Trim Your Sails

Nor is it wiser to weep a true occasion lost, but trim our sails, and let old bygones be.” – Alfred Tennyson

No sailboat can go directly into the wind. For any given boat there is a minimum angle that it can sail relative to the wind, typically 45% or so to either side of the true wind. The “no-go zone” is depicted below by the red hash marks.

To sail to a point upwind, you must use a technique called tacking, which is to say sailing close-hauled to the wind as is shown by “B” on the left and then turning the bow of the boat through the eye of the wind to point “B” on the right. The boat moves in a zig-zag pattern, slowly but surely making its way upwind. If there is insufficient momentum to move the boat through the “no-go zone” the sails will luff and the boat will slow down and eventually stop or go backward.

So it is in life.

Sometimes your destination is downwind and sometimes it is upwind. You must adjust your approach and learn to trim your sails for either if you are to continue moving forward. If you don’t, you’ll inevitably slow down, stop or even go backward.

Most can tell the difference between moving upwind or downwind, so I’ll leave that discussion for another day. My interest this morning is to provide you with a few pointers for tacking more gracefully when the winds are against you:

1. Remember that the wind – even if it is a direct headwind – is always a source of propulsion. You may have to adjust your approach, but it can always be used to advantage.

2. If you have to adjust your approach in your movement toward a goal, do so decisively, firmly, yet gracefully. Wallowing, wishy-washiness or tentative adjustments are likely to leave you “in irons”, that is, in the “no-go zone”.

3. Don’t spend precious energy bemoaning the fact that it is taking longer to reach your goal than anticipated. Zig-zagging will take longer than a direct shot, but when the winds are against you there is no choice. When tacking you are wise to dedicate any available energy to trimming your sails, to making the most out of the situation at hand with all available resources.

8 thoughts on “Trim Your Sails

  1. Steve Ventola

    Obviously there are winds that may be a challenge to face living in this world. Today in a conversation with a patient the topic of the Norsemen came up in that they were a conquering people that sailed the seas. It would seem that they had to meet their headwinds. As in life it is good to have a conquering spirit to meet ours. Thanks for the salient points to do so.


  2. Zach

    I was always amazed when I read about sailing. I am especially impressed that they had to use these principles of wind propulsion during battle, while cannons were being fired at them. So in this case, not only is it taking longer to get where you want to go, but your men have to change the sails to take advantage of the wind direction while bits of metal are being shot at them. It makes bemoaning simple peacetime direction changing seem a little ridiculous.
    Sometimes I think we accept no for an answer too easily. It might take some work to get where we want to go, but if it is the right place to go the difficulty in getting there shouldn’t matter. You should spend your time thinking about whether or not you should do something. When the decision is made which direction to take, the time for discussion or self-doubt is over and a decisive move should be made.


  3. Ricardo B.

    This can be especially useful to the student choosing a career path for instance and for anyone considering investing energy towards some larger goal. Rarely will the path taken ever be straight and the destination really even known. Obstacles may come, but instead of slowing you down to the point of lethargy and just wanting to settle in to some degree of comfort, they can help you refine your aim and may even open up a new route towards a previous unseen destination which is part of a newer vision of some newer understanding. It is all part of the adventure of living.
    I mean really, what a great analogy to keep in mind in this quickly changing world. As long as you have the desire to do something meaningful and purposeful in your life, then this attitude is priceless as it keeps you flexible to the changing forces of economy and world politics and even your own personal relationships and your evolving awareness, instead of being hindered as people often are apt to be when things don’t go their way.
    In any case, I would venture to say that life’s more about who you are becoming throughout its continual traverse rather than looking to arrive and then staying put at any given destination. And if so, then good navigational skills are invaluable!


  4. MMc

    Great analogy. Making the most of a situation does begin with accepting it as it is. I don’t mean settling for it but realizing what is for that moment. This is where judgement can really hamper the forward movement. Getting bogged down or derailed by fault finding, witch hunts or dispair wastes the time and energy that could be used to let the situation evolve. Nothing stays still but we can use our lives vainly trying to impede it. So if we think it’s pleasant there is a tendency to not want it to change and if we think it’s bad often we take the aforementioned approach.
    In my experience some of the seemingly bleakest situations turned out to be just a snapshot moment and evolved into quite different outcomes and opportunities. Just as it’s foolish to believe words taken out of context so is it with the moments in our lives.


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