Crew roles on reaches
by Dave Dellenbaugh

Sailing fast and smart on a crowded reach requires a real team effort, especially when it’s windy and you’re flying a chute. If your boat handling and sail trim aren’t good, you’ll get passed and / or left behind. Here are some things that crewmembers can do to help get your boat down the track:

Work on boat speed.
Almost everything you do on a reach is related to speed since your main goal is to get to the next mark as quickly as possible.
•Keep adjusting your sails. Since the wind and waves are always changing, you have to constantly check your sail trim and “change gears” if necessary. On a reach you want to be especially sure that all your sails are eased as far as possible, so do not cleat any sheets. Remember you can pump the guy and sheets to help the boat start surfing or planing.
•Position your weight. Getting your weight in the right place can be critical for speed on a reach. In general, you should move forward and to leeward in light air; move aft and to windward in breeze. Since conditions are always changing, you have to move around a lot, especially in waves.
•Talk about the spinnaker. One of the keys to going fast on any offwind leg is good communication between the helmsperson and spinnaker trimmer. Basically, the trimmer should talk about what he or she feels and sees in the chute - e.g. “I need more pressure,” or “Down a little.” This is critical when you are sailing downwind, but it also helps on a reach.
•Play the vang and board. On a bigger boat, “playing the vang” may simply mean you’re ready to release it if the boat heels too far. On one-designs, you should tighten and ease the vang (and play the centerboard if possible) according to changes in the wind.

Keep your head out of the boat.
While the helmsperson must focus on steering the boat fast, it’s easier for other crewmembers (who aren’t trimming sails) to look around and keep track of the big picture.
•Call out puffs coming. Remember puffs come from the direction of your apparent wind (which can be pretty far forward on a reach), so look for puffs and lulls in this direction. Give your helmsperson and trimmers enough warning about changes in the wind so they won’t be surprised and will be ready to shift gears. Don’t worry so much about calling waves (as you would upwind) because these come mostly from behind.
•Find the next mark. Try to find the leeward mark before you round the jibe mark, and then locate it again on the second reach. Make sure your helmsperson and tactician know where it is. Give them an easy reference like, “The mark is just to the left of that boat with the red spinnaker.”
•Talk about other boats. Give information about your speed and angle relative to other boats. For example, “We’re lower and the same speed as the boat on our hip.” Look especially in the helmsperson’s “blind spots,” which are typically behind his or her back (on your hip, or windward quarter) and to leeward and ahead (especially if you’re heeled over with a spinnaker or genoa making it hard to see).

Keep your head in the boat.
While you have to be aware of what’s happening around the entire race course, there are also some things you can and should do inside your own boat.
•Clean up lines and stuff. While you’re sitting on the rail, there is always something you can do that will make the boat a little easier to handle in upcoming maneuvers. For example, make sure the spinnaker sheet is clear to run on the next jibe. Look to see if the spinnaker halyard tail is clear for the drop, and check if the genoa sheet is led properly over the spinnaker pole. It’s never possible to be too prepared.
•Review the next maneuver. Think about what maneuver will likely be next, and review your role mentally or aloud with another crewmember. A takedown is a likely next move, so be sure you know how this will work. For example, what kind of takedown will the helmsperson attempt, and what is your role in it?

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