Bruce Burton and I were sailing for Tufts in the intercollegiate North Americans. In the seventh race we rounded the weather mark first and jibed onto port, closely followed by Ed Adams of URI. Converging with us from to leeward was Washington’s Brian Thomas, still beating to the weather mark on starboard. Bruce didn’t see him until we were one boatlength away and by then it was too late. As we were doing a 720, Bruce said, “Hale, you have to tell me about these things.” “I would have,” I replied, “but I thought you saw him coming.” What was potentially a good race - one that in retrospect would have won the NAs for us - became a disaster because of a lack of communication.
We all engage in pre-regatta boat and physical preparation, but equally important is preparing to communicate. So before you rush out on the water and have a communication breakdown, think about the following ideas. First, when assembling a crew, remember that you don’t need Arnold Schwarzenegger to hike or Gary Jobson to call the shots--you just need a compatible crew that will work together toward a common goal. The amount of talent you need will be determined by the type of boat you sail. For instance, a J/24 is difficult to steer precisely in waves and has a large genoa that restricts visibility, so the helmsman must concentrate totally on steering and rely on the crew to tell him or her what is going on. Conversely, an E-22 is easy to sail upwind and only uses a working jib, so the skipper can afford to look around part of the time without losing boatspeed. For the Lightning, some suggestions have been put forth in this article and elsewhere in this booklet.
Once you have gathered your crew and ascertained their strengths and weaknesses, assign responsibilities accordingly. Remember, people should do what they’re good at. If someone has eagle eyes, put him or her in charge of calling out puffs and/or mark location. Next, decide what information the crew and skipper need to sail the best race possible. For closed-course, one-design racing, I include the following: compass heading, puffs, mark location, boatspeed/pointing, waves, current, location of major competitors, port/ starboard situations, sail trim and boathandling.lt’s clear that with this much information being discussed, you don’t have time to talk about the party the night before or why the forward crew thinks the boat is a pig. But you also don’t want a running commentary on everything that is happening at every point in the race. Quiet periods are an essential part of the communication process. When no one is talking, the helmsman can optimize his steering, and the crew can concentrate on sail trim, balance and collecting information. Then, when there is something important to say, the other crew members will listen.
Once everyone is tuned in, be sure you’re talking the same language. At the 1979 Lightning Worlds in Dallas, Texas, I was the middleman tactician for Don and Ann Brush. In the fifth race we were in second place on the port-tack layline, 50 yards from the finish and on a collision course with starboard-tacker Jim Dressel. I told Don to “go below him;“ in other words, to bear away below Dressel and harden up again on port. This would have assured our beating him. Instead, Don interpreted “going below” as leebowing, so we tacked under Dressel and he tacked away, beating us to the finish. As a result of that communication breakdown, Dressel beat us by one point for the series.
After defining your terms, you should decide how you want the information collected and communicated. I’ll briefly describe each piece of information and how I like to deal with it:
This should be done on a relative basis rather than absolute. In order words, “Up five, normal, down five,” instead of “295 degrees, 290, 285.” Absolute numbers only serve to confuse in the heat of battle and are something the skipper shouldn’t have to remember. Having a feel for what the compass is doing is important, especially at critical points like the start, port/starboard situations, and the beginning of each successive beat, but continuous compass readouts are not only unnecessary, they’re distracting.
It is imperative that everyone on the boat knows when a puff or lull is coming so proper sail trim, boat trim and tactical decisions can be made. Don’t just say, “A puff is coming.” Estimate the strength, direction, time of arrival and how long it will last; then using telltales and a wristwatch, determine if you are correct. This may seem difficult at first, but with practice anyone can be right about the breeze 80 percent of the time.
Mark location-Before the start, you must know where the weather mark is. As you sail the weather leg, refer to the mark location as time on a clock. Twelve o’clock is straight ahead, while three and nine o’clock are on the starboard and port beams, respectively. An alternative way to describe mark location, if there are some good landmarks visible, is to say, for example, “The weather mark is just to the right of McDonald’s” When you get within a hundred yards of any mark, find the next mark and determine what angle you’ll be sailing at on the next leg.