November 11, 2014

Racing advice from a smiley guy

KEN READ’S PLEA for simpler racing reminded me of why I gave up racing. Ken is the president of North Sails, and as I said in my last column, he feels that racing has become too expensive and complicated.

That’s not the reason I quit, however. I was already racing in a simple and inexpensive dinghy class. I quit because I wanted too hard to win.

We raced on Saturday afternoons, but by Friday evening things were getting tense. My gut was in a knot. Sleep was hard to come by. On Saturday morning, like as not, I would say to my crew, my wife June, “I don’t feel like sailing today.”

She would look at me knowingly and shrug. It was okay with her. But an hour later I’d say, “Let’s just go down to the club and see what the weather’s doing.”

Invariably, the weather was all wrong. It was either blowing a gale or there was no wind at all.

An hour before the start I’d say, “Oh, what the heck, let’s just rig the boat and go for a test sail. See if we want to race. But I don’t think so.”

Well, of course we raced. We always raced. And that’s when I became Captain Bligh, according to my crew. I changed from being a nice smiley guy to someone who was ruthless and obsessive. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, muttered my crew.

I gave no quarter. When the secretary of our association came creeping past me to windward I luffed him, suddenly and unexpectedly. “Go home!” I shouted. He looked at me like a spaniel whose trusted master had just kicked him in the balls.

I submitted protests and read the riot act to anyone who got in my way. I was thoroughly unpleasant, and my gut ached something terrible.

In the end I knew I had to give up racing, not only because I wasn’t good enough to win every time, but also because it turned me into somebody I didn’t like. I had the choice of learning to lose gracefully, of course. But that didn’t appeal to me then. I needed to quit cold turkey.

Luckily, it worked, and after a year or two of non-competitive cruising I was able to lose gracefully, in fact not to worry at all about losing. Well, mostly, anyway. I’m not sure that my character was improved. It’s just that I didn’t mind losing because I didn’t race anymore, and I didn’t race anymore because I didn’t want to feel the tension and experience the aching gut.

I’ll admit that I miss it, though. Winning a race can have the same effect as snorting a drug. But I’m too old now, so it’s a moot point. I’m a nice smiley guy all the time now; and every time I see those suckers out there in the bay with their guts in a knot and screaming “Starboard!” at each other I think to myself, “Well done, lad, you got out just in time.”

Today’s Thought
Sport begets tumultuous strife and wrath, and wrath begets fierce quarrels and war to the death.
— Horace, Epistles

There was a naughty Mr.
Who hugged a girl and Kr.
She fled in great fright,
So the very next night
That Mr. Kr. Sr.

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