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Old Yellers by Nicholas Hayes

##Photo by Natalie Firmani

Unstable teams don’t face trouble well. Small problems often become bigger emergencies. And the rich choreography of three, four, or 14 people working together never gets going when rehearsals are interrupted by a tonguelashing. But yellers persist. There are at least a couple in every fleet, and they don’t seem to few years back I volunteered for go away; although there is a psychoanalytic race committee at the North case-study on human sacrifice by their loyal American championship of a popular three-person one-design keelboat. crew waiting to be written. One plausible theory is that yelling is I was on the mark-set boat both setting up the race course and standing by while the passed from one generation to the next. Infleets rounded the windward mark. Forty deed, our loud one-design friend hasn’t fallen boats would arrive in tight packs from both lay lines, find positions, and either bear away or gybe set. It was like watching formations of migrating birds meet and merge, or a company of dancers taking turns spinning and leaping in lines. Except far from an angry tree. His grandpa and dad are famous for legendary tirades, the kind for one team whose skipper was a yeller. that are still talked about by the old-timers You could hear him a half mile away, barking orders, demeaning his crew-mates, at the bar. It’s interesting that these men had dropping an f-bomb in every sentence. As to make offspring to find crew. But it seems they neared the mark, he became louder, deeper than that. Since yelling is hard for the higher pitched, and more intense, peaking rest of us to deal with, why don’t the yellers with the pressure of the traffic and the ma- just stop? The fact is, they can’t, without help. Rage neuver. Then they would turn the corner, happens in response to stressful, frightening and he’d keep yelling as if his boat was powered by sound, not wind. At least the stimuli. It’s an impulsive fight-or-flight chain race committee got a break until the next reaction that begins with fear and is followed rounding. You can probably guess that he by the release of powerful hormones that, in was never among the leaders, and usually turn, trigger steroid production and create more anatomic and emotional stress. People in the bottom 20 percent of the fleet. who are raging might exhibit twitching I’ve sailed with a few yellers, but only hands and stuttered speech due to the altered one time each. For me, it ruins almost chemistry of the body. And their judgment everything about the sailing experience. isn’t clear. It can’t be. It takes quiet time It’s what not to do. It makes people feel frustrated, timid, hurt, and impatient: all to recover from rage, not something often found on a sailboat among many on a comthings that destroy teamwork and fun.


petitive windward leeward race course. The first step to managing the yelling behavior is to control the dynamic that gets it going. The goal is to reduce the factors that create stress and fear. This can be proposed in either direction, by the yeller for the team or by the team for the yeller. A yeller’s self-prescribed 12-step program begins with a custom training regime in which maneuvers and methods are taught and practiced in low-stress environments, such as alone or in very small social fleets and in benign weather. Scenarios are diagramed, role-played, and discussed in detail on shore so that the on-water work can be done with limited verbal interaction. The training program is highly sequential and deliberately incremental: only add complexity when a precursive technique or method is mastered. An interesting side benefit is that by creating such a program, the yeller must learn to teach, not yell. It can be transformative. Sometimes a yeller simply won’t budge, and intervention is required. This is when the yeller lacks the empathy to understand that their behavior is the problem, so a willing crew takes it upon themselves to eliminate the stress and fear that ignites the rage. The team might, for example, practice independently to master methods and develop sub-group confidence. Then, when they sail together, the crew are in a position to respond to yelling with a combination of calm and confidence-creating competence. When the yeller starts to yell, a crew-mate interrupts in a modest voice, “We’ve got this. Please stop yelling. You can help by… ” Gradually, they alter the social chemistry in favor of team play. This takes a rare level of collective maturity, but can be done. Of course some yellers are incurable old bastards, and they’re not doing sailing any good. I imagine they’ll read this and go kick the pet cat, or some such thing. Meanwhile we’ll try to emulate the champions and round our marks silently.

A yeller’s 12-step program begins with a custom training regime...

58 October 2014 SpinSheet

About the Author: “Saving Sailing” author and sailing advocate Nicholas Hayes sails his B-32 Syrena with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee, WI. savingsailing.com


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