Most important ingredient in sailing

Published on December 12th, 2021

Quantum Detroit’s Wally Cross reminds us not to forget the reason we sail:

There are so many ingredients for a working system, yet the most important one is Fun.

System Sailing outlines all the specific areas to give yourself and your team the best chance of winning. I have never put fun in any of the categories. The result of winning is fun, yet that experience should not be dependent on the result. It is clear to me that if the fun stops, so does the sailing. I think there is room for both.

Racing in the TP52 class or some of the “high profile classes” is fun yet also serious work. The challenge is fun as the quest to beat the best. The real fun only comes to the winner, and every other boat looks at the event as a steppingstone to the next. The opposite of fun was the long debriefs when the goals were not met.

Your system must start with fun. As you put the pieces together for your system, keeping it fun makes the process enjoyable. The goals you set before each regatta or race must come from your team’s ability to achieve the result while having fun the entire time.

One of my favorite boats is the J/111. This well-balanced boat is an owner driver class with only one pro allowed to work with a crew of eight. Approximately ninety percent of the team is there because they want to have fun during their time away from home.

I race on Shamrock owned by Jeff Davis. His rule is first fun, and second to compete with the best. The crew on the boat is mostly Jeff’s friends. He likes to have one or two women on board to keep the guys on their toes. We race with two couples, and I often jokingly refer to Shamrock as the “Love Boat.”

Jeff also likes to rent a house that is large enough for the team so we can eat together and discuss the racing in a causal atmosphere. Not only does this bond the crew off the water, it builds trust on the water.

Attending the 2021 J/111 World Championship in Virginia was a perfect contrast between the super serious and serious with a dash of fun. The regatta was a fleet of seven boats. Five had coach boats and shore teams to make sure everything was perfect.

Our team showed up in time to sail the practice race one day prior while the other teams were preparing for days. All the boats got measured and floated for weight and inspected every day. This was not setting up to be another fun event on Shamrock.

It was clear to me this fleet of seven was out for blood, and it would be well advised not to get in a compromising position with another boat. Just walking down the dock you could feel tension and a level of seriousness that I had only seen racing in the TP52 fleet. I kept asking if this was a J/111 class that put fun first. Obviously not.

After the first day, six of the seven boats were in a protest. Fortunately, we were not and did not get in an altercation the entire event. Yet as the event went on, there was a protest every day. Even when the regatta was over, and we were so excited to finish in second place, to our demise there was another protest from the day prior.

This was the first time in my sailing life I saw a jury not only allow a protest after the last race for a foul a day earlier but disallow the protest from that race and award that boat the championship. Outside the winning boat the other teams walked away from this experience either mad or confused.

Team Shamrock enjoyed not only sailing together but racing against such a serious group of boats that seemed to forget the reason we sail. Sailing is fun and sailing with friends makes it even better. Fun must be part of any system for winning.

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