Part-Time Passions: December 2010

Read about IEEE members whose hobbies are sailing and disc golf

6 December 2010

Eric Forsyth
Sailing the Open Seas

In the 46 years that IEEE Life Fellow Eric Forsyth has been sailing, he has circumnavigated the globe twice, churned through the dangerous waters of Cape Horn four times and the Arctic and Antarctic oceans three times, and cruised through the Panama Canal, Baltic Sea, and waters of the Far East.

Since retiring in 1995 as chair of the accelerator development department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, N.Y., he says he has spent more time on water than on land.

Forsyth was profiled in Cruising World, Yachting, and Latitude 38 magazines. He received the Cruising Club of America's 2000 Blue Water Medal for an 11-month, 37 000-kilometer voyage to Antarctica and South Africa. He chronicles his adventures at and

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"Traveling by boat is not the same as being a tourist," Forsyth says. "You arrive at a crummy dock instead of a nice hotel, and you have to arrange to get fuel and parts to repair your boat, which usually needs maintenance after a few weeks at sea. Most docks are in the scruffy parts of town. All of this gives you a different sense of what a country is like."

Forsyth usually sails with crew members, but he sometimes sails solo—which once nearly cost him his life. On a trip from Bermuda to New York, his mast collapsed in a strong wind some 550 km off Long Island. "That was a very bad night," he recalls. "I was alone and had just enough fuel to get home to Long Island without sails."

The British-born Forsyth started sailing shortly after he moved to the United States to work at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1960. Upton is on Long Island, which offered numerous sailing clubs. Forsyth joined one and within four years had graduated from 5- to 7-meter vessels. Soon he was part of a crew that took a 14-meter boat on a trip to England in 33 days. After that, he mainly cruised up and down the East Coast during holidays and vacations on his 11-meter boat.

In 1975, he bought the 13-meter bare hull of his current boat, Fiona, and spent the next eight years completing it. "It was tremendous therapy," he says with a laugh. "I'd come home from work and vent my frustrations on a piece of wood."

Since retiring, he has spent an average of eight months a year at sea. Sailing costs him about US $40 000 per year.

"It's not a cheap hobby," he says, "but you only pass through this vale of tears once."


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Tim Kopacz
Flying Saucers

Take a Frisbee, add some bowling alley footwork, mix in some golf strategy, and you've got disc golf.

Three or four times a week, you can find IEEE Member Tim Kopacz, a senior project engineer at American Transmission Co. in De Pere, Wis., indulging his passion. He has been playing disc golf since 1998, in college, and he has competed in 25 amateur tournaments since 2003. Kopacz even turned his hobby into a family affair: He and his wife played the game on their honeymoon, and they play it now with their children when they're on vacation.

The game, first formalized in the 1970s, is played on grounds that are about a third the size of a golf course. The goal is to land a flying disc in targets—typically 18 baskets on a course—in as few throws as possible. Discs come in various shapes, sizes, and plastics, enabling different flight behaviors. Unlike traditional golf courses, disc golf courses use the natural terrain. So a typical course requires maneuvering discs around trees or over streams. Players attach ribbons to discs to find them in snow, and glow sticks to see them at night.

"I like the complexity of disc shapes and flights," Kopacz says. "You can get different results by the way you throw different types of discs, or by changing the angle of your release or the power of your throw. I got hooked after watching the pattern of the disc's flight through the trees."

The sport is relatively inexpensive. It costs nothing to use most courses, and each player needs only one disc, which runs about US $11. Most players have an arsenal of a dozen or so specialized discs; Kopacz owns about 400. "I always have to check out the latest technology," he says.

He enjoys the active nature of the sport, he adds. "It's almost like bowling in that you need to take approach steps before the end of the tee pad, where you throw the disc," he says. "The number of steps and angle at which you release the disc change the throw."

Kopacz has leveraged his technical skills to another aspect of disc golf: course design. He designed a free course in his hometown that he has run since 2004. "I built the course with a group of friends," he explains. "My project engineering background came in handy in preparing a proposal that outlined construction, equipment, and maintenance costs." This year he helped design a course in Iron River, Mich.

If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors:

Photos: Eric Forsyth (top); Erin Kopacz (bottom)

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