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Crewing in a Hot Class

November 13, 2001
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Most of you, like me, have probably been wondering what it’s like to crew on the grand prix of one-designs, the Farr 40. Last June, as assistant jib trimmer at Block Island Race Week aboard Bob Burgess and Bill Jayson’s Passage, I got the chance to find out.

The Farr 40 is an all-business racing boat with carbon mast, boom, and pole and a non-overlapping jib that sheets inside the shrouds. By class rules the majority of the nine-person crew, including the owner-driver, is amateur (Group 1).

My job, during tacks, was to tail the new sheet by running it across the cockpit to the new weather rail as the old sheet was blown by the primary trimmer. He’d then slide over to grind and take the sheet once we were close to our upwind trim. If I timed it right, the maneuver wasn’t hard, especially compared to the effort of tacking a genoa. The same could be said for many other crew positions; more than brute strength, the boat rewards crews working in sync.

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The Farr 40 fleet was small at Block Island by class standards–11 boats–but it included past world champ Jim Richardson’s Barking Mad as a pacesetter. Our starts were pretty good, but even so, getting around the first mark near the front was usually a battle, with the whole class rounding together. In fact, except for one or two front-runners, the fleet never seemed to spread out. In one race we broke to the front and got the gun, but two days later, we finished overlapped with another boat–dead last.

Young America’s tactician Tony Rey explained why the fleet tends to compress at windward and leeward marks. There’s so much bad air, he said, and clear air is so important to the 40s, that the only boats going as fast as the leaders are the boats at the very back. As a result, the tailenders keep catching up at the marks. Another reason, I might add, that the trailing boats at Race Week often caught up is that their afterguards included the likes of Rey, John Kolius, Courtney Dey, and Larry MacDonald.

In this racing environment, every detail of crewwork made a difference. My job during a jibe was to trim the new guy. I quickly learned to keep my head away from the sheet trimmer’s elbows, then pull like a maniac when the guy was secured in the pole. My partner would come across to grind, then take the guy. I’d cross to the leeward side and lay out enough slack in the lazy guy so it could reach the bow for the next jibe. Then I’d load it on the winch, put the handle in, and punch the button so it’d be in high gear.
More than once, to my chagrin, I forgot to punch the button, which meant the pole didn’t come back fast enough. It’s a minor mistake, but I doubt if my compatriot on regatta winner Barking Mad’s crew–which had practiced for two days before each of its June regattas–ever forgot. According to Morgan Trubovich, one of their trimmers, they’d worked through the basics in practice and by Monday were fine-tuning the right number of wraps to put on the winch before each maneuver. It took me most of the week to even think of details like that, but nevertheless, it was fun to work with a skilled, motivated crew and have the chance to glimpse what it would take to move a team to the top level. In some ways it’s no different than in any one-design’s preparation, tuning, boathandling, and tactics; but putting it all together with a crew of nine takes a higher level of organization and teamwork. Especially in a class where the difference between a good and bad race can easily be first place or last.

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