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Max Ebb: Race Crew Care and Feeding (Especially Feeding)

It was during post-race cocktails with my crew, at the corner table in the yacht club bar, the table with the best view. Lee Helm’s phone made a sound like an old Telex teletype machine from the ’80s.

“Text message coming in,” she explained as she opened the message and read it out loud: “Lee, can you race with us next Saturday? Need a mainsheet trimmer too, if you know anybody.”

“I’m going to, like, pass on this race,” she said, typing fast with her thumbs. “I have a major progress report on my thesis to finish.”

“Isn’t that the boat you sail on as tactician?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s a great gig,” she confirmed. “I just hang on the backstay and call tactics, and I get to play with all the big kids in Division A. Most races I don’t ever touch a line or a winch handle. But like, the logistics of that boat are sometimes a pain to deal with.”

“Still, it’s a privilege to sail as tactician at that level of competition,” I noted.

“For sure, Max. But there are downsides. Example: I’m like, up late Friday night printing out the detailed tide charts, then I bike to the boat for the 0800 dock time, and then the boat doesn’t actually cast off till 9:30. Grrr. And like, sometimes for a two-day event, the boat ends up staying at the host club on the other side of the Bay the first night, and no plan in place to get us back to our cars and to my bike. Had to take Lyft. From now on I’m going to insist that I meet the boat at the host club, if that’s where the boat will be after the race.”

“I hear tell that that boat feeds pretty well,” added my foredeck crew, a big guy from Appalachia, another student whom Lee’d introduced to racing. “Calling tactics in the A division, you must be happier than a gopher in soft dirt.”

He had never seen the ocean before coming out here for college, and was not at all bashful about admitting that he’s in it mainly for the free lunches and yacht club dinners.

“Big sammies for sure,” Lee confirmed. “But no custom orders. I have to bring my own ‘tuna and sprouts on thin-sliced toasted sourdough, no tomato.’ You’d think it would be easy enough to phone in custom orders to the local upscale deli.”

“Does the owner at least spring for dinner at the club dining room?” I asked.

“He didn’t have to when the boat was winning,” Lee recalled. “Boats that win don’t need to add perks. But like, this season the bottom is old, we have some gaps in the chute inventory, and the crew are in training. It’s like, if we’re finishing mid-fleet, even the new crew will, like, move on to a winning program after they, like, develop the skills.”

“Chicken-and-egg mode,” I said.

Max Ebb Race Crew
Swiftsure didn’t always win, but Sy and Phyllis always took good care of their crew.
© 2024 Max Ebb

“Need good crew to win, need to win to attract good crew.”

“We know how much the sails cost,” Lee added. “If the Saint Fancy Yacht Club is hosting the regatta, then it’s just proper etiquette to treat the crew to dinner in the upstairs Saint Fancy dining room. It’s way more economical than new sails in terms of speed increment per dollar.”

“And for us starving students, it’s a good way to keep the cows coming back to the same ol’ barn,” added the foredeck crew.

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