March 30, 2010

The Blogger, In Repose

Some people may have noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately.

While many are probably applauding that fact, the reason is I've been doing a lot of this instead:

Work has been very stressful. There have been many 'issues' to deal with. In IT, we never have problems. That would be an admission that something has gone wrong, or, more specifically, that one of us has screwed up. Instead, we have 'issues'.

This is how the corporate world maintains face and denies responsibility for anything - by inventing vague, newspeak terms which kinda sound like explanations of what's happening without explaining anything useful at all. You know, 'truthiness' instead of truth.

At any rate, the 'issues' at work have been driving me bonkers lately. Servers have been crashing (hardware issues) which causes my phone to ring at peculiar times of the day and night (communication issues) which, in turn, deprives me of sleep (coherency issues), which, in turn, makes me cranky (profanity issues).

So what does this have to do with sailing? Ah, I thought you'd never ask.

It has led me to rediscover one of the best features of my boat - its comfortable below deck accommodations, one of the few things that Catalina 30 owners can boast about.

While owners of most other boats will brag about how high their boats can point or what a fantastic turn of speed they have in a breeze, or how they can cut through steep waves and put prodigious miles under their keels in a 24-hour stretch of blue water sailing, Catalina 30 owners have learned to quickly change the subject when such topics come up.

Instead, we talk about our comfortable accommodation.

And this has been a great week for comfortable accommodation. My wife, having suffered many 'issues' at her job lately, too, declared this a 'no-sail' week. It is one of the many compromises we have worked out over the years. There are sailing days or weekends or weeks. And there are 'no sail' days or weekends or weeks - time when we are on the boat but when there are to be no expectations of leaving the slip, feeling the bracing sting of salt spray upon the cheek, or hearing that lovely hiss of bubbles behind us in our wake.

It's just as well, though. This week, I want none of that. Yesterday, there were some regrets, as the weather was warm, sunny, and there was that annoyingly perfect springtime breeze blowing. But today was a day tailor-made for comfortable below deck accommodation. See for yourself:

Leave some comments, if you like. I'd love to hear if there are others who feel no guilt about snoozing below when they might be out sailing. But this week, you'll understand if I take a while to reply.



March 21, 2010

Spam - Not Just For Breakfast Anymore


I'm always amazed by what you can learn reading top-notch sailing blogs.

Frogma has just posted about what she had for lunch on her most recent sailing outing - something I'd never heard of before - Spam Musubi, a dish that is apparently very popular in Hawaii.

Wow, I had no idea Spam was this great cross-cultural vehicle. Is Spam actually a kind of universal language, sort of a culinary Esperanto? Since no one's really sure what it's made of, it seems to be accepted by many cultures. Maybe it's the key to a future of peace and world understanding.

Curious, I started checking out the internets. Sure enough, both Spam and Spam Musubi have their own Wikipedia entries, incontrovertible proof that Spam has a respected international stature.

Then, I had a startling realization. I'd always wondered why I chose the shade of blue that I did for the background color of this blog. Somehow, that particular blue just spoke to me. But now I see that there were strong subliminal forces at work in my choice. It is the same color used in the background of the Spam label.

And there are practical sailing applications for Spam products, too, I discovered. My favorite sailing hat has long been a knit watchcap, after I lost too many baseball caps overboard in the strong winds of San Francisco Bay. Well, look at this spiffy offering from the Hormel Corporation. I'm ordering one of these snappy numbers right away:

And I notice there's another Spam product that should have a million uses aboard any sailboat:

Spam Spread has that same great Spam taste, but the clever engineers at Hormel changed its texture for when you need something more flexible. On a sailboat, you can still have it for lunch, but it also makes a great all-around marine caulking compound at a fraction of the cost of 3M 5200. Half of the problem with the 3M product is that cleanup is such a mess. Not so with Spam Spread - just lick your fingers clean. Spam Spread adheres readily to wood, fiberglass, and most non-ferrous metals. It remains soft and pliable indefinitely over a wide temperature range - the perfect choice for bedding deck fittings.

What a wonderful, universal product Spam is. Long-lasting, easily transportable, shaped to stack easily, and, when sliced thin, placed on a block of rice, and wrapped in seaweed, kinda tasty, too.


March 16, 2010

A Weird Post


Last week was certainly a weird one in Blogville.

Tillerman blogged about his underwear. Bonnie blogged about looking into other people's windows. JP blogged about hats.

Never one to miss a trend, I've been looking for something weird to blog about, too.

And then I saw a post on Rowing For Pleasure about a guy who rowed a small boat 2000 miles to the New York World's Fair. Mr. Partridge put up an ancient Pathé newsreel clip of the guy and his boat. The newsreel was done in that hokey 'Holy cow!' style that evolved in the '30s and '40s to keep movie theater patrons awake while they waited for the main feature to start. So the whole thing seemed like it happened even longer ago than it did.

Which was weird, because I remember going to the New York Worlds Fair. The one in 1964, not 1939.

Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with details of the Belgian Village or how cool the Carousel of Progress was, because, franky, I don't remember anything about them at all. Altogether, it was one of the most unmemorable events I've ever been to. I'm sure glad I didn't row 2000 miles to get there.

But I do remember just one thing about it - something I will never, ever, forget seeing. And that was this:

It turns out the Vatican had a pavillion at the fair. There they were alongside General Motors, Kodak, Greyhound Bus Lines, and the Parker Pen Company. But theirs was the only one without a long line in front. Apparently, their marketing and promotion department had dropped the ball. They just didn't understand what drew in the crowds. None of their exhibits moved. And how could you compete with the Carousel of Progress, anyway?

But somehow, this particular exhibit got to me in a very fundamental way. Not for its religious message, but for its sheer artistry. In 1964, I was a 15-year-old man of the world, but this was the first artwork of that stature that I had ever seen. And, since the pavillion was relatively quiet, I could take my time. There was no Magic Moving Carpet Of The Ages whisking you by it. I must have spent an hour there. You could get as close as you liked and walk all around it.

It is one of those works of art that reveals more of itself the longer you study it. It has a spooky power and presence that's hard to explain. In a small way, it has spoiled all sculpture and statuary that I have seen since. It's that remarkable.

The 1960s were a time of unbridled self confidence in America and of a smug assurance that new things must be better than old ones. A huge amount of historic heritage was plowed under in the sweeping 'urban redevelopment' of that time. In fact, the fair's chief promoter, Robert Moses, famed perhaps more for his ego and persuasive powers than for his artistic vision, had been responsible for a lot of that plowing under.

The fair seemed focused on hurtling us into the future as fast as possible. The past was painted as a dark, technological wasteland with nothing to teach us.

It was quite an awakening for me to feel such power in a work of mute marble that had been crafted by one man almost 500 years before. It was humbling to realize that such genius could have existed so far in the past.

I walked out of that pavillion a changed kid.

Any normal, well-adjusted 15-year-old would have gone bonkers over the NASA rocket exhibit or the cool cars of the future at the GM pavillion or all of the other exhibits pretending to know what life would be like in the future. But, after having seen Michelangelo's Pietà, the rest of that stuff seemed kind of shallow and tacky.

By the age of fifteen, I was already pretty weird.

I had a similar feeling many years later at a boat show in Oakland, where the latest megabuck fiberglass sailboats were lined up at the docks next to a very simple 30-foot wooden boat from an earlier time - a work of art that also had been handcrafted by a single man, Larry Pardey.

Sometimes, simple things are best and the traditions of the past have a lesson or two for us.

So, there now, weird as it may seem, I've managed to find some sailing content in Michelangelo and the New York World's Fair.

But this is still a pretty weird post.


March 8, 2010



In my last post I explained how my wife is learning to sail. I focused on how learning to sail really comes down to one 'aha!' moment - when you finally 'get it' and start to feel at one with the boat and with the wind.

You stop analyzing, and start feeling.

And then it occurred to me that after that first moment of discovery, there are actually many others. There is a whole series of 'aha!' moments.

There's that first time you nail the timing of a tack and come out of it with the boat moving fast and in the direction you actually want to go.

You think to yourself, "Why don't I do it that way all the time?"


And from that moment on, you're a better sailor.

If I were a Zen master, I'd probably have a cool-sounding Japanese name for these 'Aha!' moments.

And I guess it's natural to assume that if you keep on sailing long enough, all the important 'aha!' moments will eventually come to you and all will be enlightenment and you will become the kind of sailor who exudes confidence and whom people call wise and salty.

But I don't think it actually works out that way.

I think we all have a quota of 'aha!' moments allotted to us. Some of us get more, some fewer.

Some of us could live to be 103, and no one would ever call us wise or salty.

Look at Tillerman, for example.

I think one of the most appealing things about his blog is that he's a mid-fleet kind of guy. If he won every race, I think he'd have fewer readers. Nobody likes the guy who wins all the time. In fact, I think if we were honest with ourselves, we'd probably discover some pretty ugly thoughts deep down inside about the guy who wins all the time.

I think we only get a certain number of 'aha!' moments in life and, the further we go, the fewer we find.

But please don't tell Tillerman this. He might find it discouraging. And one of his strongest character traits is that he's never discouraged, he never gives up.

He is always coming up with some new scheme or plan that might loft him into the ranks of the guys who always win. A new exercise routine. A new start strategy. A new training clinic that will finally reveal the unknowable and guide him with a Yoda's confidence to the finish line.

But the guys who always win are probably no smarter than Tillerman or work any harder than he does. They probably don't even realize what they're doing that lets them win all of the time.

They've just had a few more of those 'aha!' moments. They're not thinking better, they're just feeling some things intuitively that Tillerman and the rest of us are just never going to get.

In every sport, in almost every human endeavor, from playing the guitar to juggling, there are some individuals who seem to have a natural gift for effortlessly doing what the rest of us have to struggle to achieve.

I learned long ago to accept this. I have no aspirations of one day besting my fellow sailors at anything. Or of ever intuitively knowing why a diesel engine is unhappy, the way some guys do.

I have beer and that is enough.



March 4, 2010

It's Just Us Women Out Here


A while back, I posted about being the only guy in an all-woman sailing class - and on the very day that every manly man on San Francisco Bay was out sailing the Three Bridge Fiasco.

As you might expect, it took most of the post to explain how I got to be in such a predicament, so I never really got to the main point.

Which is that my wife is learning to sail, and that I've had the chance to watch the learning process happen.

As I've explained quite a few times now, my wife and I have been sailing together for many years. She knows a lot of the tasks involved in sailing a mid-sized keelboat, but she's never before wanted to learn to skipper the boat - to make the jump from doing an appointed task to thinking about what the next task needs to be.

I was asked to fill in at the last minute for a student who dropped out of the class, so there we were a few weeks ago - my wife, the instructor, and me on a Capri 22 in a quiet corner of the Bay that's perfect for learning to sail.

My wife is a school teacher and had been taking the approach of an academician in learning to sail. She'd been poring over the textbook and studying all of the explanations about weather, charts, right of way, parts of a boat, points of sail, lines, knots, pfd's, hypothermia, navigation marks - geesh, was learning to sail really all that complicated?

When you see everything you have to know spelled out in black and white in one long list, it can seem daunting. No wonder so many beginners throw up their hands and just give up or retreat to the nether world of powerboats.

But, as our first day on the water unfolded, I realized that learning to sail really has nothing to do with all of those terms, diagrams, and complicated explanations from Mr. Bernouilli.

As we made our way out of the harbor, we passed the Richmond Yacht Club, home to one of the best training programs on the Bay for junior sailors. Two classes were out doing drills - a Laser class of 12-year-old Paul Cayard pretenders, and some eight-year-olds in El Toro's - San Francisco's answer to the Optimist dinghy.

That morning, things hadn't been going so hot for my wife. We were doing points of sail and she was having a hard time relating all of those diagrams in the book to how a real sail works. The instructor was barking orders - beam reach, close hauled, close reach, bearing off, coming up, coming about. The words and the pictures and the little angle diagrams were swirling in my wife's head and she was getting more flustered and frustrated as the morning wore on.

As I watched an 8-year-old in one of the El Toro's pop through a tacking drill like he had been born in that boat, it hit me - he wasn't thinking about a bunch of diagrams in some book and a lot of confusing terms. He was just dropping into the groove and having a blast.

For each of us, that magic moment comes. The acceleration of a small boat, the angle of heel, and something inside that you just can't explain suddenly tell you when the sail is drawing. You start to feel that groove and what you need to do to stay in it. The wind is no longer a blue arrow on a white page.

The folks who draw all of those diagrams and write the long explanations must know that feeling and try their best to get it down on paper. But it starts with the feeling and before you get that, all the words and pictures are pretty useless.

It would be another week before that moment would come for my wife.

Late the following Saturday afternoon, after a discouraging day of docking practice and the umpteenth jibing drill, the instructor's exercises were wrapped up for the day. My wife took the helm and started steering us across the harbor. She looked up at the sail, and I saw a little glint in her eye. Our boatspeed was picking up. The sun was dropping, about the time she would usually be getting cold, but she wanted to go around the harbor again. We were close to the dock and could head in at any time.

But she wanted to go around yet again. Just this once. Just this one more time. The glint in her eye was becoming a smile.

In that moment, I knew we had another sailor in the family.

By the time we got back to the dock, I could tell she was excited. The next day, she got every single question on the written test right. She wanted to know how we sign up to take the training boats out again.

My wife wanted to take us out sailing.

I have been informed that this summer we will not be taking a long trip in the big boat. We will be spending our time in the little boats. And guess who will be driving.

I am a very lucky man.


March 2, 2010



Winter weaves her crackling ice,
Sending chills through all she touches.

With pelting hail she pummels us,
Pounds the flowers, crumples, crushes

Of all her wicked wintry weapons,
(A freezing rain my window brushes),

Her very worst I now discover
When in my shoes, the freakin' slush is.
Frogma posted yesterday of her midwinter malaise, as she potatoed on the couch, shipping shome Shiraz.

I was warm and cozy, in my Californianess - aloof, and above it all.

Until I saw it. That photo she posted. Oh no!

For thirty years, I'd been in denial. I'd left it behind in New Jersey. I'd put it from my thoughts.

For thirty years, my socks had been dry, my toes toasty. I'd long forgotten what I'd run from all those winters ago. That soggy plague.

That slush.

But I got chills again, just looking at that photo. It all came slushing back.

Slush is absolutely the worst thing there is about winter. It's inescapable, relentless.

Snow you can walk on, trudge through, and brush off. It'll work with you.

Puddles, the careful and judicious can avoid, they're at least transparent and show themselves.

But slush is sneaky and evil, a witches brew. It takes on all forms, like silly putty. It hides its depth to the unwary. It mounds up, and climbs over the highest shoes.

It knows if you've been naughty or nice, and gets you either way.

Slush is the coldest substance on earth. And once it gets your socks wet, they never dry. Ever.

There are countless romantic references in literature and poetry to snow and rain, the polite precipitations. But have you ever heard a song or poem about slush?

Did Gene Kelly go singing in the slush?

Did Robert Frost stop by the woods of a slushy evening?

Did François Villon haunt us by asking, "Where is the slush of yesteryear?"

Did Grouch Marx wonder...oh heck, you get the idea.

Slush means always having to say you're soggy.