What is Team Racing?

For those new to this area of the sport, races are between two teams, and the winning team is the one with the lower total points score in the race (with 1 point for first, 2 for second and so on). Each helm can improve their team’s position during a race either by overtaking one of the opposition’s boats (which for most of us is quite hard) or, by slowing down one of the opposition’s boats so that a team mate can overtake. A team racing event comprises a number of short races (typically only 10 to 12 minutes long) with courses that maximise the opportunities for team tactics.

The most common form of team racing is with teams of three boats. Two-boat team racing, where the team with the boat in last place loses is quite popular and is tactically simpler and useful as an introduction to the sport. Individual random two-boat team racing where you are allocated a partner at random for each race is fun and sociable.

Why Team Race?

Apart from being fun, team racing is an ideal way to sharpen up boat handling skills, close quarter tactics and rules awareness that will win you place after place in tight fleet races, particularly at marks and up that final beat to the finish line.

Team racing has its own circuit of competitions. Many of the events provide the boats for you to sail, so there is no trailing your craft across the countryside. This is mostly organised by universities, where team racing is the main sailing discipline and racing is fast, furious and fun. Many Spinnaker sailors have captained their University Team.

Spinnaker also has its own fleet of top quality matched Fireflies for team racing which are available for members to use.

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Interview with Steve Tylecote

Here is an interview between Tom Clay, team racing lead person at Spinnaker, and Steve Tylecote. Steve is probably one of the best team racers the UK has ever produced and he has competed in top events for many years. Steve is also the author of an excellent book on team racing.

  • Tom: Can you give a summary of the last season or so for the Spinnaker team racing.
  • Steve: Well I am now remote from the club, based in Rutland, so I can only give some comments from my perspective.  The Spinnaker All Stars team was a team name we started using a few years ago instead of racing as Spinnaker Club. This subtle change was a shift from us operating a strict club based merit selected team to operating more remotely. I would say we are using the club name as a flag of convenience because we are proud to still associate ourselves with the club but do appreciate that in most respects we do not have any active involvement. As that team, Rob Sherrington and I are the most regular members. In the last two years we have won the UKTRA Nationals. The club name has been on that trophy many times. New Forest Pirates also have based themselves out of Spinnaker and have won several National Championships and Wilson Trophies. New Forest Pirates have now disbanded and Spinnaker All Stars are only doing a few specific events. In terms of the other team racing activity at the club I know Southampton University are once again leading contenders for BUSA. Canford School, are active at the club as are several other groups.
  • Tom: How did the team racing start at Spinnaker Club
  • Steve: Greg and Tiggy Ansell enthusiastically supported the development of the team racing activity. In particular they helped by supplying fireflies to sail before there were any club boats, and by encouraging people to get involved and inviting them back to their house for sociable debriefs after sailing.  This all started in the late 80’s. It is fair to say that the decision of Southampton University (Charlie Askew then a student and Ken Rowles, Commodore) to move the University base to the club in the 80’s was a key event. The lake is undoubtedly a great size and location for the sport.
  • Tom:  Can you tell us more about the link with Southampton University?
  • Steve:  The University moved their Lark fleet to the club and over a few seasons became more involved in the club itself.  Students used to do some club racing, and after graduation those who lived locally, like myself, used to keep membership with the club. Spinnaker Club still reduces costs of joining for Southampton graduates. I captained the Spinnaker team from about 1990 and we started to travel round and do as many events as possible as an Exiles team that happened to be based at Spinnaker because that was the best location. People regularly travelled down from London at weekends to attend training which was fun and essentially a continuation of University sailing. As a Spinnaker team we often trained with the university and did talks to the students or supported their BUSA campaigns whenever asked. Over time though, I have noticed most Southampton students have not been pursuing team racing as much after graduation. Rob was a Cambridge graduate. Ben Vines (in the team this year) was a Southampton student.  For big events the use of the club boats and the student boats (and often Canford schools as well) has been important in ensuring that big events like the Winter Warmer have adequate resources. In the last 7 or 8 years Southampton has had their own Fireflies which is better for the university and the club.
  • Tom:  What sort of sailing do you like?
  • Steve: I like a variety. Team racing is my favourite but I also like to fleet race a variety of dinghies. I have done some keelboat sailing, enough to know about it a bit and I am a novice sailboarder.
  • Tom:  Why don’t you match race?
  • Steve: Well I used to do it. I came 2nd in the Nationals and the Europeans as a helm sailing with some great people like Stevie Mitchell, Roger Morris, and Ian Moore. I don’t do it any more because I prefer dinghy sailing. I like the responsiveness and connection with the elements that you only get in small boats. Match racing is a weird sport because taken to its conclusion, you have a small number of high level participants at an international level due to the ranking system. You need to commit to doing it full time.
  • Tom: What would your advice to a student or aspiring team racer be?
  • Steve: Assuming they are sailing enthusiasts I really I think they now have two major options. If they are in the RYA zone system they may be able to get back into it or have retained their place and can pursue a funded Olympic campaign. If that is not for them (i.e. they are in the 98% of good sailors who don’t do that) then my advice is to combine fleet racing a couple of boats and doing some team racing. My reason is there are so many fleets to choose from I think having 2 boats to fleet race makes sense, probably a slower and a high performance boat. If that seems expensive you could crew which is cheaper. Or you can have a wooden Firefly (about £450) to helm and crew in high performance boats like RS’s or Skiffs.
  • Tom:  Can you summarise your team racing successes and highlights?
  • Steve: OK – well for starters it is always a team result; and I can’t list all my team mates. As Spinnaker/GBR I have been involved in winning the Worlds in 1995 and got silver a couple of times and bronze three times. One of the silvers was at the world sailing games where two boat team racing featured. I have also won BUSA when at Soton and won the British American Cup which is a four boat team racing event versus the States sailed in keelboats. Each world’s medal has its own campaign story and the positive involvement with team mates is probably the most important aspect for me.  The silver in New Zealand was a great campaign. The last worlds I did in Newport Rhode Island was great and involved teaming up with Toby Lewis which was superb.
  • Tom: What has the impact been on the club that there has been so much international involvement?
  • Steve: With both Spinnaker All Stars and New Forest Pirates gaining selection for the GBR slots for the world championships there has been a lot of activity but in bursts. When we have been selected for the events we have trained a lot. Sometimes this has been at Spinnaker but recently with the worlds being held at coastal venues and in Vanguards or 420’s there was a need to train elsewhere so activity at Spinnaker was minimal. The international commitments have at times been very full on and prevented us from participating in club activities or club sailing. The international angle has also forced both teams to select specialist sailors from outside the club in order to meet physical criteria to compete at the highest level. On balance the effect on the club has been poor for grass roots activity but great for the club’s international profile.
  • Tom: Have you been involved in the youth squads or an Olympic campaign yourself?
  • Steve: Youth squads were slightly after my time by a year or two and when I was Laser sailing quite hard for a brief time the class was not an Olympic boat, or even being considered to be one. In addition an Olympic campaign was way out of my reach in a pre-lottery funding scenario. Actually, I started racing quite late; it was only really when I was at Southampton that I started to realise I was quite handy at it.
  • Tom:  You recently won the Endeavour Trophy ….did team racing have anything to do with that?
  • Steve: For sure it did. The Endeavour takes place in a fairly narrow sailing area on the River Crouch and there is a lot of boat on boat tactics involved. In addition to that advantage, the fact that the boats are supplied by the organiser is a situation I am very accustomed to through team racing. We are used to working up new boat handling techniques quickly for different boats and conditions.
  • Tom:  How did you get involved in sailing asymmetrics and skiffs ….high performance sailing? Do you recommend it?
  • Steve: I feel it is like another sport for me. I know a lot of the skills are shared but I revel in the differences as well. I started by buying an ISO in the early 90’s and have subsequently been involved with Laser 5000’s, 4000’s, RS700’s and RS400’s. I enjoy helming and crewing. I now have a Musto Performance Skiff which is a wild single hander with asymmetric and racks and trapeze. I find learning new skills very rewarding. I try to avoid development classes as I prefer the closer racing and reduced financial exposure of one design classes.
  • Tom:  How do you approach team race training?
  • Steve: Now I am opportunistic about it but that is a new thing driven by my time commitments with a young family and our location. We are not doing any organised training and in fact are doing very few events at all. Before I was very organised and I think I tried to cover all the aspects like selection, options and substitutes, training and event preparation.   With email and spreadsheets this stuff is not so difficult…. I recommend sharing out the organisation stuff in a team and playing to each others strengths. I am happy to share the exercises we used to do with any active GBR teams and have done so with the GBR team that was successful at the last worlds. It is fair to say that I recognise that great fleet racing skills and boat handling are important for success. I was often happy to train with just 2 to 4 boats in order to closely focus on some key skills.
  • Tom:  What has Spinnaker got to offer team racers in the UK?
  • Steve: Spinnaker has got a team racing culture. There are expert event organisers, umpires, helms and crews at or closely connected to the club. There is a support infrastructure there that could be activated by interested parties. The facilities are great and you can be on and off the water in seconds. There are boats and marks. There is even a regular sea breeze in the summer to keep it lively!  With its location in the South and closeness to Southampton breeding ground it is a good venue for a team to pick as a base camp. There is good access from London, Bristol and Oxford so easy to get informal events arranged.
  • Tom:  What about crews generally – how do you deal with that?
  • Steve: Our team have always stood out as having the best crews. We really acknowledge that skill area and have specific approaches to selection and training to cover that. In Fireflies you need to be reasonably light as a pair but timing and boat balance and sail trimming are all more important than just weight. Typically great crews are harder to come by than great helms.
  • Tom:  Do you ask external coaches to get involved?
  • Steve: From time to time we have brought in some expertise, and the RYA has been particularly helpful here with support at times on physical and mental aspects. Any team ‘starting off’ is wise to get some external coaching input. All the ex-Spinnaker team racers would be happy to be approached and would help if they can ….helms and crews.  We always found it particularly important to have someone good sighting the start line for us….otherwise you are not sure you are starting correctly…..by having this support (even from one of us sitting out in the committee boat if necessary) we became very good at starting.
  • Tom:  Have you done much umpiring?
  • Steve: All our helms and several of the crews have done umpiring on the team racing circuit. Without having tried it you don’t realise how hard it is. Without an appreciation of the challenge the umpire has the risk management with regards to boat on boat tactics will be compromised.
  • Tom:  How do you, or have you in the past sorted out team selection for Spinnaker?
  • Steve: Each of the teams involved has generally got a captain and they have sorted out their team selection. Back in the early days I set criteria that a helm must have demonstrated a fleet racing  ability to ‘X’…..at the time ‘X’ was to be able to come in the top ten in the Firefly nationals. Clearly it depends on your team aims. It’s important they are aligned across the team or frustration can emerge. A group of friends is a good starting point….but again a local club base can be a provider of additional talent in terms of helms or local crews.
  • Tom:  How has GBR team selection been organised for World Championships?
  • Steve: Mostly the selection has been done on a first past the post method using a trial. I actually managed the selection process last time and we used a weekend event and once two teams stood clear in the round robin I stopped the event. You need to be careful to have suitable conditions. In the past we have used squad selection where everyone is initially pooled and we select a team from there. This can take longer and seemed to work when we had to sail in unusual boats.
  • Tom:  In terms of organising team racing activity at Spinnaker what do you see are the possible things blocking progress?
  • Steve: I would ask the last 3 or 4 years graduates from Southampton for some support in asking what they want.  Surely it makes sense for a couple of groups of them to start sailing at Spinnaker. With a little bit of co-ordination that could be an easy and very fun thing to do.  I can’t say what they are up to because they don’t have to be the next Ben Ainslie to enjoy the team racing circuit and even if a sailor is really committed to a high level campaign, retaining some involvement in team racing is fully compatible with any fleet racing aspirations.  In fact as you leave college cash can be tight and team racing is an obvious way to keep really sharp whilst you save up for the ultimate hydrofoil machine that you aspire to…..frankly much as I love my MPS team racing a firefly is an even  more worthy challenge! If sailors are drawn to keelboat sailing then I would say having lead underneath you too early in your sailing career is a bad thing. You will risk losing sensitivity and tactical range – keep in dinghies and if you must go ‘yachting’ tell the keelboat owner your team racing dates at the start of the season so he can’t complain when you are not there.