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How To Finish Seventh - Reflecting on the ACO Musto Skiff World Championships 2012 to 2023

by Dan Vincent 3 Aug 13:39 BST 15-21 July 2023
ACO 12th Musto Skiff Worlds in 2023 © Emilio Santinelli

There are any number of articles written by winning sailors on how to finish first. Hundreds, thousands of them probably. I see that as an overcrowded market, and instead, I have decided to share some wisdom on my own niche skill - how to finish seventh.

Let me explain. A pattern has developed in each of the four Musto Skiff World Championships where I have contested and have finished seventh every time.

My first Musto Skiff Worlds was at Weymouth in 2012, when an almost 100 boat fleet converged on the Olympic venue four weeks before the five-ringed circus. Bruce Keen won that event, beating Richard Stenhouse, Tom Wright, and Jon Newman from Australia. If you have read this far, it will come as no surprise that I finished seventh overall after briefly being in second place (at the end of Day 1).

There was then a seven-year hiatus when I flew off to sail International Moths.

Upon returning to the Musto, my next crack at the Worlds was in 2019 at Medemblik, Netherlands. Once again, Bruce Keen won, followed by Jon Newman, but the rest of the top six had changed to younger bucks. I think I briefly led the regatta (if you had taken positions at the leeward gate of race 3 shortly before I hit a plastic bag) and I won a pair of treasured, painted clogs for seventh overall and 1st Master (over-45 years category).

Another break for the Covid years followed, and then the 2022 Worlds at Kiel, Germany, where Rick Peacock achieved victory for the first time (and third attempt) and I, once again, tasted the bitter-sweet flavour of seventh and lost my Master World Title to Pete Greenhalgh.

Two seventh places in a row were coincidence, but three seventh places in a row qualifies as a pattern. As a result, my stated aim for the 2023 World Championships in Torbole, Lake Garda was any position other than seventh!

At the end of Day 1, I was in tenth position. By the end of Day 2, I was in eighth position and already the draw of seventh seemed like a tractor beam. By the end of Day 3, I was in seventh. Thereafter, when I had a good day, so did my close rivals, and when I had a bad race, those around me also stumbled. In my most paranoid moments I started to suspect a fleet-wide conspiracy to keep me in seventh.

Whether it was conspiracy, cock-up, or coincidence I finished the final day's racing and walked to the noticeboard waiting for the official results, which confirmed with complete inevitability what I knew must be the case, I had once again finished seventh. However, I did wrestle back the 1st Master Title from Pete.

Four times in a row, why is this happening? Probably not for the same reasons that someone wins four times in a row. That pattern would indicate that the person is the standout best sailor, and I don't think it is possible to be the standout and undebatable seventh best Musto Skiff sailor in the World. I beat and get beaten by an ever-changing and fluid cast of sailors, who sometimes do better and other times worse. None of the top six at Weymouth in 2012 were at Garda in 2023.

However, maybe I am the standout seventh best sailor, and perhaps my approach is good enough to compete with the top ten, and even win races in the right conditions (one at Medemblik, one at Kiel, and two at Garda - just saying), but not good and consistent enough across the range to get in the top five?

Or maybe it is a case of self-sabotage / determination. Perhaps, sub-consciously, I ensure through my actions that I gravitate to that part of the pecking order where I feel most comfortable, being paralysed by imposter syndrome if I stray into the top six, and energised by fear of personal failure if I am eighth or worse. I don't think so, but then that is rather the definition of sub-conscious.

So, to those who want to emulate me, I can offer that hard work (but not too hard), preparation (but don't go overboard), practice (just not too much) is the route to moderate success.

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