Crewing Technique

Alexander "Ali" Meller asked the 505world e-mail list for advice on crewing. A number of people responded with specific suggestions. Here are the questions and the answers. JP is Jonathan Phillips, who steers 7879 and has crewed 505s in the past; WH is Will Hartje, long time 505 crew; DA is Dave Anderson, 505 crew in New Jersey; BR is Brenda Romans, who crews 505 in the UK; BG is Bill Green, who steers and crews 505s in Colorado; RL is Roger Leemann, who crews on Fireball 14508; R? is Rob ???? a long time 505 sailor in Colorado; RN is Rob Napier, chairman of the International Rules Committee of the International 505 Class Yacht Racing Association.

Ali writes...

I recently crewed for Ethan Bixby on my 505. Though I started in the 505 class by crewing, and have crewed at times over the years, I helm rather more often. I have to say that crewing is harder than it looks...

I found crewing a challenge in the 26 knot and short, steep waves. Since I am light (160 lbs.) I believed I needed to trapeze as low as possible, raising myself up just enough to avoid most of the waves. I was still getting knocked aft frequently, though I found that keeping tension on the jib sheet tail helped in this regard. Perhaps other less experienced crews are wondering what the proper technique is....

Do you put your aft arm behind your head, so you can pull on the jib sheet with your forward hand?

Do you move fore and aft on the rail while going upwind to work the boat through waves?

When you are right up against the helm, how do you avoid being knocked aft (you cannot step back on the rail to stop the swing, as the helm is in the way)?

When do you go forward on the rail and when do you go aft when planing fast over big waves on the reaches?

Thanks,


Ali Meller
5o5s 7200 & 8263


AM: I have to say that crewing is harder than it looks...

DA: The "Crew's Union" thanks you :)

RL: I hope my helm will read this !!!

JP: I know what it's like up there. That's why I stay in the rear.

JP: Maybe you should take up crewing full time?:-)

 

AM: Since I am light (160 lbs.) I believed I needed to trapeze as low as possible, raising myself up just enough to avoid most of the waves. I was still getting knocked aft frequently, though I found that keeping tension on the jib sheet tail helped in this regard. Perhaps other less experienced crews are wondering what the proper technique is....

BR: I'm a lightweight crew (though I must admit to having done some helming recently) so I have a few comments on how to deal with the front end of a 505.

AJ: Wow! How could I resist this one? Being Ali's crew for many years and having him constantly critique (yell) at my performance. He now admits that it isn't that easy and wondering about technique in heavy air.

First advice is: Get off the damn wire! Or skip the salad today and have a cheeseburger, fries, shake.

RL: I feel that trapezing low is not so important because of better leverage (it decreases with the cosine, i.e. not very much in the first few degrees:

15 degrees up from horizontal you still get 96.6%) but to minimize wind resistance and drag. Hitting the waves adds a lot of drag (not to speak of other problems) so I feel this should be avoided (on the other hand getting soaked once a minute might help a light crew).

BG: I lowered the trapeze as low as I felt comfortable. I set it high enough that I could swing onto the CB cap if necessary, but I was generally pretty flat out on the wire. When knocked aft either from a wave or the skipper steering through them I would try to re-center myself as soon as possible or I found I kept moving farther aft. If I say a wave coming that I knew would knock me aft I would brace with my aft leg and ben my forward one.

JP: There is a story that Kevin Eley once asked Gary Bodie to put a handle on the back of his life jacket so that the crew would have something to hold on to! We need to confirm this. I think Gary said no.

WH: Upwind in breeze.. I don't believe in going too low, the difference in flat horizontal and 5 degrees up on the wire is almost unmeasurable in terms of righting moment but makes a big difference if you get stuffed into a wave, that can really slow you up. Furthermore, a now seemly defunct technique that was popular when gybing boards were introduced, was to sail the boat heeled to weather slightly, this of course required a short trapeze position. Being real low also makes it much harder work to get in and out on the wire, especially when tacking. Of course, any knuckle dragging crew worth his salt can swing from gunwale (rail) to gunwale all day with impunity but why use up energy needlessly for no gain. You don't really want an exhausted crew capsizing you as you tack for the finish when you could have avoided it.

JP: I know Les [Jonathan's crew in the same event Ali is asking about] used the jib sheet to hold himself to the rail upwind. He didn't feel comfortable putting a hand behind the neck. He didn't move back and forth upwind, not much anyway. At least on starboard, steering was so radical that most crews were doing quite well if they stayed on the rail. On port, the going was a little easier.

AJ: upwind in breeze, I often go lower than a lot of crews. It is not very comfortable, very wet and difficult to see. The proper technique is aft hand behind your head, fore hand on the jib sheet. Or better yet, Two hands over your head, jib sheets in your knees. If you are constantly getting hit by waves, you are too low. If you are hitting waves, that means your skipper is sailing flat, which is crucial.

One should simply not be knocked back behind the skipper. Put more of your feet on the rail, if you are unstable. If you do get knocked back, one step behind the skipper and then back is OK Also teach your skipper to knock you hard with his shoulder when he feels you invading his space.

R?: The only time that I am straddling Kem while out on the wire is on reaches. You will have to let your trapeze out a bit to get back there. When out on the wire on inland lakes, you have to be very alert because of the inconsistent wind velocity and direction. Dead weight ends up being tea bagged. You need to flex your knees or come in to the gunwale to keep the mast upright. In waves, the helmsperson is steering up and down, so if the crew is watching, they can anticipate which way the mast is going to try to swing, and counter balance it. Those who sail with the mast the straightest upright go the fastest.

I went to the North American's in Vancouver several years ago. It was a real hard blow. A couple of guys in Kem King's current boat each weighed well over 200 pounds, and came in DFL. The winners were a couple of brothers who had won medals in the Olympics, [Ed. That would be the McKee brothers] but looked to be about 170 lbs. each. There is a lot more to speed than righting moment or rail meat.

 

AM: Do you put your aft arm behind your head, so you can pull on the jib sheet with your forward hand?

DA: I don't do that unless its flat water (I'm too light and need all I got to keep balance)

RL: Some (very good) crews I know use the front arm as a shield against wind and water and to keep warmer (a lot of heat is lost from neck and face). I prefer the aft arm, because I feel I can see more and because I pull the jib sheet with my forward hand (however on a tack I release the jib with my aft hand and use the forward hand to grab the trapeze handle!). In ugly conditions I put the forward arm behind my head. Also, I twist my body so that my hips and my shoulders are at an angle of about 45 degrees from the horizontal.

BG: Yes, but just because I have heard other crews do it. I can't say that I noticed any difference in righting moment. I always keep as much tension on the jib sheet as possible. I find that this helps me to keep my balance. There were a few times when I found that for a brief moment I was not touching the rail with a foot, but don't know why.

BR: I always hold the jib sheet in my AFT hand. I noticed that Allan does the opposite - Does this reflect the positioning of the cleats? [Ed. Most North American 505s have the jib cleat forward, while many European 505s have it further aft] With the sheet in my aft hand it comes straight out of the cleat.

I couldn't hold one arm above my head for a whole race (let alone three in a day!) so I don't. Except when the helm tacks too early for a mark and we need every bit of weight we can get to pinch up to it :-)

 

AM: Do you move fore and aft on the rail while going upwind to work the boat through waves?

DA: By choice? I will try it and see if it helps. But I haven't concluded anything yet. I get bounced around and I have found (possibly contrary to the 'norm') that if I keep my weight on my forward leg and keep it straight and bend the aft leg things work well (so far).

RL: In a Fireball this doesn't do much good, but I temporarily bend my knees when the bow lifts off a wave to prevent my weight pushing the bow to leeward.

BG: I did what you suggested. Stay forward until you see a big wave coming, then move aft (the skipper seemed to be sitting a little aft anyway), then go back forward.

AJ: Upwind fore and aft: You and the skipper should find your spot and then stick together. I might lean back or put more pressure on my aft foot when going through waves. Rarely in breeze, will I be going forward, unless there is an upwind swell or something. I try to be a constant weight, pulling against the CB and the rig, and let the skipper work the boat.

 

AM: When you are right up against the helm, how do you avoid being knocked aft (you cannot step back on the rail to stop the swing, as the helm is in the way)?

DA: Grab his shoulder? :) I find that I get the swing forwards rather then aft. But the aft ones come too. Yell to him so he knows he will have to help you balance.

RL: Hold on to the jib sheet. Push onto the helms shoulder or head with your aft arm. And, yes, you do can put your aft foot behind the helm if you need to, no problem.

BG: I went back up against the helm, but I did not straddle the helm as Kem King's crew often does. In that case I would just grab his life jacket to pull me forward.

I think more than anything else it is a constant learning experience, especially since I have never sailed in that much wind. I found Mike Mill's article on power trapezing. While I can't even begin to do half the stuff he suggests, it still helped a lot. I like the idea of trapping off the CB cap because it allows you to come in and out of the boat quickly and easily.

I think for us lightweights the best advice is what my skipper yelled at me, "C'mon Bill, think heavy thoughts!"

RN: I always tell my crew he can grab my hair if necessary.

BR: Several things to do here. Allan has it right to get the helm to push you back with his shoulder when necessary. It is in his interest to do this - you could take his head off with the wire if you were to swing behind. Otherwise, really read the waves, if you see a bad one coming you should be able to adjust your balance and get a tighter grip on the sheet. Also make sure that the helm wears his life jacket on the outside of his waterproofs. This way, if the worst happens you have something handy to grab hold of on your way past.

If you have done any kind of relaxation technique this can help you stay attached to the boat. If you are really getting thrown about you tend to tense up. If you can recognise that this is happening (no mean feat in itself) it is possible to relax the muscles (particularly in the neck and shoulders) which makes it easier to balance and go with the motion.

It also means you conserve energy and enjoy the ride more.

I have a different problem standing right next to the helm when he's really working the main on a reach - he tends to knock my aft foot or leg (depending on how hard he is working) off the side with his elbow. To counter this I have to trapeze on tiptoe with the aft foot, or (more usually) twist my foot sideways to present a smaller target.

 

AM: When do you go forward on the rail and when do you go aft when planing fast over big waves on the reaches?

RL: I move aft when the boat starts going up a wave. When the boat is halfway over the wave (still going up or level, but not yet going down) I tend to move forward to cause the boat to tip over and go down the wave front. It needs practice to get the timing right.

AJ: Downwind in breeze: Treat it like a surfboard. You should be going up and down that rail like crazy. When you find the right spot, or jump forward to get on a wave, and then go back, stay there and keep the speed groove going. Mike Martin does this move where he walks back quickly on the rail in an effort to send the boat forward under his feet. Pretty cool.

Also a good nudge with your foot to the shroud, guy cleat or that area can do great things. We see it often, but let me remind everyone that ooching is illegal in the 505 and all other classes.

RN: No ooching!

WH: Downwind in a breeze, Allan pretty well said everything except one technique we used quite successfully. In a real howler, I sometimes stood astride the helm, ie. one foot behind him, this was a very stable platform in conditions when you were likely to be swept off the rail, and you wanted weight back as far as possible. The only problem was that the non slip did not usually extend far enough back for my rear foot.

JP: My sense was that Les and I both needed to move for and aft more on the second reaches on Saturday. We needed to move forward to help get the bow over and down the next wave. Of course, what we really needed to do was get the chute out of the bag. The boats that had standard size crews on the wire (190-195) should have had the chute up on the second reach. Neal agreed. We just let the lightweights sail around us.[Ed. (Ali) - I am proud to say that Ethan and I were the lightweights in question] On the first reaches (at least in the second race when we weren't screwing around with the chute) we were able to sail higher and, once we figured out where the reach mark was, moved out on Tyler and Scott. Les used his forward foot a bit to push the bow down.

BR: Yes. I run forward when chasing a wave, back when we catch it and are planing. It feels sort of like you are tipping the front of the boat over the crest of a wave so it starts to run down, then you get back fast so it doesn't go down like a submarine. This is fun.

 

AM: Any final thoughts?

AJ:  You also have to have the right attitude. Quite simply the crews union is a tough group in which to gain membership. Take the whole world view, be a good lover and Have Fun out there on the wire. It is a great view and a fun experience. In closing, the most important thing of all is to constantly critique the skipper ( even if he is 2 time world champ) and tell him to go faster....

(Anybody on the west coast need a crew who thinks he knows everything and that drivers are simply dime a dozen?)