Race 3 on the Alcatraz course

Posted by Rolex Big Boat Series on Friday, September 15, 2017

For me, racing sailboats is one of those things.  If you know much about boats, you know that for the most part, sailboats don’t go that fast.  Which is probably a good thing, most days.   There’s a variety of formats for sailboat racing that’s done inshore (close to land) –

  • match racing – 2 boats racing each other
  • team racing – groups of 3 boats (usually) racing each other
  • one design fleet racing – all the boats racing each other are the same, or similar enough that the playing field is equal
  • handicap fleet racing – boats are assigned a handicap number (just like golf) and after everyone finishes, the handicap offsets are calculated and someone wins

Personally I prefer anything but handicap, since I like to know where I stand at any given moment in the race.

If you’re racing on a boat that requires more than one person to sail well, you’re going to need a decent team.  I like that aspect of racing, although it can become tedious at times, lol…  I’ve learned a lot of things working with various teams in racing that translate into other parts of life, especially business.  Here are a few of them, in no particular order, and how this translates into sound business practices for me –

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  • Try getting 4-10 people to commit to giving up their weekends, evenings or holidays to come out on a boat, sometimes with very little chance of winning.  In amateur racing, no one is getting paid to make this sacrifice.
  • Try getting this same (or any) group of people to work together at the same level, when they have disparate skill sets and not everyone has the same experience or knowledge.
  • Try getting these people to learn to do their own jobs (every person on a good racing team has a specific job) efficiently, and more importantly, try getting them to maintain focus on their own job; often crew management consists of herding cats back to their own positions when they feel it’s more important to instruct others on how to do their jobs.  This generally leaves two jobs that aren’t done correctly.
  • Try to get them all to show up on time for all the races, practices, and shore coaching, especially if they have families, kids, or jobs that actually pay them money to be somewhere else at the same time as these races, practices or shore coaching sessions.

If, and it’s a very unlikely if, you can get the same people to do this repeatedly, then you’ve only just started building the foundation for a solid program.  You still haven’t actually won a regatta, or even a single race.  A regatta is a series of races normally.  Kind of like a war is a series of campaigns, battles or events.

Herding cats is sometimes a more enjoyable pastime, I am told.

I’m allergic to cats, lucky me.

Boats are not indestructible machines, and sails, lines, and equipment require maintenance – lots of it.  If you’re in charge of the situation, that’s going to fall on you.  Just like being a business owner, or managing a team of co-workers.  People have to have the tools for success, and decrepit or missing tools are not a recipe for a well baked ending.

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Boats are also expensive.  Bring Out Another Thousand is the common refrain among owners, although I prefer to advise people to go stand in a cold shower wearing all the clothes they can get on their bodies, while trying to light a stack of $100 bills with a grill lighter.  If they are successfully able to handle this task, they may qualify for boat ownership.

Micromanagement has very little place on a boat.

Just like a well run business, a well run boat crew does not need to be told what to do every minute of the race.  We have to trust in the crew to know their jobs, do their own jobs, and be ready to help their crew mates when they are asked to do so – but not before that unless it’s a matter of safety or something equally dire.

That, my friends, is a hard task.  If you happen to own the boat in question, it’s scary and frustrating to watch your hard earned dollars being spent on silly mistakes that cost you in repair time and money.   But you have to learn to do it, and sometimes you just have to suck it up and forget about the repair bills and keep the boat moving towards the next mark, and ultimately the finish line.

Same thing in a business.

You can’t run a successful business if you can’t empower people to do their jobs with confidence.  If you only worry about the problems and the cost of mistakes, you’ll never be successful.  Learning to lead by doing your job – whether it’s driving the boat, making tactical decisions, or sometimes being relegated to the all important “check writer position”  – is mission critical in successfully managing a battle, a campaign, a race, a war, or whatever the end game is in your short list of goals.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

A guy I have raced with and against on a variety of boats just won a major regatta.  He commented that “the other guy was faster but he shot himself in the foot a couple of times”, after his recent win.  Both of these guys are fabulous sailors, and truly fun to race with, but the chief takeaway here is that if you are too busy shooting yourself in the foot, you can’t win no matter how fast you are on a given weekend.

That pretty much sums up everything in life, if you ask me.

We had a recent bit of luck ourselves last month.  San Francisco is home to one of the premier regattas on the sailing schedule, Rolex Big Boat Series, and we won our division (Express 37) in a pretty decisive manner.   We didn’t do everything right, but we did limit the number of times we shot at our feet, and we certainly had luck on our side occasionally.  I have another great sailor friend who says, “it’s better to be lucky than good sometimes” and I’m a firm believer in that sentiment.

I’m going to leave you with a video this week – its from Race 3 on day 2 of the event.  We are the boat in front with the red and white spinnaker, and we managed to hang on to first place through the finish line.  I’m also the one standing in the back on Eclipse in the photo above, trying to figure out how to stay ahead of Locamotion.