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Posted by on Apr 28, 2013 in Boating Lifestyle, Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

Antigua Sailing Week: Becoming a Team

Jonathan Russo sails for the first time as part of a new race team.

Practicing for the solar wind: that’s the real reason why I am here at Antigua Sailing Week. The solar wind of the universe (where I like you may be spending eternity) blows at hundreds of thousands of miles an hour. Imagine tacking or jibing thru that. So if I get it right here, maybe my navigation thru the cosmos will be a little bit smoother. Perhaps I can beam reach my way between black holes.

Antigua's clear turquoise waters provide a sparkling backdrop for Antigua Sailing Week. Photo: Kevinjohnsonphotography.com

Can Christian Reynolds (captain of Northern Child, the Swan 51 that I bought a berth on) help with this quest? If the first practice day is any indication the answer is yes…but it won’t be easy.

There is a sub-set of the sailing world where you charter a berth on a race boat. The advantages over chartering an entire boat are cost and the chance to really learn from a master who knows the boat, waters and has an insight into the regatta itself. The potential downsides are fellow shipmates who you may not really relate to, or a crew of very inexperienced sailors.

Captain Christian does not believe in those downsides. With a steely calm determination he took us thru what was required to sail Northern Child and to do so competitively. In a focused tone he told us all he “wanted to podium” (come in at least third) and “I think we can do so.” When you put twelve strangers on a race boat with only two pro crew, that’s a big ask.

The sailing skill level is vastly different across the group. Some have daysailed a dinghy off their home dock, others have made a few cruises with friends. So Christian has to sort out for each person levels of instructions that will enlighten and not overwhelm. There were probably over 50 specific detailed instructions he gave about sheets, winches, sails, clutches and such. We were advised it would be a bit much, but it would all come together in time and not to be anxious. Good advice, because no matter how much sailing you have done every boat is a little different and every captain has a unique way of executing the tactical plan.

We spent a few hours in fourteen knot winds just off English Harbor as Christian began the methodical process of molding us into a crew. I was amazed at his ability to focus on a dozen deck stations at once and tell each crew member how to do it, the right way. There is of necessity and safety a precision of action in sailing and racing, and each and every adjustment can either help or hinder the effort. A race crew needs to do it right together, or the other boats will win. We on Northern Child are competing against some very slick crews.

The effort while underway felt a little like one of those Hollywood movies where the hopeless case basketball or soccer team must compete against the slick top notch kids. For three quarters of the movie you think this is hopeless, they are going to get creamed…then bit by bit the underdog team pulls together… and with the music rising… yes you got it…they win!

Can Christian mould this crew into a winning one? I will know a little more after our second and final practice today. They have placed me as a tailer and grinder on the genoa winches, and we need to get those genoa sheets in fast every time we tack. The pressure is on, because who wants to disappoint the captain? Especially Captain Christian, who might help me learn to beam reach between the black holes of the universe.

Read Antigua Sailing Week: Practice Day

—Jonathan Russo