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We teach people to helm boats on this course. When I was 15 - before half of you were born I imagine - it wasn't like that. You joined a sailing club and crewed for people. You learned to helm over a season or two because the crew was allowed to steer the boat back to the shore after the race. There were plus points to this system, but it lacks immediacy! Nowadays, with everyone learning to helm, many more people learn to sail on single handed boats and never consider anything else. That's a pity.

Sailing is a complex sport. By the time your mind has got used to every subtlety and variation the old body is starting to give out a bit. The result of this is that sailors from 7 to 70 - and more - can enjoy sailing in the same races on even terms. Sometimes old and cunning beats young and naive, sometimes youthful brawn beats mature brain. Because there is so much to observe and assess during a race two heads are better than one. You form - ideally - a partnership, where each concentrates on different aspects of the whole challenge of the race, be it balancing and trimming the sails, or observing the changes in the wind and position of the other boats around you.

Two handed boats range from the simple - like the Enterprise and others with two sails and two people - to the more complex performance boats like (inevitably) this Cherub (below), where Claire (the crew) is not only handling a huge 3rd sail, but also doing it dangling from a wire with only her toes in contact with the boat. Both have their points. The two sail two handers - especially in inland waters - provide a platform for what can be an immensely absorbing and complex tactical match - a game of chess with 30 players and the need to sail the boat as well. On the other hand blasting from wave top to wavetop in the ultra-lightweight machines I favour is a huge adrenalin rush, but isn't always the subtlest of tactical games. There are classes to suit everyone - and about another 50 besides!




Sailing two handers can immensely speed up the learning process too. In a singlehander you have really only yourself to work out what's right or wrong, but if you sail a two handed boat with a more experienced helm or crew then you will learn far faster, because the other person will know what doing it right looks like, and can tell you. Personally I love crewing, and am much better at it than I am at helming a boat.


Crew Performance Appraisal

I found this 'select-a-crew guide' in a club newsletter from 1976, when it had been cribbed from the Scorpion newsletter. It's probably appeared in a few other places since, but I thought it bore repeating, with a few adaptations...

Could this have anything to do with the modern preference for single-handers?

Performance Factors Far Exceeds Job Requirements Exceeds Job Requirements Meets Job Requirements Needs Some Improvement Does Not Meet Job Requirements
Leaps up mast with a single bound
Must take a running start to leap up mast
Can only reach up mast when standing on foredeck
Crashes off foredeck attempting to reach mast
Cannot recognise mast much less leap up one
Faster than light
Faster than a bullet As fast as a bullet
Would you believe a slow bullet Shoots self in foot
Stronger than an elephant
Stronger than a bull
As strong as a bull
Thinks like a bull
Smells like a bull
Walks on water occasionally
Walks on water in an emergency
Washes with water
Drinks water
Passes water in an emergency
Talks with race organiser
Talks with rescue boat crews
Talks to himself
Argues with himself
Loses argument with himself
Organising Ability
Runs the sailing club
Would like to run the sailing club
Sells tickets for the club draw
Buys tickets for the club draw
    Couldn't run a bath
Sailing Skill
    Wins every race he enters
Wins every club race
Once had a first place in an open
Doesn't understand course
Hasn't read course
Application to Duty
Rigs boat before helm arrives
Helps rig boat
Buys his round at the bar
Drinks beer bought by others
Drinks other people's beer
Capacity for Development
Thinks he can helm best
Wants to helm
Helms in an emergency
Intelligent ballast
Dead Weight