Some of that thought led me to believe that success downwind requires the cooperation and integration of the entire team even on a two-person boat. Upwind, success ultimately relies on a talented helmsman, skilled trimmers, and an alert tactician. But once the boat turns downwind, everyone on board plays important roles.
The most important relationship downwind exists between the spinnaker trimmer and the helmsman because good boat speed is directly related to their communication. When teams are working at peak efficiency, the trimmer is speaking (not continually, but consistently) about pressure on the spinnaker, thereby helping the helmsman steer the proper angle. As the spinnaker trimmer calls out good pressure in the spinnaker, the helmsman is then free to steer a lower angle, thereby increasing VMG toward the mark. As the pressure on the spinnaker lessens, the helmsman should then consider steering a higher angle, keeping the boat up to speed.
Another important role within the crew is to have someone looking upwind for puffs, light spots, shifts, and dirty air. This can be (and will be on a smaller boat) done by your tactician, but sometimes on a big boat its a good idea to have someone doing this full time, feeding the information to the tactician. This person should be standing up on the boat for a better view, but still being careful not to put his or her weight in an inappropriate place. The important information for the tactician and the helmsman is where the puffs are, and to the extent possible what kind of shifts they represent. You can use a variety of indicators to help you decide what the shift will beother boats, flags on shore, smoke from a smokestack, whatever is available. In addition to the obvious gains to be made from sailing in increased pressure, the trimmer will benefit from having some idea of what breeze is coming, particularly in really strong winds, in order to keep the boat balanced and in control.
Of course keeping an eye on dirty air is a big part of the game. Often the trimmer can feel when the boat is sailing in bad air, so keeping the trimmer informed of what is going on behind the boat and what, if any, dirty air is coming, will help him or her a great deal. Have the lookout person inform your trimmer of what is coming and identify for the helmsman where is the best path to clean air. That person might say something like this: "Your air is clear now, but there is dirty air just high of us, so we should stay low as much as possible." Or, "We are in bad air here and it is only going to get worse. We should sail about 10 degrees high of this course for a short time to clear our air."
The way I like to explain this role is that there is a picture occurring behind the boat that is in a constant state of change. Unless you have someone constantly updating the helmsman and the trimmer regarding what that picture looks like, they will have to keep turning around themselves to look, and thus they won't be focusing on their jobs.
|"The way I like to explain this role is that there is a picure occurring behind the boat and someone has to keep a constant commentary on that picture."|
Perhaps the best indication of a team working well together downwind is how well they pump and surf to increase boat speed when the conditions permit such action. When it is being done well, significant speed gains are obvious. But when it is done poorly, a lot of energy is expended for little gain. There are many moving parts that have to be coordinated. The helmsman has to choose the correct wave to surf, and position the boat at the right place and the right time. Once the stern has lifted and the boat is turning down the wave, the trimmers (including the spinnaker sheet and guy trimmers, the grinder, and the mainsheet trimmer) have to trim or fan the sails in sync with each other. Unless all of this pumping is happening in a coordinated fashion, youll get little benefit from it.
Whether you are on a small boat and pumping the sails yourself, or on a big boat with multiple people involved, the basic concept is the same. Once the sail is trimmed correctly, prior to your pump, I try to think of the clews of the spinnaker as being connected by a steel rod. Then I envision pulling on the rod so that both clews come aft toward the boat together, at the same time and in the same amount. All too often you see people working hard, pumping more on the sheet or more on the guy, rather than together. This tends give some benefit, but it wont maximize the potential for surfing.
The final, critical piece to the concept of downwind teamwork is a crew boss to direct the boat-handling maneuvers. A classic problem on larger boats is that the front of the boat does not know what the back of the boat wants to accomplish and therefore is often not prepared at key moments. On larger boats, someone should be clearly identified as the liaison between cockpit and the foredeck, and this person needs to be vocal in both directions. If the same person is the crew boss, he or she should push the back of the boat to make decisions as soon as possible so that the crew up front will know what is going on and what they should be doing. The bigger the boat, the more critical this communication.
Ive said it before and Im sure Ill continue saying it, as with everything else in competitive sailing, practice is the key. There are a lot of aspects to sailing downwind, and a lot of people need to be working well together to have it all go smoothly. Keep practicing and youll see that holds true. Good luck, and sail fast!
Handling Leeward Gates by Brad Read
Team-Building Basics by Betsy Allison
Communicating on Board by Betsy Allison
SailNet Buying Guide
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