Yachts - Points On Expert Helmsmen
( Originally Published 1911 )
THE man at the wheel, or tiller, as is more apt to be the case in small racing yachts, is the man on whom the winning of the race depends. It is necessary that he be cool-headed and resourceful at all times, knowing when to take ad-vantage of his opponents, and having foresight to see far enough ahead that either by getting into or keeping away from a luffing match, or something of the sort, he may finally land himself in first place. He should be deliberate, and yet when he makes up his mind to do something, should not ask everybody in the crew their opinion, but act quickly. And in this he has a great advantage over his brothers of a few years ago, in that the vessel he is handling turns almost in her own length at full speed, and is off on the other tack in a very few seconds; whereas it was an under-taking of almost minutes, so to speak, for the craft of a few years ago to be brought into stays and filled away on the other hitch.
It is an excellent thing, however, to have one man who understands the matter to watch the other boats and keep the skipper informed of their movements, especially when you are leading and the helmsman does not want to take his eyes off his own boat, even for an instant.
Besides these few necessities embodied in the crack helmsman, he should have the finesse in touch on the tiller, never gripping it so that the muscles in his arm are at a tremendous tension, but simply holding the stick as lightly as possible, so that it shall not get away, and feeling his boat in every jump in a seaway, favoring her in every helpful slant of wind, not roughly, but gently, and by so doing keeping her headway.
A very important point which puts the quick, nervous man at a disadvantage, and especially in the modern boat, is the method of tacking. He is apt to fling her about by forcing the tiller hard down, and thus scooping off to leeward on the other tack before he can stop her twisting motion, and so losing some of the previous distance already gained to windward, besides killing her headway, sending her through a path the shape of the letter "S." A man cannot be too careful in tacking, and he should learn the queer ways his craft has and how to favor her, as every boat is different and should not necessarily be treated as her sister.
Be cool, level-headed, know your boat from the top of the mast to the bottom of her keel, notice her sails and how she feels best to you; in other words, when she feels sympathetic she is probably doing her best for you ; then note how everything stands, treat her as a living thing and not as pure wood and metal ; know the distance she will travel in certain conditions in a given length of time ; know her every mood. Racing yachts do have their off days ; treat her accordingly.
The man steering should never place him-elf in a cramped or uncomfortable position, but should be so situated as to be able to see his boat and sails. Lying on one's stomach on the weather rail is distinctly bad, as it means a broken neck to see what should be seen. Do not do this unless you can sail your boat by the feel of the helm, as only a very few of the best skippers can do.
Know when you have the right of way and take it, unless you are going to spoil your chances of a win by accident and smash up with another boat, then merely tick your opponent, or let him go with a few words of advice.
Know enough about your racing rules to cover any bluff, and never take unnecessary chances unless they are absolutely essential, but where they are needed, play the game for all it is worth, as every second counts in the racing boats of today.