Crewing: Phil Toth tells us how to do it right. Got questions? E-mail him.
There have been loads written about winning from the perspective of how to be a great helmsman or a brilliant tactician. Practice a bit, win the start, hit the first shift and extend from there. What could be more simple….right? Truth is that from the lofty, exalted position of helmsman or tactician, it may appear to the gods in the back of the boat that sails get trimmed perfectly each and every time, and the crew still have the time to clean everything up and scramble across the boat and hike after maneuvers like mark roundings.
I have been sailing on the Olympic circuit almost full-time over the last 8 years both in the Finn and the Star, and they It really opened my eyes on how important the crew is! Many of the top Star crews in the world can swap and change drivers, it does not matter who is steering behind us we can still win. Many of them have gone on to be highly sought after crews in other classes such as the Dragon, Etchells, Melges 20, Volvo, Americas Cup and TP52s etc. Good crew will have a set of base set of skills that will really work successfully in any class!
Team Work- Good crew are people that can work well and constructively in a team. The last thing a driver or tactician needs is someone in the middle of the boat chirping away second guessing there every move. It wrecks their confidence and only creates turmoil and frustration on the boat. Everyone needs to know their job and the strengths and weaknesses of the others. Make sure that you can back up the person beside you, if they don’t fail in their job neither will you. Always be positive and say only what needs to be said and only that which will move the boat forward to a better position. Never give up and never stop sailing at 100% till you cross the finish line. Many regattas are decided by a single point. Being a good crew means you get everything done even if it’s just coiling a line before the gybe…most of it will happen in the back ground and no one will notice. It is often when nothing happens (the spin sheets don’t get knotted and screw up the gybe) that it means you’re doing your job right. Debrief after each race to talk about how to improve for the next one.
Compass- I sail a lot of small boats that do not have the fancy electronics that give you all the wind and speed info. I have found that a compass is all that you really need. The fancy stuff is nice to have for sure, and I will use it to confirm what I already know from the compass. No matter if it is a new digital compass or an old school one it will help you figure out when there is a shift, the favored end of the line, or the wind heading. When crewing I will keep track of the boat heading (as I know the tactician is too) so that I know when there has been a shift and I can then be ready for any maneuver to take advantage of the shift that just happened. Keeping track like this will keep you a step ahead of the boat. It will help you keep your head in the game tactically as well as inform others on the crew that there is a maneuver likely soon and to be prepared when the tactician calls for it.