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Sharpening the Saw: Prepare before you cast off

In Stephen Covey’s best-selling self-help book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, one chapter is titled “Sharpening the Saw”. The point of the chapter is that it is incumbent on all of us to learn continually, to improve ourselves, and to challenge ourselves to do better. Take a class, read a book, practice; do what you can to improve your skills, whether mental or physical.

I thought about this as I taught a Safe Powerboat Handling class this weekend. Most of my students were parents of junior sailors, whose goal was to be safer and more confident when operating small powerboats around kids who might be in the water. US Sailing has emphasized powerboat training in the last decade or so in their sailing instructor classes, since so much coaching and instruction is done from small powerboats. The ability to safely operate a RIB or Boston Whaler in close proximity to swimmers is an absolute necessity if you’re going to teach sailing.

In addition to parents of junior sailors, and a few juniors who were intent on earning their Level 1 sailing instructor rating, there were also 3-4 “old salts” who had extensive sailing and powering backgrounds. One was a circumnavigator, who sailed with her husband on a 35’ sloop over the course of seven years. Another had done the “Great Loop” of America in his Grand Banks 42. Certainly they were far too advanced in their boating knowledge to get anything out of a beginning powerboat class.

However, as both of them informed me, they were in the class because they felt that they could always learn something new, or refine their existing skills, or try a variety of boats so that they could gain confidence the next time that they needed to operate an unfamiliar boat. They didn’t feel it was boring, or beneath them, to operate a 13’ Whaler and improve their docking or their ability to operate at minimum control speed. They picked up information about invasive marines species, new fuel tank regulations, how VHF channel designations are changing, and what’s considered negligent boat operation.

Your “saw sharpening” doesn’t have to involve an instructional class.

Your “saw sharpening” doesn’t have to involve an instructional class. It can simply be to sail with skilled sailors, who do things differently, or going out on a type of boat that you’re not familiar with. I’ve been blessed to sail with some of the world’s greatest sailors, including Paul Cayard, Steve Taft, Brian Thompson, Stan Honey, Gino Morrelli, Butch Dalrymple-Smith and others. Each moment spent onboard a sailboat with these sailors is an opportunity to observe how they steer, how they jump a halyard, how they plot a line of position, or how they conduct themselves with their crewmembers. Whether cruising or racing, we all have something we can learn from others to make our time on the water more fun, and safer, and frequently faster.

So, commit to sharpening your personal saw. Take a class, observe better sailors than yourself, and apply your new skills when you’re on the water. There’s no end to this process, and it’s what makes every day on the water a little more interesting.