Practising in marginal conditions increases a sailors skill and safety on the water.
(Optimist sailing dinghy enjoying some rugged weather)
Last week I arrived at the yacht club punching the air with 25 knot optimism and very eager to race my boat. I had been watching the weather forecast and this was going to be my day again! Twenty five knots and increasing! But the sailing for that evening was cancelled.
I know why it was cancelled and fully support the people who made the decision. With an evening race series the light is slowly fading. The lee shore in the strong SW wind was rocky with only a couple of small beach landings, but more importantly there was only one boat, the start boat, available with a crew. There was no dedicated pick up boat in case of capsizes to help crews requiring assistance. So the decision to cancel was wise and sensible - good seamanship.
But, if a dedicated pickup boat had been available I would have strongly argued for racing to take place, even if it had been blowing harder than it was. It is in these marginal conditions that much is learned. If you don't sail in near storm conditions and get used to how it feels and how to handle your boat then you are unprepared if for any reason you get caught out when the weather changes for the worse ........ and the weather, particularly in New Zealand, can change very rapidly indeed.
I can remember a time when most small racing dinghies all had a row of reefing points in the their mains'ls. They didn't get used much, but from time to time when the wind was approaching 30 knots a reef was tucked in and young skippers got an exhilarating ride of their lives among the wind and waves. We need this 'can - do' attitude and a couple of reef points in our mains'ls again in our club racing. Of course in marginal conditions it requires a race start boat and one or two fully crewed 'pick up' boats, this is only sensible. But to not allow young sailors the opportunity to take risks, we restrict their ability to grow in confidence, independence and sailing skill. We all need a bit of Cape Hoorn in us every once in a while.