Teamwork Tip: Stay in your box
Published on October 17th, 2019
by Buttons Padin
In 2013, I was fortunate enough to be on the crew of Larchmont Yacht Club’s entry in the New York Yacht Club’s Invitational Cup. We were the “young” team (OK, my age was the outlier); largely a bunch of dinghy sailors with tremendous small boat skills; and, while some of us had solid big-boat chops, we had largely sailed against and not with each other. Developing a crew rhythm didn’t come naturally.
We found ourselves in a NYYC Swan 42—thank you Roger Widmann for loaning LYC Quintessence —and we naively thought we were all set when we got to Newport. Fortunately, we had two weekends of practice on Narraganset Bay to come.
LYC’s Chad Corning had arranged to have Moose McClintock coach us on practice day 1 and Ed Adams for the balance. Sure, they showed us how to make the boat go fast, taught us how to execute the Sambuca spinnaker set (look it up…it’s a killer move), and more. All that tech stuff was great, but there was one lesson we learned that continues to resonate.
The backstory: My job on the boat was Pit Assist; not a very involved role. At one point when not on task, I started to coil a jib sheet in the cockpit. Ed stopped me. “Put that down,” he commanded.
I gave him a bewildered look as he continued. “Andy is trimming the jib. Clearing the jib sheets is HIS job…it’s in his ‘box.’ He should do it because it’s his hide if it’s not right. Your job is to worry about these lines over here. That’s your box. If everyone stays in their own boxes and focuses on performing their role, and not someone else’s, your boat handling and maneuvers will work more efficiently. It’s a recipe for success!” (I paraphrase.)
At first, I saw that as a bit dogmatic; but after a few moments I realized that he was spot on. The first weekend when we matched-up with the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (the eventual winner), they handled us easily as we stumbled around on the boat. However, after our four days of training… with everyone now staying in their respective boxes…this “young” team came out of the gates fast; out-maneuvered the competition, and almost won the regatta.
Today, I coach junior big boat programs and college teams during the LYC/Storm Trysail Foundation Intercollegiate Offshore Regatta. The first briefing we have is “who is doing what?” Right then and there I drive home the need to stay in your box and do your job. The others will take of the rest.
And, when sailing myself, one of the most valuable contributions I make is understanding the parameters of my box and not to try and do someone else’s job. Here’s one time when “thinking outside the box” is NOT a good thing.
An Owner’s Confession – by Adam Loory, UK Sailmakers:
I’ve been sailing all my life and am a sailmaker who races my own 40-footer. I have to admit that I don’t always stay in my box—mentally and physically—and I have been told over the years to stop reaching for lines and just drive. My former long-time tactician made the point that not only does my driving suffer when I reach out to pull a line or grind a winch, but it keeps crewmembers from growing better in their jobs. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and it has cost me some crewmembers, but I think I’m getting the message. “Adam, just drive.”