Hunter 707 - GBR7024 - Doh!
The five Doh! crew have sailed together on a Hunter 707 for 2 years. We are all solid if unspectacular racers in our own right, but our two key strengths are crew-work/sail handling and attitude. We work together as a team, know each other’s roles, divide out the jobs including the interesting ones, and have the boat leadership based around leading the team, rather than making all the racing decisions.
We always do best at away or longer events, we believe it’s because we spend that extra time together and foster the team even more. This year we are attending all the class travelling events and area championships, including the Scottish champs which involved 24 hours of driving!
In order to build upon our “team strengths”, we have been pretty creative over the last couple of years in our “training” exercises. Creative crew work and sail handling has always given us an advantage. Two of our more unusual training exercises demonstrate this. Firstly the “running gybe” where we pretend that it’s really windy, and we all hang off the back corner of the 707, and then call gybe. We all run forward, do our stuff and run back to hanging off the other corner. It looks pretty amusing in light airs, but means we learn to do stuff quickly. Secondly the “man down” exercise, where at any moment, e.g. the middle of a hoist, someone calls man down, and we pretend someone is injured and can’t do anything, and we have to pick up their tasks and redistribute.
To further extend this all round team knowledge, we effectively sacrificed our short term results in the Warsash Spring Series this year by rotating roles for the whole event. We even sent our trimmer/second tactician onto other boats for the series, and she got a great mixture of experience and learning in good and bad boats. In addition we got her to helm our boat in another event without any of the rest of the crew on board. Good fun and a great learning experience. Everybody in our team has done all five roles in races, including the helm on foredeck which is definitely unusual and gives plenty of scope for teasing!
These exercises, though the exact incidents are not always going to crop up in races, teach us all the skills and tasks needed throughout the boat, and a degree of flexibility and creativity. A good example of when this really paid off was at the Eastern area champs earlier this year in Burnham-on-Crouch. We were leading approaching the last mark, and being river sailing we had the spinnaker up and needed to tack round it! A quick discussion ensued, with a last minute change of call, made by the pit man, who ran up onto the foredeck and neatly executed a spinnaker tack - maybe a creative first?
The final bit of crew-work and sail handling is communication, and we have, without realising it, created a specific vocabulary that we try to use to aid this – almost a sailing Esperanto. Examples include never using words that sound similar like weight/wait, or go/no. We use the word “Dave” to mean “sailing by the lee” so as not to muddle with other times we need to use the word lee. “Arses” means hike your weight over the edge. The tactician always call a port or starboard drop, never a windward or leeward one in case we gybe near the mark or something. And finally if you have to repeat a bit of advice or instruction three times then you’re saying it wrong – “look above your head” is better than “Cleat! Cleat! CLEAT!”
Our other main strength is in the togetherness of the team, and the mental attitude demonstrated. I do think we are a bit unconventional and creative here. We have certain informal “rules” of operation that take a bit of getting used, and are something for us and competitors to laugh at. But they really work for us:
- There is no swearing on board just varying degrees of loudness of the use of the word “Doh!”
- The helm is only allowed to shout one thing on board – “heads” during the gybe
- Our trimmer is nicknamed “Mum” because she’s in charge of kick-starting us when motivation drops or concentration slips
- We won a race in the southern areas (42 boats) despite me going for a quick swim. The attitude was there that just said, “the fat lady hasn’t sung yet”, and we will win this. We are thinking of having a swim in every race from now on!
- We are a light crew, but we will never use that as a reason for going slowly in a breeze. One day last year we just decided that it wasn’t a good enough reason, and we were going to go fast. Having that mental attitude worked, we are now one of the fastest in a breeze. Nobody in the team will ever accept that lack of weight is an issue (and we don’t want to swap out friends and team members just for some extra beef)
- In certain circumstances, we have very strong division of roles, e.g. the helm is not allowed to look backwards (except during the spinnaker hoist at the beginning of a run), and the spinnaker trimmer is not allowed to look around, and call tactics.
- We have good feedback rules; everybody gives feedback, but if the time is wrong then the feedback giver gets some feedback “not now!”. We quickly get the learns from a situation (after we have sorted it out), and then Mum makes us think forward again!
And finally, this weekend, along with doing some boat maintenance, we are preparing for Cowes week and the Nationals at Cork by trying a team exercise borrowed from consulting. Each team member is going to write down two things that each other team member does well, and two things they could do better, and how we (as the team) are going to work to deliver that improvement. This will hopefully work as a way of making feedback constructive and creative. Sounds a bit naff just now but we reckon it’ll work for us, and it’ll be a nice break from antifouling! Ask us at Cowes how it went.