12-Meter Team Building

In sports, as in the workplace, success often depends on how a diverse group of people coalesce into a team. And there is nothing like sailing/racing with a group of colleagues aboard graceful 12 meters with historic pedigrees to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

Competitive juices were flowing but the mood was friendly. The weather was gorgeous, and we smiled at the thought of a day on the water rather than being cooped up in the office. Half of us formed the crew aboard Columbia, the Olin Stephens-designed 12 that swept the first America’s Cup when the 12 meter class was introduced in 1958, the other half sailed aboard Heritage, the Charley Morgan-designed, varnished wood challenger from 1970.

The boats were manned with a professional captain and several deckhands to tell us what needed to be done, but it was up to us to do it. It took 6 to 8 of us pulling in unison to hoist the big main and jib. We put our backs into grinding winches, tending sheets, and making sure the running backstays were set. Positions were clearly defined and each crew member had to rely on their teammates. During the countdown to the start we dueled for position and each crew worked hard (but not too hard) to tease as much boat speed out of these classic boats as we could. After several races it was obvious that Columbia had the same speed edge over her competitors that she had in 1958, but who won really didn’t matter all that much.

During an extended break between races, we grabbed lunch on deck, connected with each other in an atmosphere of a fun day out (rather than only when deadlines loom), and the highlight for many was the chance we all got to take the helm. Classic 12’s are decidedly old-fashioned compared to modern America’s Cup class boats, but Columbia, represents the pinnacle of performance in 1958 and has her named etched on one of the most storied trophies in sports. In a way, sailing these boats creates a cool time warp that allows anybody (no sailing experience is required) and up close and personal view of history almost like being able to go back in time and pitch to Ted Williams, ride Secretariat, or try to defend Wilt Chamberlain. No matter what industry you’re in, sailing/racing/team building on a 12 meter is a perk that will pay dividends down the line.

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