QUAY CULTURE BY SIMON KENT
Dust off that spray jacket. Rustle up your deck shoes. Tip out the favourite sailing bag and block out all land-based activities for the next six month's worth of weekends.
YES, YOU guessed it. Summer's here and it's time to get back out on the water. Trouble is, if you own a racing yacht of any size or type, you're going to have to form a crew before you can safely head to the starting line for the first race of the new season.
If you're lucky, you have a complete team from last season. Maybe a few have moved on and you need replacements. How do you go about selecting the best people to sail with? I'm glad you asked. The first and easily most popular step
is to recruit your friends. This makes heaps of sense because you already have a good idea of their personal strengths and weaknesses.
If you have a big crew to fill, you just might not have enough mates to go around. The next step is simple; try your local yacht club.
Most clubs have a noticeboard and usually they're covered with notes pinned up by crewing hopefuls just dying to get out on the water.
You can do no worse than trial a few of these keen bods and see just how good they are. Many have completed some basic courses in crewing and anyone who goes to the trouble of advertising their wares must be pretty keen anyway.
Right. Now you've isolated a pool of potential crewmates. The next step is to choose the right people for the right job.
Let's start at the sharp end. The perfect foredeckie has eight arms, eyes in the back of their head, an ego that's impervious to abuse from the cockpit as well as forearms that would make Popeye weep with envy. The very best
inherited a brewery on the opening day of the season.
Ah, all right, just kidding. But you get my drift. The foredeck (aka frontierland) requires the ultimate multi-skilled sailor, one who can handle running gear as well as keep their head when the boat is screaming into the bottom mark
with ten other yachts in close company and no margin for error.
So, somebody who is light on their feet with plenty of experience is perfect. It is often the domain of younger types who are keen to further their career and are smart enough to realise that good for'ard hands are desperately hard
to find. Conquer the tiny area that's forward of the mast and you've guaranteed yourself a ticket-to-ride. Big time.
The mast person is the same. They provide the essential back-up to the bowman. Think ocean going golf caddie (without the plaid sweaters and jaunty plus fours) and you have the deck, assist during headsail changes, spinnaker gybes and the occasional spinnaker peel. Brute strength will also be called upon in more basic circumstances like helping to untangle forestay wraps and wineglasses.
Bow and mast workers both need good, strong stomachs. Not only will they be required to do most of their work where it is wet, wild and bouncing, they're also required to go below and re-pack the kites between sets. It's impossible
for your foredeck crew to operate properly if they can't fulfil this last but important requirement.
The cockpit crew is next. Back in the middle of the boat (aka adventureland) a different skill set is required. This team spends race after race grinding winches with sheets and/or halyards led from headsails, spinnakers, mainsails,
uphauls, downhauls, Cunninghams and other bits of arcane kit.
Strength and stamina are the main requirements. It's easy enough for anyone to grind a winch once through a tack. You need genuine ticker to perfect that evolution over an afternoon's race. In tight sailing it is possible to put in
scores of tacks as well as all the other crewing demands. So your grinders and trimmers need to be physically fit and have quick reflexes.
Anyone who has been in a cockpit during a gybe in any sort of wind and seaway knows how quickly things can go wrong. Crew only have to throw off the old brace a moment too soon/start winding their watch instead of the new
sheet/forget to lower the pole topping lift/ or do all three at once and your boat is likely to slide out of control and into an all-standing gybe faster than the steerer can scream: “Anyone for tennis?'
Which brings us to fantasy land. Yes, that famous part of the boat in the stern sheets where the skipper lives. Sometimes the mainsheet trimmer will be there as well and perhaps a tactician if you're on an even bigger boat. Not much call for brute strength or agility at the blunt end, it must be said. More the zone for the thinker. Often the owner will take over steering duties and he/she will share it round on longer races. Others may not, hence they have to get
used to being nicknamed Araldite or somesuch.
The very best steerers are born not made. They seem to have an intuitive sense of what makes a boat sail quickly. Many (but by no means all) will have started their sailing career in small skiffs and dinghies and will have grown with
the sport. All will share one absolute quality – the ability to concentrate to the exclusion of all possible distractions. That and the lungs and vocabulary of a parade ground Regimental Sergeant Major when things go wrong.
Last, but by no means least, is the navigator. He or she has to think strategically and tactically. They want to put the boat in the right place at the right time for that next wind or tidal change. They will know the layline to the next mark as well as the approximate heading to the one after that.
While the steerer and trimmers are worrying about the here and now of boatspeed and course position, the navigator will be looking at the bigger, overall position and ensuring that the boat is always in the right place.
Really sought-after navigators will often take a trick at the helm as well. Most importantly the navigator will understand that the answer to the skipper's question: “What's our position' will never be: “What, now? I've got a cake in the oven.'
Is all of that too harsh? Ok, let me reconsider for a moment. Nope.That just about covers it.
Off you go. Get sailing and have some fun.