When I first started sailing, which was quite late in life, I wish someone had given me a few tips for being sailing crew. I tried to listen, I read a lot and asked questions of a lot of people. By no means am I an expert, but I am at times the master of a sailing boat either cruising or most probably racing, and I have a few ideas or tips for sailing crew.
On G-whizz the crew have been from both ends of the experience spectrum, from Ocean Yachtmasters with round the world racing experience or sailors who have cruised the oceans extensively to those who G-whizz is the first yacht they have stepped on.
A list of tips for the sailing crew can be found in the Tricks, Traps and Ideas section under the resources tab on this site. Click here to go there ⟶
This post is a little late coming, in fact it probably would not have been written at all if it were not for some personal reflection on my sailing exploits over the last few weeks. I have been accused on a number of occasions that I tend to over analyse things a bit. In my defence I would say that while the criticism is probably correct I have always wanted to know why things went wrong, and just as importantly why things went right. In the past two weeks a few, three things in particular have gone wrong. These errors were in the basics, which is probably why we forget to maintain the disciplines.
When working with halyards it is important to look up to ensure that are running free of any interruption. On G-whizz we have one spinnaker halyard that exits the mast at the head, two headsail halyards that exit the mast just above the forestay (G-whizz is a 7/8 fractional rig) and just below the forestay the spinnaker pole topping lift exits the mast. It is a bit busy in that part of the mast but the relative positions of each line can be ascertained with a judicial and concentrated look up.
We had to retire from the first Western Harbour Winter Series race when we were unable to drop the spinnaker. Phil Hare, GFS’s Sailing secretary sent me the accompanying photo of G-whizz passing Julian Todd’s Young 88 and DJ Holster’s Etchells (Just why these two boats are not flying spinnakers is uncertain). What got me thinking a bit more about this whole subject is that our assymertical spinnaker, a mast head spinnakter is flying from the hounds! Any wonder we had trouble getting the expected power out of it. We were unable to drop it at the leeward mark as the halyards were twisted with each other and the forestay. Necessitating a trip to the top of the mast by yours truly. It may not be the smartest to send the heaviest crew member (me) to the top, but I thought that if anything needed cutting up there it would probably be better if it was the owner making the decisions. It also provided some entertainment for the tourists enjoying a balmy Saturday afternoon at Berry’s Island reserve.
On reflection this incident started when I changed the headsail and furler rig from a racing configuration to the normal cruising set up after the Sail Port Stephens Regatta. The racing setup is achieved by removing the Seldon foil feeder fitting and dropping the upper furling drum to below the bolt rope feed position enabling headsails to be changed on the fly, great for racing but not a necessity for cruising. I then raised and furled the Roller Furling Genoa for the trip back to Sydney. A process that I did by myself and completely screwed up. I DID NOT LOOK UP, and captured the Headsail Halyard between the headsail halyard and the forestay. This error was not corrected when the RFG was dropped and the racing #1 raised for the first Western Harbour Winter Series race. Again I think it was me that set all this up before leaving the mooring on the morning of the race. The error was compounded when the crew member who volunteered to be foredeckie for the day probably put another wrap of the halyard around the forestay while preparing for the spinnaker hoist. I am not going to be critical here as it was the first time that he had been foreword of the mast on G-whizz and probably the first time that he had rigged an asymmetrical spinnaker, and if he did look up was probably unsure as to what he was meant to be seeing, again my fault as I did not brief him well enough. This is not a criticism of anyone just an observation of the thing we can easily overlook.
In the same race we bent a mid ship’s life-line stanchion, what we are pretty sure happened, and the crew remember the “Twang” as the sheet flicked off the stanchion after afflicting quite a bend, is that the headsail trimmer did not notice that the headsail sheet had got caught on the stanchion and kept winching, looking at the winch and not the sheet or the headsail. The result was one quite bent stanchion. The moral of this one is to not concentrate our vision on what we are doing, but also be very aware of what we are affecting.
We may be grinding a winch but we are also moving quite a length of sheet and altering the shape of the headsail. Most of the operations we do on our sailing boats have “Down stream” repucussions, in fact why else would we be doing then? There are a few that come to mind that can have immiediate effect on the safety of the crew or the boat itself, these include:
Where people are working on the boom, flaking the mainsail, adjusting the sail cover/bag or lazy jacks, it is imperative that the person who may be tidying the mainsheet and adjusting the traveller is also looking out for their team mates potentially hanging from the boom. There are many examples of this and they can have results ranging from the embarrassing to the expensive, Having your nose buried in an electronic navigation devise and not looking out at your environment can have very expensive consequences.
Having your nose buried in an electronic navigation devise and not looking out at your environment can have very expensive consequences.
There are innumerable other examples.
We have all got transfixed on the job we are doing at the expense of our awareness of what the down stream effects are, it is simple but easily forgotten. Again I am not critical of anyone but who can we honestly say that this is something they have not been guilty of?
Over the past few weeks I have been crewing on Michael Grove’s Jeanneau 379, “Agrovation” (Could this be the fastest 379 around? I’m sure Michael is sailing this thing way faster than its design parameters). Last week in light air Michael was getting frustrated that he could not get the boat up to speed, I was on the main and could sense his frustration.
Later on talking about the race and thinking about what we did, it was obvious that we had the boat tightened down too much. I had completely forgotten a rule drummed into me by some great sailors when I was learning – “When in doubt, Let it out”.
The crew on Agrovation that day were all very experienced sailors, most of them very accomplished dinghy (me excluded) sailors. We all forgot, keep it loose in the light!
When thinking about this it brought a few other recollections, I have experienced on many boats, trimmers that after they trim a sail they tighten it a bit more, almost as if there is something that says, well if we are going this fast with the sail pretty tight, we must go faster if it is a bit tighter. There will be many that don’t believe this, but keep a lookout and I’ll bet you’ll see it for your self at some stage.
Along the same lines, when we first took delivery of G-whizz, Rod Parry, the previous owner gave us the sage advise, sail her loose! Advise that some how found its way to the bottom of the filing cabinet we call our memory. Highlighted halfway through the twilight series last summer sailing season. We went from getting results in the bottom half of the fleet to achieving results near the top, the only difference was that we had a greater mix of females on the crew, without being sexist they lacked the testosterone of the opposite sex and were unable to get that final bit out of the winch. I probably state the obvious here, morevthan likely they used their brains and knew not to put that final bit into the winch. The looser halyards and regularly the looser sheeting gave us considerably more speed in the inevitable light twilight conditions.
Look up, look out and loosen up, the basics that we tend to forget when we try to overthink things.
I suspect that most regular users have a deep affection for the boats they sail on, an affection so strong that certain undesirable characteristics of this maritime relationship are over looked, forgiven or just put up with because it’s part of the package. There must also be in some instances a characteristic that just needs to be put right, but in a sympathetic fashion.
One characteristic, that falls in the last category, with the Elan 340 are the door handles, these beautiful satin finished stainless steel items would do justice to an up market house, we are not too sure exactly why or how they found there way on to a 10 metre sailboat. These handles protrude from the door by more than five centimetres , weight about 350 grams each, and are more than just a nuisance, they can be dangerous. They were a characteristic that we could not put up with, but one that had to be rectified in a sympathetic fashion.
Like a lot of others we utilise the V berth as a sail locker when racing, most of the time sails are removed and replaced via the forward hatch but on many occasions sails are passed through the saloon to and from the cockpit, inclement weather/sea conditions, loading or unloading before and after racing or after spinnaker repacking, inevitably the door handle would get tin the way.
From a personnel point of view these handles also posed a hazard, their shape and protrusion has caused a number of minor injuries, mostly bruising, but in a couple of instances something a little more frightening. Anyone familiar with the Elan 340, I suspect something that is in common with most modern sub 35 foot performance cruisers, would know that the room in the heads is a little restricted, when showering, the door handle can de quite a threat to bodily safety.
We have now replaced the beautiful Italian satin finished stainless steel Olivari handles with almost flush fitting circular units, also satin finished stainless steel, from a Chinese source. We hope that Elan will forgive us. Compare the handles in the following photographs.
As we are currently making preparations for G-whizz to have her annual out of water servicing on the slips at Michael Bartley Shipwrights, I was looking back through the records and came upon this photo from a couple of years ago.
It shows the G-whizz’s sail drive with the prop removed. The line looks strong enough to hunt for white pointers, we have no idea when or where we got it. We are grateful that no damage was done during the “Capture” or subsequent to it. I do not have a photo to show, but I am assured that it was almost impossible to see when the prop was still fitted.
As Michael said at the time. “I wonder if the fisherman is bragging about the Elan 340 that got away?”.