How to Lose a Sailing Club Championship

There is a global study that suggests that 75% of people think that they are not living up to their creative potential.

Well, lucky them.

I am so creative in making new and previously un-thought of mistakes that I frequently illicit comments such as "If I hadn't seen you do that with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it possible."

Sometimes my mistakes aren't that costly - like the time I capsized while tacking around the windward mark because i was checking my watch to see if I was winning on PY handicap (I told you I was creative). On that occasion I managed to get back up and still win. Just.

But other mistakes are a bit more costly.

One example that sticks in my mind happened a while ago. I was racing in a club event - it was called the Sailing Club Championship, and raced in club boats to level the playing field as much as possible. The boats were identical, and there was little advantage to have one boat over another and, as none of us raced these boats regularly, no-one had a big experience advantage. Lighter sailors were favoured over heavy ones, monohull sailors had an advantage over cat sailors, and single-hander sailors had an advantage over double-hander sailors but, to be fair, the advantages weren't massive.

It was a knockout event like this one, and so the final was the six "best" sailors on the day. The final was three races, no discard, with the last race counting for double points.

As I was a relatively light, mononhull, single-hander sailor, my odds were reasonably good for the final. But as all the best sailors had qualified for the final, my chances still weren't wonderful. All things considered, though, I hoped I might do quite well.

The day was breezy, and the wind had increased as the event went on, so the final was to be sailed in a force 4, gusting a high 5/low six. The course was windward/leeward - we'd beat to the windward mark, run down to a leeward gate, back up to the top mark, down to the gate again, and beat to the finish.

I got a decent start in the first race, and rounded second, which I held till the final downwind. The leader was ahead by about ten boatlengths or so, and we had built a decent lead on the other four finalists.

Then a big puff came racing down the course. It hit me and I took off, planing nicely. Then it hit the leader and, in one of those moments that I pretend not to enjoy, he went into a wild death-roll and capsized in a haze of spray.

Suddenly I was in the lead.

The gate was heavily biased, and the mark which would be rounded to port was heavily favoured. I had planned to go that way, and so prepared to gybe in the squall. As soon as I entered the gybe I knew it wasn't going to end well. I was still in the squall and, being unfamiliar with the boat, I was unaware how brave I needed to be entering the gybe. I was too tentative, lost control, the boom hit the water, and I was swimming. I got the boat back up and, although I made two spots on the finish line, I ended fourth. A 1-2 in the last two races was good, but it was only enough to get me second overall. It had been a costly capsize.

The ridiculous thing was, it had been completely unnecessary. As soon as the leader capsized, I should have re-thought my priorities. I had intended to go for the favoured mark mostly in order to try and overtake the boat ahead. But I was also going to the favoured mark because that's what I had been taught to do, that was what I had read I should do, and because that was what I always did.

But, as he'd capsized, that no longer mattered. The rest of the fleet was a long way back, and rounding the unfavoured buoy would not have cost me anything other than distance.

And, as all sailors know, you get the same points for winning by a foot as you do for winning by a whole leg. I hadn't needed to risk gybing in an unfamiliar boat in the middle of a squall. I could have played the percentages, rounded the unfavoured mark safely and finished in first.

But I didn't.

Still, if I didn't make these daft mistakes I'd never learn anything, and I might feel that I'm not living up to my creative potential.

And being creative and learning - that's what's important.


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