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Yacht Racing Podcast Episode 5 – Ian Walker

Yacht Racing Podcast Episode 5 – Ian Walker

Justin Chisholm’s guest on the latest episode of the Yacht Racing Podcast is British Olympian and ocean race skipper, Ian Walker.

Walker has had a broad and illustrious career in professional sailing having won two Olympic silver medals – one as crew and one as helmsman – and having skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing to victory in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race around the world.

Walker has also led America’s Cup campaigns and coached fellow Brit Shirley Robertson and her Yngling crew to an Olympic gold medal – as well as successfully plying his trade as an inshore tactician for many years on the international Grand Prix racing circuit.

More recently Walker has taken on a new land-based challenge as director of racing at Britain’s Royal Yachting Association where – amongst many other responsibilities – he is in charge of the British Sailing Team’s Olympic prospects.

You can listen to the show right here using the player below or subscribe for free at iTunes/Apple Podcasts here, or wherever you get your podcasts by searching for ‘Yacht racing Podcast’.

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Podcast interview transcript:

Justin: So, Ian Walker, welcome to the podcast. Where am I talking to you today?

Ian: I’m sat in, RYA Headquarters in Hamble, near Southampton in the UK.

Justin: So, you’re there because your role these days is as racing director for the Royal Yachting Association.

Justin:  Just tell us a bit about that role and what attracted you to it in the first place?

Ian: You know, I guess life’s changed for me quite a lot in the last 18 months.

I’ve gone from a full-time professional sailor – I guess for the best part of 25 years – and I took this opportunity to become the director of racing at the RYA, so I kind of wear two hats. One is in charge of the performance program – the Olympic program and the pathways to the youth and junior program that feeds that, and then the other hat is around anything else to do with racing boats in the UK.

So that could include race official, training, management, umpiring. Certification of boats, measurement, a whole host of technical resources that the RYA provides, along with things like the Portsmouth Yardstick handicapping system. And that extends out into team racing, match racing, keelboat sailing.

So, it’s a pretty wide brief, and I guess that is the answer to the question of what attracted me to the role. I spend a lot of time sailing with some incredible people and amazing boats all over the world and led a very privileged life really. But, kind of felt that the time was right to take on a new challenge. And it’s certainly been a challenge in the last year!

Justin: I’m sure it has. Just for those people who are listening to the podcast outside of the UK – we do have quite a lot of listeners around the world – the RYA, the Royal Yachting Association, it’s essentially the UK’s governing body for sailing, isn’t it? Just explain a little bit about that.

Ian: Yeah, well, that’s absolutely right. The RYA is the national governing body for sailing. And just to put it in perspective, in my department, – which is racing, which is separate from other departments such as training or sports development, i.e. getting people into the sport – we have about 35 full time staff.

And then obviously, (well not obviously) we have a lot more contractors who work with us, particularly delivering services like coaching, mainly across our youth and junior program, but obviously extending into the Olympic program.

Justin: And the state of racing in the UK right now? How would you sum that up?

Ian: Well, it’s had quite a decline, particularly in the recession in the late 2000s. It is probably – broadly speaking – stable over the last four or five years, but there’s no doubt the sport faces a lot of challenges with the changes in modern society.

I think there’s a lot of issues that need confronting around accessibility in terms of the fact that both the shortest resources people probably have are time and money. And sailing can be both expensive and very time consuming.

So we’re facing quite a lot of challenges, but there’s still areas of very strong popularity and growth. We have some very successful sailing clubs, some very successful sailing series, but that’s not the pattern across the board. And particularly in the UK, in the United Kingdom, we’ve seen probably more of a polarization of sailing in the south and in the south coast of England than maybe historically, what was there 25 years before.

Justin: Is there a sport that you think is doing it particularly well, one that’s of comparable size to sailing?

Ian: Well, there’s certainly sports that are struggling. I think golf I guess is a similar sport that is quite time-consuming, and my understanding is that’s had quite a decline. I think sports that are growing are the more lifestyle-type sports?

I’m thinking of surfing, – thinking of the water environment – and stand up paddle boarding. You know, sports that are maybe closer related to health and fitness while still taking place on the water – I think they’ve seen considerable growth. So maybe there’s some lessons we can learn from them.

Justin: Yeah and I guess sailing does still have this image of a slightly elitist sport and I guess the sailing club, the yacht club kind of mentality is still a challenge for some people and can be a barrier. Do you think that’s the case?

Ian: I think sailing has that perception which creates challenges for the sport and the perception of the sport. But I think actually at a club level that’s the exception, not the rule. Most clubs that I visit around the UK are pretty down to earth.

Justin: Yeah I think that’s a fair point. Ian, I wanted to zone in with you on one element of your role and that’s the Olympic side of things. Now you’re a double Olympic medallist yourself and obviously the Olympic side is something that’s very close to your heart. Do you look back on your Olympic campaigning fondly at this stage?

Ian: [Laughs] I’m trying desperately hard not to say things like, “This is how we used to do it.” because it was quite a while ago. My last Olympics I competed in was 2000, in the Star, and I coached the Yngling Class in 2004. So that’s already stretching back three or four Olympics, so things move on.

And as with everything, whether it’s the Americas Cup, the Volvo, the Olympics, the standard goes up, the attention to detail goes up, the margin for error goes down. And so, for me it’s been quite exciting – having spent 12 years of my life directly campaigning in the Olympics – to actually get re-engaged with that. It really is the purest form of sailing, I think. And it’s really the area where people are pushing day-in day-out to the highest degree. So, that’s been fascinating and there’s been huge developments, certainly on the sport science side of the sport. The coaching side of the sport has changed beyond recognition from when I was involved.

Like I say, the standard and the demands the sailors put on themselves and on their support team, and the size of that support team and everything that’s required to resource that, is really off the charts compared to 20 years ago.

Justin: How do you think you would stack up if you were campaigning now at the age you were back then?

Ian: I think I’d stack up in some areas, but certainly if you look at 470 – which is what I spent the majority of my time sailing – that class has changed beyond recognition with the change in the pumping rules.

So there’s such a huge emphasis now on physical fitness that I suspect I’d have done very poorly indeed. Whereas that wasn’t the case, back when I was Olympic racing. Sure you had to be sailing fit. You had to be the right size, you had to be the right weight. You had to have a certain amount of stamina, but you weren’t having to spend half your time at the gym, which maybe is a prerequisite now.

So, that’s changed. You know, I think that across the board, I think the sailors are fitter and stronger. That probably wouldn’t have played into my strengths necessarily, but ultimately, it’s still campaigning. You’ve got to make the right decisions, you’ve got to take people on that journey with you. You’ve got to make good decisions under pressure at the right time. And those things will never change.

Justin: A lot of people would view the life of an Olympic campaigner as a pretty glamorous one. You know, getting paid to sail full-time sounds like a pretty fun existence. What’s the reality? From your own experience and now working with the campaigners from this generation, what’s like really like?

Ian: Well I think no matter how much support you get, or how much resource you have, you know, you always want more. Your ambitions go up, your demands go up. I don’t think there’s anybody profiting from Olympic sailing, in fact, our knowledge shows that most individuals are really dipping quite considerably still into their pocket.

But of course, that’s enabling them to do the last half a percent of improvement gain. Whereas back in the day when there was no real funding, you were trying to scrape around just to be able to get the petrol to put into the car to go there. Not for some detailed piece of equipment that maybe you want to experiment with, or for the level of coaching that some people are getting used to.

So it’s changed, but I think the thing that hasn’t changed is that the pressure you’re under and the pressure you put on yourself and the demands and trying to be the best in the world when there’s lots of other people trying to be the same thing.
So I think the sailors work probably physically harder than we did before. But they’re able to focus much more on the job in hand. They maybe don’t need to – within the UK that is where there’s more support – spend as much time working at how to resource it.

But you know we have to be really careful to generalise because the really tough period in Olympic sailing is that bridge between youth and senior sailing. And although there’s a lot of knowledge base support, there’s not a lot of cash support for sailors until they really get quite high up the ladder – and that is the real challenge when you step out of youth classes and come into the senior world.

The top 20 in the world championship can seem an awful long way away when you step out of your 420 dinghy.

Justin: How do you spot those people; how do you identify those individuals that have got the talent? If it was football it would be football scouts running around the country looking at youth teams and whatever. Is that how it works with sailing?

Ian: We don’t so much have scouts, but obviously the coaches are interacting with most of those sailors from a reasonably young age. So I don’t think there’s really much chance that somebody’s going to just appear from off the radar who we’ve not seen at any Optimist or Topper or Mirror or Cadet event as a junior.

I don’t think you can get to the required standard without competing against other people of your own age in different venues in competition. So, I don’t think people are going to arrive unknown to us. The coaches will see that.

What do you look for? Personally, I think you can learn an awful lot just by watching people in the boat. Watching how, particularly the helmsman, sits in their boat, how they trim, how they move. I think you very quickly, to my eye, can work out who has potential. And then I think the really big thing is just understanding that individual, because so much of it is about attitude and commitment and having enough confidence to believe in yourself, but also having enough humility to realise how much you need to learn and have the humility to ask for help in certain areas.

So, I think attitude is probably the most important thing, because a lot of what we do in the boat is learnable given the right support and input and training and practice.

Justin: The British Sailing team has a pretty fearsome reputation. They topped the medal table in Rio 2016. Are you planning a repeat performance of that in Tokyo 2020?

Ian: Well we’re hoping to do better. You know, obviously we’re very ambitious. We’re given this funding by the government through the National Lottery in order to get medal winning success in the Olympics – and that is our mandate. That is what we’re here to do.

And so therefore we have to set the bar very, very, high. Rio was good because we got two golds and a silver which meant that we topped the medal table in terms of number of golds, number of silvers, but not in terms of number of medals.
I think I’m right in saying the Kiwi’s might have got four medals. We’ve seen there’s some really strong teams around at the moment. Particularly the Dutch in the last year or so. The French have a bit a renaissance as well.

So it gets ever harder to win those medals. Britain peaked in Beijing with six medals I believe and looking back at Sydney in 2000 we got three golds and two silver. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see that kind of dominance.

And if you go further back, if you look at the American team, I think medalled in every single class, if I’m right in saying, in 92. It might have been the Americans or the Spanish? One or other. I think they got nine or ten medals each.

So I think because people are learning from other nations because they’re able to focus on maybe one or two or three classes, and because there’s so much talent out there and coaching ability to share that knowledge I think that the medals are getting ever harder to win.

So – I have no idea how we’re going to do at this stage. I do believe we’ll be in contention in all ten classes. We’ve qualified all ten classes. Do I believe we’ll be in the top eight in every class? Yes, I do. But there’s a huge gulf between coming fifth, sixth, or seventh and actually delivering a medal.

Some of that you have control over, but a lot of things you don’t have any control over – and much of it will depend on our competition. It will depend on the conditions. It will depend on whether our team manages to rise to the occasion. That’s what we’re here to try and help them do.

Justin How does the selection process work now? You’ve got clearly a very strong squad in depth in many of the classes. How do you pick the people who are young to go to the Games?

Ian: Well, we don’t publicise our selection process. That’s kept in-house. The only people who know the detail of our selection are the selection committee and the sailors that applied to be part of the team.

But I can say that it’s a staged process, starting this Spring. It’s not the same for all classes. And ultimately the job of the selection committee is to select the sailor or sailors that they believe have the maximum chance of winning gold in Tokyo. So we might see some sailors picked earlier than others, for instance. What it isn’t is one regatta and the winners go to the Olympics, that’s for sure.

Justin: Yeah, that would be the classic movie way of doing it but doesn’t make a lot of sense in real life. So let’s move on from the Olympics. While I’ve got you on I wanted to try and pick your brains a little bit and get your view on a few of the things that are happening in the sport at the moment.

And there is a lot going on. Let’s start with the Volvo Ocean Race, an event you won in 2014-15. Some big changes there, not least the introduction of the IMOCA 60 class and before that the sale of the business from Volvo to a private management company. What are your thoughts on all of that? It’s a big topic!

Ian: [Pauses] Yeah, that is a big topic. I don’t know where to start, really. But let’s start with the last race. It was fantastic finish. I was particularly pleased to see Charles winning the race having had so many ding-dong battles with him myself in the previous race and with some of my friends on board.

And they did an amazing job really, considering where they started from and some of the tasks they were trying to fulfil outside of just winning the race. I thought that the performance of the boats was really interesting. It was really interesting how the advantage of MAPFRE and Dongfeng got closed down as the race went on. Maybe there’s some parallels with us in the last race there.

I thought the drone footage really did add to the spectacle of the race from the outside. Again, the one design boats showed their worth. It seems a long time ago now that boats were breaking down and not finishing legs. I think that is a real concern moving forward with the IMOCA 60, where we might have to get used to a third of the fleet not finishing legs as seems to happen in the IMOCA 60 races even when they’re sailed single handed.

So I think that’s a big concern the organizers are going to have to really think about because we need a good fleet of boats and the whole fleet of boats preferably needs to make it all the way around the world. That’s one thing the Volvo 65 did provide for the race.

I’m not close enough really to it. I’d cede to the better judgment of people as to whether with the 60 it’s possible to use the same boat for the Vendée and the Volvo. I guess I’m quite sceptical of that: a) because the routes different, b) because I don’t know how you’re going to fit all those people on board.

Personally I’m disappointed that the race is going to be changed forever. I don’t think we’re going to have teams of people on deck braving the elements 24 hours a day. I just don’t think it works like that in the open 60s. It’s a much more of a protected environment, more furling sails, fewer people.

Like it or not it’s not really a fully crewed race anymore, it’s a short-handed race. I don’t know if they’re going to have five or six, but even if you’ve got six, in reality you’ve probably only got half on deck most of the time, so it really is shorthanded sailing – which is a shame.

But please don’t think I’m bring critical, because I don’t have a better answer to the problem. I think it comes down to economics, really. We all love to look back to the heyday of Maxi’s, or maybe the Whitbread 60s were the heyday of the race. But you know it’s just not economically viable to be running races like that anymore.

And what the 60s will give us I think is an amazing spectacle. We’ve just got to hope that they get the teams to the start line and it doesn’t become a) a complete development race and we lose the tight race thing that we’ve just got used to with the 65s, and b) I just hope that the boats don’t break down. I do worry that when you put a group of Volvo sailors on those boats – they have a habit of breaking things, I suspect.

Justin: Yeah. Pretty sure I agree with you on all of those angles and it was interesting to have a conversation with somebody that I probably shouldn’t name, but an ex-leader of the Volvo Ocean Race who was questioning this idea that speed is necessarily what we should be focusing on with this sport.

You know, having just had this amazing race – in perhaps not the fastest boats on the planet, with the 65s, but super racing and very engaging for all the fans – did we really need to move it into foiling boats with all the risks associated with that, where we may have the boats separated by big distances.

Ian: It’s just a really difficult dance isn’t it? Because you want to attract the best sailors, and the sailors was to sail the sexiest, coolest boats. And the sailors like development because it gives them something intellectually to challenge themselves with. Now I can tell you, going training on a Volvo 65 day-in day-out is pretty boring once you’ve got used to it.

Whereas when you’re actually able to think about ‘How could I redesign this sail’ or ‘What could we do with this widget’ or ‘What can we change on the foil’, it adds another layer of intellectual involvement. And so, I get it.

The sailors and the industry and the design, as you know, they love the idea of development classes. But it’s one of the sort of ironies of our sport, that very often when boats get too fast the race gets boring. And whilst the foiling boats look cool, most of the time the boat is in the middle of the ocean.

If you look at the Olympic classes, very often the slowest classes – dare I say it – the Finn, is one of the most photogenic boats. And the Star used to be as well. And that’s because the people are close to the water.

So speed doesn’t necessarily add sexiness, but in a way I do think it adds something which the race was losing. If the Volvo Race doesn’t attract the best sailors, then what is it? It’s just another around the world race.

When it was in the Volvo 70s, they really were cool boats and the sailors loved sailing them. And I think it’s a really shame that they’ve moved too far away from that. And I think that all the good things the Volvo 65, the longevity, the close racing, I think we could have had all of that and still had a slightly faster, more reliable boat. I think the 70s were very close to getting to that point, just as we moved away from them.

Justin: What’s your guesstimate on how many teams we’ll in IMOCA 60s for the next race?

Ian: You know, your guess would be way better than mine, Justin.

First question is whether it is realistic to do the Vendée and the Volvo in the same boat. I suspect the answer’s no.

And if it was realistic, what’s the time gap between two of those races? What is it we’re talking? Four, five, or six months between the end of the Vendée and the start of the Volvo? What modifications would you need to make? Presumably you’re going to have to put a whole new deck and superstructure on a boat to make it viable.

I mean I haven’t been on board one of the modern 60s, but by all accounts there’s not much room down below. Someone said there was four cubic meters on the latest boat. Well, you’ll struggle to get six people down there. So, clearly, the boats going to have to be modified – the modern ones that are aiming to win the Vendée.

And if you’re not one of those boats, would you want to take it in the Volvo anyway?

So, I don’t know. I’m really not close enough to it. All I know is I love the race. I think that Richard and Johan, they love the race. I like the fact that the race is bring run by people who are passionate about it.

Volvo did an amazing job. Not just in the race but across the whole breadth of our sport really. It’s moved it in an inexorably commercial direction. And I just really hope they can make a go of it. And I certainly wish them luck with that. And hopefully, I’ll get to go for a sail on one of the boats before they take off.

Justin: So staying with offshore sailing and just kind of dipping back into the Olympics – and I understand you may or may not be able to answer this question – what are your views on the potential introduction of a mixed gender offshore class for the next-but-one Olympics?

Ian: Well you can’t really look at it in isolation, you’ve got to look at the whole process of how they got to that point.

If I just step back and look at the array of events we potentially have for 2024, you’ve got to say it’s kind of exciting. We’ve got some single-handers, we’ve got double-handers, we got skiffs, we’ve got some mixed boats, we’ve got offshore, we’ve got kiteboards, we’ve got windsurfing.

You know what? If the purpose of the Olympics is to showcase the breadth of our sport to the world, that’s kind of pretty cool. So in that sense I’m quite positive. If I think about British interests, of course we absolutely want to retain the Finn, because I think we’ve won the last five gold medals in the Finn. And we’re working incredibly hard hoping that we might go to win the next one.

I do think that in an age where humans are getting bigger generally – certainly in the developed world and I suspect across the whole world – because of improved diets, it’s slightly strange that we no longer have a boat for larger men, at least.

It’s a victim of the process. World sailing followed the process, I think the final decision to approve offshore sailing over the single person mixed event was the right decision. Because I don’t believe the Finn would have had a role to play in that anyway. And I think to have events such as single-person mixed in the Olympics that don’t exist outside of the Olympics, would be wrong.

I can see quite a lot of potential in mixed-offshore. But I could also see a lot of questions. How is it going to be kept affordable? How are they going to police the rules? And actually, on a really simple point, I’m nervous about the number of double-handed boats we now have, or double-handed events. With a falling athlete quota, it means the fleet sizes are going to get smaller and smaller at the Games, and that’s going to have an impact on the number of countries that end up being involved.

I guess my real fear there is that’s one of the main reasons why Parasailing was dropped from the Olympics, because it wasn’t seen that there was participation in enough countries and continents worldwide. So, that’s a bit of a concern. Whereas, do we really need however many mixed events. How many mixed events do we have now? Nacra, boards, offshore, 470. So we’ve got six double-handed events and four single-handed events.

Justin: I wanted to touch also on the America’s Cup and SailGP. SailGP is the newcomer to the whole thing. It’s Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison’s baby. It’s had lots of money ploughed into it. It looks slick. The boats look pretty impressive. Do you think the introduction of this kind of detracts from the America’s Cup or is complimentary to the whole thing?

Ian: I think the America’s Cup is the America’s Cup and it’s all about the history. So I don’t think it would detract from the America’s Cup, I guess is my honest opinion. I’m not that close to the whole thing. My only real involvement has been discussions with Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell about the impact this may or may not have on their 49er campaign, in which my interest is winning gold medals for Great Britain in Tokyo.

So part of that discussion was around their time commitment and part of that discussion was around safety. I just hope that they can race these boats with as little training time as they’ve all got. You know with five or six of them on the water I hope that they can keep that safe at the speeds they’re talking about.

Justin: I guess in an ideal world you’d rather they weren’t doing that and they were just focused on their Olympic campaign?

Ian: I think if that was the case then we might have stopped them doing it. I think there’s lots of opportunities that come out of this. I think it’s really important to grow as an individual, as a sailor, and as a team.

I think this will offer a whole load of experiences that will make Dylan and Stu grow as sailors and campaigners. If you look in the past at the likes of Pete Burling and even Giles Scott as examples, they’ve been able to juggle successful gold medal winning Olympic campaigns with other sailing. Some might argue that if it’s managed properly it could actually strengthen it.

But I think it’s the question of managing that process and being realistic with yourselves. And I’ll also say, I’m a sailor, so I put myself in their shoes and I can imagine how much you’d want to that. How much you want a gold medal, but how much you want to get involved in a new, exciting project like this.

Our job is to try to manage that process and support them and help them and hopefully be successful in both.

Justin: There are lots of options open now to successful Olympic sailors coming out of an Olympics with a medal. It used to kind of be you’d get sucked into the America’s Cup, but now you’ve got Americas Cup, you’ve got SailGP, you’d even look at the Volvo Race, which was peppered with medal winners in the last race. And even things like the Vendée Globe now with these very high tech, high performance boats. So, it’s kind of a pretty healthy-looking situation for Olympic sailors after an Olympics?

Ian: [Hesitates] It’s sort of: it is and it isn’t, isn’t it? It’s funny, isn’t it, Olympic sailors are getting smaller and smaller and yet the people required to let’s say, crew an America’s Cup boat are getting bigger and bigger.

I think it’s fine if you’re one of the people who is able to make that transition. But I think in general, there’s fewer and fewer opportunities. I think back in the 90s you might have gone into the Admiral’s Cup, where there’s many more people involved in that of all different shapes and sizes.

Whereas then that was a stepping stone to other big boats series like the 52s or maybe into the Volvo, or Whitbread as it was then, I think now the higher performance nature of the boats in the main events has helped, because that has, I guess brought the age down and for the Olympic sailors it’s increased their relevance.

But I don’t think there’s an awful lot of opportunities out there. The TP52? Not that many opportunities open up. I think the Fast 40s is quite exciting that’s going on in the UK.

I think if you look at the size of crews, in the Americas Cup in 2002 when I was the British skipper I think we had 38 sailors on our sailing squad. And many people got their break through that and the Cup before and that’s how they got their experience of sailing big boats and were able to then take that on into super yachting or the Volvo Ocean Race, or the Americas Cup, or whatever they did.

Whereas now, I mean, how many people are on the British sailing squad in BAR in Bermuda? Is it five on the boat? And anther handful in reserve. So maybe 10 or 11 in total? Compared to 38. And of course we had 11 teams in New Zealand. So that’s 250 or 300 sailors, although not all teams were two boat teams.

So I think it’s pretty tough if you’re out there as a young sailor and it’s hard enough if you’ve got a medal and it’s even harder if you haven’t.

Justin: And there is a case to argue, I guess, that certain sailors who are not Olympic medallists, who physically and talent-wise just fit the bill. I’m thinking of people like Luke Parkinson and Louie Sinclair who sailed with you on Abu Dhabi. They’ve been pretty much constantly employed since that Abu Dhabi campaign finished – with America’s Cup and various other things.

Ian: That’s for sure. If you’re a young sailor now and you want to make your way in the sport the most important thing is to get down to the gym. So many of the boats have become so fitness-driven, and strength and size-driven.

That includes the Volvo. One of the criteria we were looking for almost from the outset with Abu Dhabi is that you had to be 90 kilos. There’s all the talk about why we didn’t have more females, more girls, involved in that Volvo. Well, there’s not that many over 90 kilos, which was one of my criteria when I was trying to choose the team.

So there’s a huge, huge move in that regard. A big change in the sport and it’s true all the way down. All the way down in youth and junior sailing there’s a much higher emphasis put on diet, on physical preparation. And a lot of the kids are really into that stuff now.

Justin: Do Louie and Parko still take your calls and answer your emails these days?

Ian: [Laughs] Yeah, they’re not too famous for me yet. Actually I haven’t spoken to Louie for a while, but I spoke to Parko quite recently. I think he’s living over here now. I’ll have to catch up with him.

Justin: That’s right, well he had a British passport I know when he was with the Abu Dhabi team, so that will have been a big appeal to Ben Ainslie and the INEOS team.

Ian: Those guys, yeah they’re physical weapons, but the other thing that made them stand out was their attitude and that hasn’t changed. They are people you want on your side. People who will do anything for the cause. They’ll be first down the boat and they’ll be last to leave in the evening.

That still goes an awful long way and we shouldn’t just pigeonhole people like Parko and Louie as just being about their physical size. Sure that’s got them their break, but there’s plenty of big, strong people who’ve made a hash of it. Or who people don’t want to have around.

Justin: You’re absolutely right. Just to finish off now, cast an eye over the America’s Cup too? From my view point it looks like it’s in a reasonably healthy situation from a team point of view. It’s the largest entry we’ve had for a little while. What’s your view point?

Ian: Yeah. It’s changed a lot, hasn’t it? In the last month or so with the announcement of, three new entries – one from Malta, one from America, and one Dutch team. So three new teams means it’s looking really quite healthy.

I still can’t really get my head around it all. How those boats are going to actually sail, but I’m sure there’s people a lot smarter than me that have got their head around it and I’m sure they’ve got their numbers right.

But that’s also a little bit scary isn’t it. To think that they’re going to be racing these boats in September or something. They’re not even on the water and you’ve got a whole new world of sailing to learn. But they’ve got the best in the business working on it.

The teams starting late, I can only assume they’re getting a lot of support design-wise, otherwise I think it’s surely going to be too big a mountain to climb.

As I said, I’m not that close to it, but to answer your question it’s a good number of teams and it’s going to be a hell of a spectacle. So, yeah, might be time to think about flights to New Zealand in 2021 is it?

Justin: 2021.

Ian: Yeah, we’ve got a little while yet until the flights come out, but it’s going to be quite a spectacle. I think they’re racing at Cowes, are they racing at Cowes? Oh, no. That’s the SailGP racing at Cowes.

Justin: Yep, SailGP are racing at Cowes.

Ian: They’ll both be an amazing spectacle. For good or for bad.

Justin: Ian, thanks a million for talking to me, I’ve got a whole bunch of other questions we could ask but I don’t want to take up your time at the RYA for too much longer, so, I’ll say thanks and we’ll hopefully check in with you later in the year and just get an update on that British Olympic team.

Ian: Good stuff, Justin. I’m following your website and enjoying your podcast, so keep up the good work.

One thought on “Yacht Racing Podcast Episode 5 – Ian Walker

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