May 31, 2010

Ocean Sailing Is Hard


This has not been much of a holiday weekend for me.

We're mainly staying home and doing various chores.

Between other things, I've been keeping an eye on Valis' progress through the late stages of the Spinnaker Cup on Friday night and today, Sunday, as they've started the long uphill slog back to San Francisco.

Thanks to the AIS transponder on Valis and some web 2.0 magic, it's possible to watch their position, speed, heading, and track online here (apparently only while they're actually underway, though).

I'm sure Edward will be blogging about his adventures when he gets back (and I really don't know if he's aboard for the return trip), but I've been fascinated by what can be learned just from studying their track today.

The main lesson is that ocean sailing is hard, especially when you're trying to get to where the wind is coming from.

Here's the plot of Valis' progress for about eight hours, late Sunday.

Keep in mind that Valis is an extremely capable, heavily built, 44-foot bluewater cruising boat, designed to click off 200-mile days at sea, conditions permitting. That usually means downhill, or on a reach.

But look how things change when you're clawing your way up a coast famous for its difficult conditions.

Sometimes, the Pacific coast can be as calm as a pond. I helped someone do a delivery from LA to SF many years ago, and we motored the entire way on mirror-flat water - even around the sometimes fearsome Point Conception.

But most of the time, especially at this time of year, winds are strong and steady from the northwest. Swells and waves can build after weeks of this into little mountains that just say, "No."

The long starboard tack in the photo is about 27 miles long. The next port tack is about 23 miles. That's fifty miles of sailing that took 6.5 hours - a very nice average speed through the water of nearly eight knots. But in that time, they made only about 25 miles of progress towards their destination.

The nice ninety degree tacks that sailing textbooks tell us we can make have been substantially reduced by leeway and the relentless attack of swells and waves. Conditions are usually worst off points like the one that protects Santa Cruz. A kind of venturi forms that funnels the winds through such spots.

Notice how much closer to ninety degress was the tack made in close to Santa Cruz, which is much more sheltered from the prevailing winds and swells.

Famous for such conditions is the notorious 'Baja Bash' - the long uphill battle to get back from the west coast's best known cruising rally - the Baja Ha-Ha, sponsored every year by Latitude 38.

Many people who do the Ha-Ha sell their boats once they get to Mexico rather than sail back. Others hire professional delivery skippers to do the hard, sometimes dangerous trip.

Still others, of course, succumb to the seductive charms of cheap tequila, warm water, and the almost endless summer that Jimmy Buffett named Margaritaville. They end up spending years or even the rest of their lives cruising Baja, partially for the reasons Jimmy sang about, but in part out of fear or reluctance to face the conditions that Valis is now into.

Ocean sailing is hard.

Update, Monday 9:05 am:

Welcome home, Valis !


May 30, 2010

Bertrand Challenge - Sunday Update


This just in to the O Dock newsroom....

Valis has left Monterey for the long upwind slog back home to their Pac Cup compound in SF Bay. Judging by their somewhat wobbly track and boatspeed, they're sailing back, dammit!

No laggardly motoring on the uphill delivery for this crack crew!

Still no word on whether the team's spiritual center, Edward, is aboard, but the little dot on the plot is still pink, so he very well may be.

As we receive more details, we'll break into regularly scheduled blogging with further updates.

Valis heads north across Monterey Bay's inhospitable waters, Sunday morning at about 11:00 am. Does this crew never stop training?


May 29, 2010

John Bertrand Challenge Update


Intrepid ocean sailor Edward, who is training hard for the John Bertrand Challenge by sailing the 90-mile overnight Spinnaker Cup race from San Francisco to Monterey, California was very near the finish at 4:00 am, local time.

Valis, which had been steaming along at 8-9 knots most of the day was on track to finish around 2:00 am, but ran into very light winds (and probably some adverse currents) just short of the finish. In the wee hours of the morning, they were virtually parked off Lighthouse Point, in Pacific Grove, some five miles from the finish.

I'm going to bed now.

Edward is the little pink dot near the top of the photo, and Pacific Grove's Lighthouse Point is at bottom, in this Google Map/AIS plot of his position at 4:00 am. It wasn't clear why Edward was showing up pink in the photo. He usually wears red foulies.


May 28, 2010

You Can Help


Controversy continues to swirl around the re-ordering of Tillerman's Top Blogs list.

Bloggers are manuevering cagily to snag one of the coveted spots on the list after recent shakeups were announced. The latest campaign has been mounted by veteran San Francisco Bay superblogger Edward, a perennial favorite on anyone's list, who made that old mistake of assuming. He thought his five consecutive wins guaranteed him a lifetime spot, but neglected to read Tillerman's fine print.

Edward is now locked in a life or death struggle with juggernaut John Bertrand Inc. - a multinational sailing conglomerate with offshore offices located in the Bahamas (for tax purposes). Besides still sailing, Bertrand manages an empire of racing syndicates, sailing clinics, training gyms, and a string of pizza shops on Staten Island. He also manufactures those little plastic caps that go on the end of USB flash drives that everyone always assumes are just made in China.

Edward seems to be the only blogger with the chops to knock off sailing legend Bertrand and has thrown down the gauntlet to Bertrand in the form of a sailing race challenge (there's that gauntlet again - has anyone ever actually seen a gauntlet being tossed?) .

Wisely, Edward has stacked things in his favor by opting to choose both the venue and the boats to be sailed. He hasn't made a final decision, but his Newport 28 is now in a downwind slip and must be motored out to the start line which means getting his old Atomic 4 to start - deemed highly unlikely by most observers given how long it's been sitting unused (yes, 'it's' does get an apostrophe in this context).

So, it's likely the race will be sailed in El Toro's over the tricky J Dock course, where Edward's local knowledge of the ever-changing Berkeley Marina currents should pay off handsomely for him.

The El Toro's simplicity is also expected to play to Edward's advantage. Bertrand, used to sophisticated racing machines, is said to be at a loss when there's only one string to pull. He said in a Sailing interview last month,

"In an El Toro, I never know what to do with my hands."

So, as a concerned sailing blogger, what can you do to help Edward in the John Bertrand Challenge?

Ah, that's where O Dock comes in. For this momentous race, we have decided to give up our traditional interdockal rivalry and are throwing our undivided support to Edward. To help in gathering the substantial funds that Edward will need to build a successful syndicate, we are making available to the blogging public these attractive and trendy plastic wristbands with the SailStrong motto tastefully imprinted. Wearing one will let you show the world your commitment to this worthy cause without actually having to think about it too much.

The wristbands are available for only $49.95 through our website From the $49.95 purchase price, fully 10 per cent goes directly to Edward to support the John Bertrand Challenge. We retain a modest 90 per cent for administrative costs and to help pay for my recently repaired autopilot.

Show Edward you're behind him in his struggle to take on John Bertrand and in his fight for truth, justice, and the American way. Visa and Mastercard accepted.


May 25, 2010

An Open Letter To Tillerman


Some of my readers may have been a little shocked by my last post. The language was a bit harsh in places.

I was whining about Tillerman demoting Joe Rouse from his place on Tillerman's list of annointed Favorites. I was a little miffed that a good blogging friend had been dressed down. But I wasn't as miffed as it may have seemed. Some who don't know my attempts at irony may not have understood that. And some who do know me may not have understood either. Such is the way of irony.

As usual, though, the last stroke of irony was cast by Tillerman. I was next on his list to get the boot.

Some may have seen that as a vindictive reaction to my post, but I don't think that was at all the case.

Tillerman, it's mainly your support that got me started blogging and that first directed readers to my blog. I think I may be the only blog to make your Favorites list on day one. And I must be the only one to win a Tilley without even having a blog.

In the early days, when I was the Unblogger, I was frankly amazed to learn that your readers were responding to my comments. You could have ignored my little intrusions, but, instead, encouraged them.

For me, some of your funniest nonsense has been the mock battles you wage with Joe Rouse over Lasers, Force 5's, geriatric frailty, and the propriety of blogging about semi-naked ladies. It is the peculiar relationship you two goofballs have that allows you to spar with no blood being drawn.

I've engaged in more than a little of this faux warfare with you, too, and I trust you understand by now that my bullets are blanks. I no more think you are a fascist than you are actually considering giving up your Laser for a Bayliner.

I do know you reserve several spots on your list for the new and unsung who you think would benefit from some time in the limelight. As holder of one of those spots, it's more than time for me to relinquish it to someone who has a bright future in blogging.

So, thanks again for your help in getting started and my sincere best wishes to Baydog.

OK, the truce is over.

En garde!


May 23, 2010

A Grave Injustice


It is with great sadness that I must report a tragedy in the sail blogging community.

Word spread over the weekend, like an oil spill in a pristine wetlands, that Joe Rouse has been cruelly dropped from Tillerman's list of favorite blogs.

The news was released quietly, after the close of trading Friday, so as not to create panic and hysteria in world financial circles, but negative repercussions are still expected on Wall Street this week.

The mood was somber amongst bloggers, and, initially, few were willing to comment.

In San Francisco, Joe was taking the news hard. He blamed himself in several self-deprecating blog posts, notably one in which he depicted himself as a lost donkey - purposeless, forlorn, and adrift at sea.

In dark symbolism, his craft was without paddles or sail. Its sole means of propulsion was an outboard motor.

In sailing circles, it is well understood that the ultimate sign of failure and ineptitude is to abandon sailing and to take to a powerboat.

Joe is not giving up without a fight, though. In anticipation of long months of legal battles ahead, his supporters have announced the creation of the Joe Rouse Legal Defense Fund. Contributors are encouraged to send whatever aid they can for Joe's support.

As bloggers, we can stand up to such heinous acts of fascist oppression by publicly condemning them and by not allowing them to go unchallenged. If the last century taught us anything it is that fascism's strongest allies are silence and complicity.

The blogging community should speak up loudly against this grave injustice. Don't be bullied. Tell Tillerman how you feel about Joe. Leave a comment here, on Tillerman's blog, or, better yet, write something on your own blog.

Joe has given tirelessly of himself to the sailing blogosphere. Because of him, fish swim freely in the oceans of the world. He has, almost single-handedly, made the bikini bathing suit known to the English-speaking world. He is a great humanitarian. He deserves better than this.

In addition to commenting or writing a blog post, you can send a message directly to Tillerman. Vote in the poll at the top of the right-hand column of this blog. In the interest of fairness, vote as many times as you can.


May 19, 2010

I'm So Confused


I don't know if it's spring allergy season, but my head has been completely confused lately. The blogging world seems all out of joint to me.

Joe has just come back from vacation and is blogging about half-naked cappuccinos.

Bonnie has given up blogging in English and is just posting in Morse Code, which she claims isn't Morse Code.(No wait, update - she says in her latest post, "Wheeeeeeetweetweetweetweetweet!")

Tillerman is blogging about Lasers, as usual, but why do I have this idea stuck in my head that he's been ranting about wanting a - get this - power boat? I know, I must be losing it.

Meanwhile, over on Edward's blog, there's a picture of SF Bay area sailing superstar Paul Cayard sailing in a Pope hat. That would be strange enough, but I feel like I've actually seen that photo before. How could that be?

Like I say, for me everything is out of joint. There's nothi... wait, did I just say over on Edward's blog? That can't be right. Edward hasn't blogged in... see what I mean? Nothing is making sense this week.

I'm so confused, I'm going to try to get reoriented by returning to basics. I'll write a nice, simple post about sailing. And in the logic of this week, what better sailing topic to blog about than the Philly Cheesesteak?

I'm ashamed to admit it, but the Philadelphia Cheesesteak, as an institution, is something I never really got.

I may have a recessive cheesesteak gene.

But, invariably, when someone hears that you grew up in Philadelphia, they will ask about cheesesteaks. So, I'm always being asked to defend or expound upon the cheesesteak. Somehow though, in a city that is so well known for its diverse ethnic heritage, it is unfortunate that such a meager culinary creation should get so much press.

For me, hoagies had more merit, although I'm not sure I would have the courage to attempt one of those, with everything, today.

In my youth, Pat's Steaks in Sout' Philly was the reigning champion of the Cheesesteak, claiming to have invented the greasy thing. A large neon sign out front - well, two large neon signs actually - modestly proclaimed, "Pat's King of Steaks".

Throughout the neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, various factions favored one rival cheesesteak establishment or another. The preference seemed to be passed down, within families, from one generation to the next, and defending one's familial cheesesteak allegiance became a matter of pride.

As I recall, it was just such internecine differences of opinion that often made life in that part of town so colorful.

Geno's Steaks, just across the street from Pat's, has conducted a typically South Philly 'in your face' rivalry with Pat's for longer than anyone can remember. With each generation, the signs proclaiming supremacy grow larger, more elaborate, and consume more wattage.

But what was all the fuss about? Why the almost religious fervor for the cheesesteak? What exactly was the draw?

Try as I might to unravel those mysteries, to me the cheesesteak has always smacked of hoax.

At its heart, it was always just a cheap cut of almost inedible meat that someone had tried to coax into being a delicacy by slathering with onions and Cheez Whiz and whacking with a spatula to induce a faux tenderness. Many almost pulled off the hoax, but in the end, or certainly by two hours after eating one, the diner was beset with the sad realization that this was no haute cuisine. If he was lucky, that was all he was beset with.

I think Philadelphia clings to the cheesesteak more out of desperation than anything else. The titles to most of the town's claimed culinary originalities have been successfully challenged by other dominions. New York has the bagel, foot-long hot dog, and possibly even Belgian waffles. Soft pretzels probably came from Bavaria. Salt Water Taffy, Atlantic City. Other than scrapple - and who else would bother claiming that - we've got the cheesesteak and that's about it.

Like I say, I was mainly a hoagie guy through most of my formative years, so don't really care too much one way or the other.

As I matured, so did my palate, and I moved on to what I now look back upon fondly as my pastrami years.


May 13, 2010

Tillerman's New Boat



TIVERTON, R.I. - Associated Press - A Rhode Island sailor is reported to be developing the first solar powered Laser class sailboat.

The 14-foot boat, originally powered only by sail, is driven by a two-horsepower electric outboard motor, run from a standard car battery. The battery is charged by a solar panel mounted on the boat's deck.

Cosmo Tillerman, a retired IT manager and life-long sailor has been building the boat in his backyard for the past two years. The boat is said to be capable of reaching speeds of eight knots (9.2 miles per hour), "...much faster than I could ever go with a standard Laser rig," Tillerman said.

Tillerman apparently got the idea to convert his boat to power two years ago during a mid-winter race in Newport, Rhode Island's chilly waters.

"I just got tired of all the capsizes."

A 'capsize' is a nautical mishap in which a boat flips on its side, with the crew members usually being ejected into the water.

"I never really got the hang of doing a proper jibe, so I was getting wet a lot," said the lanky Tillerman, a Rhode Island resident, but a British citizen.

Tillerman has also been discouraged by the declining popularity of sailing in the United States and sees the future of boating to be in powered boats.

"Another factor that's killing sailing is all of those complicated racing rules. You need a law degree to keep them all straight - and, to make matters worse, they're always changing them."

Tillerman has been testing his new boat on the waters of Narragansett Bay, near his home. He sees a potential market for the boat among disgruntled sailors, but said he has no intentions to market the boat himself.

"I've been approached by Subaru about an unrelated marketing program, so I may see if they're interested in selling the powered Laser."

Several boat builders contacted by the Associated Press indicated the powered Laser concept is fundamentally sound since the speeds generated by the electric motor are well within the boat's original 'design envelope'.

Tillerman writes a popular blog about sailing where he has recently started posting articles on powerboating instead.

"Everyone thinks I'm pulling their leg, but I'm serious. The future is powerboating."

Tillerman usually uses only his last name in his blog.


May 12, 2010

I Never Really Wanted An Autopilot


I never really wanted an autopilot.

But my boat's previous owner had installed one and all the smart people told me this was something I shouldn't be without.

With an autopilot, I could leave the helm, power straight into the wind, and be free to get the sail up without worrying about the boat wandering all over the marina.

On a long sail, I would love the freedom an autopilot affords, allowing me to go below to make a sandwich or to consult the chart, or, well,  to do whatever else I might need to do below.

An autopilot makes single-handing a piece of cake.

Or so all the smart people told me.

And, as it happens, those smart people were right.

Up to a point.

That point happened one day when the screen on the autopilot suddenly went blank and started making a loud beeping noise. At that point, I no longer had an autopilot, but an expensive device that made a loud beeping noise.

Had this been some electronic gizmo on my car or in my house, I would have called the autopilot repair guy and paid him to fix it. It would have been done in a week or so and that would have been that.

But what is it about boats that makes us attempt repairs that we know nothing about? Why are we so drawn to challenge the unknown? Is it the sailor in us? I really don't know.

It could be the Rule of Twelves:

Having someone else fix anything on a boat will always cost twelve times more than seems reasonable.

A corollary to the Rule of Twelves is that if you fix it yourself it will take twelve times longer than if the job is done by someone who knows what they are doing.

Yesterday, I successfully completed the installation of my newly repaired autopilot and had it running as good as new - only a year and a half after it broke.

Newly reinstalled autopilot, running as good as new.

Fixing anything on a boat takes forever because there is a lot of contemplation involved. You're constantly confronted by problems for which there are no apparent solutions. You stare at the inexplicable, contemplating how you will ever fix it.

Things are securely bolted into places where it is impossible to get a wrench. Or, if a wrench can be worked in, there is no place for the hand that would turn that wrench. You begin to believe that boats have been built by 'immaculate construction' - no wrenches or hands were ever involved at all. The boat miraculously just came into being.

And there's also the problem that many of the things on a 25-year-old boat were not installed by The Creator. Half of them were jury rigged in some ingenius manner by people who had no idea what they were doing - people like me. You know that if you manage to get one of those parts out, it will never ever go back in the way it was.

Such was the case with my autopilot. After ripping it out and sending it off to the manufacturer to be rebuilt, I've spent most of the past year and a half trying to envision how I would ever get it back into the space where it had been. I'm sure it was just such a problem of time, space, and dimension that led Einstein to happen upon his theory of general relativity.

But Einstein didn't have to cram himself into a locker the size of a kitchen sink to do his creative thinking.

If I went into all of the details of how I finally re-installed my autopilot, this post would be longer than, well, than my last post. And no one bothered to read that.

Suffice it to say, the process involved:

- completely dismantling the 'other' half of the autopilot to make sure it wasn't the broken part

- watching the other half of the autopilot explode into 86 tiny nylon gears rolling all over my dining room floor

- spending three hours figuring out how 86 tiny nylon gears would ever go back into the other half of the autopilot (Hint: like a Rubix Cube, there is only one correct solution)

Other half of autopilot, containing 86 tiny nylon gears that only go back in one way

- having a plastics shop fabricate a custom mounting plate that I had to design myself

- three fruitless trips to three different hardware stores in search of brass rod threaded with an unknowable English thread

- listening to three different hardware store guys laugh uncontrollably at the sight of my unknowable English thread

- two trips to Home Depot in search of some small bracket thingie or something that I could work into the shape of a small bracket thingie

- a trip to West Marine to get the stainless bolts, washers, and nuts to complete the small bracket thingie

- another trip to West Marine to get the stainless thing I forgot about on the first trip

- fabricating the wooden cross brace that attaches to the bracket thingie that pulls the autopilot against the plastic mounting plate I had to design myself that stabilizes everything while the 3M adhesive sets up (any boat project undertaken by someone who doesn't know what they are doing will eventually involve some sort of 3M adhesive)

- drinking lots of beer while contemplating how the next step of the installation would somehow come to pass.

Anyone who doesn't have a boat and who happens to read this will think I am completely nuts.

Anyone who does have a boat and who happens to read this will understand exactly what I am talking about, but will still think I am completely nuts.

But I don't care. My autopilot is back in the boat and working again.

And I have learned why I never really wanted an autopilot.


May 6, 2010

Back To The Future


Mr. Tillerman's last writing project was about predicting the future, or at least what sailing might be like in the future.

As it happens, before he announced that writing project, I was preparing a post about a very scary attempt to predict the future that had gone horribly wrong. For me, it was horrible not because the prediction was wrong, but because it has turned out to be horribly right.

I found this historical curiosity while checking some facts for a post I did a while back on the 1964 New York World's Fair, of all things. (Hmm, what kind of sailing blog is this, anyway?)

If you'll recall from that post, the 1964 World's Fair was brimming with hope and optimism about what was thought to be a bright future. Many exhibits tried to show us what life might be like in that future. But none tried harder than the Fair's most popular exhibit of all - the humongous General Motors Futurama - housed in a three-acre building on an eight-acre site. Over a two-year run, the exhibit attracted 26 million people.

GM, one of our nation's largest producers of consumer products, at the height of its power, with its finger presumably on the pulse of American tastes, was proudly showing us where it thought we should be going.

So what was so horrible about what they were forecasting?

Well, among other things, they predicted the destruction of the world's tropical rain forests. Those forests would be cut down, paved over, and 'civilized' cities of consumers would be built where the forests had been. But the great minds at GM were boasting about how this would be one of mankind's greatest triumphs.

Throughout the whole presentation they see man's role as the great 'tamer' and harvester of the world's 'endless bounty'. In the rain forests, in the oceans,  in the desert, in the arctic -  even in outer space - man is the great conqueror and consumer. The natural world exists to serve the needs of man - to be endlessly exploited.

Here is the transcript of the part about how we will 'tame' the 'jungles' of the world:

In tropical waters fabulous coral reefs lead us back to the land. An equatorial land where nature flourishes more abundantly and in greater variety than in any other region of the world. Yet nowhere else have man's productive efforts been so challenged and for so long.

Now technology has found a way to penetrate and control the wild profusion of this wonder world. A jungle road is built in one continuous operation.

First, a searing ray of light - a laser beam - cuts through the trees.Then a giant machine, a factory on wheels, grinds up the stumps and jungle growth, sets the firm foundations, forms the surface slabs, sets them in place and the roadway bed is paved.

These forest highways now are bringing to the innermost depths of the tropic world the goods and materials of progress and prosperity creating productive communities that can enter profitably the markets of the world and offering to us all enchanting tours through the storybook forests of tropic lands.

Yikes! I guess the Cadillacs of 2024 were all going to have mahogany dashboards and we could drive them through the rain forests on wide superhighways once we got all of those pesky trees out of the way.

If you think I'm making this up, here's a video of the whole ghastly thing. You can use the scroll button at the bottom to advance to around 3:45, where the part about the 'jungle' starts.

If that's not shocking enough, they describe how the world's oceans might 'serve' us once we get our technology geared up for the big harvest of the future. Besides drilling for more oil in places we couldn't reach before, we'll be able to feast on the ocean's 'boundless' supply of seafood.

If you've somehow missed the news this week, you may want to flick on CNN to check out how well our quest for offshore oil is going.

And for a modern update on just how 'boundless' that seafood supply is turning out to be, take a look at JP's post on the documentary film End of the Line, which describes in frightening detail how threatened most of the world's fisheries currently are.

From the perspective of 2010, I guess there are some other signs that the geniuses at GM may have missed the mark a bit in predicting the realities of the future.

One thing they failed to notice that would somewhat affect their own future was a small car company that was selling it's first models made just for the US market in 1965. The cars were small and simple, but sturdy and efficient little sedans that, even in 1965, were getting 30 mpg. In that year, the upstart company sold about 6000 cars here.

They had a name that sounded a little funny to American ears. But, in time, most of us would learn how to pronounce it. The accent is on the second syllable: