Star Sailors League. What RSA Crew Need to Know

by Richard Crockett

Some weeks ago, I wrote about the Star Sailors League (SSL) and what it could mean for South African sailors, plus the fact that Ian Ainslie, as Captain of the South African team, was to give a presentation at the Royal Cape Yacht Club.

That presentation was well attended, but more importantly it aroused interest from around the country and solicited a good volume of e-mail correspondence from interested parties wanting more information. That’s a really good sign which shows that local yachties are thirsty for new sailing challenges.

While it is very difficult to cover all aspects of the presentation given by Ainslie, here are some key headlines, hard-hitting facts and his philosophy on the RSA team.

To begin with one needs to understand the structure of the sailing team and the roles that need to be covered, as racing will be aboard 47-foot one design monohulls.

Team Positions on the Boat Are:
1. Tactician
2. Helm
3. Mainsheet – also controls trim tab, traveller, runner fine-tune, check stay. (Number 7 is the floater that can help with the mainsheet. This person is also a floater who can be used to jump in and winch and generally assist wherever and whenever necessary)
4. Upwind trim, lots of controls, easily accessible for car controls (fore and aft genoa trim; and in/out (#3) controls for the car which come to the jib trimmer). The jib trimmer also adjusts the mast rake with an hydraulic ram.
5. Downwind trim
6. Grinder
7. Floater (helps with mainsheet upwind and grind/pit offwind)
8. Pit – also does runners, drop line, pole in/out and be able to articulate the pole to windward to sail deeper. They will run the mechanics of the mark roundings.
9. Bow

How Will the Team Be Chosen?
The Captain
The SSL board, consisting of older gold medalists and winning America’s cup skippers, choose the captain from each country. The captain is responsible for the team. He is the contact person for the SSL. The role of the captain varies from country to country. Some captains will steer the boat or be on the boat. Ian Ainslie is the captain of team RSA.

“I see my role as a coach/manager and the guy that has to kick-start the programme” said Ainslie.

An SSL Team Consists of 10 people.
5 are chosen by the captain and 5 are chosen by the global sailing ranking system (see below).

The Global Ranking System
The SSL intends to create a global sailor’s ranking. From the Olympic medalists to the guys doing a club race. There is a formula of how you get points. 4000 points for podium positions in Olympic class worlds and America’s Cup as an example, down to a maximum of 10 if you win a national or local regatta. There are weightings for types of boats, whether the regattas were in the current year or in the previous year, whether there are any other restrictions – as in age, owner helm, and more… .

Rankings are on the SSL web page HERE

Interestingly, there are a number of South African sailors already ranked by the SSL.

Obviously the intentions of the SSL are very ambitious as they try to collate the results of thousands of regattas every week – and they are continually adding classes from which one can add points to your rankings. To make them accurate requires a massive amount of work, although at the top level they are starting to work. However when one gets down to the 3 000th ranked sailor and lower they are not accurate as not all sailors and all the results have been captured.

There is very good reasoning for these rankings as the SSL do not want teams to be selected by a group from the “old man’s” network in each country, but rather to give an opportunity to those who are actively sailing and winning locally. This will also give the opportunity for dinghy sailors to get onto keel boats.

Ainslie’s suggestion is for anyone keen to be involved, and to be considered, is to go to the web page and see what classes are used for ranking, jump into one of those boats and train so that you can win the nationals to get your ranking up.

So Let’s Now Look At What Makes A Good Player on the Team?
What kind of things do you look for in an athlete?
• Current skills
• Ability to improve
• Team player
• Performance under pressure
• Transformation objectives

Ainslie said that when his kids are learning a new skill, they constantly and repetitively hear these words from him: Practice, concentrate, harden up (aka HTFU!).

Questions Potential Crew Will Need to Ask Themselves Are:
• Do you understand the relationship between good practice and skill level?
• How purposeful is your training?
• How much do you practice, what is the quality of your practice, how coachable are you (can you use both internal and external feedback?)
• Concentrate – how long can you keep complete focus on your task without distraction.
• Can you focus on the right things – and are you aware of what the priority is at any moment
• Harden up – when you get tired, discouraged, fall off and get hurt, can you recover and get back on the bicycle and carry on? This is resilience and being able to keep your passion and motivation for a long time.

If you are good at learning new skills and can get the technical skills in time, then there are 2 other requirements:
Team Player – not being distracted by others – keep doing your job. You will only win if the person next to you wins, how do you contribute to a high performance environment to make sure that you, and the people next to you win the race? For example, do your actions, communication and attitude contribute positively to performance or not?

Performance Under Pressure – you have to be tested under pressure. You have to learn how to perform in high pressure conditions where the stakes are high. Can you keep to task, and keep performing without being distracted?

The 5 Crew Selected by the Captain
My intention is to have enough experience and prior skills on board, but also identify sailors who have a high potential to develop quickly. There will be a strong emphasis on transformation. Some sailors of colour will be given the opportunity to show that they are good enough, but will only be on board if they become the best in that position.

Two Crew Already Chosen
According to the SSL organisation time line, I have already chosen 2 of the 5 crew.

Paul Willcox is well known as very good sailor. He is the sailor in SA at the moment who is doing the most, highest level, big boat sailing. What has impressed me a lot about Paul in recent years is his development as a leader and a team player.

Self awareness is made up of 2 elements. How aware are you of your internal state – thoughts, emotions, drivers, reactions under stress etc. The other is how big is the difference between how you see the effect of your communication and behaviour on someone else, and how they see your external awareness.

Paul has developed substantially over the years as he has identified what is effective in the good teams that he has sailed with. He is now a very skilled communicator and motivator on the boat. He will be in charge of all on-board decisions as the tactician.

Asenathi Jim. I have known Asenathi since he was 8 years old when he showed up for sailing in Simonstown. Quite early on he told me that his aim was to compete in the Olympics. He stood out as someone who could focus a bit better, who took a bit more care of the broken wooden mirror dinghy, and who was a bit more interested in being on time for regattas.

When I have worked with well funded national teams and sailors, if any of them showed any sign of self pity, or complained how hard it was, I advised them to go and talk to the RSA 470 helm about where he came from. You will never hear Asenathi complain that he is held back in his sailing by lack of resources. You will only hear about the opportunities and how he can achieve using those opportunities.

He and Roger Hudson achieved an amazing feat by qualifying for 2 Olympic games. It is very sad that, at an age where he should be peaking as a 470 helm, he is no longer able to compete internationally due to lack of funding.

One of the key things that stands out in Asenathi is how he can perform under pressure in a race. Maybe it is, as Rassie Erasmus said: “real pressure is not on the sports field, it is living in the conditions that most people experience in SA”.

I am convinced that Asenathi is going to be our Siya Kolisi and I hope that the team will achieve the results that make us weep with pride.

Oh, and by the way, Asenathi will be our helmsman.

These two guys, Paul Willcox and Asenathi Jim, will form the core of the leadership team.

So there in a nutshell is what Ian Ainslie, as the RSA SSL Captain, is trying to achieve within the SSL structures, what potential crew need to be very aware of, and why he has already made two key appointments.

Further information from Ian
(I may not be able to answer your email immediately, but I will add your email address to the list for newsletters. Periodically, I will send out updates and information, in which I hope to answer all questions).