You Have to be Humble to Win
This is a subject that I have visited and revisited many times in sailing. Just when you think you are invincible, you find yourself in last place. As a coach, I found myself discussing this subject with many sailors who found themselves struggling with their results despite spending many months of intensive training. The venue is the 2019 RS400 Open at Warsash. The conditions were very light and tidal in the area between Southampton Water and the Solent. With the wind and the current almost in line (both against us), we started the first race. The marks were well laid and we started at the pin that was perhaps slightly favoured and then once we got a small header we tacked and crossed the fleet. The race appeared seamless and our boat speed appeared dominant as we held off Steve Restall and Chris Stubbs with Howard Farbrother and Lou taking third place. So at this moment, there might have been a feeling of overconfidence - which this lesson is all about, it is something to avoid. So came the lesson:
Race 2. The wind had gone right (more towards the South) and the current was now running East. This would make starting more tricky as there was no way of slowing down if you are a little early. I noticed the Race Officer and his helpers measuring the wind direction on their anchored Committee Boat - which normally gives me a warning sign that the course will be a little skewed. Sure enough, the tidal wind was 90 degrees left of the true wind -- giving our apparent wind a sharp left shift. This made the pin very very favoured and the beat to have very little starboard. I had my doubts that the current had changed at the windward mark as much as it had in the starting area as the current normally changes near the shore first. However, I knew that an early port tack would be a sensible and safe option. So why did I try and start on Starboard? Not too sure to be honest. Perhaps I thought that most would be over the line and that we might be carried over if we tacked and so we found ourselves (do you like the "we" now that it is really my fault) with a poor start crossing the line near the pin. At this stage, we should have tacked and ducked behind those on our hip. Instead, the overconfidence monkey held me on for another 30 seconds or more, as I was sure we had the speed to lee bow and then tack. That 30 - 40 seconds lasted forever. We finally tacked and found ourselves on, or perhaps above, the port tack lay line. Cautiously, I pressed harder for speed and was surprised to see that the current near the windward mark was just as strong pushing us up on port tack. Those smart sailors, Steve Restall & Chris Stubbs, Howard Farbrother and Lou who started on port were now looking fantastic. If only we had tacked straight away.... We came into the top mark playing dodgems with a large train of starboard tackers and sneaked in ahead of Mick and Sarah Whitmore. We hoisted straight away - but because the course was skewed to the right - we could barely carry the kite. Adding to this, the headed breeze from the fleet above us - we were sunk. Finally, at the outer loop mark, we had the option to follow the rest into the shore on starboard. There appeared to be a small lift as we approached the mark - or was it the lack of boats heading our breeze -- so we gybed. A nice gradual header took us on the great circle route to the corner and ensured we were dead last as we came back to the leeward mark. At least I was sure the wind was going more right now. On the last lap we grovelled back to 14th. If only we had tacked at the start ... held on at the gybe mark... I knew I had let our speed get the better of our strategy. Only after reading the results did I see that Steve and Chris had won that race with Howard & Lou in second and Caroline & Adam Whitehouse in third. Well played you guys. :-) The last race of the day, the course was moved more to the South. The start line was moved and we had another tricky race. Finally, we had some breeze to hike with. Alex Horlock and his crew Robin Kirby stretched their legs to take the gun. We found a lucky gust on the last downwind to sneak a second from Sean Cleary and Ian Verso. I would have bet Steve and Chris to also storm through, but perhaps they had also suffered from the overconfidence monkey.
My money for the last day was on Steve and Chris to sail out their discard. We were unable to make the second day and expected to read about some great racing on Sunday. Luckily the wind did not play the game and our results counted. I had one other great coaching lesson to share which on reflection should really be shared here. A Star World Champion had once said: - sail every race as if it will count. Perhaps Howard and Lou had been at that coaching session too? They certainly held their series together, winning counting an 8th. Pete Mitchell and Sarah Newton in coming second showed how consistent sailing can get great results. We were still able to take some positives away with us. I was particularly pleased how my new Booster Outhaul Elastic had worked releasing the outhaul and helped to make the Rooster 80mm Clew Strap run a dream.
I also had reduced the tension in the elastic take up on the kicker by adding an extra small Selden 20mm Block, tied on with some Secure Tie Dyneema® to ensure I could let the mainsail twist downwind in extremely light conditions. The new 8mm Polilite® mainsheet inspired by the RS400, was also a success. It was easy on the hands, did not take up much water and ran through the blocks a dream. I had also put a short line to hold the aft control block on the mainsheet. I had issues with the sheet trapping here and now this was running well, although I was worried it might allow the main to drop more off the centre. I was glad to see that we still had height.
However, I am looking forward to exorcising race two - perhaps I will use it to remind myself to stay humble in the future.