May 30, 2013

Sailing in the Middle of the Fleet - Clear Air Right After a Start

By Doug and Pam
First summer - getting huge lift from her centerboard.
When Pam and I first started sailing together, it was in the evening with no other boats around. With light to medium flat-water conditions, it was straight-line boatspeed stuff. She was new to Lasers but a quick leaner learner. And for me it was really frustrating. Or should I say humbling. You see, she was so fast that I had to keep asking her to drag her leg in the water to slow down. And no, that's not what you do when racing.

So with this much speed in those conditions, why to this day does she not consider herself competitive? The answer is simple - intimidation. Sometimes it's sailing with two dozen kids who are experienced way beyond their years, sometimes it's the weather, but most of the time it's knowing that the Laser/Torch is the most competitive dinghy in the world. You don't win races, you lose races. When you screw up, absolutely no one waits for you. It's competition at its purest.

Pam:  The intimidation is from the boat and the wind and the people who know what they're doing.  Doug takes a nap between races when it's blowing 20+. I'm white knuckled between races trying to maintain control, not run into people and stay upright. I'm getting better at it all the time. I do tend to want to stay away from ultra aggressive sailors though.  We're on the course for very different reasons.

Here's a typical race for the Pam's of the world: second row start, no clear air, no real game plan, and no hope of being anywhere near the front. So with the encouragement of Tillerman, Keep Reaching,  and others, we're going to share more about the rules of thumb that Pam and I talk about.

The first and perhaps most important rule is pretty obvious - clear air. Sailing in dirty air is like sailing a Radial when everyone else is sailing a full-rig. Not fun. And the most important part of the race for getting clear air is, of course, the start. My definition of a good start is not being at the correct end of the line, or being on a lift, or even going the right way. For me, it's having clear air 10 seconds after the gun. This means that starting in the second row at the boat and being able to tack is still a good start. Starting near a favored pin end but being boxed in is, for me, a much worse start.

Pam:  For me that means knowing which side of the line is favored and which side of the course is favored and where the bulk of the experienced sailors are going to be at the start and planning to be somewhere else.

Suppose the pin (or boat) is favored by 10 boat lengths. If you start at the other end of the line in clear air, you're just 10 boat lengths behind the person who won the start (assuming they're not boxed in) and you've got the rest of the race to catch up. In a good fleet, that's better than 80% of all other competitors. Not such a bad start! So, don't be intimidated on the starting line - just go for clear air.

Pam:  I get tripped up more often than not when trying to be on the start line so I hang back, get a little speed going and find the last minute holes without a crowd.  It works much better than fighting for a place on the front row and getting pushed over.

So, where's the clear air? There's an interesting phenomenon in sailing - on the first beat the boats tend to go left and on the other beats the boats tend to go right. So, clear air is right in the first beat and left in the others. But I don't mean hard right or left, but just far enough to get, you guessed it, clear air. You can then tack and go with the leaders, play the shifts, look at the wind patterns, etc. We'll look at each of these later. For now, just think about your recent races and what you could have done to get clear air right after the start.

Now here's something for more experienced sailors: it's tempting to start beside a beginner, and even call these people "marshmallows." But your great start pretty much assures a bad start for someone trying to learn our sport. If you must be selective, pick on someone of equal skill to hone your skills. Or do what I do which is ignore who you start beside and sail your hardest, while still trying to encourage others whenever you can. That's way more important than just winning.

Pam:  And just remember, if you must screw up my start and Doug is on the course, plan to be wearing him for the rest of the day.

May 26, 2013

Sailing in the Middle of the Fleet

By Doug and Pam

Pam:  Recently, Doug and I crewed on a J/22 at circuit stop regatta. We'd start, couldn't hold our lane, slide down and have to tack away. If we had good boat speed (which we weren't sure of) we were still going to be sailing a longer distance since we couldn't point. To make matters worse, our crew work wasn't stellar. For me, it's a been there, done that ... often, spending a few brief moments with the fleet before waving good-bye and sailing by myself all day. For Doug (who was calling tactics) it was a foreign experience but that didn't stop him from finding ways to compensate for our shortcomings. It was an eye-opening experience to watch Doug emphasize tactics to keep us in the game. I'm always frustrated with all the books and clinics because it's all built on doing everything right.  I want to learn what to do to stay competitive when I do more wrong than right since that is my reality more often than not.  Seeing Doug put into that situation was fairly enlightening.  His post below only gives a few examples but really he was making lemonade out of lemons all weekend long ... except for when he fell out of the boat.  Even I know that rules 1, 2, and 3 on a keel boat is 'stay on the boat, stay on the boat, stay on the boat.'  But I did appreciate him making me feel good about myself for getting that part right.

Doug: Sailing without knowing how to tune a boat meant not-so-good boat speed which is, for me, a new experience. So crewing for a skipper new to the J/22 Texas circuit was a learning experience for all of us. It was different because sailing on a lake and being higher off the water gave us a better view of what the wind was doing.

Our starts were good so we had clear air, but we could not point upwind and had mixed spinnaker work downwind. We did manage to win one race, not using speed but tactics. Here are two things that made the difference.

As shown on the left, we're green in second place on the last run with our chute up. Red is a faster boat and is reeling us in. The natural instinct is green heading a little higher to keep out of red's wind shadow while trying to catch yellow. The problem is that red knows that it's faster and will still roll us, as shown in the middle picture. If we fight to protect against red, yellow simply jibes and gets away. Trying to hold our position with red will not work so a third place looked inevitable.

The solution was counterintuitive because it involved green going low instead of trying to defend against red. We waited for a little extra pressure to do this because bearing off always stretches the puff.
As soon as we were in red's wind shadow, we jibed away hoping that red would see yellow as the boat to beat. This worked, and they continued with yellow trying to defend and red trying to pass. They were unable to play the different pressure on the course, so when we converged at the bottom mark, we had taken the lead. Woohoooo!

Going into the final beat, yellow rounded the mark and tacked away to go left. Right looked better, so we continued with red chasing us, pointing higher as it had for the entire series. We knew that the next tack would win or lose the race. The breeze was quite shifty, so here were our options:
On the left, we're in the same breeze, which is what red wanted because of its better speed. If we get a slight lift for a few seconds and we tack, as shown in middle left, we're immediately on a starboard-tack knock which is bad. If we wait for a knock we can tack to get an immediate advantage from the better angle, as shown in the middle right. This works well in a Laser/Torch because you can tack on a small shift and then tack back again as needed. But in a J/22 with an inexperienced crew, this is risky because we were losing too much on our tacks and red was definitely gaining on us.

So we waited for when we were both knocked and were almost straight ahead, as shown on the right. Thankfully this happened just before the layline. We tacked, they followed, and we were just able to hold them off at the finish line. Our first Texas circuit bullet!! That night our skipper called any friend who would listen to tell them the good news.

For me, sailing without good boat speed was frustrating. For Pam, it was welcome-to-my-world. But I've always thought that you learn more in the middle of the fleet than at the front or the back. It was hard making mistakes knowing that catching smart, faster sailors would be almost impossible.  But getting near the leaders and occasionally having the chance to try different tactics to beat them made it an excellent learning experience and really fun weekend.

May 25, 2013

Prediction: The America's Cup Will Be Won By...

By Doug
Besides being a human tragedy, the America's Cup now has boats that are so specialized that capsizing demolishes both the rig and the boat.

So, here's my prediction: there's a real chance that America's Cup final will be won not by the fastest or the smartest, but by the country that does not fall over. It's happened before:

"Those guys were going too fast, they lost control."

May 15, 2013

Stuff Happens!

by Pam

Last weekend was supposed to be a nice relaxing weekend at a J/22 circuit stop.  Doug and I were going to crew together on a keelboat for the first time.  We were supposed to have a gentle breeze and I was going to do bow with Doug in the middle calling tactics and handling the jib and spinnaker.  Stuff happened!  On day two, our skipper, who is a successful litigator, commented that if weathermen could be sued for malpractice, he’d be a rich man. 

Some stuff was good, like our skipper winning his first circuit race and finishing third overall.

Some stuff was bad, like Doug taking a blow from the boom that sounded like it hit a home run across his head. 

Some stuff was weird, like a gust that lifted us then suddenly dropped us with Doug rolling backward off the side of the boat without a life jacket a few yards short of the finish line.  I went from bow to helm as the skipper pulled Doug back into the boat so we could finish.  We didn’t even lose a spot because the race had already been cursed and we were dead last.

There was funny stuff that left me with some visuals that make me laugh out loud.  Doug trying to get down from the boat while it was on the trailer.  He was hanging from the bow with legs flailing and then wrapping around the outside of the ladder that goes from the bow to the trailer.  There was also the friendly advice from a local who had seen Doug and the skipper stepping the mast on day one by just lifting it up into place like a Laser.  No shrouds attached or anything and fully at the mercy of the wind and luck.  It plays like a cartoon in my head.

We had some WTF stuff with both spinnaker lines wrapping themselves around the forestay requiring untying everything just to get it down.  I’m sure the skipper was amused, dumbfounded, and a little panicked at times with all the baffoonery unfolding before him as Doug and I struggled to tack and raise/lower sails.  Luckily, Doug’s tactics were enough to keep us in the mix despite the monkey business.

At the end of the weekend, I looked and felt like I’d had the stuffing beat out of me.  Bruises from head to toe.  And Doug, bless his cold blooded Canadian heart, wasn’t the least bit sore and didn’t have a mark on him.  I’ve taken that same blow to the head and couldn’t brush my hair for a week.  Doug had a cut on his ear but couldn't even find where the boom had hit him.  Someone needs to study that man.  He doesn’t bruise, EVER.  Bleeds like a sieve but remains unmarked.  It's got to be a Canadian thing.  

So, our first time crewing together on a keelboat.  Not a weekend we'll soon forget but I can't imagine that Team Peckover will ever be in high demand unless, of course, someone needs a good laugh and a little scare all at the same time.

May 10, 2013

The High Price of Making Sailing a Spectator Sport?

By Doug
When I was living in Sydney in the early 70's, I had the good fortune of helping Frank Bethwaite with some of his wind tunnel testing for the Little America's Cup. The boats for this event were large catamarans with an open sail plan. Frank's design was radical at the time - to have solid wings instead of sails. He would set up different configurations and fire up his wind tunnel and I'd sit under it to record the caliper readings for both lift and drag.

Today's AC's design
It was fascinating to watch Frank at work. He was much more interested in the lift readings than the drag readings and was constantly looking for more lift. He did not bother testing a single wing configuration but instead focused on how two would best work together. I never understood this and assumed he knew this from his piloting days - how the extended flaps on a landing aircraft are actually two wings working together when maximum lift is needed.

Frank's designs were never used in the Little America's Cup, but it will surprise no one who knew him that his brilliant designs from 40 years ago are the same as the computer-aided designs being used on today's AC42s and AC72s.

Intentionally unstable hulls?
When we saw Frank in Sydney just before his passing last year, it was fascinating to talk about how his designs have held up and evolved over all these years. One question I had was about the current AC hull designs - they did not seem stable enough to manage the force of the wing sails and were burying and pitch-poling. This was especially true when bearing off from the weather mark when the rig powers up before the boat has had a chance to accelerate. The result is like putting a V8 on a tricycle.

I asked Frank if he thought the hull design was intentionally narrow and unstable so that there would be wipe-outs to make the AC sailing more of a spectator sport. He thought for a moment and then said "yes."

I'm not a designer, but even I can think of a way to make the bow less likely to bury without affecting its wave-cutting ability and speed. And I know that Frank would never have designed a hull that was intentionally unstable.

Pam and I join all sailors who mourn the tragic loss of loss of Bart Simpson. We sincerely hope that the hull design is reconsidered so that no one else gets hurt.

May 08, 2013

Rule 14

by Pam
Dear ISAF, 

Please remember Rule 14 when you meet in Copenhagan at the ISAF mid-year meeting.  Here is a reminder.

For those of you with more time on your hands than me ... the live stream of the meeting will be available from 07:00-15:00 (UTC) (09:00-17:00 local time) on Saturday 11 May on:

May 07, 2013


by Pam
Now, for a departure from Laser politics, let's try something sailing related. About time, huh Dave? Dave doesn't want history, geography, pop quizzes, politics, etc. Just teach him how to sail his Laser faster.  

At the recent starting clinic we attended, Andrew Campbell asked 'how many people get a line sight before the start of the race?' Many did. Then he asked, 'how they do that?' The standard way. Then he asked a darn good question. Ok, you have a line sight that tells you when you're on the line, 'what good does it do you?' It's 30 seconds before the start, boats all around you and you see from your line sight that you're on the line and, essentially, hosed. Yep, pretty much sums up my starting experience. So, he asked, how many of you have a line sight that is two boat lengths behind the line? When you hit that line sight, you can still do something about it. Why the heck didn't anyone ever tell me that before? That's a line sight with information and options. Even after he told us, it took me a minute to follow his diagram with the early line sight being further up the course than the 'on the line' line sight and then the light went on. Yes, I'm that slow when it comes to geometry. That tip right there was worth the price of admission.

Then, Ryan Minth talked about NSTASLNSTASG - 'no such thing as start line, no such thing as start gun.' Pretty much Doug's way of starting. Doug doesn't wear a watch and he doesn't care where the start line is. He lets everyone else keep time for him and he lines up next to them and when they pull the trigger he goes too. All he is trying to do is win the start with the guys right next to him. I had to laugh when Andrew asked what happens when you line up with a guy that's doing the NSTASLNSTASG and you're keeping time? They are only trying to beat you and don't care what time it is. This happened with Doug when sailing a Radial with the juniors last year at the Laser Nationals since they had the better turnout. Doug didn't pull the trigger and this poor girl says to him, 'please sir, can we start now?' Doug had no clue it was time to go. So, knowing the starting techniques of those beside you is fairly important. As in stay away from non-watch wearers. And if you start next to Doug, he counts in his head so talk to him and start a different countdown out loud and confuse him. There you go Dave. That's your go fast, beat Doug off the start line tip.

Ryan said the main goal of the weekend was to be uncomfortable and make mistakes. We did port starts, starboard starts, late starts, early starts, long lines, short lines and super short lines. I achieved the goal with flying colors. Didn't know if I was Arthur or Marthur half the time.

Laser Trademarks Up for Grabs?

by Pam
I originally wrote this back in November but took it down the next day to wait for a more appropriate time.  

As noted in my LaserPerformance United Unions post, Rastegar has quite the maze of confusingly incestuous entities.  It appears that he lost track and the result is that he may very well have lost some of the trademarks for LASER, SUNFISH, VANGUARD, ZUMA, RED DRAGON and NOMAD. 

Quarter Moon Inc. d/b/a Vanguard Sailboats sold several trademarks to Karaya Holdings Limited, an Irish entity, which then transferred the trademarks to Karaya (Jersey) Limited, a Jersey Island entity.  Seems fairly straight forward except that some errors in the transfer to the Jersey entity makes it questionable that the last transfer is valid which leaves everything still in the name of the Irish entity which is now dissolved.  Whether or not the errors can be papered behind to salvage ownership of the marks may have to be determined by a court of law.

So, to be specific on the errors, check for yourself.  Here is the Vanguard to Karaya Irish assignment and here is the Karaya Irish to Karaya Jersey assignment.  Look closely at the supporting document of the second assignment.  It’s just a name change from Karaya Jersey’s former name, Dorsal, to its current name.  Did you catch the error?  Who cares what the former name of Karaya Jersey is when it is Karaya Irish that owns the trademarks.  Note that the assignment was trying to go from an Irish company to a Jersey company and submitted a Jersey name change as evidence of assignment.  Even the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) didn’t catch this error and incorrectly lists Karaya Jersey as the current owner.

So then, being curious, I pulled the publicly available paperwork for Karaya Irish to see if I could determine if they properly conveyed the trademarks to Karaya Jersey which would mean an easy filing with the USPTO to correct things.  What I found was that the paperwork did indeed list the conveyance to Karaya Jersey but they listed the transfer as of January 1, 2009.  If you go back and look at the name change document they filed with the USPTO, you’ll see that the name change from Dorsal Irish to Karaya Irish didn’t happen until February 23, 2009.  Meaning, it could maybe be argued that the trademarks were conveyed to an entity that wasn’t yet legally in existence.

But then the icing on the cake is that the Karaya Irish entity, which, at present, may be the last entity to hold clear title to the trademarks, was dissolved on October 22, 2010.  That might be a problem.  Hard to paper behind something when the conveyance was hosed up and the entity that needs to correct it is dead. 

Confused?  Easy to see how they lost track of which door the trademarks were hiding behind.  Doug drew the diagram above to make it simple.  It didn’t help matters that they had two Karaya entities and two Dorsal entities, a pair of each in each country, and in Jersey one became the other but in Ireland they remained separate and then 2 were dissolved, leaving only 1.  That’s just plain jacked up.

The LASER marks owned by Karaya that are possibly up for grabs are in the classes of goods that include sailboats and sails.  LP has another foreign entity, Velum Limited, that owns the LASER marks that secure the class of services that includes regattas.  And that registration is jacked up too

Most people have heard about the critically received 8 year deal that LP secured with the US Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association to use LP manufactured boats exclusively for all national and semi-final college championships.  After securing such a deal, I predicted back in November that the ILCA would be influenced to go in the direction of following through with their fundamental rule change, which they did.  I mean from a business point of view, LP has the LASER trademarks and the 8 year exclusive deal with ICSA.  That seems like a fairly strong bargaining position.

But, let’s think about this.  If LP entities don't have clear title to the trademarks, can that be used to invalidate the 8 year exclusive agreement?  And, really, LP doesn’t even own the trademarks.  I mean, we all know that some how, some way, Rastegar is the ultimate owner but the ILCA’s fundamental rule change indicates that the manufacturer has to have trademark rights.  Legally, LP doesn’t own the trademarks but the ILCA doesn't elaborate on what 'trademark rights' means. But what if the LASER trademarks are totally up for grabs?

Then I found this very interesting post about why trademark holdings companies are a bad idea.  Skip down to the section titledLegal Pitfalls of Licensing through Trademark Holding Companies:

"One of the defenses mounted ... for invalidity is that the licensor holding company doesn’t exercise sufficient control over its licensees. Rather, they argued, control is exercised by the holding company’s parent corporation and the holding company has therefore made a “naked license.” The remedy for a naked license is for the court to declare that the trademark in question was abandoned by the trademark owner."


May 06, 2013

Do Over Petition

Here is a petition for ILCA to redo the Fundamental Rule change vote.

The statements by ILCA promoting the Fundamental Laser Rule change were materially incorrect and may have significantly biased the results. This petition requests that ILCA set aside the rule change vote and immediately revote on the proposed Fundamental Rule change.

The incorrect statements by ILCA in promoting the rule change were:

1. ‘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.'

2. ‘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.'

Statement 1 is incorrect because the building agreement was not historical and was in fact highly relevant due to existing builder contracts. 

Statement 2 is incorrect and misleading. There never were patents and this statement gave the impression that Kirby rights had lapsed.

I don't want to litigate what is true and false. Rather, I want to see if there is a critical mass to get a more accurate membership vote on the future of the class.

Currently ISAF and ILCA are proceeding using the Fundamental Rule change vote. Whoever wins the court case, basing the future of the class on such a deeply flawed vote is unwise.

May 04, 2013

Who's Your Daddy?

by Pam

The Kirby situation has been weighing heavy on my mind. Doug and I have now had contact with attorneys from two parties and representatives from another two parties. 

I get that the officers of the ILCA are sailors, friends and good people just trying to do the right thing, with the exception of maybe one individual (according to multiple sources with years of personal experiences). Even Bruce Kirby would acknowledge that the officers are trying to do what they think is right. How can things get so messed up when so many people are trying to do the right thing?  Almost everyone involved in this mess from the sailors to the ISAF and even Rastegar are trying to do the right thing. The definition of “right” and “trying” seems to vary widely.

So, Doug and I were at a starting clinic last weekend. It was mostly juniors and they were quite skilled. I spent the first day getting rolled repeatedly and it reminded me of my brother. My brother is a tennis pro and when he wants to mess with his friend when playing tennis, he’ll stand in one place and hit the ball from one side of the court to the other and as his friend frantically runs back and forth he’ll call out, “Who’s your Daddy, who’s your daddy?” 

Well, those damn dear kids were my Daddy at that starting clinic. And before the end of the day, I had more daddies than I needed so I enjoyed a nice, long, leisurely, downwind sail back to the club all by myself. I started the day in the middle of a pod of dolphins and ended it surfing waves. It was a glorious day. The next day I sat out and watched while Doug played ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ and good as he is, sometimes he wasn’t the Daddy.

As my mind wandered on Kirby, the ILCA and ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ I was thinking about a guy I work with who is a strategic thinker. When I told him I was a sailor, he shared his first experience of sailing with me. Guy spent 10 years with the FBI and looks the part of FBI SWAT, which he was, but he also worked in cybercrime. He broke into the hard drives of terrorists and figured out how they think. Guy appears to have a photographic memory and he connects dots, weighs options and simplifies problems into very easy solutions. Which made his sailing experience all the more entertaining.

When Guy was younger, he and his brother were at the beach and decided to go sailing. It was a small boat with one sail and they were very briefly instructed and pushed away from the beach heading straight out into the ocean. About two miles out they decided to turn and go back to the beach. There was plenty of wind but they couldn’t get that boat to go anywhere and the sun was starting to set. So, they took turns tying the painter around themselves and swimming the boat back to shore. Obviously they went out on a run and were head to wind on the return. They solved their problem with a crude but effective solution.

So, as these things popped into my head, I got it. The officers of the ILCA are good people.  They are intelligent and they are trying to do the right thing but they are volunteers. Sailing is their game. Dealing with the politics of sailing and hostile takeovers is not their thing. The appearance is that they have chosen sides and sided with Rastegar. From what little I know, I think Rastegar has been playing ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ with the ILCA and others for many years now and they are frantically running from one side of the court to the other. Despite their intelligence and desire to do the right thing, they are out of their element and, at best, their solutions in the business game, will be crude, like swimming a boat back to shore instead of sailing it. All the parties involved in this mess think they are looking down the road but some parties are thinking about the good of sailing and other parties are not. On a race course, I’ll bet on a sailor but in business, that would be an unwise bet.

Last week I had a friendly dispute at work and it was suggested that we solve it with the “champion” method and the other party said, ‘I pick Guy, your pick.’ Trying to think of something Guy couldn’t do, and since Doug had met all these people, I said, I choose Doug and I choose sailboat racing since I know Guy prefers to swim boats around the course. Guy, who could have easily been named Tank, strolls over and casually warns me that he’s been highly trained to sink any and all types of watercraft and maybe I should reconsider. Well, it is clear that not only would Guy win, but I would have a perfectly good Laser at the bottom of the lake when he was done and with the uncertain supply of where to buy new Lasers these days, it was easier to just admit defeat.

Hiring a Guy type who can get into the heads of terrorists that like to blow things up would surely come up with a more elegant solution to the Laser mess than all the conflict that has increased as a result of crude solutions. After all, who has any clue what motivates Rastegar? Why is a non-sailor in the sailing business? We all know that there is no money to be made in sailing. At least not the way he’s running the business. Does the man just like playing ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ with the various parties? How I would dearly love it if the ILCA were to engage a strategic thinker and, to borrow my favorite phrase of Guy’s, just hand the entire mess over and say, “Here, unfuck this.”

May 02, 2013

Andrew Campbell Starting Clinic - part I

By Doug
Over the weekend the Gulf Coast Youth Sailing Association hosted an awesome starting clinic that was run by Andrew Campbell, Ryan Minth, and Mattia D'Errico. About 30 people attended from as far away as California. Pam and I were definitely the oldest kids there.

We had a good breeze on Saturday but on Sunday the breeze took longer to fill in, so we had a bunch of creative starts in very light conditions. I wore my hatcam while Pam watched from the committee boat having already got her money's worth on the first day.

If you're looking for an exciting Laser video, this is definitely not it. If you're looking for a few tips on starting in light air, this technical video may help.

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