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Last weekend, after months of inactivity, I started racing again at the Genoa Sailing Week. It did not go well, and, to be honest, I want to archive the experience without too many comments. The only positive side is that I saw again old friends who – due to the pandemic – could not come in Liguria to go out to sea. From that point of view, it has been very pleasant; from the competitive point of view, it has not and I want to forget about it.

Maybe it is a sour taste; maybe it is because I have not been racing for several months (since our local championships stopped abruptly in November). However this was the occasion to meditate about what I defined in the title “(reg)tiquette”: a silly personal neologism (I ask indulgence for it) that traces a general picture of the savoir-vivre of a good competitor; both owner and crew.

It is not simple, balances are often fragile and precarious and no wonder if after a couple of seasons the crews “burst”, maybe in the wake of not exactly brilliant results. However, at a closer look, the signals of a crew you can imagine a long and pleasant coexistence with, and a crew destined, instead, shipwreck in the stormy sea of the first negative results, can be detected from the very beginning.

First of all, let’s frame the picture: I think it is needless to say that I am speaking of non-professional ship-owners and crews; crews that only sail for passion and pure amateur practice of our beloved sport.

During my sailing career, I had a few occasions to get aboard of important boats and sail with professional crews of high level. One among all THE (late) industrial boat-owner, in my opinion the greatest of all. In those occasions, I had the chance to see first-hand how the great ship-owners and professional crews move on different tracks, with well-tested and codified dynamics that have very little in common with our sortie in the world of competitive sailing.

That is not the world I want to talk about.

These lines – I think it is understood – are not meant to be one of the many learned dissertations on regatta technique and tactics; the point is to take a small overview on some points that may help to understand if what you are looking at is a good team (or not). In other words, if it is the case to embark or let go. Same way, let’s see if I can inspire any ship-owner who is willing to organize an amateur but “respectable” crew.

Organization

Organizing participation in a regatta may seem a rather complicated matter, and indeed one can’t deny that it is necessary a bit of attention to avoid looking bad and become the Cinderella of the event. A bit of organization then and here, the good chemistry between ship-owner and crew is already at test.

The boat probably needs to be prepared, lightened, set-up and tried. Good, let’s see who will be participating to these sessions, surely a little less fun than the regatta itself, and we will have already a sufficiently precise picture of the involvement of individual crewmembers; and – in my opinion – a parameter to decide to decide whether to embark them again or let them go their own way.

Same thing at the end of the regatta: seeing a crew that jumps on the platform and runs away waving a “goodbye, see you next time” is certainly not a good thing. The crew must disarm, clean and bring the boat back to how it was before the regatta. Here too – in my opinion – who “elegantly” avoids these tasks can stay on the couch at home watching the sea through the window (if they are luck enough to).   

Lastly, you have to – in the limits of possible since we are talking about amateur sailors – prepare the training sessions and the crew must not desert it.

Division of tasks

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not talking about the racing roles (helmsmen, tactician, tailer, bowman etc.); you may have already set those. I am saying that the ship-owner must not be left alone organising everything.  On the contrary, it would be nice of the most experienced members of the crew to help the ship-owner in the many responsibilities: from the collection of all crew personal data (the Italian FIV, self-certification for Covid etc.) to the verification of the tonnage certificate, programming the preparation of the boat and to procure and study the sailing instructions. Organizing the galley, checking water and fuel tanks and all the other thousand little chores to put off before the regatta.

These are all things that the veteran of the crew will be pleased to help the ship-owner with, coordinating all other members who will be equally pleased to participate. What if they are not pleased? Well, ask yourself the reason why…

Divison of costs

On this topic, discussion and discontent expressed with tight lips. If it is true (and it is true) that in cruise all expenses are divided in equal parts (fuel, ports, galley etc.), the rule in the race changes a bit: usually the ship-owner shall bear the general costs of the boat (rigging, certificates etc.) and all expenses to participate in the race (transactions, registration fee etc.). The crew will be left with personal expenses and, eventually, the accommodation in case the regatta takes place in several days and they can’t sleep (or you just don’t feel like it) on board.

It is a good tradition that the crew takes care of the galley and maybe offer dinner to the ship-owner before or after the regatta. These are not strict rules, there is no written rule, but we can say that among non-professional crews the bon ton more or less follows the lines described above. Certainly, then, it the ship-owner is not particularly wealthy and if the registration fee is unusually high, you can figure out a friendly compromise as solution: the ultimate goal, let’s not forget about it, is to join the regatta and have fun.

Sometimes among the ship-owners winds the brilliant idea to ask the crew for a “participation” fee in addition to the costs. It’s a fairly common habit in occasion of iconic regattas such as the Barcolana. Let me say this: unless you are the ship-owner of a boat in perfect shape and skippered by a sailboat racer of great renown, I would say that this idea should set with the same speed with which it flashed.

Too many ship-owner are convinced that they have everyone else’s dream boat or that they can define themselves as life, sail and regatta masters. My friends, you should get over yourself and let’s have a look at your sporting CV before even thinking about organizing a school-regatta. That’s it, whether if you like it or not; you will avoid people laughing at your back. 

Aboard

It’s the regatta day: since this moment on, begins a phase in which – potentially – the circus can break loose. Each of us can tell their anecdotes and everyone has, luckily, their antidotes. Keep calm and set some “boundaries”.

The pre-regatta briefing: the crew will listen with no distractions, looking around and reading texts on the phone…talking about phone, mine is locked in the bag from when the moorings are dropped to when the race ends. It would be a great thing (is the euphemism clear enough?) to avoid navigating on the phone, light up the e-cigarette (much less the “real” one) and other amenities ten minutes before starting. A little concentration, come on, I know we’re talking about amateur regattas but a little more commitment will make it more entertaining.

While racing, one and one only speaks, and can be the skipper, the tactician, the helmsman or the ship-owner…well, they can be whoever you want but it has to be one; and they will have the task to coordinate the crew and the conduct of the boat. The regatta is not a moment of debate; it is not a mundane occasion where the crew chitchats while in windward. Even moments of apparent inactivity must be used to focus, mentally review the next manoeuvre or simply make things clear on deck.

Too many rules! No, my friends, that is not my intention: only a few tips and aspects to pay attention to, so that you avoid ruining an activity, racing, that has few equals in term of charm, adrenaline and fun.

In the end, the important rule is just one: have fun, and in order to do that you have to sign an agreement between ship-owner and crew: the former makes it fun for the crew, the latter makes it fun for the ship-owner. This is a classic case in which you create something greater than the sum of the components.

You create a sailing team.

Fair wind, see you at regatta.

Renzo Crovo
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