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London Midweek Series at Ranelagh Sailing Club - Races 3 & 4

by Michael John Gifford 27 May 2011 14:50 BST 24-25 May 2011

60 seconds with the Windward Mark

A much under-rated member of the racing fraternity, this week we have the reflections of the Windward Mark on races 3 & 4 of the Ranelagh S.C.’s London Midweek Series.

Can you briefly describe your role?

I have to hold a position on the river in the tide and the wind in order that the fleet of competitors know what their course is. I am also supposed to occasionally tap the boats as they come past me in order that they have to go round again. Whilst unpopular with some of the fleet I think that they all appreciate the effort this takes.

That sounds like incredibly hard work. Do you have to train for it?

When I was younger and just a Leeward Mark I didn’t really have to work so hard at it. Now I find with the additional pressure of being the Windward Mark and with fleets of 25 or so boats and several thousand spectators watching I need to be really fit. If I slip just a little bit it could jeopardise what is some of the highest quality racing in the country. In terms of my schedule I usually do about 20 minutes of anchoring before the start and then after the sailors have finished their session I continue to train for another 20 minutes at the end.

I think that the training has helped my looks as well. I am now really round and the girls love my pink belly and white top.

While you now have the lead role, do you ever miss your time as the Leeward Mark?

Being the Leeward Mark was great for the past 30 years but I am glad I have made the step up. I do miss watching the boats attempt to go round me and just keep going towards Hammersmith, but now I find I play a more complete part in the race. There are other benefits including better rope and a stronger anchor but you pay for them with the longer hours and all the bumping into boats that I now have to do.

How did the racing go?

The racing this season has been superb and this last week took the standard to a whole new level. It is awesome watching the fleet go round and round. I held my own position perfectly and only bumped into Becca and Polly in race 4. I guess that was a little naughty of me, but they are so much fun. I wanted them to go round me again and again!

For the sailors it looked like another great evening on the river. The X1s shot off into the lead chased by Chris Whitehouse and Jon Ibbotson in the Lark on Tuesday and Nigel Edwards in his Laser 8.1 on the Wednesday. Then they all just went round and round for a while before finishing

I found some of what the competitors were doing on the way towards me a little odd. On lap one, Michael John seemed to get quite close before stopping and waiting for the fleet to overtake him, while those old romantics Chris and Alison Edwards did exactly the same the following lap.

Which of the sailors do you most admire?

I think that this week it has to be Chris Whitehouse who with Jon Ibbotson crewing him in the Lark won the Tuesday race from Michael John. He then followed this up by hopping into a Solo and getting a second behind Nigel on Wednesday. He is sailing out of his skin at the moment and the others will have to do something special to match him.

Having said that, I have huge respect for the whole lot of them. The racing is so tight all the way down the fleet that it is difficult to not be filled with a glowing admiration for them as they make their tight little turns round me.

What advice would you give to young buoys looking to get into your line of work?

Get yourself a decent anchor, work on your visibility and don’t bump too many of the sailors too much of the time. Even if you have to work your way up from being a spreader mark or an inner distance mark the effort is definitely worth it. I think the only other piece of advice would be not to have too heavy a ground tackle or you will be unpopular with the mark layer.

You have had a great week, what has been the highlight for you?

If I had to pick one it would be the smell of the great cooking that wafted into my shed when the beautiful Sarah Edwards popped in to say hi before heading upstairs to join the sailors for an after-race drink.

The normal factual reporting will be resumed for later races in the series.

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