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DSPEED ANTIGUA


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An extraordinary road to Volvo success, but tinged with great sadness. Ian Walker and Mark Covell (left, above right) won silver in the Star at Sydney 2000 after Covell’s usual helm Glyn Charles was lost during the 1998 Sydney Hobart. Walker was only available to step in for Charles following the tragic death in a car accident of his regular racing partner Johnny Merricks, the pair taking silver in the 470 at Atlanta in 1996 (above left)


keelboat sailor. I grew up following the exploits of Sir Peter Blake, Grant Dalton and Lawrie Smith, among others. One unfortunate result of the smaller fleet in the modern race and attempts to cut costs by reducing crew is that there are fewer opportunities for young sailors. In the 2014-15 race we had only eight crew and seven boats (56 sailors plus the onboard reporters). As crew numbers are reduced it is the less experienced people who are dropped. In the last VOR, despite one-design reducing the need for specific technical knowledge, and the increasing need for younger, stronger, fitter sailors, our winning Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team started the race with only one crewmember who hadn’t competed in the race before (happily we did manage to take two ‘novice’ reserves on two of the legs). It takes a focused programme, like the ABN Amro 2 youth squad or SCA for the ladies, to genuinely give new people a chance – particularly in the more senior roles. Even the ‘youth team’ in the last VOR – Alvimedica – deferred to experi- ence in most key roles onboard. As a decision maker it is very hard not to. So what does all this mean? Where will the future tacticians, navigators, trimmers and bowmen learn their trade? Will the average age of professional keelboat sailors keep creeping up? Will keelboat sailing slowly die, reducing the demand for professional keelboat sailors at all? Who will have the knowledge to set up and sail the superyachts and maxis of the future? What can be done to reverse the trend? The Volvo organisers have tried to help by forcing teams to carry two crew under 30. Seriously, though, under 30? What about making it under 25 next time? And why not give more youngsters a chance in the in-port races? Maybe other big events could similarly encourage younger sailors. There is a serious void opening up in small and medium-sized grand prix keel- boat racing. It is a huge step up to a TP52 from an Olympic dinghy. In the UK there have been some useful programmes, like Bear of Britain and the RYA Keelboat Academy, where younger sailors are given positions of responsibility on grand prix


boats, but few of these sailors have been able to kick on and make a living in the sport. The new Fast 40 might help start to fill this void, but again it is owner/amateur driver and there aren’t any rules yet that force you to take youngsters onboard. Several owners have regularly put their trust in younger sailors and been able to give opportunities, perhaps none more so in the UK than Mike Slade’s 100-footer Leopard programme, as well as several maxi programmes in Australia. It does appear the bigger boats can offer more chances just because they need more crew. To make yourself more valuable it’s important to also learn a trade like rigging, hydraulics, electronics or sailmaking. But to fully grasp how these trades are prac- tised onboard again really only comes from being embedded in a big programme. In business or in sport it is usually good to give youth a chance. What they lack in knowledge they can make up in enthus - iasm – and they are cheaper to employ as long as they don’t make costly mistakes! Key to avoiding those mistakes is training, by the younger guys serving their appren- ticeships in a less critical environment where they can make mistakes and learn from them – as we did in the Mumm 36. Football pundit Alan Hansen once famously said ‘you never win anything with kids’, shortly before Manchester United won the treble with a very youthful team. I don’t think anybody expected us to win our class in the Admiral’s Cup in 1997. ABN Amro 2 didn’t disappoint either. And look how many good sailors (including Jimmy Spithill) sprang from the Young Australia America’s Cup campaign. If they are ever to progress, we need to find a way for our aspiring young sailors to serve their big boat apprenticeship. Even the best young sailor needs to learn a range of new skills, ashore and afloat. And all while sailing in a variety of different roles. This is one very good reason for restarting the Admiral’s Cup. And while we are at it, why don’t we make it compul- sory to have a decent percentage of youth sailors in the crews? Just leave a space for a bald, old bloke at the back to help them learn the ropes.


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