Crewing – 3 Keys to Success

This piece originally appeared in the May 2012 Fleet 5 newsletter.

By Elise Mazareas

Elise Mazareas co-owns 1360 with Joe Fava. She is one of Fleet 5’s top crews and can be seen driving every once in a while as well. Elise was an All-American crew at Boston College and was awarder Fleet 5’s Richie Santos Outstanding Crew Award last year. I asked Elise “What makes a good crew?”

While racing down in Miami this winter I ran into some younger BC alums at the fine establishment known as the Sand Bar. Upon introducing myself, one of them said “you sailed with Tyler [Pruett] when he was College Sailor of the Year. Congratulations, that’s your award too.” It caught me off guard because despite knowing that we were a great team for the year that we sailed together, I had never thought of it that way, and I doubt too many others had either.

In a sport where recognition is often awarded in the name of the driver, it is easy to overlook that sailing truly is a team sport, – that a driver is only as good as their crew – and a crew is only as good as their driver.

So in asking myself, what makes a good crew? The short answer that came to me is: a good team. If you look to the Rhodes fleet here in Marblehead, you see countless examples of this – Joe and I (I think we are an awesome team 🙂 – Go Eagles! Pete and the Kid, the Cressy Family, the Pandapases, the Heffernans, Mike and BJ, Jim and Charlie, Chris and Doug, Kent and Peter… the list goes on and on.

So what makes a good team? Mechanics and tactics are critical to winning races in competitive fleets. Aside from time in the boat, which is irreplaceable, the key to good mechanics and good tactics is good communication. One of the most noticeable things to me, in transitioning from dinghies to keel boats, was that the person driving, really needs to focus on driving. They cannot be looking around for breeze or at fleet positioning, wondering if their lane is clear or trying to find the mark. It is the job of the crew to get their head out of the boat and be looking around, constantly feeding information to the driver so that they can focus on driving, while developing a good understanding of what is going on the racecourse around them. As a crew this is critical component of fine-tuning your tactical abilities. As you continue to relay information about situations across the course, tactical decisions are a discussion.

A close second to good communication is competence and confidence. Next to blind-folded and rudderless sailing, which develops a great feel for the boat and an understanding of how to balance weight placement and sail trim, crew races were always one of my favorite drills. Though usually initially quite uncomfortable, switching positions within the boat is an important part of developing great boat mechanics. Until you are the one steering through a tack, it is hard to appreciate just how painful an over trimmed jib can be, or how slow it is it not have weight in just the right place as you head up and trim in at the start. Trying to steer the boat through a jibe with your knees while keeping the chute full, while you have someone bouncing around on the foredeck is much harder than I had ever realized until I tried to do it. Switching it up makes both people better at their respective positions while also developing a respect for what it is that your teammate is doing.

Third, and potentially the most important point – don’t take it too seriously. You are going to make bad calls or mechanical mistakes and so is your driver, but that’s all part of the game and why we keep at it. You need to be able to laugh at yourself, because if you’re not having fun out there, it’s not worth it.

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