better to know where


We are close enough to Angel Island now that the wind isstarting to shift slightly as it becomes influenced by the looming hills andvegetation. I ease the sails into more of a beam reach configuration to takeadvantage of the shift. We have to be very careful here at this end of theisland. It is not at all unusual to experience fierce venturi effects thatwill knock us down faster than a Wall Street flash crash during an Octobertriple witching hour.

In general, the worst of the effects happens right where weare on the southeast side of the island. But I am ready for the worst andlooking forward to the warmth that always follows the brief but blusterygusts. As I expect, the wind quickly ramps up, forcing Summer Wind to heelover sharply, burying the toe rail and nudging the bow a little closer to thewind.

The gust rapidly abates and we quickly recover, but ithappens again. The wind is even stronger than I had foreseen and this time weare heeled over close to forty degrees relative to horizontal. The bay wateris well above the toe rail now and only the teak cockpit coaming keeps thewater out of the cockpit seating area where Don and I are desperately trying tostay dry. While we scramble around in the cockpit to avoid the incoming seawater, Summer Wind just keeps going over.

The extreme angle of heel forces the bow sharply into thewind and I lose control of the helm briefly. Navigation becomes impossibleuntil Summer Wind snaps back to horizontal. We are now heading tightly intothe eye of the wind and the force of the wind on the sail has dropped exponentially. As I regain rudder control, I ease the tiller back onto a heading morefavorable and try to slink back onto our previous course.

I'm well aware that I have way too much sail up, but I alsoknow that the accelerated winds causing the problem are temporary. Very soonwe will be in the lee of Angel Island and wondering what happened to all thewind. As I get back to the previous course, we get slammed again, but notnearly as hard as the first couple scares. The blast passes quickly and thenthe wind speed drops to a steady ten or twelve knots as we glide into thewarmth and relative security of the wind shadow behind Angel Island.

Because of the wind speed curtailment and heading change, Ihave to make some judicious sail adjustments to maintain our boat speed. Istart by easing both the main and the jib. We have definitely morphed into abeam reach now and I want the sail shape to match the direction and force ofthe wind. The temperature begins to rise abruptly as we head behind the island.We're in the sun's intense rays and outside of the direct winds blowing sostrongly in the main bay. Wind chill is no longer a factor.

Don and I start loosening up our outermost layers of coldweather gear. Still making good time under sail, we are fully in the shelterof the island now. The waves are blocked completely and the water is near flatas we begin to ghost into the dead air zone east of the big island. It isgetting still warmer now, and as the wind conditions become more benign, Donand I shed some of our outermost layers of cold weather protection.

Boat speed through the water is barely discernible, but Ican see from my GPS that we are making a steady one and a half knots over thebottom. As the wind moderates, we are being compensated by a flood tide, whichpushes us deeper into the bay.

I am always surprised how quickly wind conditions can changein the bay. When the gusts are blowing hard and an obstruction like a landmass or a bridge abutment creates the venturi effects like those we justencountered, the wind can triple or quadruple in intensity, nearlyinstantaneously.

Thinking about it makes me laugh. Shaking my head, I askDon what was going through his mind when we were heeled to such extremes.

"Pretty exciting!" he responds with a laugh.

"That's for sure! Kind of like the stock market."

He responds to me with a quizzical look on his face and asnort. His countenance makes me laugh as well and I tell him

"Absolutely! Absolutely!! Sailboats and stock markets areboth self-regulating mechanisms."

I'm not sure he understands what I'm getting at, but it'strue. A sailboat can be seen as an analogy for the stock market. As the windsincrease, a sail boat will heel over farther and farther, until it seems itwill almost certainly roll over and sink. But in fact, a properly designedsail boat has designed-in self-regulating mechanisms that prevent such a rollover from happening.

The self-regulating mechanisms start with the hull itself. Summer Wind has what is known as a displacement hull. Such a hull derives itsstability and flotation characteristics by displacing the sea water underneaththe hull.

In addition, there is a keel on the bottom of Summer Wind. The keel can be thought of as one end of a lever with hundreds of pounds oflead at the submerged end. That huge accumulation of ballast keeps adisplacement hull stable and in an upright position when there is no wind. This is made possible because the weight of the water being displaced by thehull, is significantly greater than the weight of the entire yacht and keel. The lead on the bottom ensures that the center of gravity for Summer Wind islocated near the water line, thus keeping her steady and upright.

As she is pushed into a more extreme angle of heel due toincreasing wind conditions, the weight of the lead in the keel exerts acontrary downward force on the hull near its lowest point. The force acts as alever on the entire yacht causing it to rotate about the center of gravity,which is the fulcrum for the lever.

If the wind continues to increase and the hull rolls into amore extreme angle of heel, the force from the keel increases, while thecounter force of the wind on the sail decreases. This occurs because theeffective sail area is reduced as the reclining sails present less of aperpendicular obstruction to the air flow over the rigging. Thus, despiteincreasing wind velocity, the force on the sails goes down.

If the hull continues to roll and the sail moves into moreof a horizontal position relative to the water, the wind begins to spill outover the top, further reducing the force of the air flow.

It's not necessary for a sailor to know all this, becauseall the competing forces are constantly jockeying to reach a balance. Theforce of the weight of the keel trying to keep the sail upright, and the forceof the wind trying to push the sail into a horizontal position relative to thewater, become equal. The balance of competing forces is why a sailboat doesn'troll over completely, as the wind increases in strength.

Another feature of a properly designed yacht like SummerWind, is the propensity of the hull to turn directly into the wind if the forceon the sails starts to overcome the resistance of the keel. As the boat'rounds up' into the wind, pivoting about the mast, the force of the wind onthe sails is further reduced. As the bow then heads into the wind, the forceof the weight in the keel will bring the yacht back into a vertical position,because after all it is a self-regulating system.

I've been explaining all this to Don who knows most of italready, but he hasn't figured out the connection to the stock market yet. Hedistracts me with a question before I have time to tell him that there areother parallels between sailors and investors. I have in mind the tendency ofsome sailors to confuse luck with skill. When they get lucky and survive anear death experience, a naive sailor will sometimes assume it is sailing expertiserather than just dumb luck.

Some investors behave the same way. The gullible investorin a secular bull market will sometimes think they are some kind of geniusbecause their net worth just keeps going up. They tend toward beingself-impressed with their asset picking prowess and confuse dumb luck withmarket trends. But before I get a chance to tell him all this, he asks me,

"Wait a minute." with evident wariness. "What has any ofthat got to do with the stock market?"

"Oh, oh, oh. I nearly forgot." I stuttered as I realizedI'd forgotten to close the loop for him.

"A stock market has multiple forces acting on it just like asail boat. As buying pressure forces the markets up, there is less and lessinterest from the 'buy' crowd, as the cash in their accounts is converted toequities or debt instruments. As market conditions change for the negative,selling pressure begins to overcome the buying pressure until the marketreaches an equilibrium of sorts, just like a displacement hull in the saltwater. The buy and sell pressures are akin to the forces from the wind on thesails and the weight of the keel, balanced against the resistance from theweight of the displaced water."

"I don't know about all that", Don says. "I'd rather put mymoney into a boat than a stock market!"

We both laughed heartily at the logic of his remark. Icouldn't disagree with him on that point, since I had done both.

I hadn't thought about forces and equilibrium in thatcontext before, but as always I am struck by the similarities shared byconcepts that transcend disciplines. All sorts of concepts and disciplinesshare the trait; even such seeming non sequiturs as forces acting onmarkets and boats that would typically be relegated to a discussion involvingphysics, economics and engineering.

When I was an unemployed practicing amateur philosopher, Icame to the conclusion that looking for similarities between disciplines yieldsmore practical results than looking for differences. I no longer dwell on it,and now similarities happen all the time, even when I am not looking for it.

For example, a stereotypical Archie Bunker type tends tocompare themselves to others, by examining and focusing on differences:religion, hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin color, ethnicity, and onand on and on... This in spite of the fact that the percentage of shared genesin the collective human gene pool is in the high 90s. People and concepts arefar more alike than different, but 'difference' still seems to be the commoncriteria for evaluating each.

Perhaps it is because the human brain makes sense of theworld by using the same tired old neuron pathways that have worked for the pastseveral millennia? Natural Selection and time have apparently ensured thatbeing able to distinguish differences, has more survival value than being ableto distinguish similarities. I don't have the answer to that and it is far tooheavy a topic to be under consideration in my present circumstances on thewater. It is time to get my focus back on the voyage and save thephilosophizing for a dockside happy hour when a margarita will help cut throughthe ambiguities of the issue.