Reflections on doing well

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I've been thinking about the perennial argument amongst skippers: is it the boat, is it the tune, or is it the thumbs on the sticks? After the rather short time -- around three years -- of travelling around the UK IOM ranking circuit and playing at various regional ponds, I've come to one pretty clear conclusion.

In order to have any sort of crack at a top spot, you've got to have a bullet-proof and competitive boat. I'm not (at present!) a particularly good skipper. I guess my boat tuning is generally OK, but I can't yet reliably get the right amount of weather helm right from the start of an event. Hell, sometimes I've not got it even by the end. My thumbs on the sticks are, at best, good enough to tack on a recognisable wind shift, but I can't sense the shifts, don't really know where to put the boat on the course either tactically or strategically, and can't reliably make good starts.

At my local pond, I can face up to 12 other skippers, many better than me, and win 8 races out of 12 starts. At a regional open event, I can win the cup against 24 other skippers, most of whom are better than me. At a national ranking event, I can just get enough points to scrape into the GBR team for the European Championships. It sure ain't my level of ability; I simply went for the best in boat design, manufacture, fittings, sails, and R/C.

Students of organisational psychology may remember Herzberg and his "hygiene" theory of motivation. He found a bunch of factors that do not, in themselves, motivate, but which certainly de-motivate. He called these factors "hygiene" factors, by analogy to preventing disease; being hygienic doesn't make you healthy, but it surely helps prevent unnecessary sickness. He found a whole bunch of other factors which did motivate workers, but if they were absent they were not de-motivators. I think we have the same situation in yacht racing. There are a number of things which do not and cannot produce excellent results in themselves, but which can most certainly produce bad results if you neglect them: using the best designs, the best equipment, the best construction, proper tuning, and so on. Then there are the things that do indeed produce excellent results, and if you don't have 'em you'll just have to settle for achieving good results: all the "skipper" skills such as reading the wind shifts, tactical placement of the boat on the course, handling the pressure while leading the "A" fleet around the windward mark, and so on.

My conclusion so far is that it's my equipment that has allowed me to get "good" results. It is only from here that any further progress is going to be due to other factors: can I learn to tune, sail, and race well? I've started on some ideas for improving performance.


2023 Lester Gilbert