Peter Nielsen

Finding the way

9 Oct

Those of us who are grizzled enough to remember the pre-GPS days will know what Jerry Richter (p.12) means when he recalls old-school position-fixing as an “act of faith.” As much depended on knowing where you weren’t as where you were. Before I bought my first boat, and long after I’d started sailing, I sat through a full weekend of instruction to learn the intricacies of set and drift, weather forecasting, passage planning and all the other things that go with getting a sailing boat from Point A to (hopefully) Point B.

I even learned how to use a sextant, ...

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Back to the Future

18 Sep

The news of Don McIntyre’s reinvention of the original Whitbread race raises some interesting questions about the psychology of modern sailing. The thought of a fully crewed race around the world employing none of the technology and little of the labor-saving equipment we now take for granted excites some people and strikes horror into the hearts of others.

McIntyre tested the waters, so to speak, with the recently concluded Golden Globe race, in which 16 redoubtable sailors set off on a somewhat quixotic rerun of the original solo round-the-world race held half a century ago. Minus mod cons like GPS, ...

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Serpents in Paradise

31 Jul

Cruising boats in a beautiful Guna Yala anchorage. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Every so often you hear a piece of news that jolts you out of a preconception or two. For me, one such was the attack on a cruising family on the northeastern coast of Panama last May.

A trawler yacht was boarded at night and when the skipper, New Zealander Alan Culverwell, went to investigate, he was shot and killed. His wife, Derryn, was attacked with a machete before she and her two children managed to lock themselves inside the boat.

It was all the more upsetting ...

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Old School

15 Jun

In my personal pantheon of sailing heroes, no one comes close to Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. On April 22, a month after his 80th birthday, the grizzled Brit celebrated the 50th anniversary of his historic win in the original Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world race by sailing his 32ft ketch, Suhaili, across the 1969 finish line off Falmouth, England, accompanied by a flotilla of friends and fans.

In case you went to sleep in 1968 and just woke up this month, the Golden Globe was the first nonstop around-the-world race and was, literally, the stuff of legends. The boats ...

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Let’s be Careful Out There

20 May

Photo courtesy of Ocean Signal

When you’re talking about the thorny but important subject of onboard safety it’s easy to come across as pedantic and condescending—after all, as sailors we are imbued with a healthy respect for water and weather that arguably does not extend to many of our powerboating brethren, who can use horsepower to get themselves out of situations that sensible sailors would not get themselves into.

Finger-wagging lectures on the importance of wearing lifejackets and harnesses are so common that many of us pay little attention to them. I recall fighting to stay awake through a ...

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Winter Warmth

18 Mar

Photo courtesy of Mark Royce

Hiatus: noun, a pause or gap in a sequence, series or process.

That word pretty much sums up the offseason for sailors. If you’re in Florida, read no further. If you’re south of the Chesapeake or on the West Coast you may be lucky enough to keep your boat in the water or know friends who do. For Northerners, once the boat’s on the hard, in the backyard or the barn or wherever it spends the winter months, then you must find a way to fill the long months till launch day. For a ...

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From the Editor: Cold Comfort

25 Jan

Sometime on a pitch-black night off the New Jersey coast this past November, I was having serious reservations about cruising under sail. The promised 15-20 knot northerly had morphed into a 20-25 knot easterly with prolonged gusts in the low 30s, and the sea state was, to put it charitably, confused—“a cement mixer,” as one of the cruisers who followed us into Atlantic City later that day described it. I’ve sat out 50-knot blows in the Gulf Stream that were a hayride by comparison. In those long hours between 0200 and dawn, I would have given almost anything to be ...

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Why Give Up?

11 Dec

Larry Cheek’s essay on not giving up sailing will strike a chord with any of us who are looking back at 60. Like it or not, there comes a time when, as Leonard Cohen put it, you “ache in the places where you used to play.” That’s no reason to quit, though. Sailboats, no matter their size, have never been easier to handle than they are now. Spars are lighter than ever and with modern fibers, so are ropes. Sails roll away in minutes. Sheets can be trimmed at the press of a button. Ground tackle that would give a ...

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It’s in the Bag

22 Oct

Photo courtesy of Rozalia Project

Not so long ago, if ever I wanted to feel depressed all I had to do was leaf through my collection of boatyard bills. Now all I have to do is look over the side and count the bits of plastic floating by. Like a constantly unfolding traffic wreck, I can’t take my eyes off it: a plastic bag here, a drink bottle, a candy wrapper there. There is no end to it. Walk along the shore and even in a pristine New England town the highwater line is speckled with pieces of plastic.

Not ...

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Born to Fly

6 Aug

While engaged in some heavy-duty procrastination one afternoon, surfing Google in quiet desperation in order to avoid writing an overdue article, I came across a mention of the once-famous foiler L’Hydroptère. It’s not just multihull aficionados who will remember the big trimaran—ten years ago, through the summer and fall of 2008 and into 2009, she made headlines not just in sailing magazines but in the mainstream press. She was, for quite some time, the fastest sailing craft in the world.

Her creator, Alain Thébault, was a friend of legendary ocean racer Eric Tabarly, who eagerly embraced the concept ...

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