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
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 Start (typical
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
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
- (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
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
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.