Adaptability: The first big challenges!
Blog Post #3: What I had prepared for and what really became a problem.
One of the most common questions before I set off was about my preparations and expectations. "What do you think will be your greatest difficulty?" I was asked quite frequently.
Honestly, I had no idea. I had never sailed across the Atlantic, certainly not on a raceboat, and never before had I competed in such a large regatta. Stepping into the unknown was part of the my personal challenge and I consciously pushed myself outside of my comfort zone.
So what did I expect? Based on my limited prior experience: cold at night, a constantly wet deck, humidity everywhere, sleep deprivation, unhappy team dynamics...that's what I had prepared for. But what came was mostly very different!
Seasickness, I should have known!
The start was exciting, dynamic, gripping and was over far too quickly. We were so busy with maneuvers that everything just flew by. We passed Puerto Calero, waved to a camera boat and then we were off. At the southern cape of Lanzerote we met a catameran that had turned around because of technical difficulties.
So there we sailed, far out into the blue, literally. A few questions then came to mind: How will the watches work? How long will 10-12 sea days feel like? What mishaps lie ahead?
I quickly let those thoughts go. There was nothing I should worry about now. Nothing could be changed anyway, and there is no turning back. But what gradually became more and more difficult to push aside was a queasy feeling in the stomach area. The steep crossing waves, combined with little wind in the island's leeward cover, created plenty of uncomfortable pitching and rocking motion. Our speed over ground was sometimes very low due to low wind speed. So we rocked along with little or no wind in our sails. "No problem," I thought to myself, "I can handle that easily." So I quickly crawled below deck to get a few dry biscuits from the "snack box". Eating is an important component in the fight against seasickness. On deck, together with the view on the horizon and fresh air, everything was fine again. But what would it be like after my first watch below deck?
Acceleration and deceleration forces: 24/7 up and down, left and right!
This VO65 "Sisi" was made entirely of carbon fiber. This is how stiffness of the hull was achieved and weight was saved. With a length of 65 feet (approx. 20 meters) it weighs just 10 tons - and therefore nothing when calculated for its size. With the keel mounted 4 meters under the hull, as much sail area as possible is set for racing purposes. And of course that was what we did: Sisi was more like a surfboard than a robust boat. Every small wave and every gust of wind changed the position of the boat. The helmsmen were constantly busy reacting quickly to wind and waves. The rudders were very direct and you could literally feel every change in heading. I hadn't really noticed this dynamic on deck. But below deck the effect of the forces was all the more noticeable.
With no light coming in from outside, in a black hull that was constantly being torn from side to side, I found myself in a completely new situation. The water roared, every wave drummed against the ship's side like a drumbeat. Footsteps on deck, the grinding of the winches, the rushing water, you could hear everything one to one. It felt like being on a roller coaster, with no windows and most importantly, no end.
My plan was to quickly get out of my clothes, choke down food and get into the bunk. Before that I swollowed some seasickness medication and now I was hoping for some sleep. My tactic worked, after about 4 hours I woke up again. Lying down, the seasickness was under control. Sleep had brought relief. I heard voices on deck, the sounds of the boat were still very unfamiliar and I couldn't tell from them whether everything was ok - or whether the watch on deck was struggling with any kind of a problem.
OK, out of bed, into the oilskins. Fully motivated, I climbed to the front. Step by step, careful not to be thrown against any object. Always look straight ahead when seasickness comes, short pause, deep breath, continue.
I was able to safely reach my gear, got dressed and even put on my life jacket. It was putting on my boots that killed me at the the end. Looking down my vestibular system went crazy. Severe nausea overcame me, I had to get out of here!
I made it to the stern railing just in time and the dinner I had laboriously incorporated flew. "Everything OK?", it sounded from the skipper. "Now again," I encouraged myself and started my watch.
Freeze-dried food: you have to force yourself!
Spaghetti Bolognese, Asia Noodles with vegetables, Chicken Tika with curry - doesn't sound so bad, right? The experience with the packs of freeze-dried packs was always the same: exciting title, ripped open, water on it, then looked inside: an amorphous mass of either red or yellow slacks with some bits of something.
The taste offered the same experience. You put the first spoonful in your mouth and think: "Not so bad at all", but after the third or fourth spoonful the bland mash is enough again. And don't get me wrong: I wasn't expecting gourmet food, by God. But after half the package at the latest, you actually had enough of the mush.
But, the stuff had to go in. 800 calories per pack provided the necessary energy to be able to contribute as necessary. So not eating was not an option.
Eating became more and more of a challenge, especially over the duration of the trip. Apples, carrots and oranges were running low and only dry biscuits and canned tuna were no real alternatives. Under these circumstances, the muesli with dry powder milk mutated into a real highlight.
The first time at the wheel: rookie mistake approach
I've had a sailing license since I was 14 and we've had our own boat for 8 years now. Can I steer a ship the size of Sisi? – Stupid question: “Sure thing!”, I thought.
Well, here's the story: I was offered to take the helm in calm conditions for the first time. The first gust of wind caused the boat to heel massively and after my oar deflection was not nearly enough to stay on course, the crew was soon busy loosening the sheets. We approached into the wind intolerably. As a result, I tumbled off the helmsman's pedestal and gained a great deal of experience. Steering a racing yacht was a completely different thing than steering a cruiser. Learned again: many things are not what they seem at first glance and extrapolating from previous experience does not always work as expected.
Reflection and my strategies:
With all the preparation, with all the anticipation and also with all previous experience: things happen differently than you think.
In this new environment, however, my previous strategies and behavior did not work, or not sufficiently. So what to do?
I was forced and celebrated this to excess in the first three days to concentrate on well-selected, absolutely necessary tasks. Sometimes I had to spend a whole day just to achieve one goal, and it may sound ridiculous, but it was as simple as brushing my teeth or putting on new clothes. Under these unfamiliar and challenging conditions, there simply wasn't more to achieve.
But what a great moment it was when I crouched in front of my bench in the dark, rummaged in my backpack for my toothbrush and thought to myself: “Focus on just one thing, what is absolutely necessary now and what brings me one small step closer back to normal.”
My second learning in this unfamiliar situation was to consciously take the beginner's point of view again. Listening patiently and naively, watching, absorbing and consciously processing. Until I was sure which step was a good and important one, I didn't take it, but paused.
It was a great relief to consciously concentrate on small steps, to celebrate every small success inwardly and only dare to take the next step after careful consideration.
Everyone has to check for themselves whether and how my thoughts can be transferred to business situations. However, I have gained the confidence that I can simply take one small step at a time in challenging situations and thus achieve the successes that really count. At least for this one day.