March 8, 2010



In my last post I explained how my wife is learning to sail. I focused on how learning to sail really comes down to one 'aha!' moment - when you finally 'get it' and start to feel at one with the boat and with the wind.

You stop analyzing, and start feeling.

And then it occurred to me that after that first moment of discovery, there are actually many others. There is a whole series of 'aha!' moments.

There's that first time you nail the timing of a tack and come out of it with the boat moving fast and in the direction you actually want to go.

You think to yourself, "Why don't I do it that way all the time?"


And from that moment on, you're a better sailor.

If I were a Zen master, I'd probably have a cool-sounding Japanese name for these 'Aha!' moments.

And I guess it's natural to assume that if you keep on sailing long enough, all the important 'aha!' moments will eventually come to you and all will be enlightenment and you will become the kind of sailor who exudes confidence and whom people call wise and salty.

But I don't think it actually works out that way.

I think we all have a quota of 'aha!' moments allotted to us. Some of us get more, some fewer.

Some of us could live to be 103, and no one would ever call us wise or salty.

Look at Tillerman, for example.

I think one of the most appealing things about his blog is that he's a mid-fleet kind of guy. If he won every race, I think he'd have fewer readers. Nobody likes the guy who wins all the time. In fact, I think if we were honest with ourselves, we'd probably discover some pretty ugly thoughts deep down inside about the guy who wins all the time.

I think we only get a certain number of 'aha!' moments in life and, the further we go, the fewer we find.

But please don't tell Tillerman this. He might find it discouraging. And one of his strongest character traits is that he's never discouraged, he never gives up.

He is always coming up with some new scheme or plan that might loft him into the ranks of the guys who always win. A new exercise routine. A new start strategy. A new training clinic that will finally reveal the unknowable and guide him with a Yoda's confidence to the finish line.

But the guys who always win are probably no smarter than Tillerman or work any harder than he does. They probably don't even realize what they're doing that lets them win all of the time.

They've just had a few more of those 'aha!' moments. They're not thinking better, they're just feeling some things intuitively that Tillerman and the rest of us are just never going to get.

In every sport, in almost every human endeavor, from playing the guitar to juggling, there are some individuals who seem to have a natural gift for effortlessly doing what the rest of us have to struggle to achieve.

I learned long ago to accept this. I have no aspirations of one day besting my fellow sailors at anything. Or of ever intuitively knowing why a diesel engine is unhappy, the way some guys do.

I have beer and that is enough.




  1. So true, great post. And I have similar aspirations to be content to be mid-pack and have a beer with friends afterwards.

    ....and aha! so that's how you write a great post.

    So to pre-empt Tillerman, that is probably the best post about aha moments that you have ever posted - how do you do it?

  2. Great post. I couldn't agree more. The way you sail also depends on what your reason for sailing is. Competition? or to maximise joy? without trying to outdo anybody. Joy and pleasure? or performance?

  3. Great post, and thanks for the kind words about me.

    But I have to disagree with you on one point, when you say that "nobody likes the guy who wins all the time."

    From my experience of racing in Sunfish and Lasers at all levels from local club to world championship, I would say that whether or not I have liked the "guy who wins all the time" entirely depends on the guy.

    Many of those winners are wonderful, friendly, helpful people and I count some of them as the most likable people I have ever met in any walk of life. It is also true that a few are so single-minded and focused in their pursuit of victory that it is hard to "like" them even if I can admire their sailing skills.

    It all depends on the guy... or gal.

  4. Thanks, JP. Another 'aha!' has been that a long day of sailing seems to improve the taste of beer.

    Frankie, great to see your smiling link again. I hope you're once again connected.

    Tillerman, thanks for the inspiration. A guy down the dock is one of those unassuming, likable, consistent race winners. I don't really know him, but since he passes my boat to get to his, we usually exchange greetings. Like him, his boat is pretty unassuming, but he must have had a few more 'aha's' than most people, judging from his results.

  5. I'd have to agree with Tillerman that not everybody dislikes the guy who always wins. It's not solely about the character of that guy, though. Sometimes it's about personalities matching or not. Many people don't like the RGSC's guy who always wins because he does sometimes come off as single-minded and/or egotistical. But he's one of the people I most enjoy being around, on or off the water.

  6. When I was racing, my skipper might have said there were far too few aha's and way too many oh-oh's. He was a great sailor but a lousy teacher. I'm still (finally) figuring out his secrets.
    The first is to have a good laugh and a beer, no matter how you placed in the race.

  7. Carol Anne, individual personalities aside, I guess I was thinking more in terms of whose rants you would rather read in general - the guy who's clearly in another league, or the one who's grappling with the same frustrations most of us face every day.

    I know which one has saved me from the horror of Uncrustables.

  8. Yeah, if Zorro had a blog, I don't think many people would enjoy reading it. On the other hand, he's extremely unlikely to even begin to think of having a blog.

  9. If I have saved only one innocent soul from the unspeakable horror of Uncrustables then my time on earth has not been totally wasted.

  10. I tend to agree with this assessment, O'D; especially the part about the deep, dark thoughts. I don't believe it's as much about how the other guy acts, as a whole, as it is how we perceive him and react.

    That being said, there are some guys that are just not likable, and hugely successful. Kobe Bryant comes to mind. I don't like him. And it's not just because I'm a Blazer fan who's not into date-rape. I think there's something eminently unlikable about the guy. But, a whole bunch of people from LA do like him; for whatever that's worth.

  11. Greg, there's just no accounting for what people in LA might like. Take our governor.


  12. We'll take your governator if you'll take ours.

  13. Aha! - the sound of one sail luffing.

    One of the best aha! moments is the one you described last post - when things "click" for a student and they "grok" it.

    I like guys who win all the time because I'm not paying attention to who wins. Aha! ;^)

  14. Thank you for my last "AHA!" moment! --Sheik Mabouti! actually, after 4 days, it was more of a "DUH!" (slap forehead) moment