Thierry Martinez Photo



Role Playing
Reduce sailing to its basic form and you're talking about singlehanded dinghy sailing, a solitary discipline that clearly hangs all responsibility on one sailor. Transition to bigger boats with bigger crews, however, and racing becomes a test not only of sailing acumen but also of a group's ability to work towards a common goal. Switching disciplines requires knowledge of how to share and delegate responsibilities, as well as the ability to compartmentalize experiences. For many people, however, transitioning from a world where they're responsible for everything to one where they're only accountable for a narrowly defined set of tasks is a daunting move. Bora Gulari, the 2009 Moth World Champion, is a master of singlehanded decision-making, but he's also a talented tactician with a proven track record in the hyper-competitive Melges 24 class and Grand-Prix big-boat programs. Here are his suggestions for singlehanded sailors looking to transition into fully crewed sailing—Try them out and you'll not only have a better time, but you'll also see better results.

Choose Wisely
Rather than jumping from a singlehanded boat into an empty spot on an existing rail, Gulari suggests that a more enjoyable alternative is to bring some of your competitors from your singlehanded class with you and build a team from the ground up. "You get to see people in a different light when you're working together, instead of competing against them," says Gulari. "I think it's a fun thing socially." The key to building a good team, he says, is to get the right people on the right tasks—a complex matter that requires the team's leader to assign roles, and for each sailor to play their part.

Obviously..."The person who throws down the most money gets to drive," says Gulari with a laugh. "After that, I think, you have to judge what people's relative strengths are."

Generals and Soldiers
Gulari is quick to point out that there are two kinds of sailors: Generals and Soldiers. While the same sailor can often successfully wear both hats, determining the most appropriate assignments to complete a crew dynamic is one of the most important steps in building a team. "If you judge someone to be a better Soldier, you're not saying they're less important, it's just that sometimes you need Soldiers and sometimes you need Generals," says Gulari. "If you feel you're more of a General or a thinker, more than an action person, you tend to gravitate towards the back, making decisions and not having to pull on things quite so hard.

Divining Roles
The most effective determinate for divining which sailor should wear what hat, says Gulari, is a person's work ethic. "If you have a problem or a [lousy] job that has to be done—who's the guy who'll jump right in there and make it his baby? That's usually your Soldier."While the leader usually gets the credit, it's the team's can-do guys that get the job done. Sailors who work super hard—respective of their roles—are always the most valuable to any team.

Wearing Your Hat
"Everyone is needed—It's just who fits in the role? The key to all keelboat sailing is that you've got to do your own job. Whether it's being the forward hand or whether it's calling tactics, you've got to focus on your job and do it well. Everything else just blends." But in order for things to blend properly, each team member needs to be disciplined enough to stay within the confines of their role, even if they feel that they can do someone else's job better. Coming from a singlehanded class, this can be challenging; master it, however, and your crewed sailing experiences will be far smoother.

Bora Gulari

By David Schmidt/Alembic Media, LLC

Sailor Profile

Bora Gulari was born in Istanbul in 1975. His parents were active 505 sailors in Turkey and named their son after the northern wind that sweeps the Aegean Sea. He immigrated to the United States as a small child when his parents, both professors, landed jobs in academia. While the young Gulari would accompany them in their 505, his forays into singlehanded sailing didn't come until age 5, when his dad set him up with a modified windsurfing rig. It didn't take long before Gulari was hooked on the thrill of white-knuckle speed.

Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Gulari sailed out of Grosse Point before attending the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in aerospace engineering. While he sailed in school, his career didn't take flight until post-graduation when he became active in the 49er class, narrowly missing an Olympic berth. Given his windsurfing background, he considered an RS:X campaign, but fate intervened when he discovered YouTube videos of Moth legend Rohan Veal flying on foils. A purchase was made, sight unseen, and Gulari never looked astern.

Career Success

Gulari is the first American with two foiling Moth World Championships under his belt since 1959. His first win was in 2009, a banner year in which he not only cracked the 30-knot barrier, but was also named US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. He repeated his World's win in 2013, beating a strong fleet of 80 competitors in Hawaii.

Gualari is also known for his 2016 Olympic sailing on the Nacra 17 and sailed as helmsman aboard the Quantum Racing TP52 at the 2017 52 Super Series. He was also selected for the later-aborted Italian Luna Rossa campaign for the 35th America's Cup. He ascribes his success to hard work, tweaking systems, and making dozens of other subtle changes before sailing.

Singlehanded Verses Crewed

Joy Dunigan photo

Do you actively practice on both singlehanded and fully crewed boats?
I actively practice on both, but obviously the easiest one is the Moth because it's just my training partner and I, and we can rig up and go yachting. With gathering ten people to go sailing versus two, logistically, it's more challenging. 

Which experience do you enjoy more and why? And which is currently more challenging?
It's a tough call. I enjoy singlehanded sailing, but the feeling of being with a team, succeeding as a team, and celebrating as a team is quite a bit better than the singular success.

I think fully-crewed sailing is more challenging because you have to rely on everyone. That's part of the game. Everyone is part of the team and you have to have faith in your team.

The thing that I like about having a multi-person boat is being able to sail with other people that you couldn't sail with on a singlehanded boat. It's a great way to sponge knowledge and experience while working together. 

What's the most rewarding aspect of fully crewed one-design sailing for you?
The team camaraderie is rewarding. I love the learning experience and being able to learn from your teammates. It's like having your own little army and going into battle together.

Liz Davies photo

What do you enjoy most about sailing alone?
The simplicity and pureness of the whole event is enjoyable. You don't get stuck with a lot of logistics. You show up and make it happen yourself without relying on others.

Singlehanded one-design sailing is where you get the blurry-eyed purists who talk to themselves more than they do anybody else. You're out there, chasing something.

We oftentimes will rig up our Moths right before a storm hits to find the best breeze possible and see how fast we can go. You're not going to do that on a one-design keelboat, but when you go out on a singlehanded boat, you are only responsible for yourself, so it's game-on.

When headed out to the starting line of a competitive regatta, would you feel more comfortable if you were alone or with your team?
It depends on the team. If it was a team that I had been sailing with for a while and we had a lot of faith in each other, then I would feel just fine. But I always feel polished when I'm sailing by myself which brings me comfort.

Ultimately, you've got to have faith in your team. If you have faith, you can take on the world. If you don't, it's tougher for sure. And faith is something that's developed over a period of time, but you've got to get it right from the get-go. 

Shifting Gears

You've made your name as a Moth sailor, but you also excel in fully crewed one-design classes such as the Melges 24. What's it like to switch gears from singlehanded sailing to a fully crewed boat?
It takes discipline. You're transitioning from where you're the whole show to where you're a part of the equation. It's going from an individual sport to a team sport. It's not hard, but one person occupies a different role on the team versus when you have the whole responsibility to get around the racecourse on your shoulders.

What's the hardest part about this transition for you? 
The hardest thing is relying on a team versus relying on yourself. You have to have the social dynamic of a team where everyone is important. You have the logistics and the camaraderie of dealing with the team. 

As tactician, do you ever catch yourself being a bit too quiet on the Melges? Or are the two boats different experiences in your mind?
Sometimes I do have the problem of being too quiet. When you see a situation developing, that's a key role in being a tactician, especially when you're with someone who doesn't sail every day and you know how it's going to play forward, you need to communicate. It's a challenging thing and people who are good at it are impressive.

Liz Davies photo

Is it hard to establish a good working relationship with a skipper if you spend most of your time sailing alone?
I've had varying experiences. Sometimes you start off great, and then, as mistakes are made, the level of trust wanders. On the other hand, the relationship can also build having faith that this person is going to do exactly what I tell them to do and they have the ability to do it.

I've also been blessed in the respect that I have not been asking for money to go sail, so it forces my skipper and I to have a good relationship. If there's not a good relationship, it's not worth it to me.

Thoughts on Practice Time

If you've been Moth sailing a lot, how much practice time do you need on a fully crewed boat to feel dialed-in before a big event?
It all depends on the number of new players, but if you're going with a big boat like a TP52 you can always go racing, it's usually a question of how hard you push the boat. As a crew gains confidence and competency in themselves, how hard you can push obviously goes a lot higher.

With the Melges, practice time is showing up and doing regattas. It's hard to go practice by yourself on a Melges. It's very important to have a training partner. If you have local boats and it's easy where you can convince your friends that you're going to go out and sail against each other, it's obviously something that you can both use to your advantage. But if you have a polished crew, it's not as critical.

Any thoughts on how long other singlehanded one-design sailors should practice with their team before a big fully crewed regatta?
It depends on the complexity of the boat. On a Melges 24 I think you need to be there at least two to three full days before a regatta and be sailing every moment you can to be sure that all the equipment is working.

On a bigger boat, like a TP52, you're starting to practice for the last regatta of the season from the moment you first put the boat in the water. It's an ongoing experience where every time you go out on the water you get better. You have to view the whole thing as practice.

Any advice on how to keep the mood positive on a fully crewed one-design boat when someone else does something wrong?
You have to realize that you're all in it as a team, and even if something bad happens, you have to move past it and keep on fighting. You have to drop it as soon as a problem is fixed and move on to the next thing. You can't hold grudges. Nothing is ever personal and everyone is out there trying to accomplish the same goal.

I've seen other boats where the yelling gets out of hand. If you look at all the good teams, there's never any negative energy on the boat. They're always united, looking outwards, versus inwards.

Moving Forward

Where would you like to take your career? More singlehanded classes or more fully crewed sailing?
I'm interested in everything. It's all part of a large sport where every facet is kind of fun. I really enjoy the Moth. I don't think I could go into another singlehanded class except for maybe the A-Cat.

I always enjoy doing distance racing on big boats. And I really enjoy doing sport boat one-design racing because it's much more a game of inches.

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