1-Jul 8-Jul 15-Jul 22-Jul 29-Jul 5-Aug 12-Aug 19-Aug 26-Aug TOTAL POSITION
  no race ADA harbor K H  HDA P        
Rumblefish  10 1 1  5  4  6        
Escargot  DNF  11 2  8  8  8        
Xiphias    6  2  11  2  2  WD        
Whim    7  5 7  6  7          
Raja   4 6  3  4  10  4        
Ragwagon  3 7  10  3  6  5        
Scup    5  9 8  1  5  2        
Luciole    8  4 12 7  1  3        
Luna Nova  11  8  6  DNF 12  9 7        
Hecate    1  DNR  5 DNR  DNR          
Skimmer    2  3  4  DNF 12  3  1        
Salty Dog    9  10  9  9 11          

 Wednesday, July 8, 2015

On the Nose

By David Epstein

You know those people who try just a little too hard? Perhaps, at times, you’ve even been one of those people. You know, you’re in a new situation, and you want to impress some other people, and you say something that is something to say, but either isn’t all that relevant, or halfway through saying it you realize really isn’t germane at all, or maybe doesn’t even have a point, and there you are, and you know you should really just shut up, but you keep talking, waiting for the earth to open and swallow you, and then that doesn’t happen, and you realize it will never happen until it’s utterly inconvenient and you’ve already stopped doing everything, including being alive, which is probably the best thing right NOW, but you just peter out. And there you are. The conversation picks up again and goes on. Without you. You took time out of other people’s lives that they can never get back. Here’s the racing equivalent: being over the starting line early.

On Wednesday the eighth, the fleet was finally mustered in all its glory and numbers. The wind was superb, about ten knots from the Southwest. The current was ebbing to the west. The board read A D A. The course was from a start in Great Harbor, to A, the first range mark on the southeast corner of Nonamesset island, then a run back to mark D, the mark formerly known as “the gaslight,” which is on the south side of the ferry channel, across from Juniper Point, then a beat back to the range mark, and a run home to finish in Great Harbor.

For nuances, the current was less relevant than usual. If one is going to Lackey’s Bay, the usual tactic is to sail off into Vineyard Sound and ride the current. But Mark A is more quickly reached by long tacks into the northerly flowing current on the east side of Nonamesset, and short tacks west with the current on the beam. On one hand, there’s less wind in the lee of the island, on the other hand, the shortest course to the mark is over the island, and the next best thing by boat is hugging the shore. Which brings us to the Nonamesset rocks.

There is a group of rocks that stands off the east end of said island, some which are Lurkers. This word has special resonance for those of you who saw the Brazen Belles in their latest performance, “Brazen Saddles.” The Woods Hole run of this show has ended, but if you missed it, get out to Cotuit later this summer to see the show and improve your life’s tally under Time Well Spent.   So, back to the damp downs: There are a few visible rocks, and a bunch of lurkers. The lifers know where they are, and they ain’t tellin’. Know how they know? Every now and then, just to be sure of those rocks, one or another of us drags our centerboards or rudders across the top of ‘em.

So, to sum up: Offshore: good wind, foul current, no rocks, longer path upwind. Inshore: fair to good wind, occasional lifts off the land, foul current, rocks, shorter course to the weather mark. For those of you adult ADD types: offshore: bad. Inshore: good.

Before anyone can tack along the shore of Nonamesset, everyone has to start. The wind direction and the starting line meant that everyone was approaching the line on port tack, which is a common thing. Luciole, however, had other ideas. Remember, above, the remarks about trying too hard? Luciole came up the line on starboard, with right-of-way. This worked well, except for three things. The third is that the fleet blankets the line, so the starboard tack was kind of pokey. The second thing was it made port-tackers nervous, and they all sort of held up toward the committee boat and Rumblefish got squeezed out and had to tack over and loop around behind the fleet. The first thing was that Luciole did an inadequate job of sighting the line, and was over early pretty much the whole way, and then she, too, had to loop around.  The race started without her, and, having tried too hard, she was left behind. This gave Luciole and Rumblefish a superb view.

The view was of the transoms of ten other knockabouts converging on the bottleneck by Can Nine, at which point the reach becomes a beat, and boats head up and the game’s really afoot. Somewhere in there, Ragwagon committed the pardonable sin of contact with another boat, and bore off radically through the fleet, looking for open water in which to turn a penalty circle. She might have headed up to do her turn, where, indeed, there is open water above Can Nine, but she would have ended up turning her circle there atop Dottie’s Rock. Shortly after this, Luna Nova also found open water to turn a penance circle, although for a past sin or proleptically is still not known. And then Whim, having cut the big red buoy by Broadway, returned to correct her course. Escargot, alas, did not perform this correction, and suffered the later indignity of a DNF, after a fine hard-sailed race and middle-of-the-fleet finish. So, again, to sum up for you adult ADDers: You know the teacup ride at the Disney theme-parks? Picture knockabouts in place of the teacups, and you get the idea.

From the back of the pack a boat is busy looking for clear air, making new mistakes, and pleading with the deities for redress. One doesn’t see much of the race itself. Hecate led from the start, Skimmer dogging her the whole way. Ragwagon recovered, tacked well and found redemption.   Raja sailed well and challenged beautifully. Scup hit a lurker. Luna Nova took a long tack with the foul current on the beam and never recovered.   Anything anyone else wants to report can do so in the “comments” section below, just like on the internet.


  1. Hecate: (Rick Whidden) 0:00
  2. Skimmer (Fred Denton) 1:11
  3. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs) 1:35
  4. Raja (Bruce Courcier) 1:52
  5. Scup (Chris Warner) 2:06
  6. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak) 3:30
  7. Whim (Norm Farr) 3:46
  8. Luciole (David Epstein) 4:28
  9. Salty Dog (Art DiRienzo) 4:37
  10. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 4:42
  11. Luna Nova (Fran Elder) 7:46
  12. Escargot (Brett Longworth) DNF (3:20)


 Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Knocking About in Great Harbor

By David Epstein

The true test of sail racers is light air. Happily this is rare. East wind, 1-4 knots. Essentially, light air tries one’s patience. Not that that means much among skippers. There are sailors who thrive in light air. Eensy-teensy ones.   Race Committee set a complex course that had crews scrambling for pens or scratching the letters into the deck. Precocious Alzheimer’s being what it is, anything more than three marks is a trial. Replacing floorboards is easier than remembering to bring a writing implement. In some cultures the prematurely aged find useful roles. Sailors are just animate ballast.

Every harbor race features obstacles in the form of moored craft. Sailboats can use these craft to wipe off the competition, since none of them are “obstacles that neither boat can clear.” Unless I miss my guess, in Great Harbor there are approximately seven-hundred moored boats.   Coming about, a racer can be confronted with the necessity for another immediate tack. Knowing this doesn’t seem to help the decision-making process. Shantih, shantih, shantih. The definition of that word is something like “The peace which surpasseth all understanding.” Although I can’t see how this differs from “the peace which never even attaineth any understanding whatsoever.”

The first short beat was won by Rumblefish and Xiphias, followed closely by Luna Nova. The upwind mark was more or less in the flooded rear parking lot of the Fisheries building. There was so little wind that boats tended to congregate at the weather mark and rattle their whisker-poles at one another. Any boat coming in with any momentum at all was able to coast through the throng and be on their way. Whim had contact with either a boat or the buoy and turned a penance circle.

On the run down, there was a scrum for positions three-through six among Luna Nova, Salty Dog, Luciole, and Ragwagon. At the leeward mark it was Luna Nova in the lead, with Rumblefish hot on her tail. The fleet split to the left and right sides of the course for the next weather leg. The left side seemed less favored due to foul current. The right side seemed less favored because there were boats sailing there. Every skipper had the feeling of tacking on heading zephyrs only to find another header on its heels, so to speak. On the run Rumblefish and Scup had their own private air. Whim took off on the inside. Escargot, Raja, and Ragwagon sailed into glue near the mark.   Rumblefish and Scup pulled ahead of Luna Nova.

On the final weather leg (before a short run to finish), the fleet again split left and right. Skimmer found a wind line to the north. Luciole’s crew noticed this and directed the skipper’s moribund faculties toward it. Luciole lumbered after Skimmer and picked up half the fleet. It was a race of tension, frustration, and very little vindication. Boats that sailed poorly on a given leg were rewarded with private puffs of wind. Boats that sailed well on a given leg were punished with doldrums. In the end, it was Rumblefish, showing superb concentration, and winning her second race in a row!


  1. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 0:00
  2. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak) 0:44
  3. Skimmer (Fred Denton) 1:48
  4. Luciole (David Epstein) 2:58
  5. Whim (Norm Farr) 3:12
  6. Raja (Bruce Courcier) 3:13
  7. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs) 3:14
  8. Luna Nova (Fran Elder) 3:23
  9. Scup (Chris Warner) 3:32
  10. Salty Dog (Art DiRienzo) 3:44
  11. Escargot (Brett Longworth) 5:00


Exercising the Letters

By David Epstein

July 22, 2015

The wind was blowing 8-12 knots from the southwest. The current had recently changed to flow west, both in Woods Hole Passage and in Vineyard Sound. In the Sound it would be steady, but not ripping. Our Wednesday Fleet Captain has in mind the task of getting the fleet around as many of our race marks as possible in a given season. This is for the sake of variety. It is to keep us experienced in the range that our strange venue of courses has to offer.

The blackboard read “K.” Okay. Trunk River. A mark off of the Quissett Beach Association. In a southwest wind, this means a reachy start from Great Harbor out to Juniper Point, then a broad reach to Nobska Point, then a dead downwind run seventeen miles to mark K. And then the race begins. Seventeen miles is an exaggeration, of course, but it is more’n a mile, and with the current flowing west, there’s considerable water to sail over before arriving at the only mark. And a fleet going downwind tends to bunch up like the knickers on a floor-tiler.

At the start Xiphias went for what is now their customary pin-end advantage. And when the Swordfish was over the line early, their number was joyously passed down the shout-line until their penalty was revealed. Xiphias returned to restart. Just near Xiphias were both Luciole and Salty Dog. The latter led the reach to Juniper, while the former smugly tucked in behind her. This pair was followed by Hecate a little to lee, and Raja a little to weather.

After Juniper Point, reason dictates diving for shore to get out of the foul current. Experience recalls, however, that this rarely helps much. On this evening, with a decent breeze, Skimmer led a crowd of the faithful toward shore, and then left them all in her wake when she climbed back up to take the Nobska Nun in first place. Skimmer was followed next by Salty Dog, Luciole, Raja, and Rumblefish, none of which had run in for shore.   Then came the Long Run.

Several boats stayed further out: Raja, Luciole, Rumblefish and Whim. Some plied the middle: Scup, Luna Nova, Hecate, and Ragwagon. Skimmer went inside, followed at a distance by the recovering Xiphias.

Mark K was, in effect, a gate through which the entire fleet had to squeeze. There was a bit of shouting as boats jockeyed for position.  Rumblefish had gained on the whole fleet. Luciole, looking for clear air, had started on the outside, reached across to the inside, and lost on the whole fleet. The entire rounding of twelve boats took approximately eighteen seconds. And then the long beat back began. Everyone headed out for the good breeze and powerful fair tide of Vineyard Sound.   It was one long starboard tack in the evening sunshine in the middle of July, and that is a good thing to experience in life: being lifted by the current back toward Nobska, back toward the setting sun, back toward home.

If there were more to say, Old Salt didn’t see it from the back of the pack. A look at the standings shows a superb weather leg sailed by Rumblefish for yet another victory (three out of the last four races, I believe), and for Escargot and Skimmer. Boats that footed off in the tide walked out on those that pinched. There were some tight finishes, notably between Skimmer and Hecate, and between Ragwagon and Xiphias.


  1. Rumblefish (Greg Polanik) 0:00
  2. Escargot (Brett Longworth) 0:37
  3. Raja (Bruce Courcier) 0:39
  4. Skimmer (Fred Denton) 1:03
  5. Hecate (Gale Clark) 1:09
  6. Luna Nova (Fran Elder) 1:21
  7. Whim (Sarah Fuller) 1:27
  8. Scup (Chris Warner) 2:00
  9. Salty Dog (Art DiRienzo) 2:14
  10. Ragwagon (Peter Ochs) 2:27
  11. Xiphias (Michael Dvorak) 2:28
  12. Luciole (David Epstein) 3:17



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

By David Epstein

Woods Hole poet Herman Ward has a poem about a perfect summer day in Woods Hole. It includes things like a sweetheart stepping off the bus and running to meet the poet. Old Salt would be pleased to enter the following race conditions for consideration: Wednesday evening race featuring 8-12 knots of southwest breeze, east current, and twelve Cape Cod Knockabouts. Mix in the prospect of the Beave’s clam chowder at the tailgate post-race, and it’s about as close to perfection as we mere mortals can get.

The course was a Wednesday evening classic: H to port. The current was running to the east, which made for tacking up the shore of Nonamesset island, and tight tacking around the range marks. At the start it was Escargot ahead in the middle of the line, with Xiphias just above her. Scup started high on the line, near the committee boat, and reached Can Nine first. Down below were Skimmer, Salty Dog and Luna Nova. Luciole was in the middle of the line and dropped back and back and back. Around Can Nine, the fleet hardened up, Scup leading Raja, followed by Xiphias trying to luff up Rumblefish. Ragwagon followed at the back of the pack, and Whim seemed to be sweeping up off to leeward. Luna Nova headed out to leeward.

Crossing the Hole, by dint of superb tacking, Luciole fought her way to the back of the pack. She loosely covered Whim, assuring herself that there would be at least one boat between her and Total Ignominy. And then the Firefly took a flier (a Fireflier?) and let Whim get a couple hundred yards ahead of her too. Cover. Cover. Cover.  Meanwhile, Scup lengthened her lead, and Luna Nova caught up into the top half of the pack. Going up the range marks there were many hails for starboard tack rights. It was a sort of Call-and-Response thing that Harry Belafonte probably could have done a lot with had Day-O not been such a big hit. “STAR-board!” “HOold Your Course!” “Range Mark come, and me wan’ tack Ou-ut..” I can’t understand what the big attraction was with the banana-boat thing.

At the weather mark it was Scup with a nice lead. Second around was Raja, and then Skimmer or Xiphias, or actually, Old Salt was so far back he couldn’t see: it might have been Skimmer second and Raja fourth. Then came Ragwagon, Luna Nova, Rumblefish, Whim, Salty Dog, Luciole, and Escargot. Coming back across Woods Hole Passage, there was a lot of fighting up into the Hole against the current. It’s often an open question as to the fastest way across the current plumes. Some like to dive off downwind and skitter back up the Three Sisters eddy behind Red Ledge. Others like to reach up and cross the current at an angle, defending against overtaking boats. And sometimes, while boats up high are defending their positions, a boat manages to sneak across to leeward and better her position. Luciole, having saved a small amount of face by picking up a boat in the tacking (despite a questionable delay after a hail for sea-room), dove low and managed to get in ahead of Salty Dog. But, again, the view from the back of the pack is less than ideal.

In a final note, two boats missed the memo from 2013 about having to pass between mark D and Nonamesset Island, and later withdrew, as noted in the results. And thus were nullified two fine finishes in two well-sailed races.  And had those skippers read their Knockabout accounts (read yer email: Old Salt don’t Tweet) , they might have learned from last week’s race. And again, also too, we never learn anything in sail-racing except by flubbing it up first. Experience is a harsh teacher.


  1. Scup, Chris Warner 0:00
  2. Xiphias, Michael Dvorak 0:52
  3. Ragwagon, Peter Ochs 1:11
  4. Raja, Bruce Courcier 1:21
  5. Rumblefish, Greg Polanik 2:18
  6. Whim, Norm Farr 2:43
  7. Luciole, David Epstein 2:51
  8. Escargot, Brett Longworth 2:57
  9. Salty Dog, Art Dirienzo 3:02

W/D: Skimmer, Fred Denton 0:57

W/D: Luna Nova, Fran Elder                 1:16




By David Epstein

August 12, 2015


This week, we’ll begin with a vocabulary word. A Chiasma is a word in English that means, basically, an X. It’s from the Greek, khiasma, which is a wooden cross, or khiazein, which means “to mark with an X.” At a concept level, it means the intersecting point of two things. For instance, these two things could be ideas, concepts, streets, or even the courses of two sailboats.   Let’s set the stage: Southwest wind eight to twelve knots. East current. Classic course from Great Harbor to Lackeys Bay and back. We’ve sailed this course in these conditions so many times that we can do it in our sleep. Which is sort of the problem, as we shall see.

From the start, boats reach out to Can Nine, then harden up across Woods Hole Passage, and then, off Nonamesset Island, begin taking tacks into shore to get out of the foul tide as much as possible. At the range marks southeast of Nonamesset, all boats have to sail outside the line defined by three buoys, so as to keep boats from meeting rocks nearer to shore. In this race, in the fine tradition of rolling a stop-sign, one boat took the range marks as a mere suggestion. In good time, friends. Don’t let your drool-cup overfloweth too soon.   The beat continues up to mark P, “mid” Lackeys, and then turns to a run back with the fair tide, all the way home to Great Harbor.

At the start, it was Luciole and Luna Nova ahead, with Skimmer and Scup just behind. Going across Woods Hole Passage, Skimmer and Scup stayed higher, pointing and working against the current. Luna Nova sailed free and fast, just below Luciole. The rest of the fleet followed Scup and Skimmer, high, trying to erase the advantage of the galloping Luna Nova and Luciole.   And now to the chiasma.

Consider an ascending line. Label this line “Experience.” Consider a descending line, one that we’ll call “Idiocy,” or “Dunderheadedness,” or, well, YOU pick the label. As one gets along in years, in sail-racing, one garners tremendous amounts of Experience. And you try to make the chiasma of Experience and Idiocy occur in places inconsequential. For instance, Experience tells you to bring your own bags to the grocery store. However, where Dunderheadedness crosses Experience, you forget to bring the bags with you into the store. All the good intentions of Experience get cancelled out by Idiocy.   You can put an X on the exact spot.   Lurking in here is the definition of an “ignosecond,” which is that moment after you realize you’ve done something really stupid. As in “The ignosecond I slammed the car door, I remembered that the keys were on the front seat.”

Before the race, Luciole’s skipper looked at the tide book and said “East tide: tacking up the shore of Nonamesset. Why, I’ve done this so much I can almost do it in my sleep.” Somewhere out after the gaslight, the chiasma occurred, and the ignosecond lengthened into a number of igno-minutes. Behind Luciole, Scup took a tack in toward shore. Old Salt (oh heck: I) actually said “That’s a mistake.” Already, in his Dunderhead, he was thinking about going off into Vineyard Sound to catch the (non-existent) west tide. And there was Luna Nova below and being held out on Starboard tack, thinking “what does he know?” Well, he knows NOW that he has to buy flowers for Luna Nova’s skipper and send them with a heartfelt note of apology. Or failing that, an offer to fall on his whisker-pole before the next race.

For, suddenly, a gust blew the cobwebs out of his brain, and in a moment of Lucidiocy (which is that feeling only Luciole’s skipper gets when he suddenly grasps what an idjit he’s been), he turned to the crew and said quietly. “East tide. I’m sorry. Hard-a-lee.”   Luciole and Luna Nova came screaming back toward the fleet, having given away—nay: lofted—a three-hundred yard favor unto the undeserving fleet. They footed off and flew down on the range marks, just as the fleet came out to tack up along the artificial shore.

Skip spectacularly skippered Skimmer (credit: Juliana) in the lead. Skimmer was well ahead, with Scup giving chase. Then came Raja and Ragwagon and Escargot and Rumblefish, all in a knot, crying “Starboard!” on every other tack.   Old Salt can scarcely account for what happened next.   Whither Xiphias? That fast black boat whose very name begins in chiasm?   She was in a middle of the often-imitated, never-duplicated move known hereabouts as the Rosie Ruiz. For those born too late, here’s the story: In 1980, a Cuban-American runner by that name was the female winner of the Boston Marathon. She was feted, celebrated, and adored. And then, a week later, she was stripped of the title when it was determined that she had entered the race only a half mile from the finish line. The injustice is that no one remembers the actual winner (Canadian Jacqueline Gareau), but Rosie will never be forgotten. In that sense, she’s like the Watergate Apartments. No easies here: go look it up on your own damn gadget.

Xiphias came off the tack toward the Nonamesset Beach, straight out into the throng of flip-flopping boats. She hollered “Starboard!” at Escargot. It was a good move until the skipper realized he had entered at the middle of the range-marks, had not obeyed the first one, and was one big 1,350 pound foul rocketing along in error.   Chagrin is too weak a word. The word is probably more like chagrOOPS the definition of which is “humility tempered by embarrassment. Origin: Heb., from chag + grepsz; what one does upon forgetting to bring a cake to someone’s house when invited for a holiday meal.” Xiphias turned a penalty circle, but did not re-round the unrounded mark, and thus later withdrew.

On a mission, Luciole went after the fleet, determined to get back in the race. She passed Escargot (still reeling from the injustice of being hailed for rights by a boat not in the race), and gave chase to Ragwagon and Raja. Luciole closed the gap on every tack. Then, just before the mark, she snuck into third place before the charging Ragwagon and Raja. Three boats headed downwind together, abreast in the fair tide. It was Ragwagon on the outside, who slid to the fore. Luciole and Raja could only watch as the ‘wagon developed several boat-lengths of lead. Along the east end of Nonamesset, these three boats were close enough to converse. Actually, any closer and someone was going to have to propose marriage. Luciole had the inside position, and defended against repeated attacks by Raja. Both boats nervously eyed Ragwagon, lest their fighting cede position to the outside boat. In the end, things stayed that way, because it is actually very difficult for one Knockabout to pass another Knockabout on a reach.

It is worth noting the remarks of the impertinent Assistant Steward, whose position on the committee boat inspired the question; “ How does your butt feel…after getting SPANKED by Skip!”   It’s possible we pay her far too well.


  1. Skimmer, Skip Crowell 0:00
  2. Scup, Chris Warner 0:39
  3. Luciole, David Epstein 1:32
  4. Raja, Bruce Courcier 1:37
  5. Ragwagon, Peter Ochs                1:48
  6. Rumblefish, Greg Polanik 2:05
  7. Luna Nova, Kathy Elder 2:30
  8. Escargot, Brett Longworth 3:27
  9. Xiphias, Michael Dvorak W/D (3:58)