May 29, 2012

76th Annual Snipe Southwestern

by Pam
Photo by Skip Rhodes - we're 28686
Doug and I had an invitation to sail in the 76th Annual Snipe Southwestern this weekend and decided to go for it. Neither of us had ever stepped on a Snipe before so we took it out for a spin on Friday afternoon with the winds gusting into the 30s.  We tacked once, and on the second tack we tipped and the rudder came off.  I was done for the day.

So, one of the old champions in the fleet showed me the two stroke slap tack and one of the younger champions in the fleet showed me the one stroke stand and pull tack.  By the end of the weekend, I had perfected my own signature technique that I called the 'oh shit, WTF'.  No two tacks were the same and each began as a bit of a surprise (Doug is not used to saying when he wants to tack) and each one ended with a tangle of lines that left me puzzled.  But, 10 out of 10 times, the jib came across and was set and ready once we were on the new tack. All was well until the old champion engaged us in a tacking duel. After I found every sharp, blunt and protruding object in my small space, Doug was not my favorite person.

The goal of the weekend was to get a on double-handed boat without a spinnaker so that Doug could teach me tactics.  That didn't work out.  Doug's head was in the boat more often than not.  And I mean, it's blowing and I'm hiking and his head is literally between his legs trying to find the hiking strap to get his feet under.  And, he actually dropped the tiller twice.  Old habits die hard.  He is used to sailing barefoot, knowing where his straps are, having a long stick with a knobby thing on the end and tacking without thinking about it.  Change a few things and we're trading oh shits all around the course.  

Somehow, we managed a 4th and I got the feeling we were getting better.  We just might have to give that a try again.  It was actually kind of fun.

Fast Handling Techniques

By Doug

When we visited Frank after the Brisbane Worlds, he told us that he was working on another book that is a companion to his 2008 classic Higher Performance Sailing. He gave us a copy of Chapter 7 which is about sailing a Laser written by Brett Beyer. Brett writes about upwind, crosswind, and downwind in all sailing conditions and has some really good material that has helped him win his eight Laser Master Worlds.  Frank's final book will be available in December and you can pre-order it here. Would make a great Christmas present for any Laser sailor (hint, hint Pam).

May 26, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Sailing Smart 3

By Doug
Laser Cheat Sheet

We end the "be smart" light air sailing with another example. The 1992 U.S. Laser Masters was held in Moosehead Lake in upstate Maine. If you can find it on the map, you'll see that it's about as remote a sailing spot as you can get. But what a fantastic place to sail! In a competitive fleet, I found myself in the unenviable position of having to win the final two races to win the event. So, it was time to get creative and take some risks. There's an extreme case of not sailing the course or the competition.

I'm green on the starboard tack lay line with boats ahead and below. There's a tempting but stationary puff to the right, off the course. I decided to tack away from the mark and competition to get into the breeze and then tack again to come back on a hotter angle to the mark. A fellow behind me said it was strange to watch and thankfully, it worked.

So, would I have tried this without the need to take risks? It would have been very tempting because in light air I prefer to stay in the pressure, but then I also prefer to stay with the competition. So I guess it was a tossup and this time, it worked.

May 23, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Sailing Smart 2

By Doug
Laser Cheat Sheet

Back to my cheat sheet and a trick that I used at a national championship sailed in another class at Lake Lotawana, a small lake near Kansas City. There were wind lanes coming down the lake, but you could not see them by looking at the patterns on the water. So I tried something a little different.

When we're sailing upwind, you normally look ahead at the sail or over your forward shoulder at the wind, waves, and next mark. Occasionally, you'll look backwards to see what the boats behind you are doing. What's missing from this picture?

We hardly ever look over our trailing or "wrong shoulder" because there's not much going on. But at Lake Lotawana, there was a lot. Whenever I was headed and wanted to tack, I looked over my wrong shoulder and asked myself this question: are the boats there going at least as fast as me? If the answer was yes, then I tacked. If the answer was no, then I sailed through the header. The other boats that tacked on these headers sailed right into less wind and slowed down. It was much better to stay in the pressure even when headed. This is especially important when the wind is light and you have to "be smart."

This was my first major event in this class and others were definitely faster. But using this one trick to always stay in the pressure, I was fortunate to score five bullets and threw out a second. For me in these conditions, looking over my wrong shoulder worked like a charm.

May 22, 2012

2012 Laser Gulf Coast Championship

by Doug

The 2012 Gulf Coast Championship was held at Houston's Texas Corinthian Yacht Club over the weekend. The forecast was for light winds but the weatherman got it wrong as we got 12-15 on Saturday and a little less wind on Sunday. 62 competitors travelled from as far away as Seattle and the Bahamas and, following a trend that we have seen overseas, the radial fleet had the largest turnout. Lots of practice in these conditions was evident as TCYC sailors won in all three fleets.

I sailed a full rig and watched Greg Martinez easily win with six bullets. After the first race, I overheard someone ask why Greg was not going really fast on the runs and I thought to myself, I thought he was. Well, the races that followed explained that comment as he just took off on each run to win the races by very large distances.

Greg is such a gentleman on an off the water and is so willing to share his knowledge. He allowed me to interview him about his downwind speed which I will post later because, being a grand master, I had a senior moment and left my life jacket behind which has my camera in the pocket. One thing Greg does is bear off at the top of a wave and press his knees way forward to push the bow down. In the marginal surfing conditions, it really worked. Greg told Scott Young about this after the first race and he also got it to work, but Scott did not share this with me until the end of the day.

Another thing that was interesting was the many shifts and how I would cross tacks with Scott. I had a compass and he did not and I was almost always on a lift. I kept saying to myself poor Scott, he's going the wrong way. Our speed was close and I was amazed how he would usually gain from these split tacks. How he does this in open water was impressive - perhaps he was playing the pressure which I was not.

Another gentleman in our fleet was Dave Ryden who provides us all with some great incentive. You see, Dave is competitive and he sails Laser 694 with an old rag of a sail. That's right, he sails a forty year old Laser and finished in the top ten! I noticed that when Dave was close to someone, that sailor usually hiked a little harder. No one wants to be beaten by a museum piece.

A new sailor from Dallas, Greg Wallace, has made it to every race in the circuit this year. He still has much to learn, but that kind of persistence is good to see.

The talent in the radial and 4.7 fleet was deep and was dominated by a bunch of young sailors. This is great news as this is the future of the Laser class. There are clearly several junior sailing programs that are working very well.

May 19, 2012

The Kirby Sailboat - Take Two

by Pam
Rewritten on May 19, 2012

Tillerman's recent post on Proper Course, a conversation with a sailor at a regatta this past weekend, Eric Faust being made General Manager at the ILCA, and posts on various forums, have all combined into a perfect storm in my head which motivated me to verify what facts I could and share that information.

Since, I got some information wrong in the first post and since there is already so much incorrect information circulating, I’m revising the post but leaving the original post in place since I received word that it was brought to the attention of the World Council who are currently meeting.  My intention is to simply show that we need more information and maybe the ILCA needs to consult with another attorney for a second opinion.

The March 23, 2011 ILCA proposed rule change and the resulting September 23, 2011 vote and discussions along the way have given rise to a dilemma … to ratify the rule change or not to ratify, that is the question.  A case can certainly be made for urgency but a case can also be made for measuring twice and cutting once. 

So let’s jump in and assemble the various statements and see what pieces can be verified and what questions still remain.

(I put the text in the icon below since it took me a minute to find it on the link)

BKI - Bruce Kirby Inc. (former and present design rights holder)
GS - Global Sailing (former design rights holder)
LPE - Laser Performance Europe - a builder and a trademark owner
ILCA - International Laser Class Association

Patents - None
Trademarks - “LASER”
Design rights - boat design
BKI / GS - boat design rights (BKI pre 2008 / GS in 2008 / BKI in 2011) 
LPE - "LASER" trademark rights in several areas and former right to build boat by virtue of contract with BKI/GS
ILCA - no rights to boat design or trademark - controls definition of “class legal” boat

Dispute (pieced together from various sources)
BKI contracted with LPE to build boat.  BKI sold design rights to GS. LPE paid two years of royalties to GS and then stopped paying. GS terminated LPE’s right to build the boat.  BKI reacquired design rights from GS. Unknown whether BKI and LPE re-established contract to allow LPE to build boat.

ILCA Action
“…we are proposing to change the rule to eliminate the “building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc.” requirement. Manufacturers who have trademark rights and who build in strict adherence to the ILCA Rules and to the Construction Manual, which is controlled by ILCA, will continue to have the right to build Class legal boats." 


There are and never were any Kirby design patents for the Laser.

ILCA:  ‘… a builder also needs a building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc. This provision is mostly historical. The rule was instituted at a time when Bruce Kirby held certain design rights. … The lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patents had in fact expired….’

Kirby:  ‘… There never were any patents. You can't patent a sail boat design. These were contracts, legitimate contracts drawn up by lawyers and there is no suggestion that I had a patent on the boat. These were long term contracts that were renewable every so many years. No-one’s ever questioned them so I don’t know what lawyer they found that suggested this course of action. It’s crazy!...’

What can be verified:  A search of various patent offices in most major countries revealed that Bruce Kirby had two US design patents:
D304,922 (12/5/89 - 12/5/03) for “Sailboat Hull” - but not for a Laser
D373,156 (08/27/96 - 08/27/10) for “Model Sailboat” - but not for a Laser

Here are the images (click to make bigger) of the first and second page of the design patents.


It’s quite possible that the ILCA’s attorney isn’t a Laser sailor, and when he/she saw these design patents, one of which recently expired, he/she incorrectly concluded that this must be the subject of Kirby’s designer/builder contract.  However, any Laser sailor can tell you that these design patents probably don't cover the Laser (one has a jib and the other a keel).  Unless the attorney can somehow make a case similar to the stool vs. chair as in this example, I’d have to say the ILCA might have received some inaccurate advice.  


Bruce Kirby/Bruce Kirby, Inc. holds 4 copyrights in the US and the one worth noting is the Laser Construction Manual:

Type of Work:  Text
Registration Number / Date:  TXu001362085 / 2007-06-21
Title:  Laser construction manual.
Copyright Claimant:  Bruce Kirby, Inc.
Date of Creation:  2005
Authorship on Application:  Bruce Kirby, 1929-.
Copyright Note:  Cataloged from appl. only.
Names:   Kirby, Bruce, 1929-
Bruce Kirby, Inc.

ILCA:  ‘… Manufacturers who have trademark rights and who build in strict adherence to the ILCA Rules and to the Construction Manual, which is controlled by ILCA …’

I cannot find any record that indicates the Laser Construction Manual has been assigned to the ILCA.  “Control” doesn’t necessarily equate to “ownership” and a copyright would cover the text and any derivative works for 70 years after the death of the author.  Perhaps the ILCA should consult with an attorney regarding who owns this Laser Construction Manual and if it’s still Kirby, what does that mean for the ILCA?


The LASER trademark has always been owned by the builders, not the designer (Kirby), design rights holders (Kirby/BKI/GS) or the ILCA.

ILCA:  ‘ …requires that a builder of class-legal boats must (among other things) (i) manufacture the hull, equipment, fittings, spars, sails and battens in strict adherence to the Construction Manual and (ii) have the Laser trademark rights…’

‘Global Sailing [design rights holder] has said it may form a new class association for a “Kirby Sailboat”. LPE [builder] informed the ILCA that it intends to form its own “Laser” class’.

Kibry:  I can find no statement made by Kirby claiming to own or have ever owned trademark rights to LASER.  Instead he has indicated the official name of the boat (presumably in the designer/builder contracts) is the Kirby Sailboat. 

Forums:  Various posters on various forums have said that Kirby sold his trademark rights.  These are incorrect assumptions.

Here is the assignment record for the USA LASER trademark.  If you click on the “serial number” at the top, it will take you to the trademark record.  Performance Sailcraft, Inc. filed the original registration on June 17, 1974 and it is currently owned by Karaya (Jersey) Limited.

CAN LASER trademark - ownership record is similar to US

AUS - Performance Sailcraft Pty. Ltd. originally filed and still holds LASER trademark.  As of June 29, 2010 they filed for about a half dozen more variations of the LASER trademark, all of which will issue as registered trademarks on September 29, 2012. 

EU - Performance Sailcraft Europe Limited originally filed and still holds LASER trademark (as far as I can tell but I’m not as familiar with searching at this office).

Designer/Builder Contracts

To comment on the contracts would be pure speculation but given the above pieces that can be verified, it gives rise to some questions.  Given that it's almost a certainty that there were never any patents, then is the basis of the contract still valid?  Is the ILCA rule the only thing that binds the builder to the designer/builder contracts?  What about the Laser Construction Manual?  The Copyright Office shows Kirby to be the owner but the ILCA says they “control it”.  Does that document bind the ILCA to Kirby? Or do the designer/builder contracts actually hold all of the pieces together and changing the class rule will still not invalidate the contracts nor empower the builders to build the boats?  And, I've received new information regarding LPE and there is something there that is very off and worth a little investigation.   

To ratify or not to ratify, that is the question.  If you had more information available to you when you voted, would you have voted differently?  Do you feel that the information you were given created confusion?  Did it affect the way you voted?  Should we measure twice and cut once?  How expensive is it if we get it wrong and ruin it.  I don’t know.

May 16, 2012

The Kirby Sailboat

by Pam
Updated version can be found here The Kirby Sailboat - Take Two.  Don't bother to read this unless you're just curious.  

Tillerman's recent post on Proper Course and a conversation with a sailor this past weekend motivated me to find some answers to questions no one seems to know the answer to and everyone seems to be talking circles around.  

So, since I spend my days looking up details of patents and trademarks, I figured I was uniquely qualified to do some digging.  Not only did I find the answers, I formed a theory as to what the heck is really going on.  It's just a theory so don't go quoting me because I don't have any inside information and I'm basing my theories on some minor experience with such matters.  So, let's just jump right in.

Bruce Kirby has two US design patents and they are public information.  Both have expired.  Now judge for yourself on whether either of these patents covered the Laser (click on the image to make it bigger):

A jib?  Doesn't look like a Laser to me.

A keel?  And the title says is "Model Sailboat"?

Okay, two strikes.  Those aren't Lasers.  My search included all the major patent offices and I even used the fancy search software that patent attorneys use.  Bruce Kirby had said the building contract rights weren't based on copyrights (he probably meant 'patents') and the ILCA said the Kirby contracts were based on 'certain aspects' of patents that had recently expired. 

Actually, I think they were both speaking their version of the truth.  Bruce, knowing his rights were based on contracts and not intellectual property patents, trademarks or copyrights.  The ILCA, citing that the patent rights had recently expired (the second design patent above expired in August of 2010).  Also, check out this patent attorney's explanation of stools vs. chairs and the infringement possibilities between the two (  Those darn patent attorneys can make a case for just about anything and they probably saw the design similarities in the model and the Laser and assumed the building contracts (which the ILCA admitted to not having seen) might somehow have been based on a patent right.  I'm betting against the patent licensing/infringement/expiration thing being a factor and believing the right to build the boat was based on the building contracts which related to hull molds, design specifications, etc.

Now, let's move on to trademark rights.  I've heard people say that Kirby lost or sold his trademark rights.  Not so.  I checked the trademark offices of the US, CA, EU, and AU.  Kirby never filed for trademark coverage of "LASER".  All the initial filings were by Performance Sailcraft (Inc. in the US & CA, Pty. Ltd. in AU, Europe Limited in the EU).  Kirby had said the official name of the boat was the 'Kirby Sailboat.'  That seems plausible since the actual building contracts (which I don't know anything about) should be about the hull design and specifications of the boat he called the 'Kirby Sailboat' but it would make sense to give the contracting parties the right to call it something else and they chose "Laser." 

Now, here's an interesting twist.  The US and CA have this super long transactional history of the ownership of the LASER trademark rights changing several times with it now being owned by Karaya (Jersey) Limited as of December 14, 2011 but the Assignment was back dated to January 1, 2009.  I think Karaya is somehow linked to LaserPerformance but I didn't bother to follow that up.  In AU, the LASER trademark owner is still Performance Sailcraft Pty. Ltd. and as of June 29, 2010 they filed for about a half dozen more variations of the LASER trademark, all of which will issue as registered trademarks on September 29, 2012.  I'm not completely familiar with using the EU searching function but it appears the trademark owner in the EU is Performance Sailcraft Europe Limited.

So, assuming that Bruce Kirby didn't have patent or trademark rights all this time, it would make sense that the building contracts covered Kirby's "trade secrets" and that is what was contracted for.  Trade secrets aren't public information and they never expire.  I read somewhere that Kirby indicated one of the parties owed him alot of money which created the contract dispute that the ILCA jumped into the middle of.  It's only a guess on my part, but I've worked for companies that licensed their intellectual property to larger companies and at some point there is always a routine tipping point where the big dog in the fight decides to stop paying royalties and keep all the money for themselves since it is cheaper to fight in court than it is to pay royalties. 

Now, what creates that tipping point is anyone guess.  A scheduled renegotiation point in the contract in which one or both of the parties want a bigger piece.  Who is to say. 

Now go out and look at the manufacturer tag on your boat.  It lists 3 parties - the ILCA, Bruce Kirby, Inc. and the trademark owner. 

Bruce Kirby owns the trade secrets for the Laser design (the Kirby Sailboat) and always will.  The manufacturers own the rights to the "LASER" trademark but not the boat design.  The ILCA just changed the class rules to say that the Laser no longer has to be the originally designed Kirby Sailboat.  What a mess. 

Of course, it's possible, I'm completely wrong.  But perhaps I've added a few missing pieces to the puzzle and people with more knowledge than me can connect the dots so that they make more sense.

UPDATE:  So let me see if I have this straight ...

BKI - Bruce Kirby Inc. (design rights holder - design date-2008 and 2011-present)
GS - Global Sailing (design rights holder - 2008-2011)
LPE - LaserPerformance Europe - a LASER trademark holder and a builder
ILCA - International Laser Class Association

Patents - none
Trademarks - “LASER”
Design rights/trade secrets - boat design
BKI / GS - design rights to the boat design (BKI pre 2008 / GS in 2008 / BKI in 2011)
LPE - "LASER" trademark rights in several areas and right to build boat by virtue of contract with BKI/GS
ILCA - no rights to boat design or trademark - controls definition of “class legal” boat

Dispute (pieced together from various sources)
BKI contracted with LPE to build boat.  BKI sold design rights to GS. LPE paid two years of royalties to GS and then stopped paying. GS terminated LPE’s right to build the boat.  BKI reacquired design rights from GS. Unknown whether BKI and LPE re-established contract to allow LPE to build boat.

ILCA Action
“The lawyers also informed us that the Kirby design patents had in fact expired. Therefore, we are proposing to change the rule to eliminate the “building agreement from Bruce Kirby or Bruce Kirby Inc.” requirement. Manufacturers who have trademark rights and who build in strict adherence to the ILCA Rules and to the Construction Manual, which is controlled by ILCA, will continue to have the right to build Class legal boats."

Uh ... correct me if I'm wrong but my thoughts are ... there was never a patent ... the design rights didn’t expire and are now controlled by BKI. ILCA’s rule change (if ratified) attempts to authorize the manufacturers to build a boat the manufacturers have no legal right to build without a contract and the ILCA has no legal right to authorize. Oh, they can probably build it and the ILCA can give it their stamp of approval ... and it might be class legal ... but it isn’t legal.  

May 15, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Sailing Smart 1

by Doug
Cape Town - 1996
Laser Cheat Sheet

OK, I have a confession to make. My eyesight has never been good. About 20 years ago, it started to get really bad until finally a few years ago, I was legally blind. Seven procedures later, I can see detail and color, but I’ve never had depth perception and still don’t. Sailing with poor vision has forced me to get creative. The most productive thing was practicing at night to learn how to sail by feeling. Another was learning how to sail the competition. Few people knew about my vision, but I would sometimes get comments like "you only seem to win by a small margin." As Pam likes to say, it was because I was using my competition as seeing-eye dogs.

A lesson from the 1996 Cape Town Worlds was a defining moment and taught me a huge lesson. In the third race, I led 4-time world champion Keith Wilkins at the first mark and then covered him as tightly as I could. His response was punishing me by sailing through headers, going the wrong way, etc. I beat Keith by a few seconds but learned nothing from Keith because he was not sailing his own race. It was the best race of my life and, as it turned out, Keith threw out his second place as he easily went on to win his 5th Worlds.

The lesson learned was that sailing the competition is not covering one or more boats so that you prevent them from sailing their own race, but instead staying close and learning from them. I finished 5th in Cape Town, the same position as the previous Worlds in Japan. I had hit a glass ceiling because I actually thought I knew what to do. The people that are the most fun to compete with have forgotten more about the wind, clouds, tides, gradient this, and persistent that, than I will ever know. So, Cape Town helped me reinvent my sailing by understanding how to sail the competition.

Here's the key question: in a fleet of 50 boats, how many do you have to beat to win? If your answer is 49 as it was for me, then your chances of winning are slim. I tried this for years but there was just too much going on to keep track of, and I knew so little compared to the best in the world.

The correct answer is 1. Whether your goal is to win or simply move up in the fleet, all you need to do is pick your personal coach and watch and learn as he/she unknowingly teaches you everything they know. You do this without interfering but by waiting for them to make the small mistakes that everyone makes.

I did this in the next Worlds which were in Chile. The person to beat was Keith (duh). On every leg of every race, I watched him and learned from him. Each evening I'd update my journal to visualize what worked and what did not. He had led me to all the places on the race course he liked and all I had to worry about was boat speed and handling. Sailing the competition worked, and is how I won my first Worlds.

The truly great sailors know enough to sail the course and its conditions. I'm not as good and prefer to sail the competition, even with my improved vision. "Be smart" is never more important than when the winds are light because of the bigger shifts and the longer time that it takes to reposition yourself on the course when (not if) you make a mistake. It's percentage sailing at its best!

Update: got a great question about what to observe besides where your personal coach is sailing. Unlike poker where you never see the other person's hand, you can always see how someone is sailing - their controls, their body position and movement, what they are looking at, even their body language about their disposition. Lasers are close to identical so, it's easy to copy someone who may be going faster. And it's just as important to see what is different when you're going faster. Things change continuously so it's a constant refinement of what you observe and feel, especially in light air.


by Pam

This was the second circuit stop for Laser District 15 as well as the second circuit stop for the Texas Sunfish Racing Circuit.  This venue is known for being windier, wetter and colder than what is forecast so I opted to sail with the Fish and Doug sailed with the Lasers.  The rain stopped by the time racing began and the winds settled in nicely and it turned out to be a pretty weekend.

There were a number of Laser sailors from out of town that made the trip for this regatta.  Although the group from Seabrook Sailing Club down in Houston said they didn't see anything resembling a wave or chop, Doug was nonetheless attempting to catch these nonexistent waves.  While Doug and John (from Kansas) tried carving back and forth looking for small gains, Dave (from Houston) just went straight downwind.  The net result was very little difference.  Doug wore his hat cam to try to capture the carving technique but Dave was right about the "waves."  Doug keeps telling me he's going to write a post about what he learned at the Worlds and has figured out on the whole downwind thing but the weather hasn't provided him with enough of an opportunity to experiment. This weekend the Texas Corinthian Club in Houston is hosting the Gulf Coast Championships.  Perhaps there will be some waves.

On the Fish course, I was experiencing a whole different kind of sailing experience.  The bulk of the fleet were women and new sailors so we decided to use the Opti green fleet rules and allow coaching in the back half of the fleet.  I had several good downwind battles that were just plain fun.  The start lines were friendly, there were cheers for each other at the finishes and high fives and hugs when we returned to land.  It made for a really pleasant racing experience. 

May 12, 2012

Frank Bethwaite 1920 - 2012

by Doug
Frank Bethwaite - March 2012
Frank was the most remarkable man I have ever met. 

Sail World

May 10, 2012

The Wisdom of Play

by Pam
Here is a method of improving performance that I bet few people utilize.  Surprisingly, Doug has done many of these for years.

May 07, 2012

Laser Hall of Fame?

by Doug

I was going through some old photos and found this one I took in 2005. We've all broken a mast and had to be towed in. Here's a picture of Laser sailing back to the harbor after finishing the final beat with a broken mast. I do not know if this has happened before - perhaps a candidate for the Laser Hall of Fame?

May 06, 2012

NACRA goes Olympic

At an International Sailing Federation (ISAF) meeting in Italy, approximately 2 hours ago, the newest NACRA, a very high-tech 17 designed specifically for possible Olympic selection, was approved as the newest Olympic boat. It will be used in the new event, Mixed Catamaran (mixed male/female teams) for the first time at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

The first 100 boats will only be sold through the ISAF to National Olympic Teams. What that means is that private ownership of the newest Olympic class will probably not be possible until early 2013, and then it will be from a list, a line that is already being formed at Nacra distributors and dealers worldwide.

The new boat is the very latest state of the catamaran art - one of the biggest reasons for its selection was that it represents the catamarans of the future. If you do a search on YouTube for NACRA 17, you should find videos from the selection event last month in Spain.

As part of the fall-out from this ISAF action, we expect to see the rest of the catamaran world to get a bit more organized into different interest groups. While a lot of sailors are expected to migrate to the new boat over the next two years - expect to see it raced in local/regional/national events by men and women teams as well as the mixed teams aiming at the Olympics - two other classes should benefit; the F18 should remain a top end, development class where new ideas will constantly be tried, and will be the preferred boat for heavier sailors, while the F16 class, struggling to find its own identity, should develop more of a youth focus.

It’s a fun time to be associated with NACRA - my first one was way back in 1976! And its wonderful to have a catamaran back in the Olympic Games.

May 03, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Smart Steering

By Doug
Laser Cheat Sheet

When I was in my 20's living in Sydney, Frank Bethwaite asked for my help with his wind tunnel testing as he explored wing masts for the Little Americas Cup. Frank was sure that two wings working together would generate more lift than just one.  It was absolutely fascinating stuff. Forty years later, his design has proved to be correct and has been widely adopted.

Something else Frank talked about at the time was what he called the "Concertina effect" where the wind characteristics change as the velocity changes. Here's an example from a Dallas weather station:

The wind is steady from the south until it drops and becomes unstable, and then becomes steady again when the wind picks up. Here are more pronounced examples:

What we are seeing is that wind up high slows down when it hits any surface, and the more it slows down the more it zigzags. Traffic also does this - when a car stops suddenly others swerve out of the way. You can also see this with molasses slowing down - it does not stop evenly but zigzags back and forth.
The more something slows down, the more it moves back and forth. This is why the light wind is shiftier than a stronger breeze. And why the Cheat Sheet refers to sailing in a light wind as having to "be smart." In these conditions, I would rather sail an old, beaten-up Laser and be aware of my surroundings than have a fast Laser keeping my head inside the boat. So, the first tip for being smart is feeling and seeing the wind.

My years of sailing have taught me to be aware of where the wind is coming from and how it is constantly shifting. Pam and I play this game when outdoors about what the wind is doing and she's getting good at feeling it. On the water I like to wear as little as possible to get the best feeling. Sometimes the wind is so light there are no clues on the water or on the boat about its direction. What I do is close my eyes and move my head until both sides of my face feel the same, and then open my eyes facing upwind. And because of Frank's Concertina effect, I know it will change again soon.

Sailing in really light winds can be frustrating, but knowing where the wind is coming from and knowing it's constantly changing will give you a huge advantage. It's not my favorite part of sailing, but having this advantage makes it a lot more fun.

Wednesday Night Lessons - 2

by Pam
We arrived at the lake planning to sail two boats but my boat became disabled upon rigging. I won’t say what happened but I didn’t do it. So, we sailed double-handed again and I got to see an up close demonstration of boat handling that still has me in awe.

First, I worked on steering upwind and downwind, trying to use less helm and get back to feeling the boat. Doug would lay on the bow looking at the sky and could feel when I did something right or wrong with the gradual progression toward getting better.

Then Doug took the helm. The boat is like his avatar. He grabs the main sheet, tiller and connects his butt to the deck and there is this transformation where the boat becomes an extension of his body. He showed me windward heel, trapping the wind and using it to squirt forward. He did this thing over and over and described every step as he did it. I could see it, feel it and even hear the acceleration of the boat. He’d say ‘the guy next to me didn’t do this and I just gained a boat length.’ I saw what he did but can’t even fully describe it. He’s completely tuned into the wind and the boat and it’s a multi-coordinated movement of weight, helm and sail adjustment and the boat just digs in, grabs and wind and water and takes off. Just an amazing feeling. If I could sail a boat like that I’d be out there all the time.

Then the light went on. I’ve been scanning portions of Frank Bethwaite’s book, Higher Performance Sailing where he is talking about the difference in a sailor that simply relies on the helm and steers the boat versus one that uses coordinated movements. The difference is exactly what Doug and I experience when we sail at the same regattas. One of us is at the middle or back of the fleet and the other is at the front. And according to Frank’s experiments, that will never change until I learn to coordinate my movements. I definitely want to learn more about the sailing simulator Frank has developed that can take an absolute beginner and after 90 minutes a week for 5 weeks, have them sailing with the coordinated movements and speed of world champions and they never develop bad habits or intimidation of heavy wind. Surely, I read that wrong ... or why wouldn’t everyone want to learn to sail that way.

May 01, 2012

Laser Cheat Sheet - Smart Settings

By Doug 

2012 Master Midwinters East - day 1
Laser Cheat Sheet

The Laser class selects locations with a steady breeze for major events like the Worlds. But as we saw in Korea, races are often held in very light, fluky conditions. Getting good at this will help everyone, from the weekend warrior to people training for the Worlds.

Dallas lakes have lots of light-air sailing days when the breeze is 5 knots or less. Light-air sailing can be boring and favor lighter skippers, but many championships are won or lost in these conditions. The first column of my Cheat Sheet is what has worked for me, starting with the setup for sailing upwind. Please note that because of a vision issue, I have no depth perception and cannot judge distances, so I have to set the sail up based on the controls and not the actual shape of the sail.

The traveler is easy - just loose enough to not interfere with your steering.

The vang is a compromise - you need it tight enough to keep the end of the boom down and just outside the boat. Most people have it in too far and results in less speed and your centerboard stalling. By footing you can actually end up pointing higher, which happened on the first day of the 2012 Master Midwinters East. The first day at the 1997 Master Worlds also happened to be light and my finishes were a 2, 2. That evening I wrote this in my Worlds journal: Mark Bethwaite made the comment that my sail was different from everyone else in the fleet - more vang, boom way out. The sheeting out was to keep the boat moving but the vang bit really surprised me. I was surprised because it never occurred to me I was the only person sailing this way. You've got to keep the boat moving, especially in lumpy conditions in open water. The reason why this setting is a compromise is because the tight vang really messes up the top of the sail where you would really prefer to have some twist. But keeping the boat moving is more important.

I like to pull the cunningham on until there are no wrinkles and then let it off so that the lowest part of the luff is loose and sensitive enough to read. Other people have a loose cunningham and "speed wrinkles" but these have never worked for me.

For the outhaul, I use a trick from Steve Bourdow (USA, 2nd at the Newport Worlds) - put your thumb on the boom near the cleat and then your pinkie should just touch the foot of the sail. You can have it a little tighter for flat water and a little looser for lumpy conditions, but Steve's trick works well most of the time. I also like it because smaller people tend to have smaller hands, so they would tend to have a tighter foot than a larger person who needs more power in their sail.

For the mainsheet, some people like Keith Wilkins (GBR, 12 Master World wins) can sail with it tight and even block-to-block. I cannot and prefer to foot to keep the centerboard from stalling.

2006 Master Words in Korea
The setup for downwind is easy - everything is loose and the boom is way out and you're sailing by the lee if possible. This is helped by having a light air mainsheet so that it is less likely to fall in the water, plus you have a better feeling for the slight changes in the breeze. But be sure to have gloves and a second mainsheet in case the wind picks up! This happened on the final day in Korea where the wind was light and really picked up just before the first of three races!!

With the correct setup, you now have speed. But speed in light air without being smart will help you go really fast the wrong way.  Sailing smart in light conditions will be covered in another post.
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