As I write this, we are only 14 hours out of Boston, the end of leg one of the BT Global Challenge (that is assuming that the wind does not die again, and it may well). We set out to win this leg and the race as a whole, but we will be coming in 12th – in last place. Yes, we are disappointed, but morale is high. Here’s the story of our race, and how the crew on the boat are kept motivated:
Thirty knots on the quarter, surfing at 17-plus knots with the 2.2oz spinnaker straining at the leash. Wild-eyed exhilaration as the crew urge the boat on. The wind is warm and you’re eating up the fleet. Your bunk is dry and waiting and the smell of baking bread permeates the air.
BANG! A savage squall hits we get knocked down, the spinny shreds itself and two crew get injured. Below is chaos, everything, all your possessions and your bunk are soaked. The bread is in the bilge. The fleet sail by.
It is at the low points that maintaining morale is essential and most difficult. It is easy to lead when in front. At the start of the BT Global Challenge we set our sights high on Olympic Group. We want to win, and in style.
The start off Gillkicker in the Solent was fantastic. There were thousands of spectator boats and we had a great start. Battling up the Solent with Norwich Union and Compaq close behind. All fired up, our goal for this leg firmly in our minds and attainable.
It is the realistic setting of goals that has one of the biggest impacts on a teams morale. To set unattainable goals deters. Soft goals do not inspire. Rigid goals do not allow for elements outside your control. Too flexible and they lack impact, too ethereal and they cannot be grasped.
Setting the correct goal and constantly appraising it essentially sets the task element of the classic leadership model of Task, Team, Individual, though the edges are grey.
Ocean racing, like all aspects of bigger yacht sailing, requires very close teamwork. There has to be a structure and a co-ordination within the team for the individual to perform. Good communications within the team is essential. There has to be a system of failsafe signals; clear, concise language at an appropriate volume! From foredeck to helm in a gale is a long way no matter how big or small the yacht. (Shouting is to be heard not for abuse. I always maintain that if there is enough time to insert expletives then there is no need to shout, though not all skippers work to that rule!)
Equally important to the efficacy of a team is that of all understanding their role within the team. On Olympic, each crewmember has a position; foredeck, snakepit (an appropriate title for the area behind the mast) and cockpit, with the cockpit providing helm, trimmers and ‘hunter gatherers’ for sail changes.
Additionally, the helm and mainsheet are interchangeable and specialist within the cockpit crew. But we also set up a training schedule whereby all get to do the others’ jobs. This creates a high level of empathy and understanding and cuts down on feelings of others not pulling their weight.
A supplementary goal for manoeuvres onboard Olympic Group is to move to what we have termed the ‘Benedictine Evolution’! That is, save for the initial command, there is absolute silence during the tack, gybe or sail change. We are getting there, but there is more work required.
Then for the individual, there are a number of differing elements that need to be addressed. From the basic survival requirements of water, food, warmth and sleep, which, once addressed, allow man to function on a higher plane; they are relatively simple to provide alongside, but what about in a storm in the Southern Oceans? To the less tangible but equally important considerations of responsibility, accountability, discipline and structure, be it a watch system or a chain of command, it is important that people know where they stand and that standards do not change with the wind.
All the factors mentioned above have t