I found a spot on an Etchell 22 just as the boats were going into the water on my third and last day of walking the docks. It was a fantastic experience with a great crew - 4 of us on the boat in total. It was a 'ragtag' crew, all put together at the last minute, but everyone on the boat had quite a lot more experience than me and I knew I could learn something from each of them
I was selected for foredeck, and the skipper established ground rules on the way out, making it clear he didn't want any injuries or MOB's. The view of Chicago's skyline from the lake was mind-blowing! Chicago sailors are a lucky bunch when the weather is pleasant! We practiced spinnaker sets, jibes, and douses on the way to the start. I raced six races in two days. The first races were less than stellar, but showed promise. This was probably mostly because none of the crew had sailed with eachother before (I wasn't the only newcomer to the boat).
We were very enthusiastic the next morning, and boat handling was faster and smoother, but we faced a myriad of problems. Some of the issues included stupid repeated issues that should have happened once and only once. These (and an occasional poor start) kept us in the back of the fleet. Of course it wasn't all boat handling that put us in the back of the fleet, sometimes we had a rough start or got stuck in a battle with another boat too long, or chose a non-preferred tack. But the repeating, avoidable problems, were all "boat handling" issues like mucked up jibing. A lot of times the spinnaker would be down before I could even touch the pole, which guaranteed a very poor jibe - but fault could certainly not be put squarely on the trimmer's shoulders. So halfway through the 5th race of the series, everyone's frustration unfortunately high, but we worked out our issues and passed 3-4 boats during the second half of the race, which put our skipper in a much better mood and renewed our confidence.
Before the next race started we put our frustrations away and identified what was making us slow - particularly a spinnaker that wouldn't stay up during jibes. We broke down the procedure into tiny parts and analyzed each step individually. In the end, all of the 4 people onboard made small changes to their jibing procedure and we recommitted to multi-way communication. This worked fantastically, the jibes were much faster and smoother, and contributed to a "strong" middle-of-the-pack finish.
Halfway through the second day I was worried that the four people on the boat would leave the docks angry, with each feeling that another person was at fault. There were a lot of high-powered people on the boat who were each used to being a "boss" in their careers. But everyone onboard wanted to make the boat go as fast as it could, and were each willing to put their feelings aside to achieve success. Because of the perseverance of the crew and skipper, we left the docks happy, feeling like we did a great job in spite of the standing, and we shared many drinks and stories at the bar afterward.
In short, a promising group of sailors found that small differences in procedure can make or break a race. Communication about small details was key for precise timing with a crew that hasn't had weeks or months to practice together. Perseverance pays off - working through frustrations in a constructive way can build both success and friendship.
Mostly, it made me happy that everyone was glad I was part of the crew. I was stoked that I didn't make the boat go slower than it would have gone without me. I'm keeping in touch with the other sailors to say hello to them next time I visit Chicago.