I had the good fortune of being able to skipper Northshore 369 Shibumi in this year’s MYC Woman’s Challenge. With clear skies, sufficient to moderate winds, and a great sailing crew, it was a fantastic day on the water. Add to that a 2nd place result in the Division 1 Female Helm class, and all-in-all the day was a massive success.
Now, I feel I must point out that my normal position on a yacht is at the pointy end. From time to time I might make it far enough back to help trim a headsail or put some muscle behind the coffee grinder, but I very rarely get to lay a hand on the main implement controlling our direction of travel.
I am in no way an expert helms-woman (maybe some day). So, what did make a difference was having a great sailing crew with talented sailors, brilliant teamwork and good communication throughout the day.
We put in a very late entry for this race. In fact, after securing a full sailing crew only a couple of days before the race, I wasn’t sure I’d still have time to put in an entry at all. Luckily entries were still open, and we were able to get Shibumi signed up to the yacht race.
Although it was so last minute, I was able to pull together an eclectic but talented group of sailors (I was lucky – throwing together a last minute team is never easy or assured).
On the day, we made sure everyone arrived early enough to get a good overview of the yacht and meet his or her fellow teammates. A few people did know each other, but many did not, and almost no one had sailed on the yacht before.
Before hoisting the sails in plenty of time to get in some pre-race training, we did the obligatory and important pre-race briefing. This ensured everyone knew their position, the plan for the day, our objectives. In our case, the objective was to be competitive, but also conservative enough to take into account the team’s lack of experience on the yacht and with each other.
The person with the most experience on the yacht – its owner – acted as the tactician and crew boss throughout the race. Having someone solely responsible for watching the big picture and coordinating what was happening meant everyone else could focus on their jobs and allowed me, as helms-person, to keep my focus on steering the yacht.
I should mention, although we had lots of sailing experience on the yacht, we also took along a keen new sailor who, although extremely competent, had never before sailed on a yacht under spinnaker. The best way for new sailors to get into the sport is by doing it, and giving people that opportunity whenever possible means new sailors – and our sport – can continually to grow and thrive.
Our sailing was, by no means, perfect. There were manoeuvres we could have done quicker, places our boat speed could have been faster and things that were, well, just not quite right. However, everyone worked together, we kept our focus throughout the race and improved as we went.
The moral of my story? In order to be competitive in sailing, you need to build the right team. A sailing crew with experience and skills in their assigned position is important, but good teamwork and communication equally so. As the skipper, you need to trust your team, and when things go wrong learn from them and move forward.
Following this attitude and approach certainly paid off for us in the 2017 MYC Womans Challenge.