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Old 08-31-1999
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Micca Hutchins is on a distinguished road
Anchoring out Differences

We've become a team-building nation. 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 off to a weekend of bonding where they'll re-ignite their enthusiasm to work together toward the mutual goal.

Team-building exercises are seen as the silver bullet to recharging departments, outputs, rapport and creativity, and have become so popular that whole new segments of adult-improvement courses offering an array of team-building experiences have mushroomed around the United States. 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. Now in vogue, there's rock climbing to meld disparate spirits as harnessed-in climbers rely on their fellow employees to hold and pull as called upon to do so.

And, of course, there's sailing to retool the work-together ethic. What better team exercise than that provided aboard a big, heavy square-rigger that can fly clouds of canvas and requires a large, willing, coordinated crew? A week on a Maine windjammer climbing the ratlines, tailing halyards and hauling warps fuses mutual respect. Or how about a thoroughbred racer, ex of the America's Cup course off Fremantle, Australia, now plying the Leeward Islands off St. Maarten, to jostle things a bit more whereby every crewmember holds his own at specified crew positions while buoy racing in the crisp Caribbean winds.

Whether racing, cruising or passaging, 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. Couple cruising has taken off and more and more partner teams are seen out on the waterways as sailing doesn't require a boatload of crew and has become for many an intimate experience of two people.

The basic dynamics of working together to sail a boat haven't changed, however. The necessity of teamwork on these shorthandedly sailed 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 just 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 toward our setting. The man at the helm looped the boat around off the shore, while the woman organized on the bow. With the way stopped, she dropped the danforth and then, surprisingly, their seemingly well-melded teamwork suddenly burst a seam.

"I said reverse!" reported five boatlengths over the water. "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 acts, is the ultimate cruising couple test. Though it would seem straightforward, it's not easy. What does it take to anchor well on a doublehanded boat? It takes nothing even marginally less than ultimate teamwork.

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. Where the man is typically at the helm--as much as I hate to have to say this -- he's up forward, at the bow. The woman, normally handling sheets, is at the helm at 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 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 command onboard, and women aren't. The two have to meet eye to eye on the task, knowing what has to be done, relying on one another to call it correctly. But if there isn't mutual respect, the anchoring process will become the dusk disagreement, and the simple art of anchoring won't take place as it should.

He or she has to know that when the sign to proceed slowly in reverse is given, that must be done exactly. 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 it too shallow for a potential wind shift, that the bow person must be ready to abort that particular position.

Anchoring can be stressful. What if lingering doubts set in that the amount of scope veered was misgauged, for example, or that the reverse was not hard enough to dig in, or that the shackle wasn't moused properly by the bow person. Or that the choice of anchor for the bottom wasn't right, "Everyone else is using a CQR here," he says.

It takes perfect compatibility to be an anchoring team. Neither has the upper hand. Each holds 50 percent of the process and success.

I've decided there are three different kinds of anchoring couples. There's the no-problem, we've-done-this-countless-times couple, who know exactly what is expected and how to express that to the other person. Then there is the less-experienced, learning-as-we-go and more 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 team when it comes to anchoring. Their anchoring days are numbered till equality is established on board.

We passed the dysfunctional anchoring couple later on the beach. They were holding hands, glowing, as we were, in the delight of the evening on 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. There's no better way than anchoring.

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