When it comes to racing and sailing competitions, every team member has a particular skill set that enables the crew to work as one and ultimately be successful. Picking the best tacticians, helmsmen or trimmers is more likely to contribute significantly toward a regatta win than a mastman, sewerman. grinder, offside trimmer, or floater. These are the “secondary” positions that many teams fill with less experienced sailors and are reserved for amateurs in classes with limitations on professional sailors. However, no team member should be ignored and communication between them should be of paramount importance.
There are high-level requirements to be consistently successful as a crew. This also involves the skipper, whose leadership guides the team through thick and thin. Although no two leadership styles are the same, successful skippers have in common calm and confidence, navigation and seamanship knowledge, organizational and interpersonal skills and, above all, courage. Being available whenever called goes a long way towards gaining the crew’s respect. A good skipper should promote fairness and listen to his crew’s suggestions.
As part of the team developing process it’s important to reward loyalty and those who stick with the program. This will foster the team spirit and ensure everyone enjoys the sailing. Following these tips will improve the team’s performance and transform it from a collection of individuals to a well-oiled machine.
1. Always be prepared
Never take racing lightly, no matter how many regattas you’ve participated in. Spend the necessary time to become not just proficient, but perfect. Always check the weather forecast before leaving the house and only bring warm and comfortable gear you will be wearing. Bring a watch and a roll of electrical tape, regardless of position. Be familiar not only with your role but with others’ as well. You never know when you may be asked to fill in and having one crewmember versatile enough to handle a few positions will make it easier to fill out the crew.
Being in good shape improves mental focus during and after a race, as out-of-shape sailors are slow to recover when things go wrong. It always pays to be physically fit, no matter the demands of your position. Additionally, maintaining your fitness makes it easier to change your weight as required by different boats, without sacrificing your health. This opens up more opportunities.
2. Do your part
Sailing a big boat well means doing many little things at exactly the right time and a great team brings out the best in each other, creating a seamless operation where everyone is focused on doing their part. Don’t hesitate to point out something that looks wrong, but first make sure everything is right in your area.
Whatever your role on a boat, you have to take ownership of your space and minimize the need for direction. Try to be proactive and anticipate the skipper. For example, the more you correctly move your weight before the skipper asks, the more your team is gaining. Upwind in lighter air, listen to the calls for puff and lull and slide your weight in and out accordingly. Downwind, crew weight is an effective way to steer the boat: if the trimmer feels light, slide to leeward to go up; if there’s a puff, press to weather to go down.
Communication between teammates is always important to ensure a smooth sailing and even more so when operating outside the standard playbook. Always make everyone aware of your moves before you make them and allow the skipper to pick the best time for you to go.
After the race, regardless of result, it’s useful to break down what worked and what didn’t, focusing on specifics that can be improved on. When discussing tactics or strategy, avoid arguments and finger pointing. The last race is history; the key is how you can use that experience going forward.
Adding one new person to a crew creates a completely new dynamic. Take the time to get everyone on the same page for the key maneuvers and determine how the in-race communication should go, what the tactician and helmsman want to hear.
4. Don’t delay
Start racing when you get to the boat. There’s always something to do: start rigging, prepare the sails, organize down below, etc. If something’s wrong, or missing, you’ll catch it early and give your team time to rectify the situation.
5. Stay focused
It’s essential to stay mentally connected to the race, even on positions that involve long periods of inactivity. Always be aware of your surroundings and tuned in to the crew. Even if you don’t agree with a decision made by the tactician or the driver, don’t let your mind wander to what might be. Adapt to whatever call is made and focus on what you can do to make the best of the current situation.
6. Take care of non-race roles
Building a successful program requires as much work off the water as on it. Focusing on the team’s performance includes things like nutrition and hydration, interior management (minimizing excess weight and organizing sail placement), and sail management, gear maintenance so it’s important to have one or more people to take care of these things.
7. Know the plan
Race results are largely influenced by the tactical call of the approach and then by the execution of the plan. The tactics won’t matter if the crew is unsure of the plan or the call comes too late. This is most critical for the bowman, because of the physical separation to the call makers and the impact of a breakdown on the bow. When in doubt, pass the information up the rail in a calm manner.
8. Find a motivator
It helps to appoint a person that will make sure the team is more than the sum of its parts, someone with just enough motivation to inspire others and keep them focused. This person will usually have a positive influence, encouraging the team to look forward, not behind, and to never give up. On the other hand, reminding a team that one great race doesn’t make a regatta or a season can be invaluable too. On the water, he or she will be active and engaged in the racing, maintaining a positive attitude.
9. Check out the competition
There are of course moments when the boat isn’t going well. The ability to quickly diagnose and correct is extremely important so you might want to look for differences in nearby boats that are going well.