Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Asume nothing. Plan for everything.

I noticed this ad at the train station when I was returning from my weekend sailing trip in Friesland, Nl. It kinda captured the mood of the first half of this year, or better, it kind of captured the lesson I wish I have learned during that time. Assume nothing. Plan for everything. And then plan some more.

I think I sometimes assume too much and take things for granted. I think that everyone else is "with me" in the same thing or on a same (mental) trip, and I do not bother to explain the plot, set out my major expectations and go through all the details, etc. Then at one point, usually when it is already too late, I realise that this is not what I assumed it was.

Last weekend this dangerous thinking left me in the water when we accidentally capsized out small sail boat (seen in the pic)...and, there was no plan for what to do then. (one can be found here)

Clearly once again I had been trapped with my not so productive way of thinking. We had been sailing on a 6-meter open Falk boat already for a day with a crew of 4. My pal was skippering and we were 3 others with some/good sailing experience. I got in some really good sailing :) I managed to get us through a pretty rough channel with a strong head wind. We had to tack at least ten times to get to the other side, but I managed it all, we did not loose too much speed in turns and I made the guys jumping from side to another to give the weight to keep the boat from flipping. I realised that Falks are darn sensitive to your weight, it really makes a difference on which side you lean on.

So comes along the next day and we are sort of returning. We have one reef down because of the heavy winds. The skipper was steering, I was taking pics in the head, and the two others were somewhere in the middle. The next thing I hear is that one of us slips on the floor and tumbles on the side. Mind you, these are small boats, so by the time I turn to watch, he's trying to grab onto something and I'm sure he's going to fall off the boat.

With the sudden shift of his bodyweight and the heavy gust from the side, the next thing I observe is that he is not going to fall off the boat, but the boat is going to fall with him. I see our chart flying, the bottles and the gas jar landing in the water, and soon everyone else follows. Since I had yanked myself firmly in the head to take pictures, I found myself standing on the low side wall of the boat that now was horizontal in the water and slowly sinking down with more and more water getting in.

I was not sure what to do. Would it be better to stay in the boat or leave it. After a thought of the boat turning turtle, and seeing myself being tangled in the ropes under the boat, I decent in the water and start collecting our belonging. Soon enough I realise it's heavy to swim with cloths on and I thought "heck with our empty bottles of water and my fake crocks that I tried to save", and swam to the others who were on the other side of the boat. The skipper lifted me on the keel. I was like "so what now", but I did not get any instructions. I had not prepared for this and was not sure what was the next thing to do. Our weight on the keel did not have any effect on righting the boat (which was the goal that the skipper pursued).

Then, that's like seconds later, there was the rescue troop behind us. I could not figure how they were there so soon, but later they told me it was because of the regatta that was going on and they saw us capsize. They put a rope on our mast, and with a help of a second boat, we got it back right up. The mast was all muddy, the wind was pushing the boat so much that instead of turning all the way around, it got stuck in the low waters. No wonder our weight did not do a thing to right the boat.

We were eventually pulled back to the harbor by these Dutch gentlemen of the sea and left sorting out our dripping wet packages, cursing about wet mobile phones and the bill to pay for some lost gear from the boat.

In retrospect it feels just like what happened with the PhD where I got "snowflake*d" (i.e. my adviser at the time kicked me out of the programme) . What happened was just like with sailing, one day you feel like you can do all the good moves, and then the next is that you find yourself swimming in the water and wondering "this is not how I assumed it would end". The worst being that I was not prepared for it, I had not thought of what would be the plan B or C for that matter.

Reflecting on all this makes me see a reoccurring pattern that I'd better avoid in the future. It's clear that accidents will always happen and mistakes are made, but there are also precautions that can be taken to prevent them. Those are done by careful planning and someone taking clear leadership on things. Then the other thing is that when accidents happen or mistakes are made, one needs to know what to do next. Be prepared for them. And then some more.

Being comfortable having other people taking the lead is good, good leaders need good followers, like Dan is known to have said once. Perhaps it would be time for me to think more about taking leadership on things and try to influence, at least on my own life, that I'm prepared for everything. That is one characteristics that I expect from a skipper of a boat, and for that matter, it probably should go for any other areas too.

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