Having started a group writing project on your worst mistake or most embarrassing moment in sailing, I feel obliged to write a post on that topic myself. But which incident to choose? I am such a klutz in the boat that I have had so many embarrassing moments.
How about the only time in five years I had a chance to win a race in our Laser frostbite series and then my gooseneck broke? Lesson #1 - check your fittings for corrosion regularly.
Or one of the many occasions when I screwed up a mark rounding such as the time I made so many mistakes in one windward mark rounding I went from being among the leaders to almost last in a 60 boat fleet. Lesson #2 - don't try an approach to the windward mark on the port tack layline if it's likely to be crowded when you get there.
Starting is one of the areas of my game that I would really like to improve. So many times a mistake on the start line will ruin my race. Sometimes I try for a squirrel start (going for the gap at the boat end of the line) but there are at least ten ways I have found to screw them up. Lesson #3 - A squirrel start is a high risk option.
Sailboat racing is as much a mental as a physical game and sometimes I fail to think ahead. Such as the time when in trying to get inside one sailor at a leeward gate I managed to get myself trapped outside a line of starboard tackers leaving the leeward mark. Lesson #4 - don't get so involved in boat-to-boat tactics that you lose sight of the big picture.
It's never too late to make a mistake in a sailboat race. Such as the time when I fouled a fellow competitor when approaching on port tack at the left end of the finish line. Lesson #5 - remember that if a large committee boat is at the left end of the finish line you can't tack straight through it.
Then there was the time when I almost messed up a start for the whole fleet at my first Sunfish North American Championship. For some reason I was to windward of the line a couple of minutes before the start when, BANG!, my whole rig came crashing down on my deck. My halyard had come undone from the upper spar and so there I was, totally out of control drifting down into the fleet setting up for a start. Lesson #6 - tie a stopper knot in the end of the line before you tie a clove hitch or rolling hitch on the halyard.
But then a fellow Sunfish sailor not involved in that start saw my predicament and tried to rescue me by towing me away from the start area. She sailed by and so I grabbed hold of the bridle at the back of her boat and she started to tow me. Then I ripped the bridle out of her deck. Lesson #7 - don't grab hold of a fellow Sunfish sailor's bridle.
I can't remember how this incident ended. Perhaps it was so bad my mind has blocked it out?
Talking of Sunfish, perhaps my most embarrassing moment was during our Wednesday night Twilight series. I was setting up for a start at the boat end of the line next to the small whaler being used as a committee boat. There was a crowd of boats at this end and I ended up being squeezed out to the right of the committee boat. As the starting horn went off I could look down the line and see the whole fleet crossing the line right on time. Or perhaps they were a little early. I was thinking, "General Recall? I do hope there's a general recall." Duh. I must have been thinking out loud. Because some of the sailors who had crossed the line heard me and thought it was the race officer hailing, "General Recall." (This is the standard method in this fleet). So these sailors started hailing the sailors further left and most of the fleet turned back assuming that a recall had been called. The race officer had no alternative but to actually have a general recall. Oops. How red was my face? I apologized profusely to all concerned but I still felt bad about it. Lesson #8 - keep your mouth shut.
Actually I can screw up even before arriving at the regatta. Such as the day when I drove all the way from New Jersey to Cape Cod to sail in a North American Laser Masters Championship to be held later that week without thinking to phone ahead to check if the regatta had been cancelled. Maybe I should have guessed. But it seemed a good idea at the time to get away from the area around New York City. When I arrived at Hyannis YC to drop off my boat there was a sombre meeting of race officials at the club who looked at me as if I were crazy. Perhaps he hasn't heard the news today? They gently informed me that the regatta had been called off. The date: September 11 2001.
So that makes nine dumb mistakes. And the title says Top Ten Worst Sailing Mistakes. Oh, I guess the tenth mistake is not being able to count...