by TAYLOR WALKER
It has been proven time and time again that crew morale is often one of the key factors to success in big boat races. Looking back on Team Chance’s performance at Spring Off Soundings in early June, the fleet faced both extremes in terms of sailing conditions. The Friday race to Block Island was sailed in light, shifty breezes, and many boats in the fleet did a lot more drifting than sailing.With hot, sticky weather and no breeze, attitudes often start coming out and crew tension can rise quickly.
These light conditions are perhaps the most difficult to sail in, and staying in phase and taking advantage of all opportunities such as keeping the “dogs in the house” and limiting rudder movement in order to allow a good flow over the blades can be vexing. Staying relaxed and patient allows you to observe more, looking for wind and favorable current patterns on the water and what other boats in the fleet are doing. An example of this was a jibe we were able to anticipate a filling southerly breeze hitching out into the right side of the course again and into favorable current and breeze.
We were able to pick up on this by observing what point of sail the boats behind us were on as the breeze flopped, which allowed us to use it to its full potential. Our crew remained upbeat throughout the race and this allowed us to change gears quickly when the breeze filled just before 1BI. We adjusted our sail controls and weight positions and sailed a solid last beat to the finish taking first in class C-4.
Similarly, the next day of racing put boats in challenging conditions as racing around the island commenced in big breeze and swells. In conditions like this, it is important that everyone on-board is paying attention to what takes place with boat maneuvers such as sets and douses. Additionally, while they’re observing the wind and waves, crew members should be looking for outliers in wave sets and puffs on the course. Having a good relay of information from bow to cockpit is crucial in these conditions. In the same sense that crew work breaks down in very light wind, in heavy air with weight on the rail and waves smashing into the boat, crew morale can drastically decrease. Keeping the sailing fun with a positive attitude, jokes, and maybe a little music now and then will keep morale up and boat handling mistakes down. In the end, sailing is meant to be fun, and far too often people find themselves coming into the dock more stressed than when they left.We sailed back into the dock with nothing but smiles, soaking wet from a great day on the water!
Taylor Walker is a Junior at SUNY Maritime College, and a member of the school’s varsity sailing team. He is a co-founder of Team Chance, a new working in partnership with Connecticut Community Boating to make sailing more accessible, appealing and affordable to everyone. You can help support Team Chance at chancesailing.org.