Bitter Sweet

A bad final leg can leave a bitter taste that doesn't quickly fade away. The proper perspective, however, is always there for the taking

My friend Ian loves to sail. For him, the expression, "A bad day of sailing is better than a good day of work," isn't just a bumper sticker. It's how he lives his life. My relationship with the sport tends to be more fragile. I like to sail. I love to compete. And when you compete, sometimes you lose. And that can hurt.

Case in point is yesterday’s second race in the Swan 42 class. We led at every mark rounding, but frittered away half our lead on the final run and then watched as two boats ate us up on the final beat. We were tight, the noise level was up, and we made some uncharacteristic mistakes, culminating in a failed duck of two starboard tack boats on the layline for the finish pin. In the end both boats finished ahead of us and we took third. In most fleets third would be a great finish, but with only seven boats, third is just above mid-fleet.

I brooded down below for a good 10 minutes on the sail in. A key to this regatta is to not let those tough finishes get to you. Our fleet is so tight everyone will have a bad race, and everyone will have good races. Through four, a different boat has won every race, and a different boat has finished last in every race. But another key, as I mentioned above, is that you have to fight for every point. This regatta will be won by one or two or three points. If we find ourselves on the short end of that equation, we’ll relive moments like yesterday’s second race and grit our teeth. It’s a fine line and requires some active mental gymnastics to keep on an even keel.

After 10 minutes of personal darkness, the storm clouds began to break. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, we found out we’d won the first race. The finish was so close, and, with our boat on the outside, we were sure we’d crossed second. That was a nice surprise. The second thing was that on the day we’d moved from being tied for last to being tied for second, one point out of first. In the hunt after two days of racing, that’s all you can ask for at this event. Finally, I channeled my friend Ian a little bit. No matter how bad the race Ian can always mine some positive nugget to celebrate: a great takedown or start, a moment of great boatspeed, a solid tactical call. And on the rare occasion that doesn’t work, he’ll always toast the experience: on the water, sailing with friends, competing against some great sailors. And that’s really the bottom line question: Win or lose, would you rather be anywhere else?