When the crew in the race wins because they are silent


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In the first installment of this new Sailing Newspaper’s column on racing technique we told you about how, using compass, observation and a little math, you can make good starts by choosing the advantageous side of the line and the right side of the race course READ IT HERE. In this second installment then logic would advise us to talk about good and poor, turns to seek the best possible approach to the first buoy, and advice on how to take a layline. Well, these will be the contents of the next installment, because first, in this one, we must make a necessary premise. A premise that will serve for every regatta, whether between the buoys or on the high seas. A premise that is called the “silent game.” It is a game that strong crews know well and poor crews ignore completely. A game based on one main rule: democracy and debate during a regatta do not exist.


If we dwell on the turnaround of any offshore boat or one-design regatta we will notice one thing: after the first few sailors pass, as the rest of the fleet scrolls to the buoy, the “noise” on board increases in tandem with the lagging ranking position of the crews. The first ones turn the buoy in silence, you can hear at most a voice and the sound of halyards going up and down or the sound of sheets on the winches. The last ones turn the buoy under a “cloud” of shouts, random orders and, ainoi, sometimes even insults within the crew or toward the unfortunate opponent who turns the buoy at the same time. As an additional reminder, insults or insulting and unsportsmanlike behavior toward opponents may be punished by rule 69 of the regatta rules with related even severe penalties of the competitor or boat.

The question at this point would arise: who on board has the right to speak during the race, and what should they say? The first person on board deputed to open his or her mouth is the tactician. This is a key role, and his job is not to do the “play-by-play” of the regatta as some clumsy self-proclaimed Sunday tacticians do. The tactician provides little and essential information to the helmsman and crew beyond “calling” maneuvers. The tactician is possibly the person assigned to ask for water from an opponent during a crossing or turn. The information he provides is certain and essential; he should not give assumptions or unsure information whose only effect will be to distract the helmsman and the rest of the crew. In the case, for example, of a left wind shift, the tactician will communicate the degrees of heading that vary with each swing, up to declaring the “maximum left” (i.e., the maximum left wind swing recorded since the start of the race) and calling an eventual tack (on whether or not to tack to a scarce, and when to do so, we will discuss in the next installment). No comments, just numbers and clear information. On this type of communication, the larger crews or those of the professionals, flank the tactician with the so-called navigator who will provide the former with the numbers and “geometric” indications of the race course in order to carry out his task in the best possible way.

The second person allowed to speak, but only during upwind, is the mainsailer. This one confers with the helmsman, under his breath because the “driver” is by his side, and with him fine-tunes the running of the boat. It indicates to the helmsman whether he is sailing too hemmed or too leaned, and the helmsman gives him back the feelings of the rudder, that is, whether it has too much load or is too neutral. Should there be significant wave and wind conditions, the bowman, if instructed by the tactician, can call in gusts or waves as needed and with the right timing.


What about the rest of the crew? Easily, it plays the silent game and actively moves the weight, in unison, with each increase or decrease in pressure. What is the point of silence? It is as important as running the boat well. It serves to keep one’s concentration and that of others high, it serves to mentally go over the sequence of the next maneuver we are going to do, to begin to predict it by checking (again mentally) whether each line is ready in place or not. If we start in the sickle cell discussing tactician’s choices we distract ourselves, we start to no longer carefully attend to the active weight management that is critical on any boat, we will arrive unprepared for the next maneuver, and we will simultaneously distract the clubman, tactician and helmsman with unnecessary background chatter. The result will be that the whole crew will be destabilized, resulting in a negative impact on boat performance. And the only buoy we will see in the company of other boats will be the mooring buoy, because on the race course we will certainly pass far behind our opponents unless we possess a craft that is so much bigger and faster than the others that we can make our voice heard. Which still would not save us from being “scarce.”

At the turn of the buoy, the bowman and his eventual second move to the bow. If all is in order the halyardist silently follows their movements by opening the spinnaker or gennaker halyard from time to time, possible tack of the asymmetric or low charge of the tangon. If everything is working, no one is talking; if something is wrong, the bowman has to be the one to talk, asking the halyardist for something specific or alerting the cockpit that the hoist is not ready. After that you will only hear the tactician’s countdown ticking off the time until the hoist. From that point on, absolute silence, the mainsailer falls silent and the trimmer, or the one who holds the spinnaker or gennaker sheet, takes the chair. Many crews tend to bring The trimmer on the windward edge, outside the cockpit. There is no good reason to do so, considering that by moving him away from the cockpit to communicate he has to raise his tone of voice, thus losing unnecessary oxygen while holding the sheet, and consequently being less clear-headed and also away from the cockpit in case we need to gybe quickly. A wrong position therefore means greater difficulty in communication and slowness in maneuvering.

The only reason to have it on the leeward edge would only be if we sail a lot of staysail under spinnaker and the trimmer staying in the cockpit would not observe the leading edge of the sail well, in which case it can move upwind. In contrast, he should stay in the cockpit because he is closer to the tactician and helmsman and will not need to raise his voice to communicate with them. The trimmer will tell whether it has enough pressure on the sheet to be able to “come down” to the rest or it will warn when it is time to raise a few degrees again to “reload.” Again, the information should be clear and essential, minimal. No speech, just a few specific imputations.


At this point another question arises. If I were a humble counter tailer, a humble drizzler, a humble second bowman. That is, those who, according to what we have told you, would not have the right to speak during the entire regatta. If I had been silent throughout the regatta, but did not agree with the choices and management of the crew, of the speaker, the tactician in the first place, what do I do? First, let us reassure you of one thing: even if your role does not involve “speaking” it does not mean that this is any less important. For if you are on board you will have a task, and every task on board is critical to making the orchestra play properly. If someone does not do his or her part, the symphony fails, so everyone is essential on board.

If, however, by making an objective examination of conscience about our abilities and evaluating the race with a cool mind, we realize that we are in the wrong boat and do not agree with its technical management, we can say goodbye and look for another boarding. But as long as we board this boat, and any other, in the sickle cell, we will play the silent game, to give us and our fellow boaters a chance to express 100 percent in terms of mental focus and technical application. There are sailors who by playing the silent game have made it to the America’s Cup or the Olympics. Not talking is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it is a sign of mental strength, personality, professionalism and concentration. For talking there are bars, post-race beers, socials, and condominium meetings. In the boat, you keep quiet and each person plays the part indicated on his or her score to contribute to the overall symphony.

Mauro Giuffrè


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