Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cómo Corregir los Malos Hábitos

How do you fix a bad habit?

Can you fix it simply by saying "do it this way not that way"?

Well, that certainly doesn't work for me.

If a sailing coach points out to me a flaw in my technique, a way to do things better, I am totally incapable of telling myself, "Oh, that's a good idea. I will start doing it the way he says."

Well, I can tell myself that but I will still find myself doing it the old way when I'm not thinking about it.

The bad habits of 30 years are hard to break.

Case in point.

On the first day at Minorca Sailing our instructors pointed out to me two flaws in my tacking technique.

The first flaw was that after I have done a tack I was sitting down on the deck on the new tack, after crossing the boat, too far back.

And the second flaw was that  I was doing the hand swap after the tack all wrong.

I probably need to to explain Laser tacking technique to my three readers who don't sail Lasers to explain that last point.

When you sail a Laser you hold the sheet in your front hand and your tiller extension in your back hand. When you tack you cross the boat (facing forwards) and keep the tiller and sheet in the same hands as you hike out on the new tack. The tiller and sheet are now in the wrong hands. And the hand holding the tiller extension is now behind your back. So you take the hand holding the sheet to pick up the tiller extension. Once you have hold of the tiller extension with the new back hand you pick up the sheet with the new front hand. Then you can drop the sheet with the new tiller hand. And you are all set! Magic!

Got that?

Or did you drop off during that incredibly boring explanation.

Wait. It gets worse.

After doing all those things in that incredibly boring long paragraph the tiller extension is still vaguely banging around near the back of the boat so you need to bring it forwards so you are holding it in front of you like all those really good Laser sailors you see on YouTube are. I had never really thought about the fact that there are two ways to bring the tiller extension in front of you. You can bring it under your arm or you can swing it over in front of you. And I had thought even less that there are actually two different ways that your new tiller hand can pick up the tiller extension. You can pick it up palm up with the thumb towards the aft of the boat. Or you can pick it up palm down with the thumb towards the bow of the boat. And I had thought even less than that that if you want to swing the tiller extension over you need to do the palm up thing. And if you want to bring the tiller extension forward under your arm you need to do the palm down thing.

Got that?

I'm sorry, but that second long boring paragraph was even longer and more boring than the first long boring paragraph.

Wait. It gets better.

What the very helpful instructor at Minorca Sailing noticed was that I was grabbing the tiller extension palm down and was then doing the swing over thing, with the result that my wrist was now twisted into some anatomically impossible and potentially very painful contortion so that I now needed to grab the tiller extension again with my new front hand, let go of it with my new back hand, twist my back wrist around to a more anatomically possible and less painful position, grab hold of the tiller extension again with my back hand and let go of it with my front hand. I had replaced a simple elegant hand swap maneuver with some incredibly ugly quadruple clutch monstrosity. No wonder my tacks were so slow! No wonder I so often flubbed my tacks.


I lied.

That third long boring paragraph wasn't really any better, was it?

Anyway, after the instructor told me that on the first day, I tried to do better. I experimented with palm-up-swing-over and palm-down-under-the-arm methods. But then in the races on day 2 I found myself reverting to that ugly, risky, slow quadruple clutch nonsense. 

I find this all the time. I can do things a new way if I am thinking about that and nothing else. But if I am dealing with all the brain overload of real racing and trying to think about whether I am on port or starboard tack, and whether I am going to cross that guy, and who has right of way, and whether I am on a lift or a header, and is there more wind on the left or the right, and should I put on more downhaul or more vang, and why isn't the autobailer working, and why is that guy pointing higher than me, and where the hell is the next mark, etc. etc. etc. then I really don't have the bandwidth to think about palm-up-swing-over vs palm-down-under-the-arm.

So I skipped racing on the third day and practiced nothing else but doing tacks and gybes using palm-up-swing-over and palm-down-under-the-arm.

I discovered that my old fault of not sitting down forward enough after the tack was the reason that I wasn't doing the under-the-arm thing. It was much easier if I was far enough forward.

I discovered that palm-down-under-the-arm worked best for me on tacks and palm-up-swing-over worked better for me in gybes.

I practiced doing the hand swap on tacks and gybes the right way over and over again all afternoon. I was trying to rewire my brain to do something a different better way after possibly 30 years of doing it the wrong way.

I suspect I will need several more practice sessions like that before it is totally unconsciously automatic and that I never revert to the old bad habits.

What about you?

How do you break bad sailing habits.

After that I took the beautiful Tillerwoman to Ca Na Marga for dinner where I enjoyed Pizza Mar (with tuna, shrimp and anchovies) followed by one of the house specialities, figs with ice cream. I really can't remember what she had.

This post was way too long.

I think I'll have another beer now.


Baydog said...

Now bring us some figgy pudding, mate!

BlueVark said...

From what you describe, if you swap the tiller for some needles you could compete with the knitting sailor and make yourself a scarf!

John in PDX said...

Awesome post. Nothing boring. How are the sardines. Do you have many Spanish speaking sailors in your fleet?

Noodle said...

Breaking a bad sailing habit is easy; Spend some time quantifying just how much it sets you back. Like this: OMG, I could have won that race by XX meters if only I had tacked differently. There! It's about self-motivation.

Tillerman said...

Thanks John. Sardines excellent. I haven't heard any Spanish on the water but my friend and I are trying to learn a few words. Mas cerveza por favor!

Tillerman said...

Why didn't I think of that?

Anonymous said...

I used to use a toggle on short rope on the end of the tiller extension to bring it over my head. Someone showed my this when I was young and (even more) foolish and tiller extensions were much shorter.

With a long tiller extension I know my tacks used to involve doing something slightly different depending on which direction I'm tacking from/to. I was a mess.

Then I read about some chap from Brazil who cleats his mainsheet onto the new side as he crosses the boat and uncleats it as soon as his extension is in the new hand. I have been trying this for a year or two but I have still not one any World Championships or Olympic medals like the chap from Brazil.

My tacking technique is still completely Scheidt.

I would love to know what your instructor would make of that technique.


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