Sunday, May 15, 2016
How is it possible to forget how to sail?
At Minorca Sailing on Saturday it was blowing 10-15 knots and I sailed an RS Aero 7 and practiced with about ten Laser sailors from the Advanced Laser Class. I hadn't been in an RS Aero since the Archipelago Rally last October, although I did sail my Laser about a dozen times over the winter.
The RS Aero felt very strange and unfamiliar.
It was almost like going back to the first time I sailed an RS Aero, here in Minorca in October of 2014. In fact, on re-reading that post about my first time in an RS Aero it seemed like I am even more of a klutz in the boat now than I was then. But that might have been because the wind on Saturday was very shifty and gusty demanding quick reactions to every change in wind speed and direction.
We practiced tacks and gybes and "follow the leader" on every point of sail. Upwind I was struggling to keep the boat flat and every tack and gybe was an adventure. Reaching and sailing downwind was a lot more fun. It always is in an Aero.
But after being out of an Aero for over six months it seems like my "muscle memory" for how to balance the boat and do tacks and gybes without drama has deserted me. But then that's why I am here. I figured a couple of weeks pre-season tune-up in an RS Aero wouldn't do any harm at all.
After we came off the water I was comparing notes with the other sailors. After I explained how strange and new the Aero felt to me, one of the Laser sailors commented, "It's just like riding a bike. You don't forget how to sail."
Hmmm. I'm not so sure. I think sailing is more like solving the Rubik's Cube than riding a bike.
Here are two reasons for this assertion...
1. Nobody really needs to be taught to ride a bike. You just practice for a bit, perhaps with training wheels, and eventually it comes to you.
On the other hand not many people can work out how to solve a Rubik's cube without having to be instructed on the moves to make for each step of the process. Then you have to memorize those moves. Then you practice those moves until it seems like your conscious mind is not remembering the instructions but rather that your fingers "know" what to do at each stage of the process.
Similarly not many people just go out in a sailboat and learn by trial and error how to sail. They take some lessons and learn how to reach and beat and run and tack and gybe and all that good stuff. They learn how to set the sail controls and how to trim the sail for each point of sail. At first they have to think hard about what they have been taught but the more they practice the more it comes naturally.
Much more like learning to solve a Rubik's Cube than learning to ride a bike.
2. Once you know how to ride a bike you really don't forget. Sometimes I don't ride a bike for a couple of years but I can still get back on a bike and my mind knows perfectly how to pedal and steer and balance a bike.
But you can forget how to solve a Rubik's cube. 30 years ago I knew how to do it. I picked a cube up a few weeks ago and realized I had completely forgotten how to solve it. So I found a good website with all the instructions and relearned the process. I practiced the process and now my fingers "know" what to do. It'a a great trick for impressing the grandchildren!
And if I don't sail for a few months - or even don't sail one particular class for a few months - then when I get back in the the boat I do find I have forgotten how to sail the boat properly. Sure my conscious mind knows the basics like which way to push the tiller or when to sheet in or out. But the automatic ability to sail the boat efficiently and keep it flat when sailing upwind and to do nice smooth tacks and gybes has gone. I need to practice and practice and practice to relearn those skills. That's where I was with the RS Aero on Saturday.
You can lose many of your sailing skills if you don't practice them regularly.
Much like forgetting how to solve a Rubik's Cube. But you never forget how to ride a bike.
What do you think? Is sailing like riding a bike? Or more like solving a Rubik's cube?
More importantly why do we lose some skills if we don't practice them regularly, but not lose other skills that we don't use for years?