As the clock runs down to the start of a 12-meter match race, adrenaline is pumping, mouths are dry and Doug Rastello's senses are operating at hummingbird speed.
Rastello, 34, is tactician for the Newport Harbor Yacht Club's Eagle Challenge. When 13 challenging syndicates begin competition off Perth, Western Australia, on Oct. 5, he'll be advising skipper Rod Davis on what moves to make.
"When you're out there circling around before the start, a lot of things are happening at the same time," Rastello said. "The breeze is shifting, and a 10-degree shift in the wind can make one end of the line favored over the other. You have to keep your eyes open and figure that out at all times.
"That's one of my jobs. Very hard. And the reason it's hard is when you're going around in circles the only thing you can use is compass bearing on the boat. You can't use any electronics because when you're spinning, the electronics are spinning, too, and they lag like 20 seconds.
"So you have to figure out what the wind's doing, and you have to be given input as to how far off the line you are."
The aim is threefold: to keep a controlling position on the competitor, to be in the right place on the starting line and not to be over the line before the gun.
It's a fine line to sail but, Rastello said, "We work at it so much that it's more than just seat of the pants. You can get to within five seconds most of the time.
"You're constantly saying, 'A minute 10 to the gun, 45 seconds to the mark,' so Rod knows, 'OK, I've got 25 seconds I've got to burn off . . . hold this guy up or push him (over the line early)."
Most moves before the start must be snap decisions, which Rastello leaves to Davis' instincts.
"I think we have things pretty well split up," Rastello said. "The starts, it's really his ballgame. I suggest moves, like if I see an obvious opening, I'll say, 'What do you think we jibe the next time?' And either he'll do it or he won't do it.
"Once the gun goes, I take over. He's got his hands full sailing a 12-meter. These are hard boats to sail properly. Upwind is pretty much my ballgame, but he can overrule me at any time."
If a crew is like a family, Davis and Rastello are the husband and wife. They live under constant stress, yet they have remained compatible through 10 years together.
"We were competitors," Rastello said. "Rod was trying to get into the Congressional Cup and needed a tactician, and I got recommended. I had sailed against Robbie (Haines), Rod and Ed (Trevelyan) in the 1974 Prince of Wales match racing. We battled these guys for four weekends and could never get the series finished. We ended up winning. That was the first time I met Rod."
Davis won two Congressional Cups with Rastello as his tactician and the '84 Olympic Soling class gold medal as part of Haines' crew, with Trevelyan. Seldom has Davis seemed ruffled.
"He might have an image of being laid back," Rastello said, "but when it comes to getting his boat ready--and certainly on the water--he's not.
"He's the kind of individual who gets the most out of people. I don't care who you are, whether you're down in the pit or up on the bow, you've got to think a lot. We stress that to all of our guys: to really get out there and think. Don't turn around and say, 'Should I put the jib up now?' You've been in enough races. You figure it out."
Davis likes the kind of initiative bowman Jerry Kirby showed last year during a practice race when the boat's winged keel snagged the committee boat's anchor line. Kirby immediately dived overboard and cut the line with a knife.
"We always end up with a boat full of leaders, guys that can make decisions and think for themselves," Rastello said.
Rastello is taking six months off from R.H. Moulton & Co., where he is a senior vice president for investment banking.
"When I go from doing that to sailing it is shifting gears like no one will understand," he said. "(I work on) nine-month deals, extremely complicated, that take a lot of brain power. But it's similar to sailing because you've gotta get all those smart guys and really concentrate on an extremely complicated puzzle to come up with a deal."
But a good tactician needs more than intelligence.
"The most important thing is when a boat is two feet away, you have to be cool," Rastello said. "Off the wind, when a guy's bow is right there, you have to be able to think under fire. When all the stuff is hitting the fan, you have to be the cool head."
"To keep track of the other boat, that's my primary job, and to position the boat on the race course. To do that, you have to take in feedback and assimilate it very quickly."
Rastello also has to know the racing rules, instinctively.