Winter Championships: the 8 roles for the perfect crew


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Winter ChampionshipsCrew roles for a boat that has the ambition to compete in regattas are an important topic, crucial for the technical growth of a team. So let’s look at what the ideal formation of a boat between 10 and 12 meters might be, analyzing the functions of the roles. We will start from the bow, from the bowman, all the way to the extreme stern, with the tactician.


An almost mythical role, often mistreated, but crucial on board, to say the least. He is in charge of, and responsible for, everything that happens forward of the mast: rigging and hoisting the sails, lowering them and keeping them ready below deck for later use. Often the bowman will also dictate the timing of maneuvers: at a tactician’s call for a particular maneuver, the bowman, who must always be in control of the situation at the bow, will say, for example, whether the tactician’s call is immediately feasible or whether it takes a few seconds to be accomplished. He is in charge of cocking the spinnakers/gennakers and making sure that in gybing everything goes right. The bowman must be a person in good physical shape, because his role often requires athleticism.


The mastman, or second bowman, does not have the same responsibilities as the first bowman but rather must cooperate with him, following his instructions, in the work to be done at the bow of the mast. Halything the sails will be the task of the man at the mast, just as it is often also, under the bowman’s supervision, his job to snare the sheets on the sail lugs and, of course, to participate in the lowerings. From a physical standpoint, the man at the mast must be, if possible, even physically stronger than the first bowman and in perfect physical shape.


There is a tendency to make a gross mistake about this role: people often think that the least good or experienced person can be put on the halyards because they value this position as an easier task. This is not the case at all: the drizzler must be chosen carefully because he or she is the “fluidizer” of the maneuvers and must therefore be someone who is well acquainted with the dynamics of a buoy approach and what goes with it. Putting an inexperienced person to the halyards just to plug a hole may be something we will bitterly regret. Through his action, the halyardist makes sure that the sails are hoisted and lowered with the right timing, as well as has to adjust all halyard tensions in advance to give the sails the correct shape. While not requiring exaggerated strength, it is still a role that requires speed, alertness and a good physique.


There are normally no less than two of them and they can divide the sail trim between upwind and downwind, between starboard tack and port tack, or alternatively with one constantly in charge of sail “trim” and the other serving as his grinder on the winches. Their job is to “trim” (adjust) the sail as best they can, whether upwind or downwind, depending on the wind speed and strength, always keeping the boat fast and working in cooperation with the halyard trimmer to choose the best shape for the sails.


The cockpit joker is another very underrated role, on some boats even discarded. Often those who are put in this position see it as a lack of appreciation for their abilities, but the reality is different. In fact, the joker is another important fluidizer of maneuvers: he can double up the halyardist at a buoy turn, he can lend a hand to the tailers in fast and choppy maneuvers, he has the right to go forward, or below deck, during lowerings to help the sails descend from carrying gaits, in short, he is the all-purpose man. While it is true that sometimes a person who is not yet very experienced can be put in this position, it is also true that the functions of the joker if done well can really make a difference on the speed of execution of maneuvers.


He is one of the boat’s engines and works closely with the helmsman. He must assist this to bring the boat fast on the “starboard side,” trying to make the rudder blade use as little as possible for course corrections. It is a job of constant anticipation: opening mainsail before a gust arrives, so that the rudder blade does not have to be corrected, will be his “bread and butter.” Communication with the helmsman will be crucial, so that the boat is always under control and fast.


The most coveted role but also laden with responsibility. He should rarely speak and mostly listen, never distracting himself from the sails or looking around. Sometimes we find shipowners in this role, and it is physiological that not all of them are always exactly capable of performing it competently-a situation that should be reflected upon by reasoning about what is the best choice for the shipowner himself, the crew, and for the sporting goals set. Sometimes with the guidance of a more experienced helmsman, the owner can learn useful concepts to soon be in charge of his or her own boat.


Sometimes he is the lightning rod of the crew’s “misfortunes,” sometimes he is an uncontactable “whipping boy,” the tactician is certainly the thinking mind of the boat in the race and the one who chooses which side of the field to go to. Having such a crucial role it often happens that improvised tactics, to say the least, can create real disasters. So let’s pay attention to whoever proposes to be a tactician, evaluate their experience, whether or not they have sailed in Olympic classes, for example, and what kind of racing record they have. The winter leagues are full of Sunday tacticians, a figure to beware of because they will bring us no good. Better to rely on people with proven experience who, in addition to helping us read the course by getting us on the right sides, will help us grow as a crew.

Mauro Giuffrè


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