Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Jekyll-and-Hyde Teenager

Another take on kids and sailing

On some of the other blogs that I’ve been frequenting, questions have been raised about how best to get kids involved in sailing at an early age, and to keep them interested once they turn into teenagers. There is the question of how early a child should be given lessons and learn sailing, and how to avoid placing excessive pressure on the kid. There is also the question of what to do with teenagers to keep them from losing interest in the sport.

Well, I don’t have the problem of a teenager losing interest in sailing. Partly because he was already 11 years old when the family took up sailing, and partly because neither of the sailing clubs we belong to has anything even remotely resembling a youth sailing program, he wasn’t exposed to the pressure that a lot of other kids get from a very tender age.

What he has been doing over the past several years is racing as crew on many different boats under many different skippers. So he has learned a lot. He has also received a lot of praise from the skippers he’s crewed with – respectful, obedient, resourceful, steady, eager, sharp, helpful, trustworthy, cheerful, flexible, optimistic, you name it, if it’s a positive crew trait, he has it, so long as he’s serving on somebody else’s boat. The people he’s sailed with constantly tell us how great he is and praise us for raising such a fantastic kid.

Now that I have my own racing boat, especially since I’m inexperienced with it, I really want to tap into Tadpole’s knowledge. Unfortunately, the charming and hard-working teenage Dr. Jekyll turns into the loutish Mr. Hyde when he’s crewing for his own parents. I’ll call for a close-hauled course, and I’ll steer as tightly upwind as the boat will go (which, with an Etchells, is pretty tight). When the wind shifts, if it’s a header, I want to follow it, and I tell Tadpole to keep trim. But he thinks it’s better to keep the same course, and so he relaxes the sheet. When I repeat the order to keep close-hauled, he starts arguing about why his way is better than my way – and most of those reasons don’t hold water. He’s just simply contradicting Mom for the mere pleasure of contradicting Mom. It doesn’t matter whether he’s right – he just has to have something to argue about. And in a race, all of that time he spends arguing instead of following orders is time that the rest of the fleet is going to be racing away.

Actually, Pat isn’t all that much better as crew. Yes, he’s much less likely to argue instead of following an order. His problem is that he follows orders that don’t exist, fiddling around with things that are just fine. Or worse, he leaves his assigned post on the boat and does somebody else’s job while leaving his own job undone. There have been times he’s been on jib trim and I’ve needed to tack the boat, but he’s up on the foredeck fiddling around with dock lines.

In the first lessons we took, the skipper was to call “ready about” and then the crew was to get ready to tack and then yell “ready” before the helm tacked. But in racing, there isn’t the luxury of allowing the time for the crew to get around to getting organized. There certainly isn’t time for the jib trimmer to return to the cockpit after usurping the foredeck’s job. In racing, the crew has to be already alert, because the skipper may have very little time to announce a tack. If I have to tack, I have to tack NOW.

At least Pat and Tadpole aren’t the very worst possible crew. There was one time when I was training for the Adams Cup, and my trimmer got a cell-phone call from her boyfriend. It wasn’t a good time – we were approaching a windward mark on port, and we needed to tack around the mark and set the spinnaker, while also avoiding the other boats in the mock race. But instead of telling him to call back later (or, better yet, not answering the call and allowing voicemail to take a message), she continued the conversation. In a real race, I would probably have called the tack anyway, forcing her to drop the phone. If it went overboard, well, that’s just tough. Or if she didn’t drop the phone and we blew the mark rounding because she wasn’t attending to trim, well, everybody in the fleet would know whom to blame. Since it wasn’t a real race, I continued to sail on, 20 boat lengths or more past the turning buoy, until she got done with her phone call and was free to make the tack.

I know that, for sure, even if the racing rules for a particular race or regatta don’t prohibit cell phones, I am going to prohibit them for my crew. I would also like to prohibit teenage obstructionist know-it-all behavior, although I haven’t figured out exactly how to do that.


Anonymous Adrift At Sea said...

The bit about the woman and her cellphone is priceless. I would have keelhauled her.... or at least made her cell phone walk the plank. :D

As for Tadpole... see if you can get him to cooperate based on wanting to win races... After all, you have all these people telling you what a wonderful crew person he is....ask him to show you what they're talking about.

Wed Jun 14, 12:44:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

I still think your best solution is to buy 3 Lasers and sell all your other boats. Then you would see who is the better sailor in the family.

In any case, be ready for the day when Tadpole really is a better sailor than his parents. It's bound to happen. What happens then? Do you give him the helm of the Etchells?

Love the story about the cellphone.

Wed Jun 14, 01:33:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Ummm, by the way, Carol Anne hasn't seen last month's cell phone bill. Darn good thing we just upgraded the plan.

Tillerman, know anyone who'd take 3 Sunfish for 3 Lasers? Actually there would probably be an issue that could obscure finding out who is the better sailor, and that's athleticism and weight constraints. My understanding is that a lot of the small, high-performance dinghies have somewhat narrow ranges of ideal crew weights, so a petite lady and a guy who's threatening the 200# mark might not find the same single-hander to be ideal. And, for example, would a Laser Radial by at all competitive with a full-up Laser? That's stuff I don't know about. Then, also, our lakes get pretty darn cold at times, so we might have to learn about the latest styles in wet and dry suits. On the other hand, if we were really gung ho maybe we'd all get fitted each of us for just the right size windsurf board.

Now, we did have a ton of fun on a Thistle the other day.... and it's certainly responsive and more of a stern taskmaster compared to keelboats. Hmmmmn.

Also, Tadpole will mostly be someone else's problem in a couple of years when he presumably goes to college or elsewhere in the world; he may spend most of his time sailing in a far distant fleet. And, we'll be left on our own to recruit and train crew.

Wed Jun 14, 09:39:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

When Tadpole gets to sailing better than his parents, he doesn't take over my Etchells; he gets his own -- provided the school grades and other responsibilities are taken care of.

Of course, that means he'd probably want to go to college somewhere there's an Etchells fleet. Um, I've heard about this little place in Maine ...

Thu Jun 15, 12:37:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

Pat - there are 3 rigs for the Laser Standard, Radial and 4.7 to make the boat manageable for a wide range of heights and body weights. Same hull, bppm, boards and lines, just different sails and mast. In theory the smaller rigs are slower, but in our fleet a competent women sailor in a Radial can beat some of the men (in a Standard rig) all of the time and all of the men some of the time. Yup - if you sail Lasers in cold water you are going to learn all about wetsuits and drysuits.

Thu Jun 15, 09:49:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Pat said...

Do you know where Carol Anne could get a Batwoman wetsuit or drysuit? It might help attendance at our races. And it would be appropriate for the first race of the Rio Grande club's fall season - - because of low summer lake levels, the start of the fall season is probably going to be put off until late October, just a bit before somebody's birthday.

Fri Jun 16, 10:35:00 AM MDT  

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