Thursday, December 01, 2005


How do you feel when you win a sailing race or regatta?

Satisfaction, joy, exultation, pride? You would think that any or all of these would be appropriate.

Me? I usually feel numb. Yes, numb.

Don't get me wrong. My brain isn't wired up in some bizarre way that I can't take pride in my own achievements. When I accomplished some academic or professional ambition, usually after years of hard work and often against tough competition, I was able to take pride in my achievement. I hope I was outwardly modest; but inwardly I would not be lacking in lashings of positive self-esteem.

And I can experience immense elation from an athletic achievement. When I ran my first marathon at the age of 56 I strutted around for days wearing a T-shirt saying: Disney World Marathon - I Did It.

Any regular reader of this blog knows that sailing is the passion of my life and gives me all sorts of satisfactions and pleasures. So what is wrong with me? Why does winning leave me cold? It's not as if I'm not trying to win.

I think it's because when I reflect realistically on why I have won there are two alternative explanations, neither of which is a reason for celebration.

If I have raced against people that I usually beat, then I expect to win. Where's the fun in that?

In the much, much more infrequent occasions
(perhaps three times in the last ten years) when I win a regatta by triumphing over sailors that usually beat me, I am not fooled. I did not suddenly become a better sailor. I either won because my opponents made crucial mistakes. (He failed to cover me on the final beat of the last race.) Or through luck. (I was finding streaks of wind in the middle of the course all day while the top guys were chasing each other up the side that was usually favored.)

The other reason why winning a sailing regatta doesn't deliver the same psychic reward as, say, the successful completion of a major, major project at work is obvious. Sailing isn't work. I don't work hard at sailing. Sailing is fun. If something good happens it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But not something in which I can take much pride because I haven't invested more than a few hours of effort in it.

So how do you feel when you win? Comments please.


Carol Anne said...

Tillerman, you're becoming jaded. And jaded doesn't suit you.

I'm tempted to go out there and slap you on the cheeks and tell you, "Snap out of it!"

But I won't do that, not just because I can't afford the airline tickets, but also because it probably wouldn't do much good. When I get in that kind of a funk, I'm stuck, too. There was a time when I had doctors and psychiatrists and other therapists, and various drugs to get me to not feel depressed, but the drugs took away not only the lows but also the highs. For two years, I was emotionally dead.

When I tried to apply for life insurance, I discovered that I couldn't get it until I had gone 10 years without drugs, without committing suicide. I quit taking the drugs, and while my life hasn't been totally happy, I think I have enjoyed much more than I would have otherwise.

For you, if you're getting jaded, find someone who isn't jaded, maybe someone new to the sport whom you can teach. Draw energy and enthusiasm, in exchange for your wisdom. I would volunteer myself, except I'm out here in the desert, a long way away from where you sail.

EVK4 said...

How long does this numbness last? Where do you feel it?

I have two thoughts. The first is more obvious, you're numb because you're done left all the adrenaline in the cockpit. And, worse, you're back on land.

The other thought is that dinghies are uncomfortable. You're sitting on a nerve or something. We can go halves on an Alerion Express 28 and you'll never have that problem again.

Tillerman said...

I think your first reason is right on evk4. I certainly get excited when I'm leading a race. Especially if I'm in front of some really good sailors. A famous sailing author once described that feeling of "being 100 yards to windward of God".

It's only afterwards that I experience a let-down. "Numb" was probably an exaggeration.

Anonymous said...

I can agree with you on winning when you think that you should win. You feel like you did what you're supposed to do. Winning when you don't think that you should is different for me though. When I won the 2005 Cock Island Race, I was surprised at myself. I knew the boat was capable of beating the other boats in my fleet, but I wasn't sure about the skipper. What's more, I was the first boat to cross the finish line, after starting as much as thirty minutes behind the A Fleet boats. When I was on the way back to the club, a rival on the water, but good friend on the dock asked if I had nailed the Euclid Hanbury (the perpetual trophy that goes to the yacht with the largest corrected time over second place) and I began to wonder... Did I? Is a non spin boat even eligible for that? Wow.

At the awards ceremony, they called me up to the stage for the first place (in my fleet) trophy presentation. That was fun. There had to be close to a thousand people in the crowd looking on. I was proud. Then they called the guy up for the rubber chicken. (the first boat to not finish by the deadline) He wasn't as proud as I was, but the rubber chicken is still an award. Then they called my name again... this time for the Euclid Hanbury. No numbness my friend... I spanked 150 other boats, and I earned that trophy. That was exhilarating! I made my crew come up and accept the trophy with me, and we all proceeded to drink rum until we could hardly brag about our victory!

Anonymous said...

An interesting moment in my day. Stumbled on your comments while trying to look up information on Laser Sailboats. Didn't know this world existed (sheltered life).

Captain John said...

When I win a close race with great competition, I feel fantastic.

Same, when I'm a crewmember and the skipper wins for the fist time. Even if the competition was non-existent.

is such an example. Ok, so rock stars we ain't, and if others hadn't screwed up and been disqualified. Hey, it was 'just' a beercan race - but the look on his face when he realized he'd won - priceless

Tillerman, go crew. You need to quit sailing by your lonely self.

Winning isn't everything. The process is what's fun.

Post a Comment