Dan Holman interviews Mark Tait, winning crew of the 2013 POW and Gallon

30 Jul Dan Holman interviews Mark Tait, winning crew of the 2013 POW and Gallon

With the 2013 I14 worlds in Toronto looming large, we took the opportunity to interview Mark Tait, who, crewing for Douglas Pattison, has won all three of the major I14 trophies this year – the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club trophy; the Prince of Wales – the UK I14 one race national championships; and the Gallon trophy.

Daniel Holman: Mark, firstly congratulations on the Prince of Wales race win. Between that, the RBYC trophy and the Itchenor Gallon, you and Douglas have had quite a year in the 14s. Possibly the first time anyone has won the ‘holy trinity’. You guys are a fairly ‘mature’ partnership, what do you attribute this year’s success to?

Mark Tait: It’s been a bit of a pleasant surprise but it’s not come without a lot of effort! I guess it’s down to a couple of factors:

Firstly one of our strengths as a team is that we never concede defeat until we’ve finished. The speed differences coming from the effect of traffic, poor manoeuvres and wind speed changes even between two well set-up boats mean opportunities come surprisingly often whether you look for them or not! For example the gallon win was a combination of both, Ben and Glen allowed us to close a very large gap when they were focusing on racing/luffing each other and we finally took the lead by spotting the opportunity to gybe into the Hayling channel and use the favourable tide.

Secondly after 3 years of building, sailing and developing Pamela we have learned a considerable amount of what works and what doesn’t having tested some of the extreme options. For this year we’ve made a number of changes to focus on modding the boat towards the lighter conditions which we are expecting at the worlds in Toronto this year, and we have been lucky enough to see these conditions in the key races so far.

DH: The top five places overall from POW week feature 5 different designs from 5 different builders, ranging from a 9 year old production spec (gel coated wet layup foam sandwich) boat, right up to one off prepreg nomex exotica. This is great news for a new entrant insofar as it doesn’t seem necessary to have one design or another in order to succeed. Tell me a bit about your boat, Pamela:

MT: Yes it’s fantastic to see such a variety, I think the advantages aren’t in the hull shape anymore, the foils help and the rig gives the biggest gains.

We were delighted to have finished the 2010 Sydney worlds in 9th place in our 2004 Morrison 12, but we knew we’d got all we could out of the original rig and sails. We started discussing how we could improve for next time even before we’d got on the plane home. Doug having grown up at Itchenor had an ambition to own a new 14, and by the time we’d got back to London I’d been persuaded that a new boat would be a good idea, I just didn’t know quite how much work this would entail. Throughout Feb we looked into options, we were unable to find anyone in the UK interested in building one. Costs of importing were prohibitive, and there were no attractive second hand options at the time. What we did find was George Nurton planning to build a new boat; he already had a design drawn up in conjunction with Tom Partington (who was studying for his Naval architecture finals) and frames for a mould in the process of being CNC cut. We took the plunge, risking the radical looking design with solid wings and reverse rake bow, however the basic underwater shape is an evolution of what George had done with the modified Beiker 5 that Archie (Massey – reigning 3 time world champion) has sailed to great effect, so we felt reasonably confident. It has slightly less rocker overall and more volume in the bow to enable the Tfoil to be used more effectively, but nothing radically different.

We started building the mould in March, the outer skin of our boat was the first real piece of laminating any of us had done! After some very full weekends work Pamela and the Hoff (George’s boat) arrived in July (somewhat quicker than the professionals achieved full time with the B6 and Killing 3 who started about the same time).

Spending too much time getting mildly high on obnoxious boat-building-fumes in a small garage with George perhaps isn’t the best way to make key hardware choices for your 14, all too quickly the experimental seems the best way forward rather than the tried and tested. We’ve now spent the last 3 seasons developing and rationalising those initial choices. The mast we bought was based on developments seen in the 18ft skiffs which are now very stiff, along the whole length unlike the 14 rigs of the time (and most currently) which rely on the tip bending to depower. Along the way we’ve learnt quite a lot about what make masts work, how to calculate their geometries, building carbon components and also some sailmaking shortcuts to get sails and masts to work together (it’s a scary step when you first take scissors to your mainsail), all interesting stuff, but very time-consuming.

At the start of this year we had a choice to use the CST HM3 Rig we’d bought from Archie at the Weymouth worlds (2011) or to go back to the original stiff C-Tech. We chose the latter as a better option for lighter winds and also to resolve some unfinished business – we had not had it properly set up in our previous attempts. Some significant changes and a great new mainsail from North UK and it seems to be working well so far…

DH: Whilst obviously inspiring to see sailors taking their destinies into their own hands, and showing that it can bring success, It is probably worth pointing out that such a level of investment in time and effort is not totally necessary to be competitive. Between good second hand boats, and now the MAGMA/Ovinton/P&B Bieker 6 package, there are turnkey options both new and used available in the UK to get into this exciting fleet. Furthermore, several UK boatbuilders (Richard Woof, Ovington, and Composite Craft to name but a few) can make parts up to and including finished boats. Having hinted at your great speed, particularly in light airs, and that you guys have been among the most progressive with regards trying new equipment, let’s talk about the setup.

How were you setup on your (single spreader no caps) C tech rig in the 6–8kt POW race, what would you do whilst racing or even between races if the wind built, and could you compare this to how you would have treated the, dare I say it, more conventional twin spreader CST HM3 setup that you had been using the previous year across the wind range?

MT: Agreed – if these new boat options were available 3 years ago, we would have had one!

Regarding our current setup, we aim not to adjust the forestay and shroud lengths during races aiming to get these right before hand, changing during racing makes you look inwardly and worry that the setting is correct, rather than outwards at the racetrack. This year we are using 3 rake options: upright when non/single wiring, full rake for when it’s winder probably >16knots average and in the middle for everything else (total movement probably 3cm in forestay length). In terms of tension the key thing is to keep the forestay tight – I see a lot of 14s sailing with a lot of sag it’s a big jib with a relatively narrow shroud base..– if you’re not pointing it’s the first thing to check. Our forestay tension is over 30 on the proper Loos gauge – more is better if your boat/mast can hold it! We use fixed lowers on bottlescrews and maintain the same length lowers across all rake settings, this way the mast is straightened when forwards in light winds and allowed to bend more when raked aft in the breeze, currently we are running the lowers relatively soft, it allows a more ‘give’ in the stiff rig to make it more forgiving to sail – The ability to run soft lowers is dependent on the cut of the mainsail though, and not ideal on softer masts which can’t hold the forestay tension. Besides setting the rake it’s a case of using the basic controls; board up and Cunningham as wind builds, the vang is more interesting, we pull on to a max tension in 10-12 knots, and then start easing as the wind builds to twist the mainsail to depower – it does make the mainsheet hard work, need some more purchase next!

The CST Rig was more straightforward, we used a fixed length forestay (and lowers) across all wind strengths. The shrouds and caps were operated on the same system; In very light winds we’d start with the shrouds relatively soft (30->32) and progressively pull these on to retighten the forestay as the mast is bent by pulling on Cunningham to depower, by the time it’s properly windy we’d be up to 40 on the shrouds. The vang would pretty much remain in the same place once powered up. It was really easy never having to worry about the setup before a race as it’s quite easy to pull on or let off the shrouds.

DH: So your current style is just to chop the rig forward or back really as a means to change the lowers? Its probably worth noting that plenty of boats out there make coarse changes of over 200mm on the forestay, with all the attendant changes to lowers and jib setup that this requires. I don’t think anyone really does that whilst racing though! It is great to see that a pinned (or nearly pinned, rake wise) rig can be made to go in all conditions with only rig tension adjustments.

MT: I think pulling the mast aft is more beneficial than changing just the lowers, changing the length of the lowers only allows more bend to be induced low down in the mast, but not much else. Changing the rake apart from effectively changing the lowers also changes the action of the spreaders to help manage the bend further up the mast; with the mast more upright the spreaders push the mast less to give a straighter setup and with more rake the spreaders push more giving more bend. In addition to this raking the mast also helps open the jib leach.

DH: What sort of lowers tension would you run on the twin spreader rig – comments regarding individual rigs notwithstanding? Also, do you do much to the jib car and jib luff tension as you go through the range or just keep it all on the sheet? And finally how would you describe your use of the T-foil?

MT: I’d never measured the tension per se as it would depend on the shroud tension: with the shrouds fully on (tension at ~ 40) then the lowers would be taught, however at minimum shroud tension then the centre of the lower would be slack enough to be gently deflected 15 to 20mm from a straight line. As I said earlier this is very dependent on the cut of the mainsail, I would be adjusting these by +- 1 turn to get it right. a small change in lower length makes quite a difference to the fore aft position of the gnav attachment effecting mainsail camber and the slot – hence why it’s important not to have anything in the system that stretches!!

Regarding the Jib we usually sail with the car as far out as it goes (which is to the gunwale on our boat); it’s very easy to choke the slot. Only when very light wind in flat water would we bring it in a few inches. With the luff we simply try and make sure there are no creases. T-foil use is also relatively simple; downwind as much on as you dare, upwind – in no breeze keep in neutral, as the wind builds to just allow two wires, pull it on until just before it stalls, and back it off further as the boat speed or chop builds to stop burying the bow – With body weight as far aft as possible.

DH: Do you know your base mast rake in mm? I’m guessing your mast heel is at midships a la B5.

MT: The mast heel is approximately midships fore and aft like the B5, however, I haven’t measured rake…

DH: We have just had a national championships where half of the boats registered domestically in the last decade were in attendance. People with families, young people, people in their 50s and even 60s, ladies helming better than most of the guys. It’s a good time to join in. What got you into the 14 class, what keeps you there and what advice would you give a prospective 14er about what to look for in a boat when getting into the fleet at price points of say £3000, £6000, and £12000?

MT: I had been racing 18ft Skiffs for a number of years but was looking for a change; the UK fleet was getting smaller and it was getting increasingly hard to keep up with the developments going on in Sydney. I didn’t want to take too much of a step down in performance, sail single handed or compete against full time sailors, so I was keen to give 14s a go when Doug called me up, we’d team-raced together as students winning the BUSA championships (along with Paul Kameen) so had a good idea we’d get on. My first impressions were that the 14 was like a like a toy version of the 18, the loads are much smaller as the righting moment is much lower, and I couldn’t understand why simple steps of increasing the rack width and length (aft) of the racks had not been taken, which would be an easy route to more performance. Having sailed the boats for 5 years now, you begin to understand the compromises, including accessibility for a wider audience of sailors and ensuring the boats remain feasible to sail at clubs with more restricted sailing waters. For me part of the fascination of the class is trying to figure out how to go faster, partly the physical challenge and partly the good quality racing without too much travelling. The other key part is that the class has great camaraderie, whether at UK, European of Worlds level, all the big events always have a relaxed feeling – this is why I think we still have such diversity out our events. Also how many other classes have free beer at all their championships?

If I was recommending someone gets into the class I would contradict all I have done and described earlier; buy a standard boat with standard hardware, learn how to sail it fast and be able to ask someone else what the settings they are using before changing stuff.

The key part on buying a boat is to ensure it has up to date hardware in terms of foils, mast and good sails, as upgrading these on can quite quickly exceed the initial price. Best bet at the moment is Sam’s boat (GBR 1509) which was 3rd in the POW race and 3rd in the POW week. It has new sails, and foils and a good mast for under £6000 – fantastic value! In the £3k price range it’s easily possible to race with the fleet you’d be looking at a Good Beiker3 or 4 and M10/11s are available, but the above comments on making sure you are happy with the mast, sails and foils are even more important – you are not going to want to replace these as any upgrade cost will soon have added up to a more complete package. When you get into the teens you’re looking at some proper bespoke machinery usually Beiker 5s – fantastic boats, Rob Greenhalgh’s was recently for sale and it’s immaculate. The other top tip is to look out for people selling off old kit after large championships which can give some great savings.

DH: You guys weigh approximately 155kg together – what do you see as a competitive weight range in the class? I would estimate that we have seen regatta winning teams from 150 and 180kg. Your wife informs me that you aren’t a big drinker. Apart from near abstinence, how else do you prepare yourself for 14 sailing?

MT: Weight isn’t something we’ve dwelled upon as a team – I am not able to change mine so I’ve not worried about it. The 14s do seem to be able to deal with a wide weight range; there are lighter teams than us who go well in a breeze, and heavier teams certainly aren’t disadvantaged, which in part is why it’s attractive to the older teams.

I try and keep in shape but between work and other commitments I largely fail to do anywhere enough exercise, so have to rely on time spent sailing for fitness – getting back into running is on the to do list. I admire your own dedication to exercise Dan, but I think running after sailing is only really an option for helms!

DH: Thank you very much for your time, and all the best to you, Doug and Pamela in Toronto in September.


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