If you were to ask me and Ryan to specify our jobs on board our 34-foot cruising boat, Hideaway, we’d probably give you a blank look. Because with only two crew members, there isn’t much specialization happening on our boat. We’re both skippers, helmsmen, trimmers, engineers, navigators, electricians, galley slaves, sail repairmen and whatever is needed in the moment.
But on a racing yacht like the Clipper 70, with 20+ crew, jobs are a little different. Though the crew may find themselves doing different jobs at different times on board Henri Lloyd, we tend to specialize according to our strengths. Which is why it’s important to embrace diversity in a team: because everyone has something unique to offer.
So, looking at the jobs below, where would you fit in?
Skipper – On Henri Lloyd, this is Eric Holden, the sole professional on board. He’s a skilled meteorologist and yacht racer who keeps his motley crew of amateurs in check. I like to call him “Storm Chaser,” since he has a penchant for sailing into 65-knot winds.
Foredeck – These are strong, fearless, thrill-seeking folk who don’t mind being doused in cold waves as they hoist and drop sails on a bouncing, bucking bow. They might even be crazy enough to go up the mast in a raging storm.
Cockpit – These folks run the network of lines, sheets and halyards that keep the sails properly rigged and trimmed. They require loud voices to scream orders at the foredeck, and they’re mostly relieved they’re not on the bow getting drenched.
Grinder – AKA “Coffee Grinder,” most likely because this job is best given to someone who’s drunk a crap-load of coffee and needs to burn off energy by spinning their arms furiously to winch in sheets or halyards quickly whenever the trimmer screams “GRIND!”
Trim – Requires focus and attention to detail, particularly when there’s a spinnaker flying. This person knows at all times the angle of the wind and knows when to yell at the grinder to sheet in or ease out in order to achieve the perfect sail shape or keep the spinnaker from collapsing.
Helm – Requires intense concentration and strong shoulder muscles, particularly in bad weather. Unlike other jobs, like foredeck or grinder, which require short bursts of energy and brute strength, helming requires endurance, focus and tireless attention to course over ground, wind angle, wave direction, boat heel and sail trim.
Engineer – On our boat, this is “Genny James,” so named because he keeps the generator running, the engine in good shape and he keeps us alive by working magic with duct tape and Sikaflex when our watermaker breaks. You cannot survive a 5,000-mile ocean crossing with 20 crew on board without water, so having an engineer on board who loves tinkering and fixing things is cruicial.
Watch Leader – This person is an experienced sailor who knows the boat well and is good at managing people. He/she takes orders from the Skipper and manages the crew so that sail changes, reefs, tacks, gybes, etc., are executed smoothly.
Assistant Watch Leader – This person also manages and stands in when the Watch Leader is not on deck. They assist the Skipper and Watch Leader in running an efficient, happy, productive crew.
Mother – I know, it’s a totally sexist label, but I assure you, the men on the boat do their time in the galley, too. Whoever is on “mother duty,” takes 24 hours off from sailing to feed 20+ hungry crew for an entire day. And if you think this sounds like a pleasant “day off,” think again. Cooking in rough conditions often means you’re being tossed around below deck, near a hot stove, trying to keep boiling water from scalding your face and preventing your arduously cooked meals from flying across the galley and decorating the walls.
So, where do I fit in?
On Leg 1, I spent most of my time at the helm. And when I wasn’t at the helm, or if I’d drunk too much coffee (which was always), I was on the grinder burning off some energy. But, really, whatever kept me busy and hard at work, I was happy doing.
So, when Ryan and I turn up in Cape Town for Crew Changeover Day to board our boats for Leg 3, the treacherous Southern Ocean leg of the Clipper Race, I fully expect to go about business as usual and drop happily back into my comfy slot behind the helm, at the grinder, or doing whatever needs doing.
But then Eric, the Skipper of Henri Lloyd, pulls me aside and says something completely unexpected. He asks if I could be Assistant Watch Leader on this race from South Africa to Australia…
…And my brain explodes.
I stand there with my arms crossed and my gaze wandering off to the distance. I’m quiet for so long that Eric starts scanning my face for signs of comprehension… or, perhaps, drool.
I’m caught off guard and unable to speak because I’m not good at multi-tasking. As in, I can’t talk to people and talk to myself at the same time.
And the conversation going on inside my head sounds like this: Holy shit, this is great! I’m an ocean racer! Wait, no, this isn’t great. Or is it? I mean, I love sailing! But what if I can’t manage a team? That wouldn’t be great. That would be terrible. And what if someone gets hurt? What if I don’t know what I’m doing? No, maybe this isn’t great. Maybe I’m better at just being crew. But Eric must have his reasons for asking. He must think I can do it… Oh, but he’s looking at me funny. How long’s it been since I’ve said anything? SAY SOMETHING!
“Um…I appreciate the vote of confidence…” I say with a lack of confidence, my voice trailing off.
“You were a big motivator on Leg 1,” says Eric. “And we need that on this leg. It’s going to be tough.”
Right. A motivator. I can do motivation, right? That’s what I love. I love sports, I love people, I love teamwork. I love the energy that comes from fighting and sweating and knowing you laid it all on the line. Maybe I don’t have to know everything? I just need to know what my crew knows… Maybe? Sure. Why not? I can do this, right?
“Okay!” I say, after too long a pause.
“Great,” Eric says, now looking at me sideways.
“Excellent.” I say. “I’ll try not to let you down. I mean, I won’t let you down.”
Eric gives me another funny look, then turns and walks away. And it hits me. The thought of possibly letting my skipper or my team down is what is making me feel a bit sick to my stomach, like the nervous nausea that sweeps over me before the start of a marathon, when all the weight of victory or failure lies in the future, for that brief moment. Then the gun goes off, and the hard work begins.
Before, no one expected anything of me and I wasn’t responsible for anyone. I could do my job, and be as much or as little involved on deck as I wanted to be.
But now, there is more at stake. It’s no longer good enough to just hang on for dear life and merely survive out there while the Southern Ocean throws us around and tries to beat the boat to a pulp. Now, I am responsible for my team. I’m responsible for getting the best out of them, and for getting them through the tough times.
This isn’t just about me anymore. This is about my team. And, boy, does that scare the shit out of me.
Tasha and Ryan both raced in Leg 1 of the Clipper Race from London to Rio de Janeiro and Leg 3 from Cape Town, South Africa to Albany, Australia. Tasha competed on CV21 Henri Lloyd – ahem, the winning boat — with Skipper Eric Holden and Ryan competed on CV28 PSP Logistics – ahem, NOT the winning boat — with Skipper Chris Hollis. You can read more about the crew and the boats here at www.clipperroundtheworld.com/crew