Thursday, March 07, 2013

Heavy Air Fear

Every dinghy sailor knows that they have an upper limit on the wind strength in which they are comfortable sailing.

For some it might be 18 knots; for others it could be 35 knots.

What goes through your head on a day when you go down to the bay and it appears to be blowing harder than that limit?

What do you say yourself to get you in the mood to go sailing?

How important is what other sailors say to your decision to sail or not?

Do you want other people to encourage you go out and test yourself against your limits or to encourage you to give into your fears?

Do men and women have different approaches to this issue? Is there a testosterone factor?

How important is peer pressure?

Do you want to be the guy who says, "It looks great out there. I'm going sailing. Who's coming with me?"

Or are you more likely to be the sailor who asks him, "Are you crazy?"

Does it make a difference whether this is a race day, a training day, or just a fun sailing day?

Do you think about the last time you had a bad day from sailing in too much wind, or about how much you will regret it tomorrow if you don't sail today?

Do you think about how hard it will be if you test your heavy air limits, or about how you might learn something about sailing in windy conditions?

What's stopping you from going sailing in these crazy winds - your lack of heavy weather skills, or your mental attitude?

If it's a skill deficiency, how are you going to ever improve if you don't go sailing today?

It it's mental attitude, how can you change your attitude?


Anonymous said...

Sailing is a great way to push one's limits, and in a dinghy, relatively safely. Just make sure your boat is in good shape, go out with friend(s), dress appropriately, duck when tacking/gybing and fully expect to capsize! Remember when capsizing was a fun thing to do? :)

Really like what you say in the second to the last line, Tillerman. If we don't change, how can we expect our (skill sets, lives) to change? Confronting and overcoming fear is incredibly empowering. Go for it!

Marc Jacobi

Mark R said...

For me it is as much about water state and wind stability as it is about wind strength. A F5+ in our sailing area often produces a chop that appears to have some sort of interference pattern and it unsettles the boat, making downwind sailing a challenge (you have most likely picked this up from my blog already!).

But I don't fear it, I just find it frustrating that I've not come close to mastering the boat in those conditions. Hence the need to get out and practice - eventually things will improve.

Tillerman said...

Absolutely right Mark R. My bad experiences in the last few years have been more to do with big, chaotic waves than with the actual wind strength. But it is the same issue of what your mental approach to deal with the the fear should be.

Tillerman said...

And I like your last sentence Marc. When I come in after a day of sailing on which I overcame my fear of the conditions and actually mastered them (a little), I am so pumped up and excited, and it takes at least 24 hours to come down from that "high". It's the best drug you can buy. Perhaps if before sailing I thought more about that feeling I would have fewer doubts about whether to go for it.

Unknown said...

I've seen what I term "The Dunkoff Effect" numerous times - mostly the result of a bunch of testosterone infected dudes trying to be the toughest on a windy day. That said it's important to push your limits if you want to improve. If you do go out you need to be self-aware and know when you get tired it's probably time to head in. At this point in my sailing career (as Mark says) it's more about wave conditions than wind but I had to go through many a day of getting my ass kicked before I could be confident enough to head out in 25+ knots.

Unknown said...

You'll never become a better sailor if you don't challenge yourself. My perfect example is my first time in Cabarete getting my ass kicked and a concussion to boot. But this last time when I went back I was prepared both physically and mentally because of the first experience. I sailed much better and learned a ton. Now I feel like you guys - it's more about managing the conditions than the wind - especially with the radial which is a very easy sail to trim.

Keep Reaching said...

I agree with the comments about waves - they are what spook me more than the wind. But going out and mastering - well, maybe not mastering, but rather facing things without undue fear and just getting on with things (including capsizes) is really great. It comes only through time on the water but as it comes it is great.

Anonymous said...

I get more personal satisfaction from sailing well in big breeze than I do from sailing well in light air. It must be the adrenaline. Cave men probably felt more amped when taking down a mastodon than they did about picking a bladder full of berries. The mastodon hunters went back to the cave on an adrenaline high and reproduced more than the berry pickers, and so the adrenaline fix was in, genetically speaking. You see, Laser sailing is evolutionary. Now, where's Wilma?

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

My keelie doesn't come into its grove until the winds rise to 15-30 knots. I've taken such a heavy beating in light airs, I always felt compelled to go out in heavy air. But at a certain point last year, I decided I have nothing more to prove to myself or any one else. My number one priority gradually became not to put my rig or crew in any perilous circumstances where others might have to risk themselves in any rescue.

Anonymous said...

All I know is that very recently I was not inclined to go out on a heavy air day because I and others had basically psyched ourselves out. We had gone over all the scenarios of what could go, and has gone, wrong. We exchanged horror stories of crashes and injuries and all other kinds of evils. We clucked our tongues and convinced ourselves we were being responsible. I proclaimed that I was staying on shore... sure it was the prudent thing to do. But as the time passed, I instead started thinking of how much fun I have had in the past on big air days. I stopped being negative and started being positive. I still wasn't going to go...until one of my sailing partners (the brave one, I guess) cajoled me into it. That was the little spark I needed. It ended up being one of the most exhilarating days I've had in a long time. Blasting about and finding my heavy air mojo. I'm really glad I took the leap.
So I guess its a combo of several of your factors, Tillerman.

kiwiyates said...

Sometimes its important to do things that become "pegs" to hang your life on. Unfortunately, very few "light air" days go down in the history books but heavy air days become "legendary" and the story is retold for generations. One such incident occurred when I was much younger (Why is that the case? Why don't we do these things when we are older too?), it was storming 60knts and my Bro-in-law turned up with his Hobie 16 - "Lets go sailing!" I responded with the traditional "Are you crazy??" But with good safety planning and forethought we went anyway. We sailed a smallish lake where we could always drift to shore. No jib (too windy to actually get it up), reefed main and 3 up (2 traps). We would blast across to the lee shore, rest, tack back and blast back again - great fun, pushing us to and beyond out limits. The stuff LEGENDs are made of........

Tillerman said...

Hi Anon 11:21. Your name sounds awfully familiar but I can't quite think why?

Your account of negative talk among a group of sailors who psyched themselves out also sounds awfully familiar.

I am sure you are right that the best thing to do is to focus on the positive... how much fun you had before on heavy air days, how much you might learn, how excited you will feel afterwards...

By the way, do you know Anon 2:03? You both seem like pretty smart people.

It really would help me if all you anonymous commenters would choose names for yourselves.

Maybe I will give you names...

Anon 11:21 you are hereby named "Miami". Please use that name when commenting here in future.

Oatsandbeans said...

A mental technique that I have been using is to enjoy the feeling of the fear. We all know the feeling of slight trepidation when you go out and it is a bit more breeze than we are happy with. We also know that it is only that by sailing in these conditions that we can improve our skills and master ever increasing wind strengths. . Well try to harness that feeling and even try to enjoy that feeling as it is only when we get that feeling in the pit of our stomach that we can really improve our sailing. Turn that "bad" feeling into a "good" feeling that you look foward to feeling and relish as you know that only when you get that feeling are ypu really pushing yourself and getting better.

Tillerman said...

That sounds like great advice. I will try that.

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