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Basketball Sailing
Handle Hard Better
June 2024

K
ara Lawson is the head coach of the Duke women’s basketball team. She’s a basketball icon. On and off the court, Kara is one of the most successful athletes on the planet. A high school all-American, she won two state championships. In college, she played at Tennessee for coaching legend Pat Summitt.
Kara Lawson
Kara Lawson

While at Tennessee, Lawson won 4 straight SEC championships, played in 3 final fours, was a two-time Naismith Player of the Year finalist, and earned the Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Student-Athlete of the Year award.

She has won gold Olympic medals as both a player and coach.

And, after 13 successful years in the Women’s National Basketball Association, Lawson began a broadcasting and coaching career. Breaking new ground and opening doors, she was an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics (men).

Now, she is closer to our lattitude: head coach of the women’s basketball team at Duke University.

So. I tell you all that, to tell you this: Kara Lawson has a lot figured out. I stumbled across her mantra when it went viral.

She coaches her players to: Handle hard better.

Epiphany. That is it.

Handle hard better.

Finally, a female basketball living legend has figured it out for us sailors.

Sayin’ it’s easy, is all wrong
I am an American Sailing Association (ASA) instructor. With due reverence to my credentialing association, ASA has it all wrong.

Yes, I’ve said it. ASA is wrong.

Their publications: Sailing Made Easy followed by Coastal Cruising and Bareboat Chartering Made Easy are misconstrued by marketing. No one is ever going to read a book and make sailing easy.

Do not get me wrong. I really like the books. The content is wonderful. But, the titles are misaligned. Nobody is ever going to change sailing. The essence of sailing is timeless and unchanging. Sailing is always hard. And everything is harder on a boat.

The bottom line is: sailing was, and is, and is always going to be hard.

Columbus didn't have this book
Columbus didn’t have this book
Sailing was hard for the Egyptians and Romans. It was hard for the Portuguese and Spanish explorers. I am certain the Vikings did not reach North America with ease.

And Columbus did not read a book to easily reach the West Indies. Can you picture Columbus saying, “Yes, these books made sailing easy”?

Think about it… an upwind sail from Oriental to Ocracoke? Yes. Hard. No matter what you have read.

Sailing: never easy, always hard
So, sailing never gets easier. Sailing is timeless hard. You and your crew are what changes.

I will write it again so it sinks in.

You and your crew are what changes.

Through education and training you learn to “handle hard better.” Thank you Kara Lawson.

Sailing gets easier for you because you have done education and training and have improved. You are not making sailing “do” anything.

I had it partially correct in my September 2021 blog “Men at Work.” My point then was the most important work you can do for your boat is improving yourself. To have the sailing experience you deserve (and paid for), you must be able to handle hard better.

To handle hard better requires you and your crew to do education and training.

Having fun?
Unmet boating expectations are caused by performance issues. The root of poor performance is educational shortcomings. There must be good education aboard.

Put another way, if one pictures the boat as training, education is the water that floats it. Education floats performance.

If there is an educational deficit aboard, there will always be poor performance resulting in not “handing hard better.”

Experience, noun or verb?
Some of my sailing clients contend they just need more experience. These clients are satisfied with their knowledge and are trying to improve their proficiency by having more experience. They are seeking experience, the verb, and trying to mentally warehouse experience, the noun.

Granted, encountering or undergoing an event or occurrence can be good learning, albeit the hard way. Sailors learn and retain the most “the hard way.”

But, I am not an advocate of the “hard way.” I like benign practice in order to avoid damage, injury, and those frightful situations.

I am not dismissing the value of experience. However, I see “experienced” sailors who cannot sail a tight circle around a government day mark or perform the four crew overboard maneuvers.

A lot of these veterans cannot pass the ASA 101 basic keelboat test. There are circumnavigators in town who cannot tie a proper cleat hitch. So, experience is no substitute for scripted education and practice.

Education and practice are the easiest path to success.

No prerequisite education = no productive training
I have made a modest career here in Oriental doing boat training. I focus on the training by not “doing” education.

Too often, I step aboard an owner’s boat and discover a lack of education. It is difficult to make training progress while back-filling educational holes.

So, my message is this: if you are new to the boating lifestyle, “do something boat everyday.”

Gather some self-discipline. Read the ASA books, read an article, watch a video, or read one of my blog posts on TownDock.

Then go practice.

In short order, you will be able to handle hard better and have the boating experiences you paid for and deserve. Kudos to coach Kara Lawson for figuring it out. She and I hope you handle your hard sailing better.

Fair winds,
Captain John Rahm


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Captain's Blog on TownDock.net is all about making your time on the water enjoyable. Captain John Rahm teaches sailing and boat handling at Third Wave Sailing.