Free money? No, but there is FREE coaching at the RORC Easter Challenge
Jim Saltonstall is one of several highly respected experts offering free coaching advice to all, both on and off the water during the RORC Easter Challenge © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures
There are many ways to improve your yacht racing: You can practice more, get a better boat and equip it better, with better sails. You can round up more talented crew, maybe even a pro or two. Frequently absent from this list though is coaching: The single feature of a campaign that can consolidate all its parts; the independent set of eyes that can identify where mistakes are being made, plus the advice on how to fast track their correction.
Held over the Bank Holiday weekend (30th March to 1st April), the RORC Easter Challenge is open to all, not just Royal Ocean Racing Club members, and available to all entrants is FREE COACHING.
This comes from several of the most respected coaches including the guru himself, Jim Saltonstall, whose 'ferrets' have included several of Britain's most successful Olympic sailors including Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, etc. Then there is RORC Chief Executive Eddie Warden Owen, a former professional sailor and coach to leading America's Cup teams, notably Team New Zealand. Also back for the umpteenth year is Mason King who aside from his three decades in the Met Police, has for 20 years also been one of the UK's leading Yachtmaster Instructors. Mason is a regular coach for Sailing Logic, which has its First 40, Arthur Logic entered in the RORC Easter Challenge sailed by a crew from J.P. Morgan.
In addition, several top professional sailors and sailmakers from North Sails UK will be on the water to offer the benefit of advice, with of course special focus on sail set-up and trim.
The RORC's new Racing Manager Chris Stone explains the value of coaching;
"There is usually not enough time in people's racing programs to see improvement, so any opportunity to have some training together with their race program is a rare opportunity and something that should be taken as it's invaluable. Training should never stop, but far too often it does when there is still so much to learn."
Uniquely for this event, and specifically to aid the on the water coaching, Racing Rule of Sailing 41 (Outside Help) is relaxed. Thanks to this the unimaginable becomes possible: For example a trimmer can hop onto a coach boat to examine sail trim from off the boat which is impossible to do when racing. Equally, a coach can be invited onto a competing yacht to demonstrate to the crew how to fix some issue in person, which is also not possible when racing.
This free coaching is available to all; the RORC's aim simply to help raise the level of UK yacht racing. "This is not something that is just focussed on the sharper end of the fleet - it is focussed on all the fleet regardless of their level," confirms Stone.
However the coaching is optional. To receive it crews competing must register for it with the RORC beforehand, when they can also specify anything they need the coaches to address. The coaching is not just on the water. The RORC and North Sails are paying for drone footage of the racing to be taken. This are a key part of Friday and Saturday's debriefs, led by Jim Saltonstall, at the RORC Cowes Clubhouse.
Making their way from Brighton to Cowes for the RORC Easter Challenge for a third consecutive year is Andy Williams and the crew of the Max Fun 35, Mad Max. Williams explains of their participation;
"We find the crew listen to the coaches much more than they do from us! A great one is weight distribution on the boat. We are forever trying to get the crew to switch on to that and when they hear it from Jim Saltonstall on the water or in the debriefs they listen. Similarly with tips about spinnaker handling. Also for fine sail set it has been a great help. Particularly the North sails guys help you think through that - even though we don't have North Sails!"
Since coming to the RORC Easter Challenge Williams says they have started to see great improvements in their results. "In 2016 we would have been at the back of the fleet and struggling to keep up with some of the local boats. Now we are up with them and we put a huge amount of that down to the benefit of doing the Easter Challenge." This year they will be asking the coaches to address them with coaxing the best VMG downwind out of their A-sail equipped boat.
The Easter Challenge marks the start of one of the most challenging and ambitious seasons for the RORC, including the combined IRC Europeans and Commodores' Cup in the Solent in June and the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in August.
Racing at the RORC Easter Challenge is run by two time Olympian and two time Etchells World Champion Stuart Childerley on the Solent: Up to three races a day will include windward-leewards, reaching starts and round the cans courses.