Our Big International Race.
Kaizen is the Zen practice of continuous improvement by driving a perfectly working system beyond its breaking point, in a way that weaknesses become particularly apparent, as the focus of redesigning and rebuilding the system. And then, all over again.
The biggest race of the season was finally about to start. In the first week of July, 73 teams from 12 countries, came to “Porto Carras Crand Resort” Marina, in Northern Greece, for the unique experience of a truly memorable overall stay. We had never had the opportunity to take part as a team in such a demanding competition before. We are privileged enough to have well-seasoned sailors among us, and all of us have extensive racing experience, yet this would be our First as a Team.
On day one, Wed July 6, an offshore race of 34 NM was in schedule. Starting the race we headed west to a mark near the first of the three “legs” of the Chalkidiki Peninsula. The wind was about 5-8kts, meaning we had a lot of trimming to do in order to optimize our speed in those demanding conditions.
A sudden change in the wind direction, after rounding the first mark, made us fall behind a lot. We clawed back a few places on the leeward leg to the second mark and closed the gap with the boats ahead of us. We then headed south to the end of the second “leg” of Chalkidiki, were we rounded the 3rd mark next to some of our main competitors. The last part was a drag race to the port, trying to beat our competition on a boat-to-boat race. At the end of the day, the 9th place left us disappointed, but taught us a lot and made us even more determined to improve in the races to come.
In the course of the next 2 days, we had 5 windward-leeward races, where we knew -at least we thought so, we were quite strong. However, we didn’t start well, getting a 10th and a 7th place.
All in all, it seemed as if we were trying to find our best form and perform to our standards. In almost every race all year long we had finished at the top, yet now racing alongside 36 other boats and some of the best crews in Europe, although an incredible experience, we found ourselves certainly challenged to find ways of improving on our performance, and do it fast!
Mike Tyson once said: “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.”
Most likely we needed our own punch. In order to get out of our comfort zone -single-mindedly winning championships year after year, and put our best foot forward racing as equals against much celebrated teams, and win.
We called an emergency meeting to discuss how we could best handle the situation at hand. About what went wrong and how we would be able to meet our means.
And the results that came immediately, with some excellent tactic and flawless sailing, a 4th and a 6th place, lifted our spirits and send our self-confidence soaring, at least temporarily. Because much to our chagrin, an 11th place at race 6, showed us that we should keep trying and there is work to be done on more levels than one.
The 2nd offshore race it was mirror image of the race from the North Aegean Cup. Same race course, but much tougher competition this time. After a backbreaking day, a 6th place overall left us quite satisfied, taking into consideration that eventually fatigue had started to set in jeopardizing performance.
On the last day, nothing changed dramatically. The wind shifts favored the larger boats, keeping us off the top spots of the 2 races scheduled for the day.
Finished in 7th position overall, 17 points far from a podium finish (most probably our “First” too) we were left with mixed feelings. We knew that we should have performed better and finish higher up, but taking into account the high level of our opponents and the fact that it was our first big race, 7th place out of 37 teams isn’t such a bad place after all.
Not that we go back to “business as usual”. We always aim high. At winning in every race we take part in. Richer in experience and wiser by learning from our mistakes, we need to go back and take a second look at methods and practices, and ask how we can improve, how we can get faster, more coordinated, better informed.
For now, we have a small break from racing so we will take time to regroup, do the necessary repairs and prepare for an upcoming tough winter racing season.
And the big regattas to come.