At about 3 a.m. this morning, Key West Race Week started with a bang—then a flash of light, another bang, and a swoosh as the heavy rain poured through the gutters. That unexpected alarm clock jolted me awake, and then my brain turned into question mode.
_Am I ready? Is the boat (and more importantly, the crew) ready to have me on it?
I fully recognize that I’m the new guy on the boat. I also know from experience that what will inspire the team’s confidence is much more complex than making the right call at the right time.
Chemistry and trust are critical. And, frankly, in the past two days of practice, I spent much of the time on the water figuring out what I can—and should—be doing to yield the best team results. The onus was on me to prove myself.
All I need to do is keep my head out of the boat and make the right calls. There are many ways around a racecourse, but as any successful program knows, there should only be one person calling the shots. I’ve never seen two different solutions create a better third option. It just doesn’t work. One chief. I knew that I had to make decisions and not get influenced.
I know the team and their individual and collective accomplishments well. The last thing on my mind this week is if the boat is giving every ounce of speed in every condition. This is one amazing team of incredibly talented sailors.
While I was lying there in bed, the questions kept coming. _Have I gained enough trust in the past two days to establish a good base on which to build for the regatta? Are they comfortable enough to do their jobs 100 percent and allow me the latitude to do mine?
My actual alarm rang three hours later. It was time to get up and out of the bed of self doubt. I performed my pre-first-race regatta prep: re-read the sailing instructions, checked the weather, wrote down the tide schedule, and then checked the notice board. Still, I felt like I was missing something.
Mentally, I went through my checklist. Finally, I headed down to the boat and that’s when it hit me. “Ooooh, yeah, the skipper’s meeting….Nice one, Marty.” A quick check of the Official Notice Board said all clear. Hopefully that’s the only call I miss all day, I thought.
I held a quick team meeting on the way to the course to review the weather and reiterate my goal for the day—to continue to improve upon what we practiced, and to continue establishing a level of trust (the last one is my inside voice talking).
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I almost always get nervous between 10 and five minutes before a race. Today was no different. I quickly reminded myself that I could do this and to focus on what we learned about each other and that it will all come together.
We rocked the start. Our bowman and I communicated well, and the skipper hit the line with speed. We had established a good lane to continue on. We picked our way upwind and rounded the top mark in second. Great—one hurdle out of the way. We slid into first on the last windward leg, thanks to catching a slight shift.
On the second downwind rounding, I had chosen the left gate as our target. When I announced the call, a member of the crew commented the right gate looked closer. I held firm to the original call. From what I saw, this was the correct way to go, as it was the closest to upwind. Our result? First-place finish.
Now I know how Augustus Gloop felt when he got stuck in the river of chocolate being moved off to some undetermined location. Could you believe it? There was a monster island of weeds directly upwind of the starting line! We quickly adjusted and moved down the line closer to the boat end. A smooth start. We just missed the Gloop special. Or did we?
The boatspeed dropped by a half knot, and a quick check of the foils confirmed the worst—weeds on the keel and the rudder. Quick action ensued, and the crew dropped a kelp line over the bow in search of the speed stealers. After several attempts, it still didn’t come clean, so I made the call to back the boat down.
Backwards is never fast, but sometimes it’s best to cut your losses. We lost the Gloop and were immediately in the battle to catch as many boats as we could, ultimately fighting our way back to third place.
The first and third-place finished put us in first overall. I’m pleased with our start, and I’m looking forward to four more days of racing, which gives me the chance to continue building the team chemistry and to more effectively communicate with the team. Still, overally, the crew and I deserved our post-race rummies. Cheers!