Peter Nielsen

Old Guys and Girls Rule

11 Mar
Photo by Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Photo by Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

Even people who couldn’t give two hoots about sailboat racing have heard about the brutal beatdown that is the Rolex Sydney Hobart race. Every year, on the day after Christmas, a hundred or so boats thrash their way down the Australian coast and enter the Bass Strait separating Tasmania from the mainland. There, they almost inevitably receive the kind of spanking that breaks boats and spirits and occasionally kills people.

It’s the kind of sailing that landlubbers just cannot get their heads around. Nor can many sailors, come to that. It’s one thing to deal with ...

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Call of the Sea

15 Jan

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Do you remember how old you were when you first dreamed about running away to sea? Me neither, though I expect it was after some parental discipline regarding tormenting younger siblings or eating all the cake. What I do recall is gazing out to sea during beachside camping vacations, watching ships and sailboats disappear over the horizon, wondering where they were bound and wishing I was going there too.

It seems to me that the call of the sea is heard more strongly by some than others. Had I grown up in a Midwest farm town, with the wind blowing ...

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Push-Button Sailing

24 Nov
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Image from Jeanneau

My thoughts on labor-saving devices a couple of issues ago didn’t go down too well with a few of our readers, who all but accused me of encouraging slothfulness among sailors. Too much button-pushing, they opined, would turn the lot of us into stick-legged, slack-muscled, beer-bellied slobs barely able to unbutton a sail cover, let alone hoist a mainsail or lift a case of rum over the lifelines from a bouncing dinghy.

Which is why I had to stifle a grin at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis this past fall, when deck gear makers Harken and ...

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The Purist & the Pragmatist

28 Sep

Way back in the dark ages of the early 1980s, when I first happened upon a skipper foolish enough to take me offshore, there were few labor saving devices on your typical cruising sailboat. In fact, I was one of them.  There was no roller furling on that particular 47ft cutter, just a seemingly bottomless stack of hanked-on sails that lived in a dank lazarette reeking of mildew, turpentine and diesel, the kind of cocktail that only wooden-boat lovers find intoxicating.

The boat was “handraulic,” as the skipper loved to say, and a heavy beast she was to work, too; ...

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Gearing Up

18 Sep

Having spent many years sailing in England, where there is no climate as such, just weather (as the Brits love to say, with just a touch of bitterness), transitioning to coastal sailing in the United States came as a pleasant surprise to me. It took a year or two before I stopped toting my ocean-grade foulweather gear around and became acclimated to sailing in shorts, T-shirt and (sometimes) a light jacket. I’ve so seldom worn long pants on the boat that when I sailed in jeans the other week it felt decidedly unnatural.

Of course, pride precedes an inevitable fall, ...

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Einstein on the Water

4 Aug
We can all be grateful that Einstein was a better physicist than he was a sailor

We can all be grateful that Einstein was a better physicist than he was a sailor.

While the academic community celebrates the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s presentation of his theory of relativity in August 1914, the sailing community should not forget that the great scientist was one of us.
Although the wild-haired mathematician could not swim, he had a great love for the water. He learned to sail on a Swiss lake as a student in the 1890s, and in 1929, on his 50th birthday, a group of wealthy admirers presented him with a custom-built sailboat. Tümmler, German for ...

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Just Launched: Carbon Beauty

6 Jul
Brenta 80 DC

When Hanse Yachts founder Michael Schmidt sold his company a few years ago, it seemed the European boatbuilding community had lost one of its canniest operators. Not only did Schmidt build the company from a startup in a disused East German furniture factory to a multi-brand powerhouse at a time when many other builders were struggling, he is a true character and an innovator; witness how widely copied the trademark Hanse big mainsail/self-tacking jib combo has become.
With a boatbuilding background going back to the 1970s it was unlikely that Schmidt would stay away from the scene for too long, ...

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A Cup Half Empty

24 Jun

The 34th America’s Cup went down in history as possibly the most exciting match race series ever at this level; it was the best possible advertisement for multihull sailing, showcasing its speed, grace and technical sophistication as never before.
Perhaps, like me, you thought a whole new chapter of Cup racing would follow on, a reprise of that stirring epic with big foiling cats as the stars and the iconic expanse of San Francisco Bay as the stage upon which another great sailing drama would be played out. But of course, this is the Cup, so nothing plays out according ...

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Watering Holes: An Oasis in the Ocean

3 Jun

Of all the watering holes frequented by sailors, few approach the legendary status of Peter’s Café Sport in Horta, on the island of Faial in the Azores archipelago. Café Sport has given succour to legions of thirsty sailors for many decades. Few transatlantic voyagers break their journey in Horta without knocking back at least a couple of frosty pints in the company of their peers in this cozy cavern of a bar, its wood-panelled walls and ceiling bedecked with flags, burgees and mementoes left behind by generations of bluewater sailors.

I felt something of an imposter when I first walked ...

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The Best of Intentions

29 May

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I don’t recall ever having looked forward to the start of a sailing season as much as this one. At the end of March I was still negotiating snowbanks on sidewalks, and it was impossible to get near the boat in its lair on Boston’s north shore for the thigh-high drifts in the yard. Hopefully, by the time you read these words I’ll be immersed in the joyous task of removing 10 years of bottom paint and that long winter of discontent will be a fast-receding memory. In fact, after holding a sander at head height for a few hours ...

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