Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The F Word

I received an interesting email a few weeks back suggesting that I write a post on the issue of fear of sailing. Here's what my correspondent had to say...
For what it's worth, sailing sometimes scares the hell out of me.
High winds, hard unstable craft, soft body, and a high propensity to land upside down in an environment for which evolution has yet to prepare me adequately.

We've all read the blogs " What a pussy, didn't put the spinnaker up in 35 Knots of wind ".
We all want to be on that perfect reach. Slicing through the water. Spray and hoots of joy or maniacal laughter, in the air.

But how do we get out there when the sky is slate gray, the wind howling and the water colder than an Scandinavian Fjord at Christmas?
How do we avoid going from full rig to radial to standing at the waters edge wishing for our slippers and an open fire?

The psychology of sailing is vital to our performance. For a start, we have to have the courage to be on the water to compete in the first place. But then there are the other aspects. From, should I tack round a mark of gybe? If I gybe without full confidence what will be the result? To, can I really ask the club champ for water when it was only by a fluky 180 degree wind shift that allowed me to see him close for the first time ever.

The f # # # word is often heard on the water but rarely talked about in the club.
So what techniques do you and the people who read this blog use to overcome what is perhaps one of the most fundamental aspects of sailing, for me anyway?
I'll jot down some of my own ideas on the topic in another post, but how would you respond to this question?


Fred said...

Tillerman, I see you visiting Moth blogs not only lately. Don´t worry, we will get you. The momentum is building in you, I guess.

And you will always have a chance to beat me as this stormy winter holds me off from learning the foiling jibes. Not to talk about Gacks. Those I think, I will not be able to master before getting too old for the Moth.

Anonymous said...

For me, the only way to deal with fear is to confront it and practice. There is nothing worse than trying to sail in extreme conditions for the first time during a race. It completely takes your mind out of it, eliminates any chance of tactical thinking and ruins the fun.

I would go as far as to say sailing in extreme conditions for the first time during a race can often lead to a mental barrier and make you more uncomfortable because there is limited time and opportunities to do maneuvers. For example if you jibe at the mark and crash, you will most likely only go around that mark a few more times (if at all). The result is that the error could linger in your mind for days, weeks or months and will almost certainly reduce your confidence. It is always better to make a mistake and immediately try again so you learn from it.

Even if it means going out on an extremely scary day and only reaching around.... at least you went out. Next time out you be a little more comfortable and can test the comfort boundaries more. It is all about practice!

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

It is all about practice.

But it still scares the carp out of me sometimes! The "F" word is a very real issue for me somedays. it's not so easy getting the nerve to go out on those hary days, when there's no-one else around. Tis just one of the joys of rural sailing sometimes.

Mal :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Derek. The more you expose yourself to that which scares you, the easier it gets. Maybe that's starting in big fleets, or extreme conditions, or even holding the lead at the end of the race.

You certainly want to be safe. Wear a life jacket. Have someone watch you, or even better follow you in a power boat. Then throw on an old sail and get out there when it's ripping...

As you get less tense and a bit more comfortable, it gets a lot easier. Then it even gets fun. And you realize the hoots and hollers are coming from you!


Tillerman said...

Thanks for the good advice derek and tk.

I understand what derek says about how sailing in extreme conditions in a race could be counterproductive to overcoming fears. On the other hand, I've personally found that facing heavy weather conditions in a race has helped me become more confident, the reasons being....

a) I'd rather handle the extremes when there is professional safety cover around than sailing by myself alone offshore in crazy winds with no safety boat.

b) the fact that all the other guys are also facing the conditions with me is motivational to me.

Tillerman said...

Nice try Fred. I also visit America's Cup and Olympics sailing blogs. Doesn't mean I'm going to be applying to join Team Origin or start an Olympic campaign.

Anonymous said...

Possibly the original author is not fearful of the elements and of the possibility of injury, rather he is fearful of failure?

I experience fear taking my single-hander out in the rough stuff, but I do not think it is fear of the boat*, or of the elements, or of going for a swim. It is fear of failure. When I am on the stick and I end up in the water, I feel as though I have let down God, my country, and my family. All the while, I am giggling like a little kid at how much fun I am having.

(* there might be just a tad of fear of the boat, which is good--I read a post in which the author wrote "if you are not at least a little scared of your boat, you are sailing the wrong boat.")

When I crew on my friend's Viper (a bigger, badder, and faster boat than my little toy) I am raring to go for any of the craziness he wants to try. When he is driving. But when he gives me the tiller, I crawl into my safe, conservative shell--fearful more of how I will feel if I dump the boat than the actual event of dumping the boat.

I have never been terribly comfortable getting into water, so I do practice swimming in the local pool--which has made me a reasonably strong swimmer, and gives me confidence when I do find myself in the water.

So... that is the long way of suggesting 1) that the author go out with an experienced sailor first (helps to see that rough conditions can be managed), and 2) for the author to get in the local pool (with sailing gear, if allowed) and make his peace with the water--which will make getting dumped in the real water much less traumatic.

Anonymous said...

For me i override that fear of sailing with passion. Its either you get in your boat or go home, your passion has to be sailing. No matter what conditions you sail. Fear goes away after a few times in those conditions. If all else fails get a drysuit. If something bad happens don't resist it you will just get hurt more. Its all in the mindset

Anonymous said...

I have almost no single handed experience, but on other boats playing fore I rationalize that,
1. Things are going to break
2. I'm going to get a rainbow of bruises
3. White caps are pretty
4. If I want to learn, I just need to suck it up
5. I'm wearing a life jacket
6. Same as number four
7. Grey is a great color for the sky
8. Same as number four

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