Sunday, September 20, 2009

We've Made Some Progress!

This photo is from the collection taken by photographer Bob Barratt. I'm ordering this one of us. - Ralph Montreal Sailing

This has been quite a season of learning this year. It is the first full summer sailing a Shark. It hasn't been an easy transition. No touchdowns, so to speak, but we have come along. On top of learning a different boat, we have new crew learning how to sail, and crew learning new positions. Add to that my being a slow learner and not a natural sailor, and we have quite a challenge. Therefore, a reasonable goal had to be ascertained. What would be reasonable? Not being DFL. I know that sounds like setting the bar awfully low, if we were going to be serious, even at the beer can level it wasn't too easy a goal! Our previous race boat was called Ambitious, and it has been wise not to switch the name of the current boat to the same, just yet.

Last season, after spending the first half, on the hard, working on the boat, we splashed, and we were repeatedly dead freakin' last. And I was feeling the humiliation. One big donkeybutt, that was me. Woe was me. Yep, I was drinking pint glasses of sorrow, and wallowing in it. The boat was still a mess, and inadequate, we were screwing up at more mark roundings then not, and lots of boats that I consistently finished well ahead of in the Tanzer were whupping our asses in the Shark. It was not an unreasonable goal, anything but dead "freakin" last... please.

We have had more DFLs this season, but generally we have moved up some. Inter-club racing began with us still DFL a lot, but we also would get "next to DFL" finishes, and even a little better. Hey, I was ready to take whatever progress we could get. Incremental change, I can handle that. It was helpful that we could only improve. Okay, I'll confess that I don't totally believe that. It still sucks. Still, it is good to be on the water and competing. We saw at least where we can improve. The odd occasion we would do better and see what was possible. We got a third halfway through the season. Last Sunday we got another third place, and better yet there were good boats that we triumphed over competing that day , and the two ahead were within fighting range. Everyone gets a good day.

Our potential is there. It is not a lost cause. David and I joined Nick on VO 2Max for the Ishkoodah, and we got yet another 3rd. That time, we were the 2nd Shark, and overlapping Eclipse, the first Shark at the finish line. Nick has been key in my getting more focused.

Then came the big challenge. People were saying we should go to the Shark World Championship, which was being held at Niagara On The Lake, Huh? I thought, are they serious? The reasoning was consistent from everyone who spoke to me. There is no better learning opportunity then a full week of racing against more than 60 boats that are the best of the class. Well, maybe so I thought. but how much humiliation can a guy take, and still make it to the next starting line? I decided initially, we would only go if we thought we might not be last yet again. I really do believe in "having fun", not worrying too much about placing, but there is a limit! Well, I was not sure we would get out of the cellar, but we did! At the World Championship we placed 52nd out of 63 boats. That was an accomplishment, as silly as it sounds. More importantly, we did become better sailors at that week-long, pan-in-the-fire, intensive learning experience. The big knowledge acquisitions for me was learning the course for advantage, staying totally powered up, and keeping in phase with the shifts. It isn't that these concepts were new, but at some point they become more practice, not merely abstract understandings.

Finally, "Shark School" has been great, and I hope we organize more. Several times, Sharks have been out for starts or boat-by-boat tuning. This is an important way for getting some of us more up to speed. For those generous enough to give your time this way, it really does help the class!

The season isn't over yet. I can say while it is still hard, it's been good. We will be continuing to go at it, and will be pushing some of the Sharks before long.