Some years ago I was living in a shared house. I was sitting in the living room with a couple of friends (doing something constructive like watching TV or playing Goldeneye on a N64) when my girlfriend rushed in.
"There's a spider in our bedroom!" She announced, looking at me.
I stood up purposefully and prepared to stride upstairs manfully and deal with the situation, when a house-mate spoke up.
"I wonder how he got there." He mused.
"He probably just went up the stairs." Someone suggested.
"Couldn't have. Spiders can't climb stairs." My house-mate pointed out.
This stopped us all in our tracks. Spiders can't climb stairs? My house-mate stuck to his guns for a good five minutes before it became apparent what had happened. When he was a kid he'd been afraid of spiders, and the thought of them being in his room had kept him awake. So his parents had told him that he didn't need to worry - spiders couldn't climb stairs.
And he'd never had occasion to question the belief, so he'd made it into his early twenties quietly believing that spiders can't climb stairs.
"But what has this got to do with sailing?" I hear you ask.
Well, I was getting to that before you so rudely interrupted me.
You see, when I learnt to sail as a kid I was told that daggerboards were necessary to stop the boat slipping sideways due to the force of the wind. Which is true. But the impression I was given was that they were essentially a blocker (which is also true in part), but I never knew that they were designed to create lift too.
Anyway, when I was a young Optimist sailor, I kept my boat and foils as perfect as possible for two reasons. The first was that everyone else did, so it seemed important. The second was that, psychologically, I felt at a disadvantage if my boat had scratches - far more of a disadvantage than I think would be remotely realistic. So to avoid this psychological speed-bump I kept the hull and foils in good shape.
But when I returned to sailing in my early thirties I was a) determined to avoid these weird psychological pitfalls that I'd had as a teenager; and b) not looking to sail in national competitions for at least a couple of years, so I was less fussy about my equipment.
On the day I went to buy my Laser I had two key things in mind:
- Buy a Laser with the XD kit - a friend had told me that I'd regret it otherwise; and
- Negotiate the price. The reason for this was that I had virtually no idea how much any given Laser should cost, so I figured if I negotiated a bit off the price then I probably wouldn't be paying an excessive amount for my boat.
The guy I bought my Laser off is one of the best guys you could hope to meet. But I didn't know this at the time. Nor did I know that he was selling the boat for a very reasonable price, and I should have bitten his arm off straight away.
Instead I looked the boat over, checked it had an XD kit, and then asked him how much he wanted for the boat.
He told me the price.
I had practiced for this moment. I sighed, I shrugged my shoulders, and then I pointed to the daggerboard.
"The board's not in great shape. I'll probably have to fix it or replace it, to be honest." I'm rubbish at negotiating in these situations, but he very generously reduced the price by 50 euro. i didn't have the stomach for any more negotiation, so I gave him the cash and had myself a Laser.
What I didn't know was that he had sold me a really good boat for a song, and I'd had the cheek to negotiate. I still feel bad about it now.
Anyway, needless to say given my boat-maintenance skills, I never did fix the daggerboard. but as I started reading about sailing and chatting to people I came to get the notion that the daggerboard was rather more than a block of wood to shove into the water to stop the boat going sideways. This notion came to a head when I attended a talk by a top sailor. As part of the talk he got to talking about foils. And he reckoned that a small chip out of a daggerboard could cost you around 100 yards in an average race.
What! 100 yards!
This is what my daggerboard looked like:
So when my birthday came around that year I asked for a new daggerboard.
Actually, I asked for a new boat. When my wife had finished laughing and composed herself, I then asked for a new daggerboard.
And when I used it I won, beating a friend who had come fifth in the Irish Laser Masters, and who would finish second in the next Irish Masters. Admittedly the conditions suited me, but it certainly hadn't slowed me down.
Funnily enough, I think it psychologically helped me (even though I'm supposed to be trying to avoid all that stuff), because I'd been told that having a top quality daggerboard would noticeably help me. And so had my club competitors, so some of them thought I'd be faster with the new plate too.
I think what what we can all take from this is:
- Always think about what you think you know, because you might be working on a misconception;
- Don't under-estimate the effect that the right bit of new kit can have on you and your competitors;
- Spiders can go up stairs (apologies to any arachnophobes that didn't want to know this); and
- Never believe what your parents tell you.
Now, I'm off to tell the kids that if they don't go straight to sleep tonight their ears will fall off.
Oh, and if anyone wants to volunteer to fix my old blade then here's a video to help you: