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Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets
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Aug 5, 2011, 7:10 AM

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THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
Peter Isler, two-time America’s Cup winner, has sailed in and won hundreds of races over the last forty years. In his latest book - Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets - he shares lessons and stories that have helped him succeed and enjoy the sport. Here is an excerpt from the book titled This Is Supposed to Be Fun:
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Maybe the most valuable lesson I’ve ever been taught about sailing came during the fall semester of my sophomore year at college. My crew, Susan Daly and I, were doing well in team practices, consistently at the top of the fleet, but at regattas we seemed to be just a bit flat. We were putting in the time, practicing hard and doing what seemed like everything necessary to be successful on the college circuit. But we never seemed to be able to put it all together at the big regattas - we always fell short. It got to the point that I was really getting stressed about our performance because I felt we should be doing so much better.

Then one night after team practice, Olympic medalist Glen Foster (bronze medal, Tempest Class, 1972 Olympics) came up to give an after-dinner talk to the team. As I was listening to his entertaining story about his experiences at the Kiel Olympiad, something inside of me clicked.

He wasn’t talking about the special light-air jib with the fuller head that he and his sailmaker developed and unveiled at the Games; he wasn’t talking about his conservative starting technique or his crew’s heavy-air spinnaker-pumping technique. He was talking about how much fun it was to be in the Olympics, the competitor friends with whom he shared a laugh on the dock before racing, and the thrill of representing his country. He was talking about enjoying his sailing and all that is a part of the sport.

For me, it was an epiphany, and it slowly sunk into my thick skull.

At that particular time, I wasn’t having any fun with my sailing. The fact that I was now representing my university and sailing on the varsity team, along with the higher expectations and my own competitive ego, all built up until I was just taking my sailing too darn seriously. I wasn’t smelling the roses anymore, or enjoying the beauty and fun aspects of the sport that had drawn me to it in the first place.

The next day in practice, I shared my thoughts with Susan on the boat before the racing started. Susan listened to this confession of my sins - of my treating sailing like a grim professional - and it was music to her ears. As it turned out, Susan had been putting up with my ever-increasing stress level and didn’t like it one bit. The less fun I had sailing, the less fun she had sailing with me. I promised her that I was going to make a real effort to have more fun with our sailing, and to enjoy the privileges we had in being able to spend time on the water and race for Yale.

Almost overnight our performance jumped. We started really clicking at the regattas, and our results rocketed. It was no small coincidence that our Yale team won the College Dinghy Nationals that spring. Looking back through the perspective of several decades of America’s Cups and countless high-pressure events, I still consider that moment when Glen Foster unknowingly unveiled that important lesson to me to be a watershed moment in my career.
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Additional information about Isler’s book can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/Lil-Blue-Book


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Sep 13, 2011, 3:51 PM

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TRAGEDY HITS HOME
Peter Isler, two-time America’s Cup winner, has sailed in and won hundreds of races over the last forty years. And he was onboard Rambler 100 when it capsized during the 2011 Fastnet. In his latest book - Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets - he shares lessons and stories that have helped him succeed and enjoy the sport.

This excerpt, titled Tragedy Hits Home, was originally written with Gary Jobson for the August 2002 issue of Sailing World magazine. The lessons learned in this report remain as relevant today as ever:
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In 33 years of ocean racing, neither of us had experienced a man overboard situation of this magnitude: on Friday, May 24, 2002, soon after the start of the Block Island Race aboard the 66-foot Blue Yankee, our bowman Jamie Boeckel, 34, was lost at sea as a result of being injured and knocked overboard when the spinnaker pole broke during a sail change. After hours of searching, we were unable to recover his body, but the events of that night will stay with us forever, as will the lessons we drew in its aftermath. Jamie’s memory is best served if we can help prevent future catastrophes.

Before leaving the dock in Stamford, Conn., Blue Yankee’s owner Bob Towse held an in-depth, thoughtful meeting covering safety and strategy. We discussed our man-overboard procedure, the need to wear lifejackets (we were all wearing them at the start), the location of safety equipment (a list was posted), and communication procedures. Although safety harnesses were available, no member of the crew felt the relatively mild conditions (offshore winds and smooth seas) warranted putting one on. Following this pre-race session we headed to the race course.

Blue Yankee won the start and set a fast pace. Just after sunset, 25 miles from the start, the wind increased from 12 to 18 knots, triggering a call to change from the Code 3 asymmetric spinnaker to the Code 5 asymmetric. As the new spinnaker was hoisted, the wind built dramatically. Standing at the bow, Jamie struggled to release the shackle holding the tack of the old spinnaker. Something was preventing the shackle from opening, and as seconds passed, an unseen gust caused the boat to round up. Both spinnakers luffed violently, the spinnaker pole broke, and it hit Jamie hard. He immediately went into the water.

As Jamie slid past the leeward rail, crewman Brock Callen (who’d been at the mast hoisting the spinnaker) saw that he was floating face down, unconscious. The boat was sailing at 13 knots, and Brock made a split-second decision and dove in. Neither he nor Jamie was wearing lifejackets.

Brock reached Jamie in seconds and tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Meanwhile the crew launched the man overboard package on the transom and worked feverishly to douse the two spinnakers as the broken pole slashed across the foredeck and the wind built to 35 knots. We then started the engine and tacked toward the blinking man-overboard light, returning in about six or eight minutes. As we did so, we alerted the U.S. Coast Guard on the VHF.

After a brief search, we found Brock near the man overboard gear, but Jamie was missing. The water temperature was 53 degrees, and Brock was near hypothermic shock when he was pulled aboard. He told us he’d held Jamie afloat for a few minutes, but that Jamie was unresponsive and eventually he’d been unable to keep Jamie from sinking.

Five boats retired from the race to assist us when they heard our call on channel 16. At least 15 other boats also came to our aid. We were still in Long Island Sound, not far from Bridgeport, Conn., and the Coast Guard and local police arrived within 15 minutes of our call. We were impressed by the quick response, which included a helicopter to help with the search.

At midnight, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection officers led by Sergeant Jim Wolfe boarded Blue Yankee. They were businesslike yet cordial while taking statements and surveying the scene. Just before departing Sergeant Wolfe said, “From what I can tell, you guys did everything you could - especially Brock - I’d have him as a shipmate any time. I hope this incident won’t discourage any of you from racing in the future.” It was a soothing comment at a time when we were feeling considerable anguish.

It was eerie returning to Blue Yankee’s berth in Stamford near dawn with one crew missing. A few words were spoken, and we went home.

Sailing can be hazardous, so we have a responsibility to prepare our crews, our boats, and ourselves to react swiftly and efficiently during an emergency. A live situation is always tougher than the theory, but preparation can make a critical difference. In the weeks that have passed, we’ve developed a list of thoughts and recommended procedures for ourselves and others in similar situations. We encourage all sailors to think through, in advance, what you would do.

1. Make sure the crew understands how to launch the lifesaving/man-overboard gear quickly, and where all safety gear (lifejackets, radios, etc.) is located.
2. Make sure the entire crew understands the man overboard procedures (e.g., shout “man overboard,” spot the victim, jettison lifesaving gear, etc). Pre-assign positions in case of an emergency.
3. When performing a difficult sail change, such as a spinnaker peel, bear away enough that broaching is not a concern - especially if “locking off ” a spinnaker sheet to free up a primary winch.
4. Wear your life jacket anytime you like and certainly on deck at night or other times conditions warrant. Expand the window of what you consider to be “life jacket” conditions and spread that attitude. If your life jacket is uncomfortable, get one you’ll wear - even if that means choosing a float coat, vest, or other non-Coast Guard-approved device.
5. At night, carry a pocket strobe or at least a waterproof flashlight.
6. Have a big knife in a sheath readily accessible in the middle of the boat, as well as a personal knife.
7. Have a working GPS on deck with an easy-to-operate man-overboard button.
8. If a man-overboard occurs, release the man-overboard gear immediately. Spot the victim, and if they appear to be in trouble, have someone grab extra flotation and jump in with them. This advice runs counter to conventional wisdom and many man-overboard “manuals,” but if the victim is really in trouble, extreme measures are in order. Of course, if the boat is short handed or conditions are too difficult, then weigh the possibility of losing a second crewmember against the boat’s ability to return promptly.
- Do all you can to keep the victim in sight; assign one crew member this duty. At night, the man-overboard gear should have a light, making returning easier.
- Get the boat turned around as fast and effectively as possible. Usually that means dropping headsails, but not always. It may mean cutting away sails, but not always. Each situation is different and requires a cool assessment of the big picture. The worst thing you can do is panic. For example, after dropping headsails, the crew of Blue Yankee took an extra few seconds to ensure all ropes were out of the water before engaging the engine. Wrapping a line in the propeller would incapacitate the engine and severely limit the boat’s ability to return in strong winds.
- When problems occur, immediately make an emergency call on VHF channel 16. In a race, other boats will be nearby.
9. Any time you hear a call for help on the VHF or see a dangerous situation, stop and assist. Everyone on the water has a responsibility to themselves and each other.
10. During sail changes and maneuvers the most experienced sailors (watch captain, skipper) should watch the evolution carefully and calmly point out solutions to problems as they occur.
11. Maneuvers should be discussed in advance, particularly the course to steer and a plan if something goes wrong.
12. Treat every day on the water as if it were special - really special - because it is.

Blue Yankee had a talented crew. The boat was well prepared and was sailed in a normal way. The crew performed well in a tough situation, but we do have lingering questions: What if Jamie had kept on the lifejacket he wore at the start? What if we could’ve predicted a rapid, near tripling of the wind speed? (In daylight we’d have seen the gust coming, eased the spinnaker sheet before locking it off, and borne away further to minimize heel and risk of broaching.) What if we had changed spinnakers earlier or been able to release the snap shackle faster? Could we have cut away the spinnakers and returned sooner?

This sad event deserves on-going study with a look at both gear and procedures.
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Additional information about Isler’s book can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/Lil-Blue-Book


The Publisher
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Oct 18, 2011, 11:12 AM

Post #3 of 4 (14012 views)
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SHOW RESPECT TO YOUR PEERS
Peter Isler, two-time America’s Cup winner, has sailed in and won hundreds of races over the last forty years. In his latest book - Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets - he shares lessons and stories that have helped him succeed and enjoy the sport.

This excerpt, titled In Their Own Words, was written by four-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie of Great Britain. In it Ben describes how a petty squabble eight years previously very nearly derailed his Olympic Games in 2004. As he says, “You never know when you might need a friend.” Read on:
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Learn to respect and get on with your peers.

As a young, aggressive Laser sailor I would push hard on the water and end up in countless arguments and shouting matches. I was younger than the guys I was racing against, racing in the 1996 Olympic Games at nineteen, and I felt I had to make it clear to the older, more experienced sailors that they couldn’t intimidate me.

There was one French sailor in particular who was a problem for me, and for whatever reason we would always be in the same patch of water pushing for mark room or whatever. In a warm-up regatta to the Olympics we were both on the final run to the finish; he was leading and I was second. I was fast downwind and I began reeling him in and was about to pass when he began screaming at me for cheating and breaking rule 42. At this point the “on-water judge” came up to us both and gave the Frenchman the penalty for too much rocking.

As he was doing his penalty turn I sailed past and made some sly remark to wind the guy up, but he lost it, and I mean really lost it. It died down and all was seemingly forgotten until we began racing in the Olympics a fortnight later and the same guy protested me in race two. The protest was a complete fabrication, but I was fortunate that the TV coverage of the race had picked up the incident and proved that I was in fact on starboard tack, not port tack, as was being claimed. The protest was dismissed and I put it behind me as a bit of bad blood and gamesmanship.

Eight years later we were both sailing in the Finn class for the 2004 Olympics. Again, in the second race we were both sailing on the extreme left of the first beat with few other boats around, and I thought I could easily cross the Frenchman. As I crossed on port tack he pulled his bow away and claimed an incident even though nothing had happened. We had words; he then took back his claim and apologized.

At the very end of protest time the Frenchman put in a last-minute protest with no witnesses. I had no witnesses, either, as we were both on the far side of the course. Under the rules the onus was on the giveway boat to prove his innocence, and the jury decided to back the Frenchman. I was incandescent; as the favorite going into the Games I had sailed a poor first race and now had to substitute a second place in race two with a disqualification. I was now twenty-first overall after two of the ten races, and my Olympic dreams were all but over.

The lesson is that you should always, at least on the outside, show respect to your peers and try to forge good relationships. In my case a petty squabble eight years previously very nearly derailed my Olympic Games in 2004 (Note: Ben rallied to win the Gold medal). As you grow older and move into bigger boats sailing with teams, this is even more important. You may very well be racing against a guy one week and then be racing with him the next. As hard as it can be, keep your aggression on the water and your issues to yourself. You never know when you might need a friend.
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Additional information about Isler’s book: http://tinyurl.com/Lil-Blue-Book




The Publisher
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Oct 19, 2011, 5:26 PM

Post #4 of 4 (12391 views)
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In Reply To
SHOW RESPECT TO YOUR PEERS
Peter Isler, two-time America’s Cup winner, has sailed in and won hundreds of races over the last forty years. In his latest book - Peter Isler’s Little Blue Book of Sailing Secrets - he shares lessons and stories that have helped him succeed and enjoy the sport.

This excerpt, titled In Their Own Words, was written by four-time Olympic medalist Ben Ainslie of Great Britain. In it Ben describes how a petty squabble eight years previously very nearly derailed his Olympic Games in 2004. As he says, “You never know when you might need a friend.”


Fascinating subject -- "show respect to your peers". An idea that should be evangelized and embraced by all sailors at all levels of the sport. But far easier said, than done. It begins on the basis that there's a fundamental understanding of the sport and the rules by its practitioners. Sailors don't often live and die by them, some other sports do. Like Ben's case, his competitors felt "they could get away with it"-- a practice I've often seen by some over the years, starting back in the "scull-like-a-madman-Euro-470-days" in the late 70s.

Perhaps the best way to determine if your competitor, as in Ben's case, has any knowledge of the rules and "fairness" is to simply ask THEM whether or not you're right (or wrong). Put the onus on THEM to tell you they're smarter, that they have "rights" on you. I can tell you I've done this often enough over decades of racing that it's bloody embarrassing for the person who's wrong (more often the case, than not) when you beat them in the race anyways.

Why? It's incredibly hard for a person to argue their case when they're both wrong AND you beat them in the race when you're in front of all their peers at the bar! Just basic sports psychology! IF they were right, they HAD to have beaten you--- just sucks when you crush them, their egos "atomized"; LOVE it when that happens. Next time, about 100% of the time, they give you the benefit of the doubt. That may take time to EARN that respect, but it does work. :)

Best,
Stu Johnstone


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