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An Online Crew Board To Connect and Recruit

Two Chicago-area sailors build a robust website for racing teams to match crews with boats.

April 7, 2020
Brian ­Kennalley

Brian ­Kennalley—an owner of C­hicago-based Tartan 10 Meat—uses the ­RailMeets crew-finder site to manage his 12-­person crew ­roster. ©Paul Todd/OUTSIDEIMAGES.COM

Meat, meet rail. Rail, meet Meat. It’s a tongue twister for sure, but that’s the essence of John Madey and Marco Heuer’s crew-management ­website, RailMeets, which aims to take the hassle out of team building and management, and essentially put—and keep—butts on the rail. Think of it as Match.com for sailboat racers and as at least one reason why boat owners can no longer say, “I can’t find crew.”

Madey, a past Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club commodore, heard the same complaint plenty of times over the years, as did Heuer. Existing crew-finder boards are one way for sailors to connect, but Madey and Heuer felt most are limited, with “old technology and not pretty or functional.”

Madey, who races his J/92 Cyclone in the Chicago area, says Heuer came to him and said he could do better. So they went for it. The original site launched as a way to organize their crew. Word of the site spread quickly in the Lake Michigan racing scene, and the founders realized others wanted in on it too. Once they added more functionality—a crew ­organizer, crew pool and boat pool—users flocked to the site. “One neat thing is, if I’m crewing on multiple boats, I can see all of them in one spot, rather than having ­different organizers with different boats,” Madey says.

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As RailMeet’s pool of registered boats (and teams) grew, so too did interest from area yacht clubs, most of which were happy to get out of the business of managing their own crew-finder portals. Some of these pages, Madey says, openly list phone numbers and emails, leaving members’ contact information vulnerable to nefarious sources. With RailMeets, he says, users must have an approved profile in the system, and connections between owners and seekers are kept private until the owner initiates the connection.

In the two years since launching the site, they’ve taken over Chicago YC’s crew-finder portal for its Race to Mackinac, as well as the crew finder for the 2020 Newport Bermuda Race and Newport to Ensenada Race. One thing Madey and Heuer have discovered: Skippers tend to be more passive than crews in using the site, which hints a demand for crews looking for more opportunities to race, even on other boats, but that too comes with challenges. “There’s a saying here in Chicago,” Madey says. “It’s: ‘Don’t bring me nobody that nobody knows.’” To that end, when a crew reaches out to an owner, it’s up to the owner to accept the connection and then add that person to the boat’s email list. Once the owner populates the boat’s schedule, crews can sign up for events they’re available for. “We have a couple of boats that have 70 to 80 people on their crew,” Madey says, “and they can go and build out a crew for certain events, confirming the right six people that they may want, even though 10 expressed their availability.”

Brian Kennalley, one of the owners of the Chicago-based Tartan 10 Meat, was one of RailMeet’s early adopters, and he says it’s been useful for managing the dozen or so crewmembers on their list to fill all seven spots on the boat. “We race every single weekend and several times during the week, so it’s the only way to manage knowing who’s in, who’s out of town, and who’s available,” Kennalley says. “We can quickly see at a glance who we have for each race. Because we sail one-design, we can also use it to see different crew configurations and know what the weight combination is. It’s just quick and easy.”

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Early in 2020, Madey says there were more than 300 boats using the system, with more than 350 crews seeking a match. They’re up to 2,000 users, and Madey says they’re set up to take thousands more. They have users across the country and, now, internationally in Bermuda, Italy and Canada, which has brought about one surprise benefit. For anyone traveling for work or vacation, Madey says, if you find yourself in a strange place looking for a spot on the rail, just go ahead and log in. There’s likely a boat in need, and a boat in need is a ride indeed.

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