Monday, June 26, 2006

Landlubber does Pewaukee Lake

On Sunday Jason, Sydney, Maia, and I headed to Hans place on Pewaukee lake for a bit of sailing and cycling. After eating lunch, feeding Maia, and readying the sailboat, it was already 3:00pm. Hans was kind enough to take me out on the lake to see how the spiniker works, and also to give me a general feel for his boat.

The weather conditions on Pewaukee lake were....fairly breezy. I can't lie and say that we had 25 knot winds, but maybe it was more like 10 - 15 mph winds. When we initially took off and I trimmed the jib, I did a faceplant into the side of Hans' boat. Later I would learn that I was lucky to escape the sailing trip without any visible injuries.

Let me first set your expectations. Hans has 50+ years of sailing experience. We are on his M16 (I hope that's right), which is like the Porsche of sailboats. It's meant to be extremely light, and the mast is taller than the boat is long. There's carbon fiber on the boat, which also helps trim some of the weight. His boat has boards instead of the keel that is on the boats that I'm learning on at the Milwaukee Yacht Club.

The first fallacy of sailing is that you don't get wet. If I were using my experiences at MYC sailing class, I would say that sailing is a fairly leisurely exercise. You pull on a few lines, turn the boat, and enjoy the ride. On Hans' boat, my butt was hanging over the side of the boat, secured by having my feet wedged into a strap. Within a few minutes I become about 20% saturated due to the splash of the bow on the waves.

We tacked upwind for about 5 - 10 minutes, before our first attempt to deploy the spiniker. I'm not sure what I would compare the spiniker to, with the exception that it's a huge parachute that is tied out in front of the boat to pull you along faster than any sail can. The tactic is to pull the spiniker up as fast as possible, because you do NOT want it to go into the water. It causes issues....

I was pulling the spiniker out, all while Hans was calmly instructing me to pull it faster. After about 10 seconds I couldn't pull anymore. I wrapped my hands around the line, put my foot near the mast, and used my legs to help pull up the spiniker. It didn't budge. The spiniker wasn't all of the way out - the spiniker was lying in the water. With a bruised ego, I climbed onto the bow and began to pull the spiniker out of the water. After I had it back on top of the boat, we attempted to hoist it into the air. The spiniker suddenly filled with air and we were moving quickly for about 5 seconds. It was just enough time for me to take a seat and get my feat under the foot strap. The boat tipped over due to the wind in the spiniker, while Hans and I were leaning backwords over the starboard side. We ended up sitting on top of the sideways boat (the mast & spiniker are parallel w/ the water; the hull is perpendicular to the water).

I let out a sigh of frustration before climbing down onto the lower board to turn the boat over. We were able to upright the boat and not get too wet. I was about 60% saturated by now. Guess what I did next. Yes - I again pulled the spiniker out of the water. I put it back into it's home and climbed back down to my seat to try this again.

I took a deep breath, and imagined myself pulling on the spiniker line as if I was Superman, and Lois Lane was at the other end, near death. Once again I couldn't pull the line out anymore, and the spiniker went into the water and while I was trying to pull the line, I somehow wasn't on the boat anymore. That minute or two is kind of blurry, but the next thing that I knew was that I was in the water. The sailboat in front of me, with Hans hanging onto it. He was on the lower board, so the sailboat had caught a bit of wind even though it wasn't upright. I started swimming as hard as I could, with sandals, pants, a jacket, and a lifevest. I was swimming, but the boat was moving faster than any human could ever swim, let alone with all of his/her clothes on. Some guy came to our rescue and threw a line overboard for me to hang onto. He brought me close to the sailboat, which Hans had now let tip over. It wasn't moving much, so I could easily swim to it.

I proceeded to climb up on the lower board (which Hans was already standing on with one foot) to help upright the boat. We got it turned over (thankfully Hans was with, because I don't think that I'm heavy enough to turn the boat over). We wiggled our way back onto the top of the boat. At this point, I felt like my heart was going to explode. It was probably a combination of the adrenaline from being thrown off the boat, coupled with my desparate attempted swim to the sailboat. I once again pulled the spiniker out of the water and packed it away. Hans then noticed a flaw in the lines - the jib sheet and the spiniker sheet were reversed. That explained why I couldn't pull the spiniker up all of the way, and also why it was getting tangled.

We jibbed back to a mooring near his house, and Hans reconfigured the lines. When he was finished, we set sail again. Hans was determined to get the spiniker up and not tip over. I was determined to sail on the boat for more than a few seconds with the spiniker fully deployed. We got back out into the middle of the lake, and Hans pulled up the spiniker (isn't the third time a charm?). Soon enough we were blazing a trail downwind and leaning far outside the boat to keep it balanced. My job was to trim the spiniker sheet when there was a lull in the wind, and to let out some of the spiniker when the wind puffed. We had a great ride down to the end of the lake, although it was probably only a few minutes in total. We were both pleased - I had gone fast in the boat. Hans was happy for different reasons - the rookie didn't tip over the boat!

We tacked upwind to get back to Hans' house. When we were 50 meters from the mooring, I dumped the boat. Yes - a third time. By this point, I had lost all sense of dignity. I wasn't paying attention and I should have been letting out the jib as the boat's side was going higher in the air. I wasn't - I was enjoying the ride until I realized that I had tipped the boat AGAIN. I was able to continue hanging over the side of the boat while Hans pulled the boat back upright. By this time, we were close enough to the house so that Jason could take embarassing photos of us tipping the boat.

After we were back on land, I later learned that this was the first 3 times that Hans had tipped over the boat... Feeling like an idiot, I took a shower and changed into dry clothes. After Jason & Sydney returned from their dry sailing run, we had a fabulous dinner. We had two appetizers: olive tapenade & bread and cream cheese/dill appetizers on rye. For an entree, we grilled vegetarian cuban sandwichs (marinated portabella mushrooms in balsamic vinegar and garlic, roasted red peppers, spinach, cheese, and pickles) and had a wonderful salad made of mixed greens, feta cheese, walnuts, and a wicked homemade dressing. This wonderful meal was followed by Pat's (Hans girlfriend) pecan pie & vanilla bean ice cream, which was a perfect way to finish off the meal. I should also add that we made mojitos and they turned out fairly well.

All in all, I had a wonderful time. The only activity that could have improved the fabulous day was if we had had enough time to go cycling. Hans was a great host, an EXTREMELY patient sailing instructor, and a master salad dressing maker. It was great to spend some time w/ Jason & Sydney, since we don't see each other very often. Pat was wonderful and she makes a mean pecan pie.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's past midnight and I'm not tired, so what better to do than post a short note? This weekend was great; Friday night was spent aboard a huge boat out on Lake Michigan with a few friends, Saturday was a great day to catchup with Pete & Andy, and the majority of today was spent researching my 'where do I go in Asia for 3 weeks in September trip?'.

The hinderance of going to Mongolia has been the cost of flights; $2000 and up. There's no way that I'm wasting $2K on a flight, as I will spend a small fortune by the time the trip is over. I was looking into going to Tibet, but since China requires so much paperwork to get into Tibet, that trip would probably cost me about the same price and cause me significantly more grief due to only having 3 weeks of holiday.

My new plan is to fly into Beijing; take a train to Ulan Bataar (Mongolia), and spend a couple of weeks in Mongolia before heading back to Beijing to fly home. If I have a few days in Beijing, I should have enough time to check out the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and possibly the terracotta soliders in Xi'an. I cannot research this plan anymore today; I think I spent about 8 hours in front of the computer sifting through the Thorntree message boards random blogs, travelogues, tour operator sites, and US State Department websites.

This week I get to settle back into the familiar schedule of life in Milwaukee - no work trips this week! I plan on playing frisbee golf, going to sailing class, playing some video games, going bike riding, and riding my motorcycle. I'll finally get to enjoy one of the best seasons in Milwaukee, since I haven't been around all that much lately.

Check out this website - it's a great view into North Korea. I found it while browsing through the northeast asia forum on lonelyplanet's website. The photos are amazing, and many are great indicators of how terrible it must be to live in the Communist country. There's one photo in particular that stands out in my mind; it's a photo of the oceanfront, surrounded by barbed wire and an electric fence. It's meant to keep the citizens from's all very surreal and I cannot compare it to anything that I've ever experienced in the past.

Photos of North Korea

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Viva Las Vegas!

I was in Vegas for a few days for a conference; so I had a few free hours to check out the scene. Everything is kitsch and over the top. The signs are larger and brighter, the hotels outdo one another in extravagance. I had a sweet hotel room at Caeser's Palace; my room over look the fountains at the Bellagio. I had two bathrooms, a double shower, hottub, 40" LCD TV, two queen beds, and the list goes on. The photo below is from my hotel room.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was checking out Dale Chihuly's work in the Bellagio reception area. All of the vibrant pieces that you see in the photo below is handblown glass.

Since I was in Vegas, I gambled a bit. I won $15 at blackjack and $10 on war (yes - that game that you played when you were a kid; you can bet on it!!!). After two consecutive wins, I decided that it was time to take my money and run. Vegas wasn't built on winners...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

House of a million (bug) corpses

While I was driving home from a friends house tonight, I noticed that the visibility seemed to dramatically decrease as I rode closer towards my destination. I noticed that a battalion of bug corpses were starting to accumulate on the face shield of my motorcycle helmet. I've ended hundreds of bug lives in a quick 20 minute cruise home. The following photo is taken from the inside of my helmet looking out through the face shield.

On a much more normal topic, it's my brother's birthday today. Happy birthday Josh! I cannot believe that you're 22 this year, but then again we're all getting older. Hopefully you've had an enjoyable day, and we'll get together for a drink sometime in the upcoming days.