Tuesday, August 31, 2010

MotoGP Recap Video

I know it's not about sailing, but it's still a lot of fun to watch!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mastering the art...

If you have been anywhere near the sailing world (or a TV for that matter) in the last year or so you are well aware of the debate that raged over young people setting out to sail around the world. If I recall the score correctly two made it, one sunk and was rescued, and one is on her way.

Sunday morning at the Indianapolis Mootor Speedway a racer was killed when he crashed during the warm up lap to his race, a USGPRU sanctioned event that is a training ground for young racers on the rise. He was 13. I am sure a similar argument is about to break out and, since this young man died, the debate may actually last longer than one news cycle. (That is as long as Ms. Obama doesn't do something earth shattering like change her hairstyle or a similar, and equally inane, event doesn't happen that the world's media can howl into a major crisis.)

I started flying when I was 15 and first flew off by myself within a few days of my 16th birthday. (That being the minimum age the FAA allows for solo flight in a powered aircraft.) A large proportion of the best pilots I have known would tell a similar story. They started very young; it is their way of life. Other people (and I'm jealous if you are one of them) starting sailing long before they could drive or fly. They too can tell stories of a way of life, of friends lost.

From the very start I was determined to master the art of flying, to be as good at it as was within my reach. It was an arena where I was challenged to learn skills not easy to learn, to master knowledge not easy to master, and to face up to the fact that the sky was completely neutral as to the outcome of my efforts. I could succeed or I could fail. I could live a long life of adventure or, with a bit of bad luck tossed into a pot of poor decision making, lack of skill or lack of knowledge, die early and violently. I'm sure my parents thought about that but they kept their concerns to themselves and let me go my way. More than anything else I could come face to face with my fear. There was no way to master the sky until I mastered myself. That's a pretty serious lesson for anyone, let alone a 16 year old kid.

But (and here is the thing that strikes me) it was real fear to be faced because the risks were real as well. No video game with a "reset" button, no redundant safety harness hooked up 3 different ways; real risk, real effort, real outcome. At 13 years old Peter Lenz was so good that he was invited to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and he had the courage to try. He looked down that front straight, pinned the throttle and took off...but he tumbled off his bike and got hit by another rider. And lest you think that was a lack of skill on his part; over the weekend the current MotoGP world title holder pitched his machine down the road three times, the 2007 title holder did it twice, and the 2006 holder as well as the guy starting from the pole bounced off the tarmac once each. These are arguably the best motorcycle racers in the world. (And they all started racing before they were teens.)

I never heard of Peter Lenz before yesterday but you know what, I think I'm going to miss him. At 13 years old he was well on his way to mastering the art of motorcycle racing, and of living. Even if they never know it, the world is going to miss him as well.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Plan

When one's intent is to attend the MotoGP motorcycle races in Indianapolis, and one lives in St. Louis, and one has two of the best and fastest production motorcycles ever produced by human kind sitting in one's garage, one would normally travel to said races on said motorcycles. And that was, indeed, the plan.

But the battery on Deb's ZX-14 expired. Not a big deal to fix but as she was assembling all of the cowling that had to be disassembled to reach the battery, the back end of a fastener known as a "well nut" failed, the nut part fell down in the airbox, and all progress toward getting the bike back on the road came to a screeching halt. Getting the broken part out of the airbox was not much of a challenge, but finding replacement well nuts has turned into a nightmare. It seems 5mm well nuts are found in every parts department in and around the city, since they are routinely used when mounting sport bike windshields. Ah, but 6mm well nuts? None, nadda, don't know, can't fine 'em, never seen such a thing, are you sure that's the right part number?

An alternate plan went into effect. If need be Deb will take the Z car to meet me Friday night. I was leaving Friday morning on the GXSR-1000 to catch the first practice session...was...

On the way to the hangar this morning the GXSR felt a little odd, something weird about the front end. But it was so subtle I could almost convince myself all was well, maybe a pound or two down on tire pressure or the groves in the road surface playing with the lightly worn tread. The exit to the airport is one I usually take pretty fast as it is a lovely, sweeping, uphill left arc of perfect radius that, when taken somewhere around a tonne, has the same elegance as climbing up out of an overcast with a wing down, nearly magic. But one of Cherstfield's finest was lurking under the preceding overpass. I spotted him before he spotted me and so putted past at a perfectly legal 60 mph, sitting up straight, left hand on my hip, the picture of social responsibility. But he did ruin my exit.

Hours spent wrestling with nav data updates (and making endless phone calls trying to find 6mm well nuts) passed and I headed home. Everything felt fine until the hard right turn just a few blocks from my front door. Its a normal in-city turn but it was also a picture-perfect riding day, and yours truly might, just might mind you, have held off the brakes until the last moment to pitch ye old scooter hard into the apex...

...the brakes grabbed then chattered madly, the front end tucked and howled and shuttered, the brake lever went dead in my hand, and the bike shook its head in the classic start of a "tank slapper." It was an exciting few moments though I managed to gather it together and stay on two wheels. (Truth to tell it was a pretty low speed corner, I was in full riding gear including helmet, gloves, armored jacked and boots, and even if I had been launched it would have taken some really bad luck to get seriously hurt.)

It turns out the GSXR is broke much worse than Deb's bike. A front wheel bearing had utterly failed. When I pulled the axle bits of shattered race, mangled spacers, and flattened ball bearings spilled out onto the shop floor. Ugly. It looks like we'll both be riding the Z to Indy this weekend.

And I don't feel too bad about that. I will try to get the bikes repaired tomorrow and salvage "the plan," but the damage to the GSXR's front wheel may make that impossible. I'm not normally big on "what-ifs," (a life time of being a pilot will break you of that habit) but it must be admitted that the bearing certainly could have failed at a much less opportune moment; on the overpass at speed, in heavy traffic, halfway to Indy. Instead it expired just blocks from home.

Sailing, flying, motorcycle riding...stuff happens. When it does we change the plan.

p.s. We are in Indy...with the Z.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Racking up the miles...

Yessir, Nomad added 30.7 miles to her log this weekend. (Well, she would have if she actually had a log.) Now I know some would scoff at such a modest number but there are a couple of extenuating circumstances. We didn't leave the pier Friday, heat and thunderstorms in the forecast, (and on the RADAR) keeping us close to the festivities. (Thank you Paradise, that was a fun gathering!) The TRWs were a spectacular lightning show, near continuous flashes for hours.

Saturday was a marina GPS poker run. Sail to 4 way points on the lake, walk to two more, draw six cards, buy a seventh for $2, and win. Or maybe not. Deb's pair of nines beat my pair of fives, which, I think, made us last and next to last. But we didn't start sailing until late in the morning, had to be back at the pier by 1800, and had a fixed course to follow. Well, sort of fixed. Don't tell anyone but I might have helmed Nomad a bit close to the first mark. (Actually it was the 4th mark but we were doing the course backwards because...well, never mind.) We didn't "round" the mark so much as drift over it, which resulted in it getting hung up on our keel, which meant I had to go over the side to free the boat (or the mark, depending on the point of view) and thus the mark wasn't actually at the GPS coordinates listed on the route sheet when the rest of the fleet went looking for it. Everyone knows you can't trust those darned space satellites.

After the party we headed to our favorite cove for the night, sailed off the anchor this morning and racked up the rest of our 30.7 NM. This in winds that never exceeded 7 or 8 knots all weekend (and when it got that high we were thinking "gust"). Whatever else, when it comes to light air sailing nothing is as good a teacher as a land locked, mid-western lake in August. We were really glad we had our big drifter in working order once again. Late afternoon and we were heading to the pump out when Gabe invited us along on his big catamaran for a finish-off-the-weekend ride. Tango seems to make her own wind and we romped across the lake a couple of times leaving small rooster tails in our twin wakes.

With any luck this will be our last hot / calm weekend of the season. Deb and I are off the next 3 weeks wondering around doing other things; MotoGP in Indy next week, then sailing around Manhattan Island the two weekends after that. Our first real open water experience. I suspect a word or two about that adventure will show up here eventually.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


No, I don't drink that much, though I am enjoying a Gin & Tonic now that the work is done. And no, I don't spend that much time in the gym either. High temps and low winds are in the weekend outlook yet again, a forecast that calls for the drifter. Without it little Nomad would struggle to find enough traction to get going. But remember the stumble last weekend? Well, here it is. (Good deck monkeys are so hard to find...)

We dug out the Sailrite machine and then went to their web sight for some hints on how to fix a drifter. They had a short but excellent video that pointed us in the right direction so off we went.

I would love to take credit for the stitching in that light fabric, but alas, my skill level was not up to the challenge. After pretty much trashing the first patch I climbed out of the driver's seat. It took a while for Deb to find settings on the machine that worked, but when she did things went along rather nicely. I took the supporting role of cutting patches (hot knife, that is the answer) and helping control what seemed like square miles of fabric.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Behind the curve

Among the things airplane drivers get to worry about is being in a place called, "behind the power curve." One falls into that fix by allowing the configuration of the aircraft, and its energy status, to deteriorate past the point where all of the available power can overcome the accumulated weight and drag. Should that happen the next few moments are often embarrassing at best, fatal at worst. I used to think that was a problem unique to humankind's attempts at flying. But I was sipping a cold one to battle the heat, lounging under our new Bimini, and watching the flock of seagulls play in the marina. One of them came floating down out of the sky in a steep trajectory, beak forward, head down, feet out, wings bent in a perfect high-lift / high-drag configuration. He was aiming for a touchdown on one of the support posts for the piers, a spot already occupied by another of the flock. Clearly our intrepid flyer was under the impression that landing traffic had the right of way. Not in this case. The resting bird reared up squawking and batting his wings, pushing the approaching bird off to the side...who found himself out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same moment. Furious flapping of wings followed which was not enough to completely stop his final descent. Not often do you see a seagull belly-flop onto a concrete pier. Clearly power curves apply to more than just airplanes.

In fact I have been feeling a bit behind the curve when it comes to little Nomad. Friday night, most of Saturday, and Saturday night were spent tied to the pier for the sake of AC and sanity. Though rumor has it the temps will break soon, it hasn't happened yet. This kind of heat scorches brains and cooks the wind right out of the sky. But this morning, at last, there was a forecast for a little reprieve; 7 to 9 knots. A veritable hurricane compared to what we have been seeing. I had my doubts. After some deliberation I hanked on the drifter and we took to the lake. Wind, as expected, was light, but somehow we still managed to stumble deploying the head sail. A wind shift, a few degrees on the helm, the deck monkey being a bit sloppy on the halyard, whatever it was the sail snagged on a mast cleat and the tired fabric gave up the ghost. Deb called out the damage and we immediately dropped the sail before the tear got any worse. The little sail went up in its place. But me was not a happy camper, though I did my best to keep my sour mood to myself.

The winds and the little sail didn't help. The zephyrs would make the boat go, sort of, once in a while. It was hot. In my head the damaged sail was added to the list of things that need attention on Nomad; a coolant leak, wiring for the water heater, the rudder bearings or sleeves (or whatever Compac uses) need replaced, some interior work, and the drifter isn't the only tired sail on Nomad. Then the wind died completely, leaving us sitting in a bowl of jello in the middle of the lake. Deb suggested we stow the sails, drop the anchor right were we sat, and go swimming. It sounded like a good idea to me. Anything to offset the funk going on between my ears.

Sails down and I was standing on the cabin top tying up the main. Just before Deb pitched the hook I looked out across the lake. Maybe a mile off a wind line tickled the water. On the far side a sailboat was making pretty good progress. We stood and waited. A puff of breeze cooled the sweat on my neck. Nomad turned her head. Deb hoisted the jib while I pulled the main back up. More wind. Nomad stared to move like she actually intended to go somewhere.

And just like that I was back on the front side of the curve. Amazing what a few knots can do.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bozo's cousin...

...as it turns out, really does live in IL! Sunday morning and 6 boats remained of Saturday night's raft up. Most of the remaining assembled crew were in the water in response to the relentless heat and total lack of even the slightest hint of a breeze, when along came Commander Pontoon. Like his Portland cousin he passed the NO WAKE markers doing the exact speed required to get the largest possible waves flowing off his stern. His "seamanship" set our island of sailboats pitching and rolling, alternately jerking at the end of lines then grinding fenders, rigging perilously close to getting tangled. The few crew still on boats and below popped out of companion ways to see if a tsunami had struck our little land-locked lake.

I suspect C-P was clueless enough to think he was doing a good job of driving his barge. After all, he passed close enough that we could see the gold braided "Captain" hat sitting jauntily on his fat head. (Hat size; what did you think I meant?) It was likely a birthday or Christmas gift from his wife. Too bad she couldn't buy him a brain to go with it. (Okay, you caught me.)

I resisted the urge to unlimber my cordless drill, paddle over, and punch as many 2" holes in his hulls as I could manage before the battery went dead...I really am trying to get along better with my fellow man. Sometimes though, I get to thinking my fellow man is not keeping his half of the bargain. But in spite of the ugly noises made by the sailboats bouncing off each other, no real harm was done. So in the end I practiced a bit of American Zen and went back to enjoying the weekend.

Which, at first blush, wasn't an easy thing to do. There was some nice wind out of the North on Friday evening, which not only provided a bit of motivation for a brisk sail to anchor, it also dropped the humidity and temperature to pleasant sleeping numbers. But Saturday dawned with just a ghost of a breeze. It was enough to get Nomad off her anchor and out of the cove. But less than a mile later all movement stopped. Even the sea gulls were sitting placid on the motionless lake surface. By some serious perversion of the laws of physics the rising temps seemed to freeze everything it place. We folded our canvas and motored back to join the growing raft-up / jump in the water to escape the oven / party. The crew of S/V Gail Force included grand kids, while S/V Miss My Money and Quicksilver had young crew on board as well. They don't call me "Grandpa-T" but we had fun just the same!

So it was hot. (I should mention that Nomad's new sun shade / boom tent was a major success!) There was little sailing. (We covered a grand total of 8.2 miles all weekend, at least half done in Mr. MaGoo mode.) Deb even managed to get tangled up with a wasp while closing up the boat and has a sore hand to show for it. And yet, several times during the weekend I remember thinking...

"There isn't any place I would rather be than here. There isn't anything I would rather be doing than this."

Hard to complain about a weekend like that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Portland, ME

That's where I am today, Portland. Flying into the airport, (known to pilots as KPWM) when the weather is good and the wind is blowing from the right direction, one flies a route known as the "Harbor Visual RW 29." To do it fly out over the Atlantic NE while avoiding the city of Cape Elizabeth at 3000', loop around the Portland Head Lighthouse to the NW, (drop the first notch of flaps to start down and slow down; finish up the approach checklist) pick up the channel between Cushing and Peaks Island, bend around House Island to the SW over Portland Harbor, (hang the gear; run the landing checklist to the line) jump the Portland Bridge and hook a right to line up with the runway, (a cross check of the descent rate with the ILS GS would be a good idea) clear the US 1 Bridge, (this would be a good time for the rest of the flaps; oh and click the yaw damper away if its still engaged) cross the I-295 bridge, squeeze off what little power one carried to contend with the wind, and flop ye old air machine onto the tarmac.

Though not as complicated as it sounds, I had to discipline myself to do my pilot thing. This is some seriously beautiful territory, and there are A LOT of sailboats in these parts! Looking out the window too much could lead to a major distraction at a most inopportune moment. Actually, heading out over the water to the NE on a hazy day like this, looking forward out the window doesn't help much; the horizon is gone with the sky and sea melting into one indistinct sucker hole. Best to pay attention.

Done for the day and at the hotel, I headed off down the hill toward Portland Harbor's Commercial street. Out at the end of a point of land where the Harbor and Casco Bay bump into each other is Portland Yacht Services. The young man working the desk was friendly, offered some info on prices for those visiting in boats, and let me wander around to my heart's content. (Or until my feet gave out, which ever occurred first.) Out at the very end of the very last pier I just sat and felt the dock move on the ocean waves while watching the boats dance on their mooring balls. (In fact I watched a 50 footer plow into one while trying to pick up the line. Ops. Guess it isn't as easy at it looks?) There appeared to be a lot of live-a-board boats out there. Watching them bounce in the swells, even on this day with no real weather or wind, had me thinking, "Catamaran." A thought boosted by the lone Fountaine Pajot in the crowd, which was noticeably more stable.

Here's the life, your boat parked outside your condo in Portland.

After a while the sun convinced me it was time to move on, so I explored more of the water front. At one point I was gazing across a narrow channel where someone was working on a massive wooden powerboat. Some bozo pulled into the channel from the bay dragging a giant wake, which set boats to rocking and the "someone" to protest rather loudly. Bozo pulled the power back a little, though I suspect it was more because he was running out of water than out of courtesy. I think he has a cousin who lives in IL.

Tomorrow morning its off to a couple of other places with home being the last touchdown. But this is a place I need to see again while doing the Harbor Visual RW29 approach on a sailboat.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

One of the crowd...

Really, I'm trying. As has been mentioned before Deb and I are not racers and Nomad is not a racing boat. But racing is woven into the social fabric at our marina so in the spirit of pitching in and taking part, Nomad was the Race Committee boat this weekend. Kind of a misnomer that, it was a committee of 2. Deb watched the clock and took scads of pictures. I put flags up and then took them down. Later I scribbled times when boats tripped over the imaginary line between little Nomad and "the pin." It was actually kind of fun, particularly at the start of the second race where all but one of the competing boats tried to cross the start line at the same time. (There was one straggler but he did a pretty good job of catching up.)

Friday night was spent at the marina. It was brutal hot with rain in the forecast making a closed up tight boat likely, which made the AC-at-the-dock option rather attractive. Since we were in the marina we joined the assembled while dinner was consumed. Lots of fun, talk, and stories. Saturday morning was the Captain's Meeting for the race. More talk, more fun, more stories, and Deb and I got a chance to figure out what the Race Committee boat is supposed to do. The races were next. Though Deb and I were alone on Nomad, Nomad was the vocal point for a lot of boats and crews. Afterward was a big pot-luck party. There were lots (and lots) of people, lots of laughter, lots of food, lots of noise, lots of drinks...just lots. I really enjoy the folks at the marina and several have become good friends. But before I could hit the desert table I hit my personal "social limit." Escape was tied to a dock just a couple of hundred feet away and I'm afraid I couldn't have looked more like a running prisoner if dressed in an orange jumpsuit with big numbers printed across the back. I can only hope no one noticed or, if they did, they were not offended.

Mind you, I make my living as a corporate pilot. Being good around people is as much a part of the trade as flying instrument approaches to minimums. (Everyone in the back of my airplane can fire me, or have me fired. Occupational hazard of flying "The Bosses.") I genuinely like sailors and hope one day to be counted among them. I have no fear of public speaking. But sometimes, even in a group of people I enjoy, some distortion of space tilts the room and it is time to be somewhere else. I know it isn't you. Its me.

Slipping through the fence (as it were) Nomad followed the wake of S/V Paradise, who had made an earlier exit. S/V Orca (having recently been freed from extensive winter repairs) was also out on the water, and S/V Quicksilver followed us into the channel. Out on the lake the winds were more than expected so we decided to leave our aging drifter in the bag and head south on just the main. Nomad was still making a touch over 5 knots but Quicksilver soon ghosted past flying two sails to our one. Reaching the Cove she had just been secured when Nomad pulled along side, and I'm here to testify that 4 sailboats and 7 crew do not a crowd make. Friday night's rains brought a break from the heat making the Cove on Saturday a perfect summer evening. Entertainment for our little raft-up group included two passing satellites, uncounted stars, some pretty good stories, and one spectacular shooting star. S/V Paradise was playing some tunes from a group called "Three Pints Gone." That's some raucous music there! (The "Moose" song was the funniest I have heard in a while.)

"Human beings," the experts say, "are tribal animals." Who am I to argue with the experts? But for me "tribe" is a pretty small number, and tribe + one = "crowd."