How did you get into sailing?
Like many of my generation, I learnt to sail in a Mirror Dinghy. I was a rubbish swimmer and my dad promised that we would build a boat if I swam a length of the pool. I managed it, with much thrashing and holding of breath and that was the first of many Mirrors that I built. The fastest was ‘Goldrush’ which won my sister Ruth and I the Nationals in 1975.
What’s your role with the British Sailing Team?
I have several roles in the British Sailing Team. I work on the Olympic venue preparation, helping all the Olympic sailors and classes to understand and recognise any repeating patterns that will help strategic decision making. I also work with the sailors transitioning into Olympic classes, specifically on their strategy, tactics and rules knowledge.
Talk to us about tactics – at what level of racing do they make a difference?
Tactics are relevant at all levels of racing. Everyone has a different way of looking at and understanding the world – all some people need are a few simple rules of thumb learnt through experience, while others like to understand all the minute details. I’d like to think there’s something in the book for everyone.
Doesn’t practice make perfect?
Bad practice makes you perfectly bad. Good practice can help you to develop your skills. I do believe that, particularly for recreational sailors who are time poor, the drive to compete and reluctance to try something new or different in case it fails is a huge barrier to learning.
When my wife, Liz and I were trying to win the Lark Nationals and Fireball worlds in the same year, as well as working in full time jobs, we agreed to do one day of practice, for every day we raced. I think this gave us the freedom to learn from trying new things and refining new skills.
I’m certain that we would not have got anywhere near as close to achieving our goals if we had spent every day racing.
When does tactical knowledge become as important as honing your practical skills?
It is always as important. Having fun, playing games, experimenting and learning by experience are all key. Building knowledge and developing your model of understanding at the same time underpins this and helps create solutions for situations that are outside your conscious experience.
What makes a good tactical sailor?
Overall, I think the best tactical sailors are those that have a rich internal database of experience, leading them to make good intuitive decisions without necessarily remembering the experiences that cause them.
They are also able to switch to a more cognitive approach in less familiar situations, recognising the environmental situation and using simple prioritising, risk/reward management tools to make the best logical decisions given the information available.
What’s new for this latest edition of RYA Tactics?
The most commonly asked questions I’ve received from readers of the previous editions are about weather, so we’ve included a new section linking strategy to visual and weather cues, as well as types of day – gradient, sea breeze etc. Boats have also got quicker since the first edition, so there is a chapter on tactics in fast boats.
I felt that I neglected club sailors the first time round - not all races have upwind starts, port hand roundings or one design fleets, so there is a chapter specifically aimed at club racing.
Overall the book follows the same format, with text and diagrams to develop typical scenarios, how to build strategies and recommendations for specific tactics at each stage of a race.
Who’s the book for?
When I wrote the original book, my goal was that club sailors would find plenty of substance that they’d be able to identify with, but that there’d also be enough original thinking to challenge my work mates and athletes at the highest level. That is still the goal.
As far as boats go, I believe there’s something for everyone! It made me smile when I saw the Spanish coach sitting with a group of his windsurfers using a copy of the book in Enoshima last month.
So can reading a book really set you up for success on the racecourse?
If you act on it, yes of course! Whether you use it as a reference to review your performance post-race, a way to address a known blind spot or a stimulus to try something new. I believe background reading is a great way to enhance your on the water development and learning.
The newly launched, third edition of RYA Tactics is available to pre-order in both paperback (G40) and eBook (E-G40) now. Just £16.99 RRP or £13.59 for RYA members, get your copy at www.rya.org.uk/go/g40. Delivery expected late December.