Every Sailor Has It: That “One Thing” they do when they go sailing. Pro sailor Suzy Leech’s thing? Counting.
We’re weeks away from summer in the Northern Hemisphere and getting back out on the water is a top priority. But, as we start to gear up, have you been wondering what can give you the cutting edge? We’ve turned to our best sailors and sailmakers to find out the ONE THING they do every time they go sailing to make them just a little bit better than the rest.
“My friends will tell you…” Suzy pauses for a chuckle. “I count everything! And I just can’t stop.”
Suzy’s resumé includes navigator, engineer, and professional bowman. Last year she took on a new challenge, doublehanded sailing with Ken Read, and together they won the Fort Lauderdale Key West Race. Ken called her a “badass,” so we figured she’d definitely have something to add to our new series, That One Thing.
Counting down accurately was an important part of Suzy’s success as a bowman, because she could judge the distance to the line without having to constantly look at her watch. But she says the countdown from her teammates on the final approach to the windward mark was even more helpful. “The navigator can see best 2-3 minutes out, but as you get closer the leeward trimmer needs to take over. Everyone counts down a little differently, but knowing whether you’ve got a minute or thirty seconds is key, because then you know if you can take a little extra time to make sure it’s all good.”
Another way Suzy uses counting is to predict any breeze changes that require an adjustment from trimmers and helm. In addition to calling in significant puffs and lulls, Suzy tries to work in some context about what to expect for the next fifteen to thirty seconds. It takes a lot of practice to get the balance of priorities right. She’s learned that if you give too much information, everyone will tune it out. Too little and the team is not ready for what comes next.
Like most sailing skills, Suzy says practice and repetition are key because counting down has to remain accurate even while you’re also doing something else. Unlike most sailing skills, Suzy reminds us we can all practice calling the breeze from on land, as long as we can see the wind moving across water. And if you’re on a boat where someone else is the designated breeze caller, “Just say it to yourself,” Suzy suggests. “When you get better than they are, volunteer—and then it’ll be your job.”
Even being able to keep time accurately with her eyes closed won’t help Suzy deal with her own niggling superstition. Whenever someone asks, ‘Is the spinnaker packed?’, she gets quite nervous. “Even if I’ve just packed it, I have to go down and do it again,” she admits. Then she adds a pro tip: “Always make sure to pull out a couple feet of the tack and lay it back on top, to make sure it’ll run free when you’re ready to set.”