The last President of the United States said in 2014 that one maxim of his foreign policy was, “Don’t do stupid shit!” – which is just as relevant to sailing as it is to managing America’s global interests.
On Saturday we opened the RS Aero frostbiting season at Bristol with a real doozie of a day. The forecast promised a pleasant westerly breeze of 9-10 mph. The forecast was wrong.
When we launched just before 1pm, an unstable, ferocious and perverse wind was honking across Poppasquah peninsula and dumping wicked gusts randomly all over the race course accompanied by ominous streaks of white foam. 6 RS Aeros and 5 Lasers bravely ventured to the start area as I muttered cowardly to myself that I would just do one or two races and then head in.
The race officer waved his arms and gesticulated in the general direction of the wind and hailed something to the fleet. In the roar of the wind all I heard was, “through… larks… night… throat… arrows… free…” from which I deciphered that he had quite likely set two windward marks and the first race would possibly be using the right-hand one which could be in the vicinity of some kind of boat. I squinted upwind and among the clutter of mooring buoys I could just see a couple of tiny orange flags, the right hand one of which was near to a moored yacht and so I decided I would assume that was the windward mark… at least until I got closer enough to figure out a better destination or more likely when most of the rest of the fleet rounded some other mark first.
I don’t remember much else about the first beat except that one fast and normally very smart sailor decided to lead most of the fleet to a spherical orange buoy way to the right of where I was aiming. Tillerson and I rounded the right-hand tiny orange flag, everyone else decided too late that we were correct, and so I finished second behind my son in the first race of the season. Woo hoo!
I should have quit then but, in spite of my struggles to keep the boat more or less upright and moving more or less in the the right direction, something motivated me to do just one more race. And then another. And another. And before I knew it we had done eight races and the race officer invoked the mercy rule and sent us all back to shore.
As we derigged I thought I would quiz my fellow RS Aero sailors for some “words of wisdom” about the day’s racing that I could use for a blog post. Surprisingly the first things that they mentioned were all about costly mistakes they had made.
1. Don’t let go of the mainsheet and fall out the boat.
2. Don’t capsize. (Multiple offenders.)
3. Don’t capsize three times.
4. Don’t let the end of the sheet go all the way through the block.
5. Don’t get tangled up with a mooring bouy.
6. Don’t follow the fast and normally very smart sailor to the wrong mark.
From my observation of one of the other sailors I could add…
7. Don’t tack off the start line heading directly on port to Tillerman on starboard, bear sharply away to avoid him, and then do a spectacular capsize.
And from my own experiences I could offer up as samples…
8. Don’t foul a boat on the start line and have to do turns. Ugly!
9. Don’t try and win the pin end of the line by setting up too low to lay the pin. Ugh!
In our defense I can only offer that most have us hadn’t sailed since the Quahog Regatta five weeks ago. Well that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I guess it was good to get all those boo-boos out of the way in week one? Ha ha!
I would like to have offered you a more intellectual analysis of what I learned on Saturday focusing on more subtle matters of strategy and boat handling and tactics… but for now I will go with President Obama’s advice…
“Don’t do stupid shit.”