Saturday, 25 August 2007
It is very enjoyable for a skipper to set a well executed passage ending in a safe arrival at the destination, regardless if you know the harbour well. It does not matter if you arrive safe and sound the experience can be very exhilarating. It cannot be equaled by any other form of travel, and it gives you a great sense of satisfaction. As skipper, you alone are responsible for the safe handling of the boat and the welfare of the crew. If your experience is limited, you can always start with short day trips, building up to a sailing cruise lasting several days.
The role of the skipper.The skipper's responsibility includes all aspects of running the yacht, the boats safety and the well being of the crew. He or she should be capable and comfortable with all aspects of sailing and navigation skills, and must have the ability to inspire confidence in the crew, regardless of circumstances, being an excellent communicator. He or she should be able to manage and delegate appropriately all his duties, give the tasks that are relevant and appropriate to the crew to develop there ability and experience, and grow. They should ideally be neither under worked nor overburdened. Most importantly, he or she should be patient with inexperienced crew members and be able to run the yacht with a light touch while retaining respect and authority.
The Crews Role. Good crew are worth their weight in gold. The most important qualities are a positive attitude, a sense of humour, and the ability to get on with others in the confined space of a yacht. If the crew also have good sailing or navigation skills, the skipper can consider himself fortunate. The crew should be fully involved in the boat's management and route planning, and the skipper should always listen to their opinions. The crew must remember, however, that a vessel at sea might appear to be a democratic environment but ultimately the skipper is in charge and must make the final decisions. This can be very difficult to the inexperienced skipper. Skippers therefore vary tremendously in their approach to running a yacht. Good ones demonstrate calm professionalism, while those unsure of their own abilities are often loud and tense. As a member of the crew you may encounter very different styles of boat management and you will need to assess how you approach the idiosyncrasies of your skipper. No two skippers are alike in the way they operate a boat, and if you crew for a succession of skippers, you may even find that their ways of doing things are contradictory. If you still aspire to become a skipper, then you will have hopefully learned from the best skippers you have sailed with. You will also need to know and demonstrate all aspects of sailing.
Be a skipper. It is fairly easy to define the technical, sailing and navigation skills required to be a skipper. You can learn these I skills and obtain certificates at sailing schools. The ability to manage people aboard a small yacht and develop your crew is considerably different and difficult to define and more difficult to acquire. If you have business management skills these will help you but you will need to modify your approach significantly as running a boat is not like running an office. Crew members are not paid employees, unless you are a commercial skipper. Sailing for most skippers and crew is for experience and for fun, so they must be handled with consideration and understanding. Very often they are family or close friends and your relationships can be seriously harmed by stressful experiences afloat. Your crew will feel more relaxed and confident if you exhibit these qualities, so try not to let your own nerves show or affect your behaviour. Try to avoid high stress situations by only attempting things that are in you comfort zone, where possible. I know this is not always possible, in fact that is what sailing is all about, to teach and push you and your crew further. The technical and theoretical sailing and navigation skills you acquired at sailing school are crucial and must be honed by regular practice, getting as much experience as possible. Experience managing the crew mainly comes with practice and experience only, and you can never have too much of that, as you will always lack something. Pre-plan, plan and visualize each passage carefully and, if you feel at all unsure at all, ask a more experienced sailor to check your plans and confirm your interpretation of wind and tides, and route. In doubt, never be afraid to call off a cruise. If you are concerned about maneuvering your boat in tight spaces seek advice from other skippers. This may not be possible, so you must be forced to carry it out regardless, just remember maneuvering is not a race, and so pace yourself accordingly. You may in advance, practice maneuvering with different boats in your own marina or harbour. If you have problems handling the boat in a crowded marina, a well stationed crew, with roving fenders will often help your avoid or soften a collision.
Remember to perform berthing manoeuvres slowly; this way if you do have a collision it will be relatively mild, and again, only your pride may be damaged. Manoeuvring is only one small aspect of sailing, but the same logical, common sensible approach should be your goal for other aspects of sailing. If you need a hand or advice, then ask for it. This is a sign of a good skipper. Never be afraid to seek advice, it is not a form of weakness but of strength. The consequences could be fatal, where only your pride could be hurt. Do not undertake passages that are well beyond your level of experience. Sailing is as much about the planning, the organizing, the journey, the enjoyment, and the challenges, as it does about the arrival. Successful day trips can therefore provide just as much, or even more pleasure for both the skipper and crew as for the more ambitious. (The more ambitious can always seek adventure on other boats, but you as a skipper must seek challenge in safely managing the boat). Short trips also involve more close-quarters boat handling with which to improve skills. Although ultimate responsibility lies with the skipper, his job will be much easier if some of the crew have offshore passage-making experience. Passage making with an inexperienced crew puts great demands on a skipper, who may feel under immense pressure. It therefore makes sense that if you cannot find a practiced sailor in your crew, to adjust your strategy to suit the crew's level of familiarity.
Become a better Skipper.Try to always learn from the second you spend afloat, slowly building knowledge of the sea, weather and your boat. Everybody gets disheartened or discouraged if something does not go according to plan; but develop from these bad experiences, learn from them, that is what will make you more competent.
You will then learn, very quickly and develop the skills and confidence necessary to undertake longer cruises lasting several days or more. Although it is important to develop your technical skills, concentrate on improving your interpersonal and crew management skills. Greenhorn crew can be anxious about the route ahead, while others may be brash and want to push too hard. A good skipper therefore takes personal awareness in everyone on board and pays special consideration to novice or nervous crew members. As an improving skipper therefore, concentrate on ensuring that everyone on board has a safe and enjoyable experience.
Crew Morale.If at the end of the passage, the crew is healthy and happy, and can enjoy a chat reminiscing about the passage, then the skipper has done a good job.
About the Author. Gordon McCulloch is a professional engineer and teacher. He has worked and sailed in boats all his life. He was brought up near the coast, served with the Merchant Marine, and now occupies himself with all forms of water sports, in which he has developed his skill as a webmaster. Feel free to visit and comment on his website site at http://www.keelbilge.com .
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