From Good to Great!

One year and two regattas ago I started skippering Wait For It… a J24 owned by Jess Harris with an all women’s team. Prior to this I crewed on Lightnings, Etchells, and J24s and occasionally would grab the tiller of someone else’s boat or boats in community sailing centers like our own Sail Maine. I skippered in college, a part of the team that brought National ranking to the University of New Hampshire’s club sailing team, and while crewing taught me a lot, I never stopped wanting to drive. Financially, owning a boat was out of my reach.

In this relatively short period of a year, I now know there is so much more to skippering than holding the tiller and steering the boat quickly around the race course.  I didn’t know how much more there was to learn despite decades of racing and being pretty competent at calling tactics, understanding wind patterns, and learning all I could about the positions I crewed in. I’m good at what I do but I’m not great and I want to be exceptional. There is so much more to skippering than I knew -- campaigning a team, bringing together the right group of people, tuning the rig, keeping up with the boat maintenance, trimming the sails perfectly in various conditions, the logistics of getting a team to and around a regatta venue, and on and on the list goes. In the last 15 months I have learned more than I have in the last 20 years. As part of my journey I will be writing blog posts for the Sea Bags team about the things I’m learning. My hope is that I can share what others are teaching me. 

The most important thing I have learned is everyone is willing to help and asking questions will help you learn things faster. You can learn without asking questions, but if you ask many 1) you get to know people faster which will make the regatta experience that much more enjoyable, 2) you will likely learn things that you can’t “Google”, 3) everyone in the J24 fleet is willing to help others grow (and I would suspect this is true in other fleets as well,) 4) when you ask questions about something and then succeed in doing it—other boats will be rooting for you and excited about your progress.  5) all of the pros in this sport want teams like mine, and yours, the non-pros, to excel.  Their job is to make us better so we stay in the sport (and buy more sails!).

So this blog will be about going from being a good racer to being a great one. Here’s an example of something I’m good at and want to be great at. At midwinters at the Davis Island Yacht Club in Florida I was approaching a start luffing a bit and accelerating slowly. Rossi Milev, an incredible sailor who ended up winning the event approached from leeward of me (same tack and somehow rolled underneath me (despite a small hole below us), came up close-hauled under me and passed me as if I was standing still (which I wasn’t). It was incredible. Now, I’m no chump on the starting line (although he might say I am) but I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got a lot to learn—but what he did amazed the crap out of me. I asked him how he did that and I told him that I wanted to be that good someday. He said, “In ten years you’ll be able to do that.” Maybe it will take that long, I’m hoping I’ll be that good at starting in five years… How will I get there? By asking a boatload of questions.

So let’s get this blog-party started! What are some things you’d like to learn about? What are the pros/experts doing that you haven’t figured out yet? All questions and thoughts welcome!

Chad RossignolComment