Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why Words of Wisdom Aren't Crap

Last Monday I wrote a typically rambling and incoherent post in which I questioned why the "words of wisdom" we often hear from winners of regattas are often simply well-known basic principles about boat-handling or tactics or strategy, "wisdom" that has even been published in sailing books before. They are not the super-secret magic go-faster tricks that many of us are hoping to hear. I speculated on various reasons why this may be so.

Today I was accused of asking "whether words of wisdom are just crap."

No. I don't think words of wisdom are just crap.

Having pondered the matter over a few glasses of good Scotch whisky in the intervening week, I think I have finally seen the truth.

The reason why all sailing regattas are won time and time again by the same few sailors, less than 5% of the total number of competitors, is that the rest of us non-winners simply fail to apply and execute those basic racing principles as consistently and well as the winners do.

Sure the winners may have excellent boatspeed, may even know the odd go-faster secret, but when they regurgitate the same old well-known principles such as how to get a good start, how to sail a beat in shifty, puffy conditions, or how to sail fast in waves downwind... they are really doing us non-winners a huge favor. They are telling us what we need to hear. "Get the basics right and you too will have the chance to be a winner."

Yes, it may also be true that we non-winners aren't as fit as the winners, and that we may not have practiced as much as the winners; but the fundamental reason we don't win is that we don't have the right habits, the habits of applying those basic principles every time in every race.

So how do you change habits? How do you develop good habits? Read any book on the subject or just do the 21st century thing and google it. You will get the same answers. All the experts will talk about the same things...

Write it down

Positive self-talk




In other words, the more you write about and think about and imagine what you want to do, the more likely it is that you will actually do it.

So no, I don't think words of wisdom are just crap.

Actually I think I need to read and study and write about and blog about those words of wisdom even more. Because then I might actually remind myself to apply those basic principles of how to win sailboat races, and convince myself I can really do those things well.

So I'm going to start blogging even more about words of wisdom, about all the well-known advice on how to race well, about how to win.

It might do me some good. It might even do some of my readers some good.

Watch this space...


O Docker said...

Couldn't you just blog about good Scotch whiskey?

O Docker said...

Oops. It looks like I have committed an embarrassing solecism. That should have been good Scotch whisky.

Tillerman said...

I think I was taken to task once upon a time somewhere in the blogosphere for the same solecism. I forgive you.

/Pam said...

Oh, for heaven's sake, make up your mind! I'm looking forward to reading your words of wisdom about word of wisdom. Might I suggest reading Chapter 23-26 of Frank Bethwaite's "Higher Performance Sailing." He set out to answer your exact question of why the same group of sailors always win and whether he could teach the average sailors to win. In typical Frank fashion, he designed a sailing simulator that recorded all sorts of information and tested all sorts of theories. He was able to precisely measure the difference in a world champion and an average sailor. I don't know why the simulator never went commercial. He discovered he could teach the average to be winners.

Steve Mackay @ Indented Head Yacht Club said...

"Words of Wisdom" are great but there is a difficulty in sorting them and then remembering them.

But thanks for the tip re anchoring the tiller extension behind you and steering with weight (which might have been on another site you referred to) in light winds.

I tried it out and actually was first over the line (and on handicap).

(In honesty I should point out that our top three were at another Regatta)

Now I must remember those starting tips (and remember not to get excited if I pass a boat)

Tillerman said...

Hi Steve, glad that tip about light air steering helped. I do it that way some times and I think it helps but it doesn't really feel natural and comfortable to me yet.

And I think Indented Head YC is the best name ever for a sailing club. Near Melbourne I believe.

Tillerman said...

Did I change my mind /Pam? I thought my previous post was leading towards a conclusion like this.

I don't think I have that particular book of Frank's, but I suspect if he thought the answer was a sailing simulator he was focusing on how to teach people better boat handling and boat speed, which is very much the topic of his final book about Fast Handling. I am slowly working my way through that one.

I'm sure being able to sail faster than most or all the fleet is a huge reason why the winners win too. But that's not to take anything away from the point of this post, that folk like me in the middle to back of the fleet could improve by doing all those (often basic) things usually mentioned in words of wisdom from winners.

PeconicPuffin said...

Beautiful photo of the scotch.

Re wisdom and winning, I'm mindful of the definition of luck that says Luck is when Preparation meets Opportunity. It's one thing to know what's best to do. It's quite another to relentlessly DO that. I've seen enough races in which the winner was the last person off the line (by a lot) because they stayed on top of what they could control, whilst the sailors in front one by one were overtaken. Make your own luck. Or at least vigorously practice not sucking so much.

Tillerman said...

Glad you like the photo but I didn't take it. I found it somewhere on the Interwebs.

You say, "It's one thing to know what's best to do. It's quite another to relentlessly DO that." Exactly. I think I pretty well "know" by now what I need to do to win races. I just don't "do" it consistently. I'm hoping that by writing about some of those things more often on this blog I will change my bad habits.

O Docker said...

Do, or do not.

There is no write.

Tillerman said...

Thanks yoda.

I write therefore I am.

Anonymous said...

If you are fast you will usually look smart because your speed will save you time and time again.

For example, when a good sailor has a bad start he knows to do something right away. Sailors further back in the fleet will have a bad start and then sail along dazed till that poor position is now permanent. They lack the boat speed and the quick decision making process to get out of trouble. You can tell a back marker that when he starts poorly he should do x, y or z and do it quickly but he will not and if attempts anything at all it will often worsen the situation not improve it.

You will often do the smart thing on the course if you are fast, simply because to get fast you must do a lot of racing and training and with that racing comes experience.

What appears to be wisdom to some is nothing but an articulated truth from someone that has done a lot of sailing.

"Why did you hold on longer on that tack?" you ask them. They could refer to Stuart Walker and quote something that only 10% of people understand and the other 90% pretend to understand, but the fact is that if you have sailed enough and I mean predominately regatta sailing, they will often know when to tack back to the fleet almost instinctively.

There is not enough time while racing to assess all the variables as you see done in a book or as elucidated by a coach after a race, that is why coaching without time in the boat will fail and reading all the books will not generally move you higher up the fleet. It is ultimately training that matters if you want to acquire wisdom.


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