El miedo es libre

Unfortunately, after all the preparation and anticipation work, you can still get it wrong or something unexpected happens. Here perhaps is the best lesson I learned sailing in the Caribbean many years ago. If you find yourself with too much sail surface area, and the sailboat is sailing uncomfortably on the higher end of its range, get everyone ready aboard and reef and/or change sails to reduce the area exposed to the wind. Always!

Regardless of how tough conditions may be, and how difficult it may be to reef any of the sails, you will always be better off. Even if the maneuver involves going to the bow (front section) to bring down a genoa (large jib, a type of sail) in rough seas. Of course, don’t rush to do the maneuvers before everyone is ready. But remember: if you think a given task is risky now, always consider the possibility that the weather may get worse and the maneuver will become more and more dangerous the longer you wait. Furthermore, the larger the sail’s surface area the higher the forces exerted. Therefore, the longer you go with too much sail in rough weather, the more you expose the mast, the sails and the whole sailboat to conditions beyond their designed limits risking all sorts of bad things happening.

In the occasion I was referring to in the Caribbean, I was quoted as saying to my cousin Amalia “El miedo es libre” which in Spanish roughly translates to “you are free to fear.” I guess I didn’t have anything inspirational to assure her that everything was going to be ok. After all, fear had grabbed a hold of me as well. In forty to fifty knots of wind with rough seas that are completely soaking you, changing a sail is the last thing you want to do. But as I’ve said already, if you think it is tough now, how about with fifty to sixty-knot gusts of wind? Thankfully, my father gave the order, we did the maneuver regardless of puking all over, and I mean all over, and we survived to tell the story.

Do not ever let fear cloud your judgment. Fear is not useful in the middle of a dangerous situation. Be respectful of the sea. Be aware of your own capabilities, of those on board, and your sailboat; and always anticipate the likelihood of conditions getting worse.


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