Liberty is being free from the things we don't like in order to be slaves of the things we do like.--Ernest Benn

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sailing in the Zone

Ballou killed a skunk last night in the front yard. Her second. At least the 2nd  that I was pleasured to watch. It's an occasion of much barking, pouncing, rooting in vegetation, and shaking, and fur-covered fragments flying. I was struck in the left arm by a fragment. Followed by incredible silence, peace, solemnity.

For a long while I didn't think my Doberwoman had the killer instinct in her. Her predecessor, Red October, was a serial killer. He even left a possum on the dinning room floor, one morning,  in a pool of blood. (Cleaned up, I did, before Trophy Wife got up!). But once when the granddaughters were up for Easter (of all things), Doberwoman blew up her first confirmed black & white. Literally. In pieces. A few steps from our back porch. Again, while I watched.

What do I feel? Awe. It feels a little trivial to admit that. But I do feel some awe. Because Ballou, in her act of killing, enters in to a sort of a zone. A zone not unlike that of a surgeon or fighter pilot, I imagine. At least she zones me out. Like when she chases kiteboarders on the beach. I can't reach her. Not my voice, not even my hand on her collar.The only time she's bitten me was when I was trying to restrain her from intimidating hang-gliders flying off the cliffs. I should add that, over time, I've satisfied she's not really that potentially lethal on the beach. As soon as she approaches a kite boarder who's landed and walking ashore, she recognizes him/her as a person. She leaves her zone on her own.

So I catch myself in some reflection. I used to get in a kind of zone in racing sailboats. It started in Lasers and extended into my keelboat stage. Like what I was like in tennis. My zone fallowed me from the courts to the water. But it's not like that any more. For example, I no longer enforce Racing Rules of Sailing to gain advantage; The RRS are there to establish a standard for safety. In that context, I have come to look upon the racing we do as a group day-sail. Maybe the purpose of the race is to motivate crew into teamwork and effort. I just want them to help me optimize Das Boot's performance.

So, I am out of my previous zone. As far as competition is concerned for myself, I like the way Laser sailor Dennis Olson put it. He considered being buoyant under sail a privilege:
My competition is with myself and the water planet. While sailing, you hang suspended with one hand in the ocean (tiller) and the other hand connected to the sky (mainsheet). You are the pivot point between these two great fluids, the two worlds, and you get to go along for the ride.
Just the same, last night's experience supplies one more reason why I resolve to never, ever, think of bringing Doberwoman racing with me!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Quitters Never Win

But sometimes it's important to quit in a timely manner in order to win another day. Crew morale week-in and week-out is critical for a successful campaign. Today's race is a case in point. 

Das Boot was confronted with true wind from 2 to 5 knots. We still managed to pull off a perfect port tack start on the very favored port end of the line. Miraculous, even. With so little at stake, given the hopeless conditions prevailing, I had no business risking it.  Immediately after clearing other starters, I turned the helm over to Trophy Wife, our Light Wind Specialist (LWS). My  beer muscle was needed on the leeward rail.

LWS skillfully threaded our way, so to speak, through myriad starboard tackers. But in the end, we were no match for those 155% Genoas arrayed against us. We could not clear the Sargasso Sea of kelp, much less fetch the first mark. We reluctantly conceded and removed our piece from the chessboard.

On our way in, we picked up another kelp victim. I felt gratified that our refurbished crew is jelling, especially Kiteboarder! As we walked to our cars, the 3rd and 4th place boats in our fleet were finishing. 

I was home in time to see our last place Dodgers stretch their winning streak to five games, sweeping the Giants. I'm glad they don't quit!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Taking It in the Shorts Four Different Ways

There is no way I can see to photographically convey extreme surface conditions, especially in extremely light wind. Perhaps a video would help. But the audio could prove to be extremely embarrassing: excessive expletives; repetitive mind-changing; rampant indecision.Tonight's  experience was both back breaking and mind-boggling.

Initially we had a steady, less than 5-knot wind from the south and flat seas. I was late to the start because I deliberately opted that option to be on the highly favored side even if it meant being crowded out by lighter and faster boats. Next time I will just try to get over the line as early as possible and to tack on to port, away from the starting line. That's because in light airs, faster fleets will be charging across the line on starboard within five minutes and port tacking then will mean you will take it in the shorts. Which we did, serially.

So we were very late getting to the windward mark. Not long after the spinnaker run started, our real troubles began. Wind oscillations: I'm talking 360º. Continually. Almost like the dinghy sailing I used to do as a kid on mountain lakes. Except in the middle of the second leg in this afternoon's race we were confronted by huge rollers. It's unusual to have huge waves coming against you on a spinnaker run. I'm talking about waves which threatened to bury our bow. (Came close.)

Note: Not too many boats behind us today and the water looks deceptively flat!
Spinnaker would be wrapping around the fore stay. I was too mentally challenged to deal with  more than steering.

The foredeck crew finally made the decision for me and dropped the chute in order to save it.

A third frustration: Just offshore, almost within reach but off the course was a wind wall. Dark water and white caps. Some of our competitors floundered out in that direction to grab some of that good stuff. Not for me. We passed them. In fact, just as we approached the last mark we got some of that good air. Up to 15 knots! But it was still with the  360º oscillating directions as before!

Fourth frustration: A rare up-coast current. After rounding and starting the last beat to the finish line, our breeze kind of settled in to be offshore at 5-7 knots. With the huge rollers going with us, we could not improve over 1 knot boat speed. The answer, of course, was not buckets of kelp or  crab pots  entangled around our prop. It was a huge current flowing against us and the waves crashing  down around us on the stern.

The unprecedented and unforgetable and final insult for the day was the wave which broke over our stern and spashed down my shorts!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I consider that Das Boot has finally emerged from spring training and the real 2013 Season can begin. Two of our highly qualified, perhaps over-qualified new additions have departed for other coastlines and seas. They prepared us for that.

But recruiting has given us (a) a kite-boarder with "no" sailing experience and (b) a mainsheet trimmer/backup helsman with tons of experience.

We're good!

Tonight, the real weather was back again. The forecast of a steady 9 knots max evaporated during the starting sequence to a steady 15-18 knots. On the docks I had been telling peeps that something would be happening. The way the marine layer was sitting, it was suggesting that we could even get a little rain.

With 16 boats on the line, Das Boot busted out in front. I credit that to spectacular teamwork from a OJT crew who were on board together for the first time. We were quickly able to tack off to port and head for the beach. We found the Kelp Straits were all ours, and in these conditions we could tack through them unimpeded like a 38-ft Laser.

Bang! We rounded the weather mark in fourth or fifth, popped the chute with minimal delay. After rounding the reaching mark, the leading Beneteau  underwent an educational experience with its spinnaker and stalled. From there we more or less held our own and finished fifth. We beat the boats we wanted most to beat, except that old Ranger 33 who nipped us in the end.

My only mistake was to promise Kite Boarder her first glass while we were powering back to our slip. I was so sure we were going to correct out for a trophy.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Six Degrees of Separation

Today's pursuit race featured a reaching start in 4-6 knots. I quickly yielded the helm to Trophy Wife and adjourned to the forward end of the lee rail. That's my traditional seat in drifting matches.

From there I occupied myself with watching the electronic wind guide, which cannot be observed by the after guard. And with photography. It was hard work. But I was . . . relaxed about it. Today, I did not bother to communicate back to the helm my observations everytime I noticed pinching. There weren't many, because TW was doing a very credible job keeping Das Boot on her feet.

In the past, whenever I have offered comments from the foredeck, I've been offered Pringles or beer to shut me up. Or, even worse, offered to take the wheel back!

The truth is, I have finally learned that in 5+- knots of wind, that nothing much matters other than being afloat with friends; victory at sea is simply not in the picture. The only thing that matters is trying to pass other boats, especially lighter boats. That's got to be more fun than . . . . fishing? It's the combined effort that counts almost as much as a shared victory.

There can only be six degrees of separation between the two.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

No Complaints!

It gets better than this, but not much. 18-22 knots steady with huge rollers. 16 boats showed up. Great start in clear water. In fourth place for half the race, but a multi-hull couldn't carry its spinnaker and felt compelled to withdraw. Phenomenal crew work. Das Boot was shorthanded; we could have hoisted, but we weren't sure we could douse it. We really didn't need it with our huge mainsail at full hoist.
At the end of the race, Skipper was cramping in all extremities and was self medicating with beers to no avail. Finally, Mai Tai's finished him off.

Too exhausted at this point to continue at the keyboard: going to roll into my bunk with a smile on my face, expecting a hangover tomorrow.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


I can't wait to see Robert Redford's latest film, All Is Lost.

I usually have to wait to see fresh cinema when they are no longer fresh, via Netflix. One, because I can't count on lasting through a full length feature without a comfort break. Two, my hearing deficit is such that I depend on closed captions. (I could even benefit with CC in personal conversations!) But the lack of captions in this feature should not be a factor because there is not much dialogue in this film; just the unmistakable, easily listening, Redford's voice-over.

But I want to see this release because I am personally curious as to how a man two years older than I could find himself sailing Virginia Jean, an ancient Cal-39, alone in the Indian Ocean. I want to see if I can suspend my disbelief. How could anyone that old have anything left to prove substantial enough to require such a solo voyage? Redford's certainly in much better physical shape than I. Reportedly, he performed most of stunts required by his role in this production.

All Is Lost has been shown at the Cannes festival in special, Hors Competition (out of competition) screenings, ineligible for the Palme d'Or. Reportedly, it received a ten-minute standing ovation.

Based upon the sketchiest previews, I expect this saga contains everything that the cinematic sea-going adventure genre is expected to cover: collisions at sea, storms, sharks, pirates, man overboard, radio failures, engine failures and human failures.

Without disclosing TMI, in my time I've personally experienced some of the above. Certainly not one of them sailing solo and not more than one at a time. And none in the Indian Ocean. But I've certainly had those self-interrogations crash through my brain:

What am I doing here?
How did it come to this?
How will it be reported in the news?

I'm insanely curious as to what will be whirling around in the head of Redford's character. Sailing alone, will he have audible flashbacks on his life? Will there be flashbacks on his preparations of, or lack thereof, the boat?

I'm looking here for a mirror of my own shadows: inadequacies, fears and anxieties experienced back in the days when I did island cruises.

Will we understand, in the end, WTF he's out there? It's got to be something more than just cheating the nursery home?

I do not expect a feel-good experience like in other sailing movies. (It's Robert Redford.) But it will have intensity. Which is okay.

Isn't that what we are all living for?