Life lessons from boat racing – keep it clean

My boat is fairly quick, but is heavy and needs time to accelerate. I have a pretty stiff handicap and need to stretch out as much from slower boats as possible.

To that end, the best solution for me in a race is to get into clear air and keep it that way. That way there isn’t disturbed air coming off other boats, and I get a chance to accelerate up to full speed for the tack that I am on and keep it that way. If I get trapped in traffic, the boat doesn’t get a chance to use it’s full speed potential, and I get bogged down.

The same is true with sailing against a fleet – I need to keep in mind that the real objective is to get around the course as fast as possible by tactically playing it right and reading and using wind shifts and wind lanes to my best advantage. I only should engage with other boats when absolutely necessary and always keep in mind that when I’m battling another boat, the likelihood is that the rest of the fleet is making gains as we have our own little private war.

The same is true in life. If you get into a pissing competition, the likelihood is that you will both get wet feet, and the rest of the world will pass you by. You need to keep your eye on the end game and not get distracted.

Life lessons learned from boat racing – play to your strengths

I sailed a CS27 called L’Autre Femme for years, and by the end of my tenure with the boat, I knew exactly what it could do well and what it couldn’t. The boat pointed very well, so sailing up wind in a fleet was easy as I could keep as high as everyone else in the fleet, and if forced I could squeak out an extra little. That meant that I wasn’t usually in a situation where the boat was sinking down behind someone else and getting stalled by them.

The sails on the boat were getting a little old and didn’t have quite the shape that they had in their youth (oh boy does that also apply to life) so really pushing the boat hard to wind wasn’t something you did except in dire circumstances. What suited the boat was sailing a little lower and faster, but pointing high was still definitely a tool in the tool box.

L’Autre Femme was designed as a cruiser rather than a racer, so it is heavy. That means you race it like racing a truck. You get it up to speed and do everything you can to keep the speed up. It isn’t agile and you can’t sail it that way. You need to minimize tacks and never get into a tacking duel with an agile boat like a J24.

My new boat is a CS36 Merlin called Emrys. It is again a racer/cruiser so fairly heavy, but it carries a lot of sail so powers up quite quickly. It is a wing keel as opposed to the fin on L’Autre Femme, and doesn’t tend to point quite as well but goes like a train a couple of degrees off hard to wind. Its headsail is in very poor shape and needs replacing, but until that is done, finding the upwind slot is very touchy and it is easy to stall the boat, so trying to go high upwind is a low percentage move.

It also has a wheel as opposed to the tiller on L’Autre Femme, so you don’t get to feel the helm response quite as much and can load up a lot of weather helm if you aren’t paying attention, and the cues are a lot different. It can tack quite quickly, but it is a lot of work to haul the sails in, so we can get into tacking duels, but not long ones as our arms sue for divorce after the 3rd tack.

The new boat is also carrying a LOT more sail, so it powers up in light winds very well, but you are looking to reef at a lot lower wind velocity.

So two different boats with very different characteristics, and you race them very differently to play to their strengths and try to avoid their weaknesses.

With L’Autre Femme I would quite often fight for the committee boat end at the start and pinch up a little above the fleet. With Emrys, I hardly ever start at the committee boat end and much prefer hitting midline at full speed.

With L’Autre Femme I would always consider trying to point a little higher to get out of trouble, with Emrys that isn’t on the cards, so you foot the boat and power through.

Neither boat is one that you want to get into a tacking duel with lighter more agile boats, so that is to be avoided with both.

With L’Autre Femme you would always consider pushing the upper end of the sail as the wind increased, With Emrys, you downsail or reef early.

Emrys has a brutal handicap, so you simply can’t afford to be trapped within the fleet, whereas L’Autre Femmes handicap allowed you to think a little more about options in that situation.

In life it is exactly the same, you play to your strengths and avoid your weaknesses. If you are a detail person, those are the tasks you will excel at. If you like to paint with a broader brush, you should avoid jobs that need that detail skill. If you are not a people person, then sales isn’t for you. The list goes on, but in sailing as in life, the first trick is to understand your strengths and weaknesses of you and your  boat and capitalize on the good ones and avoid the other.


Making Lemonade

CNN newsman Don Lemon

CNN newsman Don Lemon

Near the end of CNN’s special primetime report on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Wednesday, anchor Don Lemon read a pair of tweets he received from viewers suggesting the plane’s disappearance could be the result of a “black hole,” Bermuda Triangle or an occurence akin to the television series “Lost.”

Lemon then turned to Mary Schiavo, former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and said, “I know it’s preposterous, but is it preposterous, do you think, Mary?”

“It is,” Schiavo replied. “A small black hole would suck in our entire universe. So we know it’s not that. The Bermuda Triangle is often weather, and ‘Lost’ is a TV show.”

“Right,” Lemon said.

It is a bit scary that someone can be in public position with that complete lack of common sense. I know we can’t expect much from a talking head, but at least some attachment to a brain might be nice. If it wasn’t such a potentially tragic situation with the Malaysian Air plane, I would send him a tweet about it being sucked into a parallel dimension through a rift in time/space. That would make his head explode, which would be rating leading TV.

Statistics on education suspensions show racial differences

Black students are more likely to be suspended from U.S. public schools — even as tiny preschoolers. The racial disparities in American education, from access to high-level classes and experienced teachers to discipline, were highlighted in a report released Friday by the Education Department’s civil rights arm.

The suspensions — and disparities — begin at the earliest grades. Black children represent about 18 percent of children in preschool programs in schools, but they make up almost half of the preschoolers suspended more than once, the report said. Six percent of the nation’s districts with preschools reported suspending at least one preschool child.

Advocates long have said get-tough suspension and arrest policies in schools have contributed to a “school-to-prison” pipeline that snags minority students, but much of the emphasis has been on middle school and high school policies. This was the first time the department reported data on preschool discipline.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration issued guidance encouraging schools to abandon what it described as overly zealous discipline policies that send students to court instead of the principal’s office. But even before the announcement, school districts have been adjusting policies that disproportionately affect minority students. Overall, the data show that black students of all ages are suspended and expelled at a rate that’s three times higher than that of white children. Even as boys receive more than two-thirds of suspensions, black girls are suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or most boys.

The data doesn’t explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended.

“It is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

“This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed. This administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”

There are three interesting statements here – the first is

the data doesn’t explain why the disparities exist or why the students were suspended

. The other two are from the Education Secretary and the Attorney General who from their responses are making the case that this is solely due to racial bias.

Lets get more information and then we can act on facts not ideology

Equality of opportunity

The UK’s OFSTED, which is in charge of the public education system has turned down two applications to extend the grammar school system.

Grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class children and do not improve social mobility, the chief inspector of schools in England says. Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Observer the selective system was not the way to make up ground on other nations.

Hmm, time to call bullcrap and let loose the dogs of critique. The purpose of the education system is to get kids to be law abiding, capable, productive and well rounded citizens and allow them to be the best they can be. That’s it in a nutshell. It is called equality of opportunity. Each and every kid should be encouraged to reach their own potential.

There are lots of ways of doing that, Back in the 60’s, there was a test called the 11 plus and based upon the results you were streamed into a high end academic stream (usually targeted toward University) other academic streams and trade stream or streams depending upon the size of the catchment area. They were usually different schools – the Grammar school being the top end of the academic stream for the general public (there was always a private system for those willing to pay). The idea was that you grouped the kids that had similar paths together. Was it a perfect system – no because some kids are late developers.

That was replaced in the early 60’s by a social experiment called the “comprehensive system” which still persists today. The idea was that you mixed everyone together and then provided to the individual needs of the kids as needed, so mixing academic with trade, but the bottom line was that the ones that really didn’t care to be educated consumed most of the teachers time and the bright ones suffered. It was a social experiment that tried to generate equality of outcome rather than opportunity.
Grammar schools died off, or mutated or, as in the case of my school, opted out and joined the private school system, which was a huge loss. Yes, you got equality of outcome but it was the lowest common denomination outcome.

Now there is a resurgence in streaming and the government is fighting it tooth and nail, and I don’t understand why. The statement from Wilshaw just shows that the middle class in the UK, who have always been aspirational are using the system as best they can for their kids. What is needed isn’t to throw out streaming, it is to figure out a way of encouraging the kids from lower income families to participate, and that has always been the problem. It is the parents who don’t see the value of an education that are the issue, not the system.