Thursday, August 14


By Michael Argyelan

Over the last few years, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of putting a “race” crew together. Dozens of people have come out to sail with my wife and I and it’s truly a gift. After last night’s beer can race, I was thinking about crew development and figured it’s a good time to write on it.

Honestly, I’ve had marginal success developing a crew. We started at the bottom and with the basics; jib and main. Almost all of us were newbies to racing. I had never put a crew together or driven the start of a race.

Rules, protocol, yacht club tabs were all new to us. Occasionally we are able to bring out some ‘ringers’ to coach us through a few races. We started out racing with friends that wanted to learn how to sail – also known as, “You have a boat? I’ll come!”

Along the way we made more friends and more people came out to sail with us. Our best efforts were made to keep PBR and Mount Gay Rum in business. The first season’s stats were moderate at best.

We were beginners. We had fun. We were first in fun.

The next season of beer can racing, we were much better. We finished first in the ever so illustrious Jam section at Columbia Yacht Club. It was very exciting.

Over the next couple of years we bought a new boat, started racing in the spin 3 section, and got clobbered. We did our best to learn the new boat and how it handled. Training our crew focused on who, what, when, and where of spinnaker racing. Some nights I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. So, we drank more beer and learned from our mistakes and vowed to get better and have more fun with every race.

This year we are performing much better. The fun meter is also up. What has been the most difficult part of the last couple of years is maintaining a consistent crew. Jobs, families, weddings, and the like for some reason are considered more important than sailboat racing. I still don’t understand it.

I’ve spoken with many sailors on the docks and the clubs. Maintaining a solid crew seems to be one of the most difficult aspects of sailboat racing. Whether you’re competing at the national level or just heading out for the Wednesday night beer can series keeping a consistent crew can be an incredible challenge.

Some boats are able to keep the same crew for years and years with only a few pinch hitters covering when need be. How do they do it? Is there some magical power they hold? Are they rewarding crew with champagne rather than the champagne of beers?

After reading up on some message boards and articles along with talking to friends and other racers, I’ve come up with some tips for finding, maintaining, and developing crew.

First, always have beer. Never, ever run out of beer. It’s key.

Second, have fun. Don’t be the guy or girl yelling at your crew who blew off their friend’s birthday party just to help race your boat. We aren’t winning money here so keep it light and keep it fun. I’ve actually witnessed a skipper jumping up and down in the cockpit throwing a fit and screaming at his crew. I might have opted to swim back to the club and most certainly would never step foot back on that boat.

Third, keep your boat in good working order. No one wants to race on a boat that’s always breaking down or with sails that are in absolute shambles. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to have the best of the best. Just keep your equipment maintained and in good condition.

Fourth, keep consistent crew in consistent positions if you can. If someone is developing as a good spin trimmer keep them in that position until you are absolutely confident that they can move on. If you constantly move your crew from position to position they will never gain the confidence that’s needed. Trust me, I’ve tried it the other way around and it doesn’t work.
After reading up on some articles on the interwebs, apparently Gary Jobson and others don’t think so either. Keep things consistent for consistent results. It works.

Finally, be grateful anyone showed up at all. Without gratitude you will find yourself solo sailing. Crew shirts, dinners, rum, beer, non-sailing activities and the like are great ways to develop a feeling of gratitude and loyalty. After all, one definition of crew is, “A group of people who work closely together.” It’s done together, not alone. Without crew, you may as well just play golf.

Now, if you’re looking to crew and get into racing what can you do? Let’s start with beer. Always bring beer if possible. Especially your first couple of times out as it shows respect for the skipper and the rest of the crew you’re working your way into. It’s the same as showing up empty handed to a party, you just don’t do it.

Next, be prepared to do everything and nothing on any given day or night. If you’re really light on experience, you might be relegated to ‘rail meat’ or movable human ballast. It is what it is. Have fun with it. Be grateful.

While you’re on the rail keep in mind this is a great time to learn, not to talk about your new jorts (here’s a link to images of jorts just in case you want a good giggle.) Start asking yourself key questions. Are other boats tacking? Are a majority of boats going to one side of the coarse or the other? Take this opportunity to pick up on the seemingly endless lingo that spews from the mouths of sunburned sailors. There’s a lot to learn on the rail.

Additionally you can take a class or participate in a crew program. Columbia, Corinthian, and Chicago yacht clubs all offer a crew program. Private companies also offer basic through advanced lessons. Some companies also offer crew packages as well. There are all types of options to fit budgets and schedules of all kinds. The key is to get time on the water and practice.

Once you pick up the lingo and the basics of sailing, read. Pick up every magazine, article on the web, message boards, etc. Keep your recent knowledge base fresh and up to date. Always keep learning.

Finally, and yes I’m repeating myself, bring beer. Rum helps too.

Have tips? Extra crew you have to turn away? Know of a boat looking for crew? Chime in! Email me at and I’ll post crew opportunities in the next newsletter.

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