Developing Courage - Managing Fear - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 45 Old 10-10-2016 Thread Starter
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Developing Courage - Managing Fear

I need to hear from women on this one.

My sweet partner and I have been sailing 3 years now including some significant coastal cruising. Now we are preparing to depart for an open ended cruise to South America and beyond on a new-to-us boat.

I always give this speech to crew members "Courage is not having no fear. If courage was no fear, courage would not be valued. Courage is doing what has to be done in spite of your fears. Not get up there and get that jib down! (or what needs doing).

I am highly encouraging to her, she's not afraid of sailing, she's not afraid of the boat tipping over, she's not afraid of being out of sight of land, and she's looking forward to the adventure. She's afraid of (1) screwing up, and (2) something happening to me.

I do all the sail handling and anchoring. She's learned to control the boat. When sailing she can dump the main without thinking, sheet in jib and main, and do a reasonable job at the helm. On our recent summer voyage she took her first extended watch on deck with me below sleeping.

Yesterday we were in the harbor with no boats around and miles of room, engine running, in about 20 knots of wind, and I had to go get the main down. Really, it was nothing to me, yes it was windy, yes some wakes came, we had plenty of room, on a nice warm day, with warm water. No, I was not wearing a life jacket nor clipped in.

Her job is to make sure the traveler is centered and locked on both sides, sheet in the main when the halyard is slacked, and keep the boat going upwind about 1 knot. Also call out any wakes so I can hold the boom.

She did fine nothing happened although she tacked a few times and completely lost track of where the wind is blowing from (she forgot to use the instruments, forgot to look at the windex, forgot to simply point the boat into the whitecaps, forgot to watch the main and keep it from filling). She's been sailing 3 years now going every weekend plus some long trips.

She's so afraid during this sail change she can barely handle herself and forgets all her training plus she simply can't take her eyes off me.

Afterward we were talking about her fears. I told her to simply do her job and let me do mine. I reminded her how the instruments work, I pointed out the whitecaps and the wind on her face.

Her idea was that she would prefer it if I'd let her get the main down. She would rather face that fear. She's tiny and can barely reach above the boom. I will let her learn to do it, that's a good idea. But if it's windy she is just not going to be able to do it. She often gets the jib down (on our boat a fractional rig the jib is quite small). She can handle going to the foredeck.

I think courage/managing your fear comes from self confidence and from training. In a stressful situation you fall back on your training. However her fear is that something will happen to me. She's frozen watching me. I'm a lifelong sailor she knows I am not afraid of getting the main down on a breezy day.

Please help me ladies.
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post #2 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

white caps and you are not wearing a PFD? you are not helping the situation. she is not wondering how or if it will happen but when it will happen if she is worried about you, you should show her that you are taking all the safety steps you can to make it safe sail so she can focus on her job. you are not doing your job properly. practice doing it the same way you would off shore.
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post #3 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

I tend to agree, in order to take care of her primary fear, you going overboard wear a vest and tie yourself off with a proper lanyard. Once this is done I think that you can then focus on refining her abilities, sounds like she is very close to being fully capable.
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post #4 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

It's always entertaining how an alpha male uses words like "let, give, allow, preach", to set oneself Above the less able.

From another thread I quote you.
Re: Long Island NY to Marina del Rey CA
Hey UCLA there is lots of sailboat racing and crew is always needed. Get on a team and start sailing. If you come to San Diego I will be happy to take you out and get started, I've taught 100s to sail by racing with me. I am no longer racing but we enjoy social company. Lets to sail around the Coronado islands (about 20 miles out and back, into MX waters) and then we'll see if you like sailing.

This troubles me. I don't think racers know how to sail recreationally. To the racer's mind, everyone "fails"

This could be the cause or root of the problems you the couple are having.


Suggestions:
Drop the superior rhetoric.
Drop the fear mongering to keep her (and others) in the pecking order.
You are the best & greatest, and why you should not be her teacher.


The boat was selected for you and her as the 2nd thought?

No mention of reefing?
"Heave to"
"depower"
"when in doubt let out"


Sail handling, dropping, raising, flaking, problems are easy to solve, lazy jacks, downhaul/s stack pack etc.

If the main is hard to get down something is not right. (not everyone knows "head to wind" to drop the main and will muscle it down)

Really, why does she not have more time at the helm? Because you don't "allow" it?

Someone can teach her about mechanical advantage vs muscle. She need not go to the boom if the set up is right. then after it's down and things are calm. you and her can tidy up (flake the sail)

Did you show her how to use the 2nd gear on the primary winches? and that it is not necessary to make full 360 cranks?

Encourage, (not let) her find her way with other teaching types. You slept below once.

What size boat?

how is it set up?

Do you know what single handing really means?

The boat is not ready for this extended voyage but I'm only guessing.
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Last edited by deniseO30; 10-10-2016 at 03:27 PM.
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post #5 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

You asked for it, McFly

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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

I believe that you should explain to her that the better she does her job, the safer you will be up there on deck.
Of course she will want to keep an eye on you, but even an experienced helmsperson cannot do both that and steer well.
I don't think that a PFD or a harness will solve your problem. It's about her concentrating on her job so you can do yours safely.
We were once in a horrific gale in the Med and I'd waited way too long to get the genoa down, wishing to let the crew catch up on their sleep. When Dawn (5'2"/99#s) came up on deck she was a bit fearful when I asked her and David to go forward and wrestle down the big, heavy genoa. The decks were completely awash and it was very, very dark, windy and rainy.
"Why do I have to go up there and do that? Why can't I stay in the cockpit and steer?" she asked.
"If you think you can steer as well as I and keep this boat under control, you are welcome to stay here and steer."
Mind you we were racing along on the very edge of control and it was taking all my strength to keep the boat from broaching, which might have been catastrophic in those conditions.
She looked around and without another word she went forward and the two of them got the sail down without incident.
We each do the job we are best at when we sail as a team. Sex plays not one tiny bit into it. After all, the word crew has no gender.
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Last edited by capta; 10-10-2016 at 05:40 PM.
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post #7 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

Where are you located? The Women's Sailing Convention (see link below) is coming up in SoCal in February. Your wife may want to check it out. I recently offered to instruct at a similar seminar in Alameda and one woman on my boat just needed to sail under the Bay Bridge because her and her boyfriend had such a traumatic situation there, that she had developed an irrational fear of ever being able to do it. Your wife needs to develop her own confidence over the whole boat, by herself, not by you making sure she does her one job well. If she's forgetting everything in moments of stress, then she's also close to a panic response, and that's a traumatic situation just waiting to happen. If she doesn't start to manage it better or you figure out how to help her, she's not going to be any good to either of you if (when) something significant happens.

Women's Sailing Convention in California | Cruising World
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Last edited by gamayun; 10-10-2016 at 08:14 PM.
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post #8 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

Yup, the problem is not her, it's you. If you can take that in, exhale and then figure out how to move forward, then there are many ways to improve your situation. If you take what others here are telling you and go on the defensive, things won't improve all that quickly, if ever.

She needs to go learn to sail from someone else. Then she needs to sail on her own (not necessarily alone, just not with you).

Some people are never as good as some others at one particular task, but excel in in different areas. Get used to it and learn to get the right people in the right positions so your 'team' can excel.

Wear your effing PFD/tether if your wife is nervous about you falling overboard.

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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

You need to tech her how to keep the boat under control no matter what happens to you, including dropping all sail and motoring home. You take too much risk and she knows it better than you do. She freezes because she knows she can't handle the boat by herself. And she is smart to see that. It has nothing to do with her being a woman and everything to do with being a crew without sufficient experience. Take it easy and take it slow along the way so she gets comfortable. What is the hurry?
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post #10 of 45 Old 10-10-2016
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Re: Developing Courage - Managing Fear

Personally, I think she's on the right track, she needs to learn to do it. Fear eases when a person understands completely how things work. Not only that, but both of you should be capable of single handing the boat.

My husband has been sailing all his life, and I've been sailing (cruising, living aboard, running charters) for the last 5 years. My very first time sailing, we were headed from Newport, RI to the USVI via Bermuda. I was too green/inexperienced to be very nervous, but after that trip I had enough just enough knowledge to know my ignorance - this made me uneasy. Since then, I've endeavored to learn all things sailing and boat systems related. I find that knowledge and hands on experience makes me confident. It also gives me a more complete understanding of another persons job (my husbands) and how integral my job (whatever we're doing) is to make everything go smoothly.

So give her the tools she needs to be confident in her abilities and the tasks at hand. If she can't reach the boom and take down the sail herself, then why SHOULDN'T she be absolutely terrified of losing you? Of making a mistake? My suggestion would be to make adjustments to the boat, so it not only fits you, but her as well.
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