This weekend I had the privilege of being one of three presenters at a national training symposium in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I say privilege, and really, I mean it; what a group of talented, intelligent, and passionate sailors and coaches! Over the past few years, each time I have the opportunity to run a coaching clinic, work with my fellow sailing colleagues, and present at an event, I’m reminded of how much I DON’T know, and how much there is to learn from those around me.
That being said, I also feel like over the past few years, I’ve solidified my place as A) a hippy from the west coast of Canada with communist ideals and B) an ardent if not rare ambassador of the crew. My 470 career started as a crew and ended as a helm. Over the course of my time in both positions, it became clear how important each role in the boat was to the overall success of the team. After 2 1/2 years as a crew, I stopped eating, started distance running, and began helming (okay okay…I had some coffee, lentils, and celery…). As I took up the stick, I was confused about just what it was that I was supposed to do. Fortunately Dave Hughes, one of my coaches, looked at me on the first day of training and said in no uncertain terms:
“Don’t worry…the crew does everything. The helm just holds the stick and tries not to screw up. Now go sailing.” Thanks Dave.
This might be a bit simplistic, but it holds a grain of truth. Ever wonder why in double handed boats it’s the crews who have been around the longest? Crewing is a beautiful thing, it’s an art. It takes years to develop an amazing crew, and once you’ve got one, he or she is worth her weight in gold. Now I know that many of you are thinking, “Well, you can’t possibly know how to sail without knowing how to steer.” I agree, and the fact is, the crew is the engine which steers the boat. Of course there is a tiller and a rudder. Those are shiny objects which help the helm to make the boat go fast. However, the more the helm uses that shiny object, the slower the boat goes. If you watch a top team, you’ll often see the helm sort of push the tiller into the deck so that it doesn’t even wiggle. Then the crew takes up a series of acrobatic dance manoeuvres which actually steers the boat while simultaneously balancing it and pumping the rig. Pardon my french, but that is way more badass than holding the stick. Then, add in jib trim, upwind tactics, compass work, communication, and kite trimming, and tell me that a crew doesn’t reeeeally know how to sail if she doesn’t steer. Call me crazy, but I’m tempted to conclude that it’s actually the helm who is missing a big chunk of sailing education.
Alright alright, helms are important. I know that…I was one! And…without a helm, Lasers, Radials, Finns, Optis, and myriad other singlehand boats would have a tough time making it around the race course. What I’m trying to get at here, is that each position is equally important. Saying that a crew isn’t really sailing is like saying that the defence isn’t really playing footie, or that the goalie isn’t actually playing hockey. I’m pretty sure Luongo would beg to differ.