You’re on a distance race. The mark is somewhere over the horizon and hours of sailing away. The wind strength and direction are steady so the sails don’t need that much adjustment. You find yourself on the windward rail for these hours with other crewmates. You stare at the horizon, gaze at the wave patterns, and squint to identify boats in the distance. The person on the helm and the two trimmers are the only ones with active jobs; there’s not a lot to do for the crew on the rail except hiking, staying dry, and keeping warm or cool. Some crew sink into survival mode where they zone out until called on.
Some small boat racers and pocket cruisers prefer more active races where getting multiple good starts in a day and executing high-stress maneuvers at the corners gets their juices flowing. For them, this seemingly endless sitting on the rail, hour after hour, may not be their cup of tea. But, for the committed distance racer, this rail time is part of what you signed-up for. You may actually delight at the quiet allowing your mind to occasionally drift away from the race to more personal matters. If the sailors beside you know how to use their “inside voices,” friendships can be started or enhanced, sea stories can be swapped, and best practices discussed.
Being able to momentarily enjoy this peaceful time at sea is why some one-design crews don’t want to drive. The helm is “always on,” whereas the crew can occasionally drift off into another world (albeit briefly before you hear “breaks over!”).
Here are some crew images taken on the J/44 KENAI during the 172-mile 2019 Miami-Nassau Race. They survived the long legs and are looking to do it again. To paraphrase that great quote from TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, “Drop marks…we don’t need no stinkin drop marks!”
But remember, the best crewmembers are the ones who can stay focused with their heads in the game, even when there is nothing physical to do. From the rail, you can call waves and puffs, look for wind lines, talk about the performance of boats around you, hike and keep your fellow rail riders hiking, suggest trim when the cockpit crew goes into “zone” mode or volunteer to go below and and some house-keeping. If you do go below, remember to take drink and snack orders before coming back up.