The Art of Crewing an RS 400
For all those out there who are looking to learn a bit more about crewing or are wondering how others do things in the boat we thought we'd put this quick guide together on some of our techniques. These are just some of the things we do which isn't to say that it's an all-encompassing list!
The most important aspect to crewing is feeding information to your helm on the conditions, competitors and course. This ensures your helm can keep focused on important tasks such as pointing angle and sail trim but is still aware of what's happening around them.
This all begins in the pre-start, before any gun has gone. As this time is a bit more relaxed both helm and crew can analyse the race course - simple things such as where the marks are, what the tide's doing and what the wind is tending to do.
Once the warning signal goes it's a good time to keep an eye on where the best wind is off the start line and work out where you want to start. During this time its up to the crew to keep an eye out for any changes in the wind, leaving the helm to focus on positioning before the start. The crew should also be keeping an eye out for other boats that may be luffing or trying to barge on the line as well as making sure the helm is aware of the time to start.
On the beat the crew needs to be doing several things. Firstly they should be using their weight to keep the boat flat, either by hiking or balancing the helm's weight. On the beats you'll usually hear me simply saying 'flat, flat, flat' to Sean, reminding us to get the boat that little bit flatter and thus faster. Secondly, you need to be watching for what the wind is doing on different parts of the course and what your competitors are doing. Are there gusts, headers or lifts ahead? Are boats in more wind somewhere else? How's your boat speed or VMG compared to other boats? Is there anyone on starboard and will we make it past them or duck them? Is there anyone on port, do we want to starboard or duck them? Thirdly, you should be watching for the next mark and making sure your helm is always aware of where it is as well watching if your competitors are making the mark on their current tack or are they going to have to tack again?
These are all questions I try to think about and feed the answers to Sean. Our chat upwind is fairly constant but all important, "flat, flat, flat, boat on starboard, we'll clear, flat , flat, gust, flat, flat, good boat speed, XX has tacked, not making the mark" and so on... As I said, feeding relevant information to the helm is key.
In terms of the windward mark rounding it’s fairly simple from a crewing perspective. I usually try to have the outhaul loosened as we’re coming up to round the mark and then concentrate on keeping the boat flat as we round the mark. Once Sean is happy we’re flat enough he gives me a shout and I jump into the centre and work on hoisting the kite.
Once around the mark the crew’s attention shifts completely to the spinnaker. Your downwind speed relies hugely on that sail and so the crew should be making sure it’s well trimmed the whole time. The helm then takes over most of the other jobs, keeping an eye on the wind and what the other boats are doing. However, especially in the 400, the size of the spinnaker causes a fairly big blind spot for the helm. For that reason I tend to take a quick glance under the sail every so often to make sure there are no boats coming upwind below us, a situation that occurs regularly when sharing a leeward mark with other fleets.
We've already written a post on gybing an RS 400
so we won’t go into that here but again communication is key in this maneuver. As the crew spends most of the time watching the kite downwind they don't know when or where the helm is planning to gybe. Sean usually gives me a warning of when he wants to gybe well in advance, although he has been known to surprise me with a few last minute ones!
Approaching the leeward mark the crew needs to be ready to drop the kite, ensuring the recovery lines are clear. In the 400 this is complicated by having a separate pole launch line and a kite halyard both of which can get nicely tangled during the downwind! Once the helm wants the kite dropped it’s a case of getting it down as fast as possible. The crew then needs to get the outhaul tightened for the beat and be ready to flatten the boat once around the mark and into the wind. I usually try to make this one movement, grabbing the outhaul as I’m on the way out on the toe straps. Once around the mark we concentrate on getting the boat flat as soon as possible. As I’m lighter than Sean I usually lean in to adjust the kicker and downhaul while he keeps the boat flat. When we’re set up it’s back into the upwind procedure.
As said, many times, in this post - good communication between the two of you is so important. After some of our best races we've noted that we had a steady stream of information going between us the whole time and its something we're constantly working on improving. If anyone has any questions or additions they'd like to make give us a comment, we'd love to hear what other teams get up to!
Tyner and Sean