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Old 07-07-2001
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Micca Hutchins is on a distinguished road
The Value of Teamwork


Whether you're cruising or racing, there's nothing like sailing to foster team building. The sport emphasizes working together, with each individual contributing toward a common goal.
We've become a team-building nation. In business as well as academics or even athletics, there's no problem that can't be remedied by a little team-building exercise. You say your output is down and the managers are walking around in a daze? No prob. We'll get your people out for a weekend of bonding to re-ignite their enthusiasm and get them back on track, working together toward a mutual goal.

Team-building exercises are seen as the panacea for recharging departments, outputs, rapport, and creativity. They've become so popular in the last several years that whole new segments of adult-improvement courses offering an array of team-building experiences have mushroomed around the US. Dysfunctional teams can take on the rapids of the Colorado River and hang on for dear life together. They can test their team survival skills by living for a week in a desolate reach of the continent somewhere. Or there's rock climbing excursions intended to meld disparate spirits by harnessing climbers together so that they rely on their colleagues to hold and pull as called upon to do so.

Of course sailing makes the ideal setting to retool any group or company's work-together ethic. What better team exercise than sailing aboard a big, heavy square-rigger that flies clouds of canvas and requires a large, willing, coordinated crew? A week on a Maine windjammer climbing the ratlines, sweating halyards, and hauling warps fuses mutual respect. Or how about putting your group aboard a thoroughbred racer, perhaps a former America's Cup vessel that did battle off Fremantle, Australia, and now plys the waters off St. Maarten? With its emphasis on specific positions working together toward a common result, there's no process quite like buoy racing to illustrate teamwork, particularly in the crisp Caribbean winds.


Even if there are only two sailors on board, teamwork founded on good communication plays a critical role.  
Whether racing, cruising, or making passages, it takes absolute teamwork to sail. Ironically, recent trends in sailing have seen fewer and fewer boats with full crews and more and more shorthanded cruising. With new sailhandling systems that reduce loads and manage sails better, as well as boats that are more forgiving, comfortable, and nimble, sailing is going in the opposite direction of a team sport or recreation. Couples cruising has taken off as a viable lifestyle, and more and more partner teams are seen out on the waterways as sailing doesn't require a boatload of crew.

Nonetheless, the basic dynamics of working together to sail a boat haven't changed. The necessity of teamwork on these shorthanded  boats is, in fact, even greater than before. There is less tolerance for imprecision. And I can't think of any better example of this than the act of anchoring.

I encountered an interesting sampling of the cruising couple in anchoring mode on a recent cruise. I was relaxing in the cockpit with a martini as an August sun smeared our remote island anchorage with a palette-full of pink when a 35 footer loomed into view. The man at the helm looped the boat around off the shore, while the woman organized everything on the bow. With the vessel's way diminished, she dropped the anchor overboard and then, surprisingly, their seemingly well-melded teamwork suddenly burst a seam.


Increasing numbers of cruising boats are sailed by couples. Anchoring is often the acid test of how efficiently the team works together.

"I said reverse!" he shouted, coming to us clearly from five boat lengths away. "No, slowly! No, straight back!" she yelled.

Not wanting to eavesdrop, I took a sip and tried to refix on the soft, enveloping dusk. But the woman became louder and louder as she banged out directions from the bow over the rumble of the diesel back to the helmsman. When they finally got the anchor down and holding, I wondered how long the two would be mad at each other.

Anchoring, the embodiment of a seaman's skill, is the ultimate test for the cruising couple. Though it would seem straightforward, it's not easy. What does it take to anchor well on a doublehanded boat? It demands nothing less than fluid, practiced teamwork.

"So, what's the problem with this scenario? The obvious hang-up is that men are used to being in control on board, and in most cases, women aren't."

That hook is not going to get set right if either member does not perfectly trust the other. But anchoring requires a topsy-turvy organization of crew. Usually the man is at the helm, but during most anchoring maneuvers, you'll find him in the bow with his spouse on the helm handling the throttle and controls. Suddenly, the woman has control of the boat, while the man must be able to perfectly communicate what needs to be done and when.

Unlike the 35-footer I observed, where the woman opted to be the anchor handler, women have to trust their instincts while following through on the anchoring process.

So, what's the problem with this scenario? The obvious hang-up is that men are used to being in control on board, and in most cases, women aren't. For this particularl task, the two have to meet eye-to-eye, knowing what has to be done, and relying on one another to call it correctly. But if there isn't mutual respect, the anchoring process often takes a downward spiral into dusky disagreement. In those cases, the simple art of anchoring won't take place as it should.

Both parties to this little duet have to know that when the sign is given to proceed slowly in reverse, that's exactly what must be done. When the spot to drop the anchor is chosen, the person at the helm or the bow agrees that it's the proper drop point. When the call for hard reverse is given, it's done accordingly. When the helmsperson calls out that it's too shallow for a potential wind shift, the bow person must be ready to abort the maneuver and choose a new spot.

Anchoring can be stressful. What if lingering doubts set in that the amount of scope was misgauged, for example, or that the reverse was not hard enough to dig the hook in, or the shackle wasn't moused properly by the bow person. It takes perfect compatibility to be a functional anchoring team. Neither party has the upper hand in this job; each is accountable for 50 percent of the success of the process.


There's much to be enjoyed if the teamwork is fluid, and savoring the delights of pristine anchorage is certainly among them. 
Since musing on this topic for some time, I've decided there are three different kinds of anchoring couples. There's the no-problem, we've-done-this-countless-times couple, who both know exactly what is expected and how to express that to the other person. Then there is the less-experienced, learning-as-we-go but laid-back couple that doesn't do it very efficiently, maybe making several tries before getting it right, but in the end, kicks back and feels everything's probably okay. And lastly, there's the no-respect, no-trust couple that may have a great partnership, but don't work together as an equal members of a team when it comes to anchoring. Their anchoring days are numbered till equality is established on board.

Later that evening on the beach, we walked past the dysfunctional anchoring couple. They were holding hands, glowing, as we were, in the delight of this faraway island, and we greeted them as we passed. I'm sure they didn't know we had overheard their anchoring encounter. Just as well. Becoming a team takes practice, commitment, and patience. And there's no better test than anchoring.


Suggested Reading:

Choosing Anchors, Rodes, and Windlasses by Liza Copeland

Using Two Anchors by Tom Wood

Seven Fun Ways to Anchor by Michelle Potter

Buying Guide: Anchor Rodes

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