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.

Mastering Local Sailing Conditions (Like Doug Drake Did)

September 30, 2013 § 1 Comment

Mastering Local Sailing Conditions

You can swipe your iPad’s weather app, or your can go out on the water and feel the sea breeze, like the master Doug Drake did. Read about it in this month’s Spinsheet. Click here: http://issuu.com/cdeere/docs/oct_ss_2013/59?e=1086782/5034887

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

Hustling BICs vs. Busted Stuff

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Another from C. Crain's series of oil paintings, called "Here Come the Optis"

Another from C. Crain’s series of oil paintings, called “Here Come the Optis” (Click to zoom)

This string probably deserves its own post. How ’bout we call it “Hustling BICs vs. Busted Stuff.”

It all started here: https://savingsailing.com/2012/07/12/opti-haters/

Capt’n Ron on July 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm:

I’ve been in the sail training business for 20 years and although I don’t classify myself as an Opti hater, I do strongly believe that there are more modern day platforms and more fun boats for kids to experience their first sail(s) on.

For example, if I were to take 25 kids and take them for their first sail on an Opti and take those same kids for a sail on an Open followed by a vote on their
preference of boat, the score would be 25-0 in favor of the Open Bic. Comments from the kids would be that the Open Bic is funner, faster, easier, cooler, more comfortable, not to mention – no bailing required!

It’s not that kids can’t learn to sail in an Opti, it’s about making their first experience the best possible and keeping them excited so that they keep coming back.

Why do we have kids learning on a 50 year old platform? Just imagine if you decided to have your kids learn downhill skiing on a pair of 1960 vintage skis. There are many more examples of other sports that have adapted and taken advantage of technology to make it easier and more fun for kids to learn on.

My kids first learned how to sail on an Opti, but once exposed to the O’pen BIC, they never went back.

If we are to get the masses (next generation) excited about sailing and keep them excited, especially given the choices that kids have today, then we’ll have to move away from teaching kids based on a design from 1947. It really is time to move on.

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Immersion Sailing – CSC Shows How

April 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

First published in SpinSheet Magazine – April 2011

You’re probably reading this because you’re a sailor.

But imagine that you’re not a sailor. You’ve never done it, but always wanted to. You find a sailing club that supplies all the boats and all the equipment and free training to learn to sail and then use the boats as often as you want for about $25 bucks a month. Sound like a good way to start?

You arrive for your first lesson, pull on a supplied wetsuit, a PFD and a hiking harness and help rig a 15-foot planing dinghy with a high-tech high-roach main, a roller furling blade and an asymmetrical kite on a sprit. You’ve never sailed before, but you’re going to start by driving this turboed machine in a 20-25 knot San Francisco bay breeze.

I saw this happen last summer, while visiting the area talking about Saving Sailing. I was a guest crew on a training sail that was extreme sailing for most, but the first time ever for one of the students on board. In two hours, everyone drove, tacked, jibed, trimmed and hiked. We experienced long stretches of white-knuckle planing and capsized twice, so it was thrilling for me, a thirty-plus year veteran and a sport-boat lover. The instructor was excellent — a calm voice with an eye toward safety and big fun — and the students, one a college kid and the other 70-ish, were ready for more when it was over.

But there is more.

The Cal Sailing Club is everything you don’t expect about a teaching sailing organization. It provides immersion learning at its best, but it teaches far more than sailing skills.

There is no paid staff. Not one. There is no formal class schedule. If you want to learn to sail, you put your name on a calendar for the time that works for you, and a volunteer instructor tries to make the time work, first come, first serve. Volunteer teachers are rewarded for giving their time with reduced membership fees. There is no classroom, so most of the teaching happens on the water. And since it happens aboard these ultra fast boats and in big bay breeze, learning comes fast. It might take a newcomer only a handful of on-water classes to “qualify” to use the club’s boats anytime that they want. Training can go on as long as the student needs it to.

Once a Cal Sailing Club member feels confident enough to take and pass a safety and sailing test, they are not just a member with a right to boats, they are also welcome to take guests, but more importantly, to volunteer to teach other newcomers.

Think about that for a minute: you might have just started sailing a year ago, and now you’re teaching aboard a sailing rocket-ship in what might be called a “small craft advisory” in most parts of the world.

I must report that the Cal Sailing Club is an extreme outlier; they sit either on the farthest bleeding edge of innovation in sailing development and instruction, or, arguably, they do things the way they used to be done. Today’s typical sailing teaching organizations are far more structured, with indoor and outdoor curriculum, set schedules, a more conservative fleet and more docile prevailing weather, and paid professionals and coaches.

While it’s true that you will find excellent sailing graduates from both the super-structured schools and the Cal Sailing Club, this place is special in a radical way.

Its structure is highly productive and brilliantly self-sustaining.

Cal Sailing Club sees the sailboat and time on the water on one, as more than just a game or a hobby. Yes, members are immersed in sailing, but they are also equally immersed in giving, and in helping, and in building the organization. Therefore:

  • It has a very large, active and growing membership
  • It has very low operating costs – it pays rent and insurance and uses most of the rest of its membership funds to keep the shared equipment up-to-date
  • It can be very flexible: if a new boat or fun sailing technique comes along, Cal Sailing Club can put it into use immediately
  • All of its members are advocates, because they are also its teachers, repairmen/women, administrators and marketers.

I took two other important lessons from the visit.

1.) Immersion (sometimes called experiential) learning is, by far, the fastest and most effective method of learning. So I’ve recommitted to more time training under sail for my own sailing team, and in my own sailing advocacy. I’m going to reserve one night a week, all summer long, to take newbies and strangers sailing. The best way to learn to sail is to sail. But the greater lessons of sailing come from teaching others about sailing.

2.) Many of us learned and love to sail because it takes us to places that might be uncomfortable or even a bit scary. But we know them to be great places. Perhaps the greatest. So on Thursday nights, we’re leaving the dock rain or shine. And it’s gonna be great.

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If you’re near Berkeley, make sure to visit the Cal Sailing Club. And if you’re in Berkeley and plan to stay, join CSC today. http://www.cal-sailing.org/.

If you’re in Milwaukee on a Thursday, dock time is 5:30pm. I’ll supply the PFD. nickhayes@savingsailing.com.

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