To make the helmsman look great on your boat, they need good information and feedback, so who should provide it?
It probably sounds a bit crazy but believe it or not, everyone on the boat has a part to play. At the end of the day, when you have had a great result the helmsman gets the glory but without a skilful crew, they would not be collecting the chocolates.
Everyone on the boat should be either feeding back information to the relevant person (normally the tactician) or doing their jobs in such a way that they don’t interfere with the steerers’ concentration.
Good, reliable feedback ensures that they steer fast and do not need to look around this means that their sole concentration is focused on keeping the boat moving.
In a keelboat, the feedback from the genoa trimmer is essential for the best speed upwind. If your boat has a speedo, the genoa trimmer should know the boat polars and after a tack, the trimmer should call the rate of increase in speed to indicate to the steerer that he can head up or maybe slow the pointing until the boat gets up to speed.
The mainsheet trim has a lot to do with how the boat feels and the trimmer will also know how the sail should look in different conditions and different wind speeds. The feedback to the helmsman should also include a reference to the position of the traveller and sheet tension especially if you are trying to say in a lane of clear air. The helmsman is then able to call for a little more sheet, less traveller or whatever is needed to get the boat in balance.
The tactician will be communicating things like the position of other boats, where the layline is and the possible need to cross or duck where boats are converging. Being forewarned eliminates the need for crash tacks or ducks which will cost you many boat lengths and again the steerer will not have to break concentration by looking under the boom or over their shoulder.
It’s important to have the tactician relaying accurate information. Going upwind you need a tactician who understand puffs, headers and lifts as they relate to wind velocity and his feedback also needs to relay whether nearby boats are going faster or slower and the reasons why.
Depending on the number of crew, some of the jobs such as calling waves, calling puffs and developing situations at marks will be allocated to a trusted crew member. This information will be fed back to the tactician who should be the main person to be communicating with the steerer, he will disseminate the information and only pass on the relevant details.
Downwind, the tactician or designated person should be constantly looking at boats behind to make sure that you are not sailing in or about to sail into their wind shadow. As with upwind, the tactician should be watching boats that are converging with your course so that you have a plan when you do meet and constantly alerting the helmsman to the potential consequences.
All this is designed to stop the helmsman from having to look around and to ensure that he can concentrate on steering for the best speed which in turn will give you the best possible result.