Frank's Corner: Crewitis by Greg Rutkai

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    Crew-itis /kroo' it' is/ n is a paradoxical condition in which a crew member, who normally exhibits competence under a skipper, suffers an inability - in the absence of supervision - to perform basic boat handling and sailing tasks

    A few years ago a fellow came into the boat yard and bought a 24-foot sloop. This guy was extremely intelligent and had sailed extensively. He knew as much, if not more, than me about the rigging, construction and design of this somewhat unique sloop. He told me he had been first mate on several racing boats and had crewed to Bermuda twice.

    I often do a basic checkout with customers so they get a chance to handle the new boat with a little help and advice, if they want it. Naturally, I thought this guy wouldn't need my help, so he left the dock on his own.

    Soon, though, I could see there was a problem. The boat wasn’t moving and was having trouble tacking even though it was blowing 6 knots. I hopped in the skiff and headed out to see why. Was he aground? Had he caught a crab pot? When I got there, the problem was clear. The sails were way over-trimmed, and so the boat couldn’t get up to speed before tacking. Everything was going wrong. He looked very disappointed in his new boat, and I could see him falling out of love with his new girl.

    Rather than acting like a know-it-all, I asked him to step aboard my skiff. I reached over and cleated the main and jib about a foot off centerline and pushed us away from the abandoned sloop. That little full keel beauty simply sailed away from us. With only a 6 hp outboard on the skiff, I had trouble catching up to her! She was perfectly balanced, held her course and exhibited no weather helm.

    This guy was probably a great crew member, but without being directed by a skipper, he was just trimming and steering way too much. He had what I refer to as "crew-itis." I've seen a friend of mine also suffering from this. He is the best crew person I have ever met, but put him on a boat alone, and he can be a disaster!

    The good news is: There is a cure!

    Listen up skippers! Let your crew sail the darn boat every chance you get! Go below and get a drink and then sit up on the bow and relax. Have them run the engine, trim the sails and steer the boat with no direction from you. Use duct tape over your eyes and mouth if you have to, but let the crew figure things out. Don't yell or even whisper comments unless serious fiberglass damage is imminent. You'll be glad you did. Someday, you may need them to move the boat or even skipper a race sometime to preserve your standing if you can't make it.

    If you are a long time crew member you MUST take precautions against this malady. Mutiny and take over the boat every once in a while. Stash the skipper below and have some fun - the more wind the better! The skipper will forgive you later when he is comfortable on the foredeck with a cold one and not worried about the boat under your control.

    Greg Rutkai
    Grab Bag Sailboats, Mayo, Maryland

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