The time for seasickness advice is before the head is in the bucket

November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sailing in waves: Photo courtesy Chris Gribble

Never offer a feel-good suggestion to a green-faced crewmate. It’s a sure way to make a bad situation worse. Instead, let’s tackle the sour subject of seasickness, and what to do about it, in the safe confines of a fine, stable magazine like Sailing.

Most medical experts will say that seasickness is a response to the eyes seeing one thing and the body feeling another, or vice versa. When there is a conflict, the primitive brain thinks it is hallucinating and assumes that the body has been poisoned, so it sends the purge command. Some say that the only cure is to eliminate the conflict and that means staying home. That doesn’t help folks who want to learn to sail. Read the rest in this month’s issue of Sailing Magazine.

SailingMag

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

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.

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

Olympians need you to #GoSailing

August 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Olympic sailing success depends on a robust intergenerational recreational sailing population. Period. These data confirm it.

Recreational Sailing and Olympic Medals

After popularity grows, we earn more medals. Soon after popularity falls, we earn fewer.

If you compare the number of recreational sailors in the US to the number of medals earned per recreational sailor, you learn that one short generation (15-25 years) after sailing was at its peak popularity in the US, the US was fielding its most talented Olympic sailing teams. Soon after sailing began to fall in popularity, we began to perform more inconsistently, and eventually, we struggled to represent in international competition. Sure, some individuals have been stand-outs, but broadly, our Olympic team needs a much stronger foundation. And sadly, these data confirm that success takes a longer time to cultivate than failure.

Medals vs sailors

It’s a bit easier to see the relationship by using polynomial trend lines to smooth the data.

Granted, we outperformed between 2000 and 2008 in terms of medals earned per recreational sailor, due, in part, to hangover effects: many Olympians take part in more than one of the games and modern professional training got more from some athletes. But this also means that in those odd years, we were effectively concentrating the most skill in the fewest people. If you had to invent a formula for eventual collapse of a team, that would be it.

So this year’s medal shut-out was to be expected.

The way to earn more Olympic sailing medals is to build at the base; to share sailing broadly with as many people at the local level as we can reach. #GoSailing.

Opti Haters

July 12, 2012 § 21 Comments

From the series Here Come the Optis, by Curt Crain

From the series Here Come the Optis, by Curt Crain

On the subject of kids learning to sail, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a discussion thread on a sailing website or an op/ed in a sailing magazine that doesn’t include extreme opinions about the Optimist Dinghy (Opti) and other similar one-person prams like the El Toro. Folks either hate them or they’re resigned to them.

Generally, the Opti-resigned assume that the only way for a kid to learn is in a pram, starting precisely at the age of eight. Opti haters blame the boats for scaring kids away, or, at least, for not being enough fun to sail to hold their interest after a time. The resigned often get their cues from people who sell prams. And haters get theirs from people who sell something else.

Of course, neither claim is true. Optis can be a heckuva lot of fun, but they aren’t the only way to learn.

Deeper thinking than rants and promotions takes you to a place where the flaws and the benefits are found in the programs, not the boats. « Read the rest of this entry »

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