Peter Nielsen

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

chesapeke

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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True Solitude

17 Apr

The expedition yacht Seal lies at anchor in a shallow bay on Isla Navarino, on the Chilean side of the Beagle Channel, while its crew of charter guests explores an isolated homestead. In the background, on the other side of the narrow channel named after HMS Beagle, loom the mountains of Argentina. Captained by Robert Fitzroy, the Beagle charted this remote part of Patagonia in the 1830s before heading up the South American coast to the Galápagos Islands. It was on this voyage that the ship’s naturalist, Charles Darwin, developed his theory of evolution.

Fitzroy too made a singular ...

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Home is Where the Boat is

7 Apr

New England can be a cruel place to sail. You never can tell just what the months of March and April will bring, so you have no idea when your boat will actually touch the water. Woe betide you if you dare dream of an early launch date; like as not, you’ll find your spring commissioning plans thwarted by April snowstorms and lingering sub-Arctic temperatures, and you’ll be lucky if you’re in by Memorial Day, let alone the Fourth of July. Only twice in the last decade can I recall being fully prepped and launched by mid-May, and both times ...

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The Great Escape

12 Jan

cruisAs yet another year draws to a close I am reminded once again of what a great sport, pastime, call it what you will, we sailors enjoy. A late fall delivery from Bermuda to the Caribbean proved the perfect antidote to the continuing gloom that dominated the airwaves last year; I found there’s nothing like a bracing beat into 25-knot headwinds and a rambunctious seaway to banish thoughts of Ebola-infected ISIS militants swarming across the border to behead us in our sleep. Politics, fracking, climate change, none of these meant anything compared to the struggle of merely climbing out of ...

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A Grand Day Out

17 Jul

Back in the day I had a yen to do a Whitbread race, as it was then. I envisioned myself steering resolutely down towering Southern Ocean swells, setting new boatspeed records to the acclaim of my crewmates, and sipping champagne from stilettos in the post-race parties. Of course a lack of skill and ambition in that direction scuppered any chances I had of doing a round-the-world race, and now of course the last thing I would contemplate doing is exposing my middle-aged self to the frigid wastes of the Roaring Forties, let alone the Furious Fifities or the Shrieking Sixties. ...

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Romance Reborn

27 Mar

One hears over and over again of the “romance” attendant to boats, sailing and the sea, but if you ask someone why he or she sails, I’ll bet that the R-word pops up a respectable distance down the list, in back of the F-words (freedom, fun) and the A-words (adventure, activity). Still, I am positive that a romantic streak is an integral part of every sailor’s make-up, even if we might not like to admit it’s there. There is no other way of explaining some of the irrational things that sailors do.

For instance, I was once possessed by a ...

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Why Sailors are Highly Strung

17 Mar

Show me a boat that doesn’t have a bag of assorted offcuts of sheet, halyard, warp and string buried in a cockpit locker, and I’ll show you a powerboat. It’s impossible to separate sailing from rope, and I don’t know why you’d want to. Separating sailors from rope can be nearly impossible too. Rummaging around at the bottom of other people’s lazarettes, I’ve more than once dredged up some scruffy, diesel-stained, ratty bundle of rock-hard ancient anchor warp or a prehistoric genoa sheet that’s fossilized into the form of a nightmare pretzel. “Ah,” the owner says sheepishly, “Thought that might ...

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Winging It

17 Feb

Wingsail tech is going mainstream

PN-Trickle-down economics might not have worked out so well for most of us, but the technological trickle-down from the most recent America’s Cup seems to be falling on fertile ground. First there was what you might describe as the legitimization of foiling; the idea that a boat can rise above the waves and proceed at thrice true windspeed is no longer the province of the sort of wild-eyed evangelistic character you wouldn’t want next to you on the subway. Production-built foiling catamarans are already available. There’s plenty of experimentation going on with foiling monohulls too....

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