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Interview with Nick Craig ahead of the 2013 Endeavour Trophy

by Sue Pelling 25 Sep 2013 10:47 BST 11-13 October 2013
Nick Craig & Toby Lewis during the 2011 Endeavour Trophy © Sue Pelling

Following a year of exceptionally intense competition on the dinghy racing circuit, a fine selection of champions has materialised and will be in Burnham-on-Crouch next month to contest the ultimate dinghy champion of champions title for the Endeavour Trophy.

The Endeavour Championship for the Topper Sailboats-supported-Endeavour Trophy is taking place at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Burnham-on-Crouch on 11-13 October.

The champions will race a fleet of 25 brand-new Ian Howlett-designed Topaz Xenons, kindly supplied by Topper with help from event sponsors Allen Brothers, Calltracks, Hyde Sails, Selden, English Braids, Petticrows, Musto, and Noble Marine.

Plans announced earlier this year, to introduce the Topaz Argo for the 2013 event are on hold due to exceptionally high levels of demand for this popular new design. Although the Argo, with its strict one-design status, is expected to prove an equally ideal choice of boat for the event, the Xenon, which has been used for the last eight years, is still a great option to continue providing excellent, equal racing for a wide range of all-up crew weights of between 18-24 stone (114-152 kilos).

This annual end of season event, promises to be one of the best yet with a quality entry including a selection of former Endeavour competitors, and former Endeavour champion Nick Craig.

Craig (39) has won the Endeavour Trophy a total of five times, which makes him the joint most successful Endeavour champion in history. He is one of the greatest amateur dinghy sailors of all times having notched up a total of seven world championship titles and no less than 22 national championship titles in a variety of classes over the last decade.

One of his most significant championship achievements was in 2011 when he won his fourth OK world championship title. Until 2004, this event had never been won by a British sailor, which makes his series of wins even more impressive.

In the same year, in 2011, he won his fifth Endeavour title and was recognised for his achievements by winning the 2011 YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year Award.

Craig continues to succeed in the dinghy racing arena and, having won the Merlin Rocket national championship this year, has secured his place at the 2013 Endeavour Championship. In the run-up to this year's event Craig explains what it takes to win a championship, prepare for the Endeavour Trophy, and offers advice to his fellow competitors.

Nick Craig interview with Sue Pelling

Craig on method of preparation for a national or world championship?

Most championships are won before the event because preparation is everything. Quality time on the water is the best preparation. Racing against the best people possible, having a few learning objectives each time you sail, and to be willing to experiment with new things outside the big events. Ideally your sailing should have a mix of racing, two-boat tuning and solo practice depending on your strengths and weaknesses. Fitness is also really important. I generally step up a gear in the gym and bike in the six weeks preceding a major event.

On what gives him the edge over his competitors. Is it psychological, physical, talent, best equipment, or a good mix of each?

It's actually rare that I've had an edge – I've lost a lot more championships than I've won. The time I perhaps had an edge was 2005-7 and I'd say that was down to a lot of quality sailing and gym work. I was doing more sailing and gym work in 2005-7 than at any time in my life and any other amateur. I think there are many more talented sailors than me; it took me many years to win major events whereas more talented sailors have done that much faster. I'd say I have won events through hard work and strong preparation rather than superior talent. Hard work pays off in the end.

I always aim to sail with the best equipment. But I don't think that has given me an edge in the classes I sail because everyone has access to the same equipment, which is a feature I like.

Psychologically, I like big events especially when it goes down to the wire on the last day. They are my favourite days, I love that buzz. I think that mindset helps.

On addressing his weaknesses?

A mix of working hard on them and not getting too hung up on them – you can go a long way through leveraging your strengths. For example, the 2008 Endeavour was light airs and we were heavy but won it though winning most of the starts to make up for our lack of boatspeed.

I generally struggle most with light airs pace, partly because I switch boats a lot. Time in a particular boat is key for light airs pace whereas I find time in any boat works in more breeze. As much two-boat tuning as I can do in those conditions with a fast partner is very effective though not always easy to arrange. I've had an edge in light airs when I've put in the quality time to earn one.

On using other sports to enhance fitness on the racecourse?

I aim to have a varied programme to keep it interesting so sustainable. I do a fair bit of cycling, swimming, rowing machine, weights and circuits. In the build up to a major event, I'll focus more on what is required for that boat. For example the OK is hard on the legs but not on the upper body so I'll focus on leg work whereas the Finn needed a lot of both. I think fitness has been a major edge for me in amateur sailing, though it's getting tougher to maintain that as the years pass. The pro sailors were always fitter than me, sailing the Finn for three years was great for me in realising just how fit it's possible to be, I stepped up a fair bit during that period

On the reasons behind the decision to remain an amateur sailor?

I have a realistic understanding that I'm not good enough to make the Olympics. I'd never have beaten the likes of Ben [Ainslie] and others even with unlimited time. Whilst there may have been a professional route in yacht sailing, I much prefer dinghy sailing, so the amateur route has made sense for me and I've loved it and have no regrets.

On his first Endeavour Trophy win?

I was 30 representing the OK class. It took me five attempts to win the Endeavour; it is an extremely tough event. Stu Bithell, James Peters and Ben Saxton who all won or nearly won it at their first attempts are exceptionally talented, that wasn't something I was able to come close to.

On his closest Endeavour rivals?

There have been many all with very different sailing styles, which is what makes it so interesting. I think Jim Hunt, Geoff Carveth and Roger Gilbert have been the most consistent performers over the years with James Peters and Ben Saxton hugely impressive over the last few years.

On the choice of Endeavour boats over the years, and the most successful?

I love racing the Enterprise and RS400 but the Xenon has been a huge success due to Topper's excellent support. They provide 25 ready to sail boats, which makes it easy for people to compete and ensures as level playing field as is possible.

On his plan of action to ensure a best possible chance of winning?

Secure the best possible crew.

On selecting a crew for the Endeavour championship?

I think the two key qualities needed are to get a crew with a great feel for a boat so the boathandling comes together quickly, and exceptional hiking fitness because eight races in two days is tough, particularly in a breeze.

On the importance of attending the Endeavour Trophy training day?

For me the training day is key. I take a little longer than some of the uber-talented sailors to get up to speed so I like that time in the boat to get the feel of it again. And starting is so important at the Endeavour so we'll put ourselves under pressure on the start line on the training day by pushing the ends to sharpen ourselves up as fast as possible.

On the difference between competing at the Endeavour Trophy and a class championship?

A big difference. Burnham is highly tidal and the courses are short. Starting, boathandling and boat on boat tactics therefore become much more important. It's been a good event for me as these are my strengths whereas big course champs play a little more on my weaknesses.

On the importance of winning the Endeavour Trophy?

It's a fantastic event with more depth of competition than almost any other UK event, so it is very important to me.

And finally, on giving advice to Endeavour first timers?

Spend the practice day working on your starting/slow speed boathandling so you can focus as much as possible on the racing at the weekend. Chat to as many people as possible with Endeavour experience to get an understanding of the tides.

Brief history of the Endeavour Trophy

The Endeavour Trophy is a solid silver scale model of the 'J' Class yacht Endeavour presented annually to the Champion of Champions at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Burnham-on-Crouch.

The origin of the trophy stems from Tom Sopwith's 'J' Class yacht Endeavour, America's Cup Challenge in 1934. Following a pay dispute and dismissal of his east coast-based professional crew, Sopwith enlisted the help of 'Tiny' Mitchell, the Commodore of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club at the time, to recruit amateur members of the club to form a crew.

Although Endeavour won the first two races against Rainbow, and lost the series, this was the closest England ever came to winning the coveted America's Cup.

Years later, Robin Judah – respected member of the RCYC – was anxious to establish a series of races for dinghy sailors in order to discover the 'Champion of Champions'. Beecher Moore, former Endeavour crew, and marketing man behind the successful dinghy designer Jack Holt, joined Judah in his quest to run this event and presented for the overall winner, his solid silver scale model of the yacht.

The first invitation-only race took place in 1961 and the winner was Peter Bateman, representing the International Cadet Class, crewed by Keith Musto. The original idea was to use the club's own fleet of 15 Royal Corinthian One-Designs but they were considered too specialist and would have placed a perpetual limit on the number of entries. Since then the event has been sailed in numerous classes including GP14s, Laser 2s, Larks, Enterprises, RS400s, and Topper Xenons.

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