How to avoid major mistakes
Races in sailing are mostly not won by doing everything right but by making less mistakes than the competition. Even the winner of a race makes mistakes. But he knows how to avoid the major ones. Minor mistakes can be one bad tack or forgetting to pull the outhaul before rounding the bottom mark (even those ones could cost though). But which mistakes need absolutely to be avoided? Here are my top ten of major mistakes:
- Not reading the sailing instructions carefully enough and then sailing the wrong course.
- Not checking the wind direction and hence not recognizing the presence of a persistent shift.
- Overseeing major differences in wind strength and wind direction in different areas of the course.
- Sailing in dirty air for a very long time.
- Failing to check the current and neglecting it.
- Having no plan before starting the race.
- Taking right of way or even having a collision with another boat.
- Using new equipment without having tested it before.
- Not having sailed and tuned the boat for speed in the predominant conditions before the race.
- Failing to find the next mark (don’t laugh, it happened to me before – I always have problems seeing yellow marks).
I haven’t included capsizing as I think this should be clear. Now as you are aware of the major mistakes it should be easy to win the next race, right? Probably not. Most reasonably competent helmsman are able to recognise their errors – after the race. The art is to recognise them in advance. This is not that easy in the heat of the battle. You get distracted by so many small things. The great sailors are those that are able to take the helicopter’s perspective even in those circumstances to make the right decisions.
Therefore it is really important to stay calm when the unexpected happens. No race is ever sailed perfectly. So better expect to make mistakes and learn how to deal with them. A common problem is that after the first recognised mistake during a race many get so distracted that the next mistake will follow soon. Sometimes a major one follows a minor one and so on. It is important to learn how to deal with setbacks.
At the end of the day if you are able to avoid the major mistakes you will be within the top group. Often before and during a race there are always many exciting situations to deal with. To help my disturbed mind to focus I have checklists written on the deck to make sure I think about all the preparations I planned to make. Believe me it is so easy to forget something.
Also breathing exercises can help. But you need to have practised them before.