The Joy of Sailing – with Klaus Lange

KLWe need to keep things fresh, often times familiarity breeds contempt. A few weekends ago, our team was lucky enough to bring on Klaus Lange to work with our athletes. Not only does Klaus sport a Red Bull athlete’s cap to tame his bleached blonde curly hair but he comes from one of sport’s most successful family dynasties. Oh, did I mention his 7th place finish at Rio Games. During our weekend with Klaus  we listened closer. Not just because he’s young and cool and has a successful career thus far, but because he speaks a different language. Language isn’t the right word, but the best one to convey the difference in the way he thinks and speaks about the boat. It’s as if he comes from planet where they sail perfectly balanced boats faster than any light beam.

Klaus speaks slowly, not because he is translating his thoughts into English but because he is in deep thought and bringing thoughts to the surface like he’s reeling in a giant fish. When he lands one it drops heavily and takes some time to think through. There are many personalities in this sport, but none as authentic as Klaus. His perspective and attention to details pushed us all to a deeper level.

Here are some of the personal anecdotes and truths Klaus pulled to the surface:

  1. Keep Pushing the Boat

“I remember asking my dad when I was a kid, “Dad, what song do you sing while you sail?”

“Sing? his dad snapped back. “I don’t have time to sing, I am sailing the boat!”

Every moment in the boat you must be learning, experimenting to push it faster. As soon as you are fast and can make a good lane, put yourself in a harder position. If you stay fast, you learn nothing. We all sail fast and we all sail straight. Push yourself to learn something else. That is the Lange way.

The more we are curious and investigate the boat, the more we learn about optimizing performance.

2. Respect the Group

You must have the respect and accountability to each other to be in a position for a good line up. You must always push the team forward. We are so lucky to be in this sport, to get to go sailing, to have these boats and experience nature, your effort and focus honor this gift. Take on an attitude of gratitude and humility. With gratitude you sail with joy. Humility gives you the joy for learning, growth, expansion, trial and error.

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3. Leaders, Not Followers

We must create leaders within the team to get the group organized, stay on task, and keep pushing. It is not the coach’s job, and it is not necessarily the best sailors who are the leaders, but leaders must make sure no time is wasted and get the team organized on the water and set up good drills.

4. Sail “Rustico”

There are times when you must change your approach to the sport and what you are focusing on, sometimes you need to be inside the boat, feeling it, balancing the sails and pushing the boat hard through the water, and sometimes you need to pull your head out of the boat and focus on racing and positioning the boats around you. In Spanish we say “rustico” which in English means rustic. I don’t know if we ever found a comparable translation, but we took a stab at a few things and landed on: finesse, classic style, switch on/switch off, hardcore. But the overall ethos of sailing “rustico” is to channel a deeper wisdom and connection to the boat, the water, and have perspective on what the priority might be.

I want to dig deeper into this concept.

One way of thinking about this involves the “right brain, left brain” pseudo-science trope. Related imageThe right and left sides of the brain sort neurological information differently. The right and left sides prioritize different details.

Left side dominant brained people like numbers, figures, scales, metrics. These people are detail oriented, meticulous, focused on the minutia and mechanics that independently in combination of the larger whole. These are the engineers, the bankers, the litigators.

Right side dominant brains are the artists, the caretakers, the teachers of the world. Focused on the greater good, the big picture. Moments of altruism, compassion, and vision. Righties consider big picture moments, large scale trends, and make connections within the world.

Neuro-psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains the left-right scenario in these terms:

“The “left hemisphere depends on abstraction, yields clarity on things that are known, fixed, static, decontextualized. A knowledge of parts.” Perfection can be attained, but only within a closed system.

“The Right hemisphere sees a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, complex living things. It is a wisdom of the whole.” Perfection can never be attained. How could it be? To learn more watch this animation.

This is to differentiate between looking at the beach and studying every single grain of sand (left brain), or to see the beach as a landscape (right). Surely you can do both. Even as I explain it, you picture a grain of sand and then a long sandy beach.

This is all to say that you need perspective.

Back to as this relates to Klaus:

This switching of the brain’s hemispheres is “rustico.” To have both a narrowly -focused attention, to keeping the boat at perfect heel, consistently powering trim, driving through the water on the least resistant path, and also a broadly vigilant awareness of the larger scope. To know the overall shift and wind pattern, the position of competitors, your target and next play. This zooming in and out is “rustico.”

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Through your development you will develop “feel” in the boat. Feel is a conditioned awareness of optimal performance. Proprioception is the” awareness of the position of the body.” This intuition is developed deep within the mind every time an action is replicated and learned. Every time you pull the main in and heel over to then ease and re-trim, you are cutting a deeper path into your brain and make yourself a better mainsail trimmer.

The goal is to develop such consistent pathways that the technical skills, the awareness of the body, and by extension the boat (all the right brained stuff) become intuitive and the attention can be switched to the big picture moments. (left brain).

What does all this have to do with Klaus?

He challenges us to be aware of the bigger picture. To make team goals every day, and individual goals to work on and stay focused. This makes it fun and challenging. Always learning, becoming better, finding new challenges for the winners and making it fun for those in the back.

How to manage the “pulpo” to clear from the fleet and find clear air and get out to the side for fresh breeze. Always fresh breeze. This is “rustico”.  We shifted to a new light air Image result for krakentechnique with the crew off the wire and skipper up on the rail to work the boat and rail down. A sailor’s position should never be static or stuck. The sea moves. The wind moves. Both crew and skipper always need fresh air to drive the boat and keep moving it through the water. If the crew is jammed against the mast, he should say “I need more air, I need to breathe” and the skipper can adjust to get the crew more breeze. This connection to the boat goes so far, Klaus liked to adjust his hiking straps to they were tight and against the bottom of the boat. So tight that he could barely get his feet in and so in the light air he could pull hard against the boat with his feet and translate it into energy.

The upwind technique was to twist the leeches, open the sails up and build speed, build apparent and sail the boat more precisely through the water.

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Our starting line identification drills we did, we learned the crew and skipper can call time and distance to one another while on the line. Crew calls 1.5 boat lengths, the skipper calls 3 boat lengths back. The more they practice this and helped by the coach the better and more accurate they become.

For our debriefs and morning briefs, he challenged me to remind the sailors every day to be thankful for our opportunity. We can be grateful to go sailing and enjoy the water. With this attitude, we must agree to make the best effort to push the team. Be organized, on time, working hard and always learning from every situation and position, whether in a line up or drill, or sailing into the club.

He said, “you can’t do everything for them. You need to teach them to learn for themselves. Teach them to problem solve, how to line up and try, teach them to think and have them learn on their own. They can come with questions. Do not bring the answers easily. There is no lesson there.” Thanks, Klaus. See you soon.

For more on the methodology of constant learning.

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