Life lessons from boat racing – take your gains when you can

Wind shifts. They are the bane and the reward when you are boat racing. If you are on the wrong side of a wind shift, you are cursing the weather gods. If you are on the good side of a wind shift you are patting yourself on the back as being a superior tactician.

The one thing that you can pretty much guarantee is that during a race there will be wind shifts, and your success or failure to read and adapt to them will determine your overall outcome. Yes, there are lot of other factors in play, such as your placement with other boats, but there is no other single factor that can make such a huge difference in your results.

Now the one thing that a lot of us do is to hang on to a gain for too long, and then find that a shift has come and the gain that you had has now turned into a loss. I suppose it is only human nature to try to play the gain for as long as possible, but that can quite often leave you holding a losing hand.  The other mistake that can easily be made is hoping that an adverse shift will come back and give you a gain.

The idea is to bank your gains when you can and then go looking for another one. Obviously you need to temper this with observations about what is happening around you, but by banking your gain you have it locked up. A good example of this is when you are riding a left shift on starboard tack. The boats that are inside of you will be slowly falling behind you and you will find that there will come a point that boats that you couldn’t clear if you tacked are now clearable. The bad part of this is that boats on the other tack are being lifted. By tacking you are banking that gain and clearing those boats. Not only that you are now on the favored tack and you will be lifted inside the boats that are downwind of you on the new tack. The moment the left shift ends though, all of these gains stop, so the trick is to bank when you can. The moment you can clear the boats you are gaining on – go for it, and then you will still have some more of the shift to get gains on the boats on the port tack

In boat racing, it is quite common to get what is known as an oscillating breeze, where it will shift to the right for a while, and then shift back to the left, and this happens on a regular basis, so 5 minutes in one direction and then 5 minutes in another. If you are well enough prepared and have been out on the race course before the start checking out the shifts, then you can keep taking advantage of the shift during the race.

This is equally true of life off the water, where the tendency is to get greedy when there is an advantageous business situation. Always keep a weather eye out so that you have an exit plan that will allow you to bank your gains when you can. Small gains are great and much better than boom and bust.

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 – 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.