November 29, 2014

Ten Reasons for Having a Compass

By Doug
I was recently offered a ride on a Snipe with my friend Cam and jumped at the chance because it's always fun trying something new.

We were sailing on a small Dallas lake that I know well, but felt lost because Cam's compass was not working.

I suggested that he consider getting one but he prefers using a shore reference to see when the wind shifts. I did a really lousy job explaining why there's a better way because it's not just one thing but rather a bunch of little things.

Here are ten:

  1. Using a shore reference is not very accurate unless you're in the middle of the boat. Which means hardly ever.
  2. Your shore reference changes each time you tack.
  3. The wind can change as you're tacking, especially on a lake.
  4. A shore reference like 'those trees that all look the same' may not tell you much.
  5. If you sail in a different location, your favorite shore references are gone.
  6. Looking at your shore references encourage looking forward, not around you.
  7. Tactical compasses are easy to read - there's no math involved.
  8. Compasses are good for getting a game plan before the race and then knowing if it's working during the race.
  9. You can switch between your shore reference and compass reading.
  10. You may not want to tack when you're headed. This is so important that I wrote an entire post on when not to tack.
If you add up all of these subtle points, you get one big point: learning how to use a compass will make you a better sailor.

November 21, 2014

Differences at the Front of the Fleet

By Doug
Pam wrote a post about how the rules are used differently at the front of the fleet vs. middle and back, and many including Abe and Paul made some good points. 

Here are a few examples.

At Hyères, I sometimes found myself well back in the fleet. When on port and a starboard tack boat was approaching, without exception the other boat would call "starboard" as he should.

On the second day, the breeze was a little lighter and I was leading after the windward/leeward. Right behind me was Peter Vessella (USA) who is really good in these conditions. I took the right gate and he thankfully followed. We were well ahead but I chose not to put on a tight cover because I wanted to beat him with boatspeed and by playing the shifts, rather than by just sitting on him.

We stayed close but sailed our own race, playing the shifts differently at times. Half way up the beat, we were on port and I could see Peter 10 meters away in my window. He then edged ahead and I could not see him. A few seconds later, I heard him say, "Go ahead Doug and cross."

This caught me by surprise because I did not know that he had pulled even and that he had tacked. Not seeing where he was, I instinctively bore off and ducked him saying, "Sorry, I heard you too late."

Here's how the front of the fleet is different:
  1. Peter knew we were on a collision course and that I did not know that he had tacked. Some middle-of-the-fleet sailors use this to their advantage. Peter did not.
  2. He wanted to go left while I was going right, and this was more important than using his starboard-tack right-of-way. To beat me, he was prepared to bear off and let me cross rather than risk having me tack and mess with him.
  3. I apologized for not being able to take his offer to cross and stay ahead of him.

This moment was how Peter unintentionally took the lead to win the race. While I hate missing out on a bullet at a Worlds, it's a pleasure to compete with good, gentlemanly sailors at the front of the fleet who use the rules differently.

A rookie at the front of the fleet:

The 1996 Master Worlds were in Cape Town and there were about 120 boats on the line (this was before they split the fleets). I had never won a race at a Worlds and was surprised to be leading in the race on the second day. Defending champ Keith Wilkins (GBR) was right behind. So what did I do? I sat on him for the entire race and boy did he make me pay! We seemed to sail through every header and dead patch. I managed to hold on and win what was, until then, the best race of my life, while Keith threw out the 2nd and won the regatta.

The huge mistakes I made were not working together to stretch out and not learning from Keith by letting him sail his own race. This taught me so much that it changed the way I sail and was the main reason for my win in Chile the next year.

And the punishment for not working with a world champion? Being totally forgotten. Pam and I had supper with Keith and Linda in Hyères and were reminiscing about the good old days. I told Keith about this race in Cape Town and how much it meant to me. I then asked him if he remembered it. He said "no."

Another rookie at the front of the fleet:

When leading around the bottom mark, you can use your advantage to point high and force other boats to tack into traffic, which would slow them down.

Triple World Champ Glenn Bourke (AUS) would not do this. When in the lead, he would invite the boats behind to follow him to the right. Sure he could mess with them but he chose not to. The reason was that he wanted to keep the leaders together as long as possible so he didn't have to worry about who to cover. To make going right look more attractive, he would even foot a little so that others might think "wow, I'm pointing really well, I'll keep on going."

Starting the second beat in the first race at Hyères, Roberto Bini (ITA) was leading just in front of me, had rounded close to the mark, and was pointing high. Roberto had excellent speed and I wanted to tack twice to stay with him going right but in clear air. As soon as I tacked, he tacked and match raced me for most of the beat as I tried to break free. Sure enough, the right paid and several boats passed us.

As Keith Wilkins taught me, there is a fine art to staying ahead of a leader while letting him or her sail their own race and having them teach you along the way. Roberto should have used his excellent speed to lead me and others off to the right. And I should have cut my losses earlier and footed to get clear air to be able to sail my own race.

The bad news is that that we should have finished 1 and 2 instead of the 3 and 7 that we got. The good news is that Roberto is a great guy and we have become good friends and will hopefully share many more experiences as the years go by. 

As you transition from the middle of the fleet to the front, there is a shift in the way the rules are used and applied. It may look to some like team racing but it's actually very tactical by delaying the head to head competition until the end of the race.

Leaders at the back of a fleet:

In Hyères, in the final race that determined the championship, the front of the GM standard gold fleet sailed into the back of the GM standard silver fleet. The leaders in the gold fleet were in a close competition to win the championship and they suddenly had to contend with the back of the silver fleet. How quickly the leaders were able to transition from a front of the fleet mentality to a back of the fleet mentality, ultimately determined the winner. Anyone who was there can tell you what that sounded like.

So as you move through the fleet, back to front or front to back, it's important to be aware of the nuances in tactics and how the rules are applied in different parts of the fleet.

November 19, 2014

World Journals

by Pam 
I have put Doug's world journals back up on the blog but the current one will always remain private until three to six months after the event. 

Doug is keeping an email list of those who would like to receive his daily journals during the events. 

When we were in Australia, we stopped in to see Mark Bethwaite and he had so many cubes they were stacked several high and covered multiple shelves and most were three chevrons. When I stacked up Doug's cubes to take a picture, it reminded me of Mark's shevles and made me laugh. 

I'm proud of Doug and what he's accomplished and glad he's willing to share and let others learn from his mistakes.

Was it Eleanor Roosevelt or someone else that said ... "Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself."

November 15, 2014

The Big Reveal - Poland Syndrome

by Pam
Fasten your seatbelts because I'm going to reveal Doug's biggest, deepest, darkest secret … he has Poland Syndrome. Dave (from Houston) go ahead and hit the delete key unless you've always wondered why Doug's shirts fit funny, why he's been walking with a limp for several years, and why he's faster on one tack than the other.

Poland Syndrome (PS) is a rare birth defect with varying degrees of severity and didn't even have a name until 1962 (when Doug was 12). This blog post does a great job of explaining it and showing pictures which are very similar to Doug. Doug has a mild case in that he is only missing his entire left pectoral muscle (sternal and clavicular head), has a smaller and weaker left arm and has mildly limited left arm rotation. Think about that for a second … how many things do you do when sailing that requires the use of your pectoral muscle? Pulling in the main, pulling on and releasing every sail control, steering, getting on the centerboard to right a capsized boat, launching a dolly, stepping the mast, loading and unloading a boat from a trailer. It's a fairly comprehensive list.

Having PS has meant that Doug has a lifetime of experience in accepting that he is physically incapable of doing some things in the same way as others and must therefore think outside the box and look for ways to adapt and overcome. Since Doug is a two time Laser Masters' World Champion and the only US sailor to have ever won both a Master and Grand Master World Championship, I'd say that he's adapted and overcome quite well. Hopefully, that statement will come off as encouraging to those with this condition and not as bragging.

I'm writing about this for a few reasons. First, and foremost, I’m seeking input for a specific issue from anyone in the medical field or with personal experience with this condition. Secondly, it's to provide a means of reaching out and connecting with others with this condition who, like Doug, have only recently learned the name of what they have and why they are different.

From my research, it appears that most people hide this condition and have never been officially diagnosed. Throughout Doug's lifetime, until several years ago, most doctors have simply looked at his chest and said 'well how about that' completely stumped as to what they were seeing. Doug learned the name of this when I started doing research and then he confirmed it with his doctor when he had his left rotator cuff issue a couple of years ago.

Three notable athletes with this syndrome, two of which, have the rarer left pectoral muscle missing as opposed to the more common right, are: 1) French boxing, Olympic silver and bronze medalist, Jérôme Thomas; 2) Spanish Formula 1, two-time World Champion, Fernando Alonso; and 3) American golfer, PGA Tour winner, Bryce Molder. I've seen pictures on the Internet of Jérôme and Fernando without their shirts and it appears they have some muscle tissue (clavicular head) which Doug does not have.

I first learned about this shortly after meeting Doug when he was trying to encourage me in sailing. I'm fairly petite and was convinced that I was not strong enough to sail a Laser (I'd only tried a full rig) so he challenged me to an arm wrestling match with my strongest left arm. With a small effort, I beat him and was convinced he let me win only to learn that he had not. That's just how weak his left arm is. So, for all those sailors over the years who have come to his aid when they noticed him struggling to step a mast in a breeze, lift a boat onto a trailer, drag his dolly out of the water after a windy series, get back on the docks after falling in the water, or right a capsized boat … he genuinely needed and appreciated the helping hand.

After Hyères, and watching Doug struggle in those conditions … and after he had lost 30 pounds a few years ago when doing the food combining I had suggested ... and after he has been unable to put any weight back on for years now, I felt compelled to take matters into my own hands. Armed with the knowledge from one college weight lifting class, my trusty book, "Strong Women Stay Young" and my nifty Internet research skills, I've taken on the task of becoming his personal trainer. After all, very few doctors or trainers know anything about PS and its limitations, so why not jump in and see what I can do.

This is where I need input (ideas, personal experience, anatomy knowledge, etc.). My goal is to add about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle primarily to Doug's upper body in time for the Worlds in Canada in June 2015 (don't laugh). Because he has always been lopsided, he has avoided doing any upper body exercises except for arm strength because he didn't want to emphasize the lopsidedness. So, my task is to figure out which muscles are there and build the heck out of them and, so far, they're building pretty fast since he's never worked them before.

I started with measurements of everything and an evaluation of physical movement. Doug is 64 years old and never knew he had limited rotation of his left arm until I had him go through the motions (without weights) of two lifts using proper form. Sure enough, the left side has restricted movement. I'm not going to post pictures of Doug without his shirt but this image is very similar to what Doug looks like with his arm raised. I'm most concerned about that stringy tendon looking thing that connects his arm to his body. That part is exactly like what Doug has.

In two weeks, using only two slow lifting exercises targeted for his shoulders and back with 10 and 15 pound weights, we've improved his posture, added 1 inch to his chest measurement and 3 inches to his shoulder/chest circumference measurement. Clearly, building muscle isn't going to be a problem despite his age but doing it slowly and without injury is going to be the challenge.

Ideas anyone?

Rotator Cuffs

By Doug
With only one exception, every time I've injured myself sailing has been when I've skipped my stretching routine, so I do this religiously. For me's it's cheap insurance. 

I discovered the one injury exception when I had trouble with one stretch - the one where I bend over, grab my hands behind my back, and then try to lift them over my head. It's a yoga move I've done for 20 years and this one time there was a sharp pain in my left shoulder. An MRI showed a partial tear in my rotator cuff. 

The strange thing about this injury is that you may not feel it at the time but it's very painful later. I had a pretty good idea of how I tore it. Rounding a bottom mark in a breeze, I'd pull on the vang and cunningham by leaning back as hard as I could and I'm sure I just pulled it out of the socket.

I've heard from fellow Laser sailors who have had surgery to repair the tear and without exception they have all talked about the pain and the long recovery time. Sailing a Laser in a breeze has a lot to do with pain management, so when a world-class Laser sailor talks about pain, it must hurt.

I was scheduled for surgery at the end of 2013 but cancelled it with the hope that there was a better solution. Sure enough, Pam found a series of exercises that looked promising.

The first step was using ice initially and the second was heat and massage to increase the blood circulation. For this, I used an industrial-strength vibrator every day for months. The next step was really basic exercises that were trivial compared to regular sailing, so I did not bother. But there was another reason - my shoulder no longer hurt.

A word of caution: I'm not a doctor, I only had a partial tear, and this is what has worked for me. I share this with you because I avoided the pain and lengthy recovery time of surgery and was able to sail in a breeze at Hyères without incident. Here are the other steps I use to protect my shoulders.
  • I've increased the purchase on my cunningham to 10:1 so that it's much easier get it tight.
  • When I pull on a control, I pull with my arm muscles flexed and not just by leaning back.
  • A exercise I did for years was tricep dips. These are apparently really hard on my rotator cuffs, so I don't do them any more.

Death Roll

by Rob Sykes (AUS)

Many thanks to Rob for his contribution in a comment that deserves to be a post.

A bit off topic, but helping sailors. I promised I would send this data to Doug (not sure if Pam was present at the time). I have just returned from Hyeres and was reminded of my promise by a photo on Thom Touw showing a master death rolling and doing it incorrectly.

Neither of these film clips were posed or acted.

Death roll

This is about 12 knots, Note position of rudder (central) and how Mitch is holding the main sheet. Nice and fast.

Mitch starts an up turn to get speed to catch a wave. You see him sheet in and accelerate. Almost immediately he bears away to take advantage and jump to the next wave. He dumps the sheet but does not bear away enough so the boat begins a death roll.

He moves to lee trying to bring the boat upright, but sheets out (now the boat wants to bear away more) instead of sheeting in. He also pulls the rudder so as to luff up. This action tips the hull over to windward even more and he goes in.

He might well have saved the capsize by sheeting in instead of out during the death roll and also bearing away violently.  Saving a death roll. Running, rudder central (good) but the main sheet from the block. This is not as fast as Mitch. (He is very very much faster than me, particularly downwind).

Here the scenario of an up turn followed fast by a down turn is the same. The wind was a bit heavier (15 knots). I was under sheeted anyway as the stopper knot on the main sheet made the boom go out too far.

The up turn is ok, you see the boat accelerate. Immediately I dump sheet to do the down turn, but because the stopper knot is in the wrong place, the boom goes too far and the boat starts to go over to windward. Because I have the main sheet from the block, as I move to leeward, I tighten the main sheet (good) and note how the helm is in bear away mode, not luff up. The boat is not responding so I push the rudder hard and the boat comes upright. If I had pulled the rudder, I would have gone in. See how the water flows into the cockpit.


Think of the boat half over to windward. The rudder blade is only just in the water. If you pull the rudder, lift the transom up and twist the boat and increase the tipping motion of the death roll. If you push the rudder, you sink the transom and twist the boat decreasing the tipping motion of the death roll.

You may have to play the movie at super slow or single frame to see the sheeting and rudder positions.

Thanks to Steve Cockerill for showing me how to do it.
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