December 29, 2009

A Day At The Beach


I mentioned last week that we'd be taking some time off to slow things down a bit and enjoy the holidays. We're spending a few days at one of our favorite spots for doing that - California's Monterey peninsula.

I wasn't going to post from here, but I took some photos on the beach today that might give a sense of this place.

Where the sand and rocks of Asilomar meet the Pacific is one of the world's most famous beaches - not for swimming, or surfing, or bikini watching, but for something more primal than that - for slipping away for a while from everything that is manmade - from offices and cubicles, from traffic jams and oil changes, from computer viruses and reboots, from Big Macs and fries.

No photos can really capture the soul of this place. It's raw, pristine, and in some ways even violent. The surf doesn't kiss the shore, it attacks with brutal force. The ground shakes in places from the pounding. After a storm, the remains of birds and animals that weren't strong enough wash up on the beach. It's the rawness of the place, I think, that's humbling and cleansing.

You look into surf that was here millions of years before you and know that it will be here long after you.

I've been to a lot of beaches, but none of them seem to have the mystical attraction of this place. People drive up, get out of their cars, and just stare at the ocean for hours, as if at a religious shrine. It can be cold and windy, but people come here, bundled in parkas and wool caps, to walk in the sand or scramble on the rocks.

The birds and animals are here because this is where their food is. But why do we come to places like this? The answers may seem simple enough, but are they really?

Click on the photos for a closer look.


December 27, 2009

Trouble I've Stirred Up


Captain JP has asked that we put together a 'best posts of the year' post. This is a good way to get a post up without actually having to write anything new at year's end, when most of us are too stuffed from holiday meals and too woozy from holiday spirits to write much that's coherent.

Since I've been blogging for only four months, anything I've written here will probably still be painfully fresh in the minds of anyone who reads this drivel.

But there's always the annoying stuff I've left in the comments pages of other people's blogs over the past year. I could mess up your day by reminding you of some of those moments. So, in the spirit of JP's challenge, if not to the letter of it, here are some examples of trouble, pain, confusion, and embarrassment I have caused other bloggers throughout the past year.

Blog Commenting For Dummies. Not a comment, but a full-fledged, half-baked blog post, this was a response to a Tillerman writing project, in this case to write a review of something.

Before I started this blog, I was in a great tactical position to torpedo Tillerman's blog by simply writing entries to his writing challenges, which he was sort of obligated to post as part of the rules of the challenge. No matter how embarrassed he was by my writing, there it was up on his blog and there wasn't much he could do about it. Ah, those were the days.

JP's Weekend Puzzler. Poor old JP was just trying to make a simple point about how no one pays much attention to day shapes anymore. Day what? You know, those funny balls and cones we're all supposed to display during daytime hours indicating what we're doing afloat (from which small fry like Lasers are exempt, I think). I noticed something telling in his example photo that he probably forgot about and decided to make some mischief. I do that whenever I can. I did pull off a pretty creditable save, though, I thought.

Bonnie's French Quiz. I'm not quite sure how this all began, but I ended up commenting on Bonnie's blog about an old riddle from one of my high school French classes. The next thing I knew, Bonnie turned this into a blog post, which was going OK until someone named Nathalie With An H left a comment in French, claiming to be a native French speaker. The problem was she was completely missing the point. Since I was the one who got Bonnie into this, I thought I could save the situation by attempting to reply in French. Big mistake. It wasn't the first time in my life that an attempt at chivalry left me looking like an idiot.

In the blog I come and go, speaking of Michelangelo. Oh, what the heck, I've already broken the rules of JP's challenge, why not bust the time constraint, too? This is from late, 2008, but it was a seminal moment in blogging. Tillerman chose to reply to one of my totally off-topic comments and paid dearly for it. This encouraged me to do more of this, which eventually led to me writing this blog. If only he'd ignored me, think of all the trouble he could have saved the world. Don't those Brits ever learn? First Neville Chamberlain's weakness, then this - with even worse consequences.

Happy New Year, JP.


December 20, 2009

Taking The Time To Slow Down


I must be old school.

Or, maybe just old.

Somehow, all of these computer-controlled animatronic cartoon figures, inflatable Santa's, and laser light extravaganzas that people decorate their houses with today for the holidays just don't make it for me. For the holidays, I don't want high-tech and I don't want the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Mainly, I want warm and fuzzy and nostalgic.

Happily, Sacramento is one of those California towns that's old enough to have some neighborhoods that don't look like everything in them was built in the past six months. In one of these, just east of downtown, the word has gone out to cool it with the high tech for the holidays. These old homes are mostly decorated with traditional style holiday lights. Most of the displays aren't exactly simple, but there's a kind of elegance there that somehow appeals to me.

For me, this is the time of year to slow down and reflect a bit, instead of worrying about the next coming crisis at work. For a week or two, I like to think back to a time when I didn't worry about databases, file servers, and networks going bump in the night. This need to slow down must come from the same part of me that prefers sail boats to power boats.

Apparently, it's not just me, though. Crowds of people from all over Sacramento, from the cul-de-sac neighborhoods with the blinking plastic Santas, converge on this older part of town to stroll the streets and see what the holidays used to look like. I spent some time there last week, wandering around with a camera, so that you might have a look, too.

This will probably be my last post for a while as I'm taking some time off from blogging to enjoy the holidays. If the weather cooperates, there might even be some sailing.

Thanks for all of your support in getting this blog going this year. Hopefully, I'll see you next year.

From our dock to yours, peace.


December 16, 2009

We Have A Winner


It's certainly a red-letter day for Captain Puffy over at the new Boat De Jour blog.

Fresh off his win in Tillerman's Love and Sailing writing project, he has now won the Tillerman Painkiller Challenge which, confusingly enough, Tillerman actually had little to do with, other than drinking a lot of alcohol to provide us with the raw data for the competition.

The competition was intense, comprised of an international field of entrants. The judging was difficult and I hope not too controversial.

While the Challenge was named for the popular BVI drink, the Painkiller, I hope I made it clear that Tillerman's total gross consumption (or is that his gross, total consumption) of tropical drinks while on his BVI vacation was to be considered in calculating an answer. While one of the entrants, Pat, did exactly calculate the correct number of Painkillers (one), I think he was just trying to lowball the other competitors and got lucky.

I'm guessing Tillerman's room came with one of those free complimentary Painkillers and that his taste in rum drinks may lie elsewhere, so the one Painkiller was hardly an accurate representation of his overall lack of sobriety.

I'm therefore declaring Captain Puffy the official winner of the Tillerman Painkiller Competition. Captain, if you'll contact me via e-mail with your address, your prize will be shipped off to you.

And what is that prize?

That brings us to the photo at the top of the post - which you've probably noticed is not a Painkiller, at least not with a capital 'P'. It's a bottle of one of my favorite wines - a Bogle Petite Sirah - which happens to be a product of a winery located not far from my home town of Sacramento. I'm not one of those snooty oenophiles, but some of them have apparently been duly impressed by this wine and it has won several prizes at competitions that those snooty oenophiles get all excited about.

I should add that I was sufficiently impressed by Captain JP's enterprise in preparing an entry that I am awarding him a consolation prize for his efforts. Should our tracks ever cross, either here in the states or in London, I hereby offer to buy the first round.

And one final note about all of this alcohol business. Despite all of the above, I should note that I'm not much of a drinker. I certainly drink more rum when I'm in the BVI than I ever do at home. I'm one of those party-killing one-or-two-beers-and-an-occasional-glass-of-wine types and would encourage moderation and responsibility in things alcoholic.

And, as is often advised, especially at this time of year, if you drive, please don't drink.

If you drink, please don't blog.


December 15, 2009

Yes, Joe, There Is A Tillerman!


Time for an update on the Tillerman Painkiller Challenge.

You may recall that I challenged readers to predict the total number of Painkillers Tillerman would consume on his BVI vacation. After advance reports of Tillerman sitings from our London bureau, there is now a confirming homecoming post at Proper Course, so it is time to wrap up the Tillerman challenge. I'll summarize the entries received so far:

Boat de Jour: 56

Carol Anne: 42

Pat: 1

Escape Velocity: 14

Joe: X + Y(2XY)/39243X = ? (which I believe is a quadratic equation, and thus ineligible)

Breezetrees: some undecipherable formula whose variables he will need to fill in before Tillerman supplies an actual answer (I refuse to do any math)

JP: A very impressive analysis with lists, categories, spreadsheets, and a Powerpoint presentation, prepared at a great expenditure of time by a professional consultant, but, as is common with the work of professional consultants, containing no useful answer unless I fork over some big bucks and send JP on a cushy development trip to the BVI. This is still a possible winner, though, if there's a big enough bribe in it for me.

As Tillerman is home, entries are now officially closed, although I'll allow Breezetrees to supply a numerical answer until we get an actual number from Tillerman.

On that note, I must address a skeptical question from Joe, who wonders how we will ever learn just how many Painkillers and rum drinks Tillerman drank while on holiday.

To question this is to question the very existence of Tillerman himself, for Tillerman is a just and honorable fellow, dedicated in his soul to the happy conclusion of blogging challenges, no matter where they originate.

Yes, Joe, there is a Tillerman. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas, how dreary would be the world if there were no Tillerman! It would be as dreary as if there were no Joe. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which blogging fills the world would be extinguished.

Nobody sees Tillerman, but that is no sign that there is no Tillerman. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see Tiverton kids dancing on Tillerman's lawn? Of course not, he's an old, crotchety man who chases them away, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

No Tillerman! Thank God, he lives, and thanks to Blogger's archives, he lives forever! A thousand years from now, Joe, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of the blogosphere.


December 14, 2009

Long, Boring Post


If you like long, wordy, and boring posts, you're going to love this one. Otherwise, there are a lot of good blogs listed over there ---------------->
that will probably have better stuff today.

But there are some things bubbling here at O Dock that I feel I should comment on. That old line about fools rushing in, must have been written by someone who knows me.

When I started this blog, I wanted to try a few things that I don't see being done too much in other blogs I read (probably with very good reason). I thought, if the opportunity came up, I'd have a go at posting some original verse - one of those awful taboos that everyone warns you not to do on a blog. Last week, while my common sense was out to lunch, I got my courage up.

I'd watched an old Pete Seeger anti-war video from the late '60s (Mr. Tillerman had linked to it on his Facebook page) and I just couldn't get the tune or its message out of my head. Good ol' Pete was firing away at LBJ during the height of the Vietnam war. The song seems pretty tame now, but the folks at CBS were scared enough by it at the time not to air it (they later relented).

My poem was really something of a dodge because it let me voice a few abstract ideas without having to articulate them too precisely with carefully constructed arguments or supporting facts. Maybe some poets are just lazy historians. I was agitated about a few things and this was an easy way to blow off some steam.

I really didn't expect much response at all as people seem not to comment a lot about song lyrics or poems in blogs - at least not in the sailing blogs I read. And I'm not much of a poet, anyway.

But the theme of war raised some animated discussion here and, having wimped out in the poem, I thought I should clarify how I feel about the questions raised.

Most of us are against war on general principle, I hope, but the question of the day, as our president drafts his policy on Afghanistan is what constitutes a 'justifiable war', if such a thing exists at all.

I'm not going to attempt to answer that question here. We've been trying to do that for a few thousand years now without making much visible progress. And I don't want to stir up a lot of partisan political issues. I'll say only that I can't think of anyone other than the current occupant who I'd rather see in the White House right now grappling with the difficult decisions that must be made.

He revealed some of the personal anguish he's going through last week in the speech he gave while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize - an honor that must have surprised him more than anyone, as he's on the brink of escalating what has already been a long and bloody war.

I'm not saying that you should agree with our president on this escalation, or even that I do. But I think what all of us must do is to read that speech and his formal Afghanistan policy speech carefully and make an effort to understand all of the issues raised. And to follow our president's statements and actions very closely as he proceeds over the coming months. And to hold him accountable to his words and to his promises.

If anything, he's more likely than most of his predecessors to listen to well-voiced opinions from a concerned public. Learn what the issues are and have an opinion. Our most important job as participants in this lovely little democracy of ours is to pay attention.

What we do in Afghanistan may well turn out to be the most important decision of this administration, and possibly the most consequential issue of this period in history. Don't let your kids and grandkids accuse you of standing idly by as we slipped into another Vietnam. I'd be willing to bet that a lot more people will be following the march to the Superbowl over the next few weeks than will read the Afghanistan policy and Nobel acceptance speeches. If you haven't yet, the full texts are here and here.

And while you're reading, you may want to look at a great post that Yarg has put up on this same general topic. He's made a valiant effort to put a sailing twist on it - something that may make the subject more appealing than my little rant here.

Sorry, I don't often get very serious here, but this issue did come up and I thought it too important not to address.

We return you now to our regularly scheduled programming.


December 10, 2009

The Tillerman Painkiller Challenge


Damn it all.

That Tillerman has no common sense of decency.

Here we all are in the throes of winter and what does he do? He blogs about how he's really going to do some serious frostbite racing this winter and then what? Right, he takes off for the BVI, with the subtle boast that he may never come back.

I haven't been able to concentrate on anything else this week. Northern California has been hit by one of those depressing cold spells we get a few of every year. The overnight temperatures have been plummeting to below freezing. And there's been actual frost on the ground in the morning! Can you believe it? Frost! Right here in California. The Chamber of Commerce people are going nuts. I've actually had to start wearing a windbreaker to work in the dead of winter!

All I can think about in my despair is that damned Tillerman lazing about in the BVI's, lying on the beach, snorkeling, sailing some rented Laser, and getting wasted on Painkillers.

To take my mind off the frigid winter conditions here, I am hereby issuing the Tillerman Painkiller Challenge.

Guess how many Painkillers Tillerman has downed on his vacation, and the closest guess will win some kind of prize - yet to be determined. Don't focus on the prize too much, you should enter this competition in the Corinthian spirit - for the sheer thrill of competing.

But please, don't just come up with a number. I'd like to see your reasoning or actual computations. We will have to rely on Tillerman's word for how many Painkillers he has actually downed, assuming he has sobered up enough to remember anything. In the event of a tie, the creativity of the entry will be considered.

I have no idea how long Tillerman will actually be away - a factor which should sweeten the contest.

The decision of the judges (me) will be final, unless someone comes up with a pretty good bribe.


Yikes, the response to this has been underwhelming. I thought folks would have all sorts of theories about how many Painkillers Tillerman is consuming on his BVI vacation.

You just have to come up with a number and some rationale for how you arrived at it. Here are some examples of numbers:


A hypothetical entry might read something like this:

I know that Tillerman has lost 92 Laser races over the course of his racing career and would probably want to drink a painkiller to soothe the pain of each one of those, so I'm guessing 92.

Now that's not that hard, is it?

You're not worried about what kind of prize you might win are you? Did I mention that California is home to some of the finest vineyards in the world?

December 7, 2009

Nineteen Forty-One


The steel and the fire fell from the sky,
Although we were never really told why,
Few questions were raised by father or son
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The newsreels were spun in the same black and white
That colored the answers offered that night
To the few questions raised by father and son
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The call was to arms, it came as a song,
We all had the words, we all sang along,
We all knew exactly what had to be done
In nineteen hundred and forty-one.

The steel and the fire have fallen and burned
A thousand times since, but what have we learned?
Only that fire burns father and son
Just as it did in nineteen forty-one.

The dust of the fires, the dust of the years,
The smoke in our eyes, the sting of our tears,
Have turned black and white to shades of dun
In the many long years since nineteen forty-one.

And still we are called to sing the old song
Though some think the words may now be all wrong
And some think the questions from father and son
May not have been answered in nineteen forty-one.

The steel and the fire fall again from the sky,
Again, we are never really told why.
Six decades have passed, or is it just one,
Since nineteen hundred and forty-one?


December 3, 2009

Getting Out There


On our Monterey trip, we spent a day in foggy Half Moon Bay

A while back, I noticed a comment that Bonnie had left on someone's** blog about a dream trip she'd like to do: hitchhiking with her kayak aboard a sailboat up the Hudson and kayaking all the way back home.

Another quest in the making.

What is it about sailors (and paddlers, too?) that has so many of us always thinking about what's over the horizon? We all seem to be planning or dreaming about a 'quest' of some sort.

Does having a boat lead us to seek out new destinations or is it the other way round? Are sailors a different kind of people whose taste for adventure has led us to boats?

My parents grew up in Philadelphia and spent most of their lives there, content to remain in a world that was safe, predictable, and contained in a single American city.

I was just the opposite. From my first college trip to San Francisco, I've wanted to see what was out there. But it was more than just a desire to travel. I've always wanted to discover things on my own, not to be shown the sites by Circle Grayline.

One of the things I liked about getting back on a bicycle as an adult was the miles you could cover under your own steam. Doing 50 - 100 miles a day meant you could use a bike to travel. And you can take a bike on a train...or on an airplane. There's really no place in the world you can't get to that way.

My first long bike trip was through the rains and muck of rural England, Wales, and Ireland. I was cold and wet, but I was out there on my own. There was something remarkably satisfying about the independence of it. The next trip was to sunnier places - Germany, Austria, Switzerland. I carried a little duffle on the back of the bike. If it wouldn't fit in that bag, it stayed home. Travelling light somehow made me more independent.

There was no itinerary. No list of museums, cathedrals, or famous sites I had to see. If I found a place that looked cool, I stayed for a while. If a road looked interesting, that's where I turned. I absolutely loved being somewhere where I didn't know all of the answers and had to figure things out as I went.

The bicycle, the kayak, the sailboat. There's something common to all three. They're all low-tech, self-contained, and give us a sense of independence. They provide the freedom to go where we want when we want to, but we also have the responsibility for everything that happens to us out there.

With the freedom comes personal responsibility. There seems to be less and less of both in our world today.

 Is that what we're seeking as sailors?

I could have rented a car and driven around Europe like most people do. But what was it about doing it on a bicycle that made it so much better?

When I was just getting into sailing, we dragged our little 15-foot daysailer 800 miles up to Washington state so we could gunkhole the San Juan Islands. We could have easily gone from island to island by ferry boat like most tourists do, but why was it so much better making five-mile passages in a little open boat? Why was it so cool coming into Fish Bay on Lopez as sailors, the way the first people on the island had done a thousand years before?

Last summer, we took our Catalina down the coast a hundred miles to Santa Cruz and Monterey - places we've driven to often for many years. What was it about approaching those towns by boat that made that trip so special?

Why does Bonnie want to kayak a hundred miles down the Hudson river when there are so many other ways to see that country that would be more comfortable, safer, and quicker? Is it the slow pace itself that's the draw?

I'm not sure I know the answers to any of these questions.

Do you?

Have you taken a trip in your boat that gave you this sense of freedom or discovery? Are you planning one?

**Sorry, couldn't find the post and I can't remember whose blog it was. Bonnie, can you provide the link?