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Junk Rig

09 February 2021

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Seeing at the subject of ‘unhealthy’ aspects of sport is a hot topic this week, one way that helps to develop a ‘healthy’ attitude to aspects of the extremes of sport, be it training, nutrition, or general life balance, is to see in terms of sail technology. At one extreme you have the Chinese junk rig, a sail design that’s perhaps 3,000 years old, and is made up of a sail made from just about anything (any cloth, thatch or woven mat), reinforced with batons (bamboo, wood, carbon fibre), requiring any form of the unstayed mast, and a minimum of rigging. Such a sail can be operated by one person and is extremely robust, foolproof, and easily repaired with anything at hand (an oar can stand in for a baton, a bedsheet for a hole in the sail).

Such a sail design allowed the Chinese to send fleets of ships that probably circumnavigated the globe, or at least reach Africa and America. And then you have the European Bermuda rig, developed by the Dutch in the 17th Century, a design that is built for speed, requiring both the highest degree of skill and manpower to use effectively. The trade-off for speed is that the faster you want to go the more you stress the entire system, and if one part is weak or breaks - man or material - the whole system breaks, often catastrophically. In such a high-stress system it is not a question of if something will break, be it a shackle, a line, a mast, but when will it break, and so the speed of such a system generally means the lifespan of the system is limited. Compared to the Bermuda rig, the junk rig is a mule compared to a Ferrari, and in a world with a bias for speed and action, it’s the obvious choice - after all - who could win with anything else?

But in terms of longevity, survivability, adaptability, the fortitude of the system, and the lower demands it makes, and how little it punishes mistakes, I think it’s better to employ more of a junk mentality than Bermuda. If you believe that you cannot win with such a junk attitude, that it won’t get you where you want to go – to win! – well then, you should prepare yourself for all that can come with speed. #sportpsychology #sportperformance #sportspsychologist #sportscoaching

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