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Interview with GP14 World Champion Ian Dobson


Sailfish member Oliver Ralph puts the questions to Ian Dobson – Burwain’s National and World GP14 Champion

Following his recent success in August 2013 at Largs, Scotland, in the GP14 National Championships, we asked one of Burwain’s youngest and keenest Sailfish members, Oliver Ralph to put the questions to Ian Dobson about what it takes to be a World champion sailor and give some insight to his path from sailing at Burwain as a youngster, to training at Olympic level and all the opportunities that sailing can offer.

1. How old were you when you started sailing?

I certainly can’t remember when I first started sailing! My Dad had a Wayfarer that we used to sail on Windermere, I must have been younger than 4! We also used to spend 2 weeks during the Easter holidays sleeping on the Wayfarer on the Norfolk Broads. At the time I thought it was child cruelty but on reflection it certainly an adventure!

2. What was the first boat you owned?

The first boat that I had for myself was an Optimist we bought off a family at Burwain SC, it was a particularly tired looking Optimist but it got me playing around capsizing to competing in club races and even Abersoch Dinghy Week.

3. What has been your favourite boat to sail and has this changed as you progressed?

When I was growing up every new and bigger boat I stepped into just seemed so powerful and hard to handle. Some of those seem so small now! I am a fan of the more traditional boats, with conventional spinnakers and perhaps even made of wood! I like the slower more tactical racing you get from these as apposed to ‘modern fast boats’. But of course it is still crutial to learn how to make any boat go fast through the water. I really enjoyed racing the 470, a single trapeze double-hander, as it provided both the tactical racing and windy weather speed sailing. I raced the 470 on the Olympic circuit at events all round the World, and it was a pleasure to race some of the best people in the world. Closer to home I still enjoy racing my GP14! It is a forgiving boat to sail that you can race from age 14-70+, it carries enough weight to feel like a ‘man’s boat’ but you can still throw it round a small lake!

Dobson crewing 470

4. How did you progress from starting out sailing to where you are now?

From racing my Optimist at Burwain, I inherited a Mirror which I then raced in all the Club races. I also took this to the North West Traveler Series (sailing with Andy Tunnicliffe) where a group of us got used to racing against each other at the local lakes. As we got more competitive we slowly upgraded our boats so that we could race at the National Championships and even the World Championships in Ireland. I eventually won the Mirror National Championships in 2002. As a group we all moved on to race 420s at about the same time (aged 17). This group of North West Sailors included Stuart Bithell (now 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist), Niki Birrell (2012 Paralympic Medalist), Christian Birrell (Fireball National Champion), Jonny McGovern (420 National Squad Coach) and others. We continued to race against each other at Championships all round the UK and Europe! We all became part of the British 470 Olympic Development Squad either sailing with or against each other as we had done for the 10 years before that!
From that perspective I was fortunate to be part of a special era. From there I now continue to race the GP, I race yachts in the Solent and also around the World, and I spend time Team Racing in Fireflies, hopefully adding Championship titles along the way! As I grew up, I was fortunate enough to have been lent lots of different boats over the year by members of the sailing club, for which I am truly grateful.

5. What events, activities & competitions did you take part in when you were a novice and which do you think helped you improve your skills the most?

Club racing is where you really can hone your skills and build up the hours on the water. Some weeks I used to sail at Burwain on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Don’t worry-not every week! But I would say travelling to the NW traveler series events is where you can really open your eyes to what sailing has to offer. These events are really relaxed and it is easy to measure improvement from event to event. Of course that does involve having a willing driver (“Ok Dad, I’ll go and drink cheap Vodka in a park in Burnley instead” should do the trick).

6. Do you prefer to crew or helm?

You can never underestimate how much you will learn from doing both. Towards the end of my 420 sailing I felt that my racing had plateaued as I went off to University. Fortunately as I walked through the door into my University Halls as a fresher, I found myself sharing a flat with Alison Martin, who I had been racing 420s against for the past 3 years! I then started crewing for her and we went on to race at the 420 World Champs in Brest, France. The week after this I jumped back in to helm my GP with Andy Tunnicliffe, and we very nearly won the Nationals for the first time!
My advice would always be Helm and Crew for as many people as you can to absorb information, but don’t underestimate the power of a long standing partnership (I have sailed with Andy since we 15 and 12 years on we have four World Championships to our names).
I also spend time racing yachts (30-50+ft) where I am normally ‘tactician’ leading a crew of up to 20 sailors to get a boat quickly round a course. It is all about getting exposure to and learning from as many different situations as I can, then hopefully next time I might make the right decision!

Delta Lloyd 470 Worlds

7. What are your favorite conditions for sailing?

I love variety. Championships which have windy days with big rolling waves and then days of light and stressful tactical racing are my favorite. Fortunately the UK manages to provide that variety in the weather! I also enjoy sniffing out wind shifts on a small lake and am really looking forward to getting back into some local club racing!

8. What do you like most about sailing?

Sailing is a unique sport in that it is more like a lifestyle. The people you meet and the friendships you make will be there for a long time. These friendships have always increased my sailing opportunities but nowadays that spreads into working life and commercial opportunities.

9. What is the best piece of advice you could give to me as a novice?

Enjoy your time on the water, take each race as seriously or as relaxed as you want to make sure you keep your enjoyment level up. Always ask questions, but make sure you take the answers in context! And most definitely write things down! Keep a notepad about what you have learned and what was good and bad from a sailing session.

10. How often do you practice?

I would say I actually do less hours on the water than I did when I was learning to Race at Burwain! But one thing I have learned is to use the time efficiently. I tend to run specific campaigns, targeting a good performance at a particular event, be it the GP14 World Championships, the Fireball National Championships or the Wilson Trophy Team Racing Championships. This way I can focus my time towards getting better at specific things. I am still very guilty of spreading myself too thinly however, perhaps because I enjoy the wide variety of different types of sailing. I certainly sail pretty much every weekend and try and train on an evening during the week. I have been fortunate enough to have an understanding employer which enables me to attend about 5 week long championships in a season.

11. Do you prefer single handed or double handed sailing?

I am a self-confessed beginner when it comes to single handed sailing. Once when I was representing the British Universities Sailing Team on a tour of the USA, we were sailing lasers trying to establish who should compete in the Laser Match against the USA Allstars. My team thought I was throwing the practice session as I didn’t fancy losing to the [fitter and stronger] Americans, but the truth was that I was unable to get a Laser round the race course. Every time i tried to go downwind I capsized! And now I can’t go and race a Solo as I will get beaten by Andy Tunnicliffe!

12. When and where did you win your first race?

I remember racing my green optimist in a pursuit race at Burwain SC. I started at least half an hour before everyone else, the wind dropped off to nothing and I won by over a leg! From then on the other sailors took a lot more interest in making sure I started correctly and sailed the full course!
Dobson on yacht

Interview and Questions by Oliver Ralph, Burwain Sailfish Member
Oliver ralph

i9an Dobson (left) GP14 World & National Champion

07/09/2013 | Elite Racing | 0

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