Friday, July 22, 2011

Competitive Sailing

Growing up in the Midwest not far from countless small lakes as well as Lake Michigan, sailing of one kind or another has always been a part of my life. From kayaks and canoes to speedboats and motor yachts, boats are familiar territory. After moving to San Francisco I gained experience on more and bigger sailboats, even being somewhat useful to have aboard. This year however, has been a little different, and that is a major understatement. At the beginning of the spring sailing season I went with a friend to crew a race on a J 105. Wow, was that an education. Knowing your way around boats is very different from knowing "how" to sail and a far cry still from being useful on a race boat. Months later, I've now lost count of how many times and races I've been out for. I've worked committee boats setting marks, crewed almost every position on all kinds of boats and met and sailed with incredibly skilled world class sailors.

Oddly enough I think I was far more confident at the beginning of the season and would, having crewed on some really big boats, happily single handed anything under 40 feet. Perhaps I've lost sight of how relaxed cruising typically is but at this point I'm an order of magnitude better and more useful and while I'm sure it would be fine, would now think twice about single handing anything over 30.

It's also been an eye opener for understanding new levels of teamwork, what a person can and can't endure, as well as simply paying attention for extended periods of time in a chaotic environment, not something I've ever experienced in cruising where the most intense things have been fending off at the dock or occasional pleas for someone to trim the main when it's luffing to save the cloth. Granted, I've done a number of things that were intense and needed loads of focus, just not active focus for hours on end. At times it's even been more intense than the competitive fencing I did in college.

I think my big take away from all of this has been actually been the value of getting outside your comfort zone.  For me that hasn't been a more intense sailing experience but rather being an active part of smaller tight knit teams in an intensely physical and personal way. There's a lot of yelling, everyone, and I mean everyone, screws up at some point in the day and if everyone is looking out for each other, someone is bound to get hurt. The more experienced crew inevitably look after the more green ones but there are times when that newbie sailor is all that stands between the boat and serious mishaps.

It's intense and again. in a different way than anything I've ever done. I've been involved in a lot of activities from climbing and caving to zero margin for error things involving firearms and explosives but those things are generally very predictable once you get past the surface. Maybe it's just that I've found something that requires more experience than I guessed to understand but it's been an incredible growth experience. Maybe if I'd grown up on the regatta scene instead of other things it wouldn't seem like this but for now I'll take it for everything it's worth.

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