Those Ugly Four Letter Words

Published on January 23rd, 2014

By Don Finkle, RCR Yachts
A frequent topic of discussion is the difficulty in growing our sport, or in fact even maintaining its current level. If you asked someone to put down the three main challenges in terms of four letter words, I’ll bet COST would be on every list. A close second would be TIME, but another I hear about almost daily is CREW.

If you are a single-handed sailor you can skip the rest of this discussion. I am fortunate to be in a position to hear why people get out of racing, or don’t get in to begin with, by virtue of my position in the boating industry. I often hear of owners quitting racing or selling their boats because the struggle to find and keep crew had become too much of a pain. It also helps my perspective because I am a boat owner myself and I have the same problem; rounding up people to sail with me on a regular basis takes time and effort.

Sailing with others is a blessing and a curse. The social side of sailing is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the sport, and we learn from those we sail with. It is also fun to teach others. Teamwork on a boat is terrific when it all comes together. But the truth is that in most race boats, you can’t sail them properly, let alone win, without a crew.

So no crew and you don’t take part. This is most frustrating to the owner who has made the commitment to buy and maintain a boat and sails, pay club dues, entry fees, insurance, travel expenses, etc. Of course, the other crew members who can’t sail because certain crewmates can’t make it (or worse yet, bail out at the last minute) suffer too.

So we want and need crew, and it seems that each year rounding them up is a bigger problem (see TIME above). It is our view that this is a shared problem and requires a shared solution. Let’s start with the crew first…

The crew has a responsibility to honor their commitment to the owner and fellow crewmembers. If you sign up in the winter then you need to show up regularly in the summer. It is dirty pool to cancel (or worse yet, not show without a call) because it is raining or someone gave you a ticket to a ball game. If you wish to opt out you need to give ample notice or better yet find a replacement. If you get a better offer you should check with your owner first to make sure that it does not put him/her in a bind.

I love it when somebody says at 5 PM that they cannot make the race that night because it is their kid’s birthday. Like you didn’t know that before? How am I going to find a replacement at that point? Nobody expects you to make every race, only those that you sign up for and for which you don’t have a serious unexpected conflict.

Another problem is the inequality of crew distribution. The best crew want to sail on the winning boats, and the winning boats want to attract and keep the best talent. This makes it hard for those lower on the ladder to get better. Sadly, we see good sailors doing lesser jobs on a stacked boat, when instead they could be helping out on a boat that would really benefit from their talent. They would derive greater satisfaction from a more important position and would be training others in the process. You can read and go to seminars all you want, but the best way to get better is through time on the water spent with people who are more skilled and experienced than you are. This is not easy when the good people are not spread around.

What can and should the owners do about the crew issue?

First recognize that you get out what you put in. Last minute scrambles to find people are no fun and usually result in poor performances. I have been there too many times due to my own procrastination. Line up crew well in advance, and you need to ask people; don’t expect them to come to you. Create a list and include not only old faithfuls but new blood. You will sometimes be surprised that you can find good people by asking them before others do, even those who you might feel are too experienced for your program. You want to get better, right?

I have had good luck by picking up younger crew and bringing them along over the years. They tend to be eager, have fewer job and family conflicts, and tend to come without bad habits. It is also gratifying to see them learn and get better. Their enthusiasm is infectious too. All those junior, high school and college sailors that we are cranking out are prime targets.

If you are an owner with too little time to do the crew recruiting yourself, then find someone who can help you. A loyal and reliable crewmember could take on this job, possibly with the reward of being able to use the boat or skipper it when you can’t make it. Ideally someone who others like and want to sail with.

Some clubs and fleets have a crew bank. This is helpful for those who wish to get started but don’t know who to ask or are reluctant to do so. Obviously it is a place for skippers in need to look for bodies to fill out their roster. If you spend all of your time as the skipper, you should try crewing once in a while. A different view might help you not only become a better sailor but also provide a better understanding of what your crew deals with.

Finding crew is one thing but keeping them is another. Reasons that crew may leave your boat include: being stuck in a menial spot forever; not being trained for more meaningful spots on the boat or given a chance to try other jobs; failure to be brought into the social group of the rest of the crew; being on a boat that is too serious or lacking in fun; not being treated with respect, or worse yet being yelled at (you never did that, right?). Ask your crew for their ideas and opinions, include them in post-race debriefs, share your knowledge and experience, make them feel valuable and wanted. Watch to see they are enjoying themselves, because if they aren’t’, then you won’t see them around much longer.

I really enjoy sailing with others, and it is a big part of why I love to race sailboats. I have the most fun when I do a good job of finding and taking care of my crew. When I don’t then I deserve the consequences.

Source: RCR Yachts Racer’s News

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