on four dimensions:

  1. It’s the same thing, over and over.
  2. It doesn’t provide a compelling vision to engage for the long haul.
  3. After a while, it isn’t interesting to the instructors.
  4. It doesn’t provide the free space where trial and error and creativity matter most.

As a rule, sailing is dynamic; every moment potentially different from the previous or the next. It’s an exercise in free-form adaptability, best guesses and finesse informed by past experience and better judgement. But alas, sailing has been organized in an attempt to try to make it easy. We’ve positioned it against other easy things like video games and bingo, and in doing so, we’ve made it disposable, and even boring.

Many sailing programs have gone wildly overboard in terms of structure. Youth sailing is often about repetition and routine, since the only long range vision is an olympic berth where lottery probabilities apply. For adults, a sailing class is often a shrouded pitch to “get you into your own boat”, so it’s more about simple gear and just-enough instruction. Talented sailing instructors are often stuck teaching the same thing year after year after year on the same boats, with the same sails and at the same time every day. And very few people are sailing for the sake of sailing. How often, for example, have you seen sailing school boats on the water in the middle of the night?

It’s time to break every one of these paradigms. Step one is to just go sailing and take your friends. Step two: consider volunteering to create new, innovative offers at your club or center that celebrate the complexity of sailing. Here are some great new ideas brewing around the country.

  • Toddler sailing: Put parents and kids from 2-5 in boats together.
  • Night passages: Share the magic of sailing all night long.
  • Destination racing: Instead of racing around plastic buoys – race to places, and include shoreside skills as a race element.
  • Rebuild to own or share: Donated boats refitted by teen/parent teams become the boats of the refitters or part of a shared fleet.
  • Different boat every day: dinghies to keelboats to multihulls to sportboats all in one program.

Think these ideas might be impossible? Can’t insure them? Can’t convince the board? Can’t find the volunteers? Not the way you’ve always done it? Not sanctioned? Sure, change is hard, and that’s the point. Sailing is hard too, but it’s within reach and it’s always worth it.

Let’s say your room-mate calls again. This time, you’re ready. You give him a choice: he can work off his debt by mowing, weeding and painting for a month, or you will see him in court.

The right thing to do is often the hard thing to do.

If you or your club are interested in sharing ideas, feel free to email me at nickhayes@savingsailing.com.

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