taken for a ride

taken for a ride

We may focus on the most adrenaline-rich parts of this wonderful sport, but we understand that the vast majority of our readers will never sail on an AC45 or a Volvo 70.  In fact, we’ve had a slew of email recently asking us the best way for a novice to get on a racing boat, and fortunately, we found a thread that gives you pretty much all you need to know when it comes to finding a ride.  With props to ‘keel trimmer’ for starting a very useful discussion all the way back in January 2011.  Here’s his starting post:

I am a decent sailor, and this discussion presumes you are, too.  But it also presumes that you’re not a pro or anything close to it.  I want to respond to the recurring question of how to get a ride on a ‘big’ boat, because I personally have had a lot of success in that regard, despite the fact that I am not a superstar (except in the galley, but that’s another matter).  This is for my fellow passionate amateurs.  Fortunately, most of the skippers are just slightly more affluent versions of us, and need us to make their boats go fast.  If you get known in your local sailing community as the kind of person who does the following things, and you are at least a competent sailor, then I believe you will be welcomed aboard and invited back at all but the highest level of our sport.

          Getting aboard

  • Walk before you run.  Don’t expect to do races before you’ve done deliveries.
  • Network yourself like it’s a job.
  • Show up.  Example – my ride for MHOR isn’t a sure thing, yet.  If I don’t get it, I’ll get my ass up to Marblehead a day early and ask around.  Someone will nab me.  Same thing for deliveries/returns – there must have been 20 boats leaving from Bermuda last July after the Newport race who would have paid for crew had any been available.
  • Leverage who you know already – if the big boat at your local club is full, ask the skipper about his competition and if they need anyone – unless he’s a jerk, he will want to get his class up to full strength and will help you get a ride.
  • The Sailing Anarchy crew board is probably the best generic one, but don’t overlook the race web site.  Not everyone reads SA.

           Getting invited back

  • Do the dirty jobs before you’re asked.
  • Unless you walk on water and have been brought on board because no one trims downwind like you, be humble.  (Of course, if you’re that good, then you don’t need my advice – I need yours!)  Don’t talk about how good you are, no matter how good you are, until after you’ve done some sailing with the crew and they know you’re not an asshat.  I have found it’s better to patiently wait for the chance to demonstrate your skills than talk about them ahead of time.
  • Don’t get too friendly with any one person until you learn the dynamics of the boat.
  • Don’t talk trash about anyone or anything until you know who you’re sailing with, and who their sisters are dating.
  • Age matters.  If you’re young and a great sailor, expect to be treated like you’re young.  You won’t be treated like a great sailor until you’ve bled a little.
  • If you’re an oldster, watch out that someone isn’t giving you more responsibility than you’re ready for.  You’ll embarrass yourself and potentially endanger the boat if you don’t fess up and something goes wrong (don’t ask me how I know this).
  • Act like someone who deserves to be entrusted with the owner’s most prized possession, as well as his life and that of his family’s.
  • Don’t goof off until you know you’re ‘in’.
  • Prepare as if someone had asked you to.  Know the weather, local conditions, SIs, etc.  If you are a local, then you might have some great intel on the competition, and should be ready to share it – if someone always leaves too much mark room, let the skipper know that.
  • Buy the first round at the bar (unless you’re a poor student, in which case no one will expect you to).
  • Ask someone how to use the head and the galley as soon as possible.  Your mates will appreciate not being woken up when you need to take your first crap, and they will embrace you as one of their own if you’re the guy who brings them a hot cuppa as you come on watch.

Save something for later.  On a new boat, I hang back a little at first, because every one is different.  As an observational learner, I pick things up by watching others.  The regular crew will be fired up at the start and they know everything better than you anyway.  So watch what they do and keep an eye out for a-holes, lines in the water, foul traffic, etc.  Then, when they’re grabbing a sandwich, offer to grab the sheet, man the winch, backstay, whatever.  This goes for later, too.  Be the guy who got rest when he could so when it really hits the fan you have the energy to deliver.  What else ya got?