Of Sailing, Software Development, and Teamwork

Last week, I went on a trip with the Boy Scouts to sail the Abaco Sound in the Bahamas. Now, some would see this as a vacation, but when you go on vacation, you don’t have to cook your own food, clean your own toilets and night watch duties. Other people we ran into said “Scouting High Adventure in the Bahamas…we never did anything like that when I was in scouts.” Actually, they have been doing sea based high adventure camps since the 1970’s.

This was actually my second time going to Sea Base with my son (who is an Eagle Scout). While both trips were certainly great learning opportunities, this one provided a lot more “real world” skills for a scout to learn. The biggest of which is teamwork. Of course, my thoughts turned to software development and teams that I have been on in the last seventeen years.


We had 22 people on a 60 foot catamaran for six days. On the first day we divided into four teams to take turns for the duties of running the ship. There was a cooking crew, cleaning crew, deck crew and a night watch crew. We changed the responsibilities every day, so we all had a chance to do everything at least once. Here’s where the valuable lessons came in.

Cooking Crew

This one wasn’t too bad…except that you were responsible for turning a pile of ingredients into something that was appealing to the rest of the crew. Sure you could go with scrambled eggs and toast every time or you could have some creativity and do something like French Toast. Nobody was telling you what the menu was…but everyone had the goal to outdo the cooking team from the previous day. Food was never boring. How did this play into teamwork? Well, the cooking crew was also responsible for doing the dishes. We generally couldn’t move on to the next thing until the cleanup was done from the meal. Therefore, you needed to work together as a team to get your job done or we weren’t going anywhere. Nothing like 15 other people ready to set sail in the morning, and you feel like you want to go back to bed. We didn’t have a plank, but there were a few times we might have needed one.

Cleaning Crew

Again, this one wasn’t too bad…if the crew before you had done their job. Cleaning crew made sure the deck was clean and also the restroom. After we would go swimming, water would wash a lot of sunscreen residue onto the deck of the boat. This made the fiberglass hull like an Olympic ice skating rink. Keep it clean…keep it safe. Having three teenage (almost) kids, I know that cleaning a bathroom is the absolute last thing on earth they want to do. However, if everyone did their job, it was not as gross and disgusting as it would have been if we only did it at the end of the week. (By the way, I do respect the two boys that took on the end of the week cleaning as it was the most thorough cleaning it had all week…you guys did great!)

Deck Crew

This crew was responsible for all things sailing for the day. Hoisting the mainsail, unfurling the jib sail, dropping anchor, navigating, etc. This was the crew that required the most coordination of effort of all the crews. Sure cooking can fall behind schedule and cleaning may be a little sloppy, but it doesn’t bring the ship to a halt. When the captain calls out “Ready About” the crew jumps into action (and if you aren’t on Deck Crew, you still need to pay attention, or you might be in the way or worse get smacked in the head with the boom). Once everyone has confirmed “Ready”, then we “Hard to Lee” and what follows is a coordinated steps of shifting the sails from one side of the ship to the other. If you aren’t ready, or you don’t do your job at the right time…you bring the whole process to a halt. As the boat nears heading into the wind, the sail starts to luff and the boat slows down. If you slow down too much, you don’t have enough momentum to complete the tacking maneuver and you are stuck “in irons”. This can all be avoided, if you listen to your experienced captain, and everyone does the job they are assigned to.

Now this brings up an additional point of “doing the job they are assigned”. With 20 new sailors on board, there will likely be a good majority that have no idea what they are doing. Unless they are paying attention to the previous days maneuvers, they likely don’t know what they are supposed to do. Two points to make here. First, if you are in the experienced group (meaning you know what to do), you can’t just yell at a guy to “pull the rope”…especially when there are multiple ropes at his feet. Instead, you might try pointing out which rope