I’ve been racing on the same J/24 in Newport, R.I., with the same fantastic skipper and core team for nearly 30 years. By nature of me being the whippersnapper teen when I joined the team way back when, I guess I’ve always been relegated to the bow. It’s my domain, a position I’ll relinquish only when they take the spinnaker pole from my cold, dead hands.
The funny thing about my career in the J/24 class, however, is that as long as I can remember, I’ve never actually sailed on anyone else’s J/24 for a full regatta.
It’s always been the same boat, same job. Forever.
You’d think, after all these years, I’d have a pretty good handle on what was going on behind me on our boat, one rail seat aft at the mastman’s position, but not really. I guess I’ve always been too busy looking forward, focusing on my own responsibilities on the foredeck. On our boat, this second-spot back is where we usually put newcomers and visitors. You know…where they can “contribute” by adjusting the twings while not really getting in the way.
After my experience last week at the Regata Copa Mexico, a must-do J/24 regatta in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico (just north of Puerto Vallarta), however, I’ve reconsidered the mastman cog in the J/24 crewing machine.
The thrown-together crew of which I was part of for this incredible regatta included Chris Snow, of North Sails San Diego, who, as a past national champion, was obviously most qualified to drive. Our talented trimmer was Rich Bowen, designer for North Sails. The tactical genius (and “funny stuff”) would come from the mind of Chuck Allen, who completed the North Sails back-of-the-bus brain trust. That left the front-half of the boat to me, and George Witter, pitman for the 2010 J/24 national champions 3 Big Dogs.
When I learned I’d been slotted into the mastman position, with George on the bow, I was sort of bummed and anxious.
“I’d be better off on the bow,” I thought to myself. “That’s what I know best . . . Maybe I should propose George and I switch.”
But the team roles had been professionally predetermined, so as we sailed out for our first day of practice, I started to mentally go through the mastman’s job list for every maneuver.
This is when I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what the mastman does on other J/24s other than pull the twings and move from side-to-side. On our boat back home, the jobs in the middle of the boat are, for the most part, divided as such: our genoa trimmer trims upwind, then moves to the middle of the boat downwind. The mastman, who helps call puffs upwind, slides to the cockpit to trim the spinnaker. Our tactician handles the twings during the jibes works the pit, and the bowman, of course, handles everything forward of the mast, including halyards. This is, generally, how we’ve always done things.
But after an educational week in the mastman’s seat—a position, I grew to love—I’m convinced we need to change the way we do things back home. And, strangely enough, it all boils down to empowering our mastman. Here’s how things were divided on Bogus:
The trimmer trimmed the jib and the spinnaker. He never stepped forward of the companionway, which eliminated any position shuffles.
The tactician focused on tactics, fleet management, boat balance (weight fore and aft, side to side), parked in the companionway downwind, rolled the boat from the inside, and stuffed the kite in the takedown.
As the mastman, I looked up the course in the pre-start, looking for wind and surprises, called out time aloud in the pre-start, counting every second after 30 seconds. Upwind and down, I called puffs, lulls, and waves and aggressively rolled the boat in tacks and jibes, hiking off the twing line on the jibe roll. I served as human guy and then gathered the foot of the spinnaker before hitting the rail. And when the manure was hitting the fan on the foredeck, I was on halyard backup. I reset sail controls (outhaul and vang) before and after the mark roundings, and moved my weight all over the place to help balance the boat. Now that’s a lot more than just pulling the twings and staying out of the way.
Look for a feature story from the Copa de Mexico Regatta in our June issue.