Ted Turner's Law

Sailing with crew is wonderful. Sailing solo is wonderful too.

With crew you have someone to assist you, unless it’s that peculiar breed that prefer to sit back and do nothing, except empty your pantry and fridge. Having someone else to take a line, or grind on a winch, or even just grab you a drink while you’re at the helm is nice.

Such assistance is a luxury for the single-handed sailor. In spite of this I experience more mistakes with crew on board than when I’m solo; and the more crew, the more mistakes. Usually it’s nothing disastrous; just annoying little things such as flogging sails, winch overrides, dangling or tangled lines, etc., but occasionally equipment gets broken. Why is is that I’ve never torn a sail when sailing single-handed, but only with crew? Curiously, I’ve never run aground sailing solo either, only with crew onboard.

I believe that this counterintuitive phenomenon can be explained concisely by America’s Cup captain Ted Turner who, while describing practicing for the America's Cup, said:

“The chance for mistakes is about equal to the number of crew squared.”

Let’s call this Ted Turners Law, which can be expressed mathematically as follows:
Do other solo skippers experience this? I can only hypothesize that when solo one is forced to carefully plan out each and every manoeuvre well ahead of time, leaving absolutely nothing to chance. For example, I tend to move around very carefully when I’m solo, as no one is going to come to my rescue if I fall overboard. I’m equally cautious about tacking. For example, with my big gennaker I’ll furl the active sheet before tacking then unfurl once on the new course, rather than attempt to tack a fully unfurled sail. The end result tends to be fewer mistakes.

NB: I also always wear my PFD with a PLB, and keep my autopilot remote control in my pocket - just in case.

I hate to acknowledge it, but perhaps another factor is ego. When solo I have no need to show off, but with crew I’m possibly a tad more inclined to push things a bit harder, or get in a little bit closer. The astute reader will point out that the skipper is ultimately responsible for the performance of his or her crew. So if the crew are making mistakes, then the skipper is answerable for that. Fair enough!

Nevertheless even the best, well-trained helpers get tired and cranky sometimes. That is, except for one, the autopilot, truly the solo skipper's best friend!