We racing sailors like "words of wisdom."
"Words of Wisdom" are what they call those reports by winners after a regatta or an afternoon of club racing.
Everyone who wasn't a winner wants to read them so they can pick up tips on how to be winners.
I'm as guilty as the rest of the non-winners.
But I have bad news for you other non-winners.
I think that words of wisdom might be a waste of time.
Why would I say that?
Well, a few weeks back I thought I would start posting some words of wisdom from various race winners and regatta winners on this blog. I thought that if I extracted the key points from some words of wisdom and rewrote them in my own words on my blog, then I might remember them, and then I would apply the words of wisdom in actual races.
The reaction from my readers surprised me at first...
I wrote some words of wisdom from Bill Brangiforte on sailing upwind in a large fleet and got a couple of comments that they were "pretty much right out of Stuart Walker's books."
I summarized some video interviews on the Improper Course blog which had words of wisdom from winners at the Florida Laser Masters Week. A commenter on the original post, remarked, "Well, nothing new here, but it's all about getting those basics right isn't it?"
What? These words of wisdom from top sailors who had won major regattas were "basics" and right out of some books?
Well, yes. I guess they were.
So what is going on? If regatta winners do so well by simply applying well-known principles about how to start, or what strategies to use in different wind conditions, or how to go fast downwind... then why aren't we all doing these things and winning regattas too?
I thought about it for a while, and came up with these seven possible reasons why words of wisdom might be a waste of time.
1. Perhaps these top sailors are not spilling the real secrets of how they won the races? Maybe they are just explaining how they won by repeating well-known "basics" or stuff from Stuart Walker's books? This is true as far as it goes, but really they also know some super secret go-faster techniques that they are never going to reveal to everyone on the Interwebs. This theory does appeal to the paranoid side of my personality, not to mention stoking my negative self-esteem and fueling my feeling that I will always be a crap sailor. But I do find it hard to believe that the top guys could be so mean.
2. On the other hand, perhaps these top sailors have some ways of going faster and winning races that are totally subconscious? They don't even know themselves why they are so fast. They are not deliberately hiding their go-faster secrets from us mere mortal mid-fleet mediocrities because they are not even really conscious of what they are doing themselves. I like this theory even better because it means the winners are not diabolically plotting to keep the rest of us down by deliberately misleading us. I can still think of them as nice guys. But their words of wisdom are still a waste of time.
3. Or perhaps these top sailors have magical powers and super sharp senses? For example, perhaps they can see what the wind is doing way better than those of us with average (or below average) eyesight? It's all very well to know that you should stay in the puffs but if you are not seeing the stronger patches of wind on the water as well as the eagle-eyed top sailors, then no amount of words of wisdom are going to help you. I think this is my favorite theory. The winners are super-heroes with magical powers. It's not so bad getting beaten every week by sailors with extraordinary superhuman powers.
On the other hand perhaps getting the basics right is all there is to winning sailboat races? There are no secrets. Everything worth knowing on the topic has already been written and talked about and published on the Interwebs. But for some reasons, those of us who are perpetual non-winners simply don't execute the basics right. Now why would that be?
4. Perhaps we are just too unfit to get the basics right and win races? This probably does apply to some of the words of wisdom I read about Laser racing. It's all very well to say that you should hike the whole beat with straight legs and your shoulders back, or sail the whole run balanced on the soles of your feet as if you were on a surfboard, but unless you have quads of iron you are not going to be able to do those things as well as the winners do.
5. Perhaps we know the right moves but we haven't practiced them enough to execute them properly? It's all very well to read some expert talking about catching waves and to always be sailing "downhill" on waves on a run, but it's a lot harder to do it right all the time unless you've spent an enormous amount of time sailing downwind in waves.
6. Perhaps we have bad habits and even though we know, for example, what we should be doing to get a great start, when the pressure is on we revert to our old habits designed to guarantee a mediocre start?
7. Or perhaps we don't have the right mental attitude to apply the words of wisdom we have heard or read? After all there are so many things to know. In the heat of the moment on the racecourse we forget all the words of wisdom about strategy and tactics and boatspeed and boat handling and boat tuning etc. etc. and hack around the course watching the winners disappear into the distance just like they always do.
So where does that leave us?
For sure you won't win races by spending every weekend by the fireside reading words of wisdom.
If you have been racing for a few years, you probably already know pretty much everything you need to know about winning sailboat races.
All it takes now is to improve your physical fitness; develop the right mental attitude; break all your bad habits; practice, practice, practice; and then go out and race a lot.
Who knew it could be so easy?
So what do you think?
Am I missing something?
Am I missing something?
Do you really learn new stuff from words of wisdom?
Does reading words of wisdom make you a better sailor?