Talk Your Way to the Front
Talk Your Way to the Front
Silence may be golden, but dialogue is fast; Andrew Kerr gets your team talking in this "Technique" piece from our October 2007 issue.
Useful upwind chatter
The bow communicates puffs, light spots, flatter water, and waves as well as the next mark's location: "Big puff coming in 3, 2, 1 . . . and it sustains. Mark is at 11 o'clock." It's helpful to know if the puff sustains or not, so your team trimmers know how much and how long to de-power the boat if necessary. Calling the lulls and how long they last is just as important.
The bow person is also calling out converging boats: An example of excellent communication would be: "Two starboard tackers, coming about 40 seconds away. Looks like we are bow-to-bow. Do you see them?" Some teams prefer a time estimate and some a boatlength estimate, so find out what the preference is or what is more understandable. For the bow person, using the genoa window is a great tool for judging crossings, so develop your own guide. On a J/24, for example, if the approaching boat is in the forward part of the standard genoa window, they're likely crossing ahead. If they're in the middle of the window, they're likely bow-to-bow with you, and if they're in the aft part of the window, you're likely crossing. The mastman helps relay compass numbers, and when the bowman is busy, the mastman takes over calling puffs and waves. This back-up communication is excellent and is one of the hallmarks of the good teams. The middle communicates speed and height versus the competition and overall positioning, and also asks the skipper how the boat feels and communicates to the skipper what mode of the boat should be in, i.e., fast-forward, height mode, or narrow groove. He or she also translates what the compass numbers mean, particularly off the starting line and also rounding the leeward mark. Being specific here is the key element, as is keeping the number of words to a bare minimum.
The cockpit talks with the skipper about genoa trim. "I am at max trim," or "I'm eased." And in light air, the trimmer will be sitting to leeward and can verbalize the performance of the boats to leeward and also relay the amount of separation between the team and the leeward boat. This can be particularly helpful off the starting line: "Good gap to leeward you have room to sail fast."The helmsman, meanwhile, can verbalize the compass numbers as they are in his range of vision and ask for input once in a while if it is not forthcoming. He should talk about how the boat feels and whether there is enough power, and about what mode of sailing is required for the given boat-to-boat and strategic situations.
Keep at it downwind
Very often, teams fall silent going downwind as if they are behind (just like after a bad start), and this is where you have to pick it up, look harder, be more observant, and get every scrap of info that you can to gain places. Keep the dialogue going and maintain an intensity level as if you were in the lead, it will pay dividends. The bow is looking for wind and scanning and verbalizing where the marks are. A good example of good communication and heads-up sailing would be, "Mark is at 11 o'clock, big puff forming up to beam in 3, 2, 1-now."
For the mast, some good communication here is relaying the compass numbers to the middle and also asking the trimmer and skipper how the pole height is and vang tension looks.
The middle crew is communicating lanes of wind and verbalizing jibing opportunities and fleet performance analysis as well as keeping track of the compass to make sure the team is on the correct jibe. He is talking about the net gains or losses versus boats that are on the other jibe and the angles that the boats behind are sailing. Any concise communication that eloquently states your observation is going to help the team understand what is required and the tactical scenario. The cockpit, which is now trimming the spinnaker, focuses on the sail all the time. The communication from the middle and the dialogue with the skipper paints the picture of where the team is on the racecourse. The trimmer's communication is continuous with the helm to ensure that the team does not sail too low in the lulls and too high in the puffs.
The focus for the skipper is listening to the crew communication, double-checking where the mark is, and noting compass-heading changes for shifts. If the communication is not forthcoming, then prompt for it by asking questions.