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Nerves

srp

Well-known member
Joined
10 May 2006
Messages
4,580
Location
Barnard Castle, Durham
My nearest (mooring) neighbour arrives at his boat in a rubber dinghy, jumps on board and is off, pausing only to unlock the companionway, start the engine and cast off. Obviously one who worries about nothing.
My next-nearest neighbour will take up to an hour preparing his boat - sail covers off, checking sea-cocks, warming up the engine, checking coolant flow, padlocking dinghy to pontoon, flaking out the sheets, etc. He tells me that this is the only way he can ease his nerves before even a short trip. I can fully understand this, as I do exactly the same! I like to think it is a healthy level of concern.
I can't imagine what state I'd be in if I were to ever set off on a solo transatlantic, so how do all you lot mentally prepare yourselves? Is it a blend of experience, seafaring knowledge, nuts-and-bolts preparation and fatalism? Have you had to overcome your 'nerves', or is it just a constant battle trying not to think too hard about what might happen?
 

damo

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22 Feb 2005
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k keeper,Portishead
I haven't been far offshore, but I have 35 years mountaineering experience on every continent, and the nerves you describe are identical. Here is what I know....

First off, extreme mountaineering, especially at altitude, is probably far more dangerous than most sailing passages (although the sailor will be exposed longer). I found that the desire to achieve something would very quickly overcome the fear of starting. Once started, it is a lot easier to go on.

The more experience you get, and the more you have successfully overcome setbacks, the easier it gets to commit to the next one. This is balanced by the caution that increases with age!

Sorting out the nuts-and-bolts makes less things to worry about - once something has been checked then forget about it until it needs checking again. For example, in big wall climbing, you will often find that equipment you need to protect you, or make progress with, is very marginal. So you tentatively test it, then ease your weight onto it, and if it holds you forget about it (which is easier said than done with 1000m below your heels!)!

Can you do something about what's worrying you? If yes, then sort it. If no, then worry about something else instead! Is the boat looking after itself OK in this sea? Yeah, seems nice and balanced, so I'll get my head down for a bit.

I never stop thinking about what "might happen", so I have an idea what I'll do if it does. That's why we carry bungs, and buckets, and liferafts, and hose clips and spare socks, and spare reading glasses, and charts just in case we end up going in the opposite direction. In climbing I would always be thinking what if the next hold is loose? So check it first. What if the weather gets bad in the next few hours? So make sure I can retreat if necessary, or get the spare socks out!

If you have never been on your own for more than a few hours, and are a bit nervous about trying it at sea, then can I suggest you get some camping gear and do a classic remote walk for a few days. Less stuff to worry about than being in a boat (keeping a lookout is less of a problem!), but you still have to rely on your own resources.

As in a lot of activities, the fear is of the unknown - the actuality can be a pleasant surprise. The only way to find out is to try it.....
 

CPD

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20 Sep 2006
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2,902
Location
Hampshire
I probably fall somewhere between you and your neighbour in terms of getting ready to go, however the Jester is different. I dont mind admitting to the fact that I have already prepared a pre-start check list to not only ensure that on the day all is well, and as should be, but also to take one's mind off what is going on. I can only imagine that the start day itself will be nerve wracking and very exciting, however I, as I am sure we are all doing, am preparing my boat and myself for things that will hopefully never happen. I guess the preparation gives you the mental confidence to carry it through. ................ at least I hope it will /forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
 

Noddy

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Joined
22 Jun 2005
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621
Location
Thames Estuary
I suspect that differentiating between real and imagined fears on the basis of the probability of a given emergency occuring, is important in managing pre event nerves.

For example: the probability of meeting some quite rough weather is very high so one should be prepared. However, the probability of me ( a bloke with a poor sex life) giving birth is quite low. So I will not be taking hot towels, bottle, milk, etc.

Slightly surreal example I know, but a rational analysis of the risks and your response is a key step in reducing pre event anxiety. Damo's approach 'Once checked forget it' is the other component and an important mental discipline.

Another comment arose from a discussion with two sailing friends; one of whom is very confident and has a rough old boat (but charming) and another who has an immaculate vessel but is low in confidence. Both have done quite a lot of sailing.

The most interesting difference between them was that the guy with low confidence does lots of maintenance and spends lots of money in trying to ensure that nothing will go wrong. The other guy has a boat that he is satisfied is seaworthy but, critically, he is confident in his ability to fix just about anything that does occur.

I'm sure we all lie somewhere on that continuum but the guy who is attempting to ensure that nothing will go wrong is, in my opinion, quite plainly incorrect - things will go wrong.
 

barnaclephill

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Joined
6 Nov 2006
Messages
252
[ QUOTE ]
... so how do all you lot mentally prepare yourselves? Is it a blend of experience, seafaring knowledge, nuts-and-bolts preparation and fatalism? Have you had to overcome your 'nerves', or is it just a constant battle trying not to think too hard about what might happen?

[/ QUOTE ]

I'm not the most experienced to answer you, but I'll give you my 2 bob's worth.
My first solo coastal trip was last October, being 3 days of anchoring, about 120nm. The first day I had the windvane teeth mis-aligned for a while, then I was surfing (& beginning to broach) off Wilsons' Prom (most Sth point in Aust).
The other 2 times were from Port Welspool to LakesEntrance (148E 38S) and return (100nm each way) becaus the Bar was sanded over. Apart from that I'm now confident in the Lakes. In company I've gone through the Bar 9 times, and in total about 1200nm on the coast, inc one trip from Flinders Island 100nm south.

IMO I find that having company helps enormously in coastal trips, especially to allow proper sleep. However, I find in the trips that for a lot of the time, I'm doing everything solo when it's my watch, and I get to thinking: what's the real diff between this and soloing? Not much, apart from confidence.

In essence I'm saying that practice builds your confidence, practice in the Lakes and then with company in coastal trips. That will give you the confidence to know that you do know the technicalities of the tasks and the psycological management of yourself (seasickness, fatigue, ensuring to drink & eat to keep metabolism & enthusiasm up, etc). Add to that the hour or so of preparation (maybe ten minutes for a weekend trip in sheltered waters) to ensure everything's stowed, anchors rigged, water & fuel checked, lifelines rigged, and the windvane is set up. For me it's a 3 hour trip to the Entrance, then wait for the bar conditions, and if we can't get back in, it's a 24 hour trip elsewhere.

Also, when nervous I like to eat - Ryvita/Saladas, toast, lots of coffees. I also keep music on via radio or MP3, and try to keep busy by doing all the plotting, waypoints, practising wtih the hand-bearing compass and of course trolling. Trolling give us something to do, it takes the mind off nerves.

Experience of previous sea miles, seafaring knowledge, nuts&bolt preparation that the boat is prepared to my standards (as skipper), a weather or tide window that makes me make a decision, plus the nerves management (coffee, munching, plotting, music, fishing, distractions & non-urgent maintenance tasks.
 

seedog

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Joined
18 Jul 2006
Messages
409
Location
Bristol
I know someone like your nearest neighbour but he never gets too far ofshore and is always back in the evening for a pint. Absolutely no criticism of his approach, he knows what and where he is doing. If your other neighbour is going further afield or just needs to feel assured then that is his choice. Talk to them and get a feel of who/what they are and what you can learn. We all like to teach others what we know, the advantage of being a 'recipient' of knowledge is we can take or leave it.

Damo's post about mountaineering is slightly misleading in that I think he mistakes the ability to '-uck up in a few seconds as being more dangerous than the ability to '-uck up in an hour. As an ex climber I am fully aware of how quick a mountain can kill you but I think that being on a boat at sea is only marginally slower if you make a fatal mistake. The good news is that sailing people can learn so much from mountain people. The guy who taught me to climb was phenomenal. Mere mortals watch climbers and think they haul themselves up by their arms. Which is why so many people think climbing is about getting in the gym and pumping up your upper body. The reality is that 95% of climbing is in the head, 4% is in the legs but that 1% that is what the upper body contributes is ultimately crucial to success. Unfortunarely deciding to be a 95% climber is, because of the weather, not an option: a bit like sailing really!

I am personally trying to equate these things to doing the jester. I don't mind being cold and miserable during the day but safe in the knowledge that I can meet my friends and feel safe overnight I can cope with mountains. 20+ days at sea on my own and the bogey men who might lurk out there is a different proposition. Right now all I can think is that my legs are remarkably strong so I hope to kick the b-stards off the boat before they can get to my head.
 

joker2

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Joined
26 Sep 2007
Messages
9
If you don't have a few anxious moments leading up to the start, pleanty of nerves and a bit of stress all mixed with a little fear, then you probably would not be human and this event is the most human thing anyone could ever do....without exception on all my voyages, inc. 28,000miles solo , it all dissapears on the gun and is replaced by shear excitement and a huge high, second only to the most confusing moment of all....when it is all over.....emotion is the most satisfying part of life!
 

andlauer

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Joined
15 Mar 2007
Messages
310
Location
Paris France
Bonjour
Just the feedback from my own experience and what I've seem before start.
The way I prepared the Jester Challenge was rather simple. I had very little time (1 year) to buy, prepare a boat and prepare the man (no real offshore experience).
I made choice to ease the problem and bought a boat improved and dedicated to single handed (figaro solo).
Then I sailed more and more difficult situation until I became confident in the capability of the team to take the start safely.
I made lost of mistakes.. but I recovered from all of them.
Then I start buying and modifying the boat to cope with long distance sailing....
When I get confident in the modified boat and skipper I decided that I would take the start.
I continue to invest time effort and monney to improve the boat.
The boat was not "finalised" for the start but she will never be... she was in a sufficient status to go.
My brother and I spent a week in Plymouth working on the boat. We had no time to scrub the hull, for example, nether mind....
The starting line makes you go. Otherwise you may postpone your start for ever.
At the start (rather a non-start, I must say !) I was overwhelmed by emotion : "I had succeed !, I was on the start! My 16 yearsold boy dreem was realized! " and I cried from emotion. Alone and happy with my boat.
The end of the story didn't matter that was the important thing and it was.
So to come back to the nerves my experience and advice would be : slice the problems and keep small and realistic objectives and don't forget to have great funs, emotions and pleasures.
Eric /forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
 

andlauer

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15 Mar 2007
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310
Location
Paris France
Bonjour
The second experience feeback is more general.
The impression I had, on several longhall race preparations I followed (not as competitor) years after years, is that there are some typical situations ; some good, other less favorable :

- experienced skipper with a good boat but underconfident in the capability to succeed. It leads to a huge amount of stress and probably no pleasure. In such game they is no couardize in resinning (rather the other way round !). It is already "extraordinaire" to have wanted and tried it.

- overconfident, possibly experienced, skipper that thinks that it is sufficient to register to succeed. The first fear, usually linked to the first deep low will rebalance the perception and may leed to a turnback.

- under experienced skipper with logically unadapted boat. Hopefully most of the time it leads to a turn back, otherwise it could become dangerous.

- A majority of experienced skippers with sufficiently prepered boats. The trial is a success independently of the end of the story.

To avoid the missleading situations, I would suggest to allow all along the process a "no go" decision and to keep the "go/no go" decision ( not formally, but a real self questionning on motivations and expectations) for the latest possible time. (Ideally about the starting line!)
Eric /forums/images/graemlins/ooo.gif
 

bumblefish

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22 Dec 2002
Messages
1,572
Location
Brighton
talk to anyone of the French or English rugby team about nerves! Am I wrong to wish that the 'experts' go home and leave us to play in our NW sector?
 

eebygum

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Joined
6 Nov 2002
Messages
304
Location
Manchester
Only when I reach the start line in 2010 will I know if this has worked for me.... but my approach todate has focused on preparation and building up experience which is a similiar approach I adopted when hang-gliding, plus:

I look at lessons learnt and experiences from previous crossings; which also give me inspiration... 60+ books including the all the classics (Val Howels, Lewis, Chichester, Know-Johnson, Moitessier, Rose, Tarberly,Chay Blyth,Crowhurst,Ellen etc); talking to other other Jester Challengers at the annual dinner, reading this forum etc.

A plan/list of how I will get to the start (the best way to eat an elephant is in small chunks); so detailed plan for this winter, higher level plan for next season, then eventually the final week checklist, final day checklist; plan for the first 24 hours; the first degree west etc.

One of the first rules of war is that 'the plan never survives the first contact with the enemy' so I try to focus on stopping things going wrong, keep to the KISS principles, having lots of "Plan B's"and understanding where every nut and bolt is and what it does.

Mentally prepare using lots of positive techniques; best summarised in a great book called Dare by Gary Leboff; which describes many methods taken from his experience in sports pyschology.

Getting experience, crewed or singlehanded whenever I can; Knowing I've survived a day alone/sailed through the night/been well offshore alone; met and handled testing conditions alone; gives me some control over the nerves that I might survive the Challenge.

We shall see. I still question my self regularly as to whether I will be up for it come the day !
 

damo

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22 Feb 2005
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k keeper,Portishead
I was trying to make a point regarding the objective dangers involved in mountaineering (which is very different to pure rock climbing) - for example avalanches, stonefall, storms, altitude etc. The mountaineer is generally exposed for only a few hours or days, even though the immediate danger may be quite severe, while the long distance sailor rarely has the equivalent of a rockfall to suffer, and there is much less likelihood of a sudden medical emergency like those caused by altitude.

Nevertheless I firmly believe that the ability to assess risk and find coping strategies is the same in both fields, and the point others have made about gaining experience and building real (as opposed to false) confidence is essential for success in each endeavour.
 
Joined
20 Jul 2001
Messages
205
Location
Southampton, UK
Eric - how often were you tempted to turn back? When did the fatigue/lure of a hot bath/ loneliness affect you so your resolve to push on was affected. Right up to the point of no return, it must have been tempting. especially in rough weather?

More than once you must have asked yourself 'what am I doing here?'

I know that these feelings convert to great satisfaction of conquering not just the ocean, but self doubt, but mental fitness must be just as important as physical fitness?

When was your lowest point - and how did you get through it?
 

andlauer

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15 Mar 2007
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310
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Paris France
Bonjour Jake
Surprisingly, at least for myself, I was never tempted to turn round neither felt "what am I doing here !".

My general feeling was to be very happy and in harmony with the boat. I only felt that the boat was a bit to big and demanding and that I would like to have more time to enjoy the sailing.

The worse moment was after the first low when I discovered that all my cloths were wet with sea water and that I would have to be wet for several weeks ahead (when I arrived in Newport my bottom skin was peeling, I discovered it in the shower !). I didn't even think that I could turn back for that.

When the weather was really bad or when I was exhaust my general thought was : "it will last less than the income! Just wait for the improvement."

Once, while more than exhaust, I had the feeling that the keel was getting loose. I spent the night doing a survival training, just in case, and was smiling at the idea that someone could look at me. At sunrize I went for a swim in the survival suit to check the keel. It was OK, f course ! That is also an aspect of single handed.

The only moment I thought that I would have to divert to the Azores was when the autopilot failed. I was so depressed that I decided to postpone the decision for 24 hours runing full south. I also remembered Tabarly on Pen Duick VI who backtracked for a day before turning again his bow to Newport and winning without autopilot, on a huge huge boat.

After the 24 hours delay I decided to continue. The consequence was only 1000Nm sailing headwind with a faulty (not completly out of use but it could fail anytime) autopilot on a rather unsteady boat. I knew it would be more than rude ( and it was) but I was so happy that I was singing, encouraging the boat... and laughting alone.
Eric /forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
 

andlauer

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Paris France
Remember, during the last OSTAR, Ane Cazeneuve, on a 50ft trimaran, failed in the cocpit on a rogue wave after a week of race or so.
When she recovered, her knee was 90° from any standard position. She couldn't leave the cockpit for 2 days... She turned back and sailed her boat towards south Britany.
That looks like "rock falls".
When we sailed back this summer, my crew, once ashore, went to his doctor because he had a hand pain that would not pass. A small bone in his hand was broken and he didn't know when it broke.
Eric /forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif
 

PacketRat

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20 May 2007
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Merseyside
My over-riding fear is not making the start. Given the flexibility of the Jester ideal, my objective is a sort of late start JC06 from my home port of Liverpool to somewhere undecided on the other side of the pond.
Such a voyage is outside the experience of the skipper and boat. Time and money are limited. My trip is still very much a dream that consumes large sacrifices from those around me. The fear of not starting is what keeps me awake at night.
As for the trip itself, I fear exhaustion, the boom, the sheets and stepping over the side unattached, more than being run down or overwhelmed. Those fears may well be in reverse order at the time.
If you look at the RoSPA site, there is a breakdown of drowning occurrences by activity, the most recent being for 2002. The statistical accuracy is suspect, but drownings from boating totals 22 in number, and drowning in vehicles totals 20. That suggests to me that I'm never going to have an objective and fair idea of the various risks. I've just got to learn as much as I can from others, and try to cover every eventuality responsibly.
Robin.
 

eebygum

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6 Nov 2002
Messages
304
Location
Manchester
Robin,
Hi, do you keep your boat at Liverpool Marina ? maybe we can meet up at the club and calm our nerves over a pint of Guiness in preparation !

Cheers, Andrew
 

seedog

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18 Jul 2006
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409
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Bristol
I accept there is a big difference between mountaineering and pure climbing. Making comparisons of the potential danger between either and sailing is difficult and fully agree that risk assessment and ability to deal with situations comes from experience and confidence.
Quantifying the risk comparatively, if there are 30 people on a mountain it would be highly unusual for all to be put in jeopardy by an avalanche whereas a large storm could easily encompass an entire racing fleet as in the 79 Fastnet. Similarly a storm will jeopardise everyone on a mountain but some situations can be mitigated.
On the point about sudden medical emergencies there are totally different factors at sea. I may be wrong but my impression is that the average age of those taking part in the Jester is much higher than those who undertake mountaineering and the potential risks are different but possibly no less. There is little anyone can do to assess the possibility of altitude sickness other than going up to find out if they suffer. But for anyone who has not had a recent health mot a check up would be sensible before either climbing a mountain or taking part in the Jester.
 

PacketRat

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20 May 2007
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Merseyside
Eebygum/Andrew - I live a couple of miles from Liverpool marina but my poor old boat has to live in a muddy gutter on the Dee most of the time. Be great to meet up. I've viewed your site - really good - and the Contessa is a lovely boat. I'm involved in Jester for the exchange of views and information, so I think personal websites are a bonus. Not planning on the Azores. It's the Atlantic run that fires me up, and as there's a possibility of not having a job at the end of it, I can't really afford to take the chance on the Azores anyway.
Robin.
 
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