This article was originally published on SailNet in December, 2000.
Such is the life of a bow person in the racing world. It’s not for everyone, but it can be a truly satisfying position and one of the best ways to get a solid background in racing. In order to handle the tasks of a bow person and be able to "freelance" when necessary, the first step to survival on the bow is preparing your area. On smaller boats, such as a J/24, there really isn't much to work with as far as customizing the zone. Before racing, I always make sure that the spinnaker pole is in perfect condition. The jaws should be easily triggered open and shut, the trip line should be in one solid piece (not frayed), and it should be securely attached. Depending upon your preference and the conditions you expect to sail in, you can apply some sort of grip tape to the pole if you want better traction. Cold, wet aluminum or carbon fiber can be tough to hang on to, and everyone notices if a bow person loses his or her grip on the pole at the wrong moment. Letting go can also cause damage and injuries, so use what works best for you.
Footing is also critical on the foredeck. If the boat doesn’t already have them, you should consider installing mini toerails in front of the mast so that you can get a good, firm stance when end-for-end jibing. Or you might get some adhesive non-skid and apply it liberally and neatly. Forward hatches made of Lexan can get really slippery when wet, so that's a place I always look to put non-skid tape.
Once you've taken care of those critical areas, check the halyard blocks, ratchets, and cleats, and before you leave the dock or mooring, be sure all the lines are led correctly through the ratchets. And make sure that the leads and purchases are fair and not twisted. You should also check the spinnaker and headsail halyards for signs of wear, particularly the area that is normally left in the cleat or sits on a sheave. Then check the other control lines—the foreguy and the topping lift—for signs of fatigue.
Of course having a the right safety harness is a plus when you need to go up the rig or out on the spinnaker pole to fix a problem. I recommend the kind of harness used in sport climbing (to be used along with a stout caribiner for hooking in to a halyard or the rig), but whatever is safe, reliable, and comfortable for you is best. Of course you’ll want access to a knife for emergencies, and it’s up to you whether you want to carry one on your person, or simply have one handy nearby, like in a sheath strapped to the vang or the mast.
These are really just the first steps to succeeding in the role of bow person, but having confidence in your equipment will make for fewer distractions when you’re thinking about how to pull off a maneuver during the upcoming mark rounding. In my next article, I’ll discuss some of the basic maneuvers you’ll need to master in order to hold up your end of the bargain and be the best bow person you can.
Suggested Reading List
Handling Leeward Gates by Brad Read
Bear-Away Spinnaker Sets by Dean Brenner
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