Newton, Navigation, & the Plague

What would Newton do? (In a modern day pandemic.) Well, he actually did it, if one considers London’s Great Plague of 1665-66 modern enough. He did several things in fact.

Isaac Newton, eventually Sir Isaac, basically quarantined himself during this catastrophe, having recently completed undergraduate studies at the ripe old age of 23. He, like all privileged Londoners at the time, fled the city. At his family’s countryside retreat, he was a busy boy! What did he do that was relevant to navigation?

Newton, with some social distance from an apparently alarmed observer, as he experiments with prisms to understand the composition of light. Image shamelessly copped from stock.)

Well, truth be told, that’s a stretch – but we do need to stretch our imaginations to keep ourselves occupied during our social distancing and quarantining. We’ll try to get there. First, here is what Newton did with his time:

  1. He studied gravity. Yep; that apple crap. This led to his eventual creation of the laws of motion and his career-defining work, Principia.
  2. He started working on optics, proving that “white” light consisted of the complete color spectrum using a pair of prisms;
  3. He picked up where Descartes and de Fermat left off with universal equations of fluctuating quantities, solving that dilemma with a series of papers and formalizing what we now call Calculus!

That was Newton. And that was then. And now, we have to find things to do and learn while keeping social distance and isolating. One option: Start Navigating SM: ASA Coastal Navigation (105). But we have to do it with social distance. So, we have to do it from home via Zoom, FaceTime, etc. That’s the Staples part (where we get some of our 105 supplies); that’s easy.

But what about the math? Newton did some complex math during his tenure away from town. How much math is involved with Coastal Navigation? That depends on who you learn it from. It can be fairly complicated – or, you can do it our way:

Plot the path without the math!

Path; no math. No arithmetic or math used to plot this set & drift ‘triangle.’ The geometry is built in. This is our preferred method. Cuz, you know… trig sucks on a boat! 1210 Tr chart (training; not updated), Block Island to Martha’s Vineyard. This is the solution to a practice plot submitted to us to refresh a memory on this technique.

We use as little math as possible when doing – and teaching – navigation. We teach the little bit of algebra needed for deduced, or ‘dead,’ reckoning, and we make it easy with a visual aid that’s intuitive to use. We refresh peeps on their long-hand division when they forget how. Can’t rely on a calculator on the water. But for the serious stuff? Set and drift of current while underway with no current tables to consult?

That’s where we plot the path without the math. Not even basic arithmetic. Just draw lines based on the concept, representing what the boat and the current do, and measure the final answer: course to steer! We even give you some toys to play with in the process…

People plotting in one of our Start NavigatingSM courses this past winter. Pre-Corona. He’s working with a triangular protractor, or plotting tool. She’s manipulating the world’s finest one-handed dividers. Yes; she’s using two hands. Sometimes that’s helpful to set one point quickly and accurately. Then one rocks ’em with one hand! All being done on a real chart, not a training chart frozen in time to the 1980’s with incorrect coloring and needless extra clutter.

Here’s how it works – think of it as a sample of the 105 Nav course. Yes, it’s an advanced topic; no, there will be no quiz to you as the reader afterward, and I’m sure you can follow along!..

Step 1: Draw a line from “point A” to “point B.” That’s the path you want to sail. It’s like drawing your own road on a map; your only job after that is to stay on it. In the chart pic above, it’s the top line labeled “DR Course” (not A to B, but think of it that way).

Step 2: Now, draw a line from point A showing the path the current will flow. How do you know? Let’s just assume you knew how to look it up and find its speed and direction. (Yes, we teach you all that in the course.) Draw it in that direction, for the distance it moves in one hour. Tool used? Any straight edge such as a ruler, or the nautical plotting tool we send you in advance! Distance? Use the dividers, or nautical drafting compass, to mark this. (No math – we promise!) In the chart pic, it’s the bottom right line labeled “Set/Drift.” So, for example, if the current is 2 knots, set the dividers to 2 nautical miles – the distance it flows in one hour.

That shows were your boat will be if you just let it drift helplessly from point A for one hour. We don’t want that, do we? Of course not! So, we have to figure out how much to offset our course to fight the current and stay on our intended track. How?

Step 3: Figure out the boat’s speed in knots (nautical mph). Then, we set the dividers to that speed. How? Same as with the current in step 2 above. It’s all based on one hour: an hour of the current’s motion, and an hour of sailing (or motoring) while in that current.

Step 4: Now, set one point of the compass/divider on the spot where the current line ends. Swing the other end over to the DR, or nautical road map line, you drew from A to B. Set the point down; draw in that line. In the pic, that’s the third leg of the triangle formed, labeled “heading” and “boat speed.”

Step 5: Boom. That line is also the angle to steer by the boat’s compass to fight the current! Measure that with your plotting tool. Steer that when you sail, and you’re on track to point B.

Is it slightly more complicated than that in real life? No… but you do need to work up to it by starting with more basic info and practice, and then the steps above are very straightforward… just like your boat’s trajectory over ground in real life/real time to arrive at your point B!

And, yes – we can teach this to you live and interactively. We’ll do that for now; eventually, we’ll be cleared for takeoff on taking off the masks, cutting the social distance, and resuming life as normal as it gets post-pandemic. In the meantime, if Newton played with prisms, here is a prism for you to ponder navigationally…

Remember the porrtait of Newton playing with prisms? No? It’s literally at the top of…
Nevermind. Here’s a hand-held compass that’s one of the most popular models in use. It uses a prism! The funny metal thing on the right is a fancy-lad pair of dividers. Elegant but not as practical as the ones shown above. We teach you how to use a hand-held compass like this in the course.

For a nice piece about one author’s current state of isolation in the context of annus mirabilis, or year of miracles (yup, that’s what they called Newton’s time), here you go… https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/03/20/newton-formulated-his-theory-gravity-time-plague-we-need-miracle-too/

For a bit more context and detail on Newton’s topics above, check out this one… https://www.biography.com/news/isaac-newton-quarantine-plague-discoveries

And, finally… for more about finding your path on the water, and our on-line navigation course, see our Coastal Nav page here…

Social Distancing? Yeah. We got that.

Sort of; kind of. A boat can be a small piece of real estate, but people certainly don’t have to be in each other’s laps. And, you can drive to us and avoid public transit. Which, we’re hearing, is often pretty empty. That alleviates the concern that it’s supposed to be a big petri-dish whirling cesspool of infectious spread. If we’re few and far between, we’re further from infectious.

Social distance: one knee and done! We had this beach side restaurant to ourselves that night (rare occurrence, as it’s popular and excellent). The ‘runway’ is a fixed pier for larger vessels and also dinghies. Our yacht is out there somewehre! Jost Van Dyke, BVI, from our March 2020 trip.

At least out on a boat with us, or on your own if you already know how to sail, you’re doing a relatively safe, healthy, outdoor activity in the scheme of all this. Brooklyn bier gardens and rave parties: they be gone. My GF and I pretty much closed down a kewl bar we discovered on Sunday night… Bier Wax. No one’s going in no time soon now. But you should check it out when things are stable. NY Sailing Center post-virus celebration? Yup.

The exterior of Bier Wax in Brooklyn. New York brews from Brooklyn to Upstate, all surrounded by shelves of vinyl that they play. First link on their front page? “Featured DJ’s”. Turntable spinning and taps spilling. Miguel Rivas, photo, with link on their site on the gallery page.

So, what to do with the spare time? Sailing does start soon. We hope it will start on Friday, with temps at or above 70! But the updated forecast spoke of rain, wind, and maybe some thunder. We’ll have to see.

The author is a fiend for snowboarding. All the mountains closed for coronavirus. So? He sold one his boards on eBay that had proven a little too large for him. It took three auctions, including one where the buyer basically blew off the purchase. But, on the third, people being home seemed to increase viewing, bidding, and in the end, the sale price. So, there’s that!

From the eye of the Orca! Lib Tech T.Rice Orca snowboard. Super popular board that can do almost “it all.” It’s an alternative freeride board that’s excellent in powder, but it also has magnetraction edges (wavy) for solid grip on hard pack and icy snow. Short/wide/surfy style board.

Right from home, people can learn navigation. We prefer to teach that as a classroom course with practice plots in between sessions as homework. But, we have one class in progress that might switch from classroom to video conference, and we will be doing that going forward on a super flexible schedule. Let us know if you want to discuss getting in on that stay-in option!

Plot the distance… recent Start NavigatingSM course (ASA 105, Coastal Nav). Two men. Current course? Two women. We always have low class density; helps with social distancing now in the age of coronavirus. And now, we’re going remote!

Most of us are at least a little concerned about the COVID-19 coronavirus thing. Some are very stressed and panicked. We’ll get through it as a communities and countries. Some thoughts to share on prevention efforts:

  • Put straight isopropyl alcohol into a simple spray bottle. Boom. You have a very efficient surface and object sanitizer. The broad mist spray gets a little of it all over. In my (not so often) humble opinion, that’s all that’s needed. No need to wipe down and rub around. My GF and I came up with that; no doubt others did as well.
  • Re-think all brick and mortar and in-person transactions, especially paying with cash in person. I love a coffee n bagel break in my hood, but had decided to cut this out of my routine. Today, I was sorely tempted in the late afternoon. I walked over, and there was only one other customer. The staff were using gloves. I paid with singles and said to keep the change. I disinfected. I felt safe.
  • Be prepared to walk away from any environment when you see careless behavior or lack of adherence to suggested safe practices. See someone touching their face in the store when they’re ahead of you, or the hired help doing that (especially without gloves)? Walk away. Leave. And disinfect.
  • Don’t just wash your hands “for 20 seconds” and use sanitizer. Consider how thoroughly your’re actually doing it, and the order in which you’ve touched things. We wash our hands to get rid of stuff on them. So, once we’ve touched a faucet or container of liquid soap, it’s contaminated! Wash those as well. Then, wash your hands with more soap. THEN turn off the faucet. Apply that “last touch” mentality to every relevant scenario.
  • Exercise, eat well, and take some supplements. It can’t possibly hurt. It will boost your immune system and may well be the deciding factor as to whether you get this virus, and if so, how severely. For example, I’m taking vitamin C, zinc, and echinacea. I’ve been advised that the echinacea ought to be one week on and one off so I’m putting that into play. I’ve also ordered some bio-active silver hydrosol by Sovereign Silver based on a recco from a trusted health care professional. The list could go on as far as reccos; do what you’re comfortable with. No point in stressing over it and defeating the purpose.
Keep your social distance – stroll alone on a deserted beach. Two other people you don’t see: me, the fotog, and Kalindi. We had a very bowl of a beach to our selves for the price of a fun bike ride. From our March 2020 BVI trip. This is on the north shore of Anegada in the late afternoon.

So… about that sailing. We got back from our March BVI trip (Virgin Islands) on the 7th as we previously wrote about. Advanced courses start in late April, and learn-to-sail in early May. Sailing Club sessions could start as early as… Friday? We shall see. But it’s coming soon!

If you join the Club, and you haven’t yet learned how to sail, we’ll find ways to get you out with us or other Club members. If you can sail, then you know how it goes.

The author, our Director and HBIC (Head Bozo in Charge) often drives out from the Upper West Side, and sometimes from Park Slope, Brooklyn. If that sounds better than public transit, he might be able to give you a ride. Of course, you’ll be asymptomatic and will have taken your temperature regularly for a few days leading up to that (and again that morning). Fever is by far the most common symptom, in the upper 80’s percentile wise. That’s why the White House had started taking temps of reporters and turning away those with spiked numbers. The second most common, in the 60’s, is a dry cough. Duane Reade was due to get more thermometers in. Find or order where you can.

Social distancing: boats spread out (except for the harmless dinghy). People spread out. Plenty of room to breathe and roam. Quick lunch/snorkel/swim stop, first day of our March 2020 Virgin Islands (BVI) trip.

We’re all put out by this as well as freaked out. I’m a silver-lining kind of guy. I deal with the harsh reality of some things. I accept what I can’t influence or change. And, I look on the bright side. What can I do with the time I have, in the place that I am, that’s productive and maybe even makes me happy? What can I appreciate that’s different about my surroundings or microcosm of existence? There’s usually something.

Welcome to the Irish Riviera! Dog took a walk with its human apparently. Back side of Breezy Point, Queens – the exact opposite of Montauk: The End. This is the Beginning. Great place to walk off the beaten path. The ocean side beaches had a fair amount of peeps that day, but social distancing was superb. This beach ends in a long jetty. If you go there, only walk on the dry parts. Once you see any sign of slime, DO NOT GO FURTHER. Unless you’re wearing cleats you’ll go down. Author used to rock hop out to the end wearing cleats and sporting his fly rod to catch striped bass and false albacore. It’s not for the casual caster.

If you’re not finding enough of that… come out sailing! We’ll be open soon. And we’ll keep our distance.

More on navigation courses, from your own private isolation situation, or in small groups: http://newyorksailing.club/start-navigating-asa-105/

More on all that we do, including private and small group sailing courses and club experiences: http://newyorksailing.club/what-we-do/

And our BVI Itin was…

We got back from the trip on Saturday and loved it. All a bit of a blur and a blend, and we detoured slightly from the plan. But, for what it’s worth, here’s the answer to the challenge we put to you: identify the “default itinerary” for our BVI trips.

Here’s that same DMA chart of the Virgins, with our default ITIN spots marked with my grandfather’s chess pawns (cuz, why not).

Same chart as in last post- this time, labeled with the spots. Go ahead; zoom it up! See some detail. In the meantime, here’s the list:

  1. Virgin Gorda: Spanish Town.
  2. Anegada. There’s just the one anchorage.
  3. Marina Cay. Again, the one spot.
  4. Jost Van Dyke: east end, between Jost and Little Jost.
  5. Norman Island: the Bight
  6. Cooper Island: just the one – Manchioneel Bay.

We deviated on this trip. Not by fucking up our compass, no. We just stayed two nights at Norman and skipped Cooper this time around. We adjust based on what the people who paid to play had to say. And, sometimes the weather. Here’s a synopsis of this trip!

Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda. We anchored there after a snorkel and lunch stop at Great Dog. Then, we dingied into the marina and called a taxi to the Baths. Always breathtaking; never disappointing (except when super crowded. Several in our group were first timers and blown away by it. We grilled aboard that night.

Two women enjoying the largest of the natural pools at the Baths of Virgin Gorda.
Ah, The Baths… this is the largest of the natural pools amongst the famous boulders randomly arranged aeons ago along the south shore of Virgin Gorda. It’s a delightful spot when it’s not crowded.
Not even done with the first day, and we have happy campers! Enjoying drinks at the bar atop the Baths National Park. That’s our Director up front with a Bush Slide (Bushwhacker with drizzels of choc syrup). Mmmmmm….

Anegada. Our personal favorite, where we often spend two nights. One did the trick on this trip as all were eager to see as much of the BVI as possible. We anchored, lunched, and went ashore to explore the north side beaches (mostly by bicycle; one sailor opted for a taxi). The bikers did a beach crawl. Dinner: Anegada Reef Hotel on the beach. Various dishes were accompanied by a nice NZ bottle of Sauv Blanc. Chess match: competitive game with Gregor, but Captain Card managed to find a way to win despite a kibitzing (but entertaining) audience.

Steering… nailing it… and loving it! Kalindi taking a turn at the helm en route to Anegada.
The stunning north side of Anegada. Shallow lagoon area behind the outer reef; plenty of little bommies to explore before that. Choose solitude or manageable shared areas where drinks and food (and some shade) are available. Excellent swimming and snorkeling; diving possible; care to kiteboard? They have that and SUP too!

Marina Cay. Got a mooring early; had to move when crowded by anchoring cats. No problem. Then, off to snorkel the Coral Gardens which didn’t disappoint beyond slightly silty water column. The fish didn’t seem to care. No one on board had been to the relatively new and, post-Irma, refurbished Scrub Island Resort. A friend on another charter supplied intel on the merits, so we hopped in the dinghy. No one on board had been to the relatively new and, post-Irma, refurbished Scrub Island Resort. A friend on another charter supplied intel on the merits, so we hopped in the dinghy. Nice spot; very expensive drinks that were disappointing to decent, but, hey – it’s a brand new fancy joint so we should have expected it. Dined aboard once more. Gregor whupped Captain Card’s ass at chess, straight up. So it goes. (nb: the fuel/water dock was supposed to be open, despite the rest of the island not offering anything anymore. The hurricanes totally trashed MC. However, it was closed all afternoon, and again in the morning. Two yachts had parked on the pier overnight after seemingly waiting all afternoon.)

Kalindi and Gregor plotting as we begin the sail back from Anegada to Marina Cay.

Transoms 🙂 Our home for the week moored at Marina Cay. We had just returned from snorkeling the Coral Gardens. Note the change in water color toward the shore of Great Camanoe in the background, and also the starboard of our twin rudders. This boat was BALANCED heeling over in a breeze! Very light helm. Just like our Beneteau 21 sloops back home.
The swim-up at Scrub Island. Worth a shot at least once to see how they’re pourin’ em on any given day. Nice spot!

Jost Van Dyke. We did a quick snack/snorkel stop at Monkey Point on Guana Island first; surf wasn’t up too much, but water clarity sucked. Nothing special in the fish life department, but it was fun to see them regardless and the cave had a school of likeminded fin fish on display as well.

On to Jost/Little Jost, which gave us a downwind sail in swells and a few jibes for good measure and balance. We moored at the back of the bay, close to the shallows and flats and also the dinghy dock at Foxy’s Taboo (yes, offshoot of the famous Foxy’s around the corner x 2 at Great Harbor). We usually anchor here, but there was a prime mooring spot so we took it.

My college fencing coach tried hard to get me to put my back hand on my hip when swinging sabre. He gave up. Here? It just works. Chie sailing us part of the way with wind and some swells to Jost Van Dyke by way of Guana Island.

After some lunch we dinghied in to shore and made dinner reservations before trekking to the Bubbly Pool, a must-see spot that’s a light walk/hike from the dinghy dock. BVI Tourism aptly calls it “the East End’s natural sea-formed Jacuzzi.” I agree! As usual, we had it to ourselves briefly upon arrival before the hordes arrived. Just the way the luck rolls for us here.

The Bubbly Pool, about to be replenished! Still frame from a clip we shot upon arrival. For the full effect, see our Instagram with a video last year (and possible another to come from this trip!).

A wave crashes into the “hot gate” leading to the Bubbly Pool, which is behind the fotog, and sends a geyser up at him.
Gregor and Chie heading back toward the dinghy dock and anchorage. Our yacht is the monohull to the right of two cats (3rd out from the point that’s roughly center pic).

Dinner was only for us. They’d let us know when we reserved that we were the only boat/table thus far, and to be sure to advise if we changed our plans. We negotiated a time of arrival, and we showed up. This is rare for this spot; it’s usually somewhere between happening and hopping. Easy night and early closing for them. But they took great care of us. Food was exceptional for BVI; we’ve eaten there before and enjoyed it, but everything was top notch including my baby backs, which were some of the best I’ve ever had.

Rough group selfie while riding the dink after drinks at Scrub Island. You get the picture… happy campers.
Kate and Chie having hammock antics and shenanigans before dinner at Foxy’s Taboo.

Norman Island. Before stormin Norman, we stopped at Sandy Cay right off Jost. We had it to ourselves briefly as usual being the first to arrive. We did a hot drop with the dinghy, and Sir Gregor volunteered to drop it off at the yacht and swim in. nb: it’s seldom calm enough to safely beach the dink here; don’t risk it. Swim or snorkel in from the day moorings. The attractions here are to beach comb and hike the path up through the woods to several elevated plateaus with stunning vistas. It’s way higher up than it looks from shore or afar. Pro tip: hit it early in the AM before heading to your next destination. The alternative, late afternoon, is often too late for securin’ your berthin.’ (This works at many popular BVI day stops before the crowds arrive.)

Sandy Cay, almost in its entirety, as seen from under our Bimini on the boat. Some beach at each end is cut off but this is the whole island. Flat, right? It’s higher than it looks. Check it…
Open water as far as the eye can see… right after that little Island to the left! View from most of the way up Sandy Cay.
Looking down at the moored yachts, and out toward the western Virgin Islands, from part way up Sandy Cay. Our yacht is one of the last two on the right.

We enjoyed Norman itself enough to stay two nights! That’s a first on our trips. Anegada and Virgin Gorda are other spots where we’ve lingered an extra day & night sometimes. We anchored at the Bight in a spot we can usually get away with that strikes a nice balance of serenity and equal opportunity to get to where we want to play here. We snorkeled, chilled, etc and then BBQ’d for din din.

Captain Caffeine, or just a true Coffee Achiever? Either way… totally works. En route to Norman Island, which was an upwind leg with plenty of tacking practice through Thatch Cut and then Sir Frances Drake Channel, and eventually right up to the entrance to the Bight. Boom.

The next day, we chose to do the moderate hike up the ridge for amazing vistas, and then day sail around Norman before grabbing a mooring at Benures Bay for the day. Yup; both Benures and Soldiers now have some moorings; this wasn’t the case when we were last here a year ago.

Sir Gregor at the helm as we circumnavigate Norman Island for a fun sail. We’re on the south side, looking south here, with some swells. This is a still frame from a video clip we’ll probably post on our Instagram (links to all social media are on all pages and posts).

We enjoyed the day here; Gregor did a second hike to another location. Then, back to our anchor spot and drinks and Danger Jenga ashore at Pirate’s Bight before a last supper aboard.

The next morning was both gloomy and beautiful as we motored back to the base and prepared to head home. We got lucky; as soon as the boat was docked and the engine off, it rained. But, as is usual, it was brief and we didn’t get soaked before we departed, and we wished we could have stayed just a little longer.

Looks like a heart, right! Well, those who came for the first time did fall in love. Those who returned, rekindled. Final ride: back to the base at dawn and sunrise, looking roughly east.

For more about these trips…

see our Sailing Vacation Course page, and visit our Instagram!

“ITIN” Challenge, BVI!

We’re off to the Virgin Islands this weekend for one of our Sailing Vacation Courses. We go to BVI every winter, and sometimes twice or even three times (historically in the boom days; now it’s usually once but probably as we’re now going to Europe every fall).

By the way, we can accommodate one more person. Discount off the full trip price of $1650 to offset your last-minute airfare, too! (Talk to us about this, or see our BVI/Med trip page.)

Nothing quite like having the Bubbly Pool to yourselves… with actual bubbly to boot! From our January 2019 trip to BVI. Want to see more about these trips? That was your link.

Anywho… where shall we sail to this time? We do have a default itinerary (hence “ITIN”). It works: it hits the spots we prefer to take people, especially if they have little to no prior exposure to the Virgin Islands. Of course, prior exposure, weather, etc can change our destinations and our route to get to them.

Sometimes, we spend two nights in a special spot when people fall in love with it. This was especially true before the hurricanes ravaged Virgin Gorda. Gorda Sound (when did people start calling it North Sound, anyway?) had so much going on it often took two nights and days to get it done. Anegada, a much simpler place, was so appealing in this sense that, especially if we arrived on the later side, we occasionally spent an extra night there.

Speaking of nights… two here from BVI in our Instagram, along with some dawn and daytime.

So, where shall we go this time?? We have two clients who’ve been here before. We have two who are Virgins. Tell us!.. just don’t tell us here by public reply to the post; hit us up directly. See if you can come up with our default ITIN based on your own experience, what others have posted about their trips, etc, etc. Get it right, and you get $50 toward anything we do here. (Credit; not cash.) If no one gets it right, whoever is closest gets $50. That applies to all who get the same “closest,” whether they exactly match or not. If we deem two different submissions as equally close, we’ll award them both – and anyone else who submits the same ones.

Some basis for you to start:

  1. We depart from Road Harbor, Tortola, on Sunday mid to late morning (this coming Sunday, March 1).
  2. We will spend 6 nights out in the Islands.
  3. We must return the boat by around 9am on Saturday, March 7. (The gradual dragged/kicked off screaming in protest takes a little longer…)
  4. We might make day stops along the way to our “night” anchorages. Get those right, and you get extra credit to offset any “mistakes” in your guesses! (Remember: we actually want you to win the $50 to use with us.)
  5. We must be anchored, moored, or berthed no later than 30 minutes before sunset. Having said that, we always get to our destination for the night far earlier for many good reasons: finding parking, enjoying the area, sunset drinks, getting the grill started in a timely fashion when cooking aboard, etc.
  6. 40-foot yacht; near-new; total of 5 humans aboard including our “HBIC,” Captain Card. (See below for acronym to be spelled out.)

And, here’s a photo of a chart we have often taken on our BVI trips! Just in case it helps. (Of course, we took a pic of our default ITIN laid out on the same chart before we announced any of this, and we’ll share eventually to ward off any case of the shenanigans.)

Tired old DMA (Defense Mapping Agency) chart of the Virgin Islands. This chart has the entire VI chain on it with the exception of St. Croix well to the south. See what we did there with the ? That’s a hand-held compass for taking bearings and checking the ship’s compasses for deviation. Yup; this chart has been on numerous trips to BVI with us.

To submit your, well… submission, just hit us up privately.

Happy Hunting!

Italia 2.0

Our happy get-along gang posing for a pic at Portorosa!
The gang! Our HBIC (Head Bozo in Charge), Captain Card, on the right. We’re at the base in Portorosa, Sicilia, the afternoon before departure.

(all photos in this post, for better or for worse, with the exception of the above by a passerby at the base under supervision, by Captain Stephen Glenn Card.)

We recently got back from our second trip to Italy! We were all sad to see it end, but all had to get back to make mo money for the next trip…

Last time ? Islands off the Gulf of Naples, Pontine Islands, Amalfi Coast. Sweet trip; years ago.

This time?

Sicilia and outlying islands, with the Isole Eolie forming a sort of Y pattern off the northeast coast (with Lipari labeled).

The Isole Eolie off Sicily, which are a UNESCO World Heritage protected area. The waters were perhaps the clearest any of us had ever seen in our travels, and super saline to the point of us feeling like we just floated higher when swimming and snorkeling. The islands are a beautiful combo of rugged, volcanic majesty and plush, verdant beauty. Nice peeps, plates and ports of call.

Zoomed in somewhat on the Eolie for general perspective. Ginostra, top right, is a tiny village on Stromboli. There are seven main, inhabited islands in the group, which spans about 30-35 nautical miles diagonally in any direction.

We all arrived the afternoon in advance of departure at Portorosa to get settled and prepped. The “Sunsail” base here is operated jointly by Sail Italia, which operates some or all of Sunsail’s operations on a day to day basis in Italy, and Turistica Il (il) Gabbiano Yacht Charter. It was confusing at first, but the folks there were consistent and very nice to deal with.

We made sure there was a boat (check), got our boat briefing out of the way early, and waited on an area brief/skippers’ meeting. This got consolidated into too many boats in one briefing late in the day, but we all dealt with it and managed. Afterward, and again the next morning, there was time to ask more questions.

As we paid plenty for a near-new boat (less than 1 year old), there was almost nothing to address about its condition. One hinge for one vanity adjusted, and done! Only unresolved question was what to name the boat. Seriously. No name! So new, that… no name. So, off to the make believe land of GoT to come up with something. Plus, one that came up organically in convo with one of the Italian staff. That one? Solo Sicilia (Only in Italy). The one that stuck and was put down on paperwork in port after being used on the VHF?

“A Girl HAS No Name.”

Our director going in for the high five with the boat briefing tech, Natale, after cracking him up.
Our Director and Head Bozo in Charge, Captain Card, on left goin for the high 5 with Natale, our boat briefing tech. Card cracked him up on numerous occasions.

Wonderful dinner ashore at a restaurant in the complex, with excellent local wine. One of our crew is somewhere between an connoisseur and a sommelier, so we never had to worry about wine choices.

Screen shot of pics from HBIC Card’s phone. Left: on the tine of the fork is a small local shrimp from a pasta dish. On the plate? Prawns the size of lobsters. Worth zooming in on this! Then, middle and right, are our wine selections of the evening.

DAY ONE: Coffee, breakfast in stages, and get ready to RUMBLE!
The first two or three days were forecast to be pretty calm, so we anticipated light and variable winds in the mornings that ought to become light but sailable midday or in the afternoon. (Nailed that.) Then, mid-week, we’d get a “storm” in their words. It was imperative to have a parking spot in one of the few sheltered marinas in the islands, and wise to not plan long legs during that time frame. Our imperative? Get to Stromboli and knock that out, so to speak, before getting mid-chain and hedging / assessing next steps.

So, to jump start things, we planned to bypass the first island, Vulcano, and stop at Lipari instead as a first step toward Stromboli for night two. We reserved a berth at Lipari and a mooring at Stromboli toward that end. Lipari is the largest of the Eolie, and has a protected port and plenty of sights to see while parked there.

Sicily in the background; Siciliana steering (actually more D’Abruzzi, but who’s counting??). En route to Lipari.

As predicted, the wind was light and variable as we left port, and for most of the way to Lipari. We motored the whole way. Some boats tried to sail but were standing up straight and stubbornly sailing for the sake of sailing … slowly. Very slowly. We wanted to get in the vicinity of Lipari and then maybe do a pleasure sail once there rather than a delayed delivery. That worked. The wind came up enough to be meaningful and, with Stromboli smoking in the background, we did a fun shakedown sail for awhile before radioing in to the marina for final instructions.

Pano shot off the boat. CLICK this one for full size/res! The dark gray arc above the water? That’s the smoke from Stromboli, stretching at least 25, maybe 30 miles toward Sicily! Where it starts on the left is a cloud over the island, which is a constantly active volcano.

Lipari’s chief parking spot is Porto Pignataro. It’s well protected from most directions, but it’s a bit tight inside and can require confident maneuvering in close quarters. The wind had picked up a bit, but it was off the dock so easy to back up and Med moor in our assigned spot – especially as the marina had a man on on hand to pass us the laid line (mooring line that makes using an anchor unnecessary).

Approaching Isole Lipari, the largest of the Eolie. Dinghies are generally stowed on deck unless it’s a relatively short passage and also calm. The engine is mounted on the stern pushpit on the yacht and only put aboard the dinghy when about to be used. (In areas with larger, heavier dinghies, such as BVI, the whole rig is just towed behind except on cats with davits to hoist it up.)
Pic of chart from base briefing: Lipari, with our intel officer, Gianni, pointing to our port on Lipari: Porto Pignataro.

We wanted to explore ASAP, so after plugging into shore power and adjusting stern lines, off we went with yacht paperwork and passport to check in at the marina office before wandering into town. Once on foot we happened upon a friendly, professional looking driver with a Mercedes taxi-van, Danielle, who proposed a tour of the Island for a set fee after we asked for a ride into town. Sounded like a fair deal and a great way to explore efficiently, and we took it. Highly recommend this: it’s a large island and there are great vistas available if you roam around this way. Plus, Danielle was free flowing with factoids and perspective about the island and the area. We stopped several times, including an opportunity to just walk around the main pedestrian thoroughfare for a spell before moving on. This part was slightly rushed, but still worth it. Personally, I roamed up in between buildings and got a tour not unlike Old Town, Dubrovnik’s walled city. A few scenic stops later, we’d gone around the Island.

Porto Pignataro as seen from the road en route to town, shortly after we arrived that afternoon. In the background on right is the island of Vulcano.
Looking u[ a typical intersection of the pedestrian/moped area of town. At the top? The archaeological museum that’s an old fort!
Entrance ot the museum, which we later walked at night after dinner.
The gang with the testa di barca (head of the boat) taking the shot. Our awesome tour guide, Danielle, is sandwiched in the front row.
Cacti e faraglioni di Lipari.
The islands of Panarea, near right, and Stromboli, far left, matching the colors of the clouds at dusk as seen from well up on Lipari.

Dinners? To be done dockside… or more likely, a little further away. So, we took Danielle’s suggestion and went to a place up on a hill just outside town called Filipino’s. It looked like an expensive tourist trap, but it wasn’t. Everything was reasonable; fresh fish by the gram was a bit pricey but not outrageous, and it was fresh and well prepared.

Stefania pointing as she discussed fish options with the waiter.
Town church as seen from a viewing/firing port in the wall of the old fort.

DAY TWO: TO STROMBOLI

With a stop along the way to snorkel, of course! We hit the smaller islands off Panarea on the way. There’s a spot where gas is escaping from the seabed to the surface, and it’s super kewl to snorkel through the streams of bubbles. We found the suggested anchoring spot (very fussy and small area; highly weather dependent to do). Then, we found the bubble area, which is not visible easily from the surface if at all.

mountain looming behind cruising cat for scale
A cruising cat gives scale to the mountain rising from the sea here. Typical scene in the Isole Eolie.
Another typical scene: beauty in the eyes of the beholder, in this case the fotog who liked both the foreground and background here.

That, plus some bites, and we were off to Stromboli. We chose to motor to the snorkel spot to save time as, again, there was little wind. But we sailed all the way to Stromboli from there. How majestic and beautiful.

Celebration under sail. Good wine; good times.
Approaching Stromboli; several of us were mesmerized for prolonged periods.

Stromboli is a constantly active volcano with two small toe-holds of civilization. There’s a mooring field with some room to free anchor off the northeast shore, where the larger village is (and were the ferries zoom in and out creating wakes except during the night).

More scenery under sail.

One must plan carefully and visit here only when the weather is favorable as it’s exposed from three cardinal directions. Totally worth it: stunning to see up close and personal.

At the southeast end of the island; wind picking up and shifting; cruising monohull for perspective.

Our resident Italiana spoke to the locals and scoped out a sweet spot for dinner, which took some exploring to find. It was worth it. Trattoria ai Gechi. (Think GEICO gecko with his mouth shut while folks eat.)

Doesn’t get any fresher than this: local fisherman frozen after tossing his pot. What’s gonna be in it? Whatever’s the fresh fish on the menu at the local restaurants in the village, and on the villager’s dining tables. Taken while we were moored at Stromboli.

That’s a wrap for this installment; we’ll do another one or two to share the rest of this trip with you! Ce vediamo, eh?

“Watch Porn:” Horo-Erotica & the History of Telling Time at Sea

Yes, this is a serious Blog Rant! Yes – we’ll have some fun with it too. Why not? Isn’t that what this is all about?!

No… the title doesn’t mean “go watch porn.” You be you, of course, but it’s in the sense of anything that we obsess about on the internet these days and watch a lot of YouTube, Vimeo, Insta, etc about it. In this case, it’s just wrist watches. I’ve developed a minor obsession with them of late.

That’s not a watch… THIS is a watch! This is a total statement, too, to the tune of, say… $300,000? Flying tourbillon in the shape of a propeller; anchor that might or might not do something; best moonphase complication ever; something about tides too! From Ulysee Nardin, a preeminent Swiss manufacture who’ve been around since 1846, and in the same facility at Le Locle for almost all that time.

Not sure how it started. Must have seen an Insta ad that grabbed me by the second hand. I do recall that soon after college, during my first job (office, not ‘Below Deck’), I started to like watches. I figured that if I ever made it rich, I’d have a serious watch collection. I was really intrigued by the Movado Museum watch (which, of course, is still going strong with umpteen variations on the original theme).

Never did start that watch collection. Never too late, of course. Have to start somewhere; tried out a few but starting to realize how complicated it is. You know.. complications. Moonphase; chronometer; day/date; GMT; heartbeat/skeleton… etc, etc. So many complications. (In case you didn’t know, that’s the horological term for a feature or function.)

So, what’s the big deal with watches and telling time at sea? Where’s the porn I promised? (It’s coming, it’s coming…)

Tme for… some mermaid on nympho action? From the Classico series, also by Ulysse Nardin, as painted by the artist Milo Manara. They like their erotica and great white sharks, but they also like traditional and elegant watches as well as funky new design concepts. MSRP: $26,900. More to come…. you’ve been warned!

The big deal is… LONGITUDE.

Latitude and Longitude have two meanings related to this topic and the Sailing Center:

  • Latitude/Longitude was a fragrance from Nautica. They hired us to re-create realistic lat/lon coordinates from a film shoot of a TV spot. They filmed near Cabo San Lucas. Based on the time of day they sailed, the angles of the sun, etc, etc, we came up with some coordinates they could add as a screen graphic that were in the area. We didn’t represent them as the coordinates of the vessel as depicted in the shot. (They sort of did.) We told them that anyone trying to find fault wouldn’t be able to. Still have the charts lying around somewhere – Defense Mapping Agency renditions at both harbor and general scales.
  • Much more importantly, latitude and longitude form the man-made position grid that is used for navigation worldwide. It’s what GPS was built on.

What’s the relationship of watches and horology to longitude? Both latitude and longitude are position references, but they each have another property that’s mutually exclusive. For latitude, it’s distance. The parallels are equidistant. For longitude, yes- you guessed it… TIME.

Centuries ago, the concepts were well developed and understood. Ashore, it was easy enough to measure both and determine a reasonably accurate position. But at sea, while measuring latitude was annoyingly doable, it was just impossible with longitude. Why? There wasn’t a device that could keep accurate time over the course of, well…. time. Time on the ocean. The longer a voyage, and the rougher it was, the worse that got. When temperature and atmospheric pressure changed, so did the functioning of timepieces. The existing methods were difficult or impossible to use over the course of an extended sea voyage, or during certain moon phases. Add bad weather, and, well… you were aground or lost.

“She wast lost, but then was found…”

We warned you! But you kept reading… more from the mind of Milo. Shark had enough apparently. Yes – this is actually a real watch available for sale in limited quantities. All these screen snatches are straight from the Ulysse Nardin site. But there are a number of other depictions in the series that are more universally suitable for public unveiling; more examples to come.

One particularly disastrous sea voyage pissed off the British Crown to the point of offering a prize for solving the problem. In 1707, a naval fleet foundered on bad shoals off the Scilly Isles, losing four ships and almost two thousand men. A simple sailor tried to warn of the impending danger, as he’d kept his own careful deduced reckoning and was certain they were about to run afoul of the treacherous area. He was summarily executed for his trouble, as he would well have known was a risk at the time. Imagine what went through Admiral Sir Clowdesley Shovell’s mind (1; whew! 2. Origin of “shoveling shit?”). The guy he just hanged was right. Too late… Karma is tough. The Admiral was one of only two seamen to make it to shore. He was murdered for his emerald bling; the woman who did it confessed on her deathbed in a last minute act of contrition long afterward. Can’t make this shit up!

So, who solved this less than delicate debacle? Many people took stabs at it over many decades. Some tried to use celestial methods to determine longitude while at sea; others tried to make timepieces that remained accurate on ocean voyages. That’s what ultimately worked. Simple concept; hard to make. The chronometer was conceived long before it was built, and the name was first coined in 1714 by someone who hadn’t made an effective one. But it was eventually made, and further refined by himself and others who followed in his footsteps. And it was made by…

One John Harrison, an English carpenter and clock maker. And it took much of his life.

John Harrison, in a portrait depicting his chronometer on a map to the left.

Ever heard of him?  Probably not.  Heard of Galileo?  Sure you have! He was just one of many minds who tried to solve the issue of determining longitude at sea by lunar methods, or tracking the moon’s movements in relation to stars and the sun.  

Harrison?  He made a watch that could accurately tell time on extended sea voyages.  That was much simpler and more reliable.  But, it took a few large, less wieldy prototypes before his very portable time piece evolved.  Plus, he fought battles for decades against the prevailing politic and conventional wisdoms of his day, and – truth be told – himself.   Decade.  DecADES.  It took awhile.

H1: Harrison’s first marine chronometer, made between 1730 and 1735. This illustrates that he was a clockmaker, not a watchmaker – but that didn’t stop him from being the first to create an actual watch that did the trick. And, the 75-pound machine above worked! It kept time at sea in rough weather on relatively short but rough voyages. It never did the tran-Atlantic trial run that was required to claim the prize offered by the Board of Longitude. H1 and Harrison’s other creations are on exhibit for the public to see at the Royal Museums of Greenwich.

The end result?  A carpenter and clock maker who no one had heard of laid the foundation for safe navigation at sea and better timepieces.  He never even founded a watchmaking concern.  (John Arnold, who was a rising horologist, did.  But his legacy truly began after he read what was published about Harrison’s work, and took it to the next level in simplicity and efficient production.) Here is Harrison’s masterpiece…

H4; Harrison’s smallest and best piece, which he duplicated as did others. This pocket-sized watch crossed the Atlantic, keeping amazingly accurate time – besting the standards set by the Board of Longitude to claim the cash prize, which they never fully awarded him. King George III rectified the cash flow but not the insult.

Today, Arnold & Son claims that the first timepiece to be called a “chronometer” was one of theirs.  This is false. Arnold wasn’t born until 18 years after Englishman Jeremy Thacker first created a clock that he called a chronometer, in writing, and diagrams of it survive to this day. In fact, Thacker’s invention was made specifically as a marine chronometer designed to solve the longitude problem and claim the prize purse of 20,000 pounds. Did it?

No. It wasn’t good enough. It had an inherent flaw: it couldn’t deal with significant temperature changes.

Regardless, Arnold done good, chiefly by proving that chronometers could be mass produced and therefore accessible. Arnold improved and simplified Harrison’s chronometer. It must be noted that Harrison’s piece was more than good enough, and exceeded the standards set by the Board of Longitude: to determine longitude within half a degree. How does that translate into time? Plus or minus 3 seconds or less per day on average, yielding 2 minutes over a six-week ocean voyage from England to the Caribbean. Thacker’s clock came close-ish: up to 6 seconds per day, although usually less. But that wasn’t while at sea with temps changing over time, and with the motion of the ocean to boot. Still, it seems impressive now for 1714!

Redemption! Almost as many sailing depictions as soft porns. Have to zoom in a bit to see the woman in the second shot, but she’s there flying solo.

And, what of Harrison’s contraptions? His H1 clock did vey well from England to Lisbon, but never went all the way across the Atlantic. He had himself to blame for that; he could have tried to claim the Longitude prize by demanding a sea trial and taking his chances on the results. Instead, he verbally beat up on his clock to the Board, and asked for stipends to continue work on a better version. They gladly went along based on the promise the first clock held out. That was in 1735, five years after he began work on it.

And his watch? Several decades and two clock contraptions later, the H4 watch was completed went on two trans-Atlantics from England to the Caribbean. The first was in 1761/62; the second in 1764. How did it do?

  • Trial one: over 147 overall days out and back, it lost just under 2′ total time.
  • Trial two: over 156 overall days, the average error was 39 seconds. This was good enough to deduce the position of the island of Barbados within 10 nautical miles, which was 3x better than the requirement of the Board of Longitude! They noted that they were…

“Unanimously of opinion that this said time keeper has kept its time with sufficient correctness.”

Muckety Mucks of the Board of Longitude

Yet, Harrison wasn’t officially awarded the prize from the Board. Ever. He did eventually get the rest of the money, but it was only by a magnanimous act of Parliament, facilitated by the intervention of King George III himself. The King became interested after Harrison’s son, William, who went on the actual sea trials, petitioned him for an audience. George used his own personal observatory to officially monitor the accuracy of Harrison’s timepiece (along with Harrison and another individual) . He then advised Harrison on how to approach Parliament.

No one was EVER awarded the top prize from the Board of Longitude. Harrison came closest with a considerable sum of money over time, and the admission from the Board noted above. Eventually, the advent of affordable and accurate chronometers made the Board moot and it was disbanded. But it was Harrison who pioneered the path of timekeeping and navigation precision.

And, what do we have now in the way of a chronometer? What’s the modern-day standard of accuracy?

Tissot’s Heritage Navigator, a re-issue of their centennial piece from 1953. It’s a world-time mechanical watch, and it’s an officially certified Chronometer. This is just one example of a modern day chronometer. They range from inexpensive, very accurate quartz models to Breitling and Rolex standard issue fancy-lad wrist lashings.

Watches are synonymous with Switzerland. And the Swiss non-profit/industry association COSC governs the standards. The Controle Officiel Suisse Des Chronometres (Whew!) is the only entity that certifies Swiss watches to have met the accuracy and consistency standards that earn the title “Chronometer.” A small percentage of all watches bear that mark, whether because they aren’t good enough or they simply haven’t been submitted for certification. Each timepiece that passes has its actual movement engraved with a number and gets an official certificate. That applies to both watches and clocks.

How good do they have to be? It’s complicated… but it appears to currently be to -4/+6 seconds on average per day for mechanical watches. Apparently, Japanese standards are slightly more rigorous (Grand Seiko being a brand that meets them). Quartz watches are significantly more accurate with a standard of less than 1 second of error per day.

Victorinox’ Officer Chronograph – not a chronometer – atop a copy of Longitude with Harrison’s hand clutching his H4 from a contemporary portrait. This quartz watch retails for $795 unless on sale, but can sometimes be had for under $300 – as was the case with the one right here. Chronographs have stopwatch functions.

So, compared to today’s machine world, Harrison’s chronometer from 250 years ago was not only better than its time, but just better. His H1 through H4 pieces are still on display for the public to appreciate in Greenwich, England… also known as zero degrees Longitude.

Ed. note: Most of the Harrison and related references in this post were sourced from the book pictured above: Longitude: the True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time. Author: Dava Sobel. We highly recommend this book, and especially the Illustrated version The Illustrated Longitude, with substantial illustration and captioning by co-author William J. H. Andrewes. Want the video version? There’s a Nova episode which is available on DVD!

Dead Duck Boats and Ducking Thunderstorms

As yet another day dawned recently with the doom and gloom of thunderstorms in the forecast, I decided we were overdue to revisit the issue of predicting and avoiding them.  This summer has seen more than its share.

-still from an eyewitness clip of the doomed “duck” boat foundering in wind and waves it was neither designed nor capable of safely operating in.

By now, most of you have probably heard about the ‘duck’ boat that sank in a severe thunderstorm in Missouri, killing 17 of the 29 souls on board.   As is typical, we don’t yet have a complete picture of what happened.  Two questions have arisen:

  1. Are these craft inherently unsafe?
  2. Did the operator recklessly proceed in the face of approaching storms?

We’ll add a third:  how do people manage to get caught in these storms, especially licensed professionals?


“On Thursday, the area around Branson was placed under a severe thunderstorm warning shortly after 6:30 p.m. local, about half an hour before the boat sank. Authorities received the first 911 call about the sinking at 7:09 p.m., according to the Stone County sheriff.”

CNN; link at bottom.

‘Yet the duck boat owned by Ripley Entertainment entered Table Rock Lake 23 minutes after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area. That alert included Table Rock Lake and warned of winds in excess of 60 mph. In reality, winds on the lake hit 73 mph with waves of more than 3 feet.  (ed. note: the craft was only allowed to operate in winds up to 35 knots by US Coast Guard inspection and certification.)

When the boat started its water tour at 6:55 p.m. on July 19 the lake appeared calm. Around that time, emergency crews in Taney County began responding to calls about toppled trees and downed power lines caused by the storm.

Just after 7 p.m., whitecaps were visible on the water and winds increased, according to an initial report released by the National Transportation Safety Board on Friday. Less than a minute later, the captain of the Ride the Ducks boat made a comment about the storm, the NTSB report said, without any further explanation.

By 7:09 p.m., the first 911 call about the struggling boat came in.’

-Kansas City Star,  link at bottom.


The NTSB and the Coast Guard are investigating whether criminal charges ought to be brought against anyone, which means there’s significant doubt about the wisdom of the tour craft having left shore in the first place, or suspicion of actual wrongdoing.  That’s pretty serious.

So, how could it have happened?

I don’t know for sure; I wasn’t there.  Reports are sketchy, except for the facts that the entire area had been under a thunderstorm watch for awhile, which was elevated to a warning of severe thunderstorms.  If the operators were watching the weather events unfold on their smart phone/s in real time, they should have seen it coming to the area and not left port.  Unless, of course, the main mass appeared to be missing by a safe distance and this was a ‘pop-up’ storm.  But it doesn’t appear to have been from the available reports and evidence, especially its strength.  Pop-ups tend to be smaller, quicker, and less intense.

If the pros can get caught off guard, what chance do all y’all have as recreational boaters?

The answer is: the same as they do.  It’s not rocket science.  We can all see what’s happening and play it safe.  Here’s what I use… a site called CT Precip, with a URL of www.pluff.com…

A screen capture of pretty f-ing obvious bad shit. We did a few posts that day with this image, and captioned it simply, “Any Questions?”

  • Green: rain.
  • Yellow: moderate rain.
  • Red: heavy, and probably a real thunderstorm complete with lightning.
  • Purple: game over.

Weather radar is easy enough for the average boater to have a sense of what’s coming.  It’s accessible to all of us on our smart phones, meaning we’re stupid when we don’t look at them for this purpose.   When heavy thunderstorm activity is moving our way, it’s obvious.  The exact timing isn’t obvious, and sometimes it’s not completely clear if our exact location will be hit.  But that’s splitting hairs – even for many pros.

Weather Radar apps tend to show about an hour and a half of motion of whatever is out there (or not on clear days).  If the system has moved consistently for the past hour and a half, then one can see where it’s going next.  If it’s ‘brewing,’ or constantly changing, the picture might not be as clear, but the direction and rate of travel might still be.  Any ambiguity?  Don’t go out on the water – or get off it!  If that’s no longer possible, then at least one can make preparations before it hits.


One of the most severe events is a line squall.   It’s when a clearly delineated band of weather that’s long and narrow is moving consistently and rapidly.  It’s sometimes referred to as a ‘derecho.’  In the northeast, we get them moving west to east, or right.  (‘Derecha’ is Spanish for ‘right,’ so I’m assuming there’s something going on here.)  Actually, our derechos can span a huge tract from the Mid-Atlantic up through the Northeast.  When they’re coming, you know it.

-A classic derecho, which we saw a comin. Super hard to miss.


The worst storm we experienced in recent years was worse than all this.  Much, much worse.  We didn’t screen capture it at the time.  It was a large mass that was moving south from upstate NY, and it was going to engulf all of NYC, Lower Westchester, Northern NJ, Nassau County LI, and parts of SW Connecticut.  At the same time.  We closed up shop and were safely eating lunch ashore when it hit.  We know half a dozen sailors who got caught in it – and all took knockdowns, but survived.  Unfortunately, at a competing sailing school, someone didn’t.  A Day 1 class was actually in progress, on a boat without lifelines.  No one aboard was wearing a PFD (life jacket).  All wound up in the water; one never made it back.

And what did everyone who got caught in it say?  “You couldn’t see it coming.”  That’s what they all say.

But they’re wrong.  Dead wrong.  The Radar reveals all.  That’s how I managed to stay out of trouble, after being on heightened alert from the earlier forecast (which was for severe thunderstorms that had already caused significant damage further north).


Heres’ a pair of Radar observations 20 minutes apart.  These were taken this season when a slow moving and brewing cell developed.  We stayed close, then got off the water…

20 minutes of storm brewing. Note the similar location of everything – just darker and larger!

Smaller area; harder to be sure what would happen.  In that case, just call it quits.  That’s what we did.  And we stayed safe and dry.


So, the next time you’re out and about, be sure you’re ready to check the radar first.  The marine and general weather forecasts will let you know whether to go to the water and get on it.  The Radar will tell you whether to stay there.  They’re interrelated.  Don’t leave home without a way of checking both!


And now, those links I promised…

CNN, https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/23/us/missouri-duck-boat-investigation/index.html

Kansas City Star, https://www.kansascity.com/news/state/missouri/article215930835.html

“The Couple That Learns Together…”

…Grows together!  And, stays together.  (Or, they realize they shouldn’t be together and go their separate ways.)

Win/win.

Our first ‘contestants’ in this Blog Rant, or shall we say happy couple.  Marc and Sheri, in their third course with us: Start Bareboating (ASA 104). Oyster Bay, Long Island, aboard our Pearson 10M.

“If you win, you win!  If you lose, YOU STILL WIN!  YOU CAN’T LOSE!!”

-Joe Pesci’s Joe LaMotta, in Raging Bull, advising Robert DeNiro’s Jake La Motta to take a particular fight due to both the merits and the politics.


We were reminded of the this recently when our Director and HBIC,* Captain Stephen Glenn Card, chimed in on a Facebook sailing forum.  Someone posed a question about what size boat is good for learning.  One can imagine what a can of worms that opened.  Of course, this raised other issues.  One member of the forum posted some opinions about how a sailing school program should run.  (He used to do that for a living.)  Captain Card agreed with much of what he said.  But, he took another tack about one opinion: whether couples should learn together.

The poster basically said that any program worth going to automatically splits couples up into different boats.  Our take?  These days, that’s a crutch; instructors have to be able to deal with any “second instructorism” or tensions between any two or more people in the boat that arise for any reason.  It’s rare that there are any.  What does come up most often is when people try to help each other understand what’s going on, and that’s not limited to couples, or even people who already know each other.

 

Our most recent contestants (again, a/k/a happy couple), Steve and Anita. They took their first course at True North in New Jersey and are now doing Start Cruising with us (ASA 103).

We know of one high-volume school in the area that has a reputation for splitting couples up automatically.  They have one of the worst school programs in the industry.   We don’t know if other schools have a policy about this.  What Captain Card knows is this: his father’s school (long since sold out of the family) did in fact used to do the same thing: split couples up.  But, that was in the 1970’s and ’80’s!  And, some couples resisted getting split.  The times have changed, and teaching pedagogy and methodology – while scant in the sailing school industry – have a home here at New York Sailing Center.  Our history spans ownership of two sailing schools since 1968, making this season our family’s Jubilee year: 50 years of owner/operation of schools and advising others.

What we also have done: participate in snowsports instruction, which started just after WWII and is much more evolved in teaching methodology than the sailing industry.  But, that’s another story.   The point is that the dynamic with couples had changed by the time Captain Card started his school (second Captain Card; second school), and sailing instruction had to change as well.

Contestants from a few seasons ago: Yury and Erin, during their first post-course practice sail. Our Start Sailing course comes with these after 3 full instructional days on the water. Time to cut the cord!

Why re-write what’s already been written?  Here’s what Captain Card posted on the Facebook forum…

(*HBIC = Head Bozo In Charge)


“My father’s school had a policy of splitting couples up.  That started somewhere between 1968 and 1970.  My Dad was one of the original ‘Mad Men’ in the NY advertising scene before he started his sailing school; back in that day, from a professional perspective, he would have appreciated the famous campaign “You’ve come a long way, baby!”  Prescient, if politically incorrect and poorly motivated by a tobacco company and the ad agency that spun it.

“But how far have we come if we still treat women differently when there’s no inherent need to?  You point out the traditional scenario of a man at the helm and a woman at the bow.   I agree that when there is situation involving heavy pulling and lifting, as men are usually physically larger and stronger than women, this is a reversal of the logical gender role.  (When picking up floating mooring lines, or deploying an anchor on an electric windlass, this ought to be moot, but that’s a separate discussion.)  Yes, I cringe when people yell from the back of the boat to the front, and the person at the front can’t hear and is yelling back. 

“What I see less and less often compared to decades ago is a man angrily yelling at a timid woman.  What I see more and more of is people yelling to be heard as they’re at opposite ends of the boat with wind interfering, and they should be using hand signals or headsets. (Sometimes it’s a woman in back and a man in front; sometimes it’s two men; sometimes it’s two women.  Yes, too often, it’s the traditional roles you speak of.)  I LOVE it when a woman is at the bow, calling the shots using hand signals or a wireless headset, and a man is following her specific and accurate instructions, and BOOM – the boat is moored, anchored or docked expertly with no fuss.

These contestants, Gab and Kutjim, enjoyed a slightly snotty first day in a bit of a northeast breeze two summers ago. They had their own boat, and Ensign, and they still have it now. And, we’re going to go do a lesson or two on it with them!

“What happens to a couple when they’re split up during class, and then rent or buy a boat together?  They revert to the same patterns they would have demonstrated during class – but it wasn’t addressed when it needed to be.  This comes up routinely with strangers, too.  If we separate couples, family  and friends, an instructor is left with strangers.  Someone inevitably starts taking charge or becoming a second instructor.  A good school and its instructors are going to have to deal with it.  Can it be a little awkward?  Yes.  However, almost anytime we have to ask someone to let us be the instructor, etc, they’re genuinely apologetic and the situation is diffused – even if it happens a few more times.  They start to intervene, catch themselves, zip it, smile sheepishly, and we laugh and continue.  And, on rare occasions, it’s not as easy as that but we deal with it.

“Some couples function very well in learning environments, and it’s because they already understand each others’ learning preferences.  When we start classes by discussing this, couples sometimes jump in and tell the instructor about each others’ preferences rather than their own.  Due to this understanding, one will sometimes re-expalin something to the other after an instructor did but it did’t ‘take.’   Do we just step in and shut that down?  Not when the recipient is receptive to it, and it’s productive both for the other student and the instructor who is playing catch-up on understanding how that person learns.  It’s not black and white.

Contestants Ellen and Ray, aboard a Rhodes 19 at Bitter End YC, Virgin Gorda, BVI in 2016.

“It’s fine if women prefer the camaraderie of an all-female experience.  If they’re doing that because they are tired of being dominated or yelled at by men, that’s unacceptable.  It’s never sat well with me that women sometimes feel they have to have separate learning environments, or that educational institutions feel they have to create a service to accommodate that.  To me, it’s always smacked of the even more insidious “separate but equal” blight on our society.  Anyway, the alpha/beta dynamic is more universal and needs to be recognized and addressed across the board in this context.

“Now, a story or two.  One time in a learn to sail schedule with three boats, another instructor approached me in the first break and said there was a problem with the dynamic of an unmarried couple on his boat.  She was frustrated and upset, and the boyfriend was at least partially responsible.  He asked if I’d switch some people around, or take her for a quick sail during the break.  I chose the latter.  We sailed briefly, and she was close to where she ought to have been at that point, but her confidence was not there.  I told her she’s good enough to try singlehanding.  I gave her a quick demo, and stayed out of the way while she singlehandedly sailed around our Obstacle Course.  She was beaming.  When we all headed back out for the next session, she told her boyfriend, “I just singlehanded the boat.  Did you do that?”  Vapid stare in response. Ha!

“Last season, a couple signed up for a weekday 101 course.  They already owned an Ensign but didn’t know what to do with her.  i was their instructor.  There was no third student as a buffer so to speak, but they worked perfectly together.  They sometimes discussed things while doing them to improve their understanding, but neither took over or dominated the other.  It was a fine sight.  They had a ball and were on pace with their skills that first day.  For day 2, the wife picked me up at the subway station and her husband was coming from a different direction.  We got to chatting, and got on the subject to dating and relationships.  I told her about a problematic one that just ended for me, and opined that in some ways, perhaps men and women are wired differently, and that sometimes we process and express emotions differently.  She wholeheartedly agreed.  She then detailed how she sometimes catches herself expecting her husband to instantly know what’s she’s thinking and feeling without telling him, and becoming angry and resentful that he doesn’t just confirm this for her verbally.  “He’s not a mindreader; it’s ridiculous.  Yet I catch myself doing it, and letting resentment build up, before I realize I have to just tell him.”  They’re both highly educated (doctors) and have lived in different countries together and separately.

“For what it’s worth… sorry it rambled on.

Have a great season!”

couple strolling in tropical surf
These guys weren’t true contestants. They didn’t train together, but she got him the gift of sailing, and then he took her a few times locally.  Then, they came along on one of our BVI trips! Angela and Lawrence, on Sandy Spit off Jost Van Dyke.


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Volvo Ocean Race: Struck by Tragedy Again

A veteran and highly respected sailor, John Fisher, was lost at sea on March 27 during the Volvo Ocean Race’s long, dangerous leg in the Southern Ocean.  He was knocked overboard by the mainsheet during an accidental jibe.  And, he was not tethered to the boat at the time.


This was the second overboard accident on the same boat, Scallywag, in this event.  The other sailor also wasn’t tethered, and was not wearing a life jacket.  The conditions were much calmer so they got him back aboard safely in 7 minutes.

Things often happen in twos in both the Volvo and Clipper Races.  And, the deaths are starting to pile up.


So, why wasn’t he clipped in?  Why couldn’t they rescue him?  Why do race organizers send the sailors on a long dangerous leg in the southern Ocean, where one of our own graduates at NY Sailing Center was washed overboard but pulled back by his tether during a Clipper Race?  Why do they go?

Well, we know that part.  People drawn to participate in such events are always going to go wherever the challenge occurs.  The other questions are all worth discussing.  And, I’m not seeing or hearing discussions on what I see as the prime issues raised by these accidents.

Scallywag sending up some serious water, which when it comes over the boat and at the sailors, can easily sweep them off their feet – and the boat if they’re not tethered in. Note the rudder coming out of the water: twin rudders like this are the norm for most ocean racing classes, including the Mini 6.5 meter. Our Beneteau First 21 sloops are remarkably similar in profile, and also have twin rudders.


First: Why are people not ALWAYS wearing PFD’s (life jackets) AND secured to the boat with a tether?  First one: duh.  Should require no discussion.   These boats are going fast, often, if not typically, over 20 knots.  They’re sailing in open ocean waters with waves and swells.  Even in relatively calm conditions, it takes time to turn around, and at speeds of 15-25 knots (and we’ve seen posts that they go over 30 but I’m not convinced as of yet), the boat gets away from the person in the water quickly.  The waters are often cold.  People should always have a PFD on.

Second: Why are people not ALWAYS secured to the boat with a tether?  It’s a critical last line of defense.  John Fisher wasn’t clipped in.  He unclipped to go forward to do some task that he or they felt was important enough at the time to go forward for.  He might have been about to clip back in to another jackline (security line or webbing that the personal tether attaches to).  If that was the case, why aren’t the boats rigged to allow “make before break,” as they say with combined battery switches?  Many boats have that when it’s not practical to rig a continuous jackline.  Perhaps this boat was and it was user error.  Wasn’t there; hasn’t been posted; don’t know.

If Mr. Fisher was tethered in, he probably would have survived.  Because he was not, he had little chance of being recovered at all, and even less alive.  I’m seeing arguments in different forums where one sailor will criticize decisions on board as well as the entire event as organized and ruled by race management.  The flip side sees sailors calling these shameless, bitter, angry rants that show that the first sailor doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and defends the personal liberties and sense of adventure of the people on the water.

And, the person who just died.

But the basics are patently obvious so I won’t further belabor them here.  I just wish that the defenders of the race and the participants  – and the dead – would get their head out of this perspective and see the bloody obvious, and discuss something they’re not, and should be given their experience with this kind of extreme sailing, to wit…

THIRD: Here’s something that’s less obvious.  The gear sometimes fails.  That wasn’t the case here.  However, in both the Volvo and Clipper races, and in other races and non-race passages, tethering systems have broken and sailors were in the water with the boat sailing away.  The faster these boats go, the more shock load is put on the connections when they come taught.  At 20-25 knots, I can’t even imagine what the PSI load would be based on the average weight of a sailor plus water resistance with safety and survival equipment.  Occasionally, it’s not enough.

I hear and read about different types of connections – which are stronger, which are more practical, how to balance the dual needs (including how to not flay ones knuckles on the gear aboard the boat).

What I’m not hearing about is this: shock absorption.  If the tethers were rigged with something elastic to gradually absorb the shock load, the load on the components would be less severe upon ultimate impact.  That could only help.  Of course, it might make the tether more awkward.  I suppose it could, indirectly, lead to a greater risk of fouling onboard and actually causing someone to get twisted, off balance, and go overboard in the first place.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve worked this all out.

But, it needs to be done.  I propose that either…

  1. The tech be improved with a method of shock absorption if feasible;
  2. The boats be mandated to stay below a specified top speed.  The faster they’re going, the more risk, as it’s caused by increasing wind (which, in open water, is soon accompanied by larger waves).  It’s easy to track; the boats are accurately tracked by satellite at all times.

The Southern Ocean is a brutal area to sail.  Perhaps the race should minimize time and distance spent sailing here, or avoid it altogether.  That’s been bandied about on various forums.  Regardless, the obvious safety measures of always wearing PFD’s and always being clipped in must be mandated (if not already), and observed.  And, as people WILL be tossed, knocked, or washed overboard anyway, the equipment must be improved or the boats slowed down.  Or, both.  We can have high quality racing and have much better safety as well.

But first: people are still not always wearing PFD’s or tethering themselves.

Who wouldn’t agree with the need for starting with that?


Here’s an article on the tragedy that has the most detail we’ve been able to find…

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/volvo-ocean-race-sailor-wasnt-tethered-when-he-was-knocked-overboard-timeline/article38353153/


Here’s the Volvo Ocean Race’s photo gallery of John Fisher…

https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/photo/11417_John-Fisher.html

We Started Sailing!

Well, yeah – we went out on that super warm day in February, but that doesn’t count.  We officially kicked off our 2018 sailing season on March 31 and Easter Sunday, April 1.  No foolin!  On both days we chose our Pearson 10M, Kilroy Was Here.  (Our Pearson 26, Second Wind, was an option as well.)

The Longest Season in the NortheastSM – another way we give you MORE.

Anywho, Saturday saw light and variable breezes to start out, including a little motionless hang time.  It’s all good in the Sound and its surrounding bays and harbors… there’s little current, and very predictable commercial traffic.  Soon, enough wind picks up to sail meaningfully, even as little as 5 knots.  (Don’t try that in NY Harbor and the Rivers.)

See the trimaran between the boys? It was our only sailing company the whole weekend. it seemed to appear from Manhasset Bay, a quick sail even for a monohull from City Island or vice versa. Kept photo bombing us!

Later, the southwesterly picked up just like a summer sea breeze, but cooler of course.  We made it to Stepping Stones Lighthouse, our modest goal, before that and rode it almost to Fort Totten off Little Neck Bay.

Sailing wing on wing up the Sound as we cruise back toward Stepping Stone Lighthouse on Saturday. Open Long Island Sound is behind and to the right.

We passed the light again, then decided that was plenty of fun and rode the building breeze back in to get docked up.  This was a Club sail with two members present- Adam (graduate of several of our courses who went on to bareboat in the BVI based on that), and Piers, a recent learn-to-sail graduate who’s going to take 105 next weekend and 103 & 104 as the season progresses.

The wind picked up nicely after reaching the light on Saturday and we flew back north before turning into Eastchester Bay to berth the boat.

Easter Sunday was a teen outing put together by a long-standing client and friend of the Sailing Center, Jim, who has a small daysailor of his own.  The young adults had a blast, all taking turns steering, and eventually letting Jim have a shot.

Teen trip on Easter Sunday! One more hiding out of sight somewhere, plus the Dad of two who put it together. Stepping Stones starting to look familiar back there?

We did the true City Island-style Lighthouse Loop!   Okay – technically, not – we didn’t go around Stepping Stones.  Not worth it; tricky passage and waste of distance and time.  But we went just past it and turned and looped alongside.  Good enough.  Then, we went very close to Gangway Rock, cutting between it and it’s very nearby gong buoy.  How  close?  THIS close…

Gangway Rock Light, off Manhasset Neck. Gorgeous picnic spot – there’s a deeply curved bight with a beach that locals call Half Moon Bay. That’s an osprey flying in the photo. Almost always a next on the lights near City Island, making for numerous birdwatching (and listening) options.

Then, on to Execution if the wind held and the teens steered well.  And both did their duty.  So, we went all the way around Execution and its red nun on the far side, and then tacked to head back to City Island Harbor and then around into our off-season slip for Kilroy on the Eastchester Bay side.  Lovely ride.

Approaching Execution Rock Lighthouse, Easter Sunday. Fun, easy and safe itinerary – out around the light and back! Have to look at the chart and see what marks the safe passage, but if you bother, it’s easy.

Did we mention the fun?..

Post faux-Titanico fun on Easter Sunday aboard Kilroy Was Here.

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Saturday’s Club Sail

Easter Sunday Teen Sail

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