The Racing and Yelling Thing

Quick and great advice from Captain Marc Hughston, Director and Chief Sailing Instructor at Santana Sailing (located in Long Beach (Los Angeles) California).

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April 28, 2022 / Marc Hughston

I just want to say a few things about racing and yelling on sailboats.

When I did my first out of town Bareboat Charter in the San Juan Islands in 1993, in Friday Harbor, I noticed a sailing group called Womanship. Their banner said, “Nobody Yells.”  Back then I thought, “Huh?” Now I can see that this yelling thing has been a problem for many decades.

I’ve been at this a long time and over the years I’ve both yelled, and I’ve been yelled at.  As the receiver of the yelled epithet, it was not pleasant.  I quit racing in the year 2000 because I was tired of 1) the yelling, and 2) having to negotiate strategy and tactics with people who didn’t know what I knew but felt that yelling made them more correct.

Tonight, a friend I care deeply about cried on my shoulder about her treatment by captain and crew of an Olsen 30 during an evening race out of King Harbor in Redondo Beach, CA.  From her account, yelling was a big problem.  Lack of clear communication about responsibilities was a big problem.  Uncommunicated expectations about performance were a problem.  Lack of orientation to the responsibilities of the person in the pit and how to accomplish them were a problem.

It amazes me that one could make a post on the GoSailing App with an invitation to join, fail to train, and then demean the crew for not being able to do the thing that is being yelled about.

She’s not going racing anymore.  She’s not joining a yacht club.  She’s not joining your GoSailing thing.

Look, if you want crew to join you on your boats to race on a night like tonight, think about the proper orientation to the boat. Think about assessing your crew and assigning positions based on their capabilities; think about whether the fact that you are racing is more important than treating a crew member as you would treat a friend, a companion.  Then, see how you do on the racecourse.  You might do better with training, orientation, support and respect.

None of us like yelling. Racing is a poor excuse for it.


Reposted from Santana Sailing, The Racing and Yelling Thing

Grant’s Technical Add

Cognitively, when we are being yelled it, it actually floods the fight or flight part of the brain and blocks the conscious intellectual thinking and reasoning part of the brain.  Think caveman, wooly mammoth, and saber-tooth tiger stuff. This is the evolutionary makeup of our brain and has allowed humankind to survive through the ages.

Here is an interesting expert excerpt from which proves the point.

When you see, hear, touch, or taste something, that sensory information first heads to the thalamus, which acts as your brain’s relay station. The thalamus then relays that information to the neocortex (the “thinking brain”). From there, it is sent to the amygdala (the “emotional brain”) which produces the appropriate emotional response.

However, when faced with a threatening situation, the thalamus sends sensory information to both the amygdala and the neocortex. If the amygdala senses danger, it makes a split-second decision to initiate the fight-or-flight response before the neocortex has time to overrule it.

This cascade of events triggers the release of stress hormones, including the hormones epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and cortisol.

These hormones prepare your body to flee or flight by increasing your heart rate, elevating your blood pressure, and boosting your energy levels, among other things.

While many of the threats we face today are symbolic, evolutionarily, our brains evolved to deal with physical threats to our survival that required a quick response. As a result, our body still responds with biological changes that prepare us to fight or flight, even though there is no actual physical threat with which we must contend.

So when you think you are achieving more by yelling loud clear instructions – you are actually achieving less. You can believe the science or keep yelling and watch your crew screw up over and over – and not come back.

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Grant Headifen
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Last updated on June 23rd, 2022