Responsibilities of the Seven Positions on a Racing Keelboat

"Remember, optimal boatspeed and a sound strategy are keys to staying competitive in the race. Nothing you read in a book or see in a video can equal the time out on-the-water practicing the crewwork of maneuvers, and studying the competition, current, wind and waves to determine the favored side of the course"

Carl Richardson, VSC Sailing Director, PNW and International winning SKIPPER

ClaraALLEGRO our Beneteau First 36.7 beam reaching with spinnaker at 9 knots  

The following is an outline of the most important maneuvers with 7 to 8 crewmembers in mind.

The positions are:

Helm (often the Skipper)

Main Trimmer (often the Tactician)

Port Trimmer 

Starboard Trimmer 

Pit (often the sewer)


Bow (often the look-out)


In sailing there can be many terms that describe the same thing:

The upwind headsail may be called the Genoa, Genny, Jib, L1, M1, H1, 2, 3, 4, Blade, 150, 130, etc. If you hear any of these terms they refer to the Headsail of choice.

A spinnaker on ClaraALLEGRO can be called a chute ( pronounsed "shoot"), the ".5 oz" or ".6 oz" depending on the weight of the material, or "BIG RED" our all-purpose or "BIG WHITE" our broad shouldered reacher. Our new A3 asymmetrical spinnaker- used for beam and close reaching- is commonly called the "Close Reaching ASYM".

Line is called "rope" when stored on a spool. When off the spool can be called many things depending on usage. Lines to hoist sails up are called Halyards. Lines to pull the boom and spinnaker pole up are called "topping lifts" or "uphauls". Lines to pull sails in (trimming) are called "sheets". The line to smooth the luff of a mainsail from the bottom of the sail is called a "Cunningham" because downhaul was far to logical to use on a yacht. The "Pole Downhaul" control line is attached to the spinnaker pole and has it own jammer position.

Bring the bow through the wind  can be called "coming about", "changing tacks", or more accurately just "tacking". We are on Starboard Tack when the wind is on the starboard side of the boat. "Ready to Lee Bow" means get in your position and tack slightly ahead and to leeward of an approaching boat to gain tactical advantage.

"Gybing" is  always called gibing, but few actually know how to spell it . . . . including me.

"Ease" the sheet / traveller to leeward / outhaul / halyards- means letting line out by uncleating and "easing" the line.

"Trim" the sheet / traveller to windward / outhaul / halyards, means tensioning, winching or pulling line in. "Trimming" a boats sails requires both easing and trimming halyard, sheets and controls in real time as the wind constantly changes velocity and direction.

IMPORTANT- there are always a few differences in rigging on every sailboat that need your attention. Where are the jib halyard and topping lift cleated? How many spinnaker halyards are rigged? Are we rigged for asymetrical or symetrical spinnakers.... or both? Did we use a "dip-pole" or "End-for-End" spinnaker pole? These should be be identified by asking the Skipper during the practice time before a race.

Now that you have some terms, let's go through the ...


 1) The START (on a typical windward starboard approach)

Helmsman - Get a good position on the favored end and hit the STARTLine line at full speed at the START signal.

Tactician - Check wind shifts and determine the favored end of the STARTline and course. Call Time every second for the last 15 seconds.

Maintrimmer - Keep main trimmed unless told otherwise. Be ready to dump (big ease) the entire sail if necessary. Trim hard and fast on final approach to line giving the boat full power and point.

Port Trimmer - Let Helmsman know of leeward boats. Grind for Starboard Trimmer on Port Tack. Trim to full speed unless told otherwise. Call Genoa "SKIRT" if required on final approach. Get your weight to the rail

Starboard Trimmer - Let Helmsman know of leeward boats while on port tack. Trim to full speed. Grind for port trimmer. Wrap starboard winch.  Get your weight to the rail

Pit Man - set 5 minute timer on Tri-Data instrument display, double check all sheetstoppers. Get your weight to the rail. 

Mastman- Get your weight to the rail, hike hard and look much more agressive / criminally insane than the mastman on the closest competitor- check jib's leach and top tel-tales for laminar flow and tell trimmers status often. Watch for logs & kelp.

Bowman - On bow calling approaching boats and distance in meters to the line. Don't forget genoa skirting over the lifelines- S K I R T !!!

2) Tacking to Weather

Helmsman - Prepare the crew, get their verbal 'READY"s and call "Tacking". Start the tack slowly to maximize course to weather gain, then quickly find opposite tack angle after crossing head to wind.

Tactician - Look for a clear-air lane. Make sure there is breeze where you are heading.

Maintrimmer - Ease main traveller car from center to allow boat to tack easier. Then, with consultation from the Helmsman, trim as the boat accelerates to close hauled course.

Existing Trimmer - release sheet just before the bow reaches head to wind. Grind for New Trimmer until close hauled- Get to Rail ASAP

New Trimmer - Tail sheet beginning with two wraps around winch. Trim in until sail is a 12 inches off spreader. Put additional 2+ wraps on the winch and cleat. Trim/ease (uncleat) with Helmsman to make boat accelerate to target speed. Get your weight to the rail if required

Pitman - Adjust Halyards or mainsail outhaul if needed. Get to rail. 

Mastman - Get your weight to the rail, look-out for logs & kelp- adjust cunningham if needed

Bowman - Help Genoa across. Skirt genoa. Get your weight to the rail.Look for logs & kelp.

3) Windward Mark Rounding - (standard starboard bear- away spinnaker set)

Helmsman - Watch traffic. Find new course angle. Fill chute before bearing away completely.

Tactician - Determine favored side of the course. Help find optimum VMG angle.

Maintrimmer - Ease Mainsail and it's controls.

Port Trimmer - Ease Genoa 2 feet. Over easing the genoa causes problems for the spinnaker hoisting. Cleat, and then trim Spinnaker. Do not over trim as the chute is going up.

Starboard Trimmer - Trim afterguy (pull back pole). Trim afterguy as if it is a sheet until the course is set. Most spinnaker hourglass raps are caused because the afterguy is late in coming back allowing the chute to twist behind the genoa. Make sure the pole is square (perpendicular) to the wind. The helmsman may tell you to over square or under square the pole according to the wave angle. The angle of the pole directly affects the heading of the boat.

Pitman - Make sure that genoa halyard is flaked out. Top (raise) the spinnaker pole and tail the hoist the spinnaker. Drop the Genoa with Mastman, tend the Foreguy, and then EASE mainsail outhaul control. 

Mastman- help set pole with Bowman on last tack. Hoist spinnaker as boat passes  Windward Mark, 

Bowman -  Complete spinnaker setup (sheets & halyard)on the last two tacks before mark. Position pole to marker on Mast, with PIT pre-guy and position pole at 45 deg to forestay Jump the spinnaker halyard, secure the genoa on deck, and prepare for a gybe.

4) Gybing

Helmsman - A book can be written on the subject of driving through the gybe. A good helmsman develops a feel for the boat in every sea and wind condition. If the helmsman can call the gybe in a puff, on the roll of the sea he can accelerate during the maneuver and gain time on his opponents during the gybe. The trip should be called by the helmsman just as the boat rolls to windward.

Tactician - Look for clear air to gybe into. Make sure that you won't have to duck or head up around any boats just after the Gybe. On many boats, the wind speed is as important as the wind angle; so avoid holes if possible.

Maintrimmer - The safest way is to bring the main to center and then ease it out on the other side as the pole is made on the new side. The fastest way is to wait for the trip call and throw it around as the boat rocks to windward. If done properly the boat stays at full speed the entire time. If done improperly on a boat with a tall fractional rig and runners, can result in the total annihilation of the rig, the boat, and all life as we know it. ClaraALLEGRO has a B&R rig and does not have running backstays!

Trimmers - There are three setups for trimming chutes and poles. The most common setup todayis the single sheet with tweekers, for the sheet that becomes the afterguy. The only important thing to remember is to keep the spinnaker full and trimmed at all times. On the single sheet setup, the pole should be squared before gybing so that the pole can come off the mast. Trim through the gybe and give a slight ease of both sheets as the Bowman secures the pole on the mast. Remember to adjust the tweekers during the gybe.  Depending on the setup, one trimmer can handle both sheets and the other both guys. Or, each trimmer can take a side trading from sheet to guy and visa versa. As the pole is tripped, pull a little on the new sheet to prevent the chute from darting to the new windward side. As the new afterguy is made, ease the sheet slightly to allow the pole to come back quickly. The new afterguy must be pulled back as fast as possible to avoid wrapping the chute, but don't over square or pull before the bowman calls made.

Pitman - Tend the topping lift and foreguy through the entire process.

Bowman - Timing, speed, and agility are required for this daring maneuver. On the end for end gybe, the pole should be tripped from both sides at once; freeing the pole to move to the new side. Grab the new guy with your outboard hand and shove it into the jaw of the pole that you are holding with your inboard hand. Then slide the pole through your hands and push it outwards with all you have till you can make the jaw onto the mast ring. Call Made and prepare for the next gybe or mark rounding. Don't worry about the genoa sheets until the final gybe to the mark. 

5) Leeward Mark Roundings

Helmsman and Tactician - It is critical to call the drop of the spinnaker at the appropriate time. Too soon and you might lose an inside overlap. Too late and the spinnaker can be left flailing in the breeze as you're turning upwind trying to go to weather. Once you have called for the genoa up and the spinnaker drop, the Helmsman should give all attention to driving optimally around the mark. The Tactician must start looking up the weather leg before getting to the leeward mark or gate to determine what side of the course will be favored. If the crew work goes well the Tactician can sit back and do his job. If something goes wrong on the takedown, the Tactician becomes the extra hand to access the problem and help with the solution. Remember, there are no tactics when you can't tack!

Maintrimmer - Set your controls before you get to the two boatlength circle. Trim well because the main is the driving force during the upwind sail transition.

Trimmers - Each boat and each rounding require different techniques for dropping the spinnaker. On the standard leeward drop, it is best to ease the pole to the headstay and then six more feet of afterguy so that the chute can be pulled down the foredeck hatch if possible. The sheet should be eased as the chute starts to drop. On floater take downs ease and tend the sheets. According to Murphy's Law, a sheet that is let go will try to go overboard and wrap around the prop or rudder. The rule of thumb for trimmers is to trim the spinnaker to full speed whether the pole is attached to it or not. Make sure that your genoa is ready to come in at the mark. Trim the genoa to full speed through the entire rounding.

Pitman - You must go with the flow of the foredeck crew. Make sure that your spinnaker halyard is flaked and ready to run free. Hoist the genoa as soon as it is called for. Get the genoa halyard to it's mark. Lower the spinnaker halyard as fast as the crew can pull the spinnaker aboard. As soon as the spinnaker head hits the deck, slowly ease the topping lift to the deck. This allows the Bowman to start cleaning up the foredeck immediately for a tack. Once the pole hits the deck, get to the rail and watch for kelp. The leeward trimmer can help with cleanup if needed. On floater drops, the pole comes down before the spinnaker making your job easier as you approach the mark.

Bowman - Have the genoa ready to hoist. Make sure that the genoa sheets will be clear for a tack. Get spinnaker lines ready for the drop. Jump the genoa halyard then grab the appropriate sheet and start bringing in the foot of the chute. Once you have most of the foot aboard, you can start pulling the belly and the leech of the spinnaker in at warp speed because it should be hidden from the wind behind the genoa. On 35 foot and larger boats, we have someone go down below and pull the spinnaker in from the foredeck hatch. It should take 4 to 6 seconds to pull down a spinnaker on any boat up to 70 feet long, if done properly.

Once the spinnaker is down, secure the pole and do the minimum cleanup required to get the boat heading quickly to the next mark. Double check the windward genoa sheet for tacking ability. Do the rest of the cleanup when the boat is in clear air and sailing at full speed.

The End


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