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Wizard of Oz Syndrome

Dec 4, 2016

Author: Fin

Fintan Hartnett is the Principal and Chief Instructor at Topmast Maritime Training and an RYA Yachtmaster Instructor as well as Sail Canada and ASA instructor.

Spoiler Alert: If you’ve never watched the iconic Judy Garland movie The Wizard of Oz then stop reading right now! (FYI – probably the most unsailorlike line I’ve ever written)

Sailboats can be intimidating. There’s rope everywhere, winches, blocks and big flappy things called sails which may or may not work depending on where you are relative to the wind. Figuring it all out is only half the battle, mastering the names and processes can take years. After all, what can you do but nod your head sagely when an Old Salt, sitting at the bar, laments the tear in his gollywobbler or berates a youngster for pinching too much during the race?

In sailing, when we’re unsure or we just don’t know, we do the natural thing and turn to the more experienced sailors amongst us and ask questions. Or we say nothing, worried we may sound daft for asking. In The Wizard of Oz, the cast is on a quest to find a great wizard whom they also hope will provide them with a solution to their various problems – in Judy Garland’s case she just wants to get back to Kansas after a tornado rips her from the bosom of her family and deposits her in the mysterious land of Oz.

After an adventurous trek along the yellow brick road they end up in front of this giant wizard-like image which spews smoke and has lights and bells and whistles… well go see the movie and you’ll know what I mean. Either way, it’s purpose is to reassure those before it as to the Wizard’s great power. As it turns out, once the curtain is pulled back, the Wizard is only a little old man pulling levers and pretending to be something he’s not.

Hoarding knowledge and parsing it out a crumb at a time is, unfortunately, often the method most employed by Old Salts when it comes to unraveling the mysteries of sailing. Either they feel because it took them so long to master the process it should take everyone that long or they don’t know or they kind of know but for the life of them have no idea HOW to explain the magic that makes the flappy things work. I call it the Wizard of Oz syndrome, it’s a trap and I see it everywhere in sailing.

Not all Old Salts are bad of course. They always have a trick or two up their sleeves worth learning. The problem is: how do you know when what they’re passing on is wisdom and not something made-up? Difficult as it is for a novice to know the difference between smoke and mirrors there is one alternative out there which will at least get you started – take a sailing course. Not with anyone, but with an accredited sailing instructor and a reputable program which is recognised in more places than Oz.

Hint – RYA.

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