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How Prepared Are You, Really?

Preparation was key, and /SW/ editor Dave Reed found himself OCS with a dead watch battery. "Editor's Letter" from our April 2008 issue

April 2, 2008
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dave reed headshot

I recently asked myself the above question after one otherwise superb race went terribly bad in the end. And the quick answer was “I’m not.”

In this space a few issues ago I wrote about a new-found confidence in my starting. The truth is my starts are vastly improved partly because I finally started wearing a watch. I was on a roll until my watch battery died. Naturally, I procrastinated getting a replacement.

On the day in question I was watchless, maneuvering for a spot near the pin end of the starting line. I knew I was close and didn’t need to push it. As boats crowded around me I grew more anxious, more willing to pull the trigger. I was suddenly lost in time: was it nine seconds? Three? One? I started blindly. Somebody was hailed OCS, and I saw one competitor go back. Safe. I sailed my best race of the day, worked my way into the lead, and finished the day first across the line. That doesn’t happen all that often for me in this particular fleet. I found out later I was OCS.

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Minutes into my drive home, my mind instantly switched back to those frenetic 10 seconds or so. I knew, had I taken the simple step to fix my watch, that race could have been mine. My ultimate failure boiled down to my woeful preparation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either read or written this single word in this magazine. It’s such a simple concept, but you either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t have it, you don’t stand a chance of meeting your expectations.

This truism should have been cemented in my brain having had a similar experience at a regatta a few weeks earlier. As a walk-on to a team made up of superb, passionate, and fun-loving sailors, I had high hopes. As reigning class champions, I was sure they’d be fully prepared. This, however turned out not to be the case.
As we motored out to the racecourse for the first day, running late after spending too much time jury-rigging the new headsail that came with horizontal battens (it’s was a roller-furled sail), our skipper asked one crewmember to raise the class flag tied to the backstay. As this crewmember labored over the flag in a rough seaway, our skipper asked no one in particular, “What time of day is it?”

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Someone forward responded: “12:41.”
Long pause. Same question. Same reply.
Long pause. Same question. Same reply.
Same question. Short pause.

“It’s 12 f#$%^&*g 41!” hollered the crew standing at the skipper’s back, clearly annoyed and still wrestling with the flag. “You’ve heard it four times now! Can you stop asking? It’s 12:41!”

It was a comedic moment that we later laughed about, but it ultimately defined the boat’s level of preparedness. All ensuing chaos was dubbed “a 12:41.” After our first race, our roller-furling unit seized. This wasn’t the first time they’d had this same problem with the furler. It wasn’t the second time either. It was something they’d meant to deal with long ago. We missed the next race, and during the pit stop to fix the furler, the culpable crewmember stormed off the boat refusing to sail. Definitely a 12:41.

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We managed to get back to the racecourse in time for the day’s third race, but during the pre-start, the welds of two bow pulpit anchor bolts gave out. The bolts had been welded far too many times. They’d meant to do something about that, too. There were plenty more 12:41s as the regatta progressed, which obviously did nothing for our overall result, and we fell well short of our expectations. Which brings me back to my own state of preparation. I’ve got a watch battery to order, and while I’m at it, a frayed hiking strap I need to replace, a new Windex to buy, and there’s the clew tie down I’ve said (for the last two months) I’d replace.
I bet you’ve got a few things on your list, too. Better get to it.

-Dave Reed

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