Whether or not you are a sailor you have seen iconic photos of sailboats cruising the water flying those massive, colorful sails known as spinnakers. In sailing parlance these giant sails are also called chutes because they are essentially giant parachutes launched into the air to catch the wind. I have been racing on sailboats since a young age and to me flying the spinnaker is one of the best moments during a sailboat race. And would you believe some boat owners never put up the chute? So to pursue this sailboat-racing-as-life metaphor, here is my first suggestion.
Fly the Damn Chute!
Yes, as hard as it is to believe, some sailors do not fly their spinnaker. That’s like having a Porsche 911 and never kicking it into seventh gear on the open road. For shame! In a sailboat race, weather permitting, I find this absolutely unacceptable. It is true that flying the spinnaker requires some skill and experience, both for the helmsman and the crew. It can certainly be a challenge, especially during a competitive race where every second counts and rounding the marks requires precise execution. As individuals, we have so many tools and talents at our disposal that it is a shame to not use them. Get out of that rut. Try something new. You might surprise yourself.
As powerful as the spinnaker is, it is a delicate sail. It must be dry when packed and folded with care so at launch there are no knots, snags, or snarls. You want a smooth transition and a crisp open so you round the buoy and ride with the wind. This requires that you know where your next course will take you so you can rig the guys, sheets, and spinnaker pole where you need them. Forethought and preparation germane to the current conditions will ensure a successful launch. Think ahead. Be prepared.
Seize the Moment
I don’t know about you but it seems like much of life is spent beating a course up wind. You battle the wind from one direction and the next all the while it seems like you are getting nowhere. Then, there is that moment. There is that moment when everything comes together and becomes easy. Creativity flows. You have success at work. Your kids get along. Your car runs great. This is what it is like flying the chute during a boat race. After battling the wind for what seems an eternity, everything comes together and you get to cruise at double digit speeds under a colorful sail in the sunshine.
Be Loyal to Your Crew
This may be the most important tenet of all. Ken first taught me to sail big boats. His son and I were friends in school and I had expressed an interest in boat racing so Ken brought me along. I knew absolutely nothing about big boats and he let me race with him every weekend. Fast forward a couple years and I decided to jump ship and race on a different boat at the club with one of my buddies because I thought it would be more fun. I have regretted that decision ever since. I attribute the poor choice to the impetuousness of youth but it is still no excuse. Sometime, somewhere, someone will give you an opportunity. Be sure to repay that kindness with loyalty. I have been blessed with a number of friends over the years who have taught me a great deal about loyalty and friendship that transcends time or distance and I am grateful. And I am looking forward to the day when I can take Ken cruising on my boat and thank him for instilling in me a lifelong passion.
Sail Your Own Race
That being said, you still must sail your own race. The most dissatisfying races I have participated in were where we made the conscious decision to copy another boat’s strategy. It is true you can tell a lot about conditions by what the boats ahead of you are doing but you should still have your own plan and execute accordingly. This goes back to being prepared. Remain vigilant and keep apprised of changing conditions and adjust your strategy as necessary.
Add Some Color
Finally, have some fun! You won’t always win. Some days will be cold and wet. Some days there will be no wind and the gnats will descend upon you like the plague while you sweat in the heat. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure you focus on the reason you are there in the first place, to enjoy the water and your crewmates. And to win! And when you round the mark and launch the chute, make sure your sail is as bright as it can be.