February 24, 2013

2013 Florida Masters Week - Nontraditional Words of Wisdom

by Pam

It’s been a couple of weeks since Doug returned from a less than stellar performance at the Florida Masters (finishes of 31/60, 5/55, 11/58).  Although, he should be writing this, he didn’t feel that he did well enough to share anything of value so he posted interviews with the winners of the three events.  Then came Tillerman’s timely post about whether Words of Wisdom are really just crap and then I knew I had to write about the little tidbits I learned from Doug that I think have more value than the traditional words of wisdom.

However, Sunday evening before Doug arrived back from Florida, I up and decided I didn’t like my job … long story short … before Doug arrived home the next morning, I had received and accepted a new job offer, quit my old job on the way out of the office that evening and started the new job the following morning. Afterward, I kept repeating to Doug that ‘I just quit my job,’ half surprised and half shocked.  You see, it was sort of a Doug thing to do and is also one of my takeaways from his Florida experience.  Flexibility and seizing opportunities before they pass.  Two weeks later, all that has fallen into place at the new job has been virtually perfect, except I’m a little short of time, but I digress.

We all make stupid mistakes - don’t quit!

Each day, Doug called home to tell me of his progress.  Needless to say, at the first event, with him being DNC for 3 races, I was a little worried he might not be okay and I’m glad I didn’t know that someone was pulled from the course and taken to the hospital with chest pains.  When Doug called, I was relieved he was okay, but then asked what any sailing spouse would ask, ‘WTF?‘ 

He had a ready explanation that went on for several minutes which essentially translated to, ‘I was stupid, then I was stupid again, and then I was even stupider.’  Yet at the end of that event, Doug’s finishes were 6, 3, 6, 62, 62, 62 and he placed mid-fleet where he did as well or better than many people who sailed every race to earn their place. 

The winner of the 1st event, John MacCausland, had a race where he started just above Doug but Doug had his bow out by about 2 feet so Doug got away, the boat above John rolled him and John had to tack and in doing so, ducked a guy, missed, hit him, had to do circles and then found himself so far back that he was having to count from the back instead of the front to see where he was.  He was only able to claw his way back to 21st.  His finishes were 6, 21, 4, 3, 3, 4.  Two mistakes and he would not have been the winner of the event. Andy Roy, who won the next two events, had finishes of 8, 3, 10, 18, 29, 9 for a 7th place. 

My takeaway words of wisdom is that those at the front of the fleet, regardless of the circumstances, don’t quit mentally.  They rely on their experience to recover a decent finish from their stupidity.  Perhaps a key is practicing enough to not only minimize mistakes but gain experience in recovering from them.

Andy Roy’s regatta wins of the next two events were with finishes of 21, 2, 3, 1, 5, 2, 3, 2 and 1, 3, 2, respectively.  Another winner with a 21 early on in the regatta and a ‘it’s not over until it’s over attitude’.  But then I hear from Doug that before the start of one of the races at the second event, Andy Roy accidently lassoed Doug with his mainsheet on the start line, Doug tipped, and while Doug was frantically trying to save the feather at the top of his mast because it was a handmade gift from Frank Bethwaite, Andy was repeatedly saying, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry!’  Now, I find comfort in this story because right there in that moment, there is no difference in me and the regatta winner.  I too often practice being a nuisance, out of control and other random bafoonery.

Enlightenment from training partners

There is much to be learned from the observations of a skilled sailor.

Between regattas Doug did some turning with David Hiebert with regatta finishes of 4, 6, 14.  David observed that they had the same speed but then something would happen and Doug would jump ahead for a few seconds and then they’d be back to the same speed again and Doug would maintain his lead.  David’s observation was that Doug was ‘switching gears’ and transitioning and responding to the wind changes faster.  Doug spent years sailing at night so that he responds to the feel of the wind and not the visuals available during the day.  Faster transitions would seem to be a natural result so that doesn’t come as a surprise but he didn’t realize it was noticeable.  This didn’t come as a surprise to me.  Doug is always sailing.  We walk the dog every night and mid sentence, Doug calls the wind change.  He’s always aware.  Sitting in the doctor’s office looking at a picture with sailboats, a beach, waves, and a flag and Doug is looking to see where the wind is coming from only to say the artist isn’t a sailor because the flags and sails say the wind is coming from opposite directions. 

Peter Vesella, at the 2nd event, mentioned to Doug that he was really good in these conditions (light) and that he sometimes sailed higher and faster than other people.  Doug asked Peter to elaborate on what he saw Doug doing and Peter said that he was sailing the boat really flat and sometimes healed to windward and that at times, he just jumps ahead.  Peter noted the same thing last year.  Doug has spent some time learning to sail by feel in light conditions and learning what he calls ‘pressing’ where he heels to windward, traps the wind, and makes subtle weight shifts (steering changes) that actually generate speed.  I’ve even learned to do it better than Doug but that skill doesn’t make it to the race course for me. 

At the last event, Doug was disappointed with the fact that it seemed like he’d forgotten how to sail and Andy Roy asked him what he expected since lives in Dallas and doesn’t sail in these conditions.  Andy is exactly right.  This is Doug’s major weakness and biggest concern.  And it’s the reason he drove all the way from Dallas to Florida to compete in Florida Masters Week. 

Not to mention the reason I gave up my car for a week so that Doug could safely drive to Florida, while I got to spend the week driving around town in his 20+ year old BMW.  It looks like hell, half the windows don’t work, it’s rock, paper, scissors on whether the heat or air conditioning will work, and as I drive down the road alarm bells continually go off telling me about the various things that aren’t working.  And yet when I step on the accelerator, that sucker hits 60 mph before I can get out of 2nd gear and even though every time I turn the key, I say’ ‘don’t start, don’t start, don’t start’ the danged old fossil starts every time.  The car is very much like its owner, you can’t judge its performance by its looks, but I digress again.


So Doug headed to Florida without a plan.  He didn’t know when he was going to sleep or where and just stayed loose and flexible.  It’s that seat of the pants, flexibility in life and on the water that has taken him to some interesting places.  For the second half of the trip he was rewarded with some very comfortable accommodations.  I received a call between the second and third event from Jack Swenson’s daughter asking me if Doug can spend the night with her ... the last regatta is for the Jack Swenson Memorial Trophy.  How on earth did he manage that?  Then Doug tells me some random trivia about how Jack tried to convince Peter Seidenberg to call his ‘dolly’ a ‘molly’ after Jack’s wife.  I have no idea how Doug manages to stumble into history and learn such interesting trivia except that he seems to stay flexible and opportunities find him both on and off the water. 

So, I threw caution to the wind and quit my job and landed in situation I couldn't have planned any better. 


  1. Greatl Love all those tidbits.

    The doctor's office anecdote reminded me of the opening scene in Arthur Ransome's book Swallows and Amazons where seven-year-old Roger was "running in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe…The wind was against him, and he was tacking up against it to the farm."

    I am sure you are right that winners have the mental toughness to recover from setbacks. What I often see also is that the top guys also have an amazing ability to sail through the fleet, and still achieve a pretty good result after a major mistake or accident early in the race. That's what often really separates the winners from the near-winners.

    I really must revisit that "pressing" post of Doug's. I am thinking I will try it out in a practice session one day and then write about how it went on my own blog.

    I remember Molly Swenson (and Jack of course.) Peter may have not called his dolly after Molly, but he and his wife did call their dog after the dolly. Sadly, Dolly died a few months ago.

  2. I'm sticking with a theory that the good guys have more experience coming through the fleet. Doug often starts late when sailing locally. He's learned all sorts of stuff by doing that. I've never intentionally practiced that. Doug did say during one of these Florida events when he was deep in the fleet that it was no fun being at the back of a large fleet and there was no air and nothing he could do while he watched the front just keep separating. It made me smile to hear it.

    The pressing stuff is cool. I had the advantage of having Doug sit right beside me with us both holding the tiller to get a better feel for what he's talking about.

    The dolly has been around for a while now ... how old was Dolly the dog?

  3. Good for you, new job! Blog is great. Artist was probably painting White Rock Lake . . .

    1. Thanks! Yes, painting the wind at WRL would look a bit like that confused artist's picture.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...