better to know where


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

In general, the worst of the effects happens right where we are on the southeast side of the island. But I am ready for the worst and looking forward to the warmth that always follows the brief but blustery gusts. As I expect, the wind quickly ramps up, forcing Summer Wind to heel over sharply, burying the toe rail and nudging the bow a little closer to the wind.

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

The extreme angle of heel forces the bow sharply into the wind and I lose control of the helm briefly. Navigation becomes impossible until Summer Wind snaps back to horizontal. We are now heading tightly into the 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 more favorable and try to slink back onto our previous course.

I'm well aware that I have way too much sail up, but I also know that the accelerated winds causing the problem are temporary. Very soon we will be in the lee of Angel Island and wondering what happened to all the wind. As I get back to the previous course, we get slammed again, but not nearly as hard as the first couple scares. The blast passes quickly and then the wind speed drops to a steady ten or twelve knots as we glide into the warmth and relative security of the wind shadow behind Angel Island.

Because of the wind speed curtailment and heading change, I have to make some judicious sail adjustments to maintain our boat speed. I start by easing both the main and the jib. We have definitely morphed into a beam reach now and I want the sail shape to match the direction and force of the 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 so strongly in the main bay. Wind chill is no longer a factor.

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

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

I am always surprised how quickly wind conditions can change in the bay. When the gusts are blowing hard and an obstruction like a land mass or a bridge abutment creates the venturi effects like those we just encountered, the wind can triple or quadruple in intensity, nearly instantaneously.

Thinking about it makes me laugh. Shaking my head, I ask Don 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 a snort. His countenance makes me laugh as well and I tell him

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

I'm not sure he understands what I'm getting at, but it's true. A sailboat can be seen as an analogy for the stock market. As the winds increase, a sail boat will heel over farther and farther, until it seems it will almost certainly roll over and sink. But in fact, a properly designed sail boat has designed-in self-regulating mechanisms that prevent such a roll over 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 its stability and flotation characteristics by displacing the sea water underneath the 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 of lead at the submerged end. That huge accumulation of ballast keeps a displacement 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 the hull, 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 is located near the water line, thus keeping her steady and upright.

As she is pushed into a more extreme angle of heel due to increasing wind conditions, the weight of the lead in the keel exerts a contrary downward force on the hull near its lowest point. The force acts as a lever 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 a more extreme angle of heel, the force from the keel increases, while the counter force of the wind on the sail decreases. This occurs because the effective sail area is reduced as the reclining sails present less of a perpendicular obstruction to the air flow over the rigging. Thus, despite increasing wind velocity, the force on the sails goes down.

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

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

Another feature of a properly designed yacht like Summer Wind, is the propensity of the hull to turn directly into the wind if the force on 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 on the sails is further reduced. As the bow then heads into the wind, the force of 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 it already, but he hasn't figured out the connection to the stock market yet. He distracts me with a question before I have time to tell him that there are other parallels between sailors and investors. I have in mind the tendency of some sailors to confuse luck with skill. When they get lucky and survive a near death experience, a naive sailor will sometimes assume it is sailing expertise rather than just dumb luck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I was an unemployed practicing amateur philosopher, I came to the conclusion that looking for similarities between disciplines yields more 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 to compare themselves to others, by examining and focusing on differences: religion, hair color, eye color, height, weight, skin color, ethnicity, and on and on and on... This in spite of the fact that the percentage of shared genes in the collective human gene pool is in the high 90s. People and concepts are far more alike than different, but 'difference' still seems to be the common criteria for evaluating each.

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