Big Boat Sailing Advice

Growing up in the cocoon of junior programs, big boat sailing is rarely on our minds. We focus so hard on the technicalities of the boat we’ve been placed in that often our sailing becomes incredibly one-dimensional. Speaking from the perspective of a sailor who came from a non-sailor family I certainly did not have big boat racing on my mind. But I am lucky to have been pushed towards it by coaches and local series participants. I want to stress how valuable my big boat experience ended up being.

If you ask most youth skippers if they would like to crew, the reply would probably be…no. This common answer is understandable, there is a certain comfort that develops when being in control of the tiller, and I certainly used to have the same answer. But, don’t let this comfort of being on the tiller deter your interest in big boat sailing.

Orient Yacht Club had a fleet of Lightnings that raced every Thursday night. While the fleet was small and not incredibly competitive I agreed to sail one evening when I was thirteen. The owner who was skippering had me handle the spinnaker, something I’d only done a few times in the club 420’s at that point. Over the course of that summer, every Thursday I’d fly the spinnaker on the Lighting and as the summer progressed my jobs grew. I was gaining experience, but I also found this to help my skippering, I was learning tactics and tuning that only enhanced my Club 420 knowledge. As I got older I began racing locally in the Etchells series on Shelter Island. The Etchells fleet was not only deep in talent, but also very competitive. Not being at the tiller helped me understand how to delegate when I was and brought variety to my sailing experience. This is only a short highlight of two crewing opportunities that I engaged with, but they truly impacted my sailing. My advice is to be pushed, sailing with people who are better than you, or sailing in a different role than you’re used to will only help, it’s all important.