Overview of the tactician's role
Out on the race course, the tactician acts as the helm's eyes. If the duo is to work, the helm must trust his tactician implicitly, as there are times when he cannot see a thing. He has his eyes glued to the tell tales concentrating on getting the most out of the boat. He casts a look over his shoulder from time to time to keep an eye on what is happening around him, but that is as far as it goes. Just a snapshot view of what is happening on the water at a given moment in time. The tactician is there to provide an overall picture as things develop and to help him exploit that as best he can. If the helm does not trust his tactician one hundred percent, he will drive his boat with a little more hesitation. When on the port tack for example, and a fellow competitor appears starboard, if he does not trust in his tactician's diagnosis, he will hesitate and start to hold the boat back. Whether to the right, the left, astern or ahead, we have to know exactly what is going on so that the crew can react quickly when a new situation arises. A crew's degree of reactivity makes all the difference – you have to be on the ball permanently.
Yacht racing is like a game of chess. You have to know how to anticipate the situation and see a couple of moves ahead to avoid coming unstuck when rounding the marks. Not only do you need to know your own boat inside out and have got to grips with her speed potential across a range of sailing angles but also have an accurate idea of those of your opponents. That requires lots of observation.
Tactics on board Gitana 11
The crew :
A tactician has to be familiar with the crew's strengths and weaknesses to know when they can try to pull something off. As the crew on Gitana 11 is progressing very rapidly, we can try to do certain things we wouldn't have dared to attempt before, such as lee-bowing an approaching starboard tacker, safe in the knowledge that as we tack better than before, we'll be able to pick up speed once again without the starboard tacker driving right over us.
We're cool, calm and collected on Gitana 11. I've been on the boat for three months now and I can see that all of us are making progress as the days go by. The better the crew, the easier the tactician's job – we have the full range of strategic combinations at our disposal.
Complicity – or the secret of Gitana 11's success :
Our strength lies in the fact that Fred and I have the same sailing background – racing Tornados in the Olympics). We've been racing for 20 years now. We know what we're doing and understand each other, we speak the same language. Another advantage is that we both appreciate the extent to which these 60-foot trimarans can be developed and that they can sail very fast indeed. I take that into account in developing strategy and Fred knows instinctively what I'm getting at. I like to move about on the boat to obtain my visual information. I need to know what the rest of the fleet are up to at all times. I also lend a hand with manoeuvres. Some tacticians remain static alongside the helm. I like to be in contact with the guys trimming the sheets.So that everything on board runs smoothly, everyone has to concentrate on getting the job done and not on contesting decisions. We have to work along the same lines. When the tactican decides to tack, he has to be 100% sure that it is going to work and that no-one is going to think twice about doing otherwise. There's no time to talk things over during the race, that has to wait until later. If mistakes have been made, then we have to work out ways of avoiding them next time round.
What I like about being on Gitana 11, is the mutual trust which results in our improving performance. The guys on the sheets trust us, just as Fred and I trust them when it comes to manoeuvring. In yacht racing, the key to success lies in the guys on board. You have to be convinced that the boat itself is not the be all and end all. And for all that Gitana 11 is an incredible machine, she is sailed to success by her crew. Each guy up on deck concentrates on the job in hand, on a common aim to achieve perfection.