Don't Put a Block on Your Chances
by Jeremy Nicholson, Allen Brothers on 15 Dec 2016
15 December 2016
Snow in the dinghy park at Littleton Sailing Club © Littleton SC
Winter is the "off season" for most sailors, if you exclude the semi professionals who can jet off to exotic climes to pursue their sport. The more usual situation is the boat goes into an already overcrowded garage with the good intention that the numerous little opportunities for improvement you noticed over the course of the year can be implemented before next season.
In your mind's eye this few minutes work will undoubtedly be translated into stellar performance improvements and success in the coming season. In reality, the boat will lay undisturbed until the first race next year, when it will be given a cursory look over and some Gaffer Tape before its first outing.
However, if you think about the degree of improvement you need to get a few places up the ladder, it is not that much and a little prior preparation is all but guaranteed to prevent poor performance. We all know more races are lost than are won and by ruling out gear failure or inefficiency you are maximising your chances and planning for success.
And it is not just a couple of places in a club regatta we are talking about. Unless you are nursing hopes of being the next Ben Ainslie, your sailing career represents your choice of pursuit and a use of your very valuable leisure time. A good result at the weekend may not put you on the Tokyo Trail, but it will give you a sense of achievement, improve your summer and may even help you bond with your children. There are as many reasons for club sailors to go out at the weekend as there are boats on the water and all of them matter.
Vince Horey of Allen Brothers recalled this incident which highlights the point:
"A famous Fireball sailor was having an intermittent problem with their Mainsheet Ratchet block. It had been going on for a few weeks and I think he was hopping it would get better and start working properly.
We all went to an Open Meeting at Draycote and it was blowing 25–27 knots. The Ratchet Block totally gave up in the first race and he had to hold the mainsheet with no Ratchet.
After dropping the sheet on almost every beat and dropping his crew into cold April water they gave up on the Sat.
He arrived on Sunday Morning with a new Ratchet but the wind was still blowing and he could not sail as his hands where wrecked from the day before.
Complete waste of a weekend."
So don't just think of the warm glow you will get in the club bar after a particularly successful event. Think instead about the cost, in terms of both time and money, you are dedicating to your pleasure. If you add together travel and accommodation costs, entry fees and explaining to your other half why this weekend is a DIY free zone, then does it really make sense to scupper your chances in advance. Half an hour in the garage and fifty quid spent on parts may make the difference between the long drive home with a black cloud over your head and a broken boat on the trailer and a week spent regaling your colleagues with tales of your prowess.
So plan your maintenance and upgrade programme, research the gear and systems which will give you an edge, make some time in your schedule for some garage base screwdriver time and look forward to a year of watching other people take the hits.