On Giving and Receiving Advice

I like advice. Or, rather, I like receiving advice. I’m less good at giving it.

This might seem odd given that this website has lots of posts on how to do things, but in fact it isn’t that odd at all – this site is all about receiving advice. All the information is gathered from experts, people that have won Olympic medals, world championships, national championships, and so on. It is a collection of what the experts recommend for the different skills and aspects of sailing.

I always try to ask for advice. For instance, a couple of years ago I was racing in a club race, and a very good sailor (a former world champion and Olympic campaigner) overtook me, passing me to leeward on a reach. This is not good, no matter how good the sailor.

So after the race I asked him what had happened – how had he managed to pass me through my windshadow. In fact, I already partly knew. I figured I had to have my set-up wrong in some way, but I was interested to hear what he could tell me.

The first thing he said was that I hadn’t adjusted my settings enough – there had been a small increase in windspeed and I hadn’t made the necessary adjustments. He didn’t say it, but it was clear that my head had been too focused on the fact that they were going faster than me, and not enough on what I should have been doing myself. Most of us do this sometimes, getting nervous or distracted by the boats around us rather than sailing for the conditions we are in. It is a valuable lesson to learn.

He also said that his boat had better ‘carry’ – we sail mixed fleets at this particular club, and his boat carries its boatspeed better than mine, meaning that when they hit my windshadow the boat didn’t decelerate as much as mine would. In that situation, carrying good speed into the leeward pass helps to get through the windshadow more easily.

Finally, he pointed up as soon as he hit my windshadow. This has the effect of sailing on a faster point of sail (in this case from a broad reach to a beam reach), and of moving the apparent wind forward, effectively making my windshadow shorter. This was interesting as it wasn’t something I had really considered before.

All very useful stuff. And stuff I wouldn’t have found out if I hadn’t asked.

That’s why I always try to ask.

But giving advice can be more tricky.

Often after a race someone will say something like “You were going well downwind today”, or “I was doing alright until you passed me at the leeward mark”. Sometimes I am aware of something specific, some boat-handling thing or tactical thing, that would help them in the future.

But are they asking for advice? Or are they just having a post-race chat?

I’ll normally try to pass what I know on, but I often feel a little awkward. Not everyone wants to hear what they were doing wrong – there is obviously an implicit criticism when someone tells you something you could have done better.

And it kind of feels like you are setting yourself up as an expert when you tell another sailor something that they got wrong. I’m an ok sailor – I’ve won club championships, the odd open meeting or regatta – but I’m not a world champion. I don’t consider myself an expert.

But, by the same token, people do want to improve. Just as I don’t want others thinking I’m setting myself up as a resident expert, I also don’t want people thinking I’m withholding information. And this is why I normally pass the information on. People can take it or leave it, but at least I know I’m not holding stuff back for some advantage or other. I always think the more we help each other the better we all get.

All of which is why I make sure that I ask. Other sailors are pretty much always helpful, and if you ask specifically for advice you will normally get it. And it is almost always veryuseful.

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