Sailing 101

 

Crew Positions 101

Quite often I find myself explaining crew positions and duties on the way to a starting line. Most boats are laid out differently however, the tasks for each position are about the same in most keel boats over 30 feet. Your first time on a boat you usually get great positions like: Left out, Wrong Rail, and Assistant to the Gofer. Having the knowledge of what to do at mark roundings, tacks and gybes will greatly enhance your chances of getting a good position on a boat.
There are Seven Critical Positions on a racing Yacht:

Helmsman / Skipper
Tactician
Maintrimmer
Port Trimmer
Starboard Trimmer
Pitman
Bowman

On Boats over 34 feet a Mastman is added for dip pole gybing, and Boats over 35 feet long usually have a grinder. On Fractional Rigged Yachts a Runner Specialist is added to get the speed up after the tacks. On Phoenix, the Hakura 37, and Bravura ,the Farr 44, we normally use 2 people on the runners for tacking and gybing. We will discuss most maneuvers with 6 to 8 crewmembers in mind. In sailing there are a lot of terms that describe the same thing. The upwind headsail may be called the Genoa, Genny, Jib, L1, M1, H1, 2, 3, 4, Blade, 150, 130, etc. If you hear any of these terms they refer to the Headsail of choice. A spinnaker can be called a chute, a 3/4 or 1/2 oz. depending on the weight of the material, or even the big pretty colorful sail. On large asymmetricals they are commonly called Frankenchutes due to the many repairs required after dropping one overboard. A line or rope can be called many things depending on their usage. Lines to pull sails up are called Halyards, and lines to pull booms or poles up are called topping lifts or uphauls. Lines to pull sails in are almost always called sheets. Any line to pull the luff of a sail down tight should now be called a cunningham because downhaul was far to easy a term to understand. Tacking can be called coming about, changing tacks, or you might hear We're going to lee bow. This means the boat will tack slightly to leeward of an approaching boat to gain tactical advantage. Gybing is always called gybing, but no one actually knows how to spell it; including me. Now that you have the terms, let's go through the maneuvers.

The Start (typical starboard approach)
Helmsman -
Get a good position in the fleet with room to duck and come up
Tactician - Check wind shifts and determine the favored side of line and course. Call Time.
Maintrimmer - Keep main trimmed fully unless told otherwise. Be ready to dump the entire sail if necessary. Trim hard and fast on final approach giving the boat full power.
Port Trimmer - Let Helmsman know of leeward boats. Grind for Starboard Trimmer on Port Tack. Trim to full speed unless told otherwise. Call Genoa skirt on final approach.
Starboard Trimmer - Let Helmsman know of leeward boats while on port tack. Trim to full speed. Grind for port trimmer. Wrap starboard winch. Get to rail.
Pit Man - Call Time, Double check all sheetstoppers. Get to rail. Watch for kelp.
Bowman - On bow calling approaching boats and distance to the line. Don't forget genoa skirting.

Tacking to Weather
Helmsman - Call "Tacking". Start to tack slowly to maximize weather gain. Then quickly find opposite tack angle after crossing head to wind.
Tactician - Look for a clear lane. Make sure there is breeze where you are heading.
Maintrimmer - Ease main per boat stability to allow boat to tack easier. Then trim as the boat accelerates.
Existing Trimmer - Cut Sheet as boat gets head to wind. Grind for New Trimmer. Get to Rail.
New Trimmer - Tail sheet. Trim in till sail is a few inches off spreader. Trim as boat accelerates.
Pitman - Adjust Halyards or Cunninghams if needed. Get to rail. Look for kelp.
Bowman - Help Genoa across. Skirt genoa. Get to rail.

Windward Rounding - (standard port bearaway)
Helmsman -
Watch traffic. Find new course angle. Fill chute before bearing away completely.
Tactician - Determine favored side of the course. Help find optimum VMG angle.
Maintrimmer - Ease Mainsail and it's controls.
Port Trimmer - Ease Genoa 2 to 3 feet. Over easing the genoa causes problems for the spinnaker hoisting. Cleat, and then trim Spinnaker. Do not over trim as the chute is going up.
Starboard Trimmer - Pull back afterguy. Trim afterguy as if it is a sheet until the course is set. Most spinnaker raps are caused because the afterguy is late in coming back allowing the chute to twist behind the genoa. Make sure the pole is square (perpendicular) to the wind. The helmsman may tell you to over square or under square the pole according to the wave angle. The angle of the pole directly affects the heading of the boat.
Pitman - Make sure that genoa halyard is flaked out. Top the spinnaker pole and hoist the spinnaker. Drop the Genoa, tend the Foreguy, and then adjust mainsail controls. Raise staysail if required.
Bowman - After Spinnaker setup; which is different on every boat; top the pole. Jump the spinnaker halyard, secure the genoa on deck, and prepare for a gybe or staysail hoisting.

Gybing
Helmsman - A book can be written on the subject of driving through the gybe. A good helmsman develops a feel for the boat in every sea and wind condition. If the helmsman can call the gybe in a puff, on the roll of the sea he can accelerate during the maneuver and gain time on his opponents during the gybe. The trip should be called by the helmsman just as the boat rolls to windward.
Tactician - Look for clear air to gybe into. Make sure that you won't have to duck or head up around any boats just after the Gybe. On many boats, the wind speed is as important as the wind angle; so avoid holes if possible.
Maintrimmer - The safest way is to bring the main to center and then ease it out on the other side as the pole is made on the new side. The fastest way is to wait for the trip call and throw it around as the boat rocks to windward. If done properly the boat stays at full speed the entire time. If done improperly on a boat with a tall fractional rig and runners, can result in the total annihilation of the rig, the boat, and all life as we know it.
Trimmers - There are three setups for trimming chutes and poles. The most common setup today is the single sheet with tweekers, for the sheet that becomes the afterguy. The other two are separate sheets and guys for dip pole gybing or end for end gybing. On any of the three setups, the only important thing to remember is to keep the spinnaker full and trimmed at all times. On the single sheet setup, the pole should be squared before gybing so that the pole can come off the mast. Trim through the gybe and give a slight ease of both sheets as the Bowman secures the pole on the mast. Remember to adjust the tweekers during the gybe. The sheet and guy dip pole arrangement is common on boats from 36 to 100 feet long. The pole gets squared back and tripped. On larger boats the old afterguy person becomes the new spinnaker grinder. Depending on the setup, one trimmer can handle both sheets and the other both guys. Or, each trimmer can take a side trading from sheet to guy and visa versa. As the pole is tripped, pull a little on the new sheet to prevent the chute from darting to the new windward side. As the new afterguy is made, ease the sheet slightly to allow the pole to come back quickly. The new afterguy must be pulled back as fast as possible to avoid wrapping the chute, but don't over square or pull before the bowman calls made.
Pitman - Tend the topping lift and foreguy through the entire process.
Bowman - Timing, speed, and agility are required for this daring maneuver. On the end for end gybe, the pole should be tripped from both sides at once; freeing the pole to move to the new side. Grab the new guy with your outboard hand and shove it into the jaw of the pole that you are holding with your inboard hand. Then slide the pole through your hands and push it outwards with all you have till you can make the jaw onto the mast ring. Call Made and prepare for the next gybe or mark rounding. Don't worry about the genoa sheets until the final gybe to the mark. On dip pole gybes, a Mastman is usually involved to raise the inboard end of the pole, trip the pole, and help jump the topping lift as the pole is made. The Bowman is truly in his glory as the pole comes at him at twenty to thirty miles an hour. All he has to do is set the new guy in the outboard pole jaw, call "Made", and push the pole out as it goes by. If done correctly, the Bowman is the star. If done incorrectly, the entire boat slows down as the pole and afterguy are brought back to the bow for proper placement.

Leeward Roundings
Helmsman and Tactician - It is critical to call the drop at the appropriate time. Too soon and you might lose an inside overlap. Too late and the spinnaker can be left flailing in the breeze as you're trying to go to weather. Once you have called for the genoa up and the spinnaker drop, the Helmsman should give all attention to driving properly around the mark. The Tactician must start looking up the weather leg before getting to the leeward mark or gate to determine what side of the course will be favored. If the crew work goes well the Tactician can sit back and do his job. If something goes wrong on the takedown, the Tactician becomes the extra hand to access the problem and help with the solution. There are no tactics when you can't tack.
Maintrimmer - Set your controls before you get to the two boatlength circle. Trim well because the main is the driving force during the sail transition.
Trimmers - Each boat and each rounding require different techniques for dropping the spinnaker. On the standard leeward drop, it is best to ease the pole to the headstay and then six more feet of afterguy so that the chute can be pulled down the foredeck hatch if possible. The sheet should be eased as the chute starts to drop. On floater take downs ease and tend the sheets. A sheet that is let go will try to go overboard and wrap on the prop or rudder according to Murphy's Law. The rule of thumb for trimmers is to trim the spinnaker to full speed whether the pole is attached to it or not. Make sure that your genoa is ready to come in at the mark. Trim the genoa to full speed through the entire rounding.
Pitman - You must go with the flow of the foredeck crew. Make sure that your spinnaker halyard is flaked and ready to run free. Hoist the genoa as soon as it is called for. Get the genoa halyard to it's mark. Lower the spinnaker halyard as fast as the crew can pull the spinnaker aboard. As soon as the spinnaker head hits the deck, slowly ease the topping lift to the deck. This allows the Bowman to start cleaning up the foredeck immediately for a tack. Once the pole hits the deck, get to the rail and watch for kelp. The leeward trimmer can help with cleanup if needed. On floater drops, the pole comes down before the spinnaker making your job easier as you approach the mark.
Bowman - Have the genoa ready to hoist. Make sure that the genoa sheets will be clear for a tack. Get spinnaker lines ready for the drop. Jump the genoa halyard then grab the appropriate sheet and start bringing in the foot of the chute. Once you have most of the foot aboard, you can start pulling the belly and the leech of the spinnaker in at warp speed because it should be hidden from the wind behind the genoa. On 35 foot and larger boats, we have someone go down below and pull the spinnaker in from the foredeck hatch. It should take 4 to 6 seconds to pull down a spinnaker on any boat up to 70 feet long, if done properly. Once the spinnaker is down, secure the pole and do the minimum cleanup required to get the boat heading quickly to the next mark. Double check the windward genoa sheet for tacking ability. Do the rest of the cleanup when the boat is in clear air and sailing at full speed.

There are different quirks on every boat that need special attention. These can be identified in a few practice sessions. Remember that boatspeed is the key to 80 percent of racing. Boats with good maneuvering ability will be able to capitalize on smaller windshifts. Also, nothing read in a book can equal the time out on the water experiencing the maneuvers first hand. We gybed Shock and J-35s at least a couple hundred times before we realized that boatspeed can increase during the maneuver when everthing is just right. Enjoy your sport and remember those poor starving Supermodels when everything isn't going just right aboard. I know that I will be.

Race On,

Steve Steiner
Managing Editor
YachtRacing.com
email: steiner@yachtracing.com

 

 

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