First race blues: Wrong rig. Stupid, daft, kick the wall kinda tactical decision off the line. Sailing like a rank amateur. Can’t find my digital watch anywhere. Retired with a raft of daft excuses that the light was running out, the wind shut down, getting cold, the sun went in. I’m sticking to them. Oh it’s good to be back racing again…
On a more positive note: My roll tacks were surprisingly better than last year. I learned that despite Apple’s general brilliance, they didn’t design a useful sailing watch – what’s with all this ‘raise to view’ nonsense and, note to Tim Cook: they are impossible to work with wetsuit gloves. Just saying. Good start. Wrong rig for evening racing – oh I’ve mentioned that already. The water’s getting warmer. The sun shone. It was blooming magnificent to be back racing again. Great early-season banter in the changing rooms. Tons of ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ and my new Zhik wetsuit socks are the find of the century. Toasty.
It wasn’t my finest hour or two if truth be told but just to be back in a race on a quite beautiful Solent evening was worth its weight in gold with diamonds encrusted around the edges. The memory muscle was jolted into gear and just gilling about pre-start and seeing everyone’s faces again was a joy. Pure joy. There was a wonderful Finn that smoked me to leeward on the start (I take it all back – those boats are beauty personified) and some pretty handy Laser and Aero sailors on the course. For some daft reason I went with my Radial rig and that was just a cop out. Lesson learned. It was agony trying to get that thing to windward in 2 knots of breeze against the tide, and if the agony went on much longer I was in severe danger of being lapped. Ho Hum.
But racing in the UK is back for us Corinthians and it feels great. Launching off the beach, feeling the spike of chilly springtime waters. Being part of something. It’s all rather special and it’s the flame that draws you back. Re-discovering dinghy sailing in my 50th year has been one of the most remarkably enjoyable experiences of my life. I’m having more fun in my Laser than just about any other boat I’ve ever owned. The feeling is one of immediate, precise interaction and the knife-edge of knowing that these boats bite if you’re a chump is really quite exhilarating. It bites me more often than not. But getting properly wet and thoroughly exhausted is life-affirming. I know I’m not 25 but when I get in the Laser, my mind automatically thinks that I am. And that’s good for you, I’m told.
And I’m going to be 100% honest here: I really don’t mind being the ‘backbone’ of the fleet. I never thought I’d ever say that. Yes I’d like to be in the chocolates – and I’m sure I’ll have my moments – but by and large I’m an also-ran and quite happy with that. Just being out there and being involved is enough. Strange how the competitive edge dulls over time. I’m keener than possibly ever before but no longer is it desperately important to win and win by a mile. No, no longer. Just being me is enough. Getting round, having fun, learning new stuff, lying in bed at night with more ‘shoulda’s’ than ‘coulda’s’ is really quite cool. Feeling the burn in my calves as I come ashore is great. I’m having a blast.
Speaking to one of my regular crew in the H-Boat the other night, we got to talking about Laser sailing and he asked the question: “how kinetic are you in the boat?” And the truthful answer is: “not very.” We laughed. I’m getting better (my roll tacks prove that) but I’m nowhere, not even a million miles close, to the videos that I see of the top Laser sailors in full flight. How they fan that sail, the big rig too, through the use of their lower body muscles is quite something. The hiking is extreme. It’s a pig of a boat to sail well. It’s a joy to sail it the way I do but I’m not going to be troubling the leaderboard anytime soon.
But that’s okay. So often in sailing we get drawn into the coaching Tao where everything’s about performance and achievement but it’s okay to be average and learn at your own pace. If you’re enjoying it, who cares what anyone else thinks? Do the results really matter at a Corinthian, club level? Not a jot. Not a scintilla. You pack the boat up, jump in the car, and it’s an evening well spent. Better than sitting on the couch. Better than watching Netflix. Better than golf.
And that’s why we bang on about the life-skill of sailing. If you are lucky enough to get it when you’re young, and it doesn’t matter if you discover it when you’re old either, it never leaves you. The memory muscle that I mentioned earlier, works overtime the moment you step onto whatever floats your boat. It’s about winning but the definition of that is purely down to yourself.
Now where’s that bloody watch…