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Sailing Myths

Reprint of an article by Ray Davidson in the Summer 2001 issue of the CRYA newsletter Canadian Radio Yachting

Sailboat racing is a great sport, but sometimes its enjoyment and our success at the pond is hindered by the myths in which we allow ourselves to believe. Perhaps we should spend a little time in looking at the common myths and decide that myths are what they areóreality is something else.

Myth - The purpose of the game is to win.

Most of us rarely admit being interested in anything other than winning, yet few of us do win. In most cases, our finishing order is determined by where we believe we deserve to be. We choose our classes and events to ensure a desired outcome and although a few expect to win, most of us have an outcome in mind that is either satisfying or dissatisfying. We consider the time, effort, expense, etc., that we apply to the event and make a judgement as to the position which we should finish. If we find ourselves ahead of our expected position, we often unconsciously manoeuvre to get back where we belong.


Myth - Boat speed is a determinant of the game.

Boat speed certainly makes most any skipper look good, but few win regattas on boat speed alone. Our true competitors, the ones we wish to beat, have equal speed.

I for one cannot remember a race that I did not lose because of my mistakes. We have all seen a skipper who is rarely in the first ten places acquire the latest yacht or the one that has just won the regatta, then wonder why it will not go "as fast" for him when in the hands of the previous skipper, it was unbeatable.

Myth - Winners know more than the losers.

How often have we said "if only I knew as much as so and so Iíd win every race". Yet the winners, usually sailing by the seat of their pants, often know less about the causes of their victory than the losers. Most of the time the ability to take and keep the lead is a lot more related to psychological factors than to intellectual ones.

There are those in our hobby who are so capable of getting the most out of a boat and its rig that they can hardly tell a fast boat from a slow one. What they have is a desire and determination to win and it hardly ever occurs to them that they can be beaten.

A lot of us seem to have little insight into why we won a race, but can usually pinpoint a few pertinent reasons why we lost. Most of us believe that next time when we correct the mistakes of last time we will win, but in the end we only manage to make new mistakes.

Myth - Sailing is fair.

The Rules - Racing Rules of Sailing - Class Rules and the Sailing instructions intend our game to be fair. Yet we all seem to do our best to get an unfair advantage. We buy boats, sails and equipment that will perhaps give us an edge, and try to ensure that our boat is better prepared than the competition.

None of us would want to win by sailing a boat that was say out of rating, that is, being 3 or 4 inches longer on the waterline or had 50 sq ins more sail. But we will happily buy a new suit of sails that may be better than our competitors and be pleased with our better performance. We improve our sail controls and winches, sand and polish our hull and practice not so that we will be equal to our competitors, but so that we will have an advantage.

Myth - Winning is evidence of superior sailing skills. The winner demonstrates he deserves to win, and the loser that the deserves to lose.

If this is so, why is it then that any satisfaction on the part of the winner is so short-lived and likewise the dissatisfaction on the part of the loser. In reality, the skipperís skill is but one variable among many others. "He who makes the fewest mistakes, wins." Another variable is who else showed up.

In actuality, few competitors notice the performance of others because they are too busy worrying about their own. Some skippers feel depressed when they lose, convinced it is their fault entirely and that everyone else has witnessed their defectiveness. Actually the presence or absence of mistakes of their competitors greatly influences the outcome and few, if any of them, recall anything about anyone elseís performance.

Myth - Losing is depressing . . . only winning is fun.

If this is true, why then do most of us lose regularly? The object of the game is to win, but the object of playing the game is to participate and to somehow affect the outcome of any event. If they posted the results of the regatta before it was sailed and showed that you had won, would you show up to compete?  What I think attracts and keeps us trying is our wish to be challenged, to try to do better.

An eminent sailor once said, "Sailing isnít fun, winning is!". But what if we won every time we went sailing, wouldnít we soon get bored and switch to another class in which the course and outcome would be in doubt . . . so that it could be more fun?

Most of us are satisfied when we perform well regardless of our actual standing. Sailboat racing is a game and a game is fun because it is unpredictable. When we play we accept variations in ability, equipment and conditions and understand that their varied effects on the course and outcome are part of the game.

Success or failure on the course correlates to our state of mind. The good sailors who constantly win do so because their state of mind is positive and confident. They look for reasons to win, not excuses to lose. Maybe they have dispelled these myths. Perhaps then itís time for you to do the same.



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Last modified: November 24, 2005