Improve Speed with Communication
by David Dellenbaugh

When it comes to better speed, communication is key. Imagine a boat where no one is allowed to talk. What a disadvantage that would be! If you want to make your boat go as fast as possible, you need to get contributions from everyone on your team. Speed is not just something for the helmsperson or trimmers to worry about. Every crewmember has their own unique experience and their own particular viewpoint. So don’t be shy about speaking up. There are so many things you can say to help make the boat go faster.
When you’re droop-hiking on a Star (or on any other boat), it’s difficult to see your own boat and sails, not to mention the rest of the race course. In order to sail the boat fast you need a good sense of feel and the resolve to stay involved in the “speed loop.” Photo by J.H. Peterson.

How the boat feels - It’s important for everyone on your boat to get involved in the “sailing by feel” process. Even though not everyone is holding the tiller or jib sheet, it’s still valuable for crewmembers to verbalize what they are sensing about the boat’s performance. Here are some examples:

“We’re building speed slowly.”
“I need more pressure in the spinnaker.”
“We have a lot of leeward heel.”
“It feels like the wind velocity is down.”

As a helmsperson, I like to have people say what’s on their mind even when they think it may be obvious to the rest of the crew. Usually it isn’t, and verbalizing the feeling makes everyone more aware of what is happening (and more comfortable about contributing).

Speed and height - When you’re working on speed, it’s critical to observe and report your boat’s performance relative to that of nearby boats.

Changes in the wind and waves -
Crewmembers are usually in the best position to see the puffs, lulls, waves and flat spots that are coming toward the boat. The key here is to give the rest of the crew a warning about any changes that may require shifting gears:

“Puff coming in 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1!”
“Three big waves in a row.”
“We’re sailing into a lull.”
“More pressure to leeward.”

Trim comments - Sail trimmers should talk to the helmsperson about the sail they are trimming:

“I can trim the jib another inch.”
“I’m easing the spinnaker.”
“I will trim to the course you’re steering.”
“I’m standing by to ease the vang.”
The Melges 32 stormed on to the Key West scene with the largest new fleet since the? Answer: Melges 24. Photo:

Other suggestions - There are probably a million things that crewmembers could say to help make a boat go faster. Sometimes the hard thing is getting up your nerve to communicate an idea that you may not be 100% sure about. In that case, try sharing the idea with one other crew first and see what they think:

“Maybe we should try more rake like last week.”
“The last time we had big waves we put the jib lead in hole 6.”
“I think we should try sailing the boat flatter.”
“The jib halyard is at setting #5 now.”

Ask questions -
Remember that communication is a two-way street, so don’t hesitate to ask questions when you need more information to do your job better.

(to the skipper) “How much helm do you have?”
(to the trimmer) “Want any more jib halyard?”
(to anyone) “What’s our target speed?”
(to the skipper) “Where do you want my weight?”

Whenever you communicate during a race, speak loudly and clearly. Make sure the people who need to hear your comment actually hear it. If you say there’s a big wave coming, for example, talk so the leeward-side genoa trimmer can hear you.

When a crew starts sailing together, one of the best reasons for talking is to set a good example and make it easier for others to speak up. Once you get everyone communicating and contributing, better boatspeed won’t be far behind.

Dave publishes the newsletter Speed & Smarts. For a subscription call: 800-356-2200 or go to:

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