Life lessons from boat racing – keep a light hand

This year we have been struggling a bit with the balance of the boat. Once the wind pipes up a bit, there has been an ever increasing amount of weather helm.

After significant fiddling around, including taking the furling apart, we have managed to adjust the balance of the rig a little further forward and now seem to have it  mostly under control. Going upwind now in a 15 knot breeze gives a small amount of weather helm and that can be tuned out to a neutral helm using the traveller.

The issue we had before is that the excess weather helm was causing significant added drag under the water. We would need the rudder significantly off the center line to counter balance the weather helm and keep the boat on track. This meant that the top speed was knocked down a bit and more significantly the boat was slow to accelerate out of a tack. It also meant that you really needed to pay attention to your line as the boat would tend to head up with even a split seconds wandering of concentration by the helm.

Now the boat is in balance, the helm can steer with two fingers and we are minimizing extra underwater drag. It is simply a more pleasant boat to sail, not to mention faster.

The application of this to the business world is that in any organization you need to look for situations where the organization is out of balance. Maybe this is due to inadequate or even potentially over staffing, it could be because of poor or over complex business processes. The list is potentially endless, but the bottom line is that the organization is having to work a lot harder to produce results than it needs to. Dealing with this may be easy, or it may be hard, but the rewards are significant, both in terms of productivity and also your business will be a more pleasant place to work as the frustration level will fall.

 

From a management perspective, just like on the boat, you will be able to steer your organization with a much lighter hand.

Life lessons from boat racing – keep your eyes on the prize

This is a follow up to an earlier post about roles – you can read it here but it is well worth expanding on, and it is the simple fact that when there is a lot going on you tend to get lost in the details.

The old saying “when you are up to you ass in alligators it is difficult to remember that your task was to drain the swamp” is very true, both on the water and off. Where I get tripped up on the water is allowing all of the things going on around me to distract from my job of managing the race and making good tactical decisions. I get to the end of a race and in the post race analysis that runs around in my head, I can always manage to do better and can always see where the wheels fell of the wagon (or prop fell of the boat), but in the heat of battle it is a lot more difficult.

The trick is to limit the number of things that you are responsible for to a manageable number, and then get people around you that can do the other things and then let them do them. Easier said than done, as you have a built in tendency to oversee, and that takes up cycles, which you may or may not have, and if you don’t it will come back and bite you at the most inopportune time. It is difficult and goes against all of the ethos of the “skipper” who is responsible for everything.

Off the water, this is also the same challenge faced by most small business owners, and is probably the biggest (well next to the economy) limit to growth. It is self limiting on both your business and your sanity if you can’t let go. So, plan and structure. Define the roles you need to have performed, give people their roles and then discipline yourself to a reducing amount of oversight. Once you trust people to do their jobs, let them get on with it and hold yourself to just enough oversight to ensure that things are proceeding well and no more. Your stress level will thank you and your results will astound you.

Life lessons from boat racing – if it is broke fix it

Lets say I am good at putting things off, especially if it means getting all hot and sweaty. That means that things on the boat, especially in the height of summer will get put off until the weather cools. I repeat, I am not good in the heat, and tools and other articles do tend to get airborne after a few expletives when I miss something due to sweat in my eyes. I’m also old enough that I forget where I put tools down and spend a fair amount of time getting pissed off that I can’t find bits.

That being said, there is a point that you need to do things as the level of irritation with a problem become annoying or something is just plain broke. It is the first of these that I want to talk about today, the second is pretty self evident  just go ahead and fix it. The second is a little more pernicious, both in life and on the water.

For most of this season I have not been particularly happy with the boat handing. We just have a bit too much weather helm when the wind pipes up, It isn’t that anything is broken, it just isn’t working as well as it should. When we head off up wind, the rudder is too far off the center line and we have more drag than we should. The fix is to change the balance of the boat and move the center of effort of the sail plan forward. This shouldn’t be a  difficult job, but it is the first time that I have done this on this boat, so there is always a risk of things going awry. The other factor is that the furling on this boat isn’t a current model so getting replacement parts could be a little difficult if things go bubbles.

So, guess what, I’ve been putting it off and living with a sub-par situation. That is called procrastination, and it isn’t a good thing. It can happen for a lot of reasons – for me it is when I’m uncertain of obtaining the outcome I want.

So the trick is to figure out what needs to be done by whatever means necessary and attempt to disaster proof your plan before you start. In this case I found a really useful youtube video that walked me through the process. I had read the manual as well and with both of these I felt that it wasn’t beyond my capabilities. If it is beyond your capabilities, then at this point stop, do not pass go and get the right help, as failure will reinforce your procrastination in the future.

Next is to make a detailed plan of what you need to do the job and the steps involved, and a place to store your tools when you are working. Go through from beginning to the end, and  then you won’t find yourself in the situation where everything is apart all over the dock and you are running around looking for the tool you forgot to bring or have temporarily misplaced. I had both a mental and physical check list before I left to start work.

Now work your plan. Don’t skip steps and if things are struggling, then step back and regroup. I had to do this a couple of times when I ran into issues but in the end I had disaster proofed my plan well enough that nothing went sideways and now I’m on to the last step which is test and test again to ensure I have achieved my objective.

By the way, even with all of the planning I did forget one tool and had to improvise. It was something that I didn’t even think of during the planning process so it was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know. Next time I do this adjustment, I won’t have this surprise, but all in all I’m happy with how things went.

Life lessons from boat racing – sometimes you just get it wrong

Hopefully it doesn’t happen too many times, but it will, For all of the best reasons in the world, you are out in a race and you make some calls that look right at the time, but don’t work out.

Last Wednesday was a prime example – we started the race off fairly well – we were in clean air at the start and hit the line pretty close to the gun and headed off in the direction that we wanted. So far so good. We didn’t see any wind shifts but by the time we got to the uphill pin we were behind. No worries, just keep plugging away. We took out a couple of boats on the wing legs, but the wind velocity was starting to tail off and the committee boat indicated a shorten course was in play, so we rounded the last  downwind mark and headed off up wind to the finish – we were not in bad shape at this point – probably second or third in fleet. That is when the wheels came off.

We rounded the mark and headed off upwind. If you have been following this blog you will know that we don’t have the greatest of upwind angles, we simply cannot outpoint the fleet, so our best tactic is to just go fast and a little lower. If you can avoid being covered, this works just fine – we sail further but get there quicker. Not tonight.

Right off the mark, the wind slowly started to back and we were on a port tack, That meant that we were getting lifted, but the other boats were getting lifted inside of us. Not good – but not much we can do about it, so go for speed. We watched the fleet get away from us and by the time we hit the finish we were in last but one place.

We had done everything right – but this time it simply didn’t work, and in racing as in life that sometimes happen – and all you can do is to try to plan for the eventualities and have back up plans, but as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang, “sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug”

Life lessons from boat racing – tactics, tactics, tactics

The search for the newest go faster gadget is one of the things that keeps us boat racers interested. It certainly is fun, and can be pretty expensive, but the lesson I have learned is that these things come last on the list. Yes, you have to have functioning gear, in good order, but there isn’t a magic bullet.

Instead you need to concentrate on doing things right – start well, pick the right side of the course, read the wind, tack on wind shifts, stay out of trouble and execute well. All of these things don’t need technology, they need common sense and a heads up game. Poor tactics can lose you minutes over the course of a race, whereas the latest go faster toy will gain you seconds. It isn’t rocket science which one gives you the bigger gain.

Yes – all things being equal, then the gadget may help – but they never are. Boat racing, just like life is based upon making the fewest mistakes, and when you do make a mistake, and you will, how you recover and move on. It is seeing the advantage and then capitalizing on it.

I’ve worked in Information Technology for the whole of my life, and it has been one unending search for the better mousetrap. Looking back, I can say that new tools certainly can help – but if you concentrate on doing things effectively and well, with a good vision of what you want to achieve then the gains will be much greater. Not only that – but each time you try a new mousetrap there is a learning curve, sometimes huge, sometimes small that you have to endure, so being expert at what you do is a never ending chase.

I’m not a luddite, so exploring new technology, both on and off the water isn’t something that I’m averse to, and no-one can sit on their laurels and hope to retain gains. What I find though is that while you need to introduce new things, you also need to make sure you are and continue to do all of the basics right first.

World cup munchies

I have been following the World Cup closely, and must confess to a dark secret. Hoping against hope, and being dashed at every step, I still am an England fan. I’m not a Rooney fan, but I still hold a very dim candle for England

Their performance at this World Cup was not exactly stellar, but it also wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Yes, Rooney looked his usual sulky self and seemed that he was always on the verge of a temper tantrum but there were a number of bright spots. That cannot be said of the regular defense. That looked completely out of its league in the first two games, although the replacement players that were used in the last game, especially the goaltender looked much sharper. I can’t in all fairness say they were robbed of a place in the last 16, but their overall performance deserved better than two losses and a draw

But that isn’t the reason for this article, I just needed to get it off my chest.

What I want to talk about is the sex rules that are in place at the world cup. Yes, teams actually define nooky rules for their players that run the gamut from no sex during the tournament, to no sex the night before a game or the one that I love, no acrobatic sex. I would have thought that would have lead to very cranky players and a much higher incidence of bad tempered fouls. Which brings me to the game between Italy and Uruguay, otherwise known as the Hunger Game.

During the game, Louis Suarez seemed to take a bite out of one of the Italian players. Apparently this isn’t the first time that he has had the munchies mid game, and one has to wonder if the Uruguay Sex Rules have anything to do with it. Is it possible that Louis was driven mad by no nookie? Could it be that cannibalism is a side effect of not getting any?

I better stop before my imagination runs away with me.

It was a pretty despicable act, and needs to be addressed by FIFA with a ban on Suarez for the remainder of this Cup. That way he can sit in the stands and eat hotdogs rather than opposition players.

 

Spam

When I was growing up, spam was a rather nasty meat like product that came out of a can. You could batter and deep fry it, which unlike the original product came close in my eyes to a food of the gods. The original – well nuff said, it was what you eat when you ran out of cat food.

Now spam means something completely different, and it is the poisonous problem that most of us that operate blogs or have an email account suffer from, where some basement dwelling troll or worse, some Nigerian con artist is sending us messages about their dearly beloved auntie who wants to send us 10 million dollars, or in the case of blogs, some fake post in the hope that we will put the comment up and link back to a site selling fake Louis Vuitton sunglasses.

Are you friggin stupid, or do you think that I am? There is no way in gods green earth that I am going to fall for either of these rather stupid little schemes and if you believe that I will, then you have the IQ of a carrot, so please stop sending this crap. I still have a few mental faculties working, so just trying and trying again will not work. Now having said that – maybe you should just keep going for another 10 or 20 years, and by that time, my brain may have rotted enough for me to go…..hmmmm good idea. Nah – let me repeat – IT ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN…. so please stop

I get so tired of clearing out my spam folder every morning, so if you are going to persist with this, at least be creative about it, and give me a good laugh.

For me spam is just a total annoyance, but I am so glad my parents are not on the net. They, unlike me are trusting souls and would fall for the little girl trapped in a foreign country scam and that is the real tragedy of all of this, that the people that are least able to defend themselves are likely the victims, so lets get out the pitchforks and deal with this problem.

Life lessons from boat racing – heads up

The worst tangles that I have ever got into in a boat race come down to one thing and that is not keeping a weather eye out, If you see trouble coming then you have time to come up with a counter strategy which, while it may not eliminate the threat, will minimize the impact on you.

It could be a boat that is on starboard and you are on port, or it could be a traffic jam developing at a turning mark or being headed up at the starting line. If you see it coming then you can  figure out an exit strategy.

If you don’t see it coming, then there is usually lots of yelling followed by a sub optimal solution. Hopefully there isn’t any crashing sounds, but when you are blindsided that is definitely one of the possible outcomes.

Life works the same way – keep your head up and don’t get so engrossed in the task at hand that you can’t see that your path is taking you over a cliff.

Life lessons from boat racing – keep it clean

My boat is fairly quick, but is heavy and needs time to accelerate. I have a pretty stiff handicap and need to stretch out as much from slower boats as possible.

To that end, the best solution for me in a race is to get into clear air and keep it that way. That way there isn’t disturbed air coming off other boats, and I get a chance to accelerate up to full speed for the tack that I am on and keep it that way. If I get trapped in traffic, the boat doesn’t get a chance to use it’s full speed potential, and I get bogged down.

The same is true with sailing against a fleet – I need to keep in mind that the real objective is to get around the course as fast as possible by tactically playing it right and reading and using wind shifts and wind lanes to my best advantage. I only should engage with other boats when absolutely necessary and always keep in mind that when I’m battling another boat, the likelihood is that the rest of the fleet is making gains as we have our own little private war.

The same is true in life. If you get into a pissing competition, the likelihood is that you will both get wet feet, and the rest of the world will pass you by. You need to keep your eye on the end game and not get distracted.

Election spleen vent

I have just been to vote in the Ontario provincial election.

I must admit, I don’t find any of the candidates in my riding particularly enticing, but I have always said that if you don’t vote, you lose your right to bitch. So off to vote I went.

This is where it went a little sideways. Unless I am very much mistaken, the two official languages in Canada are English and French. So how come the people that were staffing the polling station were conversant in neither?

I have voted many times before, so the process is well known to me, but if I hadn’t gone through it before, I’m pretty sure that I would have had difficulty after the totally mangled explanation that was given to me by the elections officer. I wondered if it was just the one person that was dealing with me, but her partner was having similar difficulties with the next person in line.

I was very tempted to switch to French to see what sort of reaction that would provoke, but instead decided that the best course would be to simply vote and get out of there before I said.something that I would regret. Well I’m going to say it anyway. Why for heavens sake can’t the hiring criteria state ability to speak and understand either official language clearly is mandatory.