Switch Hitting

by Carol Newman Cronin
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Carol Newman Cronin is an expert Snipe crew and a regular contributor of Snipe news to Sailing World and other sailing publications. She has raced Snipes around the world with Snipe Champions George Szabo, Andy Pimental, and Henry Filter and Ed Adams. She had an impressive debut as skipper in the 1998 Women's Worlds where she finished 4th with SCIRA Executive Director, Jerelyn Biehl as crew.

We are all told not to be too critical of anyone until we have walked a mile in their shoes. Now I'm no marriage counselor, but in real life it is very difficult to truly take a walk in your partner's shoes. Jane's boss might think it very strange (and a not particularly terrific reflection on Jane) if husband John showed up at her desk one morning, wearing her red heels. But Snipe sailing allows us to switch places with our teammate without threatening our basic roles- or our earned income potential. Strength and size requirements of skipper and crew are not that different, and most of the jobs can transfer with the people, allowing a novice helmsman or crew to concentrate on fewer new strings.

Andrew Pimental and I have been sailing Snipes together since 1991. Our personalities have always meshed well, and we both like to hike hard which has led to some quality results over the years. Regardless of how we do, we always seem to have a good time. When I decided to go to the Women's Worlds in Annapolis, Andrew stepped up to the plate to help me prepare. Not only was he willing to go out and practice with me (something he never found time for when he was steering!), but he even agreed to co-skipper a regatta. (And he still bought me breakfast.) Now Andy's an easy going guy, so none of this came as a complete surprise (he couldn't say no to a jellyfish, let alone his crew)... the biggest shock was that he learned nearly as much as I did.

"This pole doesn't work for S-----T!" were the first word s out of his mouth at the weather mark. Afterward, we worked out an upgrade that would decrease the friction in the system. He never would've found the patience for that if he hadn't struggled to launch the thing when it meant the difference between first and fifth.

The next learning experience? Halfway up the last windy beat, when my legs felt fine but apparently his were starting to burn: "How come you never got me to move the hiking strap attachments aft?" (Andy, for those of you who don't know, builds Jibetech Snipes. The skipper straps are perfect.) The next boat will have the straps mounted further aft, I'm sure.
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We also each learned a new perspective. Andrew hikes hard, so seeing around him going upwind was not an issue- when it was windy enough for him to be all the way out. When the breeze lightened up, seeing the next wave was like trying to see around a city bus.

"How 'bout layline?" I asked close to one weather mark. (I've always had trouble judging laylines.) "You call it," he replied quickly. "I can't tell a thing from up here." And I got it right, close enough, from the back of the boat.

And the feel! All those times I wondered how he knew the boat was over/underpowered, needed just that half inch of jib ease, was that really a header or just a lull... it's all in the tiller and mainsheet. Having both in your hands gives you so much more feel for the conditions and the groove, it's like adding a whole new set of senses.

For any crews out there who may be (as I was) rather intimidated by the idea of touching that hiking stick, the secret is now out... it is much easier to steer from the skipper position than it is from up forward, as you have no doubt tried while skipper is cleaning glasses, eating, removing clothes, peeing, etc.

Here's a plus/minus list for you about steering: You never think about how tired of hiking you are (because you are too busy thinking about whether the main is overtrimmed or the next puff will blow you over). You never get stuck on the leeward/windward side of the board (but there is nothing to push off of in the tacks, so you don't always make it across the boat all the way). On reaches, you can see the top telltale of the jib much better than the crew (but you can't do anything about it, because you're not trimming it, and no matter how many times you say something, it will still be undertrimmed. The only way to fix it is to set the pole.). The point is... moving one body width aft in the Snipe changes your perspective dramatically, but it isn't any harder.

As for you skippers, now shaking in your hiking boots at my malevolent suggestion of abandoning the tiller: If you are scared of what might happen with your crew at the helm, either start treating your crew better or put on your lifejacket (or both). Switching places will not just make your crew better; it will probably make you better, too.
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Try switching off in practice, and once you are moderately comfortable in your new positions, try it for a race, or one day of a regatta... or even for the whole weekend. No one will get hurt (most likely) and both of you will come away with a remarkably fresh outlook on Snipes, sailing, and what your teammate manages to accomplish on the race course.

Once you make the switch, remember: it's okay not to like it, especially right away. You might not have liked your original position the first few times you tried it either. Everything gets easier with practice, so don't give up too quickly.

And most importantly: don't make the mistake of treating the switch off as a favor granted to the crew. With a positive attitude, the skipper can learn just as much from a perspective shift.. if only about the nonexistent comfort zone when trying to balance behind the daggerboard while reaching in marginal planing conditions!

So at your next Snipe event, take a hike in your teammate's boots. You might learn a bit more than you expected.

Editors Note: I concur with everything Carol has said. My experience crewing in my own boat has taught me that EVERY Snipe Skipper should HAVE to crew in his/her own boat. My crewing for Lisa was the impetus to change a few key pieces of rigging, about which I would have previously said "suck it up and deal!". --Alex Pline

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