For those of you who may not know, Paul Gray has been at the sharp end of Andy Webbs’ boat for a number of years during which they have won many trophies. Paul published these essential crewing tips back in 2001 and are useful for both 2 and 3 sail crewing.

Essential Kit – gloves and harness

I have found that the most important piece of clothing for the crew has to be gloves, “if you can’t do your job then there’s no point in being here…” I’m continuously being told – so if your hands are in a bad state your not going to be performing as good as you should.

I have found (courtesy of Julia Plumstead) that the Ultimate Gripper Glove with padded protection where needed is best for the job. If the padding is still not good enough you can sew some sailmakers soft leather to the glove around the area where the greatest pressure from the downhaul rope gives you most discomfort (this of course is only necessary in cases where you are a complete wimp…like me!).

Next up on the essential kit list has to be the harness. If you have problems completely downhauling the main (it’s only technique using your legs, back and arms together in tune to some colorful language from the back of the boat !), it helps if you put a standard downhaul style cleat on a bracket bolted to your harness via the spreader bar. This takes the load off your hands and transfers it to your legs, remember to keep your back as straight as possible to avoid injury.


Speed Around The Boat, Controlled Aggression and a Positive Attitude

I firmly believe that the most important job for the crew is the passing of information to the skipper. From the time that the ten minute gun goes you should be gathering and passing on information – such as…. where is the wind ? What are the boats doing on the left or right hand side of the course – going fast and twin wiring in strong wind… ? Or sitting in on the side of the boat and going slow due to lack of wind ?

How many of you crews reading this actually do what I have just suggested ?

Got a nice gap to leeward on the start line ? Then tell the skipper. If you see someone coming round the back and taking a look at it take some action to protect it.

You need to pass on everything you see to the helm so he or she can route out the crap like “..I think there’s a pair of jugs out on the beach over there”. The best advice is not to get wound up if they don’t take notice of everything or disagree, just keep the information coming and save the told you so’s for the bar later!

This part of the exercise is called taking your head out of the boat. I will now take you through a WINDY race and incorporate the points mentioned above.

The Start

At the pre-start with three minutes to go make sure you have at least half downhaul on. Once your skipper has chosen which end of the line you are going to start from and has made a move to put the boat there, it is now a critical time when having extra eyes in the back of your head would be helpful.

The pot hunter behind you will be looking to take your spot on the line so you must call the skipper into protecting your gap. Look up the line at the boats piling down and try and anticipate what will happen:-

Will we all be early and reach off down the line?

Are there too many boats at the committee boat end forcing others to come reaching down behind the line and nip into our gap ?

Don’t forget to countdown every second from the fifteen, keep it loud because it gets noisy in close quarters at this point of the start.

You should be on the wire and sheeted in with fives seconds to go minimum.

The First Beat

So we’re off the start line and have clear air, go for the rest of the downhaul trimming as necessary. When you are maxed out on the downhaul and its starting to get real windy I prefer to keep hold of the jib sheet so that I quickly uncleat it and dump a handful together with the skipper on the main when we get hit by a big gust. This keeps the boat flatter, saves the skipper dumping loads of mainsheet which takes time to recover, and makes us go faster !

When it gets choppy I hold the downhaul in my front hand to help steady me on the wire.

So now we are in the groove thumping up the windward leg, whilst the holier than thou one is concentrating on boat speed you need to start watching all around.

What are the boats doing on the other tack ? Heading up the other side of the course? More breeze ? Less tide ? Flatter water ?

The First Mark

As you approach the windward mark run through your mark rounding routine before you get there so you don’t get in a fluster and realize half way down the next leg that you haven’t let the mast spanner off… DOH !!

As you round the spacer mark (if you can be bothered Will & Selfy!) get the boss to stand on his trapeze elastic to clear the way for you to come in off the trapeze and ease the traveler down to the leeward toe strap, then go to your jobs.

  • downhaul
  • mast spanner
  • outhaul
  • windward board
  • barber hauler
  • leeward board

Remember to utilise the time to best effect, for instance you can get the board and barber in one move by pushing the board fully forward then grabbing the barber as your hand is now there and pulling it back.

For mega windy downwind sailing I play the “Middle Man” preferring to sit in the middle of the tramp against the rear beam holding the windward toe strap in one hand and the jib sheet in the other. From this position it is easier to see the set of the jib. When it is really wild I also keep the traveler rope handy ready for the big trip down the mine dump trick, this has saved our bacon a couple of times !

As tough as it is getting blasted by water when going wild you must keep on calling out when and where the gusts are coming in from, keep a commentary of the boat positions behind and who has gybed where and who is smoking downhill.

If someone is coming past check out where they are sitting on board, traveler up or down ? Boards up ? What other settings are different ?

Don’t just sit there !

It works best for us if I get my head out of the boat and the masterful one calls me up on the jib trimming. Spotting a gust and gybing into it could take out a couple of places on the competition!

Watch the guys who gybe off from the fleet and try to work out why, however, if that guy gybing off to nowhere is Ben Goodland, don’t be surprised if the skipper doesn’t take any notice !!

Now your approaching the leeward mark it is important to run through your routine in your head early on, mine goes something like this.

  • leeward board down
  • yomp a bit of downhaul on the leeward cleat
  • also check that the downhaul hasn’t pulled through too much on one side
  • move up the other side of the boom
  • mast spanner on
  • outhaul on
  • barber off
  • windward board down

Popeye prefers me to be on the wire before we round the mark sheeting the jib as we round up, then straight onto the remainder of the downhauling. Then its off for another lap !

Remember, you do this for fun !!!!!

Throughout the race it is important to stay positive and keep egging on the skipper, we all know they suffer from low self esteem, that is why they have supercrews like us to keep them going !

Heavy air tips When it’s rough, pull yourself up a little on the trapeze adjuster to avoid being slammed by waves and turn your front foot horizontal pointing forwards, hang onto the downhaul with one hand and the jib sheet in the other (cleated or uncleated).

Don’t forget when reaching to lower yourself using the trapeze adjuster because moving aft causes you to trapeze at a higher angle which is not comfortable nor secure.

Remember that a nasty gust of wind is less likely to knock you down if you spot it first and inform the skipper so he can react early.

When playing the jib to windward (extreme conditions only) try to do so in unison with the rock star at the back. A short sharp dump together is the order of the day, particularly if you have been drinking with Minnis Bay boys the night before……..!!

Light Airs – Snakes and Ladder

The first thing to remember is that a lot of people are very negative about this type of racing, “well you all drift at the same speed don’t you!”?

Some people lose the race before it is even sailed, I try and turn this to our advantage by trying to enjoy being cramped, frustrated, hot and bothered and above all having close quarter combat with Mr Webb’s minging feet!

A lot of sailors think that if you are feather weights you are going to walk it, but I believe as proved by the Reason brothers and the Minnis Bay massive (so called because they are lardy…not of many) that it is getting your head out of the boat and having a positive attitude is the way forwards.

If you arrive at a regatta early try and see which way the wind clocks round and use that for something to base your tactics on. We are usually late due to uncle Andy’s habit of the talking the hind leg of everyone, which leaves us with the job of doing this while sailing out to the start line. Of course all the time you are not actually racing it pays to watch the other boats sailing around you to get a feel for the conditions saving you the hassle of sailing around yourselves.

Obviously the same pre-start rituals apply as printed in the last P G Tips, if you are racing on a tidal course be more aware of the drift factor as you will not have the speed to get you out of trouble, don’t get caught out miles from the line in the dying seconds of the start sequence because the tide took you away from the line while you chatted over your Mars Bar or the skipper was having a pee over the side.

More so than ever it is crucial to hit the line at the full speed (or drift) so keep that Jib pulling. Once off the start line we usually get ourselves set up along these lines, I will lay on my side facing forwards with my legs along the front beam and my upper body to windward of the boom, if a gust hits I am able to easily move my weight up to the windward hull to help the boat drive forward instantly. I will only lie on the leeward hull in the very lightest of breezes and on coming tide in order to help push the bow in a little deeper which helps the boat climb a little to windward.

For the crew it is essential that you don’t shut the jib leech off. The best way to avoid this is to align the mast spanner just forward of the shrouds, then keep the distance between the leech and the spreader roller at about 2 inches this will ensure that the sail is trimmed most efficiently. As the wind increases, the gap widens, so bring the sheet in a couple of clicks to maintain the distance, as the wind decreases, the gap closes, so ease the jib off. Sometimes if it is really fickle and there is a small chop, I will put the mast lock to prevent the mast panting keeping the airflow over the rig as smooth as possible.

Apart from the very lightest conditions, Captain Nelson is out on the wire forward of the shroud, crouched ready for any gusts, or just farting his way around the course (I am still dreading the point of no return follow through) he also finds it easier to trim and steer from this point.

As the wind increases I start to trapeze. When wiring in light weather it is better to lift yourself up quite high which makes you a lot smother when moving in and out, when its very marginal I don’t come in and out I twist myself forward (to keep the bows in) so that I am laying parallel to the foredeck, also if the wind really fags out I swing onto the foredeck and then across to the beam and then back down by the mast.

N.B If at any time you are unsure of what you need to be doing at any point of the race ask the smart arse behind you as they seem to know bloody everything about everything.[/color]

Windward settings

  • Jib fairlead 1” towards the beam from the back of the centerboard case
  • Outhaul off 1”
  • Downhaul off
  • Spanner just forward of the shroud point
  • Weight well forwards
  • 2” spreader gap

On approaching the windward mark I start running through my routines in my mind, making sure I know of the rock stars intentions and any possible scenarios that may occur.

We are generally in discussion most of the time we are racing. Me – “your feet stink!”, Webby – “get stuffed!”. But on a more serious note we are always talking about a race and informing each other of any changes that we see, this not only relieves the tension but if he is talking to me he is not putting a blue cloud around the boat! (I am sure that he thinks swearing into the sails makes you go faster, sometimes a quick “shut up and concentrate”, stops us ailing backwards and is a very good point to remember when things are not going the way they should).

So upon rounding the windward mark firstly remember smooth and lose is fast, I sometimes find that in the heat of a crowded mark rounding the adrenalin of the race wants to take over and I want to scream around the boat banging everything in as hard and as fast as possible – perfect for heavy air racing but not so for this type, so control is needed smooth but sure movements with weight kept forwards. Sometimes shiny head will do a gentle bear away Ray to keep any momentum going but that depends on the circumstances.

First job while you are there is to get the windward board fully up then the barber hauler on, trap your jib sheet under your knee so you have both hands free, let the outhaul off then put the mast lock on so that the spanner is in line with the mainbeam, if you cannot get the spanner round due to high resistance, loosen the rig tension.

The next move is to slide under the boom and push the leeward board up fully, now comes the uncomfortable bit. I lay on the foredeck with one foot wedged in the dolphin striker by the beam. I very rarely hold the jib block strop unless there is insufficient wind for the sail to set, I feel that holding the strop allows drive from the sail to be lost as it is transferred through my body before reaching the hull- so I always hold the sheet through the blocks.

I may push the jib clew forward if we have to go really low, this allows the sail to set deeper. I don’t usually look at the sail as I let the bold sparrow call me up on trimming for example, two clicks in/out. I spend almost all the down wind drift looking for wind, watching all around the course at how other boats are sailing, trying to work out if we can get in the same band of wind.

Again if I am not sure and want a second opinion we will discuss what I can see, why I can see it and by that time we have usually missed it and “I am crap”. I don’t fall out with Webby when he doesn’t go with what I feel (partly because it is usually a bloody long walk home), but seriously it is just not worth it and of course there is the social at the bar which is a great wind up opportunity which should never be missed!

Downwind settings

  • Outhaul off fully (until you can go wild then ease it back in)
  • Downhaul off fully (knock it up with your hand)
  • Boards up fully
  • Weight forwards – you on the foredeck helm as far forward as he can steer
  • Barber off a couple of inches
  • Mast rotated fully with mast lock on

N.B. if at any time you can hear the boat dragging her stearns and you are well forwards tell lardy to shift up even if they do complain they can’t steer properly – tough!

Leeward mark rounding

On approaching the mark make sure you are fully aware of what is happening as well as what could happen.

We always discuss different scenarios so that I can react as quick as possible and without letting our competition know of our intentions. First is the leeward board then the mast lock off and the spanner on, these I do without moving back too far. At this point Mr Hurricane has let the barber off from the windward side and got the windward board down so while he is doing that I move up to the windward side sheeting in as the barber comes off.

Half way across the boat I give a gentle tug on the outhaul (remember not fully on). Again throughout this manouver remember to keep your weight well forwards and no jerking movements.

So it’s to the finish, half way along the last leg you need to keep reminding the forgetful one that is the finish line that you are going for and not another round.

Even after a concerted effort like this in a light wind lottery you can still find yourselves down the tubes, but at least you know it was not your fault, obviously, because you weren’t steering were you!! But save that one until you are a little closer to home!!

Late breaking PG Tips

All hurricane sailor’s should pay close attention to all sailing clothing magazines tucked into their Yachts & Yachting, in particular the Splashdown section where you will find the fleet’s very own catalogue man super model, none other than Drunken Ward! What a smile!

What to take out with you – try and keep these items on your person at all times:-

  • A medium sized shackle
  • A length of thin strong rope
  • Black tape
  • Marker pen

Do not try and out drink the Welsh boys!

Always put black tape around the top ¾ of the stainless trapeze hooks, this helps you grab hold when your hands are wet and stops the tail end of your trapeze adjuster getting wrapped up in there.

by Paul Gray