Photo by Paul Hyde

Yesterday, Tiger Tale (H 477) sailed in her first race of the season.  We had had the boat out a couple of times before, and in some pretty heavy wind, so we had been able to fine tune and see what needed attention.  What a wonderful feeling it was to sail the long voyage out to the start line, reveling in the beauty of the ocean and the wonder of the wind — and savoring precious time to talk with a trusted confidante, solving all the world’s problems along the way. There’s absolutely nothing better than sailing out to the start with a good friend who loves sailing as much as you do!

The wind was out of the East, shifty (always my favorite), but with a relatively steady breeze.  My cohort in crime, and trusted team mate, Jen, was psyched about a few of the improvements I had made since last summer, and we happily tried some new things out on the way to our committee boat.  Things really do evolve as you see what works and what doesn’t from year to year.  Along with Jen, I’m probably among a very select few ladies who can really get excited about a new cleat, or the latest in low-stretch line. Those are my favorite girlfriends — you know who I’m talking about — the ones who know their way around a boat, are unflappable in the face of imminent danger, and who aren’t afraid to jump right in and get their fingernails dirty.

One of the most fun things when you get back on the course with your fleet for the first races, is seeing how the teams have coalesced since last year.  In our Herreshoff Twelve fleets, we have some really excellent partnerships, and you can most definitely see the improvement with each ensuing season.  Jen and I picked up where we had left off from last summer, and although we were a little rusty at the start, we quickly got back into the groove.  What a glorious day we had, and Tiger Tale’s tiller hummed with pleasure (it really does!) as we sailed our best course. Needless to say, we ended our racing with a list of things to improve, and will be ready to hit the line next week, tweaking ever further as we go. It’s a never-ending process, isn’t it?

All teams have different ways of working together.  For a longer discussion on that, you can read my post, Developing a Team — Anyone Can Do It!  On Tiger Tale, Jen and I are interchangeable as skipper and crew, which I think makes us a much stronger team.  It’s impossible to really understand what the skipper needs unless you have been one, and the same goes for crew. Switching off, especially with spinnaker work, can improve your teamwork significantly, because doing each position makes you better at both, and thus you really know how to support each other.  And in the best teams, as time goes on, you even begin to develop a kind of shorthand for communicating tactics and strategy. Jen and I like to sail with the skipper concentrating solely on making the boat go fast, and the crew, looking all around,  is entrusted with any and all tactical decisions.  It works for us.

sheilds team

Our Team on Kiskadee, a beautiful Shields

skipper Wendy

Wendy, in her element!

Last night, I sailed my first race on a Shields (yes, I did a “double-header”) with my friend Wendy at the helm. And I had a lot of fun learning how their team works, in a boat with a skipper and four crew. As you probably would guess, Wendy falls into the above description of “favorite girlfriends” – you should have seen her in action talking people through a complicated spinnaker set. “Cool as a cucumber” comes to mind.  And she’s a terrific teacher — very patient as I learned the subtleties of mainsail trim on a Shields,  and how the traveller works in different airs. Despite having only four people on the boat, we did extremely well, and gave the first place boat a good run for their money. Wendy’s team is a lot of fun, and I look forward to sailing with them again soon.

Teams are interesting things, aren’t they?  With the proper care and feeding, you can create the team that works best for you.  And as my friend George always says, “enthusiasm is the most important quality – everything else can be taught.”  I think he’s absolutely right about that. Providing the opportunities for enthusiastic but less experienced sailors to come up through the ranks as part of your team takes a lot of thought and energy, but it’s well worth the investment of time, both for the individual boats, as well as the fleet as a whole. We have several crew members in our fleets who have soaked up every bit of knowledge and are eager for more – some even have their eye on the goal of skippering their own boats someday soon. So, always be on the look-out for opportunities and people to partner them with — and then help find ways to make things happen. That’s how you build a team — and a fleet!


Deborah Bennett Elfers
I was practically born on a boat, though on a working lobster boat rather than a sailboat. In my early days, I sailed quite a lot on a Sunfish, but not very elegantly, as in our little neighborhood “fleet,” the boat was primarily used as a weapon in a wildly popular game of “kill the other guy!” Who could have imagined way back then, that one day I’d become so passionate about all things sailing?
Deborah Bennett Elfers
Deborah Bennett Elfers

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