Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The “Annus Horribilis”

This Shark is coming along nicely with much work, but it needs to be patient for its skipper to fulfill its potential. - Ralph, Montreal Sailing

Dear readers of Montreal Sailing.

Might you recall the year Queen Elizabeth II, reigning monarch of the British Commonwealth, including 16 independent states and their overseas territories and dependencies, declared openly in a blunt speech that she had had a horrible year, her “Annus horribilis”.

It was 1992, and the reigning Queen regnant was describing the year in which she endured these hardships: her son the Duke of York would separate from Sarah; then, Sarah was photographed topless, kissing with her lover John Bryan; followed by the Queen’s daughter and Princess Royal would divorce her husband Captain Mark Phillips; disaster struck when one of her homes, the beloved Windsor Castle caught fire, being seriously damaged and resulting in the loss of a number of priceless artifacts; then, after the government pledged to pay the £40 million cost of castle refurbishment, a taxpayer outcry resulted in the Queen having to pay up herself, and worse yet, in order to raise the money she had to open her palace homes to gawking, plebian tourists. Oh, the humiliation; To make matters even worse, right on the heels of her Majesty’s speech, comes the divorce of her eldest son, the compelling but unusual Prince of Wales, Heir Apparent to the throne, from the controversial but popular Princess Diana.

Oliver Bone and Stéfan Locas must surely know that most horrible pain when like the Queen’s very, very rough patch, everything seems to go wrong.. Finishing at the back of the fleet at the just finished 470 dinghy class regatta in Olympic racing. Not only no medal, no podium excitement, not even mid-fleet. Instead, the back… the very back. Sure, they are sailing amongst the best in the world. They are two of the best sailors in the world! We must not underestimate what a remarkable accomplishment it is for an underfunded, underdog team to make it to the most elite playground of the wealthy and powerful, the Olympics. Kudos. Does that make it any less painful to lose. To be honest, it wouldn’t for me. I think I would feel both lucky to be racing, and pain at defeat. Hey, wait a minute, that is what I feel!

Yup, I too know humiliation. I too know pain. I too know what a challenging path it is to struggle for a recovery, a former status in jeopardy. Okay, okay, perhaps this working class commoner from a colony cannot quite feel the same scale of downfall, and misfortune. Perhaps this enthusiastic, but inexperienced skipper of club racing and casual classes has experienced only small ripples of height before falling ingloriously into the troughs. Still, I have an idea, and can sympathize. For I too have suffered my “Annus horribilis”. DNS, DNF, DFL. Whatever the difference in magnitude, irregardless, I feel crushed! I know what it is like to be underfunded, to have little or no coaching, run up debt, have limited time beyond having to earn a living, to struggle mightily… and in my case, stupidly…Still, I bet Bone and Locas would agree, no worthy challenge is for the faint of heart, and all experience can be used for a victory down the road.

In years past in our Tanzer 22, Ambitious, we had great days, series, and seasons, won races, series flags, beat Tanzers and Sharks alike on good days. Now, this season, I launched a Shark, and ugghh, my worst season in memory began! First, after much toil, it finally felt at least time to put the boat in the water. That was late July, about half of the season, lost to metal grinding, fairing, paint dust, drilling fiberglass and riveting through metal. In reality, the early years in the T22 were much the same. Still, it should be a little better racing a new class the second time around. Also, the work upgrading the boat, and making it truly race-ready is in reality an on-going process for some time to come. Then, to make matters worse, we seem doomed to make the same silly novice errors as when I first began racing. Our team lacks consistency in membership, familiarity and skill. We get out to the racecourse late with zero practice. One recent evening, we foolishly sailed downwind from the start line, in very light, subsiding wind, to throw up the spinnaker, get a new crew familiar on the foredeck. Of course, the chute twists, tangles, and won’t sort out, and then as the current brings us far away from the start, the race timer countdown begins. I’ll just leave it at that! One day, we were late enough that it only made sense to go cruising instead. We should have the other night too. Even when starting well, trim and helm are so poor, the fleet is quickly lost. Not always! We occasionally have had a good leg, figure it out, just not consistently. Well it has only been a month and a bit, but it still hurts. I know what is needed. Part of it, is an empirical breakdown of tasks, documented (including marks right on the boat), then precisely, rapidly, and accurately executed (It helps to have a friggin' idea of what precisely to document of course). The other part is an intellectual appreciation of our game, an understanding both thoughtful and intuitive of strategy and tactics. Yaaah right, maybe some year!

Dear readers of Montreal Sailing: all this to say that patience and persistence are virtues! So much has gone into boat refurbishing, trying to figure out the racing, finding crew, that in my annus horribilis, innocent blog subscribers have also suffered. Less news, pictures and commentary have been forthcoming as my preoccupation is to muddle through the season. It shall eventually improve. Just as the Monarchy is once again the fancy of its subjects, just as Locas and Bone will sail another day, and be champions, the Team Ambitious, and Montreal Sailing are here to stay a good while longer, and even reign amongst competitors!