Technical Articles
Crew and Helm Communications Upwind
By Mark Reynolds
Apr 29, 2003, 17:11

I was asked the other day how much verbal help the crew can give the skipper in the Star upwind. The mix between boat speed and tactical help can vary depending on conditions, crew experience and just personal preference. A crew very strong in tactics might want to be the "tactician" and make all the calls and leave concentrating on boatspeed more to the helmsman. At the other extreme a crew without much sailing experience can focus more on just reporting the position of the nearby boats allowing the helmsman to judge boatspeed and make tactical decisions without having to look around as much.

Any help the crew can give will allow the helmsman to concentrate more on the tell tails and making the boat go fast. You don't see an Americas Cup helmsman looking around too much.

Covering the Blind Spots
The crew should try to cover the helmsman's blind spots when possible. When you are at the helm your focus is mainly at the tell tails so it's fairly easy to look slightly both ways, through the sail windows to leeward and slightly to windward. The crew can help by looking in the other directions like from straight upwind around the windward side abeam and straight behind. Clearly when the crew is droop hiking it's a little harder to see in certain areas as well. Realizing the crews different positions upwind I expect slightly different feedback in different wind conditions.

Boat Speed
One of the most important things the crew can provide is feedback on is the relative speed with other boats on the race course. First it's better if they can always refer to your own boats performance (height and speed) compared to others. This way if the helmsman only hears the word "higher" then they know it means that our boat is higher. When there's a boat near by I use this constant feed back to judge effectiveness of changes in tune. If I'm hearing even / even (height and speed) for a few minutes and I make some tune changes and suddenly I hear we are "higher / same speed" I can figure that it's probably the adjustment I just made.

I've found it is important to have just one person making the final call, on some Stars this will be the crew and other times the helmsman. Although it can work really well to discuss some tactical decisions often things get tight and one person needs to make the call. I like the crew to help paint a picture of the positions of boats, those around us and our main competitors so I don't have to look around. For instance if someone is in my blind spot behind and to windward and is getting lifted I can decide to tack or wait for the shift without ever having to look. It's really hard for the helmsman to look aft and if someone is passing behind, particularly someone we know we need to beat it's nice to know to base tactical decisions.

By knowing the distance a boat passes behind at the next crossing the crew can report which side gained. It's also really nice to know if the majority of the fleet is to one side or the other. If 90 percent is on the opposite side you not only increase the chances of a big gain or loss but there's a pretty good chance 90 percent of the fleet is isn't wrong!

Mark Reynolds

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