Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sailing With Friends- J/80 Style

Puget Sound, Seattle, WA (Seattle, WA)-  Dave Schmidt, the USA Editor based in Seattle, WA has a wonderful story to tell about his participation in the sport of sailing on a friends’ J/80..

“As a lifelong sailor from a sailing-obsessed family, I sometimes forget that not everyone has been sailing since they could walk. Mind you, I'm certainly not professing to be any sort of polished tactician or accomplished skipper, but I do know how to trim sails, drive, stand watch and run a foredeck, and I've also been around sailing culture long enough to (more or less) be able to step onto a new boat and (hopefully) not cause too many headaches. After all, sailors are sailors the world over (read: salty), and odds are reasonably solid that if you can hang at one yacht club, you'll be OK at the next.

However, this summer a good friend bought his first boat, and I had the opportunity to watch firsthand as a great bunch of newer sailors gelled into a winning team over the course of the racing season.

J/80s sailing World Championship- Hamble, EnglandWhile I wasn't on board for the full summer's racing program due to work obligations and a distracting mountain-climbing problem, I was there enough to see and appreciate this team's impressive improvement curve as the boat's leadership settled into a successful groove and people learned and refined their onboard roles and gained some miles in the new boat.

For example, during the first few races of the season, the crew tended to want to play outside their roles, leading the skipper to try and actively 'manage' everyone's jobs, even though his hands were more than full with driving. Fortunately, the skipper is also a whip-smart engineer at one of Seattle's bigger tech companies, and he wisely parlayed the strong leadership and management lessons gleaned from his professional life into bolstering our team. Specifically, one mid-season Wednesday night, instead of assuming the tiller, he announced a crew shake-up that would see our tactician driving, our skipper calling tactics, and other people shuffled to new jobs (I somehow stayed on the mainsheet, which is A-OK with me). The results were dramatic.

Rather than mid-fleet and ‘back-of-the-congo-line’ finishes, we took a bullet in our first race, promptly followed by a second place in race two. High fives were exchanged, but it wasn't until we consistently started repeating these results that the full fruits of our skipper's leadership moves-ncoupled with the crew's swelling experience, confidence levels and hard work-became evident.

And that's to say nothing of the big improvements and growth that all sailors onboard (myself included) experienced as we started gelling into a can-do crew. These guys might not have spent their summer vacations taking sailing junior-sailing lessons, but the sheer level of psych and “beginner's eyes” excitement that these guys brought to the dock, week after week, was a cool thing to see and experience.

J/80 Worlds- Hamble, EnglandWhile there's no danger of us winning any world-championship titles in the near future, odds are good that we will be the boat in our class to beat next summer on Puget Sound.

For my part, I had a great look at what it's like for a relatively green sailor to step up and buy a sportboat, become a skipper, and build and nurture a crew capable of disrupting the order of things in a local class. Having spent more than a little bit of time trying to diagnose and solve our initial teething pains in my head on my morning runs, none of my solutions for improving performance were as elegant as our skipper's decision to relinquish the tiller and focus solely on tactics, while also placing other crewmembers in positions that best played to their strengths. I've seen some smart moves on boats over the years, but this ranks as one of the more impressive things that I've seen in a while.

So, while I've been sailing for 41 of my 40 years on this lonely planet, I'm walking away from this summer's sailing with newfound appreciation for the kind of leadership skills that can be learned onshore and brought aboard. Moreover, I'm also walking away with a much better appreciation for what can happen when enthusiasm and psych are given the right environment to learn, grow and thrive.” Sailing photo credits- Paul Wyeth/ Add to Flipboard Magazine.