hungry like the wolf

hungry like the wolf

Another great discussion of tactics from skiff star Chris Rast, whose new blog ‘Faster And Higher’ is quickly becoming one of the few valuable blogs on the subject in the US.  Chris’s recent post on the business concept of ‘confirmation bias’ and how it figures into racing is brilliant, but this one is damned good too.

A couple of weeks ago I was sailing the 29er Mid-Winters (great debrief by Willie Mcbride) here in San Diego, crewing for JP Barnes, who is a Junior at our South Western Yacht Club. JP and I have sailed together in the past, so both of us feel pretty comfortable with each other. We were doing quite well in the regatta, showing good upwind and downwind speed, some decent tactical decisions, but we just couldn’t get off the starting line. It seemed like we’d find a good spot and things were looking just fine until about T minus 20 secs and then things would go pear shaped.

Starting is one of the most intense moments of a race and mostly in the hands of the skipper. Usually you can determine immediately if the boat next to you is either a wolf  or a lamb (with various degrees of skill). I was determined to help JP turn from a lamb into a wolf and do it wolf style from now on. Ouhhhh, ouhhh, ouhhhhhhh!!!! (one of my most favorite Super Bowl ads, by the way)

On the starting line I like to have a lamb to leeward and a more or less sophisticated wolf to windward. The lamb will not push the line too hard and you can (usually) count on the skilled wolf not to jump the gun too early and keep his windward boat in check…. If everything works out right, you roll the lamb after 30 secs (opening a great gap to leeward) and pinch off the wolf after another minute or so (yes, I know, I’m being overly optimistic here…).

So how do you man-up? I haven’t really seen any good advice on this subject, but interestingly enough, it’s what usually makes the difference between average sailors and really good racers, especially for teenagers that are going through adolescence.

Here are my two cents on this subject.

  • Some of us are born to be wolves, while others must work to be one. A wolf has a palpable aura of confidence surrounding him or her, and you must learn to impose this aura on others (like at the starting line), and marking your territory with it.
  • Practice obviously goes a long way. The more you practice, the more confidence you have that you can pull it off.
  • Don’t let yourself get pushed around. Wolves like to probe others to see how much resistance they will encounter. If you meet another wolf, don’t let him mark you as a submissive wolf – do not be his bitch.  Push back, instead, and he’ll think twice the next time.
  • Make a distinct decision that you are going to be a wolf. . Do you want to be eaten or do you want to eat? Tell yourself this as you’re getting ready to race.

Also, on a side note, being a wolf doesn’t mean being an arrogant SOB who doesn’t respect the rules. Don’t be that boat.

JP and I kept working on being a wolf on the starting line and JP absolutely nailed it in the last start! I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed with our great start as suddenly we launched into the lead and I didn’t know what to do with it (tough problem to have, I know).

So the next time you’re on the starting line ask yourself if you want to be a wolf or a lamb. Believe me, being a wolf is much more fun AND you get the girl at the end of the day.

Oh, by the way, this should be obvious, but I’m not making any gender related distinction here. And if you do have a problem with the way this article is written, well then, you may as well just keep being a lamb.