I was visiting SoCal this week for work, and one of my co-workers invited me along a rail meat for his boat in a "Thirsty Thursday" race out of Dana Point. There were 7 "crew," though 4 did most of the work. The Santa Ana winds were blowing 20-25 steady, with gusts over 30. We flew a full main and 110% jib, and the boat loved it. They raced in 3 classes with a 5-minute staggered start. We were in B class, and were first through the start. On the upwind leg, we held that lead despite our boat not wanting to point as high as some of the others, and we actually closed in on some of the C class boats (they did a backward start). We spun around the mark and on the downwind leg the captain quickly had us wing-and-wing. We rigged a spinnaker pole to the jib (this was one of the few things that I actually helped with, other than being ballast to help offset some of the gusts), and the minute the pole was attached, the boat jumped to life. We actually moved into first place over all, and even eked out a nice bit of a lead. We turned around the mark and headed into the harbor to finish the race. It was a tough upwind beat, and the narrow channel meant that the poor crew in the cockpit were basically constantly grinding winches. Another boat almost beat us across the line (due to their better pointing ability), but the captain of our boat timed our last tack such that we were the stand-on vessel at a critical time, forcing them to go behind us, and we wound up finishing first in our class, and first over all.
Of course it was fun to be on the winning boat, but what was really interesting for me was observing sail shape, timing of tacks, how the start was handled and timed, and how the captain used the rules to his advantage.
I know many people recommend crewing on a race boat as a way of cutting your teeth. I'm still not 100% sure of that, but I will say that if you already understand the basics, it's a great way to learn.
More details and pics are in my blog, but I thought I'd share here too.