Sailing and Leadership

Sailing TeamAs you develop your sailing skills and become a more competent sailor, people will begin to look to you as a leader. Not only on the boat but off the boat in your sailing community as well. When you get a crew together, even just one other person to race a small dinghy, you are working as a team and out of the team will come a leader. Sometimes that is the person who owns the boat, but sometimes the person who owns the boat asks you to crew so they can learn from you.

In any case, there is a formal leader in the group, but often there is an informal leader as well. The official responsible person is referred to as Skipper or Captain. They are the responsible party. But you don’t have to be the responsible party to be a leader. And you don’t have to be driving the boat to be a leader either. Just by doing what you know needs to be done, you are being a leader and simply by your actions you are teaching others what to do.

Every year, we get a group of people together to go race Catalina 37s at Long Beach Race Week. I’ve been organizing the group a few years in a row now, and I am the guy who’s credit card gets charged for everything. That makes me the Skipper. But on the boat, I’m the Bowman. I let the person that we all agreed would drive do his job and, with the tactician’s help, make the decisions that move us up the course.

Some years we have new people in the group. Invariably the new people learn from the people who have done it before (i.e. a new trimmer and a seasoned grinder). In fact, we have found that there are really about 3 leaders on the boat. In the afterguard, it winds up being the Helmsman, coordinating his actions with the Main Trimmer and the Jib Trimmers. Across the middle of the boat, one of these people usually begins to help direct traffic and coordinate the movement of people across the boat during maneuvers and doing some coaching on trimming and grinding. Finally, at the front of the boat, The Bowman winds up being the informal leader amongst the Foredeck and Pit Crew, coordinating the spinnaker launch and douse and the jibes.

All of this happens organically and often it is because of each individual’s skills and personal desire to see everyone do well and have a good time. We don’t have to assign these informal roles and no one says “but I trimmed on the last tack.”

When you are offshore, your boat is your island and you are responsible for your own destiny. The outcome of your voyages depends largely on the leadership that someone provides while underway. Even if that leadership is to recognize that it is time to stop sailing for the day.

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