Onboard a racing sailboat, the old trope of jocks vs. bookworms is retold by geography. Wisdom tends to move toward the back of the boat, while brawn moves forward.
Work the bow, and your self-image is probably skewed to "athletic and adventurous" or "spry and plucky."
I drank this Kool-Aid® by the gallon at the beginning of my sailing career. What could be more wonderful than being the hero on the pointy end performing sinewy miracles in the heat of battle?
After a few years of heroics, and you begin to think: "Well, yes, it would be even more wonderful if only we planned ahead, possibly avoided some of the heat of that battle." Experienced bow-folk tend to find themselves muttering darkly, "If they had only listened to us! We saw that one coming. What the hell are they doing back there?"
We pushed off the dock and did some practice maneuvers before the start of that first race. We checked our upwind settings, set the 'chute, jibed...all fine. The mainsail was big (hence the need for me to trim it instead of the skipper doing so as he drove) and I was very very careful not to wrap my hand in the line.
There's always some gruesome story about how so-and-so's finger was degloved, or how another sailor's entire hand got crushed, etc., etc.
I modeled my technique on the gorillas of my acquaintance: take giant, smooth yanks with an open-palm, thumb-up grab of the sheet down near the block pulling up as tall as possible, then reach with again open-palm/thumb up (so that the line just falls out of the hand at the top of the pull) over and over like a rabid windmill until the sail is in. Then scramble for the high side, and get hiked out next to the jib trimmer.
It probably happened on the first leeward mark rounding. Maybe the second. In any case, there I was, at the highest stretch, left hand way behind my head, when I felt it. An unmistakable sensation. Not a pleasant one. I froze for just a moment, and then went back to windmilling the main in, taking about 5 inches off the top of my reach.
Scooting under the lifeline and surreptitiously wiping my left thumb on my foul-weather pants, I spoke to the jib-trimmer quietly: Had I just inserted my thumb into one of his nostrils?
He answered just as quietly, "Yes."
And that, boys and girls, is the kind of thing that happens in the back of the boat. Just as we suspected. I'm okay hanging with the jocks at the front of the boat.
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