STRATE GY

Hav­ing a plan and a clear way to com­mu­ni­cate it makes every ma­neu­ver bet­ter.

Sailing World - - Contents -

Andy Hor­ton ex­plains the im­por­tance of a play­book and how to call the plays.

O Part of my role as a pro sailor is help­ing oth­ers around me im­prove. My main goal when do­ing this is to make sure they are self- suf­fi­cient and don’t be­come ro­botic. We won’t achieve much if I have to keep say­ing “head up” or “head down” or “more trim” or “weight out.” I want them to reach a level where they know ex­actly what to do and when to do it. Then, we can limit our on­board con­ver­sa­tion to call­ing plays. No spe­cific de­tails, only the out­come — just like in many other sports. Can you imag­ine foot­ball play­ers in the hud­dle lis­ten­ing to the quar­ter­back give each of them in­di­vid­ual in­struc­tions as a play is run: “Hey, block that guy.” “Don’t let him through.” “Run over there, and I’ll throw the ball to you.”

It would never work. Yet, with of­ten sim­i­lar- size teams, we can end up do­ing ex­actly that be­fore and during ma­neu­vers. We’ve all raced with the guy who is al­ways bark­ing or­ders: “Star­board sheet on, now ease the port sheet!” and so on. Why not just say, “We’re jib­ing”? Iden­tify the out­come, which em­pow­ers the team to do it bet­ter in­stead of fo­cus­ing on the minu­tia of the ma­neu­ver. In other words, just call the play. A sail­boat racer’s play­book is, again, much like in foot­ball. It’s a col­lec­tion of

plays we run that, with prac­tice, can be started and com­pleted with few words spo­ken, with every­one know­ing what they need to do, and with the whole team on the same page about the out­come we de­sire. Here’s an ex­am­ple that hap­pened to me re­cently: We were the small­est in a fleet of big boats, and com­ing off the start­ing line, one of those big­ger boats was start­ing to sail over the top of us. We needed to tack away but were too close to the boat to wind­ward. The so­lu­tion was to do what is called a “drop tack.”

We bore off sharply, about 15 de­grees or so, which cre­ated lat­eral sep­a­ra­tion with the wind­ward boat. That gave us room to roll into a tack. If we hadn’t prac­ticed that move and it wasn’t in our play­book, we’d run into two prob­lems. First, we’d lose a lot of time ex­plain­ing what we were go­ing to do and what every­one’s job was in ex­e­cut­ing the ma­neu­ver. Sec­ond, we’d have peo­ple on the rail sit­ting up and won­der­ing what was go­ing on in­stead of hik­ing hard to help the boat bear off. In­stead, we just called the play: “Drop tack.”

No other words were spo­ken. The helms­man put the bow down 15 de­grees, the jib trim­mer went out­board with the jib lead, the trav­eler went down and every­one on the rail hiked ex­tra hard to help the boat bear away. The next move was trim­ming up and tack­ing over, which every­one was pre­pared for and did flaw­lessly. We’d prac­ticed that move, and it was in our play­book.

Here’s an­other ex­am­ple: We had just rounded the wind­ward mark and were sail­ing to­ward the off­set mark, and our bow was over­lapped with an­other boat to lee­ward of us. We wanted to do a jibe set at the off­set mark, but with the other boat there, we would have to wait un­til they ei­ther cleared out or jibed away first. It was es­sen­tially the op­po­site of what we did with the drop tack — head up sharply to cre­ate some lat­eral dis­tance with the other boat so that we would have room to do an im­me­di­ate jibe set at the off­set mark. Rather than hav­ing the crew look back at the helms­man, won­der­ing what’s go­ing on, and the trim­mers

A sail­boat racer’s play­book is, again, much like in foot­ball. It’s a col­lec­tion of plays we run that, with prac­tice, can be started and com­pleted with few words spo­ken.

hav­ing to re­spond abruptly to the change in course, we sim­ply called the play, and every­one still knew what to do since we had called for a jibe set. Hav­ing dis­cussed all of the de­tails ahead of time and then sim­ply call­ing the play when the time comes al­ways pro­duces the smoothest boathandling.

One fi nal sce­nario: We’re sail­ing down­wind, and a nearby boat sud­denly jibes on our wind. The re­sponse? An­nounce to the crew “let’s soak” to work your­self lower and out of the other boat’s wind shadow. As you bear off, the pole comes back, the main goes out far­ther and crew weight is shifted to wind­ward, mak­ing the turn down more ef­fi­cient, then back to lee­ward for more heel. If that play doesn’t work, you can call a new one — maybe “standby jibe” or “let’s go back to VMG.” Every­one is on the same page and work­ing to­gether to make the boat faster.

To make play call­ing work, though, be sure what you’re say­ing has been re­ceived. On most boats I sail aboard, the crew sim­ply re­sponds with the word “copy,” and I know they’ve heard me. On much big­ger boats, where crews can num­ber in the 20s, I’ll have a spe­cific per­son picked out, usu­ally po­si­tioned about half­way be­tween me and the for­ward-most crewmem­ber, to

OTHER ES­SEN­TIALS

Luff: Turn and ease sails to luff and slow/ stop for­ward progress. Bear away: Turn the boat away from the wind, no more than 20 de­grees. Penalty turn: It’s what you do when you foul some­one: one tack, one jib; if you’re penalty is up­wind, it’s faster to tack. You want the op­po­site on a down­wind leg; start with jibe. whom I’ll di­rect the play call. They’ll re­spond with “copy” and then re­lay the play to the crewmem­bers for­ward of him.

There are diff er­ent types of play­books you can cre­ate. You can set up one de­voted en­tirely to what each crew or the helms­man does. Those are de­tail-ori­ented, fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual jobs, and they’re im­por­tant in their own way. But there’s also the big-pic­ture play­book, which we’re talk­ing about here, and that’s what I al­ways want the crew to un­der­stand. The plays are a place to start the con­ver­sa­tion. The calls are all nor­mal ma­neu­vers in rac­ing. Play call­ing just sim­pli­fies the com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As in foot­ball, it’s not de­tail­ing ex­actly how you’re go­ing to block some­one, but in­stead the de­sired out­come of the play. And just as Tom Brady and every other quar­ter­back carry the reper­toire of plays on their arm­bands, hav­ing a list of plays that you and your crew have prac­ticed will make deal­ing with those third- and- goal sit­u­a­tions a lot more suc­cess­ful. Q

There are dif­fer­ent types of play­books you can cre­ate. You can set up one de­voted en­tirely to what each crew or the helms­man does.

OUTSIDEIMAGES . COM

On a train­ing day with the team on board the C&C 30 Rox­anne, the au­thor re­lays a brief com­mand: “Blow-through jibe.” The spin­naker trim­mer knows to hold the loaded sheet longer be­fore re­lease, al­low­ing the sail to first lay against the rig. P H O T O : PA U L T O D D /

P H O T O : PAU L T O D D / O U T S I D E I M A G E S . C O M

The tac­ti­cian can say one word, “soak,” which re­lays to the driver and trim­mer to briefly sail low. Brevity is clar­ity.

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